Apr 2, 2012

The Five Fallen Kings

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

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The five kings which had fallen by John’s day (Rev. 17:10) appear to represent kingdoms (see Seven Heads/Kings). Assuming Rome is the kingdom which “is” at the time of John, then five kingdoms precede it and one will follow. We know from the book of Daniel that the three kingdoms which precede Rome are Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon (see Four Beasts/Kings). Yet two more are required.

If we limit our scope of inquiry to kingdoms of special relevance to Israel, then two additional candidates immediately come to mind: Assyria and Egypt. Since Israel was born as a nation in the Exodus from Egypt, the five fallen kings represent all fallen kingdoms of significance which oppressed Israel from her birth to John’s time—the time of Rome. The most likely candidates are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.

The five kingdoms of the past are the ones who have persecuted God’s people (Egypt, Eze. 29-30; Nineveh or Assyria, Nah. 3:1-19; Babylon, Isa. 21:9 and Jer. 50-51; Persia, Dan. 10:13 and 11:2; Greece, Dan. 11:3-4). The persecutor of God’s people during John’s lifetime was Rome...So the angel’s clarifying word to John about the seven heads [Rev. 17:9-11] spans essentially the entire history of Gentile world empires. [1]

Five empires ruled the known world in succession before John the Apostle wrote his book of Revelation. The empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia and Greece each ruled the known world...The Roman Empire ruled in John’s day. [2]

At the moment John wrote, Israel was in subjection to Rome. It had been in subjection to Greece, Persia and Babylon. But in its still earlier history, Israel had been in slavery to Assyria, and, in its beginnings was in slavery to Egypt. So Isaiah writes, “For thus saith the Lord God, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause” (Isa. 52:4). [3]

The view which takes Egypt as the first kingdom is based, in part, on understanding the seven heads as Gentile kingdoms and the context of Revelation 17 as favoring a Jewish/Gentile distinction. Evidence for such an emphasis can be found in the broader context of Revelation, especially chapters 7, 11-12, and 14. It also recognizes the well-documented opposition each of these kingdoms represented to God’s people. But limiting the kingdoms to only those which existed after the calling of Abraham, the father of the Jews, has the weakness of being unable to account for the full history of the Harlot. If it can be shown that she predates the Jewish nation, then upon what head can she be said to have ridden upon prior to Egypt and the events of the Exodus?

Taking the first two kingdoms to be Egypt and Assyria does not seem to do full justice to the description of the Harlot who sits on the seven heads which are the seven kings (Rev. 17:7-10). She is given the name Babylon and is identified as the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). In order to be the mother of harlots and abominations (which denote spiritual idolatry), she would have to be the source from which her daughter harlots were born. Thus, it seems best to see the Harlot as having ridden upon the Beast, sitting upon its seven heads, throughout history. This would argue for understanding the five fallen kingdoms as stretching back beyond Egypt to the time of the construction of the first major city recorded in Scripture: Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). [4]

Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that [is] the principal city). (Gen. 10:8-12) [emphasis added]

If the kingdom of Babel [5] is taken to be the first kingdom and the five kingdoms span from the time of the tower of Babel through the initial appearance of Rome, the most likely candidates for the second kingdom would be either Egypt or Assyria. Of the two, Egypt had a greater significance as a repressor of God’s people and introducing them to idolatry (Ex. 32:4; Eze. 23:2-4). The view that Babel is the first kingdom has the advantage of providing a head for the Harlot to sit upon all the way back to the initial rebellion of mankind manifested by the great city: Babel.

Just as impossible was it [as Rome] for the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar’s day [to be the mother of harlots, Rev. 17:5]; and for the same reason. It does not date back far enough. We must go further back, and find it in Gen. 10:8-10 and 11:9. There we find it in the land of Shinar. Under Nimrod began the work in the spirit of Anti-christ; his object being to build a city, and make for his People a name, so that they might not be scattered. Babylon [Babel] was founded in rebellion against God. [6]

This would accord with the identification of the Harlot as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” [emphasis added] (Rev. 17:18). [7]

[1] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 17:10.
[2] James O. Combs, Rainbows from Revelation (Springfield, MO: Tribune Publishers, 1994), 184.
[3] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 329.
[4] Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), Rev. 17:9-10.
[5] “Sumeria: Under Nimrod, Babel in the land of Shinar became the first postdiluvian center for human rebellion.”—Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 13:2.
[6] E. W. Bullinger, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 17:5.
[7] To be sure, there is a sense in which the kingdom of Babel (under Nimrod) and the kingdom of Babylon (under Nebuchadnezzar) share identity for they are in the same region and much that became Babylon undoubtedly originated in Babel.