Who Is The Beast? (13:1-2)
Chapter 13 reveals the most amazing and terrifying image of a beast. The dragon takes his stand on the sand of the sea (12:17), and a beast rises out of the sea. The beast has ten horns and seven heads with ten diadems on its horns. Blasphemous names were written on its heads. The similar number of heads and horns reveals that the beast is from the dragon and like the dragon in wickedness. The symbolism of the heads and horns is the same as with the dragon. The beast has great power, authority, and strength. The beast’s appearance is like a leopard with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. Further, the dragon gave his power, throne, and great authority to the beast.
Futurists see this description of the beast as a prophecy about the coming Antichrist. This chapter is where much of the speculation comes from concerning the Antichrist controlling the earth and the earth worshiping him. However, we cannot forget what we read at the beginning of the book. The book of Revelation is revealing “things that must soon take place” (1:1) and “the time is near” (1:3). There is nothing soon or near about 2000 years passing by. We have seen the immediacy of the prophecy contained in chapters 6-11, fulfilling the declaration that these things must soon take place. Chapter 13 reveals what is going to happen next. It is not revealing what is going to happen next 2000 years later but what will happen next immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The image of this beast comes directly from Daniel with the intention for the readers to see that this beast is Revelation 13 is the fulfillment or arrival of the beast predicted in Daniel 7. Daniel 7:3 shows four great beasts coming up out of the sea, just as the beast in Revelation 13 comes out of the sea. Notice that the first three beasts in Daniel 7 are a lion, bear, and leopard, the same three animals that make up the beast in Revelation 13. It is the fourth beast (Daniel 7:7) that is of interest in this chapter. The fourth beast is not like the other beasts and it has ten horns, just like the beast in Revelation 13. Daniel sees this vision and wants to know the interpretation of these things (Daniel 7:16). The answer given is that the four beasts represent the four kingdoms that arise out of the earth. We stand at a time where we know the order of the four kingdoms/empires that arose over the earth. Daniel 2:37-38 tells us that we begin with the Babylonian Empire. Therefore the Babylonian Empire is the first beast. The second beast is the empire that conquered the Babylonians, which was the Persian Empire (also called the Medo-Persian Empire). The third beast is the empire that conquered the Persians which was the Grecian Empire. The fourth beast is the empire that conquered the Greeks and that was the Roman Empire. The fourth terrifying beast that Daniel prophesied about and about which Revelation 13 is referring to is the Roman Empire which ruled from around 44 BC to 476 AD.
To show that Daniel and John are seeing the same beast let us quickly look at the parallels in their descriptions. We have already noted that both come out of the sea (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 13:1) and both have ten horns (Daniel 7:7; Revelation 13:1). Both beasts speak blasphemous words (Daniel 7:8,25; Revelation 13:1,5-6). The duration of power is the same for both beasts. Daniel records the power would last for “a time, times, and half a time” (3 ½ years) and John notes the power would last for 42 months (3 ½ years) (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5). The most important parallel is found in the actions of the beast. Daniel 7:21-22 records that the beast will make war with the saints and prevail over them. Revelation 13:7 records the same point, “It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” The beast is Daniel 7 and the beast in Revelation 13 refer to the same kingdom, the Roman Empire.
With this interpretation set, we can look at Revelation 13:1-10 and notice what is being prophesied about the Roman Empire. Verse 1 tells us that the Roman Empire is going to exercise great power and authority. This power and authority is given to it by the dragon (13:2), which was identified as Satan in Revelation 12:9. The scriptures describe Satan as the ruler of this world (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). The combination of the animals in the beast’s description reveals that this Roman Empire is more powerful and more dreadful than the previous three empires. The first prophecy about the Roman Empire in the book of Daniel made this significant point.
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. (Daniel 2:40 ESV)
The Worship of the Beast (13:3-4)
An unusual statement is made about the beast. One of the heads of the beast takes a fatal wound but the fatal wound heals. This is quite a statement. To take a mortal (ESV, NRSV), fatal (HCSB, NASB, NIV, NLT), deadly (NKJV), lethal (NET) wound means certain death but somehow the head heals. Verse 14 says it was wounded by the sword and yet lived. For one of the heads to receive a fatal wound suggests that the beast was about to die but somehow, to the amazement of the world, the beast revives and is healed. The question about this image is this: Does the fatally wounded head that is healed represent a particular emperor of the Roman Empire or is it just a reflection of the state of affairs in the Roman Empire? Verse 3 suggests an event that will happen within the Roman Empire that will cause people to believe it is going to collapse. Rather than collapse, the empire will revive and be as strong as ever. There are a few situations that took place in the Roman Empire that could fit this scenario. I believe this likely refers to the civil war that broke out within the Roman Empire for over one year after the death of Emperor Nero (perhaps the wounded head is the death of Emperor Nero). Four emperors, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, all seized the throne in less than one year. Two of the these three were murdered and one committed suicide. It was a time of unrest and upheaval within the Roman Empire as the Roman legions were divided in their support of each one claiming to be emperor. Vespasian becomes emperor at the end of 69 AD and stabilizes the empire.
This causes the world to worship the beast. The people perceive the Roman Empire as invincible and unable to collapse. They give their allegiance to the empire and by doing so are giving their allegiance and worship to the dragon (Satan) who is the authority and power behind the beast.
The Authority of the Beast (13:5-8)
The beast has blasphemous names on its forehead (13:1) and speaks blasphemies against God, God’s name, and God’s tabernacle, that is, those who tabernacle in heaven. The empire has no regard for the true and living God. The emperors do not worship Jehovah God. They have no respect for God’s power or his authority. Nor does the empire have any respect for the Christians. The tabernacle is a reference to the people of God and the evil that is spoken against them and their faith. G.K. Beale notes that this blaspheming, “Implies a speaking out against God through self-deification” (NIGTC, 697). Daniel prophesied the same thing about the emperors and the Roman Empire.
“And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.” (Daniel 11:36–37 ESV)
I believe the apostle Paul was also referring to the great ruling power of the Roman Empire when he called it the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 ESV)
Further, the beast was given authority “to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” Daniel prophesied the same thing about the Roman Empire.
As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (Daniel 7:21–22 ESV)
He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25 ESV)
Even more, the beast has authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. These descriptions all verify our original interpretation that this beast is the Roman Empire from about 44 BC to 476 AD. The Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) expanded the empire to its furthest points over the earth. The Roman Empire was the sole world power especially during the first and second centuries. Because of this great authority and rule, the world worships and pays homage to the Roman Empire as sent from the gods. Everyone gives their allegiance to the Roman emperors. The only ones who are not worshiping the emperors and giving their allegiance to the Roman Empire are those whose names are “in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (13:8).
Prophetic Warning (13:9-10)
The paragraph about this beast concludes with a prophetic warning. Notice the force of the command to listen to this warning. “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” Jesus used to the same language to call people to listen to the important message he was about to teach. The same is true here in Revelation concerning this important message.
“If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.” In summary, this war that the beast will make against the saints is going to be very bad. You are going to be captured or killed. Therefore, Christ calls for faithful endurance. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Brace yourselves for the impact of the persecution and suffering that will come from the Roman Empire. The world is standing for the beast, worshiping the beast, and honoring the beast. The Christians will not do this and suffering will come from this.
Do not worship the government. While we appreciate this country and the freedoms we enjoy, our worship belongs to God alone. We cannot let our worship be tied to the political affairs of this country. We must not worship the president and see him as our personal deliverer or savior from our economic, cultural, or political woes. Our hope is not in this country. Our hope is not in our leaders. Our hope is in God regardless of who our leaders are.
Endure. God calls for his people to endure, even in the most extreme circumstances. We are reading about a government with the policy intent on making war and killing Christians. We must be faithful to God no matter what obstacles stand against us. If we are persecuted, we must endure for Christ. If we are comfortable, we must endure for Christ. Be faithful in times of prosperity and times of persecution.
Stand against the world. Do not go with the direction of this world. Verse 8 shows that only the Christians are the ones not revering and worshiping the Roman Empire and its emperors. Be willing to be different. Be willing to make a stand. Be holy in your conduct and show Christ in our lives.