Revelation 17:11 speaks of an 8th king, the beast itself. Who is this beast? And what is his mark?
Who is the 8th king of Revelation 17?
Short Answer: Emperor Domitian.
There is much to reconcile before we can explore that query in depth. This response proceeds from an amillennial perspective, one that is somewhat preterist. This is a view that sees the symbols and images of the Book of Revelation as having occurred historically throughout the first century and a bit beyond. (This view does not necessarily see everything as having been fulfilled as does the hyper-preterist view.)1
Revelation 17 and the Great Prostitute
The previous chapter, Revelation 16, described the fall of Babylon [the Great]. We noticed earlier (chapter 13) that the beast called "Babylon [the Great"] refers to the Roman Empire. Chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation reveal the details of the collapse of this idolatrous Empire.
The explanation of the seven bowls of wrath are now revealed, explained in this chapter and the next (Rev. 18). This is the point of the first two verses of this chapter. One of the seven angels who had poured out one of the bowls tells John:
- Revelation 17:1b-2: "[Come] here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality."
There is one nation that "sat on many waters", one that essentially ruled the rest of the known world, and that was Rome. The image of the great prostitute sitting on many water should immediately bring to memory the wicked cities by the O/T prophets. Much earlier in the O/T, Nineveh (Nahum 3:4), Tyre (Isaiah 23:16-17), and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:15) are a few cities that are called harlots because of the magnitude of their transgressions against God. However, this great harlot (Rev. 17:1) is described as “sitting on many waters.”
Later in the same chapter, we are told what this image represents:
- Revelation 17:15: "The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages." (Such language generally denotes all nations collectively.)
That is, the great harlot is the city that rules over the peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages of all the earth. Therefore, the wicked city in view here can be none other than Rome as we have pointed out. This fits the context very nicely. The angel is explaining the details of the judgment in the seven bowls of wrath, judgments against the Roman Empire or the beast.
It would make no sense to see the great prostitute as another worldly city, because none other fits all the qualifications. Rome is the problem here: the epicenter of immorality and idolatry. It is the one with whom “the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
Sexual immorality is used as a symbol for the idolatry that is being committed (Hosea 4:11-12; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 16:15-17; Revelation 2:14,20). Of note, Revelation 17:2 is the same description that was given in Revelation 14:8:
- Revelation 14:8: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon [the Great], she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality."
Rome has been the source of emperor worship (by the entire world), involved in great idolatry. Therefore, we know the great prostitute is the city of Rome and the beast is the empire ruled by Rome. The rest of this chapter is going to give us the details regarding these two perverse entities along with their coming judgment.
Revelation 17:3-6: Description of the Prostitute and The Beast
From Revelation 1:10, we learned that John is carried away in the Spirit on the Lord's Day. The term "being in the Spirit" means that John is seeing a vision — an inspired message from God (cf. Ezekiel 2:2). The scarlet beast has the same description as the first beast in Revelation 13, full of blasphemous names and has seven heads and ten horns (13:1). The woman in verse 4 is dressed like a prostitute:
Revelation 17:4: "The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality"
Jeremiah 4:30: "And you, O desolate one, what will you do? Although you dress in scarlet, Although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, Although you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you make yourself beautiful. Your lovers despise you; They seek your life."
Note that the very same language used of ancient Babylon is being applied to Rome:
- Jeremiah 51:7-8: "Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the LORD, Intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; Therefore the nations are going mad. 8Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; Wail over her! Bring balm for her pain; Perhaps she may be healed.”
Such descriptions help to emphasize the great immorality generated from the original, literal Babylon because of its great immoralities and idolatries — the same abominations to which Rome has fallen. Again, the identity of the great prostitute is, “Babylon [the Great], mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5). The word “mystery” preceding the description indicates this name is symbolic of the wicked, world power then in existence.
The great prostitute is drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. This is the same description given in Revelation 16(:6) and is the reason the judgment will occur. That is, Rome, the persecuting power will be judged along with its degenerate, ruling echelon.
Revelation 17:7-18: The Explanation
The angel tells John (17:7) that he will explain the mystery of the woman and the beast. We are not left to wonder what this all means. What we are being told is not meant to be concealed but rather, to be revealed. That is, after all, the title of the Book. Here, we learn more about the woman and the beast.
The first explanation about the beast is given:
- Revelation 17:8: "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction."
This is reminiscent of what we read in chapter 13. At that time, we witnessed a terrifying beast that had a fatal wound to one of its heads. The fatal would then healed, and the earth marveled at the power of the beast. Perhaps we should view the imagery of that passage as similar to “was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit.” That is, it ruled (was), it died (is not), and then rose (and is about to rise) again. Both events resulted in people of the earth marveling over the beast from 13:4.
Much of the attention of the last few chapters of Revelation has been the persecution of God's people, therefore impending Judgment is coming against this beast because it is killing the saints. Here is something that is often misunderstood: the people of God would be prevented from buying and selling and would suffer death for their faith in Christ. Just when it seems the beast will perish or collapse, it rises with greater strength and continues its persecution of the people of God’s (rise’s again from the bottomless pit). It continues to be destined for destruction as it persecutes and its emperors call themselves divine, blaspheming the true and living God due to their overwhelming pride and arrogance.
Now, in Revelation 17:9-11, John is receiving some information about these events. As in earlier chapters, the angel calls for wisdom where the last time this occurred was in 13:18. The angel called for literal discernment, and to apply that insight toward the deceptive nature of the beast. The angel began with the seven heads. Remember that the beast has seven heads and ten horns. When we first encountered the description of the beast (chapter 13) we should have recognized that the heads, horns, and crowns represented the beast’s great authority, strength, and power. Now, the angel reveals a great deal more about the seven heads and ten horns.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states,
“Most scholars have no doubt that the seven hills refer to the seven hills of Rome and the seven kings to seven successive emperors of that nation. Mounce states, ‘There is little doubt that a first-century reader would understand this reference in any way other than as a reference to Rome, the city built upon seven hills’ (Revelation, pp. 313-14).”
History and literature repeatedly refer to Rome as the city on seven hills/mountains. To understand this to be true, notice that the end of the verse tells us the woman is seated on the seven mountains:
- Revelation 17:9b: "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits"
If we re-read Revelation 17:1, it will be remembered that the woman is the great prostitute, representing the city of Rome. Rome and its empire is in view: the seven heads represent Rome. However, we are also told there is additional meaning to the seven heads. From the next verse:
- Revelation 17:10: "[The seven heads/seven mountains] are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while" (emphasis added).
Here, suppose we pause to recognize that throughout any study of the Book of Revelation, we should clearly recognize that numbers and images are to be understood symbolically. Beginning in Revelation 1:1, we are told that "these things were put into signs." Revelation 17:3 reminds us that John is seeing a vision as he is carried away by the Spirit, and everything we read is symbolic of an actual, historical reality unless the text demands otherwise.
We have understood all the sevens in the book (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls) as symbolically representing completion — that is, complete judgment against a nation. However, there is one seven that we should take literally and that occurred in chapter 1 as we read about the seven churches in Asia. These churches were to be taken literally as actual churches, not symbolic of all churches for all time because each of them was strictly identified.
Similarly, we are told about the seven heads representing seven kings above in Rev. 17:10. If the angel had left the image at this point we would be forced to recognize the seven kings as a symbol representing all the kings of the Roman Empire and what they would do. However, the angel goes on and numbers the seven kings and gives us details about them. The angel relates, regarding the seven kings (as stated above in 17:10b): “Five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while."
Revelation 17:11: The Eighth King
The next verse reveals more, that the eighth king belongs to the seven and goes to destruction. This is finally addressing the identity of the eighth king asked by the OP! However, the details do not make any sense in a generic, symbolic way. If seven kings represents all the kings of the Roman Empire, then what does it mean that five have fallen, one is, and one is yet to come that must rule for a little while? This would be nonsensical. These is no way to symbolically apply these images.
We are forced to understand these kings as literal emperors of the Roman Empire and something about their rule is being told to God's people. Since something is being related concerning the actual kings that ruled the Roman Empire, it is vital that we try to appreciate the timeframe of the emperors of Rome. Below is a list of the relevant rulers.
Time of Reign: List of Rulers from Julius through Domitian
Julius (48-44 BC) as dictator of the Republic of Rome (not counted as an emperor) 1. 1. Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) 2. 2. Tiberius (14-37 AD) 3. 3. Caligula (37-41 AD) 4. 4. Claudius (41-54 AD) 5. 5. Nero (54-68 AD) 6. (1) Galba (68-69 AD) 7. (2) Otho (69 AD) 8. (3) Vitellius (69 AD) 9. 6. (4) Vespasian (69-79 AD) 10. 7. Titus (79-81 AD) 11. 8. Domitian (81-96 AD)
There are a number of reasons to exclude Julius from the top of the list (not counted). Julius was appointed as dictator over the Roman Republic, not emperor over the empire. Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius state that Augustus was the first emperor. There are also a couple of reasons to consider removing Galba, Otho, and Vitellius.
While these three emperors were approved by the senate, their reigns would have been hardly known throughout the empire. Remember that the year 69 AD is the year of four emperors. It was a time of civil war as these emperors all laid claim to the throne yet were murdered or committed suicide (such governmental instability would be symbolically portrayed as clay mixed with iron). Each of their reigns is, therefore, of no consequences, and they have been omitted below.
Time of Reign: List of Caesars from Augustus through Domitian
1. Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) 2. Tiberius (14-37 AD) 3. Caligula (37-41 AD) 4. Claudius (41-54 AD) 5. Nero (54-68 AD) 6. Vespasian (69-79 AD) 7. Titus (79-81 AD) 8. Domitian (81-96 AD)
We read a bit about this in Daniel 7:
- Daniel 7:19-20: "Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions."
Daniel says that one horn uproots the other three because he is greater than they are. Daniel could be speaking about the rise of Vespasian who established his reign during the year of the four emperors. During this civil war it is his armies that are victorious as he successfully claims the title of emperor. If this is correct, then the counting of the seven emperors works well. 1) Augustus, 2) Tiberius, 3) Caligula, 4) Claudius, and 5) Nero are the five who have fallen. The one who is reigning now is 6) Vespasian because Daniel told us not to count three emperors who would have to have been: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, those of no consequence.
Then the one to come who will “remain only a little while” is 7) Titus who ruled only from 79-81 AD. After Titus is 8) Domitian. He is the eighth emperor who is like the beast, belongs to the seven, and goes to destruction. Domitian will begin to carry out the prophecies that occur in previous chapters. He will claim to be God and demand divine honors and sacrifices to be made toward him.
The ten horns in verses 12-14 sound like the description of the second beast, also called the false prophet. These ten horns represent the localities and provinces that ruled within the Roman empire. One commentator rightly notes, “The multiplicity of sovereignties in confederacy that enhance the power of the beast” (Johnson, 560). Rome had given power to various regents and procurators, as with this Herods, to rule over the regions and provinces. Yet their only power lay in the Roman empire itself, not their own. These rulers gave their allegiance to the Roman Empire (the beast) and would make war against God and his people who did not worship the Empire ruled by Rome.
1 Kercheville, Brent. Based on the study: The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Revelation 17: The Great Prostitute, West Palm Beach church of Christ, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2021.
The answer to your query depends on the foundation it’s based on. And there are many different foundations. And all can be supported apologetically. The reason I outline this is that my outline is only one of many, and you need to consider all views carefully. With that in mind ….
The ‘beast’ who imposes a ‘mark’ is described in Revelation 13.
REV 13:11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.
REV 13:16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,
Two notable points to keep in mind, one, this beast arises out of the earth. The previous beasts arise out of the sea. To understand what ‘beasts’ are we turn to Daniel. Daniel in chapter 7, 11/12 tells us the ‘beasts’ are the leaders of world kingdoms. Some historical figures that Daniel describes as ‘beasts’ are Alexander the Great, the Persian Xerxes.
So this 8th beast is a ‘ruler’ of a kingdom, or in this case, a ruler who ‘inherits’ a kingdom. As to a specific identity of ‘who’, I have no idea. As to a specific ‘when’, I have no idea. I can only forward an answer to the ‘what’. I could outline a view on ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ but would rather avoid the contention that may generate.
But you referenced Revelation 17. This provides more detail, and also opens up more intrigue. An area many shy away from …
REV 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit [snip]
This leader (beast) ascends out of the bottomless pit. And ‘he’ is someone who was, but was not an entity (not ‘around’) when John wrote this book. But will be. In the blowing of the 6th trumpet (Revelation 11) the ‘bottomless pit’ is opened. And ‘bound angels’ are released.
Now this is getting into zone where some theologians tread lightly, because there simply isn’t any ‘rational’ explanation that ‘fits’. But there is one that does, although not comfortably for some.
It comes down to the answer of certain questions. Which angels were bound? And why? Jude and 2 Peter tell us. They point us back to Genesis 6. So (conjecture) the beast that was would have ‘been’ from around the time of the Flood, pre or post. Because John tells us that this beast had been (at some time).
My conjecture now. This ‘beast’ is a spiritual entity who has/uses a ‘body’. Anything that interacts with this ‘physical earth’ needs a body, including any spiritual ‘entities’. The spiritual ‘entity’ that is the eight beast uses a ‘body’, and is likely a ‘figure’ that did likewise in the times of around the flood. One candidate could be Nimrod.
The many interpretations of the ‘mark’ usually have reasoned support. As to which is ‘right’ - I have no idea. My personal view is that this mark is a genetic variation or alteration which (so called) improves a ‘physical body’. Because this ‘genetic manipulation’ was arguably occurring in the times of Noah. However this ‘view’ is contested by some so I’ll leave this here.
But, this is only ‘a’ (one of many) view. And it stretches beyond natural reasoning. Therefore, You’ll need to consider any other answers that are forwarded to see whether they fit more comfortably.