PMW 2018-009 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my previous article I began focusing on Rev. 17:11 which reads:

“The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.”

I pointed out that the idea of the “eighth” pictures a resurrection, a new beginning. But now we must ask: Who is this “eighth,” this resurrection of the beast?

In Rev. 17:9–10 we read:

“Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.”

As I have argued in other contexts regarding the seven heads of the beast here in these verses, the “five” are Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius who have already “fallen” (i.e., are dead). [1] We know, therefore, that the sixth one “is” (estin) the reigning emperor, Nero. And “the other who has not yet come” is the seventh, Galba, who will only “remain a little while.” And we know that the Roman Civil Wars during the Year of the Four Emperors pictures the beast’s corporate death throes.

So the “eighth” must represent Rome’s revival, its resurrection to new life and strength. But the next emperor after Galba is Otho, one of the inter-regnum emperors who is a part of Rome’s death throes. How can he picture the beast’s resurrection? He is continuing those death throes. Besides, he is the “seventh,” not the “eighth.”

<hr />
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<p style=”text-align: left;”><span style=”color: #000000;”> Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. </span><span style=”color: #000000;”>Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|</span></p>
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To resolve this difficulty we should note a couple of factors in the passage. (1) The number of heads on the beast is seven, not eight (Rev 13:1; 17:3, 7, 9). The eighth is a surprising addition, unaccounted for by the beast John sees. This should alert us to some sort of disruption in the counting. (2) In fact, John conspicuously drops the definite article when mentioning the eighth: to therion ho en kai ouk estin kai autos ogdoos estin is translated as “the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth.” The definite article clearly and repeatedly defines the chronological series of the first six heads /kings: hoi pente epesan ho eis estin ho allos oupo elthen (“the five have fallen, the one is, the other has not yet come”). Thus, this eighth king is”an eighth,” not “the eighth.” But now what does this signify? Two interpretations seem quite plausible.

It could be that this “eighth” is the emperor who causes the revival of the Empire, though he is outside of the originally specified seven kings. In an important sense the revival of the Empire under Vespasian is a “resurrection” under “an eighth” king who is, nevertheless, “of the seven.” Vespasian’s victory in the Roman Civil Wars causes the same Roman Empire to come back to life from the death of the civil wars — not some new empire. [2]

Contrary to the NASB, the angel does not state that “he is one [which would require: heis] of the seven” (cf. NRSV, NIV, NKJB), for Vespasian is not: the Julio-Claudian line of emperors ceases in Nero (Suet., Gal. 1; Tac., Hist. 1:16). Rather: “he is out of [ek] the seven” which indicates he is “the successor and result of the seven, following and springing out of them.” [3]

The phrase ek ton hepta functions as a “genitive of relationship” [4] signifying that he is not an outsider (e.g., a Parthian conqueror as when “the Parthians were almost roused to arms” in those times, Tac., Hist. 1:2). Vespasian is not only a Roman citizen but has a political (though Plebian) standing (Suet., Vesp. 1), even though as an emperor he was “made elsewhere than at Rome” (Tac., Hist). He “became consul in 51” and was later “governor of Africa, and in 67 was appointed commander-in-chief against the insurgent Jews by Nero” [5] (cp. Tac., Hist. 1:10; J.W., Pref. 8; 3:1:3). He was even later deified by the Roman senate. As Josephus expresses it:

upon this confirmation of Vespasian’s entire government, which was now settled, and upon the unexpected deliverance of the public affairs of the Romans from ruin, Vespasian turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea. (J.W. 4:11:5; cp. Pref. 9)

Yet another interpretation of this “eighth” seems stronger and has caused me to change my former position (the one just stated above). Though it is very similar to the one above, it shifts attention from the specific emperor (Vespasian) to the general emperorship. John appears to be stating that the corporate beast himself is “an eighth,” i.e., is a resurrected entity (remember the parallel with Rev 17:8).

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Note that John writes: “the beast which was and is not, is himself [autos, reflexive] also an eighth.” The beast that he is speaking of is the one “which was and is not,” that is, the empire which dies in the Civil Wars. No emperor dies and is himself resurrected — not even metaphorically, as in being banished and then returning (cf. Eze 37:11–12; Lk 15:24, 32; Ro 11:15). Rather, it is the beast which “you saw” (Rev 17:8), that is the corporate beast with all of his seven heads (Rev 17:3). He does not say (as in Daniel’s case with the little horn, Da 7:8): “While I was contemplating the heads, behold, another head, came up among them” (cf. Da 7:20, 24). Again we must note that the NASB is incorrect in adding the word “one,” when it translates the phrase as “and is one of the seven.” Rather, the corporate beast, the Roman imperial government, is renewed in Vespasian’s ascendency; it is “of the seven,” that is, continues imperial rule anew.

In this sense the corporate beast’s being ek ton hepta (“out of the seven”) reflects resurrection language. Jesus prophesies of himself that he “should suffer and rise again from [ek] of the dead” (Lk 24:46; cp. Php 2:11; Eph 1:20). In John’s Gospel Jesus arises on the first/eighth day (Jn 20:1) because he “must rise again from [ek] the dead” (Jn 20:9). The Empire arises, as it were, out of the dead.

Though Vespasian’s ascension brings a reprieve for Christians in that he does not persecute them (Euseb., Eccl. Hist. 3:17) [6] as does Nero (Rev 13:7; Tac. Ann. 15:44; Suet., Nero 16), nevertheless he does resurrect the blasphemous Roman beastly system. He directs “the reconstruction of the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter . . . . and a temple to Peace.” [7] Even while alive the Egyptians proclaim him a god; and the Roman Senate eventually deifies him. [8] Such a blasphemous system cannot help but eventually return to persecuting, as it does thirty years later under Trajan, A.D. 98–117 and later emperors. Therefore, the (corporate) beast is destined “to destruction” (Rev 17:11c); eventually “Eternal Rome” must be destroyed (cf. Da 2:35, 44). [9]

As I conclude this three-part series, I would note that the evidence for the specific identity of the beast being Nero, with the generic identity being Rome, is strong. Though initially the problem of the past tense statement (“the beast which was”) seems to create a problem for the argument, when we more carefully consider it, it does not. Nero is the specific emperor living when John writes. His death in A.D. 68 puts the Roman Empire in death throes, from which it arises after the Roman Civil Wars (AD 68–69). The beast generically considered is in John’s view — not the beast specifically considered. This corporate beast mimics the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.


1. For more detail, see my The Book of Revelation Made Easy (Powder Springs, Geo.: American Vision, 2008), 57–58.

2. Interestingly, according to Levick, Suetonius credits Vespasian with at least eleven miracles, “supporting Vespasian’s claims to power.” And “to the world at large the miracles were a metaphor of the new régime’s healing powers” (Vespasian, 67–68).

3. Alford, Alford’s Greek Testament, 4:711.

4. Beale, Revelation, 876.

5. Catherine B. Avery, ed., The New Century Handbook of Leaders of the Classical World (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972), 385.

6. Vespasian did not persecute Christians. Eusebius states regarding Domitian that he “was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us” (Eccl. Hist. 3:17; cp. 4:26). Tertullian skips from Nero to Domitian as a persecuting emperor, omitting any reference to Vespasian (Apol. 5). Augustine calls Vespasian “a most agreeable emperor” (City 413–26).

7. Sir Paul Harvey, ed., The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940), 445.

8. Barbara Levick, Vespasian (London: Routledge, 1999), 67–71.

9. The Roman Empire is viewed in antiquity as eternal. Otho speaks of “the eternity of our power” [aeternitas rerum]” (Tacitus, Hist. 1:84). Rome is called aeterna urbs in various places, including in the Latin Poet Albius Tibullus (54–19 BC) at 2, 5, 23; Ovid (43 BC–A.D. 17), The Festivals, 3.72. See Frank G. Moore, “Corrections and Additions to Lewis and Shorst,” American Journal of Philology 15:13 (1894): 349.


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