Revelation 17:10 – Who are the seven kings? Roman Emperors or World Empires?

Problem: Most commentators identify these seven kings with Roman Emperors. However, Osborne writes that this “is incredibly difficult.”[1] Consider the list of Roman Emperors below:[2]

Julius Caesar (44 b.c.)

Augustus (27 b.c.–a.d. 14)

Tiberius (14–37)

Caligula (37–41)

Claudius (41–54)

Nero (54–68)

Galba, Otho, Vitellius (68–69)

Vespasian (69–79)

Titus (79–81)

Domitian (81–96)

Nerva (96–98)

Trajan (98–117)

Solution: Where should we begin this list of emperors? With Julius Caesar? With Augustus? If we begin with Julius Caesar, this would make Emperor Nero the sixth emperor:

VIEW #1: Emperor Nero?
Those who hold to a Nero redivivus theory believe that Nero was the sixth king, and he would be revived to be the eighth emperor. However, there are a number of problems with this view:

First, the Nero redivivus view is poorly supported. We have already argued against the Nero redivivus theory elsewhere (c.f. Rev. 13:3). However, this theory is central to this interpretation.

Second, Revelation should not be dated to the reign of Emperor Nero. We’ve already considered the difficulties with the dating of Revelation to this time period (c.f. “Date of Revelation”).

Third, John says that these kings will be short lived. In Revelation 17:10, John writes that one of the kings “must remain a little while.” This cannot refer to the Roman emperors—some of whom only reigned for a year or two (e.g. Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Titus, Nerva).

VIEW #2: World empires?
Other commentators (like Walvoord) argue that John is referring to world empires—with the “kings” representing “world empires.” John writes, “They are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (Rev. 17:10). At the time John wrote this, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece were in the past (“five have fallen”). Rome was currently in power (“one is”). And the kingdom of the Antichrist will occur in the still future (“the other has not yet come”). This seems to fit better with the prediction.

John tells us that the Antichrist (or beast) comes out of the seventh king (or kingdom). He writes, “The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven” (Rev. 17:11). This must mean that the Antichrist arises from the regathering of the final Roman Empire.

[1] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 617.
[2] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 618.

“And 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. (Rev 17:10)”

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