Scripture Queries and Answers: Seven Beads and Seven Kings; ACT 20:7-11

Revelation 17:9-11; Acts 20:7-11  •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Q. 1. -Rev. 17:9-119And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. (Revelation 17:9‑11). How are we to understand “the seven beads” and “seven kings?” Is it legitimate to take “the seven heads” as 1, Egypt; 2, Assyria; 3, Babylon; 4, Medo-Persia; 5, Greece; 6, Rome; 7, Israel in its apostate state? And is it correct that “the seven kings” can be, 1, Pharaoh; 2, Sennacherib; 3, Belshazzar; 4, Antiochus Epiphanes; 5, Herod; 6, Nero; 7, Napoleon; 8, anti-Christ? F. R. G. S.
A.-One of the most important helps everywhere for right interpretation is a firm adhesion to the context. In the present case the object before us is the Beast or Roman Empire, which the Holy Seer beholds in its last form before it goes into perdition. The seven heads are doubly interpreted. They are seven mountains (or hills), whereon the woman sits (compare ver. 18). Rome is the seat geographically, not Jerusalem, nor the plain of Shinar. But they are seven kings, or differing forms of ruling power. The Beast is thus distinguished. There had been, 1, kings; 2, consuls; 3, dictators; 4, decemvers; 5, military tribunes; who held successively and constitutionally the imperium. And these five were fallen. The sixth was actually then in power-emperors. The seventh had not yet come; and it was to be transient. “And the Beast that was and is not, himself also is an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition.” Thus the context fixes the heads, not only in connection with a Roman seat, but to the peculiar and complete changes of its ruling powers, explaining that the last is an eighth, and yet one of the seven. It is the imperial form, which had been wounded to death (13:3), revived by the dragon as the resurrection-head of the empire rising up at the close against the risen Lord of glory. The introduction of other kingdoms or empires, south, north, and east, long before the Roman empire began, is out of the way imaginative; still more so the strangely unconnected episode, as that of the queried list of kings. Even in the heads, as here mistakenly separated from the kings, to make apostate Israel the seventh head of the Roman empire is a singularly wide if not wild conjecture. Hengstenberg followed by the late Dean Vaughan so took six of the heads, but the seventh to be the ten horns in a cluster! a not much happier guess than Israel, though somewhat more homogeneous. The context suffices to correct all such thoughts. The proposal was to explain the seven heads, which we have in vers. 9-11; then the ten horns, which follow in vers. 12-14.
A.-Certainly the Holy Spirit records apostolic ruling and practice for our guidance, lest we should yield to the habits of Christendom. It was not “preaching” as in the A.V., but a discourse to the saints, prolonged unusually, because the apostle was about to depart on the morrow. Yet here as elsewhere no rigid law is laid down, and an exception might be due to urgent need of a special kind. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” But undoubtedly it is well to learn from those given by the grace of Christ to teach us His ways in every assembly. Common sense, excellent for the world, is out of court for the church. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight, and are sanctified to obedience.