And, in the, third place, we must also remember that this universal kingdom shall nevertheless be realized in the future, and that this complete realization of the beast shall form the ultimate outcome, the historical product, of all that, have gone before. If therefore you would have a full picture of this beast, of the antichristian world power, you must not merely think of the final manifestation, but just as well of the historic process through which the beast has passed. And it is this complete picture of the beast which is drawn before our eyes in the words of our present passage. The seven heads, then, represent different stages of development through which this beast has passed in the various kingdoms that existed before its complete manifestation, while the ten horns reveal to us the final formation, or league of kings; that shall be of one mind and completely realize the ideal of the beast for a short time. And, for the same reason, we are called to study this picture of the beast, first of all, in its historical appearance, and, in the second place, from the point of view of its ultimate formation. 

As to its historical development, we must, first of all, call your attention to the apparently dark expression that the beast was, and is not, and yet shall come up out of the abyss. Three times this is repeated in the text; and therefore it will be of importance that we understand the significance of this expression, In the first place, it must be clear to us that this is asserted of the beast as a whole. We must make a distinction between the beast in principle and the beast in its complete manifestation. And we must remember that the beast never entirely disappears from the scene of history. He is always there in some form. Even in John’s time the angel interprets that one of the heads is, exists, so that also then the beast appeared in one of his heads. But the beast does not always appear in his proper and full manifestation. He does not appear in his full and complete aspect? And therefore it is of the beast as a whole that the text says that “he was, and is not, and comes up out of the abyss,” or again, that “he was, and is not, and shall be.” Many have been the interpretations that have been given of this mysterious expression. It seems to us that it makes us think immediately of what we read in chapter 13 about the death stroke that was healed. You remember that in that chapter we had a picture of the full manifestation of the world power of the beast in its ultimate formation and appearance. And of that final manifestation of the beast it was said that it had been wounded to death, but that the wound was healed. At that time we referred to the kingdom of mighty Nimrod, which also aimed at universal world power, but which was distinct from all the forms of the world power that succeeded in this particular, that it consisted rather of a confederation of all the different tribes and peoples that existed at the time, rather than of the dominion and aggrandizement of one particular nation at the expense of the rest. They all spoke one language. They all were of one mind. They all combined in one purpose, to establish the kingdom of the world and exalt themselves against God Almighty. But by the separation and confusion of their language and counsel that mighty dominion had received its death stroke, a stroke, however, which shall be healed in the future, when that same world power shall appear in the same form once more, as a great and powerful federation, as a league of nations that shall be of one mind. If we recall this, it seems to me the interpretation of the seemingly mysterious words, “the beast that was, and is not, and shall come out of the abyss,” cannot be difficult. The beast did exist also in its proper form at the time of the building of the tower of Babel. Then a great and mighty federation must have been formed, for they were already building their central city and tower. Then they were of one mind and purpose. Then the beast revealed himself in his proper form. And therefore, in that sense the angel can say, “The beast that was . . . .” It was in the dominion of ancient Babel and mighty Nimrod. But in that sense the angel also could truly say, “It is not . . .” Surely, there was mighty world power at the time. The Roman Empire had sway over practically all the world. It had succeeded by the strength of its legions and by its mighty organizing power to extend its dominion over all the important countries of Europe and Africa and Asia. It was a world power that might be called universal. But it is not true of the Roman power that it resembled the ancient federation of Nimrod. For in the Roman Empire they were not all of one mind. It merely consisted of one mighty nation that had subdued a number of others and for that reason ruled the world. And therefore, however mighty the Roman Empire may have been, it was a strength of force, not of purpose. They were one, not because they were of one mind, but because they were suppressed by one single nation. And therefore, in John’s time the beast was not. But the same beast shall again appear in the future. Again the nations of the earth shall unite, shall be of one mind, shall all give their power to the beast, and by a great league, or federation, shall succeed in establishing a universal world power, having sway over all things. 

In the second place, we must pay attention to the seven heads, indicating seven different manifestations of the world power in history. As we have remarked, the picture of the beast in our text places before us the historic development of the world power, as well as its final formation. And the former is symbolized in the heads. That this is the case is plain from the language of the angels. He tells us about these heads that one is, that five have fallen, and that one is not, yet, evidently pointing to succession. The ten horns evidently indicate a number of world powers existing all at the same time; but there is succession—past, present, and future—in the number of heads. Now what does the angel tell us about these heads? In the first place, he tells us that the seven heads are seven mountains. He adds that they are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth. But for the, present we can leave this out of consideration, and discuss the relation of the woman to this beast in a future discourse. We now take the interpretation of the seven heads as such. They are seven mountains. As I have remarked before, there are interpreters who take it that these seven mountains refer to the seven hills of Rome. The city of Rome was built on seven hills; and so the woman, which was the city of Rome, was sitting on the seven hills of the Roman capital. But that this interpretation is not correct may be plain, in the first place, from the fact that the text speaks of mountains, while the hills of Rome were mere moles, not for a moment to be called mountains. But in the second place, the angel indicates that mountains must be taken in the figurative sense of the word: for he adds, “and they are seven kings.” Not merely, “And there are seven kings,” as some would translate, but specifically referring to the seven heads of the beast, “And they (namely, the heads, the mountains) are seven kings.” Now surely, the hills of Rome are not at the same time the kings of Rome: and therefore this interpretation will not hold. They stand for strong and conspicuous kingdoms, just as a mountain stands for a conspicuous elevation of the earth’s surface, elevating itself above even the smaller elevations and hills that may appear next to it. Thus, a mountain is symbolic of a mighty empire or kingdom. More than once it appears thus in Scripture. In Psalm 30:7 we hear David sing of his kingdom: “Thou, Jehovah, hast made my mountain to stand strong.” In Jeremiah 51:25 we read that the prophet spells destruction upon the mighty kingdom of Babylon when he says: “Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith Jehovah, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain.” In Daniel 2:35 we read that the stone which is cut loose and symbolizes the kingdom of God will develop into a great mountain, filling all the earth. And again, in Zechariah 4:7 we read in respect to the world power that opposes the rebuilding of the temple: “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.” And therefore, it is nothing strange to meet with the figure of a mountain as indicating a king and a kingdom. And as far as the objection is concerned that in this case the angel interprets one symbolism by another, that of the heads by that of the mountains, if the latter must not be taken in the literal sense of the word, this is sufficiently explained by the fact that the heads do not symbolizeany world power—not Moab and Edom and Samaria—but specifically, great and mighty, conspicuous kingdoms and kings, which may be compared to mountains in their high and powerful exaltation. And therefore, the heads refer to seven mighty dominions. 

In this light it is not difficult to understand the rest of the angel’s explanation of the mystery of the beast. He says: “Five are fallen, one is, the other is not yet come.” Taking our starting point at the one that is, we can make no mistake about it. It is, of course, the one that existed at the time of John’s exile on Patmos, namely, the mighty Roman Empire, with its sway over practically all the world. Figuring back from that mighty empire to the five that are fallen, we obtain the result that before the Roman Empire the Graeco-Macedonian Empire held sway over all the world, especially in the time of Alexander the Great. Before that great Macedonian empire, it was the power of the Medo-Persian kingdom that was supreme. It was preceded by the tremendous and glorious world power of Babylonia, having its representative king in Nebuchadnezzar. Before the last, the Assyrian Empire was supremely powerful under Sennacherib. And again, before the Assyrian Empire we have the royal power of Egypt, as pictured in Scripture. Thus we obtain the following five: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece. All these are mentioned in Scripture. And besides, all of them were conspicuous also in their opposition to the kingdom of Israel. Besides, four of these six are mentioned in the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, namely, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome—the golden, silver, brass, and iron elements of the image. And therefore, there can be little doubt but that the angel, prophesying from the viewpoint of John’s owns time, refers to the power of the Roman Empire as the head that is at that period, and to the five representative powers of the world that have just been mentioned as the ones that have fallen already. The seventh is not yet, so the angel continues. And when he comes, he must continue a little while. That seventh power has not yet been today. Ever since the final downfall of the Roman Empire in the year 476, the history of Europe has been a struggle between the various nations of the continent. True, there have been powerful empires; but never has any succeeded in obtaining undisputed control of the universal power of the world. And since the discovery of a new continent, this has become all the more impossible. It is very plain from history that God wills not that any one nation shall gain the complete control over the others, in order thus to realize the kingdom of Antichrist. No, evidently that kingdom shah be established in an entirely different way, as already has been discussed before and as also indicated in the words of our passage in an unmistakable manner.