Revelation 13

Chapter 13

Throughout the OT evil kingdoms are represented as sea monsters, perhaps to stress how suddenly they can arise and destroy from relative calm. The sea is therefore a place of evil - where the prostitute sits (17v1).
     Daniel 7v2ff is the background here. It clearly portrays "beasts" as great kingdoms represented by key kings, with their horns as lesser kings within each kingdom (Dan 7v1, 23-24). This suggests that the beast of Revelation 13 therefore describes the rise of a powerful kingdom under a key king. The problem with this is that the beast’s influence seems to span the church age (cf. chs 17) appearing again just before the end (17 and 19). The description is that of 12v3 showing this beast is a sort of incarnation of Satan himself, and we are told it bears the dragon's power, throne and authority - so doing its work. It is therefore probably best to identify the beast both with the Satanic principle of beastly rule, perhaps in a particular demonic entity, and a particular ruler in John’s day and another just before the Parousia. This fits the idea of him being a parody on Christ who is the divine Son existing as a man.
     The beats’s 7 heads and 10 horns portray complete, universal and immense power, as well as picturing monstrosity. 17v8ff tell us the heads are 7 rulers, the 6th of which currently reigns - although the beast itself "is not." So the beast may first represent the ruler who brought the Roman Empire to prominence just as Alexander did the Greek or his seleucid General defined the kingdom from which the horn of Antiochus Epiphanes came in Dan7v7-8. The 10 heads are future rulers who will manifest when the beast takes prominence at the time of the end (17v12), implying a reappearance of the principles displayed with the Roman Empire under another key ruler. "Ten" may also be figurative for "many."
     Here we should pause and note the context. 12v17 recounts the dragon thrown down to earth going to make war on the church. 13v7 tells is this is what the beast does. So it seems the rise of the beast results from Satan's anger at being conquered by Christ. It also implies 13v1-10 is detailing the beast's initial appearance - and v11-18 perhaps referring to this period too. By contrast 17v8-18 seems to refer to its reappearance before being destroyed with Satan at the end (17v8).
     The exact identity of the beast’s human expression remains uncertain. But details seem to imply John wanted his hearers to identify it rather than assume it is merely figurative (13v18, 17v10). It could be (1) a ruler immediately subsequent to the time of Christ - Tiberius or Caligula, both of whom claimed divinity, (2) any ruler after Christ followed by at least six until the time John wrote - Nero, if John wrote during the persecution of Domitian, or (3) the ruler following Christ's birth (12v4) - Augustus, the founder of the Empire, with the seven kings being key emporers rather than all emporers. Interestingly, from Augustus seven emporers are said to have claimed to be gods. (2) seems most likely, especially as "Nero" can be represented by the number 666 (13v18) and began the state persecutions of Christians. Moreover many thought he would rise again, which the vision may be playing on when predicting the beast's reappearance.
     The difficulty is why stop the 7 heads with Nerva, who followed Domitian - especially as other persecutions were conducted later. Perhaps it was simply to round off the complete nature of the period of major persecutions and the generation of the original readers, or as with the use of 7 for the churches, the number is figurative for a complete number of beast honouring rulers - perhaps selected from the Caesars subsequent to Nero, with the 6th ruling in John's day. That could make the 7th any future Caesar who would act like Nero.
     The diadems underline the beast’s rule. It's blasphemous names imply it stands against God, claiming divine rule and requiring false worship. In short, this is the supreme anti-Christ. And it's description picks up the most dangerous qualities of the most dangerous beasts - the speed of a leopard, strength of a bear, and vicious bite of a lion. Indeed, they combine the descriptions of the violent kingdoms of Daniel 7 - the horns referring to the fourth beast. It is truly terrifying to consider what such a king and kingdom might do.
     We should note here that the difference of description to the fourth beast in Daniel 7 means that despite the similarities, they are not the same kingdom. My view is that of Daniel 7 refers to the Seleucid Empire. Beale argues from Dan 7v12 and the composite description of this beast that it represents all anti-Christian rulers in history. Verse 5 could support that as the 42 months in 11v2-3 implies the period of the church's witness. But 17v8 tell us that the beast "is not" in John's day despite one of its rulers ruling. The best explanation is that the beast's authority remains even though it is not present - another parody of how Christ's does. Just as he will return so will the personification of Satan's rule in a particular ruler. And just as the absent Christ is the focus of allegiance for the redeemed, the beast remains the focus of allegiance for all throughout history who are not Christ's (v8).
     This might explain v3. A head seemed to be wounded fatally only to be healed, implying an expression of the kingdom will seem to be destroyed only to reappear. (The word for wound is "plague" implying judgment). And in that context the world is filled with wonder and follows the beast. This could refer to the re-appearance of the supreme anti-Christ just before Christ returns who draws the nations to himself (20v7-10) - an eighth head in 17v11. Could this also refer to Satan's head being crushed by Christ during the millennium (20v1-10, cf. Gen 3), and his kingdoms detailed in Daniel 2 being smashed by Christ's? Most likely, given the historical referent of the 6th head (17v10) it refers to a ruler known to the readers who almost died. Many think this refers to the belief that Nero would rise again, but if the beast represents Nero this head would be a ruler subsequent to him. Whatever, it's a parody on the death and resurrection of Christ. The beastly-rulers reflect the spirit of anti-Christ.
     So despite Christ's binding up, casting down and driving out Satan through his death and resurrection, Satan maintains a power that is asserted in the persecuting Caesars - and as chapter 17 makes clear, in an end time individual like them. And what the beast's appearance will result in is people worshipping Satan by their submission to the beast's authority, just as they are called to worship God through Christ. This stems particularly from them being enamoured with the seeming unopposable power of the beast - a power we know is only granted by Christ and is subject to him. And so v4 cries out for the answer that only the Lion of Judah can successfully wage war on this tyrant.
     v5: It is for the 42 months or 3.5 years of the church's witness that the beast exercises its power in absentia. In other words the principles at work in the rule of these Caesar's remain. Being "given" its mouth again implies divine permission. And it uses it to speak words of arrogance and blasphemy - perhaps combined in its claim to divine rule, and certainly seen in its opposition to God. To slander his name is to charge him with evil as we see so clearly in our own day, just as we also see slander of his church as his dwelling place (the temple probably having been destroyed before John wrote) and of the dead with him in heaven. These are the principles of hostility to Christ expressed at numerous times by rulers throughout history.
     v7: Divine permission is a strong theme, here to not only wage war on, but conquer God's people who are set apart for him. No doubt this is to reassure the persecuted that God remains in control. But it also suggests a purpose in the church sharing in Christ's sufferings, glorifying God and proving the righteousness of his final judgment. 
     The authority is patterned on Christ's. So there are two rulers vying for those from every tribe, language etc - Christ and anti-Christ. And all whose names are not in the lamb's book of life will worship the beast. The stress is on these names being from the foundation of the world and so always intended and so predestined.
     Verses 9-10 further affirm God's sovereignty. Those given ears to hear are called to hear and so endure. Those destined for captivity and martyrdom are therefore told they "must" face it. Everything is unravelling as God determines. The saints must simply continue in faith whatever it will mean for them.
     v11-14: The second beast is from the earth - perhaps with the first expressing the dragon's realm over the whole world, land and sea. This beast also seems to represent an individual, but on the pattern of the first, a demonic principle or entity too. Again, the imagery speaks of a king and kingdom rising to prominence (Dan 7v17).
     This beast is clearly anti-Christ in appearing as a lamb with two horns representing Kings derived from it, perhaps a dark version of the two witnesses (also patterned on Dan 8v3 and so possibly a Persian kingdom). This beast therefore looks meek, even Christ-like, but it's words are Satanic and so deceptive and destructive. Later it is titled the false prophet and is seen to re-appear just before the end just as the beast does (16v13, 19v20, 20v10). Like the prophets this beast receives its inspiration and message in the presence of the one it represents. And so it exercises the first beast's authority and causes it to be worshipped. If the first is a world order under a Satanic king or ruler, this is a king or ruler who causes people to ascribe divinity to the first. And alongside its preaching Satan's word it performs signs like the prophets and apostles - mimicking Elijah and Elisha's calling down fire on Mount Carmel and on the mockers. It is therefore the antithesis of the two witnesses and so of the church in its witness. This beast-ruler is acting like a prophet of the anti-Christ, spreading Satan's word and extending his kingdom. We might think it represents all who preach false religion in and outside the church, often for the sake of conformity to the values of the prevailing state or kingdom. But the context implies a focus on the rise of the beast before John lived and by consequence it's return to lead the great deception that gathers the nations against Christians just before the end (10v1ff, 20v7-8). Nevertheless, just as the beast's authority remains throughout the church age, so the nature of the 2nd beast warns against all foreshadowing of this final deception.
     We're reminded it is only "allowed" all this from God. But it will nevertheless deceive all throughout the earth, instructing them to make an image of and for the first beast - being told for the second time that this first beast is the one who was wounded and healed. Again, we hear this beast will be "allowed" to give breath to that image. Throughout the prophets idols are revealed as fakes because they have no breath. So this implies a master deception as God permits the creation of a false god that seems truly alive and so real. Perhaps this is the false-prophet’s focus on a particular leader who images the beastly principles of the initial beast.
     The image speaks in a way that causes the killing of Christians, and requires all people to be marked with the name or number of the first beast if they are to engage in commercial transactions. The mark of his name on the right hand or forehead implies ownership, where his "name" entails all blasphemous claims to divinity (v1). Just as God's seal is figurative of a real security from God so this mark is therefore a figure of a real enslaving to false religion and so to Satan. The sense is that one will not be able to engage in societal life without belonging to or showing allegiance to the idolatrous worldview of an idolatrous state or ruler expressing the principles originally seen in the Roman Empire of John's day. There is at least a foretaste of this when one cannot benefit materially without dishonesty and greed. But it is seen also in cultures where being a Christian limits job prospects or access to goods and services.
     v18 acknowledges this is all rather obscure and requires wisdom. However three things are certain from this verse: (1) The first beast (the main subject) is a "man" - a key ruler, most likely Nero. But the man of lawlessness from 2 Thessalonians is an obvious candidate in terms of ultimate and final expression. (2) The 3 sixes imply the evil opposite of God as "holy, holy, holy." Just as 7 implies perfection and completion, 666 stresses imperfection and perhaps also incompletion. (3) Whereas there is no clear past referent for the 666, it's possible when this individual appears those with wisdom will discern it from the number.
     If this has literal fulfilment then we might expect at some future time a lawless worldwide ruler (beast 1) with a key ruler under him (beast 2) that brings people in allegiance to him and does a great miracle in promoting a false god that seems real. It should make Christians in every age wary of all false religion, all non-Christian rulers, and of the real temptation to compromise for material gain. Alluding to Dan 3v15 it urges us like Daniel's friends to refuse to worship this image on pain of death but trusting God for final deliverance. Some might add that we should reject all links between the rulers and religion at all. But just as this chapter presents an evil mirror image of the truth, it actually supports the link. Satan's character and will is reflected in evil rulers, their kingdoms and the religions they promote, all in opposition to God's character and will being reflected in Christ as king, the expressions of his kingdom on earth and the Christian religion they are to promote.

Excursus: What is the beast?

We can summarise as follows: Arising from the sea under which was thought to be the abyss, the beast is demonically influenced. Indeed, he is in the image of Satan. Yet according to Daniel 7, we would expect both a conceptual and a human referent – a kingdom or principle of government, but taking prominence under a key ruler. The heads and horns therefore represent subsequent rulers that reflect the same kingdom or governing principle.
     So this beast spans the church age. Chapter 17 and 19 tell us it “was not” in John’s day, but would arise again at the end of the age. However, Babylon sits on the beast with all its heads and horns and so spans its appearance in human form at both ends of that period. The beast is therefore more than a human ruler. It represents the Satanic principle of idolatrous rule or governance that takes various expressions throughout history and in its various rulers, but particularly in a key Caesar of John’s day and a key ruler just before the end.
     This helps us understand the nature of the second beast, the false prophet. Here too we must see two ideas. First, is the Satanic principle of false religion or spirituality in its various expressions throughout history that causes people to essentially worship the rule expressed by the state, and second, particular rulers who lead people to worship the first beast in its human expression at the beginning and end of the church age.