Revelation 13 Bible Commentary

B. W. Johnson’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Revelation 13)
The Seven-Headed Beast.

SUMMARY.--The Beast that Rises Out of the Sea. Power Given to the Beast by the Dragon. The Head Wounded to Death and Healed. Power Given to Continue Forty-two Months. The Lamb-like Beast that Had the Voice of a Dragon. His Service to the Seven-Headed Beast. The Number of the Beast.

      1, 2. I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. The 12th chapter has shown the relentless hostility of the dragon, "the old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan," to the woman, a hostility that has manifested itself in changing forms. The last verse declares his purpose to make war on the seed of the woman. This chapter is intended to show the organized forms in which he has carried on this warfare. The apostle sees a beast, a wild savage beast, arising out of the sea. The restless ocean is a symbol of commotion. Having seven heads and ten horns. The beast bears the old dragon mark (12:3) of seven heads and ten horns. It must therefore be some manifestation of the same power. Indeed, it is the dragon who has called the beast forth from the sea. On his horns ten crowns. These crowns are diadems (Revision). They are the sign of royal authority. They represent ten kings or kingdoms (17:12). In the 12th chapter, the seven heads had the diadems; now the horns wear them. There is a reason for this that we shall see in the sequel. And upon his heads the name of blasphemy. If these heads should arrogantly claim divine honors, not belonging to them, these would be names of blasphemy. These heads are said to be seven kings. Sometimes kings have claimed to be gods, as Alexander, who asserted that he was the son of Jupiter Ammon, and the Roman Emperors, who all claimed divine honors and required men to worship their statues and to offer them sacrifices. 2. And the beast . . . was like unto a leopard. It was a composite beast which united the characteristics of the beasts seen by Daniel in his vision (Dan. 7:1-6). The animals combined are all cruel, terrible beasts of prey; a terror to man. And the dragon gave him his power. That is, this beast was called forth to do the dragon's work, and acted by the dragon's authority.

      3, 4. I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death. The Greek says "slain." This deadly wound of the head was a deadly wound of the beast itself. See verse 12. This wound was given by the sword; that is, by war. See verse 14. It is in verse 14 suggested that the beast was restored after the wound by the efforts of the second beast first named in verse 11. The symbolism implies that a mortal wound was inflicted on the power represented by the beast; that when it was dead, or about to perish, its power was restored by the arts of the second beast. All the world wondered after the beast. Gave it their wonder and admiration. 4. They worshiped the dragon. In following after and obeying the beast they really gave worship to the dragon which had given the beast his power. Their worship was, however, directed to the beast itself. Who is like unto the beast? This language implies giving the beast superhuman honors. Similar language is often used of God. See Exod. 15:11; Ps. 113:5; Isa. 40:18. The dragon, cast down, receives worship through the beast.

      5-7. And there was given . . . a mouth speaking great things. He would make blasphemous claims. Daniel affirms the same of the beast seen in his vision (Dan. 7:25). Forty and two months. The same period named in in 12:6, in 11:2, in 11:3, and in Dan. 7:25. The period referred to here, when the beast shall prevail against the Church, is one of 1260 years. This is evidently the period of the world's dominion over the Church. 6. He opened his mouth in blasphemy. Three kinds of blasphemy are named: (1) against God; (2) against his tabernacle; (3) against those to whom God has opened his tabernacle. The first would be accomplished by usurping God's prerogatives; the second by maledictions upon the true Church, and the third by curses on the true worshipers. 7. It was given unto him. He had power to make war on the saints and to overcome them for a long period. Compare 12:14-17. His dominion was also one that seemed universal, and he claimed rule over all kindreds . . . and nations.

      8-10. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him. All except the true and faithful saints, hidden in obscurity but known above and recorded in the book of life, shall give him homage. 9. If any man have an ear, let him hear. Let him give heed. The words to be heeded are in verse 10. 10. If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth. The meaning is "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." "With what measure a man metes, it shall be measured to him again." If the beast and his adherents lead the saints captive, they shall finally be made captive; if they slay with the sword, so shall they be slain. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. The assurance that God will, in the end, right all their wrongs gives them faith and patience.


      As the monster with seven heads and ten horns is introduced three times in Revelation, in 12:3, in 13:1, and in 17:3, one explanation of the meaning of these symbols will suffice for all. Though the form varies somewhat, the ten-horned monster of Dan. chapter 7 is without doubt the same. Comparing the accounts we learn that "the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth" (the harlot of chapter 17), and they are also seven kings or kingdoms. In 12:3, these heads have upon them diadems, the crown that always signifies royalty, but in 13:1 there are no diadems upon the heads. This may imply that the heads that had once worn the crowns were uncrowned in the period which is now pointed out. The ten horns, however, have diadems. In 17:12 they are said to be ten kings or kingdoms which had not yet, when John wrote, received power, but shall receive it in the period pointed forward to in the symbols. Still another fact is pointed out in 17:10. Of the seven kings five were fallen when John wrote; that is, had passed away; one of them then existed; one was yet to come; the beast himself was composed of all the seven and yet assumed such a form that he became an eighth.

      These facts will enable us to point out what is signified. It is some power that fights against God, that is a deadly enemy of the Church, that oppresses the Israel of God, that is used as Satan's instrument, that overcomes the Church for 1260 years, that is blasphemous; that has existed as seven kings, or kingdoms, for such may be the meaning of the word, and that shall reappear again to be ten kingdoms. It will be seen that the form of this beast varies at different times, and we must expect the power meant to assume various forms. Let us note the great world powers which have arrayed themselves against God in oppressing his people during their history. I. Egypt enslaved the Israel of God, those whom he called "My People," with a grievous bondage. At that period Egypt was the greatest of the world powers. II. Next Assyria, many hundred years later, carries the Ten Tribes into captivity, from whence they never returned. Assyria was the destroyer of the kingdom of Israel and the oppressor of the kingdom of Judah. III. Babylon, the great Empire of Nebuchadnezzar, erected on the ruins of Assyria, conquered Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and carried the people into captivity. IV. Persia overthrew Babylon, and succeeded to the sway over the remnant of Israel and Palestine. V. Greece, or rather the Macedonian Empire of Alexander, overthrew Persia, and the fifth of the great world powers became the ruler and the oppressor of God's people. Under the successors of Alexander their sufferings were terrible. Here, then, we have Five Kingdoms, or great world monarchies, which had been used by the dragon for oppression, and which had passed away before John wrote. VI. One now is. Rome had overthrown all before her and occupied their dominion. The Roman monarchy existed when John was on Patmos, and he was seen there by the edict of a Roman Emperor. VII. One was yet to come. There was to be still another of these world powers, which should appear after John's time. It is to be an anti-Christian world power. My opinion is that it refers to the Eastern or Greek Empire, the Roman Empire in the East, continuing to exist as an Oriental despotism after the fall of Rome. This Empire was a persecutor also. No Emperor persecuted more cruelly than Justinian. In 17:11 we are also told that there is an "eighth head who is of the seven." This is the beast. This means that the spirit and power of the whole beast, embracing all the seven heads, passes to an eighth kingdom or rule. Wherever we find this rule we find the beast fully manifested. This signifies the temporal dominion of the Papal power, a sway that derived its power from the kingdoms of the earth.

      The beast with seven heads and ten horns is, then, the great world power in its opposition to God's people, manifesting itself in the various great worldly states which have fought against the saints. Of the heads of the beast Rome was the greatest and the most terrible of persecutors. Hence, while all the opposing world powers are generally signified, Rome, Pagan and Papal, is specially pointed out. There can be no doubt about the allusion of John to the heads signifying also seven mountains on which the harlot sitteth (17:9). No phrase was oftener applied to Rome by Pagan poets and writers, as well as Christian Fathers than "the seven hilled city." The eighth head (17:11) is stated also to be an embodiment of the whole beast. Hence, I believe we are justified in declaring that Rome is the seat of the beast.


      It is shown, however, that the beast received a wound on one of its heads that was mortal. One of the kingdoms was overcome by the sword. This blow would, in the ordinary nature of things, destroy it and the beast. In some remarkable way this wound was healed. This was wonderfully fulfilled. In A. D. 476, the last of the Roman Emperors of the West was hurled from his throne, and Italy became the prey of contending barbarian hordes. It seem seem as though the fate of Rome was forever sealed. Nineveh fell, but it was to rise no more. Babylon fell before the armies of Cyrus, and after a few generations it became the abode of "doleful creatures." Tyre fell, and on the bare rock, which was once the seat of a mighty city, "the fisherman spreads his nets." Other cities have fallen and lost their glory, their dominion, their existence, and have been converted into heaps of ruins, where wild beasts have lurked, serpents hidden, and desert winds howled; but in the case of Rome, the deadly wound was healed. Mysteriously, wonderfully, the captive city, by the development of a new power, binds her conquerors in the chains of superstition, and by establishing a spiritual dominion over the souls of men, she yet succeeds in holding the secular authority over a vast portion of the world. The sway of Rome under the Popes became, in spite of her conquest, mightier than her sway under the Cæsars.


      It yet remains to consider the period during which it shall be given this dominion to have power over the saints. We have found that this period of 1260 years, since a day is a symbol of a year, has been several times mentioned. The "Holy City," the true Church, is trodden down by the Gentiles for forty-two months; the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth for one thousand two hundred and three score days; the woman, or the true Church, is driven by the dragon into the wilderness for twelve hundred and sixty days, and the beast exercises power for forty-two months, which is the same period once more. There can be no doubt that the treading down of the Holy City, the two witnesses in sackcloth, the flight and sojourn of the Church in the wilderness, and the power of the beast, all take place during the same period, begin at the same time, are different parts of the same history, and end at the same epoch. It has been already found (chapter 12) that this period began in 533. The period, then, of the greatest power and glory of this "eighth head," which is the beast himself, would end about 1793, or about the beginning of this century. At this time there is certainly an exaltation of the two witnesses, a return of the Church from the wilderness. There is also a fatal shock to the temporal power of Rome. In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte effected the conquest of Italy, and the Pope, a prisoner, was a supplicant at his feet. In 1804, he ordered the Pope, who was now his puppet, to come France to crown him emperor of the French. In 1805, he assumed the title of King of Italy. During the years of his power he ruled the Pope with an iron hand, broke up the old European system, emancipated the nations from the terror of Rome, and when he fell, the temporal authority of Rome had received a fatal wound. The influence of the Pope in the politics of the world was broken. Since then Rome has been occupied as the capital of free Italy, and the Pope has become "The Prisoner of the Vatican."


      11, 12. I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth. John sees this second monster coming up out of the earth, a beast that has two horns like a lamb, and a voice like the voice of a dragon. There is a close connection existing between the ten-horned and the two-horned beast. The latter (1) exercises the power of the first beast before him, (2) causeth the earth to worship the first beast, (3) says to the earth that it should make an image of the first beast (verse 14), (4) gives life unto the image of the first beast, and (5) causes those who will not worship the image to be slain (verse 15). These statements show that there exists a close connection between the two, and that the last is the supporter and restorer of the first. We have found the first to be a symbolical representation of the temporal power of Rome. Most Protestant commentators see in the second beast the spiritual power of Rome, the power which gave life to, and built up, the temporal dominion of the Papacy. The Papal claims are two-fold, both of spiritual and temporal dominion. St. Peter with the sword and the keys is always represented as the symbol of the Papal power; the sword of temporal sway, and the keys of the kingdom. The Pope not only claims to be the vicar of Christ, but the rightful ruler of the kings of the earth, and in this capacity, in the days of his greatness, has made and deposed kings, and granted kingdoms. Two horns like a lamb . . . spake like a dragon. There is a similitude like the Lamb of God; a counterfeit representation; but a voice like the old dragon of pagan Rome. Both features show themselves. It professes to be Christian power. Sometimes its servants do a really lamb-like work, but then again we hear the dragon's voice. It can hardly be necessary to state that symbolism could choose no language more appropriate to represent the harsh, arrogant utterances of Rome when she puts forth her power, or asserts her authority. Whoever has heard the harsh orders of the priest to his flock, has heard the dragon's voice. How appropriately this language describes the bulls of Popes, or the fulminations of anathemas and excommunications against their enemies! 12. He maketh the earth . . . to worship the first beast. The spiritual power of Rome is exercised before, or in the presence of, the temporal power. They have dwelt together, and it is the spiritual power that has made those that dwell upon the earth regard and pay homage to the temporal. If an earthly ruler refused to heed the mandates of the Pope, his subjects were absolved from allegiance and bidden to depose him. If they refused, the whole kingdom was laid under interdict, the churches were closed, religious rites were suspended, the dead were not buried in the consecrated grounds, and a superstitious population soon demands deliverance by submission. It was by the terrors of the spiritual power that the earth was brought into subjection to the imperial temporal sway of the Popes. The second beast has made men worship the first.

      13, 14. The second beast did great wonders, pretended to perform miracles, and thus "deceived them that dwell upon the earth." Rome has claimed the possession of miraculous power in all ages, and no fact in history is better established than that she has continually resorted to lying miracles. 14. And deceiveth . . . by reason of those miracles. The object of these false miracles was to rivet the chains of the spiritual dominion, so as to build up the temporal sway of the papacy. The dragon-lamb commanded men to make an image of the beast, and to offer it homage.

      15-17. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast. The image of the beast, of the old Pagan power, this eighth head, which is the beast and of the seven, is not a lifeless image. The arts of the dragon lamb gave it life. The spiritual power built up the temporal and gave it imperial and despotic dominion. It had power to slay all who would not worship it. The awful dragonnades in Southern France, the frightful work of the Inquisition, the merciless persecution in Holland, the scenes of blood and death caused by Rome in many lands, are the fulfillment. 16. He causeth all . . . to receive a mark. The mark of the beast is some stamp or sign, by which all its worshipers should be known. In ancient days slaves were sometimes branded, as cattle are in our own age. The brand or mark of the beast would be some indelible sign which would designate with certainty those who were subject to his authority. A mark in the hand is supposed by some to represent the practice, while a mark in the forehead indicates the profession of life. It is remarkable, however, that a mark on the forehead, the sign of the cross made with water, converts a person into a Roman Catholic, and without this mark none are regarded as heirs of salvation. 17. No man might buy or sell, etc. It has been common for Catholics to be forbidden to patronize those who were not loyal to the Pope. At least three councils are named, those of Tours, of Constance and the Lateran, which have expressly forbidden business intercourse with heretics.


      18. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast. The seventeenth verse speaks of the name of the beast. It has, then, a name. It also speaks of the number of its name. Its name, then, is some number. We wish to discover its name, and if we can count the number, we will find its name. "The number of the beast," that is, the "number of its name" is the number of a man, and that number is six hundred and sixty-six. It is, then, plain that the number six hundred and sixty-six is the number of the name of the beast, and this is the man's name. Six hundred sixty-six is English. John did not write in English, hence those words in English will not give the word we seek. 666 are the Arab characters for the numbers, but they were unknown until many hundred years after John wrote, and hence afford no help. John wrote in the Greek language for readers who understood that tongue. The number is evidently, then, to be expressed in Greek characters. The Greeks did not express numbers by figures, but by letters, just as among the Romans, X stood for ten and C for one hundred. Six hundred and sixty-six could be expressed by spelling out the words in the Greek language, or by using the letters which were symbols for various quantities. Let us try the latter method: 30=L, 1=a, 300-t, 5=e, 10=i, 50=n, 70=o, 200=s. 666=Lateinos. And what is this name? The number of a man; the Greek method of spelling the name of Latinus, the reputed founder of the Latin race. The Romans were a Latin race and spoke the Latin language. The Romish Church is continually officially called the Latin Church, to distinguish it from the Greek Church, the other branch of the great ancient schism; the Catholic sacred books are written in the Latin tongue; the worship is conducted in every country in the Latin alone, and when a Catholic council convenes, all its conferences are conducted in the tongue of the ancient Latins. There is, then, a Latin Church, whose official and sacred speech is the Latin language, which has for its seat the ancient Latin capital. That Church is the great Apostate Church, upon whose head the names of blasphemy have been written, which has claimed universal dominion upon the earth, and has slain the saints of the Most High. Its name is the number of the beast, and that name, Lateinos, the name or number of a man, is 666. It does not destroy the force of this that these numerals and letters can be so combined as to spell out other names. This name is one that at once points to a power which has displayed every mark which is assigned to the beast.