Seven Roman Emperors
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65. Seven Roman Emperors
Revelation 17.9-14

"This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings — and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." (Revelation 17.9-14)✞

Mind with Wisdom

Seven Emperors AmphitheatreThe angel says to John of Patmos, "This calls for a mind with wisdom," which probably means something like, "Here is a clue. It's up to you to connect the dots and come up with your conclusions." The angel is giving John of Patmos a hint as to the identity of the seven kings or emperors who rule from the city of seven hills, that is Rome. John deliberately calls the city "Babylon" to disguise it, but this concealment is well known to Jews and Christians as another name for the city of Rome itself. Ancient Rome has seven hills, which are like the seven emperors. John of Patmos explains, "The seven heads are seven hills." These hills have names such as the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline Hill.✞

Roman Emperors Cruelty

Martyrs in the ColosseumIn the early centuries of Christianity, the Roman Empire, through its officials and Emperors, are particularly cruel to Christians. Many thousands of Christians die at the hands of emperors such as Domitian and Nero. Believers are burned to death, sawn in half, skinned alive, impaled on wooden stakes, crucified, thrown to wild animals, and killed merely for sport by gladiators in the Colosseum. The Colosseum, the oval amphitheater in the center of Rome, is the largest amphitheater. Still, the Romans build smaller versions of it in cities across the Empire like Verona in Italy. They just love sports like British people love soccer, or Americans love baseball. The games are a way for the authorities to keep order in society. John of Patmos believes God will answer such cruelty towards Christians with equal ferocity. John of Patmos tells of Babylon's punishment of (ancient Rome) as if it is a past event.

Seven Heads

Emperor Bust"The seven heads are the seven Roman emperors," writes John of Patmos. "Five have fallen, one at present exists, but the other has not yet come. When he does come, he must remain for a short time." The beast is himself the eighth Roman emperor, that is Domitian. He proceeds from the series of seven other emperors.

Fallen Emperors

Emperor AugustusThe Roman Empire begins with its first emperor and founder Augustus (BC 63-14 AD.) The first five Roman Emperors were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These five kings fall according to Revelation 17. After Nero's death, there are two years of chaos in which several minor leaders who are not considered emperors, including Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, come and go in quick succession. They are not generally viewed in any real sense as emperors nor included in any list of emperors. The seven emperors conclude with Vespasian and Titus. The "eighth emperor" is Domitian, and he is probably the cruelest of them all and called "the beast." ✞

Vespasian and Titus

Emperor VespasianIn this Revelation passage, "the other who has not yet come" is probably a reference to the Roman Emperor Vespasian (9-79 AD) who rules for ten years until he dies in 79 AD. He founds the Flavian dynasty that lasts for 27 years, and he is renowned as a military leader who spearheads the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD. He is the first emperor to bring back normality to the empire after the chaos following the death of Emperor Nero. Revelation 17.10 adds, "He must remain for only a little while." Vespasian stays for a little while and is succeeded by his son Titus, who is the first-ever son to inherit his father's role as Roman emperor. Titus' reign lasts only two years from 79-81 AD. As a general, Titus is known for his successful siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. The arch of Titus still stands in Rome for the tourists today, generously decorated with carvings showing Titus' brave deeds in battle. He is also known for finishing off the building of the massive Coliseum in Rome. He shows great generosity in relieving suffering after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and the rebuilding of Rome after a fire.

Nero Resurrected

The AntichristThe Emperor who followed Titus was Domitian (51-96 AD.)John of Patmos in Revelation 17.11 describes Domitian as, "The beast who once was, and now is not, is the eighth king." The eighth proceeds from the series of the seven emperors and is on his way to destruction. The emperor who follows Titus is identified according to "The Life of Domitian" by the Roman biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c69-c120 AD) as "Nero Redivivus" or "Nero Resurrected" or Emperor Domitian also called by the Christians "the Antichrist." There is a widespread belief that Nero did not die but would be resurrected and return as Emperor Domitian!

Mad Domitian

House FlyCan Domitian be reasonably identified with the evil force which the "Nero Redivivus" personified? Domitian was certainly as evil in works if not in name. Suetonius, who was not a Christian sympathizer, asserts that Domitian is an object of terror and hatred to all. A grim picture of him appears at the beginning of his reign. "He used to spend hours in seclusion every day, doing nothing but catching flies and stabbing them with a keenly-sharpened stylus." Any psychologist would find a curiously revealing picture of any man or woman. He was insanely jealous and suspicious. John of Patmos notes, "This calls for wisdom," or "This is a clue as to his identity!"

Lucullan Lance

Roman Soldier with LanceThe Roman Emperor Domitian claimed to be a god and insisted on being addressed as Lord and worshipped publically by all. The fifteen-year reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (51-96 AD) was a ruthless one. When the historian Hermogenes wrote things that Domitian did not like, Domitian executed him and the scribe who had copied the manuscript. Senators were slaughtered right and left. The writer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c69-c120 AD) informs us in "The Twelve Caesars" that the Governor of Britannia (c83-c93 AD), Sallustius Lucullus, was executed in 90 AD. He allowed a new type of lance to be called a "Lucullan" after himself instead of dedicating it to Emperor Domitian. Suetonius' report says, "He [Domitian] put to death Sallustius Lucullus, Governor of Britain, for allowing some lances of a new pattern to be called 'Lucullean,' after his name." "Lucullan" has strangely come to mean "extremely luxurious" and became the name of a particular type of marble. Domitian revived the old cruel punishment of having his victims stripped naked, fixed by the neck in a fork of wood, and beaten to death with rods.

Declared Himself God

Juno Jupiter and Minerva StatuesEarly in his reign, Domitian appeared wearing a golden crown with the figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while the priest of Jupiter sat at his side. When he received back his divorced wife, he announced that she had returned to the "divine couch." When the Roman Emperor entered the amphitheater, he loved to be greeted with the cry, "Good fortune attend our lord and his lady." He began his official edicts, "Our Lord and God bids this done." Soon that was the only title the Emperor would permit. Roman Emperor Domitian (51-96 AD) ruled from 81-96 AD. He was a fierce leader but, at the same time, a ruthless and efficient autocrat. John of Patmos regarded him as the cruelest of all Roman Emperors. He had lived in the shadow of his father Vespasian (9-79 AD) until his father's death and then his brother Titus (39-81 AD), who was a renowned military leader until a fatal illness struck him in 81 AD. The Titus Arch still stands in Rome embellished with carvings of Titus' successful exploits. Titus was also known for having completed the Coliseum in Rome. Titus was very generous with the survivors of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.✞

Cruel Suspicious Leader

Emperor DomitianThe day after Titus' death, the Praetorian Guard declared Domitian as Emperor. He was, however, so suspicious that he chained his prisoners during a hearing. During his lifetime, he feared so much for his safety that he had the passages through which he walked tiled with reflective phengite mica stone. When polished, they were like mirrors so that Domitian could see anyone who was creeping up behind him. Despite all these precautions, Domitian was murdered by court officials on the 18th September 96 AD, in the bloodiest of circumstances. Domitian reigned for fifteen years, longer than any Emperor since Tiberius. The Roman historian Suetonius (69-140 AD), who lived in North Africa, wrote in his "Life of Domitian," "He was tall of stature, with a modest expression and a high color. His eyes were large, but his sight was somewhat dim. He was handsome and graceful, especially when a young man, indeed in his whole body except for his feet, the toes of which were somewhat cramped. In later life, he had the further disfigurement of baldness, a protruding belly, and spindling legs, though the latter had become thin from a long illness." Though bald and wearing a wig, he was amazingly reputed to have written a book on hair care!✞

Nero Reborn

Nero and ladyDomitian was thought by the early Christians to have been Nero resurrected, another cruel emperor. According to a popular legend, which survived until the 5th century AD, Nero did not die but fled Rome to raise an army and then return to destroy it. Domitian was therefore called "Nero Redivivus," meaning "Nero Reborn." Domitian made Caesar worship compulsory during his reign as Emperor and unleashed the flood-tides of the persecution of Christians and others. Many scholars believed that it was probable that John of Patmos himself, a prisoner on a remote island, also believed Domitian to have been the reincarnation of Nero.✞

Bald Headed Despot

EusebiusSecular, as well as Christian leaders, came to the same conclusion that Domitian was a reincarnated Nero. Juvenal, a Roman poet of the 1st and 2nd century AD, stated that Rome was "enslaved to a bald Nero." For this remark, Juvenal was exiled and eventually murdered. Tertullian, (160-220 AD) a Christian leader in North Africa in the 3rd century AD, called Domitian "a man of Nero's type of cruelty," and a "sub-Nero." Eusebius (263-339 AD), the Roman historian, and later Bishop of Caesarea repeated this verdict. Domitian was, as we might say today, "a nasty piece of work!"

Revelation Lamb

Domitian and the Revelation LambIn Heaven, the beast and the antichrist war with the Revelation Lamb, but the Lamb destroys their power. John of Patmos wrote during the rule of Emperor Domitian. Still, he may have dictated the Book of Revelation and projected himself back into the time of Vespasian to trace the previous terrible times. John of Patmos probably saw in Domitian the reincarnation of Nero, the supreme embodiment of Roman wickedness and defiance to God. He, therefore, identified Domitian as Antichrist, who battled with the Revelation Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. The ten horns refer to the ten kings who had not yet received their power. They would receive it, and when they did, they would unanimously agree to hand over their power to the beast, and with him, they would rise with the harlot and make war with the Revelation Lamb and finally be defeated by him. We read that these world powers war with the "Lamb of God," but the Lamb destroys them. The called and chosen shared in the victory of the Lamb. One of the great concepts of Jewish thought is that the saints and the martyrs will one day share in God's final triumph. The Wisdom of Solomon contains the same promise to those who had lived, suffered, and died for God.

Faithful Followers

Lamb of GodJohn of Patmos sees the Revelation Lamb King and his faithful followers overcome his enemies because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. The Wisdom of Solomon 3.5-8 says of the Persecuted and Faithful Followers, "Having borne a little chastening, they shall receive great good because God made trial of them and found them worthy of himself." "As gold in the furnace he proved them, and as a whole burnt offering, he accepted them. And in the time of their visitation, they shall shine forth, and as sparks among the stubble, they shall run to and fro. They shall judge nations and have dominion over people." There is no doubt that this belief is in the minds of the Apostles James and John in Matthew 20.20-21 "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling, asked a favor of him. 'What is it you want?' he asked. She said, 'Grant that one of my two sons may sit at your right and one at your left in your kingdom.'" In Mark 10.35-37, we read, "Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask.' 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked. They replied, 'Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.'" James and John come and ask Jesus for the best and most important places on his right and left when he enters into his kingdom. They want to be number two and three in authority! Many leaders today, even in the church, strive to be in control also of the Kingdom of God. The reality is that the lowliest and humblest will occupy these positions!

"Seven Roman Emperors"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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