Then I saw out of the sea a dangerous animal coming up, having ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns ten diadems, and upon its heads blasphemous names.
And the dangerous animal that I saw was similar to a leopard, and its feet were as a bear’s, and its mouth as to a mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave to it his power, his throne, and immense freedom to exercise authority.
And one of his heads was as one having been slaughtered to death, and the wound of his death had been healed. And the beast was marveled at by the whole earth after that.
Then they worshipped the dragon because he gave the authority to the dangerous animal, and they worshiped the beast saying, “Who is similar to the beast, and who has the power to wage war against him?”Revelation 13:1-4
All four perspectives note a conscious connection between Daniel’s and John’s visions.
I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.
… He shall speak words against the Most High,Daniel 7:7, 25 (NRSV)
shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High
Both have ten horns, are noted for their blasphemies, and for their persecution of the people of God.
Interestingly, the dangerous animal John observed shares traits with all four of the beasts Daniel encountered.
- Like Babylon, represented to Daniel as a lion, John’s beast had a lion’s mouth. (Compare Daniel 7:4 with Revelation 13:2).
- Like Persia, represented to Daniel as a bear, John’s beast had bear’s feet (compare Daniel 7:5 with Revelation 13:2).
- Like Greece, represented as a leopard, John’s beast looked like a leopard (Compare Daniel 7:6 with Revelation 13:2).
- Like Rome, represented by ten horns, John’s beast also had ten horns (Compare Daniel 7:7 with Revelation 13:1).
Most scholars tend to identify the beast as the Roman Empire with its seven heads correlating to Rome’s seven hills.
Later in this chapter a second beast will be introduced, giving historicist interpreters three possible theories.
- The first embodies the original Roman religion, and the second is the Roman Church.
- The first portrays the original Roman religion, the second a resurgence of that religion under the guise of the Roman Church.
- Both personify the Roman Church, the first in its political power, the second in its religious power.
Perhaps the sea signifies the invasions of the Goths and Vandals and the ten horns are the resulting ten kingdoms. The seven heads might be both the seven hills of Rome, and also seven kings, or seven forms of governance (military tribunes, emperors, proconsuls and the like). Maybe the head with the fatal wound that miraculously healed symbolizes Diocletian.
Diocletian, who reigned from 284-305, divided the Empire into four districts. He then declared himself a god, as well as the other three rulers, and established this tetrarchy (“four rulers”) as a theocracy. The last horrific persecution of Christians in antiquity came by Diocletian’s decree.
Constantine (272-337) established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. However, the rise of the Roman Church in power, wealth, and authority incorporated many of the trappings of Rome’s original religion. In truth, many of the polytheistic priests converted to Christianity when it became clear there was no other tenable alternative, and slipped easily into the role of Christian priests. Temples were reoutfitted to become cathedrals, often retaining their original statuary.
One last interpretation posits the fatal wound delivered during the French Revolution in 1798 and healed in 1929, when Mussolini restored property and power to the papacy.
Remembering there are two main schools of thought among preterist expositors, the arising of the beast could represent the Apocalypse’s shift from Jerusalem’s demise to the doom of the Roman Empire, or it could represent the instrument by which God would judge Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The sea, from this perspective, is the whole non-Jewish world, from which arises a non-Jewish potentate or political power. There is some discussion as to whether the beast is an individual such as the Emperor Nero (who is identified as the character in Revelation 17) or the Roman Empire itself. In a manner of speaking, perhaps the two conflate with each other, as the entire empire was, in a certain sense, embodied in its Caesar (“emperor,” from which “czar” and “kaiser” are derived). In fact, to draw an even tighter comparison, Paul described his release from imprisonment under Nero as being rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The miraculous healing of the fatal wound could either be the empire’s stabilization after a period of chaotic civil war following Nero’s death, or it could be the survival of the Caesarian dynasty following Julius Caesar’s assassination.
Another theory suggests the fatal wound was the Gospel, so that even members of Caesar’s household came to saving faith, but emperor worship (worship of the dragon and the beast) continued through the fourth century.
In this chapter two beasts arise, the first from the sea and the second from the land, encompassing, as it were, the whole world. But what if the sea also represented the Mediterranean Sea? This would help to identify the beast as the Roman Empire, both symbolically and, for many commentators, as revived in a future world-wide dictatorship.
In a larger sense, the beast personifies political capacity and authority, fueled by demonic power and essentially Antichrist in nature. But if the text is to be taken at face value, then the beast will be one who integrates
- Babylon’s bureaucratic acumen
- Persia’s military genius
- Greece’s irresistible charisma
and combines ten nations, or governing bodies, into one ruling entity, himself. World domination will be his because the entire earth will admire and marvel at him, particularly when he miraculously recovers from his own successful assassination. In other words, just as Jesus had done millennia before, the beast will be killed then spectacularly rise from the dead.
Alternatively, it is possible the fatal wound signifies the demise of the Roman Empire, and the miraculous recovery is seen in the Empire’s revival millennia later.
Here we see Satan seeking to summon forth aid from the sea, and later the land, in other words, from all earth. First, Satan calls forth world governing systems and cultural milieus that will support evil and oppose God. John’s first audience would have recognized Isaiah’s definition of the sea.
Woe, the thunder of many peoples,
they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
The roar of nations,
they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
… the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you;Isaiah 17:12, 60:5 (NRSV)
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
They would have also remembered the Psalmist’s indictment against the world’s political structures.
The kings of the earth set themselves,Psalm 2:2 (NRSV)
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed
Second, Satan calls forth religions and philosophies that will foster worship of and adherence to anyone or thing besides God. More notably, both of these entities will actively oppose God and God’s people. By combining aspects of all four of Daniel’s beasts, John’s Apocalypse reveals Satan’s long-term program of persecution through all godless governing systems down through history. This point is particularly made by the vision of diadems. It is political power and authority more than it is wealth and influence.
Later in Revelation it will be revealed how similar in appearance the beast is with the dragon—red, with seven heads and ten horns. The beast is the incarnation of Satan, who works through human structures – the state – to wage his war against God and God’s own.
The world marvels over the indomitable and resilient power of governments. One topples, another like it rises in its place. Who really does have the power to fight against that?
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg