6. the sixth personage: the beast out of the sea (13:1–10)
a. The beast out of the sea introduced (13:1–2)
Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. This beast looked like a leopard, but it had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion! And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority.
13:1–2. Chapter 13 presents a most important personage of the end time—a beast coming out of the sea. His 10 horns and 7 heads, with 10 crowns on his horns, depict the revived Roman Empire, which was also represented by the fourth beast of Daniel, which also had 10 horns (Dan. 7:7–8; cf. Rev. 13:3; 17:3, 7).
In Revelation 13 and 17 the beast is the world ruler, whereas in Daniel 7 the little horn on the beast was the world ruler.
The fact that the beast comes out from the sea indicates that he is a Gentile, for the sea of humanity is involved as his source (cf. Rev. 17:15).
Many have said that the beast refers to some character in past history, but the context clearly refers to the final three and one-half years before Christ’s second coming.
Under the control of this central ruler in the Middle East during the Great Tribulation will be 10 nations (cf. Dan. 7:24, “The 10 horns are 10 kings”). (For discussion of various alternative views, see Walvoord, Revelation, pp. 198–99.)
In Revelation 13:2 the beast was seen to gather in the symbolism of the three preceding empires—
Greece (a leopard, cf. Dan. 7:6),
Medo-Persia (a bear, cf. Dan. 7:5), and
Babylon (a lion, cf. Dan. 7:4).
The power of the beast was derived from Satan himself:
the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.
This accords with Paul (2 Thes. 2:9) who referred to “the lawless one” (i.e., the Antichrist, this first beast of Rev. 13) as working “all kinds of counterfeit miracles [dynamei], signs [sēmeiois], and wonders [terasin].”
b. The fatal wound of the beast (13:3)
I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery—but the fatal wound was healed! The whole world marveled at this miracle and gave allegiance to the beast.
13:3. The seven heads of the beast seem to represent important rulers, and one of them, probably the seventh, suffered a fatal wound caused by a sword (v. 14), which was subsequently healed, causing astonishment in the entire world.
Many have attempted to identify this beast as someone in the past or present who is to become the final world ruler.
Among the suggestions have been Nero, Judas Iscariot, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Kissinger, and many others; but such men obviously do not fit the details of this yet-future ruler.
What is the meaning of the fatal wound that is healed?
Two possibilities seem to fit this description.
Alford, for instance, sees the deadly wound as the destruction of “the Roman pagan Empire” by “the Christian Roman Empire,” thus making it a matter of history rather than prophecy (The Greek Testament, 4: 675).
The revival of the Roman Empire would then be its miraculous healing.
Another plausible explanation is that the final world ruler receives a wound which normally would be fatal but is miraculously healed by Satan.
While the resurrection of a dead person seems to be beyond Satan’s power, the healing of a wound would be possible for Satan, and this may be the explanation.
The important point is that the final world ruler comes into power obviously supported by a supernatural and miraculous deliverance by Satan himself.
c. The worship of Satan and the beast (13:4–6)
They worshiped the dragon for giving the beast such power, and they also worshiped the beast. “Who is as great as the beast?” they exclaimed. “Who is able to fight against him?” Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven.
13:4–6. The supernatural character of the beast makes him the object of worship along with Satan, the source of his power.
It has always been Satan’s purpose to receive the worship due to God alone,
as stated in Isaiah 14:14: “I will make myself like the Most High.”
This is Satan’s final form of counterfeit religion in which he assumes the place of God the Father, and the beast or the world ruler assumes the role of King of kings as a substitute for Christ.
This situation is probably introduced at the beginning of the last three and one-half years when the Great Tribulation begins.
Recognizing the supernatural character of Satan and the ruler, the question is raised,
Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him? (Rev. 13:4)
This apparently explains how the beast could become world ruler without a war.
His blasphemous assumption of the role of God continues for 42 months, during which time he blasphemes God as well as heaven and those who live in heaven.
d. The worldwide power of the beast (13:7–8)
And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made.
13:7–8. The beast becomes a worldwide ruler, for his authority extends over every tribe, people, language, and nation.
As predicted in Daniel 7:23, he does “devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.”
In addition to achieving political domination over the entire world, he also abolishes all other religions and demands that everyone worship him (cf. 2 Thes. 2:4).
All inhabitants of the earth worship the beast except for those whose names are recorded in the book of life.
In the expression the Lamb that was slain from the Creation of the world, the words “from the Creation of the world” seem, as in the NIV margin, to relate to the time in eternity past when the names were written in the book of life, rather than to Christ’s crucifixion, since He was not crucified when the world was created.
As Paul wrote, those who were saved were foreordained to salvation before Creation (cf. Eph. 1:4).
Some hold that the book of life originally contained the names of every living person to be born in the world, and that the names of the unsaved get blotted out when they die.
This interpretation stems from Revelation 3:5, where Christ promised the believers in Sardis that their names would not be erased from the book of life, and from 22:19, where a person who rejects the messages in the Book of Revelation is warned that “God will take away from him his share in the tree of life” (cf. “tree of life” in 2:7 and 22:2, 14 and “book of life” in 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).
However, 13:8 probably means simply that those who are saved had their names written in the book of life in eternity past in anticipation of the death of Christ on the cross for them and that they will never be erased.
Taken together, verses 7 and 8 indicate the universal extent of the beast’s political government as well as the final form of satanic religion in the Great Tribulation.
Only those who come to Christ will be delivered from the condemnation that is involved.
e. The exhortation to hear (13:9–10)
Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.
13:9–10. In a format similar to the exhortation to the seven churches of Asia Minor (chaps. 2–3) this passage gave an invitation to individuals who would listen.
The dream of many today, of a universal church and a universal religion, will be realized in the end time, but it will be satanic and blasphemous instead of involving worship of the true God.
In such a situation, appeal can only be made to individuals who will turn from it to God.
In every age God speaks to those who will hear, a concept mentioned frequently in the Gospels (Matt. 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35).
In contrast with the invitation addressed to the seven churches where each exhortation was addressed “to the church,” the mention of churches is notably absent here.
This is another indication that the church has been raptured before the time of these events.
Revelation, instead of being interpreted as addressed only to first-generation Christians facing persecution, is better understood as an exhortation to believers in all generations but especially those who will be living in the end time.
Those who are willing to listen are reminded that their obedience to the Word of God may result in their captivity or martyrdom (Rev. 13:10), so the exhortation closes,
This calls for patient endurance (hypomonē, “steadfastness, perseverance”; cf. 14:12) and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
7. the seventh personage: the beast out of the earth (13:11–18)
a. Introduction of the beast out of the earth (13:11–12)
Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.
13:11–12. In contrast with the first beast who came “out of the sea” (v. 1),
the second beast came out of the earth.
He was similar to the first beast (thērion, “a beast,” was used of both personages).
However, while the first beast was a Gentile, since he came from the entire human race as symbolized by “the sea” (v. 1), the second beast was a creature of the earth.
Some have taken this as a specific reference to the Promised Land and have argued that he was therefore a Jew.
There is no support for this in the context as the word for “earth” is the general word referring to the entire world (gē).
Actually his nationality and geographic origin are not indicated, and he is apparently the one referred to as “the false prophet” in 19:20 and 20:10.
The second beast had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon, that is, like Satan.
From this it can be gathered that he was a religious character whose role was to support the political ruler, the first beast. He had great authority apparently derived from Satan and the political ruler, and he made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, the one whose fatal wound had been healed.
The false religious system, which was supported in this way imitated the divine Trinity.
Satan seeks to take the place of God the Father; the first beast assumes the place of Jesus Christ, the Son, the King of kings; and the second beast, the false prophet, has a role similar to the Holy Spirit who causes Christians to worship God.
This is Satan’s final attempt to substitute a false religion for true faith in Christ.
b. The miracles of the beast (13:13–15)
He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching. And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die.
13:13–15. To induce people to worship the first beast, the second beast performs great and miraculous signs (lit., “great signs,” sēmeia megala; cf. “a great … sign” in 12:1), including fire … from heaven.
People sometimes overlook the fact that, while God can do supernatural things, Satan within certain limitations can also perform miracles, and he used this power to the full in this situation to induce people to worship Satan’s substitute for Christ.
Accordingly the second beast deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
In addition to causing fire to come down from heaven, the second beast set up an image of the first beast.
The image was probably set up in the first temple in Jerusalem which was taken over from the Jews.
According to Paul (2 Thes. 2:4) the first beast actually sat in God’s temple at times and received worship which properly belonged to God.
Perhaps the beast’s image was placed in the same temple to provide an object of worship when the beast himself was not there.
This image was mentioned frequently (Rev. 13:14–15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Whether the image was in the form of the world ruler, the first beast, or merely some object of worship is not clear, but it did seem to symbolize the power of the first beast.
The fact that the second beast could give breath to the image of the first beast, even making it speak, has created problems for expositors, for the Bible does not seem to indicate that Satan has the power to give life to an inanimate object.
Only God is the Creator. So probably the beast’s image is able to give an impression of breathing and speaking mechanically, like computerized talking robots today.
There might be a combination of natural and supernatural powers to enable the beast out of the earth to accomplish his purpose.
It apparently was quite convincing to people and induced them to worship the image.
The command to worship the image as well as the first beast was enforced by killing those who refused to do so.
But there was a difference between the decree to put them to death and its execution.
The problem of ferreting out everyone in the entire earth who would not worship the beast would naturally take time.
Hitler, in his attempt to exterminate the Jews, took many months and never completed his task. The multitude of martyrs is referred to in 7:9–17.
c. The mark of the beast (13:16–18)
He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.
13:16–18. Enforcing his control over the human race and encouraging worship of the beast out of the sea, the second beast required everyone … to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, and without this evidence that he had worshiped the beast no one could buy or sell.
The need to buy or sell such necessities as food and clothing would force each person in the entire world to decide whether to worship the beast or to bear the penalty.
Apparently the great majority worshiped the beast.
There has been much speculation on the insignia or “mark” of the beast, but it could be any of several kinds of identification.
Countless attempts have been made to interpret the number 666, usually using the numerical equivalents of letters in the Hebrew, Greek, or other alphabets.
As there probably have been hundreds of explanations continuing down to the present day, it is obvious that if the number refers to an individual it is not clear to whom it refers.
Probably the best interpretation is that the number six is one less than the perfect number seven, and the threefold repetition of the six would indicate that for all their pretentions to deity,
Satan and the two beasts were just creatures and not the Creator.
That six is man’s number is illustrated in many instances in the Bible, including the fact that man should work six days and rest the seventh.
The practice of gematria, the attempt to find hidden meanings in numbers in Scripture, was prominent in the ancient world.
Maybe John had in mind a particular person whom his close associates would be able to identify.
Literature from the early church fathers, however, reveals the same confusion and variety of meanings that exist today, so probably it is best to leave this puzzle unsolved.
Probably the safest conclusion is that of Thomas F. Torrance, “This evil trinity 666 apes the Holy Trinity 777, but always falls short and fails” (The Apocalypse Today, p. 86).
Chapter 13 is important because it introduces two of the main characters of Revelation: the beast out of the sea, the world dictator; and the beast out of the earth, the false prophet and chief supporter of the political ruler.
There is no evidence that either of them is a Jew though some have identified one or the other as an apostate Jew based on the expression “the God of his fathers” (Dan. 11:37, kjv).
However, the Hebrew word ’ělōhîm is a general word for god, quite different from Yahweh, and there is no proof that in Daniel it refers to the God of Israel.
In recent translations it is “gods” (cf. asv, nasb, neb, niv, and rsv).
Thus while it has been popular to consider either the first or the second ruler of Revelation 13 as an apostate Jew, the supporting evidence is lacking.
Both beasts are probably Gentiles inasmuch as this will be the final hour of the time of the Gentiles, when Gentiles will tramp underfoot the city of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24), and both rulers will persecute Jews as well as believing Gentiles.
Revelation 13, however, gives much insight into the character of the Great Tribulation.
It will be a time of one world government and one world religion, with one world economic system.
Those who will resist the ruler and refuse to worship him will be subject to execution, and the martyrs may outnumber the believers who survive.
It will be Satan’s final and ultimate attempt to cause the world to worship him and to turn them from the worship of the true God and Jesus Christ as their Savior.
This chapter also makes it clear that the postmillennial dream of a world getting better and better through Christian effort and gospel preaching is not supported in the Bible.
Instead the final form of world religion will be apostate, satanic, and blasphemous. There are many indications today that the world is heading in this direction, with the corresponding conclusion that the coming of the Lord may be near.
8. the resulting scene in earth and heaven (chaps. 14–15)