1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 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. – Revelation 13:1-10 ESV
In this section of John’s narrative, we are being introduced to a variety of characters who are going to play significant roles in the final days before Christ’s return. In chapter 12, we were given an introduction to Satan himself, the one who will be the force behind all the rebellion against God in those days. His hatred for God will be intensified because of his defeat at the hands of Michael and the heavenly forces, and because of his having been cast out of heaven to earth. He will increase his efforts to destroy both the people of Israel and any and all who have come to faith in Christ during the first half of the tribulation period, including the 144,000 witnesses. But chapter 12 ended with Satan standing on the sand of the sea, and with the opening of chapter 13, we are shown the significance of this location, because out of the sea arises a beast. He is described as having “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (Revelation 13:1 ESV) At first glance, it would seem that John is describing what appears to be the representation of a kingdom or earthly power. It is very similar to what the prophet Zechariah described more than five centuries earlier.
24 “As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
for a time, times, and half a time.” – Daniel 7:24-25 ESV
It would appear that John is being given a glimpse of a particular world leader who will rise to power, having followed in the path of other kings and kingdoms of that time. The fact that the beast is seen coming out of the sea is an indication that these powers are foreign in nature. In other words, they come from some place other than the land of Israel. To understand what John is seeing, we must take into account a dream given to Daniel, in which he saw four beasts, each representing four different kingdoms or world powers that would arise in succession. The first was a lion, representing Babylon. It was followed by a bear, representing Medo-Persia, which defeated the Babylonians and took over as the dominant world power. Next Daniel saw a leopard, representing Greece. With its speed, power and agility, Greece would eventually defeat the Medo-Persians and assume world dominance. And finally, there would arise the fourth beast. In this case, the beast is not described by using a comparative earthly animal. It is simply said to be “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). Daniel describes it as being “different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). While the Roman empire eventually came to an end, it did not fall like the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It slowly faded from existence over a long period of time. And it was never replaced by any super-power that could claim world dominance or supreme power on earth. If anything, the time since the demise of Roman rule has been marked by a conglomeration of powers, all vying for superiority, and virtually all of them have arisen out of what used to be the domain of Rome.
This beast that John sees, coming out of the sea, has ten horns, representing ten different kings. These ten kings represent some form of a confederation that will mark the ends times. This will be an alliance of ten different nations that will represent that revival of the Roman empire. Notice that John describes this beast as having the characteristics of three different animals: a lion, a bear and a leopard. These are the same three animals Daniel saw in his vision. It would appear that this new kingdom or confederation of kingdoms, will represent all of the greatest kingdoms of the earth, including Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It will be a multi-national confederation. But make no mistake, this alliance will have one source of power: Satan.
“to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority… – Revelation 13:3 ESV
And it will have one ultimate ruler: Antichrist.
And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast… – Revelation 13:4 ESV
The imagery in this chapter can be quite confusing. John sees a beast with seven heads and ten horns. And one of the heads receives a mortal wound, but is then revived or resurrected back to life. What do these seven heads represent? And what about the ten horns. Well, John is given a clear explanation of the ten horns later on the book of Revelation.
And the ten horns that you saw 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. – Revelation 17:12 ESV
The ten horns would appear to be a ten-nation confederation, each sharing power and ruling over the earth together. They receive authority, from Satan, to rule for a specific period of time: one hour. Not a literal hour, but for a relatively short period of time. And the beast will rule alongside them.
It would seem that the seven heads are meant to represent seven different kings or world rulers who will reign in succession. This is deduced from the description provided to John later on in the book.
…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. – Revelation 17:9-10 ESV
The seven heads are seven kings or kingdoms that will rise and fall. But they will be followed by the confederation of kings, one of whom will be the Antichrist. And John is told that this beast “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5 ESV). This confederation of kingdoms will be anti-God and anti-Christ. It will stand against the people of God and against all those who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation, especially during the second half of the tribulation, a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. These nations, led by the Antichrist, will blaspheme God, make war on the saints and conquer them, and be given authority over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7 ESV).
The book of Daniel tells us, “this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Daniel 7:21 ESV) “and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces” (Daniel 7:23 ESV). The second half of the tribulation will be a difficult time. The Antichrist will be given supreme power over the earth and its inhabitants. He will dominate all those who live, demanding worship of himself, and controlling all commerce on the earth. He will appear to be unstoppable, taking captive whoever he wants to and putting to death any he so chooses. And John ends this section with the sobering words: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10 ESV). There will be believers on the earth during those days. The 144,000 witnesses will be alive during the reign of the Antichrist and he will direct much of his anger against them. We know from earlier visions given to John, that there will be many who are martyred for their faith during the second half of the tribulation. Believing and unbelieving Jews will be put to death. Gentiles who have come to faith during these last days will also die for their faith. And John states that the darkness of these days will require endurance and faith. It will be a bleak time. It will difficult to see the hand of God in the midst of all the suffering and death. But God is not done. It will appear as if Satan is winning the war, but this is not the final battle.
The words of William Cowper, written in 1774, are appropriate here:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.