Rev. 17:9 – Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. 10 There are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction. 12 The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (HCSB)
The seven heads
The angel now explains the meaning of the beast’s seven heads: “Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction” (vv. 9-11).
The seven mountains probably symbolize Rome, built on seven hills. In John’s day, the Roman Empire is living in luxury, exporting false religion, corrupting its conquered people with idolatry, and persecuting the church. But the angel says the seven heads also symbolize seven kings or kingdoms, five of them past, one present, and one to come. The identity of the kings is highly disputed. Some interpreters say this refers to seven successive Roman emperors, but more hold that it refers to seven consecutive world empires.
If kingdoms are meant, then from John’s perspective the five past kingdoms are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. The present kingdom is Rome, and the future kingdom is that of the beast. If kings are meant, the five Roman rulers who have fallen are Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Domitian is the one that is (assuming Revelation is written in the 90s), and the one yet to come is the king of the revived Roman Empire. For those who say Revelation is written prior to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, Vespasian is “the one who is” and Titus is the one who will come for a little while to lead the destruction of Jerusalem. Or, the one to come is Nero, referencing the legendary expectation that he would return from the grave.