Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 13:1–4

Revelation 13:1–4
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name. 2 Now the beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority to rule. 3 One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?”
(NET Bible)

One Beast to rule them all: The Antichrist

When asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2003 to vote on the best-loved work in the history of Britain, the people voted for J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high fantasy The Lord of the Rings. Infused with many Christian themes, Tolkien’s work fashions an ancient age of earth in which good fights a death-struggle with personal evil. Its thematic poem mimics Satan’s true plans for the last age of our world:

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them.

Revelation 13 introduces one of the most famous biblical personalities: the Antichrist, presented as the “beast coming up out of the sea” (13:1). He will be Satan’s primary leader to rule the world.

The hideous figure that rises from the sea bears a blasphemous name on each of its seven heads (13:1). Osborne says: “These blasphemous names probably allude to the titles of divinity attributed to the Roman emperor (‘lord,’ ‘savior,’ ‘son of god,’ ‘our lord and god’).”[1] Such titles would not only resonate for John’s original readers but would also fit in Satan’s plan to make the beast from the sea into a counterfeit Messiah at the end of history.

Satan, symbolized by the dragon, gives the Antichrist, symbolized by the beast from the sea, everything he needs to rule the world (13:2). But why does the world submit to such rule? The first reason is that they were dazzled by a miraculous mockery of Christ’s resurrection.

Grant Osborne describes the reaction of the whole world to the beast’s recovery: “They are deceived by the miracle (see also 13:13–14; 16:14) and do what the crowds failed to do in Jesus’ ministry: worship the beast.”[2]

In explaining 13:5–6, Osborne describes Satan’s deception: “Here we are at the heart of the ‘blasphemy’ (13:1, 5) of the beast, deceiving the nations into worshiping him as God.”[3] This sickening worship goes on for three and a half years (13:5). Worse still, only one group will refuse to worship the beast: those committed to the Lamb (13:8).

But a decision has to be made about the translation of 13:8b:

(NET) “everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.”

(NIV 2011) “all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”

The correct translation hinges on which verb a Greek prepositional phrase modifies (see italics above), and numerous scholars take each side.[4] I side with Osborne in favor of the NIV 2011: “It is better here to respect the [original] word order and recognize that it is God’s plan that has been established ‘from the foundation of the world.’”[5]

Aside from the beast, the story of this chapter is told in 13:7, which says, “The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them.” He is assisted by a second beast, “another beast coming up from the earth” (13:11), who is often called the false prophet (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). Not only will the false prophet promote the worship of the Antichrist, but he will also organize the world’s commerce so that only those bearing “the mark of the beast” (13:17) can buy or sell anything.

“666”

Revelation 13:18 is legendary because of the number 666. I find Greg Beale’s idea simple and persuasive: “’The number 666’ is likely no exception to John’s figurative use of numbers. The number seven refers to completeness and is repeated throughout the book. But 666 appears only here. This suggests that the triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and signify incompleteness and imperfection.”[6] Satan is not divine and neither is the beast; they can claim only to be perfect evil!

Do not take the fake!

A regrettable number of Christians have become caught up in following a teacher because of some complex interpretation of the beast or 666. Instead of speculation, we should focus on the revelation God provides us so that we can be prepared to represent Christ in a deceptive world.

In Tolkien’s fantasy world, evil did not prevail, but for a time its power was ascendant. Likewise, in our own future the beast will be given authority to conquer the saints for a little while, but his destiny is not rulership but torment. Instead, Jesus will rule and we who overcome will rule with him. The Lamb was slain, but he did not stay that way!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 491.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 497.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 498.

[4] The Greek word order favors the NIV translation (slain from the creation of the world”), but Rev. 17:8 favors the NET’s view (written since the foundation of the world”).

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 503.

[6] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 721-722.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!