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. 5:5 – Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The Lion from the tribe of Judah
The lion from the tribe of Judah echoes Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah, conferring leadership over his brothers (Gen. 49:8-10). Jacob prophetically gives the scepter to Judah and makes it the tribe of kings – and the tribe from which the King of kings will come. It is interesting to note that God never intended Saul to establish a dynasty; he came from the tribe of Benjamin. When the people rejected God as their King and clamored for a human ruler, the Lord disciplined them by giving them Saul. But He established the eternal dynasty through David, who was from the tribe of Judah.
Some commentators associate this title for Jesus with the lion-headed living creature near the throne of God – an expression of His power, majesty, courage and victory. Some also connect this title with the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus is strongly depicted as the promised Messiah. (Those who hold this view tend to see the four living creatures as representatives of the four Gospels.) In any case, Jesus of Nazareth is the greatest king to come out of the tribe of Judah – greater even than David, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls Him Lord (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44). There can be little doubt that this exalted Savior is the fulfillment of Jacob’s ancient prophecy. But that’s not all.
The Root of David
The elder also describes Jesus as “the Root of David” (v. 5). In the Old Testament, the coming Messiah is called both the “shoot” and “branch” that will spring from Jesse’s root to restore David’s dynasty. Here’s what the prophet Isaiah records: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1). But then Isaiah calls this coming Redeemer the root of Jesse: “On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). If the Messiah is the root of Jesse, as Isaiah declares, He also is the root of Jesse’s son David, as the elder makes clear in Rev. 5:5. But how can a single person be both a “shoot” and a “root?” The ESV Study Bible explains: “Jesus is not only the royal descendant (Rev. 22:16) but also the source of David’s rule (Mark 12:35-37).”
Let’s look at these two New Testament passages. In Rev. 22:16, Jesus identifies Himself as “the Root and the Offspring of David,” confirming what Isaiah and the elder in heaven have claimed about Him. As the Son of God, Jesus is the eternal Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; any earthly rule, including King David’s, is under His divine authority. As the Son of Man, Jesus is God in human flesh, adding to His deity sinless humanity; He is, in other words, the God-Man. In Mark 12, Jesus is teaching in the temple complex and He asks, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David? David himself says by the Holy Spirit: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’ David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how then can the Messiah be his Son” (vv. 35-37)? Quoting from Ps. 118:22-23, Jesus ties together the deity and humanity of the Messiah and emphasizes the important truth that He is not one or the other, but both.
“He who is a middle person, God and man, and bears the office of Mediator between God and man, is fit and worthy to open and execute all the counsels of God towards men,” writes Matthew Henry. “And this he does in his mediatorial state and capacity, as the root of David and the offspring of Judah, and as the King and head of the Israel of God; and he will do it, to the consolation and joy of all his people” (Re 5:1-5)
Before we leave this section, we should note that the elder in Rev. 5:5 not only tells John who Jesus is, but what He has done. The Lion of Judah and the Root of David is worthy to take the scroll, loose its seals and look inside because He “has been victorious.” As the sinless Son of Man who died on the cross and rose from the dead, Jesus is the qualified Kinsman-Redeemer who will reclaim fallen humanity and a cursed creation. He has defeated Satan – the usurper, the accuser of mankind, the father of liars – and destroyed his works (1 John 3:8). No offspring of Adam can retake what Adam lost because no human is sinless. But now the Lion of Judah and the Root of David steps forward – the “last Adam” who is a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). He is worthy to take the scroll because He has been victorious.
Next: The slaughtered Lamb – Rev. 5:6