Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.” Revelation 13:1
Undoubtedly, this is one of the most prophetically loaded passages in all of the Bible. Reading through it one-dimensionally (either entirely symbolic or literal) we miss the unique quality the book of Revelation has bestowed upon it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m of the group who believes in the D.L. Cooper Golden Rule of Interpretation hermeneutical crowd (i.e., the literal, grammatical, historical view).
When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise. Dr. D.L. Cooper (my emphasis)
However, even a faithful adherence to this view renders our understanding of Revelation with some shortcomings and inconsistencies that are head to wrap our heads around. Walkthrough this with me and by the end, you will have (hopefully) a much clearer understanding of all the horns, heads, and crowns that detail the last government coming upon the earth.
So let me begin by saying, you can read the book of Revelation as entirely symbolic. A lot of the more liberal or reformed denominations do this. However, if you do this, you will be grossly amiss in a number of places by trying to apply this hermeneutic to the entirety of Revelation. This is the problem Amillennialists, Preterists, and Post-Millennialists run into, in that their symbolism is neither consistent nor is it honest in dealing with the things that are meant to be taken literally. You might get some overarching points correct (i.e., like “God wins in the end”), but you get all or most of the details wrong. Thus, the entirely symbolic view is a broken hermeneutic.
You can also read the book as entirely literal (i.e., vis wooden literalism). However, if you do this (and some denominations and groups do), then you will struggle mightily with the symbolism that is harder to codify into tangible (or relatable) explanations. There is also the problem of interpretational consistency, which leads to varying degrees of error across the general understanding of Bible prophecy. For example, if you believe the ten horns (Rev. 13) are ten literal kingdoms, then what do you do with the “Lamb” (Rev. 5:9) having seven horns? Are these kingdoms as well, or are they meant to be representative of something else? Let me quote the late, great Jack Kelley on this particular issue.
Seven is the number of supernatural completion and our head is the location of our mind. Seven heads mean that the dragon (Satan) has complete supernatural wisdom. Ten stands for totality and horns are a symbol of authority. Having 10 horns means he has total authority on Earth (1 John 5:19). These attributes allow him to indwell the anti-Christ and lead the unbelieving world to think that they can defeat God in battle and take control of His Kingdom here. The seven crowns tell us that through the anti-Christ Satan will have complete rule over Planet Earth for a time. Rev. 17:17 says God will cause the Kings of the Earth to agree to this because it suits His purpose. (Source)
So given that understanding, the only consistent interpretation is to view the seven horns and eyes that are in/on the Lamb (Revelation 5:9-10) as being of Him having complete authority and omniscience (sees all). This would also apply to the ten horns. I mean if we are going to apply any level of consistency in our symbolism interpretation, then that is the only consistent view we can hold too. But what about the Revived Roman Empire and the ten kings, and seven mountains, etc., etc.?
Well, when the book of Revelation tells us that a number or symbol is more than just totality or perfection of some attribute, THEN we can apply the more corporeal understanding of what the symbolism is meant to be. First, let us list out what we see in Revelation. But let us look at it in the order they should present themselves, and keep in mind that this is all in relation to when Revelation was written, how these kingdoms impact or relate to the nation of Israel, and lastly, how they tie in with the imagery from the book of Daniel.
A. Seven Kings (Rev. 17:10) = seven global powers that have either controlled or conquered Israel, “…five are fallen, one is, one is yet to come.”
B. The First Beast = A global (multinational) political system. It is corporate who is intrinsically antichrist in nature. This final political system arises out of the sea of nations. Rev. 17:15 states the waters (the sea) are the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues that make up this final political organization who will have total (seven heads, ten horns, ten crowns) control over the earth. At present, the only organization that best encompasses all of these attributes is the United Nations (UN).
At some future point, this political system will be personified by this man Antichrist. He will become the face of it and will take total control over it. He will lead either the UN (or some rebranded version of it) and this system will be renamed and will represent a “rebirth” of the ancient Roman Empire, much in the same way Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948. The purpose for this is to strip that uniqueness away from Israel by claiming they were first (UN founded in 1945). This view also confirms the prophecy the angel Gabriel gave Daniel in Dan. 9:26 in which he says-
“And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. (My emphasis)
Historically, we know it was the Romans under the leadership of Titus Vespasian who destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD.
C. Ten Horns = The Ten Kings (who serve in one or several of the following forms: Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decimvir or Magistrates, Military Tribunes, Emperors or Czars). Out of this First Beast (the political system) will come ten literal human rulers who exercise control over it (Dan. 2:41-42, Rev. 12:3). The number ten in biblical numerology signifies completeness or totality, esp. regarding human governments. However, in this case, we know they are human rulers because Revelation later confirms these as ten human rulers (Rev. 17:12). They will either represent individual nations, or geopolitical regions and will be of one mind.
Out of the ten, one will rise up (the 11th) and supplants three kings to secure total control over the other seven (for a total of ten). This one who rises up (the little horn) is The Antichrist. He starts out as the man of sin but will become the ‘son of perdition’ when Satan physically possesses him at the mid-point. (2 Thess. 2:3)
D. Ten Crowns = Ten Seats of Power/Authority/right to rule. The crowns represent the positions of power these ten kings will possess, over the ten kingdom structures of the Beast. Remember that in Luke 4:5-6, Satan declared to Jesus (during the wilderness temptation) that he had control of these kingdoms and could give them to whomever he wished. In this final government, Satan will give control to ten kings, and these crowns represent that appointed authority.
E. Second Beast= The Second Beast is representative of the false religious system that rises up in tandem with the First Beast (the political system). At some point, the False Prophet (Religious leader) who actually precedes The Antichrist in order of arrival (in similar fashion to how John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ), becomes the face of this system. He will personify this movement just as Adolph Hitler personified Nazism.
The False Prophet will prepare the way for Antichrist and does this through the implementation of his apostate/antichrist religious system (the Harlot/harlot) that rises up in tandem with the beast’s political system. He first appears as a meek and humble religious man (horns like a lamb), but inwardly, he is vicious and wicked, and why the bible likens his voice to that of a dragon. (Rev. 13:11)
At a certain point (presumably the midpoint of the 70th Week) he directs all, on pain of death, to worship the first beast (who is now personified by the Antichrist), uses supernatural signs and wonders to deceive the world, and implements the worship of the beast, the image of the beast, and the mark of the beast. (Rev. 13:11-18)
F. Seven Heads = The seven mountains where the Harlot and the beast sit. Again, seven represents perfection and thus indicates this place may signify (to the people on earth) the most perfect place for global power to sit. Rev. 17:9 seems to indicate that this is a particular place. This is presumably either Rome, a rebuilt Babylon, or Jerusalem (see also Rev. 11:8). If it is a city built upon seven hills, then there are numerous options.
G. The Harlot = The false religious system that arises to global dominance AFTER the Rapture of the Church. She rises in tandem with the beast political system and is led by the False Prophet. She is the mechanism by which the great martyrdom against followers of Christ arises during the Tribulation (Rev. 17:6). At some future point inside the 70th Week, the Beast (the political system) comes to hate the Harlot, and will ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:16-18).
H. The Dragon = Satan. At the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation, Satan and his forces are kicked out of heaven and lose total access to the divine realm meaning they are now confined to the earth. At this point, Satan possesses the man Antichrist and indwells him (similar to how he physically possessed Judas Iscariot). Revelation 12 confirms two things that believers longed to know: 1) that Satan is the one who possessed the serpent in Genesis 3 to deceive Eve, and 2) when Lucifer (Satan) rebelled, he took a third of the angels with him. This heavenly expulsion could not have happened back in Genesis 3, because Satan still has access to heaven nearly two thousand years later during the days of Job (Job 1-2). Thus, this expulsion must be future still.
Thus we see the formation of the unholy trinity with the three main players- Satan = the father, Antichrist = the son, and the False Prophet = the unholy spirit. The ten kings would then = in some way, the disciples.
The symbolism revolving around the final world government in both the books of Daniel and Revelation is intriguing. On one hand, we should take the seven heads and ten horns and crowns as literal numbers (i.e., seven kingdoms, ten kings, etc.). On the other hand, we should also be open to taking the symbolic as being something more than just the literal understanding. For example, we don't associate Jesus with actually having seven horns and seven eyes do we?
...stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Rev. 5:6
In this instance, no. We look at what the numbers seven, the horns, and the eyes are representative of. This form of interpretation is no different than applying a common-sense approach to other portions of Scripture.
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9
We don’t “literally” think Jesus is a door with hinges and a handle. Rather, we grasp what He is really saying, which is, I am the only way through to salvation. No one can gain salvation apart from me. But we could literally go through dozens of Jesus’ parables and see the deeper picture He is painting by the use of symbolism (bread, water, light, good shepherd, etc.).
While true, born-again Christians will not know the identity of the Antichrist, it is "presumed" that we will also not know the identities of the False Prophet, and perhaps even the Ten Kings. But is that presumption true?
I don't think so. The Bible states we will not know the identity of the Antichrist. It makes no mention of whether we will know the identities of any of the other major players or not.
Can we see anyone on the global stage right now that meets the criteria for the False Prophet or the ten kings? And how can we know?
Yes. Because they are of “one mind.”
What is the “one mind?”
They have wholly bought into this antichrist zeitgeist that is consuming the world. While they support most of these things, it is fair to say they are definitely not opposed to any of them.
Undefinable man-caused climate change
Open borders and global government
Pro-death (abortion, euthanasia)
Social justice gospel
Do any current world leaders come to mind?