The Seven Personages: The Two Beasts
The imagery in Revelation 13 is so vivid that it becomes a popular chapter to launch many claims. Like the rest of Revelation, we need understand the images in both it's time period, which was soon after its writing (see "An Introduction to Revelation" for a review), and a way consistent with how the rest of the Bible uses those same images.
The Sea Beast (Revelation 13:1-10)
This scene opens at the edge of the sea. Depending on your translation either we find Satan (the dragon from Revelation 12:17) standing between the land and sea, we find John standing there. There is a variation in the textual copies that differ by one letter and changes the word from "I stood" to "he stood." If seen as John, then we know where John is observing things. If it is Satan, then the implication is that it is Satan who is summoning the beasts.
A beast rises from the sea. The sea is often a representation of the mass of humanity. "You who still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples" (Psalm 65:7). It is because the noise of a great crowd of people is similar to the noise of the ocean (Isaiah 17:12). Wicked people are compared to the restless waves of the sea (Isaiah 57:20-21).
The scene is very similar to the one described in Daniel 7. "Daniel spoke, saying, "I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other"" (Daniel 7:2-3). Instead of four different beasts as seen by Daniel, we are shown a single beast containing the characteristics of different beasts.
The beast has seven heads and ten horns. Notice that this description is very similar to the description of Satan in Revelation 12:3, though this beast is not Satan. Each horn wears a crown. Horns are a symbol of power (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 92:10), particularly the powers vested in a ruler which the crowns or diadems represent the ruler's glory (Psalm 21:3; Isaiah 28:5; 62:3). The heads carried blasphemous names (or a blasphemous name, depending on the translation). The head of a beast is the seat of its intelligence and rules the body (Colossians 1:18; 2:10; 2:19). Thus the heads of this beast designate themselves with blasphemous titles.
This same beast is described again in Revelation 17:3 and its meaning is explained:
"Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast" (Revelation 17:9-13).
The seven heads refer to the seven mountains which "Babylon" sits upon. Generally, this is seen as an allusion to the seven hills of Rome with the city of Rome being the great whore. The seven heads also refer to seven kings, whom we will discuss later. The ten horns refer to then kings without a kingdom.
The beast is described as being like a leopard, but with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. These are the most dangerous parts of each ferocious animal. Again, we notice the similarity to Daniel's vision:
"And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: 'Arise, devour much flesh!' After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns" (Daniel 7:3-7).
Notice in particular how similar the beast in Revelation 13 is like the fourth beast in Daniel 7. The four beasts in Daniel's vision represented four empires. "Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth" (Daniel 7:17). Thus this beast also represents an empire. The fourth beast in Daniel's vision is the beast in Revelation 13. "Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows" (Daniel 7:19-20). In Daniel's vision, the beasts were the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires.
The fourth beast in Daniel's vision and the beast in Revelation 13 are representations of the Roman empire. In this one beast, we see a combination of the tearing power of the Babylonians, the crushing force of the Medo-Persians, and the swift destructive power of the Greeks. Therefore, the sea beast here in Revelation 13 is the civil power of the Roman government that rose from the midst of the people.
What is important to notice is that the beast receives its power, its throne, and its authority from Satan (the dragon).
One of the beast's head was cut off. In other words, it was given a mortal wound, but instead of killing it, the beast was healed. There are many interpretations as to what was meant, but when you come down to it, they are all guesses. What we should focus on is the result. Instead of lessening its power, the mortal wound now healed increased its popularity with the people. Instead of seeing the wound as a weakness, the people concluded that there was power in its ability to recover from the wound.
In giving their worship to the beast, the people were actually worshiping the power behind the beast -- Satan. As sad or shocking as it might seem, many people admire evil because they think it is strong. They saw the beast as unconquerable.
For 42 months the beast spoke blasphemes against God and the church. Forty-two months is another way to describe 3 1/2 years. This time period represents a short, indefinite period of time (See "Biblical Numbers"). Three and half years, also appears in the Bible as "time, times, and half a time," 42 months and 1260 days. The number seven represents something that is complete and perfect. Three and a half is half that value and so represents things that are incomplete, uncertain, in a tumult, or is causing discomfort. It is mentioned as:
- The period of time of the beast's authority and the time he blasphemes (Daniel 7:21)
- The period of time the saints would be in the beast's hand (Daniel 7:25)
- The time Jerusalem is trampled (Revelation 11:2)
- The time the witnesses would prophesy in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3)
- The time the woman would be protected in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6)
- The time the woman would be nourished while protected from the serpent (Revelation 12:14)
These periods all refer to the same thing: the time God's saints are persecuted. The church is referred to as the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) and it is a type of the church (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-23). This partial period of time would be the period when the church is persecuted by unbelievers and people attempt to corrupt the church from within.
Once again we see a similarity to what Daniel prophesied:
"Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows. I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. Thus he said: 'The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand For a time and times and half a time'" (Daniel 7:19-25).
Those who are not persecuted by the beast worship the beast.
There is some debate over the reading of Revelation 13:8. "Everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" (NASB) or "all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (NIV). The question is whether the phrase "from the foundation of the world" describes those in the book of Life or the Lamb who was slain. Most translations lean toward those written in the Book of Life since it matches Revelation 17:8. Either reading is in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures. Jesus was selected for dying on our behalf before the world was created (I Peter 1:20; Acts 2:23; John 17:24). Christians have been selected for salvation, not as individuals but as a group or type of people, from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-11). In either case, Jesus did not die before the world began nor were individual Christians written down before the world's foundation. In both cases, the purpose was established and the plan laid before the world was created.
Despite the persecution, God promises retribution on those who harmed His people. The wording is similar to: "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). It also reminds of the fact that you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7). Those who persecute God's people will, in turn, suffer as well. There is no need for God's people to strike back; in fact, it would be dangerous to do so (Romans 12:17-19). It is not the responsibility of God's people to fight civil powers (Romans 13:2; I Peter 2:13). Our war in on the spiritual plane (II Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18).
The Land Beast (Revelation 13:11-18)
The scene then shifts to the land where another beast arises. This beast had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like Satan (the dragon). The lamb is usually associated with Jesus, but this is an imitation. The horns of a lamb imply the beast is using the authority or power of Jesus, but it a false authority.
At the end of the scene, we are told that the number associated with this beast is 666. Some manuscripts have 616, but these are generally considered to be inaccurate copies. This number has been associated with the name of numerous people. The problem is that there are nearly infinite ways to make the letters of a person's name add up to 666 if you are allowed to determine the method of substituting numbers for letters. It should be noted that the Greek does not have an article before man in "the number of a man," meaning that it is not referring to a particular individual but to say that this number is of human origin.
Instead of trying to identify an individual, it will be more profitable to examine why 666 is significant. Seven is the number representing perfection. Six is one less; it is close to perfection but not quite. The number three is associated with the Godhead and religion. Thus, 666 is an imperfect copy of true religion.
Later in Revelation, this beast is closely associated with the false prophet (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). Again indicating a tie to false religion.
This second beast derives its authority from the first beast, just as the first beast derived its authority from Satan. Therefore it is a false religion that has the backing or support of the civil government. In exchange, the second beast performs false signs supporting the first beast. Idol worship of the first beast is encouraged and those who refuse are persecuted, even economically. Remember the third seal with the black horseman in Revelation 6:6?
The description adds up to a false religion closely tied to the government. It shouldn't be surprising, Satan and his servants disguise themselves as righteous beings (II Corinthians 11:14-15). Jesus warned about false prophets in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15).
False teaching is spread through beguiling words (Colossians 2:4) and the displaying of false signs (II Thessalonians 2:9). Such was seen before the fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:24), so it isn't surprising that such falsehoods would continue to plague the world.
The mark of the beast is not referring to a physical mark. This is a picture painted in symbols. In the past marks on a person's body were used to signify who a person belonged to. Thus in Israel, a permanent slave was marked by a pierced ear. "But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever" (Exodus 21:5-6).
Marks were also used in pagan religions to denote whom a person worshiped. This is why making scars and tattoos were forbidden in Israel. "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:28).
But the spiritual concept of marking who belonged to whom is used frequently. "Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Revelation 14:9-10). A mark on the forehead or hand is something in plain sight. Everyone notices who this person is declaring to serve. So Revelation is not talking about a physical mark but the behavior of people which marks them as followers of Satan's false religions.
It was used in a positive sense in Ezekiel. "And the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it"" (Ezekiel 9:4). Here people were marked because they did not like the immorality around them. God had them marked to spare them from the upcoming destruction. It is used in this way also in Revelation. "Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads" (Revelation 14:1). Again, the placement makes it a declaration for everyone to see.
Since the beast represents a false religion, those having the mark of the beast are those who are openly declaring that they are slaves of sin (II Peter 2:19).
This particular incarnation of evil appears to line up well with the emperor and empire worship of Rome.
“The patriotic deification of the Roman State became, indeed, in the days of the republic. The word of the ‘Dea Roma’ may be found in Smyrna as early as B.C. 195. This reverence was strengthened by the popularity of the empire in the provinces as securing them better government than that of the republic. As early as B.C. 29, Pergamum had a temple to Rome and Augustus. This worship, directed to the ruler as the embodiment of the state, or rather to his ‘genius’ or indwelling spirit, spread rapidly. It soon had an elaborate priesthood under state patronage, divided and organized by provinces, and celebrating not only worship but annual games on a large scale. . . . But early Christian feeling regarded this worship of the Emperor as utterly irreconcilable with the allegiance to Christ. . . . Christian refusal to render the worship seemed treasonable, and was the great occasion of the martyrdoms.” [A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker, page 9]
Later, he goes on to say, “The charges brought against the Christians were atheism and anarchy. Their rejection of the old gods seemed atheism; their refusal to join in emperor worship appeared treasonable" [page 49]. Another interesting note is: “The empire as the guaranty of peace and the source of all blessings of culture appeared to the people as divine power.” [The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I, page 315].
"But the matter was to go even further than that. Here was the very thing which could unite the varied mass which constituted the Roman Empire. Emperor worship had begun as spontaneous demonstration of gratitude to Rome; but towards the end of the first century, in the days of Domitian, the final step was taken and Caesar worship became compulsory. Once a year the Roman citizen must burn a pinch of incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar; and, having done so, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had performed his religious duty. We possess a request for and a specimen of such a certificate. The request runs:
To those who have been appointed to preside over the sacrifices, from Inares Akeus, from the village of Theoxenis, together with his children Aias and Hera, who reside in the village of Theadelphia. We have always sacrificed to the gods, and now, in your presence, according to the regulations, we have sacrificed and offered libations, and tasted the sacred things, and we ask you to give us a certification that we have done so. May you fare well.
The certificate itself runs:
We, the representatives of the Emperor, Serenos and Hermas, have seen you sacrificing.
Then follows the date. Every Roman citizen had to make that sacrifice and receive that certificate.
One thing is clear. The burning of this pinch of incense was obviously not a test of a man's religious orthodoxy; it was a test of his political loyalty. In point of fact the Roman government was extremely tolerant. Once a man had made his sacrifice and received his certificate, he could go and worship any god or goddess he liked, provided that worship did not conflict with public decency and order. But if he refused to burn that pinch of incense, he was by his refusal automatically branded as a disloyal and disaffected citizen. With an Empire the size of the Roman Empire, no government could afford to have disaffected citizens, who might become stormcenters of trouble. Therefore any man who refused to burn his pinch of incense was rendered by his very refusal an outlaw.
All that the Christians had to do was to burn that pinch of incense, say, 'Caesar is Lord', receive their certificate and go away and worship as they pleased. But that is precisely what the Christians would not do. They would give to no man the name of Lord; that name they would keep for Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. They would not even formally conform. Uncompromisingly the Christians refused to go through the forms of Caesar worship, and therefore the Christians were outlaws, and liable to persecution at any time. Persecution was not continuous, but it was liable to break out at any time, for informers were frequent and numerous. The Christian was like a man over whose head the sword of execution was constantly poised, and he never knew when it might fall, for the Roman government regarded his refusal to conform as the act of a dangerous and disloyal citizen."
[William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, p. 18-19]
So the Roman empire as the fourth beast in Daniel's vision and the sea beast in Revelation 13 readily combines with the land beast of false religion that is supported by and supports the Roman empire.
While this has a specific fulfillment in the days of the early church, it still has application today. The history of mankind tends to repeat itself. All false religions are a danger to Christians. Sometimes we face bad governments, sometimes we face false religions, and sometimes they unite to form a particularly dangerous combination.