Look what happens when we take a presupposition and make it fit into an unrelated matrix. Fun stuff, but not biblical… Astrology anyone?
The Preterist view: They see the dragon in this passage as an invading power looking for allies in its evil quest. That power is Rome as it invades Israel. Some in this camp see this as the looming judgment against Rome for its slaughter of the righteous and invasion of Jerusalem. Others see this as Satan’s role influencing Rome. The sea is seen as the Gentile world or the pagan empires of Daniel. Most see this as the characteristics of an individual antichrist figure such as Nero or Rome. The healed wound is seen as the Nero resurrection myth being mocked, or the various emperors; others see this as the results of Rome’s violent wars and insurrections, and attempts of civil war. Some even speculate that Rome was wounded by the spread of Christianity and its assault on evil and its oppressive ways and/or the victory of Christ on the cross (Phil. 4:22). The worship of the beast and dragon is seen as Satanism, emperor worship, and the false gods of Rome.
The Futurist view: They see this passage as a parallel to Daniel chapter seven, and an amalgamation of Daniel’s four beasts, meaning the Gentile nations and their collaboration and future attack on Israel. The sea is seen as confusion and/or the great masses of humanity. Others see this as a European or Mediterranean power. The beast is the antichrist and he revives the Roman Empire. The characteristics are seen as the false charm and charisma of the antichrist as he deceives the masses. In addition the lion, bear, etc. describe the various empires coming together and their influence and hedonism. Most see these events as happening after the Tribulation.
The Idealist view: They see this passage as a collection of the succession of political and social evils coming together for evil purposes in various times and places. The characteristics, such as the lion and bear, are seen as the activity of Satan and legislative actions of evil, persecutions, oppressions, or the rise of Satan against the world and the Church; some see this as corruption in the Church, or false religions, or both. The sea is seen as the Gentile world, corruption and paganism versus faithfulness and God (Is. 17:12; 60:5). The wound is seen as Rome and other evils recovering from the backlash of faithfulness and the rise of the Church, and/or the death of Nero. “Who is able to make war with him” is seen as the recovery and resilience of evil in Rome by the rise of Domitian.
The Historicist view: They see this passage as an allegory involving the four beasts of Daniel, chapter seven, who blaspheme holiness and those who are faithful. The beast is seen as Roman paganism and the priests who propagated it. Others have seen this as the Catholic Papacy and/or oppressive ecclesiastical power, or perhaps the emperors of Rome. The sea is seen as the Gothic invasions; others as the various kingdoms of Rome. The seven heads are seen as the saying that Rome was built on seven hills. The wound is seen as the hurts from paganism or the wounds to the Church because of apostasy, and the death of the beast, seen later, is the last of these pagan emperors, Julian, when he was killed.
- Dragon stood…shore of the sea… coming out of: Meaning a vicious, killing monster and refers to the attempt of Satan to mock God by attempting to create His creation. This is also an image of summoning a powerful demon. Satan brings his representation out of the chaos of the sea counter to God’s creation out of the chaos of nothing. It is interesting to note that Satan cannot create matter or bring something from nothing; he can only recruit, manipulate, and deceivingly use what God has already made, turning it into bad (Gen. 1; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 11:7, 12:9,17; 13:15).
- Beast coming out of the sea: This is meant to represent a messianic figure. Sea is a Jewish metaphor for what is frightful and terrible; it was also a colloquialism (saying) for a dwelling for monsters and things inexplicable and/or hostile (Job 7:12; 41:1; Psalms 74:13; 89:9-10; Is. 27:1).
- Beast was a maxim meaning a persecuting power and/or a people who are demonic and evil. This term does not denote a singular person being an antichrist although the theme as John uses in 1 John does apply as opposing Christ. These two metaphors, beast and sea put together in this literature type refer to the tenacity, fierceness, and repulsiveness of this beast. In John’s time this also represented the Romans or any secular, pagan authority because Rome was birthed near the sea in its Mediterranean location as compared to the inland Asia Minor churches. Also, a symbol of Rome was an eagle with 12 wings and three heads coming out of the sea (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 11:7; apocryphal book 4 Ezra 11).
- Ten horns … seven heads … ten crowns: Each of these is a metaphoric parallel to the nature of Christ. For example, horns means leadership, power, and authority; head is wisdom and position as well as domination; ten crowns is counter to Christ’s many crowns (Ex. 6:14; Num. 1:16; 27:2; Jos. 6:4; 1 Kings 1:49-51; Rev. 19:12). The beast is acting like the counterfeit of Christ—who is the image of God; the beast is as an image of Satan in his character seeking to trick people into believing that the real God is obtuse, when in fact the devil is. Seven heads was also a saying that Rome is a city built on seven hills (Psalm 2:7; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:3).
- Blasphemous name: Infers that his name is not worthy, whereas in contrast, Christ is worthy. Roman emperors had a tendency to take the titles of deities for their title, such as Domitian, who took it to an extreme (perhaps a contemporary of John, if a late date is in view of his penning of Revelation), was addressed as Dominus et Deus noster meaning “Our Lord and God” (John 1:14; Phil 2:9-11; Col. 2:9; Rev. 19:12).
- Leopard…bear …lion: John is drawing images and characteristics from Daniel’s four beasts. Leopard also meant “being swift” and “military conquest;” bear meant “ferocious strength” and “stability;” and a lion meant “power” and “dominion” (Dan. 7:2-7; Rev. 12:3; 17:8-11).
- Dragon gave the beast his power: Satan empowers the beast whereas in contrast God empowers and is Christ, who empowers us (John 5:21-23; Rev. 3:21; 5:12-13; 12:10).
- Fatal wound…been healed: A counterfeit theme to the Resurrection of Christ that is the proof and means for evangelism, but Satan can’t duplicate it so some how it is imitated or faked. Some see this as the recovery power of the beast. This is also of the theme of Nero.
- Was astonished: Somehow, this is the means that the beast uses (trickery) so people become amazed with and are attracted to be followers, going away from God and goodness (Rev. 17:8).
- Men worshiped: This is also a counterfeit to true worship whereas, in contrast, people worshiped what is wrong and evil. People are attracted to the conniving and scheming of evil rather than to the centrality of Christ (John 5:23).
- Who is like the beast: A counterfeit of praise, taking praise that is meant for God, twisting and perverting it (Ex. 15:11; apocryphal book Judith 6).
- Who can make war against him? This may be an expression of the tenacity, persistence, recovery, and resilience of evil, as we say now, “you can’t fight city hall.”
During this time in history, Nero died (in 68 A.D.) by either suicide or murder, and a rumor was instituted that he would come back in vengeance on the aristocracy to destroy them and all those who doubted or came against him. Many Romans were in fear of his expected return. Then, during Domitian’s reign (81-96 AD), a cult leader, claiming he was Nero, rose in power in Asia Minor where these seven churches were, so this imagery was already in people’s minds through literature and circumstances. This person also made an allegiance with the Parthians, making himself the perfect antichrist figure. He was hunted down and executed. The Jews wrote oracles predicting that Nero would return to terrorize the Christians and prevent Jewish conversions just as some Christian groups used Hitler, Russia, and other groups to make their point and create fear. The early Christians greatly feared Nero, who had thousands of Christians put to death, and the prospect that he might come back was terrifying (called the Nero redivivus myth, Latin for “renewed” or “living again”).
In fact, Nero’s name was used as a term for the antichrist, which we will see later in this chapter. This image was so terrifying that for hundreds of years, most all of the great early scholars, including Augustine, Jerome, and many modern scholars too like Barclay and F.F. Bruce, believed that Nero was to whom John was referring and was the antichrist. Perhaps, John is borrowing from the news of his day or popular myths and this form of apocalyptic literature to make his point and show us how Satan works so we do not buy into his game. By the way, antichrist means anyone who opposes Christ, as a term it is found in First and Second John but nowhere else including in Revelation, although it can be argued that the theme of antichrist is found here. This is why we are to look at what the symbolisms refer to or are pointing to and not the meaning in English or what symbols themselves may mean in our day, else we get caught in vain speculation and miss the point that Christ has for us.
Even though this passage is about the contrasts of Satan, many commentators have seen this figure of the beast as the person of the antichrist. However, there are some severe interpretive problems with this view. For one, the passage does not say it is the antichrist; nowhere in Revelation is there an antichrist personality other than representations of those who oppose Christ and fight His people. This points us to an antichrist in purpose but not a specific personality. (The Greek word for antichrist means “opponent to the Messiah;” in Scripture, it means anyone who opposes Christ, not necessarily a specific person – 1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7. In 2 Thess 2:3, “man of lawlessness” refers to rebellion, but again, not to a specific person. What some commentators have done is take several passages out of their context and string them together to create their position). In this way, anyone who opposes Christ is an antichrist as it is defined elsewhere in Scripture and by John. Thus, many read into the passage their views rather than seeing what this actually says in the original language and what would be understood by John’s readers in this type of literature and images.
The First Beast
This passage is about the contrasts of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ. Satan seeks to counterfeit and mock God. This is about the forgery of making what is evil and hideous seem attractive. The beast demands our worship and declares war upon the faithful! This passage is cut from its verse references to its context, as it really starts at the close of chapter 12, where Jesus asks us to trust Him as the dragon stands on the shore of the sea. John now sees another vision—a beast rising out of the depths of the sea. This beast had seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns on each of its horns. There were blasphemous names written on it. This beast looked like a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. This beast gets its power from the Dragon. One of the heads was wounded but then was healed. The world marvels and worships this beast, deceived by its power and presence.
John draws from Daniel’s four beasts (Dan. 7: 3-7) which represented four succeeding empires. Most scholars assume they are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon/ Persia and Alexandrian Greek/Roman, while others give them other orders, meanings and speculations. These refer to idolatrous kingdoms that persecute the faithful. In John’s time, they were in the age of Rome, the fourth period. Thus, it is a composite of domineering evil that also means worldly oppression, so that John’s readers could know what was evil and what was not of the character of God. We see this as an invading force whose wickedness and debauchery is unprecedented as the world is duped into worshiping Satan and or his evil ways; however, ignorance is no excuse.
- How would you contrast the character of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ? How and why does Satan seek to counterfeit and mock God? How have you seen this done?
- Why did the people worship this beast while at the same time, be callous and uncaring of the real, Holy God? How do we do this in the church today?
The first thing that comes to mind that people love to speculate about is the beast, which was a maxim, meaning a persecuting power and/or a people who are demonic and evil. The beast in the original Greek refers to a “bestial” man, one who is brutal, savage, and ferocious. In context, this infers that the sea is a dwelling place for monsters, suggesting terrifying, repulsive, and evil things that seek to lead the world and the Church astray. This passage also gives comfort and hope because it depicts how God is still in control—even over the beast, and even in times of insurmountable chaos and suffering (Job 7:12; 41:1; Psalm 74:13; 89:9-10; Is. 27:1).
Whenever the “beast” makes his “appearance,” it may not be the same person all of the time such as the antichrist; rather, it is a metaphor or a theme of intent rather than a specific personality. At this place in Revelation, the beast denotes someone of power and influence who is doing the persecuting (Psalm 87:4; 89:10; Is. 51:9; Dan. 7:3-8, 16-25). Thus, any dictator, or gossiper for that matter (Rom. 1), can be a beast. Some say this indicates that the antichrist will take over the Temple and John is seeking to prevent or at least slow it down; however, this is not shown in the text or context (2 Thess. 2:3-4).
This term, the beast, from a literary, historical, or theological perspective does not denote a singular person being an antichrist, although the theme as John uses in First John does apply as opposing Christ. These two metaphors, beast and sea put together in Revelation 13 in this literature type, refers to the tenacity, fierceness, and repulsiveness of this beast, which is evil and has evil motives. In John’s time, this also represented the Romans or any secular, pagan authority because Rome was birthed near the sea in its Mediterranean location as compared to the inland Asia Minor churches. This term was also a symbol for Rome that had an eagle with 12 wings and three heads coming out of the sea on its banners (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 11:7; 13; apocryphal book 4 Ezra 11).
Thus the term beast has more to do with who are the beasts in your life? Once in a sermon, Augustine asked his people if any of them were antichrist, as in opposing Christ in character or unfaithfulness. The First John definition of antichrist, the only place in Scripture this term appears, simply means anyone who opposes Christ. It isn’t about an ominous, opposing personality rising up and tricking us; rather, it is about our willingness to be tricked. God gives us a mind and the incredible resources of His Spirit and Word; we have no excuse to be disloyal to our Lord.
The call here is to heed the warning, not engage in vain speculation; rather, we are to make sure we are lined up to Him, loyal to our LORD! This means that as we lead our lives and run our churches, we have to seek Him and ask, are we being disloyal to our Lord? If so, guess what? The antichrist is not a political figure; it is us…you! We are the ones who are opposing Christ! This aspect is far more important that the speculations, because it all comes down to one thing, loyalty. Are you devoted to Christ or a slave to your will and to the manipulations of others?
Another popular image is six hundred and sixty-six (666). This was a symbol typical of first-century Jewish apocalyptic riddles usually known to the audience for which it was written; John’s readers knew who he was talking about. It perhaps referred to Nero, and thus was a warning about making loyalty-oaths to Caesar. It was not a secret code to the hearers, only to those outside of the Church such as Roman officials. This was also a common way to express or warn about godlessness or those opposing Christ (could be attributed to a specific person such as Nero, or to any person in opposition to right and God) while avoiding unnecessary reprisals. Some commentators have said this is “the trinity of evil”, referring to the number of the antichrist who seeks to combat God and His people.
This is called, in the Greek, a “triangular number;” it is used as a parody or a word play in the first century, referring to someone or something else. It was also a cryptic code word that referred to Nero, using the Hebrew translation of the Greek numerical values. This type of code is called “gamatria” where each of the letters in the Greek or Hebrew has an equivalent numerical value, such as alpha, which stands for one. This was not secret but common Jewish thinking; Jesus, in the Greek (IhsouV), has a numerical correspondent to 888. Some early Christian thinkers, such as Irenaeus, have attributed this to Euanthas or Lateinos or Teitan; Martin Luther thought it might refer to a Pope Benedict, and/or to other various evil Popes. In addition, 666, as a number, is diametrically opposed to the perfection of the number seven which means fullness and completeness.
Thus, the theory of the numerical value is that a future antichrist may have a name equal in numerical value to 666 when it is written in Greek. “Nero Caesar” is 666 in the Greek when transliterated from the Hebrew (Matt. 24:15, 36-51). There is no reason or call to seek to decode this; it is not about the world’s population hitting 6,666,666,666 that may have happened in Nov 2006, or some mathematicians’ theory or whatever the theory of the day is. Thus, this term 666 could be attributed to a specific person such as Nero, or to any person who is in opposition to righteous and God. In this way a first century Christian can avoid unnecessary reprisals.
The various theories of 666 do not always take into account what it meant then, which is crucial for our understanding and application of His Word. For example, the numerical value as that of a future antichrist may not be accurate, because it is also the name for “Nero Caesar” when it is written in Greek, transliterated from the Hebrew (Matt. 24:15, 36-51). Sometimes the plain meaning is far more important to us than what speculators have come up with. We are to be watchful to those who oppose Christ and make sure we are not opposing Christ in thought, word, or deed, taking oaths, or making promises that counter Christ’s principals!
Another popular apocalyptic symbol is the mark. Mark basically means ownership and control; in its context, it also refers to a forgery of the seal and love of God given to Christians (Ezek. 9:4-6; Rev. 7:2-8; 14:1; Rev. 13-14). This “mark of the beast” is about who controls us—Satan or God. This beast forces people to bear the mark as a way to control and also as a counterfeit to the Holy Spirit that “marks” a true believer. In addition, this is also a pattern of the stranglehold that has been repeated throughout human history, such as the trade guilds that controlled who could buy or sell in the midst of the church at Thyatira (found in Revelation 2:18-29.)
Also, it is the corruption as exhibited in John’s time by both Jewish and pagan priests, and especially the emperor cults. Additionally, it is also represented in countries that are run with totalitarian tactics by corrupt officials and/or dictators. There are countless speculations on this, but it really denotes, from the word meaning and the context, that it is a metaphor for ownership and control, but the means by which this will occur is unknown. All we can do is see how this has played out before and be ready for the future. Fear mongering over technologies and personalities are beside the point; neither Satan nor God need technology to make this happen, because it has happened before in grand scale without it. However, since we do have it… (Eph.1:13; Rev. 14:9-11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20 and 20:4).
And of course, there is the dragon or Red dragon…. The term “dragon” literally means “serpent” or “sea monster” such as the leviathan, and for the Jews, it symbolized monstrous evil (common in Canaanite and Mesopotamian myths), and Heracles and his battle with the hydra. A dragon is also a description of Satan who is the enemy of God, who is a terrifying and destructive beast, and who seeks the total devastation of God’s people. This image is not meant to terrify us, but to show us how he and evil work together so we can beware and defend. This was also a metaphor for Babylon and the enemies of Israel and God. It is very unwise to read in meanings that are not there to this and other metaphors (apocryphal book, “Bell and the Dragon;” Gen. 3:1-15; Psalm 74:13-15; 89:9-10; Is. 27:1; 30:7; 51:9; Ezek. 29:3; Luke 10:18; 11:14-23; John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:7-9; 13:2; 20:2).
Many times, the metaphors are directly from the Old Testament, as Scripture interprets Scripture. For example, the Sea turned into blood. This term is indicative to the first plague in Egypt (Ex. 7:20-21). It means the ultimate destiny of mankind as being judged and the preparation for the Second Coming and/or the Last Judgment. This is also called “eschatological;” it is from God and His judgment, not the pollution from man’s industrial machine. Volcanic upheavals can also produce this effect from God’s direction—see Revelation, chapter six notes (Is. 15:9; 2 Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 6:13; 9:1). If there is a metaphor you do not get, just place it in our search engine on our website with the word Revelation and we probably have covered it, or use our online Bible Study Aides channel.
Apocalyptic writing can also be cryptic as representing something else and symbolic such as “IXIOUS,” the “fish” which was a secret greeting in the early Church, which was under persecution from Jewish leadership, Rome, family clans, and peer pressure. Thus, this was a greeting (not in Scripture) to see if another person was a Christian, too. IXIOUS was an acronym and is not directly in Scripture in this form, but the meaning and the words spelling the acronym are. In the early church Christians evading persecution would write out the Greek word for fish, “IXIOUS”, or the symbol <>< which stood for Jesus, Christ, God, Son, and Savior. This acronym stood for who Jesus was—the Savior; not a man or a half-god/man hybrid like Hercules, but the Mighty One of the Universe, humanity’s God and Savior (just as the name Jesus meant).