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?
Rev. 12:3 – Then another sign appeared in heaven: There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4His tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she did give birth he might devour her child. (HCSB)
A fiery red dragon
In verse 3 John records another sign appearing in heaven: “a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns.” On his heads are seven diadems. There is widespread agreement among Bible scholars that John is gazing at Satan. Any reasonable doubt is erased in verse 9, where the dragon is called “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.” More than merely identify the dragon, John gives us important clues as to his character and purpose. Let’s look more closely.
First, we must ask why he is depicted as a fiery red dragon. The Jewish reader in John’s day would be quite familiar with this beast. In the Old Testament world, the dragon or sea monster is one of several closely related symbols representing the chaos and evil threatening God’s creation. Specifically, Old Testament writers speak of Leviathan, Rahab, and the dragon or sea monster, with an emphasis on God’s power to conquer him.