Tag Archives: revelation 13:1-2

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:1-2

12:17b/12:18 And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea. 13:1 And I saw a beast rising up from the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems and upon his heads blasphemous names. 2 And the beast that I saw was similar to a leopard, and his feet like [those of] a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave to him his power and his throne and great authority.

We started our discussion picking up where we left off last time on the subject of the latter part of 12:17, which in the NA28 Greek New Testament is 12:18. There are two versions of this verse in the Greek manuscript evidence:

1: kai estathē epi tēn ammon tēs thalassēs

2: kai estathēn epi tēn ammon tēs thalassēs

The first line translates to: “And he stood upon the sand of the sea” (referring to the dragon from chapter 12). The second line translates to: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea” (referring to John). If you look closely at the two lines, you’ll see the only difference between them is the “n” (Greek letter nu) at the end of the second word. The manuscript evidence is split between the two verses, and both make sense. The first version follows from the description of the dragon chasing the woman, becoming enraged because the woman escaped, and now turning his attention to the woman’s seed. We’re about to see a beast rising up from the sea who is operating under the dragon’s authority, so it seems natural that the dragon would stand on the shore watching his minion rise. The second version goes with the start of chapter 13, where John says “I saw a beast rising up…” Since we see the beast from John’s first person perspective, it makes sense that the narrative would start with John standing on the beach.

In situations like this, it seems likely that someone copying the manuscript came across one reading and decided it was in error, so he corrected it to the other. But which is most likely? To read “he stood” and correct it to “I stood,” or vice versa? The majority of scholars and translators seem to think that “he stood” is a little more awkward, and given how 13:1 starts, a scribe would be more likely to correct “he” to “I” than the other way around. Following the text-critical principle of “the harder (i.e., most difficult or awkward, either linguistically or theologically) reading is often (though not always) original,” this speaks for “he” rather than “I.” And while the manuscript support is split, some of the manuscripts supporting “he” are quite important (e.g., p47, a third century papyrus document containing Revelation 9:10-17:2, and Codex Sinaiticus, a very important fourth century codex), which further tilts the balance in favor of “he”–at least for most scholars. Since this isn’t a theologically significant verse, I’m willing to accept the view of most translators. Also, the vision of the dragon standing on the shore, anticipating the coming of the beast, having just declared his intention to pursue the church, makes sense to me. Especially when we understand who this beast is, and what it will do.

John sees a beast rising up out of the sea. This is the first of two beasts we will meet in chapter 13. The second beast comes in verse 11, except that one rises up from the earth. There’s something significant about this, and we had a couple of suggestions as to why one comes from the sea and the other the earth. Perhaps the first is to do with some kind of political influence, while the second is more religious? Given what we’re told about these beasts, I think the answer is broader. The sea refers to foreign influence, especially since most foreign travel in John’s day would have been conducted by ship. Remember, Ephesus was a major sea port in Asia Minor, the region to which Revelation was originally written. Ephesus was probably John’s home base, too. In the first century, this region was under foreign rule, i.e., the Roman Empire. And this was an oppressive rule, especially for Christians. The second beast coming up from the earth, therefore, represents the local outworking of the first beast’s power. By local, I don’t mean just in terms of a town or city, but regional–provincial, even. As we know from the New Testament, the Romans set up ruling authorities in the regions they dominated to administer those areas on their behalf. These authorities, like King Herod in Judea, for example, had the appearance of power, but were really only puppets of their Roman overlords, which is why they were generally hated by the people they governed. We’ll consider this further when we get to verse 11. For now our attention is with the first beast.

He describes this beast as having ten horns, seven heads, and with ten diadems on the horns and “blasphemous names” on the heads. As we’ve already observed, the horn is a symbol of power, so a horn with a diadem, or crown, on it is symbolic of ruling power, some kind of powerful government. We’ll consider why there are ten horns in just a moment. The seven heads represent a fullness of authority (remember, seven is the number of completion or fullness), and on those heads are “blasphemous names.” (Don’t get hung up on how seven horns are divided among ten heads–this is a vision, so it matters more what these things represent, not how it all practically works.) The last time we saw the term “blasphemous” in Revelation was when the Lord wrote (via John) to the church in Smyrna about the insults thrown at them by people claiming to be Jews but are, in Christ’s words, a “synagogue of Satan.” We know that Satan is the accuser, and a slanderer. He is also a usurper of power, and one who operates by means of lies and deception. Notice that the blasphemous names are on the beasts heads. In 14:1, we will see the 144,000–those sealed by God in chapter 7 (i.e., the church)–with the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name on their foreheads. In 13:16, the mark, or name, of the beast is on the foreheads of his followers. Just as the Lord has His people, so Satan has his, marked in the same way. But the beast isn’t marked by who “owns” him, but by his character. He is a blasphemer, one who presents himself as the savior, a substitute Messiah, a false Christ. And I think what we see of him in chapter 13 bears this out. We’ll look more at the meaning and usage of “blasphemy” later in our study of this chapter.

Why are there ten horns on the beast? To answer this, we need to look at Daniel 7. Indeed, Daniel 7 is very much in the background of Revelation 13. Daniel has a vision of four beasts, and he describes each of the beasts. The fourth is very different to the others. This beast has ten horns, which 7:24 interprets as ten kingdoms. He goes on to say that this beast will rule for a time, times, and half a time (7:25), after which time judgment comes (7:26-27). This fits what we’ve seen in Revelation regarding the use of “time, times, and half a time.” Daniel’s ten kingdoms had meaning to Daniel in his day, though I’m not sure they mean the same thing to John, or to us. But that’s the beauty of symbols: the beast has ten heads recalling to us Daniel’s fourth beast, not necessarily to Daniel’s ten kingdoms. The specific meaning for Daniel in his day doesn’t have to be the same for John, or for us. John’s point is not that the ten kingdoms relate to us, but that this is a fulfillment of Daniel’s beast vision. But Daniel saw four beasts–what about the other three?

In Revelation 13:2, John continues his description of the beast. It is similar to, or bears resemblance to a leopard. If we flip back to Daniel 7:6, we see that this is how he describes the third beast he saw. John goes on to say that his beast has feet like a bear. Daniel’s second beast is like a bear. John says his beast has a mouth like a lion. Daniel says his first beast is like a lion. It seems fairly obvious that the beast John sees is an amalgamation of all four of Daniel’s beasts. To what end? To make the point that John’s beast is the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision, a vision that would have meant something to Daniel in his day about Babylon and the situation of the Jews in his time, but also pointed forward to something that was hazy to Daniel (Daniel 7:22; 26-27), but clear to John and to us in light of the gospel, and the revelation of Christ.

The beast is given his power, his throne, and great authority by the dragon. There is no doubt who is in control of this beast, and on behalf of whom the beast operates. Satan grants the beast all this power, rule, and authority, but only insofar as Satan can grant such things. God is still in control, and any power Satan has is only because it is given to him by God. And here is the message of hope: first, God is ultimately in control. But second, the beast–i.e., the ruling power on the earth–has a power derived from the dragon, Satan. And what happened to the dragon in chapter 12? He was cast down from the heavenlies, having been defeated by Christ on the cross, and unable to overcome Michael. In other words, the earthly authorities that oppress the church and persecute God’s people are in the control of one who has been defeated, and whose days are short. God’s people, on the other hand, while beaten and crushed by earthly authorities, are in the hands of the One who defeated the dragon. We have nothing to fear, for our Lord is victorious.

We finished up our time beginning a discussion on the nature of Satan. What kind of creature would keep going after having been defeated? Why wouldn’t he just give up, knowing he’s not going to win? Then there’s the broader question of how a being such as Satan could be created by a holy God. As Christians, we can’t understand Satan, and what makes him tick, because there is no love of God in him. Nor is there any sense of justice, mercy, or right. He is the poster boy of the rebellion against God. He is the very embodiment of hatred to God and all that is of God. It seems to me that he wouldn’t care that he had been defeated. He has no desire to be in the presence of the Lord, no desire for things of God, and no desire to turn to Jesus and be saved. Despite being conquered, it bring him joy and satisfaction to inflict whatever damage he can to God’s people. We know that’s futile because this world is not our ultimate home, and we are not so concerned with our lives that we would not be prepared to give them up for the sake of Christ. Satan doesn’t get that, just as we don’t get Satan.

As for how Satan can even exist as a creation of a good and holy God, I think there is an element of mystery there, along the lines of how the Trinity “works.” Yes, we can understand in principle the idea of one being consisting of three co-equal, co-eternal persons. But how that actually operates logistically is not something we can comprehend, because we are not trinitarian, and there is nothing trinitarian in the whole of creation. The fact is, Almighty God can indeed make a creature who hates Him and rebels against Him, just as He made us, knowing–indeed ordaining–that we would fall into sin and need a savior. How God is able to do this is not really the important question. The important question is why? And the reason given in Scripture is for His glory, to demonstrate the heights of His justice, and the depths of His grace and mercy. Satan is a foe we cannot overcome on our own. Indeed, without Christ, we are at Satan’s mercy, as we see every day in the news and in our interaction with the world. Without sin, we wouldn’t know God’s holiness and justice the way we do. And without sin, we wouldn’t know the grace and mercy of God the way we do.

We might pick up this discussion again next time. At the very least, we hope to continue in Revelation 13!