The Sea Beast and the Earth Beast
1And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. 2And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
John stands on the shore of the Mediterranean and seas a beast rise up. This beast is similar in some ways to the dragon of Rev. 12, but it is also like to the 4th beast of Daniel 7. In verse 2, this beast is further associated with the 4th beast of Daniel 7 rather than the red dragon of Rev. 12 by referring to the other three beasts in Daniel 7.
Remember the Old Testament symbol of the isles. The sea represents the idea of separation from God. The islands were representative of the Gentile nations. So as this beast comes up out of the sea, we can acknowledge by reading Old Testament scripture that this beast is a world empire (Daniel 7) that comes up out of the Gentile nations. The details of the description will solidify the connection of the sea beast to the 4th beast of Daniel 7. Clearly, then, when viewed in light of scripture alone, this sea-beast is the Roman Empire and further verses concerning this beast must be interpreted in that light. It is also important to note that, just like the dragon, the beast can be seen as both the kingdom and a particular ruler of it (one of the heads) interchangeably. So where the dragon was generally the persecuting Jews and specifically Herod Antipas II (of Acts 23f) the sea-beast can be Rome or a specific Caesar. The dragon (the Jewish nation from chapter 12) gives the sea beast (Rome) its authority. It is extremely difficult for readers today to understand this is the Jews submitting to Rome because we think of Satan as so powerful and so literal in this passage. Satan would never submit, so this has to be Satan empowering the sea-beast much like God the Father gave Jesus all authority. This is wrong. Satan is used as a metaphor to describe the Jews and under the Herods, the Jews submitted to Roman authority (read – Pilate, Quirinius, Festus, etc.). This submission was almost total, hence “great authority”.
3And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
Heads are kings so this is one of the kings or Caesars of Rome. The beast in general here is pictured to receive a fatal wound in one of its heads (a Caesar dies and the Empire is thrown into chaos), but instead of dying, the beast recovers (the chaos is ended and order is restored). The readers of John’s book would not know and not need to know who this was exactly to understand the point made, only the general meaning. When it unfolded, then the specifics would be clear. Contextually, we can logically infer that it was the Caesar that was in power at the end of Acts that put Paul under house arrest for two years, then released him, and later (2 Tim. 4) executed him. The word “world” here is the word “ge” which for consistency should be translated as earth or land. The might and grandeur of Rome intoxicated many of the Jews during the first century (though there were some hard core factions that hated them, hence the rebellion). [Historically this is the death of Nero, the rise of the three Caesars: Galba, Othos, and Vitellius who nearly ripped the Empire apart before Vespasian returned to Rome and put down the chaos and became Caesar.]
4And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
A. they Edit
“They” are the Jews (earth) who wondered after Rome (sea-beast).
B. worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast Edit
Many Jews praised the Herods for submitting to Rome and bringing in larger quantities of trade and relative peace and protection from other nations.
C. and they worshipped the beast...Edit
These particular Jews had no beef with Rome and submitted willingly. They are no doubt part of the “earth” that swallowed up the flood from the dragon’s mouth in chapter 12.
5And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
Him is the sea-beast, Rome. The great things, the blasphemies indicate some form of blasphemy against God for 3.5 years (not the same 3.5 years dealing with the Jewish War before or after the fall of Jerusalem). [Historically Nero began persecuting Christians mid-Nov. 64AD and died June 8, 68AD, which is right at 42 months give a few weeks of desperate fleeing for his life with no time to persecute Christians any more.]
6And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
This Caesar would persecute Christians (the woman in Heaven).
7And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
This Caesar would be allowed to persecute Christians. He was also given authority over the Jews within the Roman empire (kindreds = tribes).
8And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Non-converted Jews (dwell on the earth not written in the book of life) worshipped this Caesar figuratively in their awe of Rome and greed for its wealth and protection of Palestine [Historically this is literal worship of Nero Caesar as well.]
The Lamb slain from the beginning of the world is a phrase that speaks to God’s plan even before the fall of man. God loves humans and in His omniscience knew they would fall and already had a plan set to resolve that separation. How wonderful is our God!
9If any man have an ear, let him hear.
10He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
Read Psalm 68 (vs 18 esp); Ezekiel 16:53; Ephesians 4:8. This verse is in one sense a general statement of truth and historical fact. In every case where a nation took another by violence, especially Israel/Judah, that nation in turn faced violent overthrow. However, in this context it is more specific than that. In all the books of prophecy where nations are spoken of by the prophets, the audience was God’s chosen, the Israelites/Jews. Those nations were God’s appeal again and again to His people to repent or face the same consequence. Those other nations were types pointing to the NT antitype, the final end of the Israelite/Jewish nation. They that imprisoned and killed Christians, who warred against God’s chose of the next age at the end of the Jewish age, were judged, taken captive, and killed themselves. Here then is the patience, the perseverance of the saints both under the altar and still living. Here we see the result of all those letters from the NT saying stay faithful, the time will happen where this persecution will all be over.
11And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
Remember that beasts can represent nations or individual leaders. There are several properties of this beast that helps identify him.
- This beast comes up out of the earth – he is someone who lives among the Jewish population, though not necessarily a Jew.
- This beast has two horns – horns represent authority and in this case the horns are two in number indicating authority in/from two places or domains
- This beast has two horns like a little sheep (lamb) – this authority was not all that great like a Caesar or a king
- This beast has two horns like a little sheep (lamb) – sheep are ever a metaphorical reference to God’s people, OT and NT. Read Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 50:6. This beast is in many respects like the Jews he lives among.
- This beast speaks as a dragon – indicating that he is in accord with the persecution of Christians.
13And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
A. he doeth great wondersEdit
These great wonders are akin to the wonder generated in verse 3. They aren’t literal miracles, but powerful acts that awe those who behold them.
B. so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,Edit
Metaphorically this is judgment coming down from the place of authority on the people of Judah (specifically those who were in rebellion, though not all rebelled taking the side of Rome like Herod.)
14And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
This beast is able to deceive many of the Jewish people by the things he had the authority to do “in sight of the [sea] beast”. The authority given this man by Rome was significant enough to cower many of the Jewish people into submission and to do whatever he suggested.
One of those things was the building of and idol of Caesar to worship, which is emblematic of the worship of Caesar himself. Though a real idol was actually built historically in a number of places, including Jerusalem, this phrase here concerning the image is a symbol of that Caesar worship, not the actual idol.
15And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
Further evidence that the image is a symbol rather than an actual idol is in this verse. The earth beast has the power to give life to the idol of the sea beast. This could not literally happen. The symbolism here is that the earth beast had the authority to spread Caesar worship. He does so by means of preaching (causing the beast to “speak”) and killing those who did not submit to Caesar worship (which is the main reason the Romans finally turned to persecuting Christians).
16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
This is not a literal mark, but a symbolic mark just like the seal in Revelation 7. This mark of the beast was in their actions (right hand) and in their thoughts and words (foreheads). The mark of the beast is in the hands and foreheads of those who serve the beast. It, like most of the things in Revelation is a SYMBOL representing something and is not literal. In this case, the mark indicates those who worship Caesar as a god in their actions (hands) and in their minds (foreheads) in the Jewish empire. It is an anti-parallel to the phylacteries (or teffillin) the Jews wore during morning prayers. The hand and head phylacteries contained small scrolls with portions of the Torah or law written on them show their rememberence of God bringing them out of Egypt. The mark of the beast contrasts this by indicating allegience to Rome and Roman law, specifically the worship of Caesar.
17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
This is an economic pressure put on the Jews to indicate loyalty to Caesar. If a person was not demonstrating loyalty through action or at least through verbal acknowledgment of Caesar as divinity, they could not participate in legal trade. An example might be a person who is in the market must say something to the effect of “Praise Caesar my god.”
18Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
In this verse John explicitly identifies the individual who is the specific use of the sea beast (the general being the Roman Empire). Those of John’s day had the necessary information to correctly calculate this from the number 666.
I do not believe it necessary for us to be able to calculate this individual Caesar given that the specific events have passed and this person is dead. It is enough for us to understand the meaning of this verse without doing the calculation. Therefore I will not being going into the well known external arguments of Hebrew numerology except to acknowledge that it was a common practice (Romans used it in their numbering MIX could be the word “mix” (if such a word existed in the Latin vocabulary) but it could also be the number 1009 (M = 1000; I = 1; X = 10; IX = 10-1 = 9). [Historically as supporting secondary evidence the numerology can fit Nero, but again, I don’t think this point is essential in interpreting Revelation.]
In Truth and Love.