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THE TEN HORNS

 

The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful. Revelation 17:12–14

 

The ten horns of the scarlet beast are first mentioned in verse 7. In the context of that verse we were reminded of the 10 seasons of persecution against the church Jesus built from its beginning up to 324 A.D. when Emperor Constantine legalized the church and made himself the political head of the church.

In verses 13 and 14 we are told that these ten horns are of one mind and give their power and authority to the beast and by this means they make war with the Lamb. The angel tells us these horns are ten kings that have received no kingdom but will receive authority for just one hour to reign as kings with the beast. You will recall from our study of chapter 13 that the beast of the earth, which we learned depicts the time of the Protestant Reformation, received its authority from the beast of the sea, which we learned is Roman Catholicism, and in turn made an image to the beast of Romanism by segregating Christians into denominations patterned after the Roman Church. This beast of the earth deceived people through the proliferation of churches, which is this image of the beast. And we were told that the Protestant movement killed as many as did not worship the image of the beast; i.e., those that came out of Romanism but did not submit to their new national churches. Here in chapter 17 we see the horns of the beast doing the same thing, killing those that do not worship the image of the beast, which is said to be the horns making war with the Lamb.

There are ten horns on the beast we identified as the Roman Catholic Church system. While the seasons of pagan persecution of the church ended in 324 A.D. the Roman Empire continued another 152 years until 476 A.D. The Roman Empire collapsed under constant looting and invasions by the Huns. The Germanic warlord Odoacer crowned himself king of Italy and reigned from 476 to 493 A.D.

With the fall of Rome, the Western Roman Empire divided into 10 independent kingdoms: Franks; what is now northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Huns; part of what is now Germany and Poland. Visigoths; what is now Spain and southwestern France. Ostrogoths; what is now Austria and southeastern Europe. Heruli; what is now Italy. Lomabards; what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Anglo-Saxons; that part of the British Isles that is England. Suevi; what is now Portugal. Vandals; northern Africa. And the Burgundians; what is now the Mediterranean coast of France.

While these kingdoms were independent from each other and oftentimes hostile towards each other, there was one common factor among them which was the Church of Rome. Without a uniting political power, the Pope through the united influence of the church throughout Europe became the effective leader of what had been the Roman Empire. The Pope did not have direct political power in the countries where the church existed. However, the Pope became the power that ordained the kings and ruling powers in those countries. The Pope was essentially the head of the Empire holding the power of excommunication over the kings and princes he ordained. While they made and executed policy in their countries, their policies had to meet with the approval of Rome. This relationship endured for about one thousand years after which time the attitude of the horns changed with regard to the beast.

Verse 16, “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” This refers to the rise of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation effectively began with Martin Luther’s publication of his exposition of the seven Penitential Psalms in 1517. Philip Schaff says of this work: “It was a fit introduction to the reformatory These which enjoin the true evangelical repentance. In this exposition he sets forth the doctrines of sin and grace and the comfort of the gospel for the understanding of the common people.”[1]

The ten horns on the beast here represent the national churches that came out of the Church of Rome during the Reformation. These horns burn the great harlot, the spirit of apostasy, with the fire of the Word of God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 13, we saw the lamb-like beast coming up out of the earth performing great signs by making fire come down from heaven in the sight of men. The power behind the Reformation was the truth of the everlasting gospel. The gospel exposed the errors the spirit of apostasy had substituted for salvation from sin in the teaching of the Roman Church. The gospel as correctly taught by the Reformers enabled the common people to understand real repentance and forgiveness of sin that come only through the grace of God and not the enchantments of a mere man called a priest.

While the Reformation surfaced in Germany it was not limited to that region of Europe. As reformers rose up, individual churches across Europe embraced the Reformation and either separated from Rome or were excommunicated by the Pope. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were the primary spokesmen at the beginning of the Reformation. The Reformation was indeed a movement of God in the history of the church. These men helped to resurrect the gospel from the Bible that had been lost in the darkness of Roman ritual and superstition and present it to the people as the true and only way of salvation. While each of these men had his faults and failings, they were used by God to restore the fundamental teachings of gospel salvation. But the real work of the Reformation was far greater than just these men and the time in which they lived; it went on to include many others that God raised up after them through whom He brought more and clearer understanding of the gospel: men such as Arminius and Wesley, and various proponents of the Primitive Church Movement.

The angel tells John in verses 12 and 13 that these horns received authority for only one hour and then they turned over their power and authority to the Roman beast. In turning over the power and authority of the word of God the horns, i.e., the churches birthed in the Reformation, now make war with the Lamb who then overcomes and defeats them. With all the light and truth they were receiving on the everlasting gospel, how could they possibly submit themselves to the beast? This just does not make sense. You will recall that the name given to the great harlot in Verse 5 is “MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

What happened in each of these movements that were part of the Reformation was that the reformers and leaders made images of the beast they hated. They built church organizations that looked like the Roman Church in many ways.  We learned back in chapter 13, verse14 that the Reformers told “those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast.” The spirit of apostasy worked through the influence of Romanism the first reformers had previously lived under and preached against to create state churches and denominations that were separate from other churches of the Reformation. Even though their creeds were almost identical, they could not fellowship each other and they could not be the one church as built by Jesus. They neglected the unity of believers inherent in redemption. In dividing from each other they divided the body of Christ, effectively making war with the Lamb. But as each church and movement eventually put a strangle-hold on the gospel and their membership, the Spirit of God still spoke to people and led them beyond the confines of their church memberships until such time as the Lamb appeared on Mount Zion in chapter 14, which we will see in the next chapter.

The angel makes a curious statement in verse 17. He says, “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” God had a real intentional purpose for the Reformation, which was to bring back the everlasting gospel. Originally, the reformers had one mind and that was to search the scriptures to discern the truth. But they did not let this mind develop the unity of the Spirit that endows the church as Jesus built it. Because of their background in formal church organization they effectively gave their kingdom to the beast, which is the height of church organization. Instead of coming out as the church Jesus built, they became harlot daughters of the Great Harlot we see riding the scarlet beast. In spite of this, the ultimate failure of men in the Reformation, God still had purpose for which He would go on to fulfill without these harlot daughters.

The angel concludes this part of the vision reminding us in verse 18, “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” The spirit of apostasy will continue to oppose the church as Jesus built it until the end of time. Following the time of the Reformation, movements and churches have come into being with the intent to preach the everlasting gospel and be a true reflection of the church as Jesus built it. Looking back from our vantage-point in history we can see how mightily God moved through “this” great awakening and “that” great awakening, only to see things cool off and submit to the spirit of apostasy.

No one likes to admit that they have given in to apostasy. It seems to be the atmosphere of the seventh and last seal in the history of the church. Does that mean that the church is a failure? We might think so when we see the conglomeration of churches, denominations, movements, splinters, and spin-offs we see under the name of Christianity. But remember that the church Jesus built is not an institution like these things. The church Jesus builds is first and foremost a spiritual entity—it is the body of Christ made up of all the redeemed. It is not limited to a denomination or a movement.

While we speak out against the Catholic churches, the Protestant churches, the fundamental and evangelical churches, and everything else that is under the wrath of God, we in no way condemn or criticize our fellow Christians that are truly the redeemed. There is a host of the redeemed that are caught up in the Babylon of apostate Christianity that may not fully comprehend the spiritual bondage imposed by those churches on their spiritual life. The time in which we are now living reveals more and more the work that the spirit of apostasy is doing in modern Christianity. The everlasting gospel has not changed—churches are changing and as they sink deeper into apostasy, God’s people are becoming grieved and questioning their relationships to the churches in which they find themselves. How many out there are desperately looking for the church as Jesus built it?

Charles Naylor wrote a song in 1923 titled The Church’s Jubilee. In the third verse he described the attitude of those that make up the true body of Christ:

 

The day of sects and creeds for us forevermore is past,

Our brotherhood are all the saints upon the world so vast;

We reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one,

While love entwines about each heart in which God’s will is done.

 

 

 

[1] Schaff, Philip;  History of the Christian Church;  Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI;  1910 (April 1979 reprint);  Volume VII, page 143.