(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.
Some have counted chapter twelve as an interlude between the two sections of the book. Therefore, in their view, chapter thirteen is really the start of a new section. I don’t believe the text allows us to hold that position. It is astounding to me that these man-made chapter divisions in the word of God can cause the adoption of error. The previous chapter ended with the dragon enraged that the gospel had spread to all the world; his persecution from his Jewish utility, although terribly damaging to the church, was not powerful enough to drown the church. The devil needed to come up with another solution to his problem; a more worldwide solution. We saw the chapter end with a striking visual of the devil standing on the sea shore, looking away from the land of Judea. Now, chapter thirteen begins with “and (that’s a conjunction; we’re not seeing the start of a new context here) I saw a beast rising out of the sea.” Satan is calling this beast out of the sea; he is calling for another utility to stifle the people of God.
To consider chapter thirteen a new section corrupts the overall view of the chapter. Those who do, count the chapter as mostly prophetic of things to come to pass after John saw the vision. However, if we hold this chapter in its proper place, we would consider this vision to be about the past; and how it is bringing us up to speed on the spiritual perspective of the events that lead up to John’s present day and the “things that must soon take place” (1:1, 22:6).
“I saw a beast rising out of the sea.” This must be the same beast that John saw kill the two witnesses in 11:7, because the activities of the beast in 11:7 against the holy city will only progress in this larger discussion on the beast (chapters 13-19). In 11:7, the beast is described as originating from the bottomless pit, here in 13:1 he is from the sea. There is no difference in these ideas, they are synonymous. Again, in 17:8, the beast is said to ascend from the bottomless pit. In Revelation, the sea is an abyss, it’s a bottomless pit, it is a place of complete darkness; and therefore, represents the sinful people of the world who have no relationship with God. Geographically, the sea is set apart from the land of Judea, so that the sea is symbolic of the gentile world and Revelation’s use of the word “land” (sometimes unfortunately mistranslated “earth”) is in reference to the land of Judea. It is further confirmed by Revelation 17:15 that the sea is symbolic of gentile peoples: “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.”
This beast rising from the sea should not be thought of as a common beast of the field. This is no tame ox, it is an enormous monster, a sea monster. This is a great and terrifying sea monster with seven heads and ten horns! The word picture should form in our minds that this is a fierce and destructive people. God (through the Old Testament prophets) began this idea of picturing certain gentile nations as great sea monsters and beasts. In Isaiah 27:1, the gentile nation of Babylon is depicted as “leviathan the piercing serpent,” “leviathan that crooked serpent,” and “the dragon that is in the sea.” Although extinct today, the leviathan was well known in those days as the largest and most terrifying monster of all God’s creation (see Job 41 for a full description). In several places the land of Egypt is described as a great dragon called “Rahab” (a different Hebrew spelling from the woman Rahab who hid the spies in Jericho): Isaiah 51:9, 30:7; Psalm 87:4, 89:10. Egypt is also called a monster/dragon in the seas (Ezekiel 32:2). Most notably, Daniel chapter 7 illustrates four beasts representing a line of gentile kingdoms which Daniel interprets as beginning with Babylon. After Babylon came the Persians, then the Greeks, and fourthly the Romans who Daniel describes as “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (Daniel 7:7). This puts us back in Revelation which envisioned things that were happening within that generation of the first century (1:1, 22:6). This terrible beast rising from the sea (i.e. the gentiles) is the Romans.
“With ten horns and seven heads.” This is the distinctive characteristic which the dragon also has (12:3); so, the dragon and the sea beast resemble one another. They look alike in their pride, selfishness, blasphemy, and aim to harm what is good. (I have much more to say about the seven heads and ten horns in my comments on chapter seventeen).
“Blasphemous names on its heads.” The blasphemous name on its heads represent its overall rejection of the good things of God, as well as its superiority complex in believing it is exalted above all that is called God, and even naming its heads (the emperors) gods, building them temples and worshiping them. Truly, a name of blasphemy is a fitting description for the Romans of the first century.
(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.
This is reflective of Daniel’s vision of the four great beasts. Like the beast which John saw, Daniel saw the beasts rising from the sea (Daniel 7:2-3). The first beast looked like a lion, the second a bear, the third a leopard, and the last beast was not described like a known animal. Daniel said that the fourth beast was:
“dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.” (Daniel 7:7-8).
One of the ideas we should get out of these details is that this beast is certainly a gentile beast. The fact that it came from the sea, outside of Israel, is the first indication that its gentile, and the second is that it is described in the manner which God has always described powerful gentile kingdoms. In the Old Testament, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome have all been depicted as great beasts from the sea (see comments on 13:1).
“The dragon gave his power.” This point may be part of the reason why the dragon and the beast resemble each other’s appearance (12:3 and 13:1). The dragon is using all the power that he has to fuel his new utility to accomplish his will and devour the offspring of the faithful woman.