(8) The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
The beast is described here as currently non-existent. It was in existence before, and it will exist again, but at the time that John received this vision the beast was non-existent. This does not require that the empire had disappeared when John saw the vision, nor does this necessitate the need to look for a different identity for the beast, for the empire fits the timeframe of this description perfectly. It is important to acknowledge that the beast is not “THE ROMAN EMPIRE: 46 B.C. to 1453 A.D.” The beast is only the empire as it relates to the goal of the dragon (13:2, 4; 20:2-3), which backfired on the dragon in the first century. Revelation is not interested in the history of the empire, it is only interested in history that relates to the goal of the dragon, and therefore the beast, which was to shortly come to pass. The goal of the beast, identified later in this chapter, is to destroy the harlot city. It was accomplishing this goal (“the beast was”), has since stopped (“is not”), yet will raise its terrifying horns against her again (“and shall ascend” / “and yet is”). We will discuss in detail the situation that the empire is in when we get to verse ten.
“And shall ascend out of the bottomless pit.” The bottomless pit is a synonymous figure to “the sea” (13:1). The beast is first mentioned as rising from the “bottomless pit” in 11:7 but is said to rise from “the sea” in chapter 13. There is no variation, they are like figures. The “bottomless pit” simply means the abyss or the deep, a fitting description for the sea. Further, as discussed in 13:1, the figure of the sea represents the lost gentile world which is immersed in an unmeasurable deep sea of darkness. This is confirmed in 17:15, where “the waters” as described as “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Therefore, this “bottomless pit” should not be imagined in our minds as a picture of nothingness, but the depths of sin which the world enamored with.
“And go into perdition.” The idea that the beast is going to destruction is twofold, and I don’t know if this description is specifically referring to one over the other, or both. We will see this beast go to destruction in the following chapter, though not its own destruction, but it will be going to destroy the unfaithful city, Jerusalem. However, let’s be mindful that the beast is also figuratively destroyed in 19:20. For the more immediate context, these words may be more about the desolation this beast will cause against Jerusalem.
“they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” The “earth” in this context is most likely referring to all peoples. All will marvel at the beast. This may be in reference to the beast’s rise from his “is not” phase. Or it may refer to its rise to make desolate the great city. Recall from 13:3 that the “is not” phase was not the hope of the beast, or the dragon. The empire didn’t stop being the beast to either the Jews or the Christians on purpose, for the beast was dealt a fatal wound to its head (Nero), which caused the determined purpose of the beast to come to a complete halt, possibly to never rise again out of the upheaval which the nation was tossed into. But the full purpose which makes the empire “the beast” was revived under Vespasian, and it was a wonder (and still is) that Vespasian was able to take the headship of the empire and bring the people back to a unified whole. Vespasian, under Nero, led the Romans against the Jews and was also able to revive this very purpose which Nero had to put down the Jewish nation. The unified revival of the empire is enough to fit the description that the earth marveled. However, it may be that the marveling referred to here is speaking of what the beast will do when it rises up (18:10).
Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version (Public Domain).