Revelation 13 Commentary

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vv. 1-10 “Now the dragon’s seven heads and ten horns showed that power was of his very essence.  Of all the attributes of God, his omnipotence is what Satan aspires most to have.  And the beasts of Daniel 7 are actually explained as being four great kings, or empires:  there also power is of the essence.  In fact it is the very word we use to describe them–the ‘great powers’.  So when we are shown a beast whose power is not that of wealth or of influence, but that of government (‘diadems’ and a ‘throne’), who combines all the powers of Daniel 7, and whose authority is worldwide (verse 7), we see in him the principle of power politics:  in a word, the state.  For John this meant, of course, the Roman Empire; but every succeeding generation of Christian people knows some equivalent of it.  To use a phrase which the Authorized Version has fed into common English usage, the beast from the sea represents ‘the powers that be’ (Rom. 13:1, AV).

“But are we not told by Paul that the state is ordained by God?  How then can its authority come from the devil, and be indeed so devilish that it actually begins to look like him (verses 1, 2; 12:3)?

“Paul, of course, is right.  ‘There is no authority except from God’ (Rom. 13:1); it was God who created the institution of human government.  The devil never created anything.  He could only pervert what was already there.  As prince of this world, he took what God had instituted for mankind’s welfare and made it an instrument of oppression.  It is God’s will that there should so often be bad law and tyrannical order.  He puts blasphemies in the mouth of the state, so that it proclaims ‘I am God’ by demanding from its subjects a total, unconditional allegiance, such as those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will never give to any but Christ.  They will uphold the principle of law and order at all costs, to whatever repressive ends it may be perverted:  ‘If any one is to be taken captive,’ well then, ‘to captivity he goes’; they will not take up the sword to overthrow it; this is ‘the endurance and faith of the saints’ (verse 10).  But neither will they worship at its shrine, and be swayed by its talk of ‘patriotism’, and give it ‘the clerical blessing it so much desires’.”[1]

“It is accepted throughout the New Testament that in the last days there will be a special outbreak of the powers of evil.  Sometimes this is associated with an individual who may be called the antichrist (1 Jn. 2:18) or ‘the man of lawlessness’ (2 Thes. 2:3).  It is this figure who is behind the opening vision of this chapter.  John does not name him but calls him ‘the beast.’  A wealth of picturesque detail brings out the horror associated with him.  He is closely linked with Satan, and indeed is something like an incarnation of the evil one.  Many see in the beast a reference to the Roman Empire but this seems to be too simple.  We may well see in the Empire a preliminary manifestation of the evil that will one day be realized to the full in the antichrist.  But there is much more to the beast than ancient Rome.”[2]

vv. 1-2 “The ‘ten horns’ and ‘seven heads’ (13:1) connect this beast with its superhuman mentor, another beast, namely, the serpent (12:3); this image in Revelation fits the Bible’s use of images from the ancient myth of the superhuman enemy (Ps. 74:14).  The ‘blasphemous name’ (Rev. 13:1) probably evokes the arrogant boasts of Daniel 7:8, 20, as do his blasphemies or slanders against God and the saints in Revelation 13:6.  These would prove especially relevant to John’s audience:  Roman coins in the Easter Mediterranean announced that the emperor was ‘son of God’ and ‘God’; Domitian even demanded the title ‘Lord and God.’”[3]

v. 1 The dragon stands on the seashore as John sees his henchman, the beast, emerge from the sea […]  The ancient world often associated evil with the sea.  Who could tell what existed in its mysterious depths?”[4]

“The chapter says little about the dragon.  He remains very much in the background.  He does his work not openly, but through people.  John is talking about a more than human evil, but it is an evil that reveals itself in human deeds.  The modern world, like the ancient, furnishes us with illustrations.  Hendriksen sees the beast as signifying ‘worldly government directed against the church’, and he takes the multiplicity of heads to indicate that this has various forms, as Babylon, Assyria, Rome, etc.

“The beast hast ten crowns on his horns, which is a curious place for them (Satan has them on the heads, 12:3).  But it is a way of stressing that his dominion (diad?mata are crowns of royalty; […]) rests on force, while leaving the heads free for the blasphemous name.”[5]

v. 2 The beast is likened to a leopard (or ‘panther’ as some understand pardalis).  The feet are those of a bear and the mouth like that of a lion.  Since the animal has seven heads the singular, mouth, is curious.  We should be clear that John’s interest is in symbolism.  He is not going into detail to help his readers visualize the beast.  In fact it seems impossible to put together all the features John mentions to make up one animal.  But that is not his intention.  He is making use of a variety of the features of the animals mentioned in Daniel 7.  His composite beast then becomes indescribably horrible.  He combines in one terrible feature hitherto associated with different beasts.  The beasts of Daniel 7 are to be understood of the various world empires and it may well be that this is in mind with John’s beast.  In that case he stands for a final empire in which will be concentrated the frightfulness of all its predecessors.  But John does not see the beast as having any power of its own.  The dragon gave its power, its throne, and great authority.  The combination adds up to a formidable foe.”[6]

v. 3 “He does not say how the beast received its wound (in v.14 we find it was ‘by the sword’).  He does not even say whether it received the wound after it come to land or how it come to be healed.  His interest is in the fact that a wound that appeared to be mortal had been healed.  Two points receive emphasis:  the deadliness of the wound and the fact of recovery.  He uses the expression […] ‘as though slain’, which he used of the Lamb in 5:6, and as the recovery of the beast is clear there may possibly be the thought of death followed by resurrection.  This is one of several places in which the evil one is pictured as parodying Christianity.”[7]

v. 4 “Verse 4 repeats the fact of the transfer of the dragon’s authority to the beast and the deception involved in worshiping the beast.  The amazed question, ‘Who is like the beast?’ (reminiscent of similar sentiments expressed about God in Exod 15:11), is followed by ‘Who can make war against him?’  In other words, their amazement is a combination of a sense of awe at the beast’s military power and a sense of despair:  There is no alternative to capitulation.”[8]

v. 5 “The verb was given shows that the beast’s power is derived; he has no power of his own.  It is given him by his master, the dragon.  But John’s readers will reflect that ultimately it is God who determines the limits within which he operates, a point brought out by the use of was given four times in verses 5-7 (NIV omits it before authority in verse 5).  It is further emphasized by the limit of his authority to forty-two months (for this period see on 11:2).  Even the horrible and irresistible beast can exercise authority only during the time that God permits.  The saints are encouraged by the thought that the duration of their suffering has already been determined by God.  It is not the beast who decides this point.  His power is limited though he speaks proud words and blasphemies.”[9]

vv. 5-6 “The beast’s arrogant speech echoes that of the horn of the fourth beast in Dan 7:8, 11, 20.  It blasphemes not only the name of God (cf. Lev 24:15-16), but also God’s dwelling, which may refer to the heavenly temple (cf. 21:2) or be used, in a transferred sense, to indicate the holy people (7:15; cf. 21:3).”[10]

vv. 5-7 “And how long is this to continue?  The beast is ‘allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months’, the same ‘three and a half years’ during which God’s city and the outer courts of his temple are trodden underfoot by the nations, which the church nevertheless survives despite attacks on her members (verse 7), and continues to preach.  Throughout the history of the church, then, the beast from the sea will be active, and Christian people will always have the dragon-manipulated state to take into account in their daily conflict.”[11]

v. 6 “The blasphemies are particularized.  To blaspheme the name of God is much the same as to blaspheme God […] for the name sums up the whole person […] The blasphemy is then directed against God and those in whom God dwells.  To regard the state as supreme (and offer divine honours to the emperor as was demanded in the first century) was not a permissible opinion but the supreme blasphemy.  John’s word must have come to his readers with tremendous force.”[12]

v. 7 “Here, to ‘make war,’ as elsewhere in the Apocalypse, does not mean to wage a military campaign but refers to hostility to and destruction of the people of God in whatever manner and through whatever means the beast may choose (study carefully 2:16; 11:7; 12:7, 17; 16:14; 17:14; 19:11, 19; 20:8; 2Cor 10:4).  ‘To conquer’ them refers not to the subversion of their faith but to the destruction of their physical lives (cf. Matt 10:28). […] their apparent defeat by the beast and his victory turns out in reality to be the victory of the saints and the defeat of the beast (15:2). Messiah-like universal dominion was given the beast by the dragon (Luke 4:4-7; 1John 5:19).”[13]

vv. 7-8 “The apparent universality of worship offered to the beast is qualified, however, by the reference to the Lamb’s book of life.  Until the books are opened (20:12; cf. Dan 12:1) and judgment takes place, the names contained in it are unknown.  […] The criterion for inclusion in the book of life is to resist worshiping the beast.”[14]

vv. 11-13 “Verses 11 to 13 make clear what the beast from the earth is.  Its looks are lamb-like but its voice dragon-like; it stands before the first beast–another reminiscence of Elijah, who stood before God (1 Ki. 17:1) waiting on his bidding, ready to act at his command and speak with his authority; it is concerned with worship, the religious aspect of human life; and it works miracles, like bringing fire from heaven (Elijah yet again, 1 Ki. 18).  The coupling of Christlike appearance and Satanic message, the status of prophet, the concern with worship, and the appeal to the magical, all add up to one thing:  false religion.  The relationships between man and man, and between man and God, are both provided for in the divine plan.  The beast from the sea is Satan’s perversion of society, the first; and the beast from the earth is his perversion of Christianity, the second.”[15]

vv. 16-18 “This mark of the beast is designed to mock the seal that God places on his followers (Rev. 7:2-3). Just as God marks his people to save them, so Satan’s beast marks his people to save them from the persecution that Satan will inflict upon God’s followers. Identifying this particular mark is not as important as identifying the purpose of the mark. Those who accept it show their allegiance to Satan, their willingness to operate within the economic system he promotes, and their rebellion against God. To refuse the mark means to commit oneself entirely to God, preferring death to compromising one’s faith in Christ.”[16]

v. 16 “He now caused a mark to be set on all people on the right hand or forehead.  The listing of various classes, small and great […] etc., is a way of stressing totality.  No-one was exempt.  The choice of right hand or forehead is presumably for conspicuousness.  It could not be hidden.  It may also be meant as a travesty of the Jewish custom of wearing phylacteries (little boxes containing extracts from the Bible) on the left hand (or forearm) and on the head.  It is probably also a parody of God’s seal (7:3; 14:1).  The precise significance of the mark is uncertain.”[17]

v. 17 “The purpose […] of the mark is that no-one should engage in trade without it.  Could (dyn?tai) is stronger than ‘hinder’ or the like.  It points to a total prohibition, which would make it impossible for people without the mark to buy even necessities like food.  It is thus impossible for those who oppose the beast even to live.  The mark is explained as the name of the beast or the number of his name; this leads into the next verse.”[18]

v. 18What does 666 mean? Some have seen in this number a reference to Nero, the first emperor to persecute Christians.  Others have seen a reference to some evil person of their day, such as Adolf Hitler, but efforts to identify a specific person have been unsatisfactory.  If the number seven symbolizes the fullness of God (3:1; 5:6), perhaps six is associated with evil, falling one short of completeness.  The threefold six, then, would emphasize how completely evil this beast it.  Essentially, John exhorts all Christians to discern evil.”[19]


[1] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1975) 122.

[2] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 160.

[3] Craig S. Keener , Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003) 336.

[4] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 161.

[5] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 161.

[6] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 161-162.

[7] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 162.

[8] Christopher C. Rowland , “The Book of Revelation”, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998) 657.

[9] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 163.

[10] Christopher C. Rowland , “The Book of Revelation”, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998) 657.

[11] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1975) 125-126.

[12] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 163-164.

[13] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for verse 7.

[14] Christopher C. Rowland , “The Book of Revelation”, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998) 657.

[15] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1975) 126.

[16] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 2320.

[17] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 167-168.

[18] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 168.

[19] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1724.

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