In the past I’ve echoed the view of other preterist teachers that the 10 horns of the beast in Revelation 17 were the leaders of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. Recently, however, I learned that there were never 10 Roman provinces involved in the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). Only four legions joined forces with Titus in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Wars 5.1.6), and therefore could not have been the 10 horns that burned the harlot (old covenant Jerusalem) with fire (Revelation 17:16).
This was one of the factors that caused me to rethink this section of John’s prophecy. Then I was surprised to discover that Josephus listed exactly 10 high priests and religious leaders in Israel who were given authority as generals in December 66 AD or January 67 AD. I would like to propose that they fulfilled the prophecy given to John by the angel in Rev. 17:12-14. This would mean, of course, that the beast in Revelation 17 was Jewish, not Roman.
The 10 Horns of Revelation 17:12-14
In this post we will focus on the 10 horns/kings who did not yet have authority when John wrote his book, but who would soon “receive authority for one hour as kings” with the scarlet beast. Here is how these three verses read:
“And 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).
Before we look at what Josephus wrote in War of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 20, here’s some important historical background which can be found in the works of Josephus (e.g. Wars 2.20.1) and Roman historians like Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars, Vespasian 4), Tacitus (The Histories V), and Dio Cassius:
Spring 66 AD
Cestius Gallus was a general in the Roman army and the Governor of the Roman province of Syria, who played a major role at the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). In the spring of 66 AD he visited Jerusalem during the Passover and brought a report to Nero on the strength and status of Jerusalem. On Passover 256,500 sacrifices were made, so based on estimates of how many individuals were fed by each lamb Gallus reported that 2.7 million were present for the feast.
Summer 66 AD
During the summer of 66 AD a group of Jewish zealots and revolutionaries, who were opposed to Rome, took control of the Jerusalem temple. Josephus says that the Jewish/Roman War officially began in August 66 AD when Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, “who was at that time governor of the Temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner.” They used this new law to reject “the sacrifice of Caesar” (Wars 2.17.2). They also massacred a Roman garrison stationed at the Antonia Fortress on the east side of Jerusalem (Wars 2.17.7).
November 66 AD
In November 66 AD Cestius Gallus brought the 12th Legion to put down the Jewish rebellion. He plundered and burned the city of Zebulon in Galilee, then moved south to surround Jerusalem. He arrived when most of Judea was gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Surprisingly, his army suffered about 5,700 deaths, his weapons and supplies were stolen during an ambush, they retreated from Jerusalem on November 22nd, and hundreds were chased and killed by Jewish rebels over the next five days. This gave many Jews confidence that they could overcome any Roman army, believing heaven was with them.
Josephus Lists 10 Newly Appointed Jewish Generals
The following information is taken from Josephus’ War of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 20:
The Jewish religious leaders and nationalists knew that a full-scale Roman revenge was inevitable. (Indeed Nero officially declared war against Israel in February 67 AD, sending Vespasian as his general. See Revelation 6:1-2.) So these Jewish leaders “got together in great numbers in the temple, and appointed a great many generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3). As Josephus reveals, exactly 10 generals were appointed and some of them were high priests (this is from sections 3-4 of Wars 2.20):
3. But as to those who had pursued after Cestius, when they were returned back to Jerusalem, they overbore some of those that favored the Romans by violence, and some them persuaded [by en-treaties] to join with them, and got together in great numbers in the temple, and appointed a great many generals for the war. Joseph also, the son of Gorion, and Ananus the high priest, were chosen as governors of all affairs within the city, and with a particular charge to repair the walls of the city; for they did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office, although he had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures, because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper, and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the subtle tricks used by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs.
4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.
Here’s a list of these 10 generals and the territories they were to oversee in preparation for war with Rome:
1. Joseph, the son of Gorion (Governor of Jerusalem)
2. Ananus, the high priest (Governor of Jerusalem)
3. Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests (Idumaea)
4. Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest (Idumaea)
5. Niger, the then governor of Idumea (Idumaea)
6. Joseph, the son of Simon (Jericho)
7. Manasseh (Perea)
8. John, the Esscue (toparchy of Thamna; “Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus”)
9. John, the son of Matthias (toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene)
10. Josephus, the son of Matthias (both the Galilees; “Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command”)
They Receive Authority for One Hour
We read in Revelation 17:12 that the 10 horns had “received no kingdom as yet.” This was true at the time when John wrote Revelation. Before the winter of 66-67 AD these generals didn’t oversee Jerusalem, Idumaea, Jericho, Perea, etc. They received these kingdoms and this authority around the beginning of 67 AD after the defeat of Cestius Gallus.
Rev. 17:12-13 goes on to say that “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.” The phrase “one hour” is used again three times in Revelation 18, each time to describe the judgment of the great city, the harlot, Babylon the great:
“And the kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come‘” (Rev. 18:9-10).
“For in one hour such great riches came to nothing…” (Rev. 18:17).
“…For in one hour she is made desolate” (Rev. 18:19).
We know that “the great city” was first identified in Revelation 11:8 as Jerusalem, “where also our Lord was crucified.” We also know that both Daniel and Revelation frame this time of judgment as 3.5 years, repeatedly using terms like “42 months”, “1260 days,” and “a time, times, and half a time.” During this time Israel experienced seven seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments. It was 3.5 years from the time that Nero declared war on Jerusalem in February 67 AD until the city and its temple were destroyed and burned in August 70 AD. This is also how long the ten kings, the generals listed by Josephus, kept their authority. So it seems that in Revelation 17:12; 18:10, 17, 19, “one hour” = 3.5 years.
These Will Make War with the Lamb
In Revelation 17:14 we read, “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord or lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
Jesus made war against the harlot/great city and He used the Roman army as His instrument. Probably the clearest indication of this fact can be seen in The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). When the king (God) arranged a marriage for his son (Jesus), those who were invited refused to come, and some even mistreated and killed the king’s servants. Jesus went on to say, “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (verse 7). We also know that Jesus promised to come in judgment within the lifetime of His disciples, and in their own generation (Matthew 16:27-28, I Thessalonians 2:14-16, II Thessalonians 1:6-8, James 5:8-9, Revelation 22:12, etc.).
So when these 10 generals (high priests among them) attempted to defeat the Romans and maintain Jerusalem as the center of the old covenant system which Jesus had already made obsolete (Hebrews 8:6, 13, etc.), this was nothing less than war against Jesus Himself. There’s evidence that they even knew this and warred against Jesus intentionally, as they called to mind His predictions that Jerusalem would be destroyed in that generation.
When Jesus said, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it…on whomever [this stone] falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:43-44), the chief priests and Pharisees knew He was speaking of them (verse 45).
When James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred in 62 AD with the approval of the high priest, Ananus, these were James’ last words: “Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.” The Pharisees responded, “We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus.”
In 70 AD, during the 5-month siege on Jerusalem which ultimately caused its downfall, the 10th Legion of the Romans launched white boulders as heavy as 100 pounds over the city walls into Jerusalem (see Revelation 16:21). They were catapulted from Roman engines from up to a quarter mile away. Josephus records that the watchmen on the wall, if they saw them coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!” After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and then many were crushed by these stones. J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book, The Parousia, offered this explanation (p. 482):
“It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia.”
And the Lamb Will Overcome Them
These 10 generals, the 10 horns, were of one mind. They thought they could use their own power and authority to prevent Jesus’ predictions from coming true. They thought they could maintain power over the great temple and their prosperous old covenant system. Of course, they failed and all of them perished or were captured. The words of God were fulfilled (Revelation 17:17). They made war with the Lamb, but the Lamb overcame. Just as it was true then, it’s still true now: In every generation, we who are with the Lamb are “called, chosen, and faithful.”
The 10 Horns Turned on the Harlot
Revelation 17:16 says, “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.”
Previously I thought that this verse couldn’t possibly describe the actions of the Jews, and that it must be about the Romans only. However, we can take note that Josephus described the various Jewish groups fighting among themselves from 67-70 AD, and that he blamed them for Jerusalem’s destruction. For example, Josephus likened the situation in Jerusalem to a wild beast gone mad and eating its own flesh (Wars 5.1.1, 5):
“…it so happened that the sedition at Jerusalem was revived, and parted into three factions, and that one faction fought against the other; which partition in such evil cases may be said to be a good thing, and the effect of Divine justice. Now as to the attack the zealots made upon the people, and which I esteem the beginning of the city’s destruction, it hath been already explained after an accurate manner; as also whence it arose, and to how great a mischief it was increased. But for the present sedition, one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which, for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh… And now, as the city was engaged in a war on all sides, from these treacherous crowds of wicked men, the people of the city, between them, were like a great body torn in pieces.”
Josephus, in another place (Wars 4.3.10) said that the Romans would treat the Jews with “much greater moderation” than the Jews were treating themselves:
“[T]hough we should be taken by them [the Romans] (God forbid the event should be so!), yet can we undergo nothing that will be harder to be borne than what these [Jewish] men have already brought upon us….Besides, can any one be afraid of a war abroad, and that with such as will have comparatively much greater moderation than our own people have? For truly, if we may suit our words to the things they represent, it is probable one may hereafter find the Romans to be the supporters of our laws, and those within ourselves the subverters of them.”
It was also one of the Jewish leaders who destroyed the food supply during the siege, making the famine conditions much worse. So I tend to think that this insane, self-defeating behavior is what is described in Rev. 17:16. This will be explored further in an upcoming series on the beast of Revelation, including how the Jews had a significant hand in causing the temple and their city to be burned.
What are your thoughts about this view of the 10 horns?