(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.
A head on the beast had been wounded to death. This fatal wound not only killed the head (the ruler), but also killed the whole body of the beast, as is evident by the Greek pronouns and genders in this verse. In the koine Greek language of the first century, there were pronouns (like in English), but also genders given to words (like in Spanish). Greek words can be either masculine, feminine, or neuter, depending on the subject and context of the words. In the case of 13:3, the words relating to the head are distinctly in the feminine form, while the words relating to the whole beast are in the masculine form. The fatal wound (feminine) of the head (feminine) caused the death (masculine) of the beast (masculine). It is important to follow through with the Greek language here, because this verse also speaks of something being healed. Is it the head that is healed or the beast? Again, following along in the Greek, we will see that the pronoun “his” (KJV; or “its” in the ESV) in “his deadly wound was healed” is masculine, that is, the beast (not the head) was resurrected. Some have this flipped in their minds and interpret the head (the ruler) to be the thing revived here, even going so far as to spend time arguing for the Nero Redivivus (look it up if your curious), but Revelation is not interested in a few fake Neros who claimed to be the resurrected ruler. Rather, it makes good sense, and is proper to the Greek language, to understand John to be saying that the beast bodily died when the head died, but the beast bodily was able to become alive again after the death blow. This revival caused the earth to be enamored with the beast who somehow regained its great and terrifying strength, going so far as to serve and worship it (13:4). Why would the beast die if it still has six more heads? We will find out in chapter seventeen that the beast only has one head at a time, and the seven heads serve as time markers. So, if one head is slain, there needs to be another head to come in succession.
Many believe the wounded head to be Nero, and for good reason; but that interpretation ultimately fails in the context. The fall of Nero caused the Romans to lose their footing. As they all fell abruptly into civil war, their purpose to persecute Christians and particularly to put down the Jewish nation came to a halt. This was a wonderful thing for the Jewish rebels who could regain strength, but not so much a good thing for the Christians, especially Christians who were Jews, for the Jewish sects could regain focus on laying waste the Jews who sought for peace. See comments on 17:7-14 for a more detailed picture of what happened with the fall of Nero and the time before Vespasian gained control of the beast (Empire) and immediately refocused the Empire’s efforts against the Jews. But for Nero to be the wounded head does not fit the context of this chapter. The flow of this text from the previous chapter is to show the efforts of Satan in raising up a more worldwide solution to remove God’s people from the earth. This chapter deals with the past, not the present or future. Nero’s “wound” would be a more current event. Notice how the text does not deal with the persecution under Nero until verse seven; so, the fatal wound seems to fit an event in the empire that is earlier than Nero.
A more appropriate interpretation, due to the timeline of the context, would be the rise of the empire after the death of Julius Caesar. Before Julius, Rome was ruled by the senate, but Julius worked his way to be recognized as the imperial monarch; while the Senate simply became advisors. He held the same position of power as the emperors who came after him. He was loved by the people and quickly reached the status of god; Emperor worship had begun. Idols and temples were erected and dedicated to Caesar. The Senate, which was opposed to the radical change from the Republic to an Empire plotted to execute Julius and put things back to the way they were before. “Part A” of their plan was accomplished in the slaying of Julius, but this made “Part B” (returning to a peaceful Republic) impossible. The Republic was immersed in much strife from without and terrible civil wars from within. But Julius had reigned for a decade, and in that time, he appointed his successor to the throne; his nephew, Octavian. Octavian (later known as Augustus Caesar) spent fifteen years in war to win back the empire; which he did. This is the most fitting interpretation to the fatal wound on one of the beast’s heads. Julius was the head which was slain, and as a result, killed the whole beast. But after much war, the Empire was revived under Augustus.