13 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.
- “beast” – literally: monster, in our understanding.
- “out of the sea” – there is much speculation as to the meaning of this phrase, the ocean, for many ancient peoples was a place of unknown terrors and great storms, thus it is often used to represent evil and danger.
- “ten horns and seven heads” – the monster mirrors and mimics its master, the dragon. See 12.3. For the dragon this description is meant to communicate wisdom and power, thus they should be understood this way here as well.
2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.
- John’s description here seems to combine the descriptions of the four creatures in Daniel 7.1-6. Most agree that Daniel’s vision is referring to specific world empires, such as, Babylon and Persia. Here John seems to group them all together to communicate something about the dangers of political and military power. For John’s immediate readers, this probably is a reference to the Roman government, but what is said could be true for any world power.
3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.
- Verses 3-4 turn in such a way that many understand this beast to be a reference to an individual, namely the anti-Christ.
- “seemed to have a mortal wound” – the beast mimics the sacrifice of the Lamb from 5.6 -“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”
- There is much speculation as to the specifics of what John means here and the timeline for it to take place. Generally speaking, we can know (weather John speaks generally of political power or if he speaks specifically regarding the Antichrist) that the beast seeks to mimic the might and saving power of Christ. However, the beast is soon to be defeated, Christ lives forevermore.
4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
- There is within people a real danger to look to politicians and political movements as saviors, more than we look to the Savior and we see John highlight this tendency here.
- “worshiped” – as in bowing down and giving divine status. We know divinity was ascribed to Roman Emperors.
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.
6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.
7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,
- The beast’s verbal assaults on God were displayed upon his people here on earth.
8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
- The world will be deceived and follow the promise of “salvation” offered by the beast.
- “written before the foundation of the world” – a phrase which emphasizes eternal security and election.
9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
- These poetic lines mirror Jeremiah 15.2 which teachers the just judgment of God on Judah through the Babylonians.
- John makes his point of application clear. Believers must persevere, even in the midst of persecution.
11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.
- Many equate this second monster to that of religious evil.
- “What is the earth monster? So far in the description this could be thought of as religious power gone corrupt throughout history. Religion has frequently joined political power as its handmaid. Throughout time kings have often been accorded divine status and been served by the state priesthood.” – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 231.
- “like a lamb…like a dragon” – this beast looked like Jesus, but it’s heart followed the Devil (Matt 7.15).
- We see a similarity today in many religious leaders and religious denominations normalizing same-sex marriages and condoning open homosexuality. They claim to be Christian, but align themselves with obvious sin.
12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.
- The second beast mimics the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit causes the worship of Christ, the second beast causes the worship of the first beast.
- Meaning, religion will promote the worship of government. Or if you understand the beasts as individuals, a religious leader will cause the worship of the antichrist.
13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people,
14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.
15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,
- In contrast to those in 14.1 who had Jesus’ and God’s name written on their foreheads.
17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.
- Refusal to submit to these two beasts results in economic oppression because they will be cut off from trade.
18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
- John concludes the chapter with a bit of a riddle.
- Many have speculated about the specific reference to the number 666.
- My personal take is that the number 666 falls short of what they would understand as the divinely perfect number of 777. In other words, politics/humanism will never save or be perfect as God can save and be perfect. Politics may perpetually try, but they always fall short. It will never be 777, but always 666.
• Political power and religious power always risk becoming evil and oppressive.
• Satan is at his most successful when he tries to duplicate the work of God.
• God planned for Christ’s death from the creation of the world.
• Whatever the “mark of the beast” turns out to be, it will never be placed on those whose names are in the Book of Life.
• Evil can use the tools of economic pressure and the appearance of miracles to deceive people.
• The original meaning of the number 666 has been lost for centuries, so we should not expect to understand it until its final fulfillment.
*Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 236–237.
- APPLICATION: How do I avoid the mark of the beast? Go ahead and write Jesus’ name on your forehead.