The death of Nero on June 9th, AD 68 marked the end of the line of the Caesars according to Suetonius, who wrote, “The race of the Caesars ended with Nero.” Nero was the sixth and last Caesar. Yet Suetonius titled his book, The Twelve Caesars.
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful (Revelation 17:12-14).
As to the identity of the ten kings of Revelation 17:12, the most popular interpretation among preterist writers is that they are ten contemporaneous individuals who arose at one time to give the Beast (Rome) power to wage the First Jewish-Roman War from AD 67 to 70. A common solution is that they are ten Roman provincial governors.
There are several problems with this idea. The most obvious one if that there were not exactly ten Roman provinces at the time of John’s writing.
The status of a province could change from time to time. In AD 68, of a total 36 provinces, 11 were public and 25 imperial. Of the latter, 15 were under legati and 10 under procuratores or praefecti (Roman Province).
Yes, it is worth considering that there were ten imperial Roman provinces under ten procurators and prefects (or “governors”) at the time of Nero’s suicide. But they were hardly united as “one mind” (v. 15). In fact, Judea itself was one of the Roman provinces under a procurator. The success of the Jewish War helped to cement Vespasian’s standing as a powerful emperor. But there is no indication that he needed ten provincial governors to do this or even that ten governors lent their military support.
Also, why only ten? Why not 25 or all 36? Since Judea was one of the ten provinces under a governor named Gessius Florus during the Roman-Jewish War and others were still not loyal until several years into Vespasian’s rule, how did these factions act as “one mind” to make war on Jerusalem? Vespasian was able to conquer Judea by the strength of additional armies, which were left to him after the collapse of Vitellius, not with an alliance of ten governors. To me, this has always seemed an esoteric and contrived solution.
If we include historicist interpretations, the number of solutions grows even more. In 1838, Joseph Tyso compiled a table of 29 distinct lists, showing that 65 different kingdoms and kings have been suggested. (Elucidation of the Prophecies, 100-114).
It is interesting that in The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition on the Book of Revelation, David Chilton also proposes the popular 19th century preterist interpretation of the ten horns as being ten provincial governors (also held by Russell, Terry, Stuart and Farrar). Yet Chilton does not dig himself in too deeply by identifying them as exactly ten in number.
It is not necessary, however, to attempt a precise definition of these ten subject kings; the symbol simply represents “the totality of those allied or subject kings who aided Rome in her wars both on Judaism and Christianity” (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, p. 433). The burden of the text is to point to these kings, with whom the Harlot has plied her trade (v. 2), as the instruments of her eventual destruction (v. 16-17).
The Simplest Solution is the Best Solution
The simplest solution is to see all the parallel language of Revelation 17 as speaking of one idea. The seven heads, ten horns and ten crowns of the Beast (Revelation 13:1; 17:3) speak of the Roman Caesars and the Roman Empire. The line of seven kings is presented first to bring the prophecy to the time of Nero’s death when the empire was thrown into turmoil during the Year of the Four Emperors – the civil war that raged from AD 68 to 69. Galba was the seventh emperor who replaced Nero. The line of ten kings is presented to speak of the emergence of the tenth king, Vespasian, who in “one hour” restored the Roman Empire even while prosecuting God’s vengeance on Judea, Jerusalem and the Temple.
If there is a problem with understanding the ten kings “who have received no kingdom as of yet” as a successive line of kings, then we simply need to understand that Revelation 17:17 interprets 17:12,13.
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.… (vv. 12,13).
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (v. 17).
The idea here is not that there are ten individual kings who would arise in one hour, but that Rome, symbolized by the ten emperors up to the time of Vespasian, would be united in one hour, for one purpose, to receive the power and authority from God to defeat the apostate Jews and destroy the Temple at Jerusalem once and for all. This is what is meant by “received a kingdom.” This is synonymous with the next phrase, which speaks of the ten kings giving “power and strength to the beast.”
As other preterists, such as Terry and Chilton have noted, this makes no sense unless we agree the ten kings represent the totality of Rome’s power, not ten specific contemporaneous kings. But from there it makes just as much sense to say the ten kings are Rome’s Imperial power represented by the line of ten emperors who culminated at the time of Vespasian. Thus there are literally ten kings, but since they are deceased, they symbolically represent the line of Roman Imperial authority and power given to Vespasian’s campaign.
Daniel 7 and Revelation 17
In my exposition of Daniel 7 in the book, In the Days of These Kings, I maintain that the symbolism of Daniel 7 must harmonize or “dovetail” with Revelation 13 and 17. I explain that the ten kings of Daniel 7 must be the same as the ten kings of Revelation 13 and 17.
Likewise, the “Little Horn” of Daniel 7 who comes up “between” or in the “midst of” the ten kings, must also be the sixth king who now “is” (Revelation 17:10) among the seven kings. Although some preterists describe the “Little Horn” as Titus, or the “eleventh horn,” I don’t think this is fitting. First, the text plainly states several times throughout the chapter that the beast had ten horns (Daniel 7:7,20,24). Second, the text nowhere says there is an “eleventh horn,” but states he is “among the ten” (Daniel 7:8). Third, the character of this king, who “shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:25), fits Nero more than any other Roman Emperor.
As for the objection that 7:24 states the Little Horn comes up after “them” and states that “three fell before him,” I explain this in a previous article. Almost certainly, 7:24 has the same meaning as 7:8 and 7:20, that is, he comes up among the ten kings and after the three kings, not after the whole line of ten.
“The eighth who is of the seven”
A similar difficulty arises in the wording of Revelation 17:11.
And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
The “ten horns” are essentially the same symbol as the “eighth head.” They symbolize Rome’s resurrection from the dead under the tenth king, Vespasian, during which time Rome was given the power to destroy the harlot, Jerusalem.
This puzzling verse is a difficult text for any hermeneutic. As one of the leading experts on the preterist interpretation of Revelation, Kenneth Gentry agrees that the meaning of the “eighth who is of the seven” represents a difficulty both in terms of the paradoxical language and John’s previous statement that the Beast had seven heads.
Regarding the seven heads of the beast here in these verses, the “five” are Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius who have already “fallen” (i.e., are dead). We know, therefore, that the sixth one “is” (estin) the reigning emperor, Nero. And “the other who has not yet come” is the seventh, Galba, who will only “remain a little while.” And we know that the Roman Civil Wars during the Year of the Four Emperors pictures the beast’s corporate death throes….
(1) The number of heads on the beast is seven, not eight (Rev 13:1; 17:3,7,9). The eighth is a surprising addition, unaccounted for by the beast John sees. This should alert us to some sort of disruption in the counting.
(2) In fact, John conspicuously drops the definite article when mentioning the eighth: to therion ho en kai ouk estin kai autos ogdoos estin is translated as “the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth.”
So the “eighth” must represent Rome’s revival, its resurrection to new life and strength. But the next emperor after Galba is Otho, one of the inter-regnum emperors who is a part of Rome’s death throes. How can he picture the beast’s resurrection? He is continuing those death throes. Besides, he is the “seventh,” not the “eighth” (Kenneth Gentry, Rev 17 and the Beast as an “Eighth).
Futurists and historicists propose all sorts of solutions to the identity of the eighth king and his relationship to the seven. Some preterists struggle to somehow find a fulfillment of the eighth king as either Vespasian or Titus. Gentry’s previous solution was that the eighth king might be Vespasian who represents the Roman imperial power risen from the dead. The simplest solution is to view the eighth king as a representation of the shift back to the might of Imperial Rome as a whole.
The line of seven kings, represented by the seven heads, refers to Julius through Galba, who initiated the Roman civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. The “eighth” refers to the reborn Rome under Vespasian who brought the Empire back from the dead.
Although I think this solution is logically valid, I propose that the language of Daniel 7 sheds even more light on this phrase. “Another little horn” (Daniel 7:8) grows up among the ten. This can be seen as the sixth king in John’s line of kings.
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. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition (Revelation 17:10,11).
The “beast that was, and is not” is Rome. In Daniel and Revelation, the “little horn” and the sixth king who “is” refers to the power of Rome to make war against the saints in the person of Nero.
He is Nero who had “a mouth speaking great things,” who “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them,” and who “shall wear out the saints of the most High … and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Daniel 7:8,21,28).
He is Nero who many thought had risen from the dead when the saw “one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:3).
He is Nero who spoke “great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months … to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Revelation 13:5,7).
Further, this was not an esoteric reference among some obscure religious sect. Nero was known throughout the empire on coins and inscriptions as “our Apollo,” “Heracles,” “savior and benefactor of the world,” “lord of the whole world,” “lord” and “god.” Nero deified his wife Poppaea and his daughter after their deaths. In fact, Nero had such a fearsome reputation among Christians that even many of the futurist premillennialists of the early centuries believed that Nero would soon rise from the dead as an Antichrist figure.
From a preterist viewpoint, we should at least agree with Calvin that the line of ten kings represented by ten horns in Daniel 7 refers to time of the Roman Empire. By extension, the seven heads and ten horns Revelation 13, 17 also represent the line of Roman emperors.
Preterists generally agree that the “seven kings” run from Julius Caesar to Nero, with Galba being the seventh lasting only “a short time.” Where preterists disagree is on the identity of the ten horns who are described more in detail in Revelation 17. Many say they are contemporaneous, but I will explain here that the ten kings include the same line of kings as the seven, but now stretching to the time of Vespasian as the tenth king.
How and when did the whole Roman Empire go to its destruction?
And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition (Revelation 17:11).
The word translated as “perdition” in the King James Version, is rendered most often as “destruction” in other translations. However, I prefer the KJV in that eternal destruction through God’s judgment is what is being emphasized here, not simply a military or political destruction.
One criticism of the preterist view that the Beast is Nero, and in a larger sense the Roman Empire, is that the Roman Empire was not finally defeated in AD 70.
Of course, Nero was sent into perdition in that he was put out of power and committed suicide after murdering a “multitude” of Christians according to several contemporary sources (Tacitus, Suetonius, Clement of Rome and later Lanctantius). In fact, Nero’s murderous behavior in general is what turned the Roman military against him. At that time, he went into “perdition,” his eternal damnation. It is true that the Roman Imperial power went on after AD 70. But after Nero it never again rose to the same power. The Roman Empire was gradually subsumed by the Christian Church in the next 200 years.
The death of Nero on June 9th, AD 68 marked the end of the line of the Caesars according to Suetonius, who wrote, “The race of the Caesars ended with Nero.” Nero was the sixth and last Caesar. Yet Suetonius titled his book, The Twelve Caesars.
This is similar to saying that the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians in the 7th century BC in fulfillment of biblical prophecy (Isaiah 10:5-19, 30:27-33, 36:13–22; Jonah 1:1,2; Nahum 1-3). This is true, but the Assyrians still had some power and raided cities in Judea into the 6th century BC. As I describe in my book, In the Days of these Kings, these later Assyrian raids are recorded in Jeremiah and Ezekiel in elsewhere.
So it is correct to say that the biblical prophecies against the Assyrian Empire were fulfilled by Nabopolassar at the Battle of Nineveh in 620 BC, and later by his son, Nebuchadnezzar, at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, who finished off the remnants of the former Assyrian Empire. However, Assyria did not immediately go out of existence. It took another few decades for their power to be completely extinguished.
How does this apply to Revelation 13, 17?
The Beast is Rome. Nero is a head. The head is injured to death, but Revelation says the Beast revives. According to Daniel, it is the Christ’s kingdom that ultimately shattered Rome into pieces. In Daniel 2:45 we see that a “stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold.” The stone is cut out of a mountain without human hands, but it grows into a mountain after shattering the feet of the statue. This implies gradualism. We don’t see the kingdom of God conquer Rome all at once, but it occurs gradually. And this does not only apply to Rome. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God throughout the course of history.
The theme of a great empire that goes into perdition when the kingdom of God appears is recapitulated throughout Daniel and Revelation. This is the meaning of the seven heads, the eighth head, and the ten horns. Collectively, they stand for Rome, but they are also individually Rome’s line of ten emperors from Julius Caesar to Vespasian.
“They have received no kingdom as of yet”
Some will immediately object that when we come to Revelation 17:12,13, it is not possible to interpret the ten kings as a line of succession. They read that these ten kings “have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” This must mean, so they think, that the kings have not yet arisen and therefore are contemporaneous, not successive Roman emperors.
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast (Revelation 17:12,13).
Before we read this phrase in isolation, “received no kingdom as of yet,” we should remember the saying, “A text without a context is a pretext.”
In context, we should notice that chapter 17 follows the same structure and pattern of the symbolism of both the prophecy of Daniel 7 and several of the surrounding chapters of Revelation (namely, various beasts and the adulterous woman in Revelation chapters 9,11,12,13,16,17,18). Further, specific references of “kings” in the book of Daniel refer to a dynastic line of kings, not always a single king (Daniel 2:44, 7:12, 8:20, 10:13, 11:2). In the book of Revelation, preterists mostly agree that the seven heads of the Beast are the line of Caesars from Julius to Galba.
We should also notice that the words, kingdom, power, and strength are repeated throughout the book of Revelation. In this context, they are actually synonymous.
As in Daniel 7, the ten horns are ten kings. But does John mean they are successive or contemporaneous? Should we take “no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour” to mean that John is predicting that these ten kings would appear all at once?
No, John is here using a figure of speech. He means that this line of ten kings, who represent Rome’s imperial power, would receive the power and authority from God at a certain time to attack the harlot, Jerusalem, and destroy the Temple. Although some of the kings in this line had come and gone by the time John wrote this, their “hour” had not yet arrived. The “hour,” or time when they would be used of God to judge Jerusalem, had not yet come, but it would happen soon.
The purpose of Revelation 17 is not to make a prediction concerning when the ten kings will arise. It is to show that Rome, which was at the time of John’s writing allied with the unbelieving Jews against the Christian Church, would soon in “one hour” receive power and strength as one kingdom, with one mind, for one purpose – to “hate” and destroy the harlot. In other words, God himself would turn Rome from being an ally of the Jewish persecution on the Christians to warring on Judea and ultimately destroying in the Temple at Jerusalem.
It is important to note that for the first few decades recorded in the New Testament, the locus of persecution of the Church was mainly with the Jews, not the Roman civil powers. The early Christians were put out of the synagogues and the apostles were spoken against by the Jews. But the civil authorities were generally ambivalent. In fact, Jesus told his hearers to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). Peter and Paul implored their hearers to pray for governing authorities as ministers of righteousness (1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Timothy 2:1,2). They commanded Christians to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). Paul himself appealed to Caesar and spent three to four years of his life under house arrest awaiting his trial before Nero (Acts 28:30,31). Paul was probably released in early AD 62.
The martyrdom of James, the brother of the Lord and a bishop in the Church at Jerusalem, occurred around this time. Josephus places the death of James during the Jewish unrest caused by the death of Festus in AD 62. The Sanhedrin evidently used that opportunity to increase their persecution of the Church. It was not until a few months after the Great Fire of Rome in the summer of AD 64, that Nero and the Roman civil power began to persecute the Church. Then in AD 66, due to the mismanagement of Judea by the Roman governor Gessius Florus, riots spurred by a tax revolt broke out in Jerusalem.
The “ten kings” fulfill the same symbolism as the “eighth king” – the beast who “was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition” (Revelation 17:11). They represent the united imperial power of Rome beginning in the time of the sixth king, Nero (to persecute the Church) who then committed suicide as a result of a rebellion against his insane and depraved despotism; and culminating in the resurrection of Rome’s imperial power, the tenth king, Vespasian (to destroy Jerusalem and raze the Temple).
Five Keys to Interpreting Revelation 17
We should remember five keys in attempting to interpret this difficult passage.
First, the language is repeated so that one part interprets the next. When we see the “inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication” in verse 2, and the “woman drunken with the blood of the saints” in verse 6, we should understand that the references to drunkenness are related if not synonymous. Jerusalem’s relationship with Rome enables her to persecute the nascent Christian Church. This adulterous relationship coupled with the murder of Christ and many martyrs is what will bring God’s judgment on the “Great City.” Further, the seven kings and ten kings are related in that they collectively represent Rome. They are also portrayed as individuals. We should consider whether they are separate groups of seven and ten or a synonymous collective; and whether they are consecutive kings or contemporaneous governors.
Second, the relationship between the harlot and the beast shifts throughout the vision. In the beginning, she is related to the seven kings by having her seat among them. She carries an air of pagan authority. Her authority is likened to idolatry, immorality and drunkenness. This authority gives her the ability to persecute the saints. Then when the ten kings are revealed in the angel’s interpretation, the kings “hate the whore” and make her “desolate and naked” and “burn her with fire” (Revelation 17:16). So the woman goes from a position of royalty having ruled over the kings of the earth (or the “kingdom of the land” of Judea) to destruction by the ten kings. Then the eighth king and the ten kings “go into perdition” (17:11) and “shall be overcome by the Lamb,” Jesus Christ (17:14).
Third, we are given the identity of the woman as “that great city.” “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth (17:18). John refers to the “great city” in Revelation 10 times and is likely alluding to Jeremiah 22:8,9.
And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them’” (Jeremiah 22:8,9, emphasis mine).
To be consistent with the rest of Revelation, John writes of Jerusalem comparing the “great city” to Sodom and Egypt. The woman’s condemnation comes from the fact that Jerusalem has become guilty of shedding the blood of the “two witnesses.”
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:8).
Elsewhere in Revelation the “great city” is symbolically “Babylon” (Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10-21). And finally, the redeemed “great city” coming down from heaven is the new “Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:10).
Fourth, in Daniel 7, the “Little Horn” that comes up “in the middle of” the ten horns, and after three have fallen, is Nero specifically. Likewise, in Revelation 17, the sixth king comes after “five have fallen” and “one is” (at the time of John’s writing). This individual is also Nero.
Fifth, the “seven kings,” the “eighth” king who “is of the seven,” and the “ten kings” all sit on the beast. We saw that this beast is the Roman Empire. We saw that interpreting the eighth king as an individual in succession to the seventh is problematic, since he is “of the seven.” It is plainly stated that the beast has only seven heads. The eighth king likely symbolizes Rome as an imperial force raised from the dead after the death of Nero. Likewise, we don’t need to be woodenly literal and insist that the ten kings are ten separate, contemporaneous individuals. Like the eighth king, they likely symbolize Rome collectively and refer to the line of ten kings from Julius to Vespasian, as in my interpretation of the ten kings in Daniel 7.
Parallel Structure of Revelation 17
This interpretation comes into clearer focus as we look at the parallel structure of Revelation 17. Using the same parallel structure as Daniel 7, John first sees a vision (vv. 1-6) and then an angel repeats the vision (vv. 7,8) and then interprets the vision (vv. 9-13). John is told the interpretation of what he saw in five successive parallelisms frequently repeating the phrase “you saw.”
The parallel structure here begins in an A.B,C, A,B,C pattern. Then the pattern shifts to an A,B,A,B,B,A,B,A,B,A chiasm (outlined below). First, the angel tells John he will see the judgment of the great whore who commits fornication with the kings of the earth. Second, John sees the woman, the beast with seven mountains on which the woman sits and seven kings. Third, the angel repeats the vision. Then fourth, the angel interprets the vision of the beast with the seven heads, ten horns and the harlot.
1. The angel tells John what he will see
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me,
A. Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: (17:1)
B. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication,
C. and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication (17:2).
2. John’s vision is described
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness:
A. and I saw a woman sit upon
B. a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth. (17:3,4,5).
C. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus:
and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration (17:6).
3. The angel repeats what John saw
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee
A. the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her,
B. which hath the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition (17:7,8).
4. The angel interprets the vision
A. And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
B. 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. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition (17:9-11).
And he saith unto me,
B. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful (17:12-14).
And he saith unto me,
A. The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues (17:15).
B. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast,
A. these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire (17:16).
B. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (17:17).
A. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth (17:18).
Historical Background and Interpretation
It is notable that up until the time of Nero, Jerusalem had an adulterous and yet advantageous relationship with Rome. The Jews were allowed to practice their religion if they paid tribute to Caesar. In fact, Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina was likely a proselyte to Judaism. Josephus records that Nero pardoned ten priests who had been sent to trial in Rome on trumped up charges, but kept two as “hostages,” probably meaning as teachers to his wife (Josephus, Antiquities XX.8.11).
This relationship soon changed with Nero’s murder of Poppaea in AD 65. Nero had also set in Gessius Florus for a short, disastrous administration over Judea from AD 64 to 66. By late AD 64, Nero began his persecution of Christians. By the fall of AD 66, Nero had dispatched his general Vespasian to raise troops to quell the rebellion in Judea. After Nero’s death in AD 68, there followed a civil war and the Year of the Four Emperors. By the summer of AD 69, Vespasian had become the tenth Roman Emperor. He reignited the Jewish war and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 burning the Temple with fire leaving “not one stone … left upon another” (Matthew 24:2).
From Revelation 17:1-11, the scarlet woman who sits on the beast enjoys a favorable relationship with the “kings of the earth.” She is made drunk with the blood of the saints (17:6). Rome empowered the Jewish power brokers in Jerusalem to be able to persecute the early Christian Church.
The transitional verse is Revelation 17:12. When the ten horns appear, John writes, “these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Then verses 12 to 18 shift from the persecution of the saints to the war on the harlot, the “Great City,” Jerusalem.
The symbolism also shifts in 17:12 from a seven headed beast that represents a line of seven kings to a ten horned, ten crowned beast who represents a line of ten kings. The simplest solution is to consider that the line of seven kings (Julius to Galba) is the same line of emperors at the line of ten kings (Julius to Vespasian) but from a different point of view emphasizing two events. The line if seven kings points to the persecution of the Church under Nero. The line of ten kings points to the destruction of Jerusalem under the reign of Vespasian.
Verses 9-11 and 12-14 are separated by the phrase, “And he saith unto me.” Then the same phrase appears again at the beginning of 15-18. Not only does this signify a break in the angel’s interpretation, but it signals a repeat of the prophecy cycle or a recapitulation. Thus the eighth king symbolizes a revived Roman Empire. The ten kings also symbolize the revived Roman Empire. Here the attention shifts from the persecution of the Church under Nero, to the war against Judea and Jerusalem conducted from the time of Nero (the sixth king) through Vespasian (the tenth king).
Preterists generally agree that Revelation 17 is a prophecy that foretells of these events. But the identity of the “ten kings” continues to pose a difficulty and a range of interpretations. I believe the solution is to look at both the structure of the chapter and the historical fulfillment. However, the incidental “this means that” interpretation is not as important as the overarching purpose. The symbolism in the middle section of Revelation is to point to these two great first century events – the persecution of the early Christian Church and the destruction of the apostate Jews.