Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
This may be the most talked about chapter in the book of Revelation. We have the beast and the false prophet (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and the image of the beast that talks; the great signs of the false prophet; the seven heads and ten horns; the mark of the beast (666); no buying or selling without the mark; and we have the book of life of the Lamb. A lot to get our attention.
Dispensational Premillennialism commonly teaches that this chapter is about “the Antichrist,” who appears on the world stage during the so-called “seven year tribulation period” prior to the return of Christ and His so-called “earthly millennial kingdom,” who forces everyone to have a physical mark in order to buy or sell anything during that brief period of tribulation. In other words, the events of this chapter have been terribly sensationalized. But that’s what happens when we interpret Revelation with such strict literalism.
There’s something far more significant going on in this chapter and in this book than what Dispensationalism teaches. Having studied this book now at great length, and in light of the overall teaching of the New Testament, the general theme seems almost obvious. It’s a conflict between two kingdoms, as I talk about throughout this chapter.
This chapter – and the whole book of Revelation – is about life in this world between the first and second advents of Christ. It’s about the conflict between light and darkness, between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. It’s about the conflict between the truth and falsehood. It’s about the struggles Christians deal with in a world that is hostile to Christ and His followers. This is the classic story of good versus evil. This book gives us an overview of life in the world during the Church age (Christian era/gospel era). If you’ve been following along in this commentary, you know that this is the picture we’ve seen. This chapter reveals this conflict between the two kingdoms perhaps better than anywhere else in this book.
The idea that the book of Revelation is about a mere seven year period, fails to capture the greater message and full significance that this book actually conveys. If we’re to see the full scope of this revelation, we must see it through the overall message of the New Testament—which is what I’ve striven to do throughout this commentary. When we do that, we’re able to make better sense out of this book than when viewed through the lens of Dispensationalism.
The relationship between Chapter 13 and Chapter 17:
Revelation 13:1 and 13:7 are keys to interpreting this chapter. During the Church age (Christian era, gospel era), this beast is allowed to make war against the Church and to overcome them through persecution and death (Rev 13:7). However, in Rev 17:14, we see that Christ defeats this beast. Therefore, what we see in chapter 13 is the reign of the seventh world empire during the whole Church age—up until the end of the Church age when the “eighth king” rises to power (Rev 17:11), and Jesus defeats him. I believe this king is the “man of sin” (“man of lawlessness”) of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. I believe he is the actual “antichrist” that the Apostle John mentions in 1 John 2:18. He will rule for a very brief time before being judged by Christ at His coming. This is the “abyss-beast” of Rev 17:8, which must not be confused with the “sea-beast” of this chapter (Rev 13:1).
Therefore, as we go through this chapter (13), we need to be aware that we’re dealing with the seventh empire of the whole Church age, while Chapter 17 is focused on eighth king of this seventh empire, who will arise at the end of the Church age—but who is still part of the seventh empire. We will talk about this more later.
Identifying Our Terms:
Sea-Beast – Kingdom of darkness (spirit of the antichrist)
Image of the Beast – Kingdom of the world
Land-Beast (False Prophet) – Rulers of darkness
Mark of the beast – Symbolic mark of identification
Seven heads – World empires
Ten horns – Confederacy of kings that arise prior to Christ’s return, under the authority of the “eight king” (Rev 17:11).
Sea-Beast: Kingdom of Darkness
(Rev 12:17) – 17 And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus:
(Rev 13:1) – 1 And he stood upon the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy.
NET – 13:1 Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name.
(Rev 13:1) – “And he stood upon the sand of the sea”
The following translations place this phrase at the beginning of chapter 13: (ASV, NASB, NIV)
Other translations place this phrase at the end of chapter 12:
(ESV, NET, CSB, LEB, NRSV, NLT)
The one “standing upon the sand of the sea,” is Satan, as Rev 12:13-18 makes clear. I think the picture we get here is of Satan watching and ruling over the two beasts of this chapter (Rev 13:11). In other words, everything regarding these two beasts originate with him, and is orchestrated by him.
Right away we see that this beast that comes up out of the “sea,” distinguishes itself from the beast that comes up out of the “abyss” in chapter 17 (Rev 17:8), which is associated with the “abyss” of Rev 9:11, Rev 11:7, Rev 20:1-3, which all directly relate to Satan and the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3, 8-9). That beast, in the form of the “eighth king” will surface shortly before the return of Christ, toward the end of the Church age.
Both the sea-beast (ch 13) and the abyss-beast (ch 17) are part of the same seventh world empire. The period of the sea-beast extends throughout the whole Church age, but will be ruled by the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11) at the end of it. I believe this king is the “man of sin” (world ruler). The abyss-beast is characterized by this human ruler, and his reign will be of short duration, which occurs at the end of the Church age, when this “eighth king” rises to power. The sea-beast of this chapter is characterized by the “seventh king,” who is Satan himself, and rules without a human king until the eighth king rises to power—for Jesus Himself revealed that Satan is the ruler of this world (Jn 12:31; Jn 14:30).
It’s important to understand that there is a gap or an interval between the sixth world ruler and the eighth and final world ruler (Rev 17:8-11). During this interval, the ruler of this current seventh world empire (Church-age beast) is in a different form than the rulers of the previous six and the final eighth. Satan himself rules over the seventh empire, which is what we’re in now (Church age), which is the kingdom of darkness (“spirit of antichrist”). Satan rules directly as its king. The eighth king of this seventh empire will be of the same human form as the rulers of the first six empires. He will rise to power at the end of the Church age.
To be clear, the first six empires were ruled by human kings. The seventh empire (Church age) is ruled by Satan himself, up until the end of this empire when the world is once again ruled by a human king—the “eight king” (Rev 17:11), whom I believe to the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
While both Rev 13 and Rev 17 deal with the seventh world empire, chapter 13 is focused on the entire Church age, while chapter 17 is focused on the end of this empire (when the eighth king arises) when it’s destroyed by Jesus at His return (Rev 17:14).
(We’ll deal more with “abyss-beast” when we get to chapter 17)
“ten horns and seven heads”
This is definitely associated with Satan, as Rev 12:3 informs us. Of this, there is no doubt.
This “seven-headed” beast represents world dominion, which is carried out via seven different world empires in seven different time periods. Each head is a world empire. These are seven world empires or kingdoms (Rev 17:9-10). In John’s day, they were in the period of the sixth empire, which was Rome. We’re now living in the period of the seventh empire, which covers the whole Church era. The seventh empire is a Church-age empire. That’s what this chapter is about.
NET – “ten diadem crowns”
NET Notes “sn Diadem crowns were a type of crown used as a symbol of the highest ruling authority in a given area, and thus often associated with kingship.”
These “ten horns” represent a confederation of nations that will arise just before the return of Christ (Rev 17:12-17). They’re directly associated with the “abyss-beast” of Rev 17. They will align themselves with the “eight king” (Rev 17:11), whom is the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This confederation is not in view in this chapter (13). We will go into detail about this when we get to chapter 17.
(Rev 13:2) – 2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.
First, it’s important to understand that this “beast” is not a he, not a person, but a world power, an empire, a kingdom—or rather, a combination of empires. This beast is represented by seven kingdoms, but obviously ruled by kings. At different times in history, this beast has been represented by one particular kingdom (empire), one at a time.
“leopard, bear, lion”
This obviously has Daniel 7:4-7 in view. The four beasts of Daniel 7 are applied to the beast of this chapter as one beast, instead of four. A common understanding is that the beast of this chapter (Rev 13) is a composite of the evil and dreadful characteristics of those four beasts, which were these empires:
Lion – Babylon
Bear – Medo-Persia
Leopard – Greece
Fourth beast – Rome
Note that John only saw the first three beasts in Daniel’s vision. The reason is probably because John was living in the days of the fourth beast, which, of course, was the Roman Empire (sixth world empire). Once the Roman Empire fell, the seventh empire became a composite of all four of those beasts—which is what we’re in now as the Church-age beast.
Significant point: It’s important to understand that at the time of John’s revelation/writing, this sea-beast was in transition from the sixth world empire (Rome) to the seventh world empire (kingdom of darkness), which came into existence once Rome fell. It’s the seventh world empire that is in view in this chapter, and it’s that empire that rules over the world now and throughout the Church age.
Since this is a seven-headed beast, we need to identify all of the world empires that this beast represents:
Seventh: Kingdom of darkness (ruled by Satan)
Each of the first six empires were ruled by several kings. However, as Rev 17:10 informs us, each kingdom (empire) is identified by a singular “king.” In other words, all the kings of each kingdom are combined into one, and are viewed as one king reigning over each kingdom. Think of it as one office, filled by several different leaders.
We’re in the period of the seventh kingdom now. The “man of sin” will rise to power at the end of this kingdom as the “eighth king,” and will rule in the likeness of the kings of the first six empires, ruling as a human king over the world.
To summarize, in the seventh world empire (now, Church age), there are two kings: Satan, who is the seventh king, and the “man of sin,” who is the eighth king (Rev 17:10-11)—who arises at the end of this empire. Satan will indwell and fully empower this eighth king.
In regard to the first six world empires, history tells who those rulers were. In regard to the seventh empire, we’re not told who those rulers (two kings) are, but is something we have to figure out by comparing scripture with scripture. Revelation 17:10-11 refers to the seventh and eighth kings of this empire. While the seventh king is not named, by comparing scripture with scripture, we’re able to confidently identify this king as Satan. I provide a sound basis for this later.
In regard to the identity of the eighth king, again we have to compare scripture with scripture (Rev 11:7; Rev 20:1-3; 2 Th 2:3, 8-9). I believe 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 provides solid evidence that the “man of sin” is the eighth king.
(I deal with that passage in 2 Thessalonians in my commentary on Rev 9:2).
“the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.”
This sea-beast (kingdom of darkness) receives its “power” and “throne” and “great authority” from Satan, who is himself, its king. This is his kingdom, through which he deceives the world. He does this through anti-Christian or non-Christian government, false religion, worldly philosophies, worldly values, worldly pleasures, etc.—in general, all the anti-Christian ways of the world (see “image” vs. 14). What’s in view here is the kingdom of darkness against the kingdom of light, which is what we see throughout the book of Revelation. This book is about the conflict between these two kingdoms.
At this point, I need to make the case that the Church-age beast of this chapter (seventh kingdom) is the kingdom of darkness, or the “spirit of antichrist” (1 Jn 4:3):
Making My Case
Kingdom of Darkness:
What is this kingdom of darkness? This is the spiritual domain or realm of Satan who rules this ungodly world. It’s the realm that we’re all in before we come to faith in Christ:
(Col 1:13) – 13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.
(Acts 26:18) – 18 to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me.
(2 Cor 4:3-4) – 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: 4 in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.
(1 Jn 3:10) – 10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
(1 Jn 5:19) – 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (NET)
With everything we’ve discussed in this chapter so far, and with the above verses in mind, I think the identification of the beast of this chapter (13) is already quite clear. But there are other reasons why I believe the beast of this chapter is the kingdom of darkness, which opposes Christ and His truth. I outline those reasons below:
1. Ephesians 6:12:
(Eph 6:12) – 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. (NET)
Both Christians and non-Christians alike are involved in spiritual warfare. However, Christians are members of the Kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13) and protected by the “armour of God” (Eph 6:13), while unbelievers are totally under the influence of the rulers of darkness and have no protection. Unbelievers are still members of the kingdom of darkness (domain of darkness), ruled by the “god of this world” and his demonic army (2 Cor 4:4). As the “god of this world,” Satan is the ruler of this world, who rules over the secular governments (anti or non-Christian) and false religions and philosophies and values of the world—indeed, the whole world system, which is in opposition to Christ and His truth.
2. The whole tenor of the book of Revelation is about the conflict between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan, from beginning to end. In Revelation 11 we see that when Christ returns, He defeats the kingdom of the world as we enter into the eternal Kingdom of God (Rev 11:15). The kingdom of the world is totally under the dominion of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), which is the express image (Rev 13:14) of the kingdom of darkness.
3. Spirit of the antichrist — Perhaps the most convincing evidence for our position, comes from the Apostle John himself, who wrote both the book of Revelation and 1 John, where he, himself, provides the proper interpretation for who this sea-beast (seventh world empire) is:
(1 John 2:18) – 18 Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. (NET)
(1 John 4:2-3) – 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that refuses to confess Jesus, that spirit is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world. (NET)
(also 1 Jn 2:22; 2 Jn 1:7)
John informs us that “the antichrist is coming.” I believe this refers specifically to the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11), whom I also believe to be the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3). This final king, this final world ruler, will arise at the end of the Church age, just prior to the return of Christ.
Note that John associates antichrist with the “last hour.” This must be understood as figurative language to refer to the Church age, since he also says that “many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour.” We still have antichrists in the world today, so we know that we’re still in the “last hour,” the Church age.
John also indicates that while antichrist himself is not in the world yet, the “spirit of antichrist” is. All that opposes Christ is in the world today. There is a spirit of antichrist that permeates the entire world. The whole world system stands in opposition to Christ and His truth.
The spirit of antichrist rules over the world now, which equates to the kingdom of darkness (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13; 1 Jn 5:19; Eph 6:11-12). The two are one and the same. This spirit of antichrist rules throughout the Church age, while the human antichrist will rise to power as the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11), who is the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3). He will probably rise to power several years before Jesus returns, as he’s gathering the world against the people of Christ (Rev 20:7-10; Rev 16:12-16; Rev 11:7). A worldwide assault against God’s people will not happen overnight. It will take many years for that to develop. How many years, we have no way of knowing.
Putting it all together, that this seven-headed beast (Church-age beast) is the kingdom of darkness, seems all too clear to be anything else. No other interpretation fits so perfectly in this chapter or throughout this book. This will become more and more clear as we continue through the remainder of Revelation.
(Rev 13:3) – 3 And I saw one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed: and the whole earth wondered after the beast;
NET – 3 One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement;
10 tn Grk “killed to death,” an expression emphatic in its redundancy. The phrase behind this translation is ὡς ἐσφαγμένον (Jw” ejsfagmenon). The particle ὡς is used in Greek generally for comparison, and in Revelation it is used often to describe the appearance of what the author saw. In this instance, the appearance of the beast’s head did not match reality, because the next phrase shows that in fact it did not die. This text does not affirm that the beast died and was resurrected, but some draw this conclusion because of the only other use of the phrase, which refers to Jesus in 5:6.
This verse refers to the fall of the Roman Empire:
“In 476 C.E. Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, was overthrown by the Germanic leader Odoacer, who became the first Barbarian to rule in Rome. The order that the Roman Empire had brought to western Europe for 1000 years was no more.” (http://www.ushistory.org/civ/6f.asp)
The “head” (sixth) that appeared to have been killed was Rome. It appeared to have been killed because the Roman Empire fell. To understand what’s going on here, this beast, the beast of this chapter, has to be viewed as the Church-age beast. This beast has two heads (empires) during this time: the sixth (Roman Empire, time of John) and the seventh (kingdom of darkness, our time). Thus when Rome fell (“appeared to have been killed”), this beast continued to live in the form of the seventh head or empire. In other words, it transitioned from one form to another, since both empires are part of the same Church-age beast. It didn’t really die, it just transformed into a different type of kingdom.
So to be clear, this Church-age beast consists of both the sixth and seventh head (empires). Once Rome fell, it continued on as the seventh empire, which is what we have throughout the whole Church age—keeping in mind that this seventh empire has two kings: Satan, who rules as the seventh king (over the kingdom of darkness) until the rise of the eighth king (at the end of the Church age), who rules as a human king in the likeness of the kings of the first six empires.
(Rev 13:4) – 4 and they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? and who is able to war with him?
We have to keep in mind that this chapter is the seventh head (empire, kingdom), which is the kingdom of darkness. Everything in this chapter (and book) should be interpreted with that in mind. In other words, everything in this chapter should be viewed post Roman empire (sixth empire).
Though it’s true of some, most do not worship Satan directly—that is, on purpose. Therefore, this verse should not be interpreted like that. Most people of the world worship the devil indirectly. They worship him by giving their hearts and lives to those things that are associated with him and his kingdom: false religion, philosophies of the world, materialism, sinful pleasures, self-glorification, power and prestige, hatred toward Christians and what we stand for, etc. All of these things describe this beast—the kingdom of darkness. They worship the beast the same way they worship Satan, by giving themselves to the things of this kingdom, which is ruled by Satan. Everyone belongs to Satan and his kingdom before they come to faith in Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13; 2 Cor 4:3-4; 1 Jn 3:8-10).
Therefore, this chapter (and throughout this book) depicts the spiritual warfare between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan.
“who like the beast, and who is able to make war with him”
This describes the worldwide dominance of this beast. Who can fight against this kingdom of darkness? Certainly not those who belong to this kingdom. Christians belong to the Kingdom of light, and we are the only ones who stand in opposition to it. Thus we do not have this same sense of awe toward the beast that the rest of the world has. We have the truth. We serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Thus we know Who is able to “make war with him.” We have to keep in mind that, although ruled by the ruler (king) of darkness (Satan), this beast, technically, is not a person, but an empire.
However, as Rev 17:8-11 seems to make clear, once the “eight king” arises, then this king will be regarded as the beast himself, although still part of the seventh empire. That’s because he will be the physical and outward and human manifestation of this beast. This king will be the full embodiment of the seven heads of this beast, as well as Satan himself. He will be indwelt by and completely controlled by Satan. Thus he will be the full human embodiment of Satan. Thus he will be a ruler unlike any other ruler the world has ever seen. With that understanding, the eighth king (man of sin) will be regarded as the beast itself. In other words, the Church-age beast will be characterized by this eighth king during this time—time of the end.
(Rev 13:5) – 5 and there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months.
Everything this beast stands for is in opposition to Christ and the Christian faith, which is the only truth in the world. All the voices of false religion, anti-Christian philosophies, anti-Christian government, worldly values, sinful pleasures, etc., speak “blasphemies” against God.
“forty two months”
(See commentary on Rev 11:2; 12:14)
This is the equivalent of 1260 days and 3.5 years, and is symbolic for the entire Christian era, from the first coming of Christ to His second.
(Rev 13:6) – 6 And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven.
NET – 6 So the beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God – to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven.
The blasphemy of this beast, of course, is directed against God and His holy “name.” It’s also directed against “His dwelling place,” where Jesus sits enthroned as the true King, where the angels serve God, and where His glorified saints will dwell in His presence forever and ever. Even now, believers are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3; Col 3:3). Thus this blasphemy is against Christ and His people and everything that relates to the Christian faith, which is the only truth in this world of sin, lies, and deception.
It’s also important to note that Christ’s Church is the “dwelling place” of the Holy Spirit. So again, this beast hates the Church, which belongs to Christ and is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Trinity are in view.
(Rev 13:7) – 7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.
“to make war with the saints”
This beast is the kingdom of darkness – the spirit of antichrist – ruled by Satan as its king. Therefore, spiritually, this kingdom has no power over us who belong to Christ. That’s not what this verse is referring to. What’s in view here is Christian persecution from the world, incited by Satan and his kingdom. Persecution against Christians has always been widespread and severe throughout Church history (whole Church age), and that is what we see in this verse. However, this worldwide authority doesn’t allow this beast to make war with all the saints. That won’t happen until we get close to the return of Christ, where there will be a worldwide assault against the followers of Christ—known as the “War of Armageddon” (see commentary on Rev 11:7). This “war” will be led by the eighth king, the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:1-12).
“authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation”
Realistically, what could possibly have authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation?” The kingdom of darkness is the only thing that touches every living soul in the world. No other interpretation has such worldwide influence as the domain of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), as the next verse confirms. It’s only until we come to faith in Christ that we escape this dark and evil kingdom (Col 1:13; Acts 26:18).
(Rev 13:8) – 8 And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, everyone whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.
NET – 8 and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.
“Everyone” whose name has not been written in the Lamb’s “book of life” since the foundation of the world, will worship the beast. In other words, everyone except those who follow the “Lamb” (Christ). All the unsaved of the world follow the ways of the beast, the ways of darkness.
There’s only one interpretation for the identity of this beast that can possibly fit this all-encompassing description, and that’s the kingdom of darkness. It almost seems obvious that the identity of this beast is that kingdom (empire). It’s the domain of darkness that is against Christ and His followers. This whole chapter describes an enemy that is against Christians, and Christians alone. There shouldn’t be any doubt that the beast of the Church age is the kingdom of darkness, the spirit of the antichrist, which stands in opposition to the kingdom of light, the Kingdom of Christ. The whole book of Revelation depicts this ongoing spiritual warfare between these two kingdoms.
(Rev 13:9) – 9 If any man hath an ear, let him hear.
Both Christians and non-Christians alike, who may be hearing this or reading this, need to listen to what’s being said here. Unbelievers need to take warning and turn to Christ as Lord and Savior, or face the eternal consequences. And believers need to be prepared to suffer for Christ, knowing the glorious eternal rewards that we have to look forward to:
(Rev 13:10) – 10 If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
NET – 10 If anyone is meant for captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed by the sword, then by the sword he must be killed. This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints.
“if any man shall kill with the sword” (ASV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV)
“If anyone is to be killed by the sword” (NET, ESV, LEB, NIV, CSB)
NET Notes provide a long discussion about these two renderings, and why “if anyone is to be killed by the sword” is favored over the other—which is something you can read yourself, if so inclined.
This verse is a continuation of thought from verse 9. Christians are to be fully prepared for what may come our way—whether it be “captivity” (imprisonment) or “the sword” (death) for our allegiance to Christ. We’re to “endure” and remain strong in our “faith,” knowing that the persecutions and trials of this life are only temporary, and that we have the glories of Heaven to look forward to. We must always live with eternity in view.
Land-Beast — Rulers of Darkness:
(Rev 13:11) – 11 And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
YLT – 11 And I saw another beast coming up out of the land, and it had two horns, like a lamb, and it was speaking as a dragon,
“earth” – (land, ground)
Unlike the sea-beast, this “land-beast” is not a kingdom. Rather, it’s the demonic sub-rulers of the kingdom of darkness — that is, demons that rule in that kingdom on behalf of Satan (Eph 6:12). The sea-beast is the kingdom of darkness—ruled by Satan—and this land-beast refers to the sub-rulers of that kingdom. Even more specifically, I believe what’s in view here with this beast is the actual demonic activity of the kingdom of darkness.
So we see that both the sea-beast and the land-beast refer to the kingdom of darkness—with Satan as the ruling authority of that kingdom (sea-beast), and his demonic army as the sub-rulers of that kingdom (land-beast)—which focuses on their activity within that kingdom. It must be understood that Satan is not omnipresent, so he can only be in one place at any moment of time. He cannot work alone to accomplish his evil purposes. Therefore, he has to have an army of demonic soldiers around the world who work on his behalf, under his rule (Eph 6:10-12,16).
We see that this beast is being compared to a “lamb,” probably with Christ is view. A lamb is gentle, like Jesus is gentle. While there is nothing gentle about those who rule the kingdom of darkness, they do present themselves as such (2 Cor 11:14). That’s all part of the deception. Satan is the great deceiver of this world, and so he and his demonic beings make themselves and their kingdom look attractive and appealing. That’s how they lure people in, and away from the truth that is in Christ, who is Himself the truth (Jn 14:6).
As for the “two horns,” like the horns of the first beast, they probably represent power and authority. Just as Christ – the Lamb of God – exercises power and authority over His kingdom, so does Satan and his demonic legions exercise power and authority over their kingdom. The obvious difference is, Jesus is all-powerful, and His kingdom is a kingdom of light. This beast is limited in power and rules a kingdom that is total darkness.
“he spake as a dragon”
He “spoke” as a dragon, because as Satan is, so are demons. They’re all the same type of being, which are fallen angels. Furthermore, they speak on behalf of Satan, who is their General. They carry out his bidding.
This beast is referred to by John as the “False Prophet” (Rev 19:20; Rev 16:13; Rev 20:10). The reason this name is given is because a false prophet speaks nothing but lies. They deceive with their words. Everything they speak is against the truth. Everything they speak is contrary to the Christian message.
Therefore, all combined, these demonic rulers are seen as a single false prophet. The world is full of false prophets and false religions and false belief systems, but they all originate with the rulers of darkness. They all speak as one voice against the truth. Thus all the false teachings (“spoke”) of the world come out of the mouth of this false prophet—figuratively speaking.
To interpret this false prophet as a particular person (like the Pope, for example) is far too limiting. It falls far short of who this prophet actually is and what it represents. We have to consider the greater message of this chapter, and of this book. If we don’t consider the symbolism and figurative language that characterizes the book of Revelation, we will come to wrong conclusions (interpretations).
(Rev 13:12) – 12 And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.
This beast (false prophet) “exercises all the authority of the first beast,” because the two beasts are essentially one and the same. These demonic rulers (false prophet) are the kingdom of darkness. The rulers of the kingdom of darkness point the people of the world to the kingdom of darkness. In other words, they lead the world in all the ways of darkness—all that stand against the light and truth of Christ.
“And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast”
(also see verse 4)
This is figurative language. As indicated above, this means that this false prophet (demonic rulers) leads the people of the world away from the truth through the false religions and false belief systems of the world. It means that the people of the world, worship the beast (kingdom of darkness) through the false beliefs they embrace.
“whose death-stroke was healed”
(see verse 3)
(Rev 13:13) – 13 And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword and lived.
NET – 14 and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived.
“great signs” (Rev 19:20)
Again, I believe this refers to the demonic activity of the world, in general. However, within this general arena, there’s also all the strange phenomena of the world. The “fire coming down out of heaven upon earth” is likely figurative language to describe this phenomena. For examples of strange phenomena, just google “strange phenomena.” When you read about some of these things, it’s easy to see the “great signs” of this beast in them. And by these things, they “deceive” the world.
“He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived.”
When we consider the kingdom of darkness and its world-wide dominion, I believe the “image” of the beast (kingdom of darkness) has to be the kingdom of the world (Rev 11:15), since the kingdom of the world is a reflection of the kingdom of darkness. In other words, the kingdom of darkness casts its “image” upon the world (Eph 2:1-2). It makes perfect sense.
The “image” of the beast is also to be understood as the “great harlot” and “Babylon the Great” of chapters 17 and 18 — which includes false religion, but not limited to it. It’s the whole world and its system that is in view. The Apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation, understood this world system well as he describes in 1 John:
NET – (1 John 2:15-17) – 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
When we read the above passage from 1 John in the context of that whole chapter (please read 1 Jn 2), it helps to confirm that our interpretation of who the sea-beast and land-beast are, is the correct one—keeping in mind that John is the author of both 1 John and Revelation.
This land-beast doesn’t literally “tell” the people of the world to make an image. The wording is figurative language for deception. It’s the people of the world that make the world and it’s system what it is—as it’s being incited (“told”) by the rulers of darkness (beast, false prophet).
(Rev 13:15) – 15 And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the breast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
The rulers of darkness (false prophet) gives breath to the “image of the beast” (kingdom of the world), in the sense that they’re the ones who gives life to all the evil ways of the world. They’re the originators of it all, while using the sinfulness of humanity as vehicles. Or rather, taking advantage of the sinfulness of humanity, who are easily influenced by evil and falsehood. They’re behind it all, in all its deceptions. They form it and fashion it as they will (within the limits God allows), all for the purpose of deceiving the world in order to keep people from coming to faith in Christ. Their goal is to keep as many in their kingdom as possible. The image “speaks” through the false religions and philosophies and values and ways of the world. The whole world system is the “spirit of antichrist.
“that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.”
Those who do not “worship the image of the beast,” that is, those who do not follow the ways of the world, are marked people. Christians stand apart from all the rest. The world hates Christians, and they go after us with great fury. Even America – with our Christian roots – is becoming more and more anti-Christian. We’re being persecuted all over the world, and this book of Revelation indicates that it will get worse and worse—as we’re clearly seeing in the world today. The people of the world “kill” us with their words of hate, contempt, and ridicule. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are literally being tortured and killed. This will all eventually lead to an all-out assault against Christians worldwide prior to the return of Christ, which is the “War of Armageddon” (see commentary on Rev 11:7; Rev 16:16).
(Rev 13:16) – 16 And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead;
This refers to “all” unbelievers—those who belong to the kingdom of darkness.
This beast (false prophet) does not literally “cause” a mark to be placed on unbelievers. This is simply figurative language to depict the association between unbelievers and the kingdom of darkness. In other words, unbelievers are “marked” people, as those associated with the kingdom of darkness. This mark is symbolic, which is used to identify unbelievers with that kingdom.
“mark” (“mark of the beast” verses 16:2; 19:20; 20:4)
Again, this is not a literal, physical mark that is placed on the body. This mark is merely symbolic. It represents those who belong to the kingdom of darkness. It’s an invisible identification that only God can see. That this mark is a symbol of identification is confirmed in the very first verse in the very next chapter:
NET – (Rev 14:1) – 1 Then I looked, and here was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand, who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
(also Rev 7:3-4)
Therefore, this “mark of the beast” is a symbolic identification of those who belong to the kingdom of darkness, just as believers are symbolically marked with the name of the Father and of the Lamb. As followers of Christ, we don’t walk around with a physical and visible mark on our foreheads. It’s simply symbolic of who we belong to. The same is true of those who have the “mark of the beast.” It’s a symbolic mark of identification of who they belong to. Both believers and unbelievers are marked (identified) by God.
“right hand, or upon their forehead”
Again, this is no more literal than the mark (name) on their “forehead.” Mention of the “hand” might be a reference to what unbelievers do. Mention of the “forehead” might be a reference to the mind, what unbelievers think. What we think and what we do is all-encompassing. It’s through these that unbelievers reveal who they are. It’s also through these that believers reveal who we are.
(Rev 13:17) – 17 and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.
NET – 17 Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast – that is, his name or his number.
“buy or sell”
Again, not to be taken literally. In harmony with the flow, I believe this is figurative language used to describe the exchange or the sharing of worldly beliefs, philosophies, values, priorities, ideas, etc. Another way of stating this would be:
“that no one would be able to participate (buy) in the ways of the world, and in turn, share (sell) them with others unless they had the mark of the beast (shared identification as unbelievers)”
It makes perfect sense that only those who belong to the kingdom of darkness (kingdom of the world), would be able to share the same belief system. Thus what’s being depicted here is a shared belief system among unbelievers. The teachings of Christianity is diametrically opposed to the teachings and ways of the world, and thus Christians would not be included among those who participate in the “buying or selling” (sharing) of the ways of the world. This entire chapter (entire book) describes the whole world and its system in opposition to the followers of Christ and His teachings.
“mark of the beast”
Symbolic identification of those who belong to the kingdom of darkness (vs. 16).
The kingdom of darkness is not a world empire without a ruler. Therefore, the mention of a name makes this personal, and refers to the ruling authority of this kingdom, which is Satan. He goes by many names: Great red dragon, old serpent, Satan, devil, deceiver of the world, roaring lion (Rev 12:3,9; 1 Pet 5:8). Thus those who bear the “name” of the beast, are identified with Satan as belonging to him and his kingdom, as his children (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13; 1 Jn 3:10).
See next verse:
(Rev 13:18) – 18 Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six.
NET – 18 This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666.
“this calls for wisdom”
Wisdom tells me that people make too much of this number. People go into all kinds of theories about its meaning. But I believe it’s much simpler than what most people think.
“the number of a man”
“man’s number” (NET)
This is the number of mankind or humanity. In other words, this number does not refer to a certain individual. It refers to humanity as a whole. However, in the end, just prior to the return of Christ, the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11 (“man of sin” – 2 Th 2:3) will arise to rule the world for a brief period of time. As I’ve already talked about, this end time king is viewed as “the beast” himself in Rev 17:11. Therefore, at that time, he will fully embody all the sin and evil that humanity represents, for he will be fully indwelt and controlled by Satan himself.
As a reminder, this chapter (13) is focused on the Church-age beast of the seventh empire, whereas Rev 17 is focused on the beast (eighth king) that arises at the end of the Church age, which is still part of the seventh empire. This distinction must be kept in mind.
While there’s no doubt that this number refers to Satan and his kingdom, it’s through humanity that he carries out his evil schemes. Whether it’s through those who lead countries or through those who lead false religions, it’s sinful man that represents the kingdom of darkness as the “image of the beast ” (kingdom of the world). The world is ruled by humanity. Thus the beast is represented in the world by those who belong to him.
I believe this is mentioned in order to get us focused on the ways of man or people. In order for us to identify those who have the “mark of the beast,” all we have to do is listen to their words and observe their lives. Those who belong to the kingdom of darkness are normally easy to identify. Likewise, those who belong to the kingdom of light are also normally easy to identify. We’re talking about fruit here—the fruit of salvation. The good fruit that identifies us with Christ and His kingdom is in clear contrast to the rotten fruit of those who belong to Satan and his kingdom.
If our lives as Christians do not clearly identify us (mark us) with Christ (Gal 6:17), then there’s something wrong. This chapter draws a clear line of distinction between believers and unbelievers. Our lives should clearly reveal who we belong to. Those who are “marked” or identified by the “name” of the beast (kingdom of darkness, Satan), are normally clearly seen. So should our lives as believers be clearly seen as belonging to Jesus. Our lives should clearly be identified (marked) with Christ and His name.
Considering all the seven’s in this book, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the number six here is assigned to this beast, since the number seven is assigned to Christ and His Church. Six is less than seven. It falls short of God’s glory. Accordingly, I think it’s likely that the number six represents the inferior and evil character of Satan and his kingdom. I believe the mention of the number three times is for one of two reasons, or both:
One, stated three times could be merely an emphatic expression. Stating it three times, forcefully makes the point about its meaning.
Two, the triple mention of the number six represents something specific from the other: 6 = sea-beast (kingdom of darkness, Satan); 6 = land-beast (demonic beings, False Prophet); 6 = image (kingdom of the world). Yet, together they are one number: the number 666.
I believe it’s both.