Revelation 13: The Beasts

Revelation 13  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 12
The forty and two months of verse 5, or three and a half years, clearly indicate that the events foretold in this chapter will take place during the last half week of Daniel's seventy weeks—the period immediately preceding the appearing and reign of Christ. From the previous chapter we learn that during this terrible time, when man's wickedness rises to its height, the great power behind all the evil will be the devil. In this chapter we see the two great instruments of evil that the devil will use, and that will appear before the world, are symbolized by two beasts. The first beast clearly represents the political power or revived Roman Empire finding its expression in its head (verses 1-10). The second beast, or religious power, is surely the Antichrist or false prophet (verses 11-18).
In this vision John sees the first beast rise up out of the sea. As a symbol the restless sea is often used to set forth the nations in an unsettled and revolutionary condition. Are we not then to learn that out of a condition of anarchy and confusion a great imperial power will arise, the characteristics of which are set forth under the figure of a beast “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns and upon his heads the name of blasphemy?”
The outstanding feature of this power will be that, like a beast, it will act in utter disregard of God. From the prophecy in Dan. 7:7-87After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. (Daniel 7:7‑8), and also the further light given in Revelation 17:8-138The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 12And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. (Revelation 17:8‑13), we may conclude that this beast sets forth the revived Roman Empire. The prophecies of Daniel, under the figures of four beasts, foretell the four great world empires that will exercise government during the times of the Gentiles. The first was likened to a lion; the second to a bear; the third is said to be like a leopard. As to the fourth beast, Daniel can find nothing in nature to which it can be likened. He describes it as “being dreadful and terrible,” and “diverse from all the beasts that were before it.” Moreover, he says, “it had ten horns.” In this chapter of Revelation we again have a ten-horned beast, and in the seventeenth chapter this ten-horned beast with seven heads is connected with “seven mountains.” Is it not clear that all these scriptures refer to the same beast, and that this imperial power is the revived Roman Empire with its center in Rome, the seven-hilled city? Upon the seven heads John sees names of blasphemy indicating that this last world empire will not only, like a beast, be ignorant of God but will be deliberately antagonistic to God.
Further, the beast that John sees is likened to a leopard, a bear, and a lion. It is plain then that this last world empire during the times of the Gentiles, will gather up and combine in itself all the evil features of the first three imperial powers. Moreover, we learn that this last empire will have a directly Satanic source, for the power of his throne and authority are derived from the dragon, that we know, from the last chapter, is the “old serpent,” “the Devil and Satan.”
From Revelation 17:9 and 10 we learn that the seven heads not only set forth seven mountains but also “seven kings,” or forms of government. John sees one of these heads wounded to death, doubtless setting forth the destruction of the imperial power of Rome which, we know from history, has led to the break up of the Roman Empire as a world-wide political power for many past centuries. From this Scripture, and Revelation 17, we learn that this empire will be revived as set forth by the deadly wound being healed. This revival will be a wonder to all the world and call forth its admiration for a power with which no other power can be compared, and with whom none will dare to make war. Nevertheless, to praise and laud this empire will in reality be worship to the devil.
In the verses that follow we are permitted to see the outstanding marks of this revived empire, personified in its head. Firstly, the head of this empire, like every other dictator that attempts to rule the world, will above all else seek to exalt himself and boast in himself, as we read, he will have a “mouth speaking great things.”
Secondly, behind the mouth that boasts in himself there will be a heart that hates God, for he will open “his mouth in blasphemy against God.”
Thirdly, the one that hates God will oppose God's people, for we read he will “make war with the saints,” and, for a strictly limited time, will be allowed to overcome them.
Fourthly, for a time this terrible power will be allowed to have universal sway over men, for power will be given to it “over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation.”
The terrible effect of this power upon “all that dwell on the earth” is then brought before us. Those who have all their thoughts and desires centered in the earth, and seek to utterly exclude any belief in God, or a hereafter, will be delighted to find an all-powerful leader who opposes God and His saints. They will gladly worship this instrument of Satan proving, indeed, that they are not of the number of those whose names, from the founding of the world, have been written in the book of life of the Lamb slain (JND).
A solemn warning follows: “If any man have an ear let him hear.” If we have faith to believe in God, let us pay heed to what God says, when He tells us that the one that leads others into bondage will at last come into bondage himself; and, in due time, the one that kills with the sword will himself come to a violent end. This solemn assurance that judgment will at last overtake the wicked enables the saints to wait in patience and faith for God to deal with the wicked and secure the blessing of His persecuted people.
In the remaining verses of the chapter we have the vision of a second beast that John sees coming up out of the earth, setting forth an ordered condition of society in contrast to the first beast who arises from the sea, the symbol of society in a condition of confusion and anarchy.
In the vision this beast has two horns like a lamb. Is not this the pretense of resembling Christ and thus seeking to take the place of a religious leader, even as the first beast assumes the place of a political leader? Nevertheless, while having the appearance of a lamb, he speaks as a dragon. Even as the first beast, he will be an active instrument of the devil.
A comparison of the account of this beast with that of the “man of sin” described in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians 2:3-12, will lead to the conclusion that both passages describe the same person, and equally present the Antichrist foretold by the apostle John in his epistle as going to appear at the end of the age (1 John 2:1818Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)). It is only in the Epistle of John that the Antichrist is referred to by name. There his character is wholly religious and he is presented as an heretical apostate that denies foundation truths as to Divine Persons in connection both with Judaism and Christianity. He denies that Jesus is the Christ—the expectation of the Jew; further, he denies the Father and the Son, the outstanding revelation of Christianity.
We may gather from the mention of the temple in 2 Thessalonians 2 that this second beast, or religious leader, will have his seat at Jerusalem; while the first beast, or political leader, will have his center in the West, at the seven-hilled city of Rome.
This second beast, under the power of Satan, will use his authority to lead those who dwell on the earth to entirely set aside all fear of God by exalting man into an object of worship. Having refused Christ, these earth dwellers will be deceived by means of the miracles that this man will have the power to perform. In result the grossest form of idolatry the world has ever known will be set up in the very sphere that once had the light of Christianity. The first beast, while he will astonish the world by reviving the Roman Empire, will apparently perform no miracles. This second beast, energized by Satan, performs great wonders, even to making fire come down from heaven. Elijah, in his day, was empowered by God to call down fire from heaven to witness to the true God and expose the worship of an idol. What Elijah did by the power of God, Antichrist will imitate by the power of the devil, to turn from the true God to worship an idol, or image of the beast. In Elijah's day the fire having exposed the idolaters, the prophets of Baal were slain. In the coming day the wonder of the fire from heaven having deceived men into the worship of an idol, those who refuse to worship the image will be slain (1 Kings 18:36-4036And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. 38Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God. 40And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:36‑40)).
This wicked man will claim universal religious authority over all—both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond. To enforce his authority he will insist that a public submission to the first beast is made by a public mark in the right hand and in the forehead, without which it will be humanly impossible to exist, for without this mark none will be able to buy or sell.
There does not appear to be any indication of the symbolic meaning of the number of the beast; doubtless it will be made plain at the needed moment. In the meanwhile we have to beware of drawing deductions which may expose us to every imagination of the human mind.
We know that the present age is spoken of by the Lord as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)). From the prophecy of Daniel we learn that these times commenced with the government of the world being taken from the Jews, who had fallen into idolatry, and being placed in the hands of the Gentiles, represented by Nebuchadnezzar, to whom it was said, “The God of heaven hath given thee the kingdom, power, strength, and glory;” and wheresoever the children of men dwell he was made “ruler over them all” (Dan. 2:37-3837Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. (Daniel 2:37‑38)).
Alas even as the Jew had broken down, so the Gentiles have utterly failed in carrying out the responsibility, given them by God, to govern the world. This failure was manifest at the outset, for Nebuchadnezzar, as another has said, “Instead of conducting himself humbly as a man before God—as before Him who had given him his power, on the one hand, he exalted himself, and on the other hand, ravaged the world to satisfy his will.”
As with the first leader of the Gentiles, so throughout the centuries different forms of government have been used by dictators and democrats, in rebellion against God and ruthless cruelty towards men, in seeking their self-exaltation and self-aggrandizement. It has been pointed out that through the centuries the world has been attempting to control evil, and right wrongs, either by democrats or dictators. On the one hand, men find that pure democracy is too weak to control the passions of men, and when utter confusion has been the result of the rule of uncontrolled democrats, men have sought relief by submitting to a dictator, even as the French revolution was followed by setting up Napoleon. On the other hand, nations soon find that the rule of dictators is too tight and ends in all liberty being taken from men. This again leads nations to swing back to an extreme democracy.
The solemn fact is that neither democrats nor dictators can control the power of evil that is working beneath the surface. The devil is the prince of this world, and his power, leading men to rebel against God and to destroy one another by tyranny and war, is too great for man to control by his own power. Little wonder then that men's hearts are “failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth,” and that they use the proverb, “After us the Deluge.” But, as it has been remarked, this is only an exaggerated expression of their self-importance and, we may add, a confession of their impotence to right the evils of the world.
From these two solemn chapters of the Revelation, 12 and 13, we know that the times of the Gentiles will end in the most terrible form of dictatorship that the world has ever seen. Christendom, having apostatized from God, will fall into utter anarchy and confusion from which men will seek relief by submitting to a power that, though energized by Satan and blaspheming God, will apparently be able to end wars and bring order out of chaos, for men will say, “Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” In result the age will close in repeating the idolatry with which it commenced, only in a more terrible form. As Nebuchadnezzar set up his golden image before which all men were to fall down and worship, or be thrown into a fiery furnace, so, in the last days all that dwell on the earth will have to worship the image of the beast, or be killed.
Men are dreaming of a “new order” which they hope to bring about by their own efforts and which will secure a world of peace and plenty. But, as one has said, “Instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good, we must expect a progress of evil.... We are to expect evil, until it becomes so flagrant that it will be necessary for the Lord to judge it.... The New Testament constantly presents to us evil as going on increasing until the end, and that Satan will urge it on until the Lord destroys his power.”
Nevertheless, however terrible the end of this present age, it can be faced by the believer in quiet patience and faith in God as he looks on to the glory that lies beyond. In the chapter that follows we shall learn that there is One who can overcome all the power of evil, secure the glory of God, and bring His people into the promised blessing. There we shall see the Son of Man with a crown of victory on His head and the sharp sickle of judgment in His hand.