Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 1: Verses 1-10)


REVELATION 13:1-10

Adam Maarschalk: October 22, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-10

A. The Beast from the Sea—the First Beast (Rev. 13:1-10)

Introduction/Disclaimer: In this five-part discussion, it will be suggested that the beast spoken of in this chapter is Nero, who ruled Rome from 54-68 AD. This premise flies in the face of the rather popular view that Revelation was written in 95 or 96 AD, so if this is new or troublesome to the reader, it may be helpful to first take a look at some compelling evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD: [1] External evidence [2] Internal evidence (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Other internal evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation has been presented in our previous Revelation studies (chapters 1-12), all of which can be found here.

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Verse 1: We are introduced now to a beast which John describes as “rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.” The red dragon in Rev. 12:3 is also said to have “seven heads and ten horns,” and we know that this dragon is Satan (12:9), so this beast here in chapter 13 is clearly empowered by Satan. Additionally, it seems that “the sea” where mentioned elsewhere in this book refers to Gentiles [See the Appendix (D) in this post here, for a more detailed explanation of this pattern]. So this reference here is very likely a way of telling the first century reader that this beast is a prominent Gentile figure. This is similar to one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3).

We will be told more about this beast, here in chapter 13 and also in chapter 17, including details about its 10 horns and seven heads. Before proceeding, though, I think this is an appropriate place to note the twofold nature of the beast. The following quote is a helpful one, from Kenneth Gentry in his book “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998, p. 310):

…John allows some shifting in his imagery of the Beast: the seven-headed Beast is here conceived generically as the Roman Empire, there specifically as one particular emperor. It is impossible to lock down the Beast imagery to either one referent or the other. At some places the Beast has seven-heads that are seven kings collectively considered (Rev. 13:1; Rev. 17:3, 9-10). Thus, he is generically portrayed as a kingdom with seven kings that arise in chronological succession (cf. Rev. 17:10-11). But then again in the very same contexts the Beast is spoken of as an individual (Rev. 13:18), as but one head among the seven (Rev. 17:11). This feature, as frustrating as it may be, is recognized by many commentators [emphasis added].

So the beast in Revelation is sometimes spoken of as an individual (specific sense) and sometimes as a kingdom (generic sense). It’s not surprising that the beast is interchangeably an individual and a kingdom, if ancient Rome is in view here. As Gentry also notes, the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-18AD) once wrote regarding the emperor Augustus, “The state is Caesar.”

We will now look ahead briefly to the passage referred to in Revelation 17:9-10, where John speaks of this same beast and explains what the seven heads are. The following information is taken from a term paper I wrote earlier this year, entitled, “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD,” and can be found here:

More compelling evidence for an early date is found in John’s reference to seven kings in Revelation 17:9-10, which states, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” This description of the seven kings lines up well with historical data showing the emperors who reigned in the Roman Empire up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, which is as follows:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, and rather designate him as one who played a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), however, was one who did, and the above list reflects his own list in his writing titled Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18 and 19). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree. Among these were Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC, so his inclusion in such a list would not have been strange.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, making him a good candidate to be the one who “must remain only a little while.”

The chart above indicates that there were more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

We know that the imperial persecution initiated by Nero ceased with his death in 68 AD. Gentry makes the point that if it can be accepted that Revelation was written prior to that time, then “the enumeration of the ‘kings’ covers all of imperial history up until John’s time and the events ‘shortly’ to follow [a reference to the word ‘shortly’ in Rev. 1:1]… For then it would be the case that in John’s day only six emperors had ascended the imperial throne.”

Regarding the reference to seven mountains, there should be no doubt that this is speaking of Rome, and even Futurist scholars generally concede this point (although they may anticipate a revival of the Roman Empire). Gentry also notes that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

Revelation 13:1 also depicts the beast as having 10 horns, which John says in Rev. 17:12-13 are “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated. Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 empirical (senatorial) provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints, which Scripture refers to as “war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Acts 9:5 where Paul, as an unbeliever, also made “war on the Lamb”).

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

empire2a

Photo credit: http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/corinthians/empire.stm (Original source: David Camden)

David Sielaff of Associates for Scriptural Knowledge answers the Futurist supposition that the beast will be a revived Roman empire, somehow corresponding with the European Union. He shows how this is impossible, since the borders of the EU are very much unlike the boundaries of the old Roman empire:

It is important to consider how the Roman Empire was constituted. It was a vast empire that spread from Britain in the north to south of Egypt, from Spain and North Africa in the west to the borders of Parthia (Iran today) in the east. In the 1st century, when the New Testament was written, the border of the Roman Empire in Europe stopped at the Rhine and Danube Rivers. It never included any significant portion of Germany or Eastern Europe. The center of the Roman Empire was never Gaul (France today). The heart of the Roman Empire in the 1st century were the great cities of Rome itself, Alexandria in Egypt, and the great Greek cities, with the great cities of Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem that were inland from the Mediterranean coast.

Source: David Sielaff, The Ten Nations and the Roman Empire, http://www.askelm.com/news/n040724.htm, 2004.

Verse 2: The beast is now described in such a way that it incorporates the traits of all four beasts that Daniel saw in a vision in his day (Daniel 7:1-8): that of a leopard, a bear, a lion, and having ten horns. Bible scholars seem to be in general, if not full, agreement that the beasts in Daniel’s vision represented the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Steve Gregg remarks (in his book, Revelation: Four Views [A Parallel Commentary], pp. 280, 282), “It is interesting that, when Paul was discussing his release from imprisonment under Nero, he remarked, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17).

Q: Whose power, throne, and authority were given to this first beast?
A: The beast’s power, throne, and authority came from “the dragon,” whom we know to be Satan from Revelation 12:9.

Certain preterists, according to Steve Gregg, believe that “the concern of the Apocalypse has now shifted from the doom of Jerusalem to the judgment of Rome. Others, such as Milton Terry, think Rome is only brought into the picture as a chief agent of the judgment that came upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” I agree with Milton Terry, who adds that “we have before us the Roman empire as a persecuting power…conceived as the organ of the old serpent, the Devil, to persecute the scattered saints of God” (p. 280).

Verses 3-4: John now observes that one of the beast’s seven heads had what appeared to be a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, causing the whole earth [or “land,” a common reference to Israel, as we have seen in previous posts] to worship the beast. This will be brought up again when we come to verse 12, but two theories regarding this mortally wounded head are that it refers to the survival of the Roman Empire after the stunning deaths of [1] Julius Caesar or [2] Nero. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, Steve Gregg comments (p. 282):

Even if Nero is the head mortally wounded, it is not he who personally survives the wound, but the beast that survives the wounding of one of its heads. At the death of Nero, the Roman Empire was thrown into violent convulsions of civil war and anarchy, in which three emperors succeeded one another within a single year. Historians consider it astonishing that the empire stabilized and survived this period that might easily have spelled the end of the imperial rule. Thus the recovery of the empire under Vespasian was a marvel to all—the beast of the empire had survived the mortal wounding of one of its heads (Nero).

[Surprisingly, several Futurist writers agree with this interpretation, including John Walvoord, Robert H. Mounce, G.B. Caird, and James Moffat, who (despite being a late-date scholar) even attributes this passage to the “terrible convulsions which in 69 A.D. shook the (Roman) empire to its foundation” (Gentry, p. 315). Walvoord believes the “wounding of one of the heads” to be “a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire as such seemingly died and is now (in the future) going to be revived” (Gregg, p. 285).

It’s only fair to point out that some partial-preterists view the healed mortal wound as a reference to the survival of the Roman empire, not after the death of Nero (in 68 AD) but after the death of Julius Caesar (44 BC). Arthur M. Ogden, for example, in his book “The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation” (Ogden Publications: Pinson, AL, 1985), tied this prophecy to events during the nearly 30 year “transfer of power from the (Roman) republic to the empire (61 BC—31 BC).” He writes:

“(Julius Caesar) wore the purple robe of royalty, but the old prejudice against kings denied him the title and crown. Yet he was made dictator for ten years, and then became censor and high priest for life… All responsible authority centered in himself as monarch of the Roman Empire… From the chief executive power in the State, the Senate was degraded to the place of an advisatory council” (Joy, James Richard, Rome and the Making of Modern Europe, [New York; Flood and Vincent, 1893], page 100)…

The smoldering fires of anger among the degraded senators erupted into full flame when, on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 members of the Senate attacked him on the Senate floor. With daggers in hand they inflicted 23 wounds which insured his death. With cries of “Liberty is restored” they celebrated what they thought was the end of Imperialism, but “his deadly wound was healed” (cf. Rev. 13:3) and the empire survived.]

Is it a surprise that the Jews** (“the whole earth”; verse 3) would worship the beast? Do we see any indication in the gospels of their willingness to do so? Steve Gregg (p. 286) reminds us of an instance where the Jews not only refused to give allegiance to Christ, but they clearly expressed their allegiance to Caesar instead:

Given the opportunity to own Christ as their king before Pilate, the Jews proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). Alfred Edersheim writes: “With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide.”

As a side note, in this example from John’s gospel, we see that the rulers of Rome were not only called “emperors,” but also “kings.” This brings further light to the text of Revelation 17:10, where the seven “kings” can easily be understood as Roman emperors. Here in Revelation 13:4, we see not only the Jews’ adoration of Rome’s incomparable power and stamina (“Who is like the beast…?”), but also their sense of being powerless to oppose Rome in any way (“…and who can fight against it?”).

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

Verses 5-7: The beast, who John told us has a mouth like a lion, begins to speak “haughty and blasphemous words.”

Q: What type of blasphemies did the beast speak?
A: He spoke blasphemies against God’s name, God’s “dwelling,” and against those who dwell in heaven.

Q: What was the extent of the authority granted to the beast?
A: He was allowed to make war on the saints and conquer them, but only for 42 months. He had authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” This can be seen to refer to the known world at the time, or to the Roman Empire (See Luke 2:1 to observe how “all the world” clearly referred to the Roman Empire).

The following information is taken from my term paper on 70 AD, with this specific portion coming from here:

Prior to Nero’s persecution, writes Kenneth Gentry (2002), persecution against Christians had come largely from the Jews. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, which was a “legal religion.” Gentry notes, “Earlier Paul had safely appealed to Nero Caesar (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) and in A.D. 62 had been acquitted and released.” Herbert Workman, in his 1906 work, Persecution in the Early Church, said that Rome didn’t make a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism until 64 AD (pp. 62-63).

Kenneth Gentry takes note of the testimonies of early historians regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution against Christians (pp. 54-55, 64-66). Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) said that it targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.” Eusebius (260-340 AD) pointed out that Nero was “the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion,” and Lactantius (240-320 AD) agrees by saying of Nero, “He it was who first persecuted the saints of God.” Sulpicius Severus (360-420 AD) said that he was “the basest of all men, and even of wild beasts, [showing himself] in every way most abominable and cruel…he first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” Sulpicius devoted two chapters to Nero’s reign of terror in his Sacred History, but only three sentences for Domitian. In 1854 church historian John Laurence von Mosheim added these thoughts:

Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation [minimizing], but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took Diace by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November, in the year of our Lord 64. This dreadful state of persecution ceased with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until A.D. 68, when he put an end to his own life.[1]

Tacitus, the Roman historian who lived from 56-117 AD, wrote in detail of Nero’s move to persecute the saints soon after the fire that raged through Rome, destroying 10 out of 14 city divisions:

But by no human contrivance, whether lavish contributions of money or of offerings to appease the gods, could Nero rid himself of the ugly rumor that the fire was due to his orders. So to dispel the report, he substituted as the guilty persons and inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians…wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

The most remarkable detail about Nero’s campaign of persecution is that it lasted just over 42 months, which Revelation 13:5-8 records is the length of time that would be given to the beast to war against and conquer the saints. The persecution ended when Nero died on June 9, 68 AD. In this context, Revelation 13:10 was a comfort to the saints. Not only were they already told that the beast would only be allowed to persecute them for 3.5 years, but they were also told how their persecutor would be removed: “…he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.” Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, when he realized that his popularity had waned and that a coup was in the making.

Verse 7: God allows the beast “to make war on the saints and conquer them.” We saw in chapter 12 how the dragon (Satan) became enraged with “the woman” and “went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (Rev. 12:17). This is clearly a reference to persecution of the Church, for “her offspring” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” At this point, the Jewish believers have escaped from Jerusalem (Rev. 12:13-16; also the post on Revelation 7), but the believers in general throughout the Roman Empire are targeted for persecution and many are martyred. (Note the language in 12:17, which says “And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea.”) John records that authority is given to the beast, not just over Israel, but “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” Steve Gregg (p. 288) quotes from David S. Clark, who writes regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution,

Rome becomes the Devil’s agent. History tells us of the persecutions of Rome; how Paul was beheaded, and Peter crucified head downwards; how the Christians were thrown to the lions, exposed to the cold, drowned in rivers, thrown into cauldrons of boiling oil, daubed with pitch and burned for torchlights; how every conceivable torture was inflicted on them; how all the might and power of the Roman empire were exerted to extirpate them, till the church at length conquered its persecutor.

Regarding the 42 month limit for the beast’s intense persecution of the Church, Jay Adams tells us why it was important for John’s first-century readers to know this detail:

Since many were about to face a period of great persecution, they are encouraged to endure by the comforting revelation that though it will be severe, it will be short. The time of the dragon’s authority to overcome the saints is only 42 months (Steve Gregg, p. 288).

Here I would like to quote again from what I wrote in my term paper a few months ago. This is takenfrom the following post:

Numerous church fathers and leaders during the first several centuries identified Nero as the beast of the book of Revelation, or speculated that it was he. These include Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD], Tertullian [160-220 AD], Augustine [354-430 AD], and Jerome [347-420 AD] who stated the following in his commentary on Daniel 11:27-30:

As for the Antichrist, there is no question but what he is going to fight against the holy covenant, and that when he first makes war against the king of Egypt, he shall straightway be frightened off by the assistance of the Romans. But these events were typically prefigured under Antiochus Epiphanes, so that this abominable king who persecuted God’s people foreshadows the Antichrist, who is to persecute the people of Christ. And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.

C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr. (1995) point to historical details from the reign of Nero to show how he fit the Biblical description of the beast introduced in Revelation 13 (pp. 41-42, emphasis added):

The blasphemous worship demanded by the beast distinctly reminds one of the imperial cult of the first century, and the war the beast wages on the saints cannot help but recall the intense persecutions Nero, and later Domitian, inflicted on Christians because they did not worship Caesar.  Nero’s persecution of Christians from November AD 64 [when he blamed the Christians for the massive fire he started] to June AD 68 could account, in part, for the forty-two months (or 3 ½ years) of oppression mentioned in Rev. 13:5. The reference in Revelation 13:11-15 to the beast of the land securing worship for the beast from the sea (Rome was across the sea from the place of the writing of the Apocalypse, Asia Minor) reminds one of the local priests of the imperial cult in Asia Minor whose task was to compel the people to offer a sacrifice to Caesar and proclaim him Lord.  Megalomaniac that he was, Nero had coins minted in which he was called “almighty God” and “Savior.” Nero’s portrait also appears on coins as the god Apollo playing a lyre.  While earlier emperors were proclaimed deities upon their deaths, Nero abandons all reserve and demanded divine honors while still alive (as did also Caligula before him, AD 37-41).  Those who worshipped the emperor received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16 [the famed mark of the beast].

Verses 8-10: All of national Israel (note the phrase “all who dwell on earth”), worshipped the beast, except for those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

Verse 10 is stated quite differently in the [1] ESV (English Standard Version) than it is in the [2] New King James Version: [1] “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” [2] “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.”

Without attempting to do a Greek study to see which translation is more accurate, suffice it to say that this appears to be a clear prophecy regarding how the beast (in the singular sense) would be slain. Verse 14, in fact, speaks of “the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218) and others believe this prophecy pointed to Nero’s impending death. This was to be taken as a comforting fact, helping the believers in Nero’s day to endure through intense persecution in light of this prophecy. Nero martyred thousands (including Paul) by the sword, and Kenneth Gentry reminds us that “Tertullian [145-220 AD] credits ‘Nero’s cruel sword’ as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218).  It’s a historical fact that Nero also met his own suicidal demise at the hand of a sword. He did indeed live and die by the sword. It was this event in June 68 AD which brought an end to this most intense period of persecution against the Church.

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In the next post (part 2 of 5), we will be introduced to the beast’s main advocate, a second beast.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] I Clement 6:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:25:2-3; Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 2:2; Severus, Sacred History 2:29; John L. von Mosheim, History of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (New York: Converse, 1854) 1:138-139.

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