The Coming World Ruler Revelation 13:1–10
Attempts to identify the beast of Revelation have been numerous. Throughout church history, suggested candidates have been Judas, Nero, the Pope, Hitler, Mussolini, Kennedy, Kissinger, and many others. To properly identify the beast, we must study what the Bible records about his nature, character, and government. Two beasts are mentioned in this chapter, one from the sea (v. 1) and another from the earth (v. 11). The beast from the sea has been identified by many scholars as the Antichrist, while the beast from the earth has been identified as the false prophet. This article focuses on the beast “out of the sea.”
John wrote, “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea” (v. 1). In some translations, the word “I” is translated “he” because of a variance in the Greek word. The word “he” refers to the dragon (Satan), not John, who is standing upon the “sand of the sea.” Although scholars are divided on the correct reading, neither alters the interpretation of the chapter.
The beast will rise “up out of the sea” (v. 1), indicating that he will come from the sea of Gentile humanity over whom he will usurp authority. The term beast is indicative of his ferocious nature, putting him in a league with Satan. It is clearly stated that the beast is a man (v. 18) who comes out of the abyss (11:7; 17:8), indicating that he will be raised up by Satan.
John described him as having “seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” (v. 1). Some scholars interpret the “seven heads” as kings from the revived Roman Empire ruling simultaneously (as sub-rulers) under the beast during the Tribulation. Others see the “seven heads” as successive world empires of the past leading up to the final Roman Empire (cp. 17:10–12). The second interpretation is more tenable. The “ten horns” are ten kings within the confederacy of the revived Roman Empire (17:12) who will be ruled by the beast during the Tribulation.
The beast’s appearance, described in verse 2, is identical to three of the beasts mentioned in Daniel 7:3–8, but in reverse order. “His mouth like the mouth of a lion” is a symbol of the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar and speaks of majesty, power, and ferocity. “His feet…like the feet of a bear” are a symbol of the Medo-Persian Empire and speak of strength, stability, and tenacity—the ability to crush its prey at will. He was “like a leopard,” a symbol of the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great, who swiftly moved through the Middle East conquering the known world at will. He will be energized by the “dragon” (Satan), who “gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.” Thus, the beast will be a pawn in the hand of Satan and will possess greater authority and power than all successive world empires before him.
John saw one of the beast’s “heads as though it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed” (v. 3; cp. 12, 14). There is disagreement among scholars about whether the beast will actually die from his fatal wound and later be resurrected, or whether he will survive a deathbed affliction without actually dying. Some people believe that this passage refers to the resurrection of someone like Judas Iscariot or Adolf Hitler. Both scenarios are highly unlikely because Scripture does not record that Satan has been given power to raise anyone from the dead. It is also doubtful that God would allow one such as Judas or Hitler to return from the dead because the wicked will not be resurrected until the Great White Throne Judgment (20:11–15). The text says “as though it were wounded to death,” giving the distinct impression that the beast will be near death but will not die.
Others believe that an assassination attempt will be made on the beast that should result in his death but that he will be completely restored to health and power.
Still others believe that the deadly wound refers to the Roman Empire that never died, and not to the beast himself. That is, the imperial form of the Roman Empire received a fatal wound centuries ago but will be “healed” (restored) and will reemerge into a ten-nation European confederation. Because the beast is referred to as a composite empire (13:3; 17:7–8), it is reasonable to believe that this is speaking about the raising up of the empire and not its leader. Often the leader and his empire are used interchangeably in Scripture or identified together. Thus, the word “beast” refers to both the Antichrist and his empire—the king and his kingdom. Taken as a whole, it seems that verse 3 refers to the empire being “healed,” and not its leader.
The beast’s healing will cause worldwide amazement: “and all the world wondered after the beast” (v. 3). This wonderment will turn into worship of “the dragon” and “the beast” (v. 4). Those who worship them will have no love for the truth of Christ and His saving message. For this reason, God will send them strong delusions so that they will believe the lie of Satan (2 Th. 2:10–11). They will be completely turned over to devil worship. Satan will finally realize a portion of his long-sought desire to receive worldwide worship from God’s creation. People will give full allegiance to this beast, who is the Antichrist, because of his authoritative personality. The masses will admire his power, wisdom, leadership, and military might to rule the world. The world will ask, “Who is like the beast?” (v. 4). The expected answer is, No one!
The beast seems invincible: “Who is able to make war with him?” (v. 4). Again, the answer is, No one! Satan will give him the needed authority to be a world conqueror (v. 2). In fact, he will honor only “the god of fortresses” (Dan. 11:38). God alone has the power to destroy him.
Most world dictators have proven to be persuasive speakers, able to motivate the masses to their political ideology. Like Adolf Hitler, who was able to mesmerize a whole nation by his inspiring speeches, the Antichrist will be no exception. Who will give the Antichrist “a mouth” to speak such “great things and blasphemies” (v. 5; cp. Dan. 7:8, 11, 20)? Some teach that Satan will give him this authority, based on verse 2. Others believe that God will permit him to carry out his vile pronouncements and program of persecution. The latter teaching seems more plausible because the Antichrist’s power will be limited to “forty and two months” (v. 5). God granted like permission in other portions of Revelation (6:4, 8; 7:2; 9:5). In all probability, if Satan gives power to the Antichrist, it would not be limited. Verse 6 lists three ways in which he will blaspheme God: He will blaspheme God’s name by casting direct aspersion on His person. He will blaspheme His tabernacle by speaking against His dwelling place. He will blaspheme those who dwell (tabernacle) in heaven—the saints and the angelic host who, along with Michael the archangel, will cast Satan out of heaven (11:7–9, 12).
The Antichrist will be given power “to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (v. 7). Multitudes will be killed during the Great Tribulation (13:15; 20:4). Although they will be martyred for their faith, they will come forth victorious in the end (12:11; 17:14). But a host of Jewish (12:6, 14–16) and Gentile (Mt. 25:32–33) believers will survive his wrath.
The Antichrist’s power will become worldwide by the middle of the Tribulation, for “power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (v. 7). He will receive global worship, for “all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life” (v. 8). Only a remnant of “elect” believers (Mt. 24:24) will escape being drawn into worship of the Antichrist.
Those who worship the beast will not have their “names…written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (v. 8). The word “written” is in the perfect tense, indicating that their names will never be in the book of life. Thus, all who worship the beast or take his mark will be eternally lost and destined for damnation in the lake of fire (14:9–11). The question must be asked, Does the book of life contain the names of all people born into the world, and God blots out the names of the unsaved at their death? Or does the book contain only the names of the redeemed who will never be blotted out? Most likely the latter view is correct.
The phrase “foundation of the world” (v. 8) has been interpreted in two ways. Some read the phrase in its given order: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Others connect the phrase to the “book of life written from the foundation of the world.” The latter interpretation is preferable. In other words, John is referring to the book of life written from the foundation of the world. This position is supported by Revelation 17:8.
An invitation is given to those living in the Great Tribulation: “If any man have an ear, let him hear” (v. 9). Hear what? The warning previously given concerning the Antichrist’s war against the saints, his attempt to gain worldwide worship as God, and his coming captivity and death, mentioned in verse 10. Earlier, those in the church are given a similar call to “hear what the Spirit says unto the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Notice that the phrase “unto the churches” is conspicuously absent in verse 9. This is another indication that the church will be raptured before the Tribulation.
The phrase “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword” (v. 10) is better understood, “If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goes. If any man is to be killed by the sword, he must be killed by the sword.” Scholars have differed on the interpretation of this verse. Some take it to mean that divine judgment will be poured out on the beast and his army who kill Tribulation saints. This will provide encouragement to the saints, who will be undergoing severe persecution, to be patient and faithful during this time. Others believe the verse is teaching that the Tribulation saints will in no way escape persecution and martyrdom by the beast and his army. Thus, they are warned of their coming martyrdom and urged to submit to such persecution in the providence of God, for he was given power and authority (vv. 5, 7, 14, 15) to be victorious over them. A similar incident was prophesied to Judah by Jeremiah prior to their captivity in Babylon (Jer. 15:2; 43:11). The captivity and death of Judah would be inevitable and inescapable. Under such tribulation, the saints are exhorted to exercise “patience” (endurance and steadfastness) and “faith” (faithfulness, v. 10) in their commitment to the Lord. A glimmer of hope shines through this dismal prediction: God is sovereignly in control of the situation and has limited this persecution by the Antichrist to 42 months.
Attempts are still being made to identify the beast. Will the church ever be able to identify him—the Antichrist? No. Scripture indicates that the church will be raptured off the earth before the Tribulation and the revelation of the Antichrist.
John has presented a glimpse of the Antichrist’s rise to worldwide rule through the revived Roman Empire. Satan and his forces will be the impetus providing this beast with his power, authority, and kingdom. This will be Satan’s final attempt to acquire worldwide worship and supremacy for himself.