Revelation 17:12-13 and the Identity of the 10 Kings

(12)  And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. (13)  These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

    The unfolding of the mystery continues. The angel explains to John that the ten horns of the beast are ten kings. These ten are in contrast to the seven heads, but complimentary, as is evident from the idea that they give “their power and strength” to the beast. So these were royalty which do not rule independently, and they follow the dictates of the heart of the beast. Two things in particular about these ten are their allegiance to the beast in a conflict with “the Lamb” (v.14) and in the desolation of the harlot (v.16). So who are these ten leaders? Let’s remember the context, which said that currently the beast “is not.” But here in verses 12-13, it is evident that the angel has moved on to speak of what will soon happen, because in these verses, the beast is coming back and will be in full swing by verse 14. Now in this intermission time period where the beast “is not,” and the empire is in turmoil with no footing and no goals, there was a council led by Vespasian in mid-late 69 A.D. This council was a gathering of kings and military leaders in the Roman city of Berytus (now Beirut). This occasion happened while Vitellius still held control of Rome, but those who gathered together in Berytus were pro Vespasian. I wish I was a fly on the wall. The Roman historian, Tacitus, describes the setting as “a vast assemblage of cavalry and infantry, and pomp of the kings that strove to rival each other in magnificence, presented an appearance of Imperial splendor” (Histories 2.81). Vespasian seemed to act in the position of the Emperor of Rome, although he was not yet, and the assembly made a number of important war decisions, including plans of war with Emperor Vitellius. This war council is crucial for our study of Revelation, for it manifests evidence of the client kings of the Empire pledging their loyalty to Vespasian and his cause. This is the beginning of the beast’s revival. One of the decisions of the Berytus council concerns the events of Revelation chapters 17-18. The council restored the war with Judea! Yes, after a year and a half of nothing between Rome and Jerusalem, the Romans were now able to revive the war against the Jews. The council agreed that Titus would be handed full command of all the Roman troops of the East so that he could march again against Judea. The beast which was, but at the writing of this chapter “is not,” would soon be reborn under Vespasian and goes to destroy.

       Was the council in Berytus the subject of verses 12-13? I don’t know, but it fits the details! It is lost in history whether there were ten kings at the council or not, but if not, this changes nothing, for it is evident by Roman history that the client kings (there were ten of them at the time) were loyal to Vespasian, this is partly why the empire was able to thrive again. But what about the “one hour?” This is a challenge because the use of numbers in this specific section ought to be understood literally, as the angel is still in the process of explaining the symbols. However, if this refers to the kings of the earth pledging allegiance to Vespasian (the seventh head) and Titus (the eighth) at the council of Berytus, and therefore becoming of “one mind” for the task of putting down the Jews, then the “one hour” is explainable. Could they in one-hour gain one mind to reinstate war with the Jews? Absolutely! However, if there is a jump here to a symbolic message (as there are still symbolic things in this passage: the beast, the lamb, the woman), then the “one hour” would be symbolic in the same sense of which it is used three times in the next chapter: 18:10, 17, 19. The “one hour” conveys not a symbolic length of time, but a symbolic idea. The idea of “one hour” in symbolic language is something unexpected. In chapter eighteen, “one hour” is used three times to describe the fall of Jerusalem as shocking to all. Here in 17:12, if it is to be understood figuratively, then it would convey the unexpected unity of the client kings to the purpose of one man (Vespasian) who was not their Emperor.


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