Standing upon the sand of the seashore, the dragon evidently summoned his agents to launch his attacks against God’s servants, the “seed of the woman.” A beast with seven heads and ten horns ascended out of the sea. This beast had ten diadems (crowns denoting rulership), and blasphemous names on its heads. It looked like a leopard and had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The beast derived its power, throne, and great authority from the dragon. John noted that one of the heads appeared to have been slaughtered but had recovered from the death blow. All of earth’s inhabitants were amazed, apparently on account of the healing that had taken place, and followed after the beast. They venerated the dragon because of having given power to the beast and they adored the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can war with it?” (12:18; 13:1-4)
In a number of respects, this beast is a composite of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel chapter 7 and which beasts represent kingdoms or governing powers. Accordingly, the beast ascending out of the sea evidently represents the governing element of this world, which has the dragon as its god. Its ten horns would represent the totality of its power. The blasphemous names on its heads apparently denote the honors it takes to itself and demands that it be accorded. These “names” are blasphemous, evidently because of belonging rightfully only to the Most High. If regarded as a number of completeness, the seven heads could represent all the ruling elements through which the beast exercises its control. It would appear that the seemingly fatal blow would have been directed against the governing authority of the world in John’s time. The recovery from the fatal blow mimics the death and resurrection of Christ, and the question “Who is like the beast?” blasphemously parodies the meaning of Michael (“Who is like God?”).
When Jesus Christ, by his death in faithfulness, conquered the world and was revealed to have been triumphant upon his resurrection from the dead, it appeared that a fatal blow had been dealt to the beast. This was evident from the rapid increase of those who accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord or King. As revealed in the book of Acts, the dominant world power of that time, Rome, did not try to hinder the proclamation of the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. Thus, initially, it appeared that the power of the world had been vanquished as respects his disciples and their activity. The beast, however, though having experienced a seemingly fatal blow, continued to live, recovered from the mortal wound to one of its heads, strengthened itself against what it regarded as a serious threat to its existence and began a vicious campaign of persecution against Christ’s disciples. The world of mankind alienated from God fully endorsed the beastly attacks against Christians, thereby actively supporting the dragon’s objective and that of the beast. This anti-God stance and the granting of unqualified allegiance to the state in its role as a persecutor constituted worship of the dragon and of the beast. The deluded masses looked upon the governing element as the ultimate authority. So, in their estimation, the beast had no equal and no power existed anywhere that could possibly wage a successful conflict against it.
As the instrument of the dragon, the beast had been given a mouth to speak “great things and blasphemies,” evidently indicative of arrogant, defiant expressions against the Most High and a demand for honors to which God alone is rightfully entitled. The period of 42 months is the same as the length of time the two witnesses prophesied and is reminiscent of the time of distress godly Israelites faced during the extreme oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes. The governing element of the world, represented by the beast, would continue to blaspheme God, his name, and his tent, including those tenting in the heavens. (13:5, 6) The Greek word for “tent” (skené) often designates a temporary shelter, and so may refer to the Christian congregation where the Almighty dwells by means of his spirit. By reason of their heavenly citizenship, Christ’s disciples are tenting in a heavenly estate. (Compare Ephesians 2:1-6.) To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and [that] the spirit of God resides in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) “We are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
It is noteworthy that what is said about the beast bears a striking similarity to the language in the book of Daniel, which described the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes. “He will speak words against the Most High, and will harass the holy ones of the Most High. He will think of changing times and laws, and they will be delivered into his power for a time, times, and half a time.” (7:25, Tanakh) A “horn,” representative of Antiochus Epiphanes, “grew as high as the host of heaven and it hurled some stars of the [heavenly] host to the ground and trampled them. It vaunted itself against the very chief of the host; on its account the regular offering was suspended, and His holy place was abandoned.” (Daniel 8:9-11, Tanakh) “He will have great strength, but not through his own strength. He will be extraordinarily destructive; he will prosper in what he does, and destroy the mighty and the people of the holy ones. By his cunning, he will use deceit successfully. He will make great plans, will destroy many, taking them unawares, and will rise up against the chief of chiefs.” (Daniel 8:24, 25, Tanakh) “The king will do as he pleases; he will exalt and magnify himself above every god, and he will speak awful things against the God of gods. He will prosper until wrath is spent, and what has been decreed is accomplished. He will not have regard for the god of his ancestors or for the one dear to women; he will not have regard for any god, but will magnify himself above all.” (Daniel 11:36, 37, Tanakh)
During all the time Christ’s loyal disciples would be bearing witness to him, the beast or the ruling power of the world would continue to war against them and, finally, would conquer them, apparently from the standpoint of silencing their testimony. As a governing power, the beast would exercise its granted authority over every tribe, people, language group, and nation. All earth’s inhabitants alienated from God would adore the beast, but the names of these worshipers would not be found written in the Lamb’s book of life. From the founding of the world or from the very start, none who would defiantly refuse to acknowledge the Most High and render to someone or some thing veneration belonging to him alone would be in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. They would not benefit from Christ’s sacrificial death and so would not be granted life through him. (13:7, 8)
In the Greek text, the words “from the foundation of the world” follow the word “slaughtered” or “slain,” and so could be read to mean “slain from the foundation of the world.” The Son of God, however, did not die at the time of the founding of the world, and so it appears preferable to render the words of Revelation as a number of translations have. (See also Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 17:8.) “All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.” (13:8, NAB) “All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.” (NRSV) “The beast was worshiped by everyone whose name wasn’t written before the time of creation in the book of the Lamb who was killed.” (CEV) These renderings would also harmonize with the command given to the first man, revealing that disregard for the Creator and his ways would lead to the forfeiture of life and all the blessings having their source in an abiding relationship with him. This command rested on a prior divine determination, for “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” existed before the first man was settled in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:16, 17)
All having an attentive ear are admonished to listen or pay attention, apparently to the words that follow. “If anyone [is meant] for captivity, into captivity he goes; if anyone [is destined] to be killed by the sword, by the sword he is to be killed.” (13:9, 10) This indicated that Christ’s disciples would face banishment and execution, but they were not to rise up in revolt, arming themselves against the ruling power of the world. (Compare Matthew 26:52; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 3:16-18.) Faced with the vicious assaults of the beast or the ruling authority and the resulting suffering, they, the “holy ones,” would need endurance and faith, remaining loyal to God and Christ and trusting fully in them and the certainty of attaining the eternal reward. (13:10)
John saw another beast. This beast ascended out of the earth and had two horns like a lamb but spoke as a dragon. (13:11) Like the beast that ascended out of the sea, the one ascending out of the earth is a tool of the dragon. Possibly the reference to their ascending from the sea and the land is representative of the universal nature of the attack against God’s people. Later, the two-horned beast is referred to as the “false prophet.” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10) This suggests that, unlike the ten-horned beast that represents the governing power of the world, the two-horned beast represents a religious power. This two-horned beast claims to be a prophet, gives the appearance of being a lamb, presents itself as speaking for God but actually speaks like a dragon, being in the devil’s service. (Compare Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14.)
The two-horned beast functioned before the ten-horned beast with like authority and induced or forced earth’s inhabitants to adore the ten-horned beast that had recovered from the fatal blow to one of its seven heads. (13:12) In its role as a false prophet, the two-horned beast mimics the activity of the two prophets representing God’s devoted people as a whole, performing great signs, causing even fire to descend from heaven for all to see. (11:5, 6; 13:13) These signs would deceive earth’s inhabitants and give credence to the two-horned beast’s proposal to make an image of the beast that had recovered from the sword stroke. The two-horned beast was permitted to grant spirit to the image, giving it life and enabling it to speak and cause those refusing to worship it to be killed. It is the two-horned beast (rather than the image) that would force persons in all stations of life — insignificant and great, rich and poor, free and slave — to receive a mark on their right hand or their forehead. Without the identifying mark, the name of the beast (the one with ten horns) or the number of its name, a person would not be able to buy or sell. The individual’s means for making a living would thus be ruined. (13:14-17)
An image is a lifeless thing, an unreality. Any putting of life into an image would really be a fraud or a deception. Likely the giving of life to the image is from the standpoint of those who are deluded into believing that it is something real. Those who are thus deceived are openly identified as being slaves of the beast, marked as supporting it with either their hand or their mental faculties. It appears that the image is the deceptive delusion the religious power creates that causes people to adore the ruling power of the world as if such veneration were the fulfillment of a divine duty. Because of the fanaticism associated with such adoration, the rage of those idolizing the political state is directed against those who remain faithful to God, refusing to fall for the deception that would make them worshipers of the ten-horned beast. By reason of what the deluded worshipers do, the image (the means by which they have been deceived into adoring the beast) causes persons loyal to God and Christ to be killed. History is replete with examples where individuals have been deprived of their livelihood and suffered death for refusing to revere the political state.
Wisdom is needed to avoid being deluded, making it possible to identify the beast for what it really is. The beast has an identifying number, 666, and that number is a man’s number. (13:18) Spiritual discernment (the possession of a properly directed mind) is needed to make the right calculation respecting the number, seeing the beast for what it is and acting accordingly. The number “seven” represents completeness or perfection (as seven days are a complete week). As a man’s number, 666 is multiple of six and highlights that which is seriously flawed (for man is sinful) and so falls far short of that which is godly. The threefold appearance of the number six emphasizes just how defective all ruling power of this world is.
Throughout the course of human history, some governmental systems have been better than others and varied in the manner in which they treated God’s servants. Still, the book of Daniel portrayed all of them as beasts. The beastly nature especially rears its ugly head in time of war or national crisis when defenseless humans are ruthlessly maimed and slaughtered or innocent victims are treated like criminals, incarcerated, and tortured. All the beasts in the world have never caused the kind of suffering and carnage among humankind as have the wars and oppressive measures undertaken by the ruling powers of this world—conflicts and other violent actions the ecclesiastical authorities usually supported. Furthermore, to the masses, those wielding powerful religious influence have often represented the participation in war and repressive actions as a divine duty.
Disciples of God’s Son need to be on guard against thinking that the ruling power of the world is anything other than a beast. While remaining law-abiding and exemplary subjects of whatever governmental authority under which they may find themselves living, they do not forget that the kingdom of their Lord is not of this world. The most vicious anti-God and anti-Christ development is still future, climaxing in the deadly assault on those represented by the two witnesses. The pages of history provide sufficient glimpses of how terrifying that climax may be. (11:7) Will any of the believers marked with the seal of God succumb to the extreme pressure and lose out? (7:2-4) Or, will all of them be safeguarded by God’s power and share in the inheritance he has promised them?
In 12:18, the reading estáthe (“it stood,” referring to the dragon) has superior manuscript support. A number of manuscripts, however, say estáthen (“I stood,” referring to John).
The “image” (13:14, 15) is not portrayed as existing as an entity. Whereas the “beast” and the “false prophet” are later spoken of as being cast into the lake of fire, no mention is made of a like fate for the image of the beast. (19:20)
In 13:18, the number 666 has the best manuscript support. There is limited manuscript evidence for the reading 616.