Rev. 17:7 – Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again. (HCSB)
The meaning of the woman and the beast
The angel sees John’s bewilderment and remarks, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her” (v. 7). The term “secret meaning” is musterion in Greek and refers to what may be known only by divine revelation. John’s questions – and ours – are about to be answered.
The angel begins with the beast (v. 8): “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again.”
This description harks back to that of the beast from the sea in Rev. 13. He has 10 horns and seven heads upon which are written blasphemous names. These creatures from Revelation 13 and Revelation 17 are one in the same, and their description makes it clear they are affiliated with the dragon, who also is depicted with seven heads and 10 horns (Rev. 12:3).
Rev. 13:3 – One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. (HCSB)
One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded
John writes of the beast, “One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast” (v. 3). Commentators offer numerous explanations as to who or what the “head” is and the nature of the deadly wound. Here are two widely accepted possibilities:
Some see the deadly wound as the destruction of the “pagan” Roman Empire by the “Christian” Roman Empire, thus making this a prophecy now fulfilled in history. The “healing” of the pagan empire would either be the emergence of a corrupt form of Christianity in the papal church or the actual revival of the Roman Empire in the last days.
Others view this passage as a yet-future event in which the Antichrist receives an apparently fatal wound that Satan miraculously heals. It does not appear that Satan has the power to raise the dead – although God could permit it – but he may very well be granted the power to heal a serious wound. “The important point is that the final world ruler comes into power obviously supported by a supernatural and miraculous deliverance by Satan himself” (J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 13:3).
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.