As I have shown in a previous blog, Revelation 17 understands there to be three worldwide alliances that develop in the end-time; an alliance of religious institutions in opposition to God, an alliance of secular political power, a true united nations, and an alliance of the saints. All three are precipitated by the final worldwide proclamation of the gospel (Rev. 14:6-7) and its evil counterpart (16:13-14). The world is divided into those who accept the gospel (saints), those who reject it (Babylon) and those who are indifferent (secular).
Through the counterfeit gospel of demonic angels (16:13-14), Babylon (demonic trinity—16:19) gathers the secular/political powers of the world to its cause (16:14, 16). She “rides” the beast (17:2-7). For a short time, united institutions of religion dominate the world’s governments, turning their fury against the saints (17:6; 13:15-17). But God intervenes (17:17), drying up Babylon’s support system (secular/political powers—16:12), and they end up turning on her and destroying her (17:16). By this means God saves His end-time remnant from destruction (17:14). After the fall of Babylon, the secular powers of the world are destroyed in the context of the Second Coming itself (19:17-21).
Crucial to the above scenario is the discovery that many of the symbols of Revelation are multiple way of saying the same thing. For example, the seven heads of the beast turn out to be seven mountains and seven kings, three images of secular, political power in the world. Earlier we noticed that the remnant of Revelation 12:17 is elaborated as the 144,000 in 14:1 and as the saints in 14:12. Similarly, the prostitute of 17:1 is the same as the woman who rides the beast (17:3) who is the same as Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes (17:5). The three great alliances of the End-time are all named by many names.
The difference between visions and explanations helps us solve one of the most vexing problems in the whole book of Revelation. Who are the seven kings of Rev. 17:10? They are clearly sequential, but where do they begin and when is the “one is” of the angel’s description? It is a power in John’s day, one at the very end of time, or is it somewhere in the course of history? Various Seventh-day Adventist scholars have drawn each of these three conclusions.
One popular option among non-scholars is to see the seven kings as seven consecutive popes, usually beginning with the year 1929, when Mussolini restored Vatican City to the sovereignty of the Roman Catholic Church, and the very last pope of earth’s history. This view has frequently suggested that a current pope is either the last or the next to last. So this view has led people into date-setting and is now stretched to the limit as pope after pope continues.
A second view is quite popular among SDA scholars. It suggests that the time of the sixth king (the “one is” of 17:10) is the time from 1798 to 1929, when the papacy had no temporal power. The five fallen kings would then be Babylon Persia, Greece, Rome, and the medieval papacy. The one that is would be the time when the church has no temporal power. The seven kings would be the situation today, the restored Vatican power. This view fits well with the overall Adventist view of the end-time.
But seeing this text as part of an explanation rather than a vision would rule out both options if applied here. The passage about the seven kings is not in the vision (Rev. 17:3-6), it is in the explanation of the vision (17:7-18). In order to make sense to John the explanation needs to be from his standpoint in history. So the “one is” king would have to be present at the time when John himself received the vision in order to make sense. If the “one is” kingdom is the pagan Rome of John’s day, the five who are “fallen” would be the five super powers of the Old Testament world; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. The seventh “king” would be the medieval papacy and the “eighth” (Rev. 17:11) king, who is one of the seven, would be the revived Babylon of chapter 17, an entity that in its fullness is still in our future.