In our study of Revelation 12 we were confronted with the great fiery red dragon, that serpent of old called the Devil and Satan. He is the dragon that deceives the whole world, the great enemy of our souls. As if the dragon of chapter 12 were not enough, we now come to chapter 13, where we learn that the dragon has his minions. Chief among them are the two beasts described for us here in terms of the beast from the sea (vv. 1–10) and the beast from the earth (vv. 11–18). In this article we consider the beast from the sea (vv.1–10).
John sees the beast from the sea, and he would have us see him as well. We begin with his hideous description and identity. John sees this beast “rising up from the sea.” This beast rises up from the chaotic, tumultuous waters of the sea that is his place of origin. The significance of his origin from the sea can be discerned from the Old Testament, where the sea is often connected with the nations. One of the most notable passages to this effect is Isaiah 17:12–13a, where we read “Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas, and to the rushing of nations that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters.” This beast from the sea, then, is in some way connected with the nations. This becomes clear in Revelation 17:15, where John identifies the sea with the nations: “Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.’” The beast from the sea is in some way connected with the nations.
As John sees this beast rising up from the sea, he sees “seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns.” The numbers here are significant: both the numbers seven and ten represent completeness and perfection. Here then, in this beast from the sea that is so closely connected with the nations, is the picture of complete power and might. This beast is apparently perfect in power and might. There appears to be no weakness in him at all.
In addition, John sees that this beast wears on his heads a blasphemous name. This beast has set himself up against the Lord and His Christ. His very name is blasphemous. This beast attributes to himself that which rightly belongs to the Lord and His Christ.
As this beast continues to rise up out of the waters, John sees still more: “Now the beast which I saw was like leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.” The imagery here is clearly taken from Daniel 7, where the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the terrible beast are identified respectively as the succeeding kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. But as you compare the imagery of Daniel 7 with Revelation 13, you’ll notice one distinct difference. In Daniel 7 you have four separate, distinct beasts, while in Revelation 13:1–10, you have one beast. What John is seeing, then, in this beast from the sea, is a composite picture of all the anti-Christian nations and governments in the world that claim for themselves the authority and power that belongs to Christ alone.
This becomes clear in the last statement of verse 2: “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.” The dragon, namely, Satan, gives to this beast from the sea his power, his throne, and his authority. In other words, Satan gives to the beast the kingdoms of this world. When he tempted Christ, Satan offered to Christ the kingdoms of this world. Christ, however, rejected the offer; He would not bow down to Satan. But what Christ refused, the beast accepted. This beast, then, is none other than the spirit of antichrist, that spirit that is operative among the nations and governments of the world that set themselves up in opposition to Christ and His kingdom.
Notice verse 3: “And I saw one of his heads, as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed.” The Greek says literally, “And I saw one of his heads, as though it had been slain.” Does that sound at all familiar? Were not these same words used in the description of the Lamb in 5:6? Are these not the same words that are used in the description of the Lamb in 13:8? This beast is a parody of the Christ. He sets himself up as the Christ. Do not let the imagery here escape you. It appears that this beast has the power of the Christ. He is mortally wounded; he receives a deadly wound, and yet that wound is healed. It appears that the power of death cannot touch him. It appears that death cannot hold this beast down. He is dead, but then is raised up once more.
What are we to make of this? Here we must bear in mind the origin of the beast: he comes from the sea. In other words, he is intimately connected with nations and governments that set themselves up against the Lord and His anointed. Now you begin to understand what is going on in verse 3. Has there ever been a time in the history of the post-fall world in which there were no nations or kingdoms or governments set up in opposition to Christ and His kingdom? Of course not! Always there are nations, kingdoms, governments set up in opposition to Christ and His kingdom. That is the point here. In Daniel 7, succeeding kingdoms set themselves up in opposition to Christ and His kingdom. In Revelation 13, we learn that all of those kingdoms and nations and governments that set themselves up against Christ and His kingdom are of the same spirit—the spirit of antichrist. One nation may fall and another may rise—kingdom gives way to kingdom—government gives way to government—but they are all of the same beast. Just when you think the spirit of this beast is dead, it rises up to show itself again. And so this beast seems to have the power of resurrection. It dies, only to live again. Who, or what, then, is the beast from the sea? William Hendriksen identifies the beast from the sea correctly when he writes: “The sea-born beast symbolizes the persecuting power of Satan embodied in all the nations and governments of the world throughout history. World-dominion directed against God’s people wherever and whenever it appears in history, that is the beast. . . . It indicates all antichristian governments.”
Having considered the hideous description and identity of the beast, we turn our attention now to his mighty power. Notice verses 3b–4, “And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” The beast is successful in causing the entire world to follow after him, so that the world worships the beast, crying out, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”
Strengthened by the worship of the people, the beast then becomes all the more pompous and arrogant in his blasphemy, continuing to this day. Notice verses 5–6, “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.” The beast is even now active: he is given authority to continue for forty-two months. That time period we have identified as being equivalent to the 1260 days, the three and a half years—the time, times, and half a time. In other words, the forty-two months is a reference to the time period between Christ’s first coming and His return. This means that the beast from the sea is active presently, right now. He is at work, and his work is this: he blasphemes the name of God, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. He blasphemes God, and he blasphemes the people of God.
Scanning the annals of history, and even the world today, it is relatively easy to see those nations, kingdoms, and governments that have set themselves up against Christ and His kingdom. There have been, and continue to be, many nations on the face of the earth that persecute Christians, seeking to destroy the Church. All you have to do is read the latest issue of Voice of the Martyrs.
So great is the power of this beast, verse 7 can even speak of this beast overcoming the saints. “It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” The beast is given power not only to make war with the saints, but to overcome the saints. That is disturbing! Do not try to explain away the language here. The beast is given power to make war with the saints and to overcome them. That means, dear Christian, the beast is given power to make war with you. In fact, he is given power to overcome you. It means that the saints of God in the world are subject to persecution. It means that the saints of God are subject to imprisonment. It means that the saints of God in the world are subject to even death itself. In the eyes of the world, the saints of God are overcome by the beast.
Never think that you are immune. Notice the end of verse 7: “And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.” You are and I are not immune to the power of the beast. Indeed, I dare say, left to ourselves, we are no match for the beast. Left to ourselves, we will surely go down to defeat. Left to ourselves, we will surely be overcome.
But precisely here we are confronted with a greater power—the power of our God to save! We are not left to ourselves! Verse 8: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” How wonderful is this verse! It comes in the very place we need to hear it most. As we are brought face to face with the power and might of our enemy, pictured to us here in terms of the beast from the sea, we are brought face to face with the sovereign grace of our great God. Our names have been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Before the world was created, Christ the Son had already made a covenant with His Father, that He would come to this world as a Lamb, as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world—as the Lamb of God that takes away your sin and mine. The point is this: our redemption is secure—it has been since before the foundation of the world! The beast may persecute you; he may oppress you; he may imprison you; he may even kill you. But he cannot blot your name out of the Book of Life, nor can he snatch you away from the Lamb of God who was slain for you! The Lamb slain is more powerful than the beast could ever hope to be!
As if to impress this fact upon you, John then adds the words of verse 9: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” These were the words spoken to us in the letters to the seven churches. They are spoken to us once more in this passage. The victory is given to us in Christ Jesus. It is a victory that neither the dragon nor the beast nor the world can ever understand. John explains it further in verse 10: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
There are saints of God who have been and who continue to be imprisoned for their faith. Who knows but that you may one day be one of them? There are saints of God who have been and who continue to be killed for their faith. Who knows but that you may one day be one of them? You may well be overcome by the beast, whether it be by captivity or the sword, but precisely here is your victory. Do you remember those words near the end of Romans 8, those words that seem so out of place in that grand and glorious chapter, those words that read as follows: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Those words seem so out of place in Romans 8. After all, here is this glorious conclusion to a glorious chapter. And then we read these words about being killed all day long, about being counted as sheep for the slaughter. But make no mistake about it, those words belong there. For you remember what follows them: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!”
They may kill you all the day long, but you are more than a conqueror; even death is subject to the Lamb, and He uses it to bring you nearer to God. They may consider you as little more than a sheep for the slaughter, but even as they slaughter you, you are more than a conqueror, for in this you are being conformed to the image of God’s own Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ, who was counted as sheep for the slaughter, and who was killed, who was apparently overcome, but who, through His death overcame. This is the victory that neither the dragon nor the beast nor the world will ever understand. Our victory is in the Lord Jesus Christ, that One in whom we already now possess heaven itself.
The opposition is mighty and powerful indeed. In fact, we are no match for him. But our God is omnipotent, and the enemy of our souls is no match for Him. “If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” As you face the power and might of the beast from the sea, is such patience and faith yours?
1. I am indebted to the late Rev. Charlie Dennison for this insight.
2. Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967. p. 145.
3. See www.persecution.com for information on Voice of the Martyrs
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan