Rev. 13:1 – And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had 10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2The beast I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like a bear’s, and his mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. 3One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. 4They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”
5A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act for 42 months. 6He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling – those who dwell in heaven. 7And he was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. He was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. 8All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. 9If anyone has an ear, he should listen: 10If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints. (HCSB)
We are introduced to the first of two beasts in this passage: the beast from the sea. In verses 11-18 we will meet the beast from the earth. The dragon empowers both beasts; this is explicitly stated of the first beast and implied with respect to the second. The first beast is described in similar terms as the dragon, with 10 horns and seven heads, although unlike the dragon the beast wears his crowns on his horns and displays blasphemous names on his heads. He is likened to a leopard, a bear and a lion – ferocious and terrifying animals. The dragon gives him his power, his throne, and great authority to act for 42 months. He also grants the beast a mouth to speak haughty and blasphemous words.
The beast miraculously recovers from an apparently fatal head wound, causing the “whole earth” to worship him, perhaps out of fear rather than love, for they declare, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?” The dragon empowers (and the Lord permits) the beast to wage war successfully against the saints and to gain authority over all people. Those faithful to Christ suffer persecution and death, while unbelievers – “everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered” – survive only by worshiping the beast.
Who is this beast? Are we to take his description literally? Why does the dragon empower the beast rather than rule the earth himself? What is the apparently fatal head wound the beast receives? And how does he recover? When do these terrible 42 months take place? Finally, do verses 8-10 teach hard determinism, or even fatalism?
I saw a beast coming up out of the sea
John writes in verses 1-2, “And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had 10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like a bear’s, and his mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.” This beast is similar to the dragon in that he has 10 horns and seven heads, and yet clearly he is a different – and lesser – creature than the dragon because the dragon is the source of his power, throne, and authority. The Greek word used here for beast means wild beast and signifies the nature of a brutish creature.
It’s important to note that some scholars see this beast representing a large entity, such as the Roman Empire, while others see him symbolizing a man, or as both empire and man. Let’s keep in mind that any kingdom must have a king, so it’s probably best to understand the beast as a person who rules over a kingdom with an equally sinister nature. Other passages of scripture support the interpretation of the beast as a person. In Rev. 19:20 we are told that the beast is taken, along with the false prophet, and cast into the lake of fire, where later they are joined by the dragon and tormented night and day forever (Rev. 20:10). In addition, Paul warns us of a coming “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:2), and the apostle John affirms a teaching throughout the church of a future Antichrist (1 John 2:18).
Throughout scripture, the promise of an ultimate deliverer has been shadowed by the reality of an evil counterfeit. W.A. Criswell writes, “There has never been an Abel without a Cain … a John the Baptist without a Herod Antipas … an Apostle Paul without a Nero. When Christ seeks to reign in this earth, there is anti-Christ who is His antagonist and who lifts himself up, speaking blasphemous things against God, against the throne of the Lord, against the dwelling place of the Almighty and against those who tabernacle, who rest, in Jesus. So, from the Word of the Lord itself, this delineation is of a definite person, a final and ultimate anti-Christ” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, pp. 105-06).
The beast originates in the sea, which many commentators take to signify the troubled peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues of the world. This is in contrast to the earth, from which the second beast emerges (Rev. 13:11-18) and which represents the ordered world of nations with its culture and education. Other interpreters, however, regard the sea as symbolic of the Gentile world, in contrast to the earth, which stands for Israel.
The beast has 10 horns and seven heads, just like the dragon. However, the beast wears crowns on his horns, not his heads as the dragon does, and on his heads are blasphemous names.
Who is this beast?
So who is this beast? It appears this is the same beast that emerges from the abyss in Rev. 11:7. He makes war with the two witnesses, conquers them and kills them. While their bodies lie in state, representatives from the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations view their corpses. This is similar to the beast from the sea in that he wages war against the saints and conquers them (Rev. 13:7). He also is given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation, and the unbelieving representatives of the world worship the beast.
This beast is mentioned several other times in Revelation:
- Rev. 14:9 – “And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand …’”
- Rev. 14:11 – “… There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
- Rev. 15:2 – “I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.”
- Rev. 16:2 – “The first [angel] went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”
- Rev. 17:3 – “So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns.”
- Rev. 17:13 – “These [10 kings] have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.”
- Rev. 19:20 – “But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with him the false prophet, who had performed the signs in his presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark and those who worshiped his image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”
- Rev. 20:10 – “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Some commentators conclude that the beast is ancient Rome, or the papal church, or anti-Christian powers seeking to silence the church’s witness. Some futurists contend that there are three beasts. The beast that comes out of the abyss (Rev. 11:7) is Satan. The beast out of the sea is the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1). And the beast out of the land is the false prophet (Rev. 13:11). Other futurists say the beast out of the abyss and the beast out of the sea are one in the same.
Whoever the beast is, it’s important to remember:
- He comes out of the abyss (compare Rev. 11:7 and Rev. 13:1-8), a special place where some demons are confined until judgment day, and out of the sea, which symbolizes the tumultuous mass of humanity. Whether the beast is a human being, an institution, or both, he is connected to and empowered by demonic and worldly forces.
- God is sovereign over the beast’s power and influence. The beast can do nothing to the saints except what the Lord allows.
- The beast hates God and God’s people. His violence toward the saints exposes a deeper animosity toward Yahweh.
- His victory is hollow. He ultimately is cast into the lake of fire to be tormented night and day forever.
Drawing from Daniel 7
The beast is described as a conglomeration of wild animals. He has the appearance of a leopard, feet like a bear’s, and a mouth like a lion’s. John no doubt is drawing from Daniel 7, where successive empires are depicted. Notice the similarities:
- In Dan. 7:3 the four beasts “came up from the sea.” In Rev. 13:1 John sees “a beast coming up out of the sea.”
- In Dan. 7:4 the first beast is like a lion. In Rev. 13:2, the beast has a mouth like a lion’s.
- In Dan. 7:5 the second beast is like a bear. In Rev. 13:2 the beast has feet like a bear’s.
- In Dan. 7:6 the third beast is like a leopard. In Rev. 13:2 the beast has the appearance of a leopard.
- In Dan. 7:7 the fourth beast, “frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong,” has 10 horns. In Rev. 13:1 the beast has 10 horns.
- In Dan. 7:8, 11 a little horn emerges and speaks arrogantly. In Rev. 13:5 the beast speaks blasphemies.
In Daniel 7 the beasts clearly are identified as “four kings,” although the fourth is called a “kingdom.” So there is a correlation between the beasts of Daniel 7 and the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13, and there is a connection between the beasts as both kings and kingdoms. Daniel sees the beasts as lion, bear, and leopard, while John sees the characteristics of his beast in reverse order. Perhaps this is because Daniel’s vision looks forward in time and John’s looks back. So what do we make of this beast in Revelation 13? He likely is a Gentile leader associated with a Gentile kingdom.
It is interesting to note how John describes the beast’s abilities. The dragon gives him his power, authority and throne. This dominating beast is of the same flesh and bone as other humans and yet rises above them on the wings of the dragon. The god of this age is not able to manifest himself in human flesh as the Son of God does, so he inhabits the flesh of a naturally born human and infuses him with power. The prince of the power of the air will never rule all human beings, so he grants his earthly authority to a willing beast who wields Satanic power over every living unbeliever. And the evil one will never sit on the throne of David, so he places a puppet king on a worldly throne and pulls the strings. Later we’ll see not only that the beast operates under the power of Satan; he rules the world by the permissive will of God.
Next: A fatal head wound — Revelation 13:3