This article was first written 6/29/20.
Reading through and understanding the book of Revelation can seem like an overwhelming task! That is because much of the book is of visions which symbolize certain truths. We are not used to the truths of Scripture being given in word-pictures.
But if we key in on one vision/symbol at a time and let the context define it, we will gain much understanding!
For example, two beasts are mentioned in Revelation 13 – the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. In this article, we will look at the beast from the sea and key in on one aspect of that beast – the seven heads. (Please note, this same beast who comes up out of the sea is also called the scarlet beast in Revelation 17.)
Who or What is the Beast from the Sea?
“And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.” Revelation 13:1-2 NASB
The first thing we want to identify is who or what is the beast? Is it literal or figurative? In order to answer this, we must go back to the Old Testament book of Daniel where beasts are first mentioned.
Daniel 7:17 says, “These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth.”
So, beasts are kings.
And Daniel 7:23 says, “…the fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom.”
And kings represent entire kingdoms.
Do not be confused. A beast is a king AND a king is the same thing as a kingdom. Beast = king = kingdom.
Therefore, we can conclude that, at any point in time, a king (head) signifies a kingdom (empire). Or to say it another way, kingdoms can be expressed as having one representative head/king.
So the four beasts that Daniel speaks of are not simply kings, but kingdoms. Particularly, (history tells us) they were the four earthly kingdoms that were the enemies of God’s people: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
This brings us back to the beast from the sea in Revelation 13…we can conclude this beast is also some kind of kingdom (empire).
Side note: some of the descriptive terms given in Revelation 13 of this beast from the sea also incorporate certain aspects of the first three beasts in Daniel 7. You can learn more about Daniel 7 in Daniel’s End Time Prophecies.
Why Does the Beast Come Up Out of the Sea?
The next point we want to look at here is the fact that this beast of Revelation 13 comes up out of the sea. What does this mean? Is it speaking of a literal sea?
With our modern technology, we have satellite pictures of the world’s beautiful geography – oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. We also have deep sea vessels that can take “up close and personal” pictures. They help us view the grandeur of creation!
Ancient mariners, however, probably had a different view of the seas. Many of them did not make it home safely. To them, the seas were most likely a very deep and potentially violent place. The sea represented something deadly and unknown.
Therefore, probably the best way to view the ‘beast coming up out of the sea’ is this: a world empire that might come up in either an unknown, sudden, mysterious and/or often deadly manner.
What are the Seven Heads?
We need to add even a bit more information now because the text also states that this beast has “seven heads.” Again, are they literal or figurative heads? If figurative, what do they represent? For this, we need to look at Revelation 17:8-10 which also talks about this same beast. This particular vision was given to the Apostle John towards the end of the first century at the time when God’s people were ruled by their enemy, the Roman Empire.
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast that he was and is not and will come. 9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.” Revelation 17:8-10
Notice in verse 10, the beast’s seven heads are identified as seven kings (kingdoms). We can identify each of these seven heads of the beast.
To make it easier, we will go in reverse order. The text says ‘one is yet to come’ and so we’ll leave that unidentified; ‘one is’ which is Rome – the empire at the time of the writing of Revelation, and ‘five have fallen’ already.
As mentioned earlier, the kingdoms of Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon came prior to the kingdom of Rome. So that is three. This leaves us with two prior kingdoms. It is quite easy to determine these two kingdoms from the Old Testament – major world empires that persecuted Abraham and his descendants would be both Egypt and Assyria.
So, in order, it looks like this:
7. One Yet to Come – Final Kingdom
The first five kingdoms already came and went as “beasts” over God’s people. They reigned over/persecuted the people of God in history. The sixth one, Rome, was not only responsible for crucifying Jesus, but according to tradition, put both the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul to death and persecuted many more.
And the seventh one, the beast from the sea, is no different. It will be a kingdom in the future (possibly our present or near future?) that will also directly persecute God’s people.
“It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.” Revelation 13:7 NASB
So, the beast from the sea is its own kingdom, but it also represents all of the six earlier beasts (heads). The beast from the sea has been seen every time it reared one of its ugly heads. The seventh head is the final one and the final culmination. It is the completion of rebellious kingdoms that God has ordained would be allowed to rise up against Him and His people.
Chart of Seven Heads
We see in Daniel 2:40-45 different imagery of the same truth. In that text it is described not as a beast but as a statue with corresponding kingdoms. It speaks of a dream that was given to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. God grants to Daniel both the dream and the interpretation of the dream. We will have more to say about this statue in a future article, but we have included the imagery in the following chart that visually displays the beast’s seven heads and their corresponding empires.
What Does This Beast Mean For Us?
God has ordained that there will be a final world empire. It will be similar to the first six empires that persecuted God’s people. It will symbolically be called “Babylon” just like the Babylonian Empire that led captive Daniel and his friends. (Also see Babylon in Revelation) It is called a “Beast” just like the world empires of Daniel 7. It will be global and powerful. But it will also be very short-lived as God executes His purposes rather swiftly during its rule, as well as quite dramatically and finally with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!
But there is more to learn about the beast and its ten horns in The Beast from the Sea: Part 2 – Ten Horns.