17:6-8: THE BEAST THAT WAS, IS NOT AND YET IS
“And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; and when I saw her, I wondered with great amazement” (Revelation 17:6). John had already seen a similar beast with seven heads and ten horns, which also made war with the saints and overcame them (Revelation 13:1-10). He had seen the beast from the earth set up the image to the beast, the mark and number of the beast and the death decree. But nothing he had seen up to this time caused him to“wonder with great amazement” as the great harlot did. John was not amazed to see beasts (which represent political entities) warring against the church. But in this vision John was seeing a woman, which in scripture represents those who are, or should be, God’s chosen people. And she was taking such pleasure in killing God's people that she was portrayed as being “drunk with the blood of the saints!”
It is crucial that God’s people will be able to discern the identity of this final great enemy during the time of the end. Jesus said that the final issues will be so deceptively confusing that “if possible, even the elect” would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). For this reason the angel gave a detailed description so as to leave no doubts.
“And the angel said to me, ‘Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go to perdition; and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is” (Revelation 17:7,8).
The angel gives the key to the identity of the woman in the identity of the beast she rides. This beast “was.” In chapter 13 we saw this beast arising out of the sea, speaking blasphemy and warring against the saints for “forty-two months” (1260 years). This was the medieval papacy in control of the nations of Europe.
But the beast “is not.” The papal Beast was “mortally wounded” as it first lost the allegiance of the European people during the reformation, then lost political control, especially during the French revolution, and finally was stripped of its sovereignty when it lost the papal states during the Italian Revolution<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and the pope became a “prisoner in the Vatican.”
But that was not the end of the beast—in chapter 13 we saw that “his deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:3,12). In 1929 the Italian government signed the Lateran Pacts granting the papacy Vatican City as a sovereign state.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Since that time the papacy has been steadily growing in political power and influence. Major milestones include the Vatican II Council, in which the church committed itself to engaging the modern world and uniting Christendom. In 1984 the Roman Catholic Church established diplomatic relationships with the United States and formed a “Holy Alliance” with the US which brought down communism (See 13: The Deadly Wound Healed). In the description of the beast in chapter 17 there is no mention of the deadly wound, which was a major focus in chapter 13. This would suggest that the context of the vision is the time of the end, when the deadly wound is nearly or fully healed.
More specifically, the beast “was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition.” This verse uses past, present and future tenses, making it possible to establish the time frame of this vision (which is essential for establishing the identity of the eight kings of verse 10). The time frame is not the Middle Ages when the beast “was,” nor is it after the appearance of the antichrist who “will ascend out of the bottomless pit”. This thought will be further developed later in this section, but for the sake of establishing the context of the angel’s explanation, the Beast will in the very end be personified as the antichrist, ascending “out of the bottomless pit.” This thought will be further developed later in this section, but for the sake of establishing the context of the angel's explanation, the beast will in the very end be personified as the antichrist, ascending "out of the bottomless pit" to direct the final battle against God’s people. However, in this vision the antichrist is still future, and the context is that time when the Beast “is not,” when full political power has not been completely re-established, but the “wounded” condition is not longer obvious.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The addition of a new element, the harlot who is riding the scarlet beast, shows that there is a basic difference between the beast system of the Middle Ages and that of the last days. In the Middle Ages the church had its own territory (the Papal States) with their own armies, and was actively involved in the governments of the European countries it controlled. In the last days there is an apparent separation of the religious (the church, represented by the Hharlot), and the political/military (represented by the scarlet beast). This is in line with the modern reality in which the church is in the background while the countries of Europe and America (the “ten horns” and the “beast from the earth”) do the political and military dirty work. However, it should be kept in mind that it is the harlot who is riding the beast. Although she is in the background, the church will direct the political powers.
Beasts in prophecy have represented kingdoms and empires, and although the scarlet beast of chapter 17 is a global political power, a more personal element, the antichrist, also seems to be shown by the series of kings that are somehow related to the heads of the beast, the eighth of which is also called “the beast.” “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits…They are also seven kings…the beast that was, and is not, also is himself the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition.”
The fact that at the end of time this personal manifestation of the beast “shall ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition” shows that this is the same entity that is one of the main players during the time of trouble. He is first introduced during the "first woe" of the trumpet plagues as the “angel of the bottomless pit” who is king over the tormenting locust army. His name is Abaddon, the destroyer, and his purpose in life is to destroy God’s children. He is seen again in chapter 11:7, “The beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them [the two witnesses], overcome them, and kill them.” With his abbreviated title “the beast” he is a part of the unholy trinity of the sixth plague, spewing out “unclean spirits like frogs” which “are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:13,14). He is again present when the Battle of Armageddon takes place—“The beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse [Jesus]” (Revelation 19:19).
This beast is both a political persecuting power (the scarlet beast) and a personal manifestation of Satan himself (the beast from the bottomless pit, see 11: Satan’s Impersonation of Christ) which was predicted by Paul (the man of sin, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). It may be that Satan does not trust the crucial, final movements to any of his underlings. By fully possessing a human being he will be able to physically and personally direct the last events, which are so crucial for the survival of his kingdom and his life. As the following verses show, he will utilize the Babylon organization he has been perfecting since the time of Nimrod.
Continue to next section: 17:9-11 SEVEN HEADS
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]>"The Papal States were territories in the Italian Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope, from the 500's until 1870...These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy" Wikipedia contributors, "Papal States," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Papal States&oldid=625135797 (accessed September 17, 2014).
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]>“The temporal power of the pope remained suspended until 1929, when papal sovereignty of the Holy See was recognized by treaty with the Italian Government…and a financial settlement compensated the Holy See for loss of temporal power.” “Papacy,” Book of Knowledge, Waverly Book Company LTD, London.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]>Confirmation of this context is found in Revelation 17:12-14—“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet” (v. 12). The use of the present tense shows that in the time frame of the vision the ten kings exist but have not yet received their kingdom. This is the final united political alliance led by the “beast.” “They will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them” (vs. 13, 14). These verses use the future tense, showing that the context is before the full authority of the beast (the antichrist). Therefore the context is after the appearance of the ten kings, but before their alliance with the antichrist.