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Who is the Beast of Revelation?

(Daniel 7, Revelation 13, 17 and 19)

In Revelation 13, we see a terrible beast rising out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns. This beast receives worship, blasphemes God and wages war against the saints of the Lamb for 42 months. Who is this beast? And is the beast of Revelation past, present or in our near future?

In this lesson, we’ll wrestle with questions like, “Who is the beast of Revelation?”, “When will the beast of Revelation war against the saints?” and “What does the number of the beast, 666, mean?”

Our answers begin in Daniel 7.

TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS LESSON

  • Understand John’s beast of Revelation through the lens of Daniel 7
  • Identify the fourth beast of Daniel 7
  • Identify the beast of Revelation

 


In any modern Bible study on the last days, a common practice for understanding the dark, end-times enemy known as the Antichrist is to mix together Paul’s man of lawlessness, John’s antichrists (plural), and John’s beast of Revelation 13, while sprinkling in a dash of Daniel’s 70th week for flavor. The result? A tyrannical dictator the likes this world has never seen. But is this apocalyptic amalgamation biblical?

Who is the Beast of Revelation?

To determine who John’s beast of Revelation is, we need to look back to the prophet Daniel; he saw the same beast about 600 years before John!

In Daniel 7, while in his Babylonian captivity (“During the first year of king Belshazzar’s reign,” around 556 BC), the prophet Daniel dreams of four great beasts emerging from the sea. In verse 17, an angel interprets the dream for Daniel; these four beasts represent four kings and their kingdoms. Since the Jews likened their nation to the earth (having been separated from the sea) and their patriarchal priesthood their guiding lights (think sun, moon and stars), kings and kingdoms rising from the sea indicates these are Gentile kingdoms.

Let’s compare what these beasts have in common. Both Daniel 7’s beasts and John’s beast of Revelation:

  1. Rise from the sea (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 13:1)
  2. Follow after (or are composed of) lion, bear and leopard imagery (Daniel 7:4-6; Revelation 13:2)
  3. Have seven heads (Daniel’s beasts total seven heads; John’s solitary beast also has seven, Revelation 13:1, 17:3,9)
  4. Have ten horns (Daniel 7:7,24; Revelation 13:1, 17:3,7,12)
  5. Represent great kingdoms who rule over the earth (Daniel 7:17,23; Revelation 13:7-8, 17:18)
  6. From among these kings, one will arise who will speak great things and utter blasphemies against God, heaven and the saints (Daniel 7:8,11,20,25; Revelation 13:1,5-6, 17:3)
  7. Receive authority over the saints for 42 months (3½ years; time, times and half a time) (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5. Turns out this authority comes from the dragon, Satan, per Revelation 13:2,5.)
  8. Make war with the saints and overcome them (Daniel 7:21,25; Revelation 11:7, 12:11, 13:7,15, 17:14, 20:4)
  9. Are cut off by the coming of the Lord (Daniel 7:22; Revelation 17:14, 19:20-21)
  10. Are destroyed by fire (Daniel 7:11; Revelation 17:8, 19:19-20)

As if all this wasn’t enough to prove we’re talking about the same beast, there is yet another vital connection between Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation:

  1. Upon both beasts’ defeat at the coming of the Lord, the saints receive the kingdom, as seen in Daniel 7:18,22,27 and Revelation 20:4.

 

Daniel 7’s Timeline

Clearly, Daniel 7’s beasts and John’s beast of Revelation are one and the same. And, family, if these visions reflect the same beast, they must also reflect the same time period!

  1. The first beast, a lion with eagles’ wings, represents Daniel’s current kingdom, Babylon (v4).
  2. The second beast appears as a bear carrying three ribs in its mouth, representing Medo-Persia under Cyrus and its conquered kingdoms of Lydia, Babylon and Egypt (v5, cf. 8:20).
  3. The third beast, a winged leopard with four heads, is an image of Greece under Alexander the Great and the four generals who divided the kingdom after his death: Cassander, Lysimachus (lie-simi-cus), Seleucus and Ptolemy (v6, cf. 8:21-22).
  4. But the fourth beast of iron teeth tramples and consumes the rest. It has ten horns, speaks blasphemies against God, wars with the saints and prevails over them (v7-8,11-12,20-21). We know from history, the kingdom of iron that supplanted Greece and warred against the saints was the Roman Empire.

Notice: The main difference between the beasts of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation is Daniel’s incremental view versus John’s aggregated view. It’s like Daniel is seeing John’s mountain from a summit several mountains away. Daniel shares his place in history with the early timing of these beasts; he sees their present and future succession. At the time of John’s vision, however, these beasts have all amounted to the final, terrible beast of John’s day: the Roman Empire.

Alternative Theory: The Fourth Beast is Greece

Some Bible scholars try to make the case for a slightly different kingdom sequence in Daniel 7, where the first beast is Babylon, the second beast, Media; the third, Medo-Persia; and the fourth, Greece. With Greece as the beast, the “little horn” becomes Antiochus the Great, who fathers Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who then oppresses Old Testament Israel for over three years, between 168 and 165 BC (think “time, times and half a time,” 7:25), instigating the Maccabean Revolt. While this theory is compelling—and while I believe Daniel 8 is definitely about Greece and Antiochus IV—I think the fourth-beast-is-Greece idea has a couple fatal flaws:

Objections to this view: In its timeline, Daniel 7 includes events that happen during the time of the fourth kingdom:

The saints will be given the kingdom of God (v27); First, the inauguration of the kingdom of God by the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) did not occur during the Grecian empire but during the Roman Empire, as plainly seen in the New Testament. Both Daniel 7 (and 9, specifically Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy) place this inauguration during the fourth kingdom and—since we know Jesus walked the Roman Empire, not the Grecian—the fourth kingdom has to be Rome.

The beast receives authority for 42 months, makes war with the saints and overcomes them (v21,25); Second, since Daniel’s beasts and John’s beast of Revelation are clearly one and the same—and since this beast wages war against the saints of the “Lamb who had been slaughtered” (Revelation 13:7-8, 17:14, 19:19)—Daniel’s fourth beast cannot be Greece (conquered by Rome in 146 BC) and “saints” cannot refer to the nation of Israel. This beast must be pagan, first-century Rome who both presided over the Messiah’s crucifixion and persecuted New Testament believers under Nero. The Lamb was not slaughtered during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, so the saints of the Lamb did not yet exist, therefore Daniel 7’s fourth kingdom cannot be Greece; all roads lead to Rome.

As Seen Through the Smoke of the Abyss

Though Daniel’s fourth beast and its place in Daniel 7’s timeline is an essential key to understanding John’s beast, we still haven’t fully arrived. Before we can completely identify the beast of Revelation, we need to learn how to see the beast. In Revelation 11:7, as in several other places across Revelation, John describes the beast as one “that rises from the bottomless pit.” (cf. Revelation 9:11, 17:8, 20:1,3.) In doing so, the apostle pulls back the material to show us the ethereal. When we see the beast rise up from the abyss (a.k.a. bottomless pit), we gain important insight; we may not only be seeing a beastly nation or its human kings. Indeed, Revelation 12:3 shows us who is truly behind the beast:

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems (crowns).

This dragon’s seven heads and ten horns mirror the seven heads and ten horns of Revelation 13’s beast as it rises out of the sea in the dragon’s presence. As Adam and Eve were the imago dei—the image of God—so too, the beast is made after the dragon’s image. If there was any doubt as to the identity of this dragon, John spells it out for us in Revelation 12:9:

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world. He was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.

Though we see with our natural eyes Revelation’s flesh and blood expression of a reprobate human nation that wars against God, the Lamb and His saints, here John points to this nation’s spiritual propulsion. Ephesians’ reference to Satan as prince (2:2) should remind us of Daniel’s references to angelic princes, glimpsed in Daniel 7, 9 and 12 but probably best seen in the angel’s address to Daniel in chapter 10. Our kings may be human kings, or they may represent angelic rulers:

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.(Daniel 10:13)

In Daniel 10:20-21, we see these singular princes actually represent whole “forces”; these princes are certainly individual angelic rulers, but they are also metonymies (representatives) for the larger body of fallen angels who support them:

20 Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am leaving, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. 21 However, I will tell you what is recorded in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince. (Michael, the prince of faithful Israel, is seen again in Daniel 12:1.)

And history confirms it: The earthly kingdom of Medo-Persia was replaced by Greece. Daniel is giving us a glimpse of an ongoing spiritual war on earth! Ephesians 6:12 reminds us,

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Finally, Colossians 2:15:

“When He [God] had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Jesus].” (Some translations say “through the cross.”)

John shows us this war eventually expanded into heaven, per Revelation 12:7-8:

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.

Let’s pause: Is the kingdom of God an earthly kingdom or a spiritual one? The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, not of this world, per Jesus’ words to Pilate in John 18:36, where:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

(See also Romans 14:17, where we are taught the kingdom of God is “not eating and drinking but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”)

Just as we recognize the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom the saints now possess, we also recognize these kings who rise from the earth may be the earthly representatives of those spiritual powers—or these may be references to the angelic princes (“kings”) themselves. Just as Daniel’s “princes” speak to fallen heavenly rulers driving the human nations of Medo-Persia and Greece, John’s beast and its kings may portray the same for the Roman Empire.

Grasping this “ethereal-behind-material” concept is vital to understanding what we’re seeing as we move through the book of Revelation. To sum it all up, anytime we cross “beast of Revelation” imagery, we’ll need to determine if it is referring to:

  1. A reprobate human nation,
  2. The earthly ruler of that human nation, or
  3. The fallen angelic princes (horns, kings) driving that nation.

For example, when in Revelation 17:8, we see the beast “that was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into destruction” we are seeing the spiritual, angelic image. No man ascends out of the bottomless pit; this is the domain of fallen angels.

Remember: The name of the final book of the New Testament is “Apokalypsis” in the Greek, or “Revelation” in English, meaning “unveiling.” This unveiling refers not just to future events (though that’s how we usually think of it), but also the revealing of the spiritual realities behind those events.

A word on metonymies; Finally, we’ll need to keep our eyes open for metonymies. A metonymy is a symbolic way of expressing one subject with another. Metonymies denote oneness. For instance, when Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 4:4, Acts 22:7) We tend to see this situation as Saul persecuting the early saints of the Lamb; not the Lamb Himself. Heaven sees things differently: By persecuting Jesus’ followers, Saul was persecuting Jesus.

Likewise, when Jesus rebuked Peter by calling him Satan (Matthew 16:23), He wasn’t mistaking Peter for Satan, nor was He implying Peter was possessed. He was saying, “You, in this moment, are speaking as Satan would. You are representing Satan’s interests, not the Father’s.”

My point is this: In our study on the beast of Revelation, when we see the beast reference a king, a nation or angelic princes, we also recognize these entities may become symbols for one another.

Who are the Four Kings of Daniel 7?

Between Daniel and Revelation, we must contend with a flurry of heads and horns, princes and kings. Nor is this easy, as the number keeps changing! Daniel 7 first speaks of four beasts, then four kings, but then ten horns which we’re told also represent ten kings (v24). In Daniel 7:17-18, an angel explains to the prophet,

“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever and ever.”

Wait. These four kings are rising out of the earth? I thought these rose out of the sea? And Greece had four heads, which we counted as kings to get to seven, so now our numbers are off!

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Bible refers to the deep of the earth, the shaft of the Abyss, the pit of Gehenna, the grave of Sheol and the underworld of Hades. When Jesus was confronted by the Gerasenes (JEHR-uh-seens) demoniac, the demons begged Him not to send them into the abyss (Luke 8:31). In Romans 10:7, Paul clarifies the abyss when he writes, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” Scripture seems to use these terms interchangeably to refer to an underworld of the dead, a burning place where demons and rebellious spirits are bound, located in the heart of the earth.

In Revelation 9, the abyss is seen as a deep shaft, the bottomless pit, where “smoke arises like the smoke of a great furnace” (v2). The torturing spirits released from the bottomless pit have a “king over them, the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon” (v11, “destruction” and “destroyer” respectively.) This king of the abyss may identify 1) Satan, 2) the demonic prince identified as the beast that arises from the abyss (Revelation 11:7) or 3) it may refer to another unnamed angelic prince of darkness. Most folks believe this is a reference to Satan.

Our clue as to the nature of these four kings comes when we’re told “the kingdom will be given to the saints, who will take possession of the kingdom forever.” Daniel sees spiritual, geographical and historical domains here. This was well illustrated when our Lord was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11),

8 ...the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Notice Jesus did not argue against Satan's claim to the kingdoms of the world. Satan could not offer these kingdoms to Jesus if he did not already possess them. This is an exact picture of Satan’s government over the kingdoms of the earth and his influence in the affairs of men.

Daniel 7’s four empires each had multiple kings so these aren’t human kings in view. These four kings then represent the fallen angelic princes the angel alludes to in Daniel 10:20 when he refers to the princes of Persia and Greece. Here, we also see the spiritual princes of Babylon and Rome.

Nero: Daniel’s Little Horn Wages War Against the Saints

In both Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, we see a beastly nation rising out of the sea, a clear picture of its Gentile origin. The blasphemous names on the heads of the beast represent the divine names the Caesars claimed for themselves. As Daniel zooms in to look more closely at the fourth beast, which history identifies as Rome, he sees ten horns:

20 And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that boasted great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.

Verse 24 explains the vision of the ten horns:

24 And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.” [2]

If we look back at Daniel 7:7, we see three of these horns are plucked up by a little horn, being “more stout than his fellows” (v8,20). How could this little horn be anyone but Nero whose rise to power was accelerated by the untimely deaths of three emperors, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius? To further cement this, Tiberius was killed in 37 AD, the very year Nero was born.

5 The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them... (Revelation 13:5-7, cf. Daniel 7:21.)

In the early morning of July 18, 64 AD, a fire broke out among the shops surrounding the Circus Maximus and spread quickly throughout the Roman capital, destroying or damaging over half the city during the next nine days. Of the fire, Roman senator and historian Tacitus reports, “It seemed [to the citizens] that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name.” (Annuls 15.40.) Though Nero launched an immediate public relations campaign to appease the people and their pagan gods, he couldn’t shake their suspicion. Tacitus offers us the clearest retelling of what happened:

“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (a euphemism for crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

“Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.” (Annuls 15.44.)

So began Rome’s first state-sponsored persecution of Christianity. To this time, the Roman government had provided shelter from Jewish oppression (Acts 16:22-40, 19:23-41, 21:27-22:30, 23:20-35, 24:1-4, 25:10-11,24-25, 26:32, 25:10-11, 28:19.)

As Tacitus intimates, it wasn’t only Christians who became repulsed by Nero’s corruption. First-century Roman author Pliny the Elder describes Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.” The Roman poet Juvenal (60-140 AD) refers to Nero as a “cruel tyrant” and mentions his “cruel and bloody tyranny.” Another Nero contemporary, Apollonius of Tyana, even refers to Nero as a beast:

“In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. […] And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.” (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius.) [1]

It’s at this point we enter the fulfillment of Daniel 7:25, which points to a time of great trial lasting around 3½ years, even including legal discrimination. It just so happens, the Neronic persecution following the Great Fire of Rome lasted until Nero’s death on June 9, 68 AD:

And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. (3½ years or 42 months.)

Did Nero change times and laws? According to Tacitus, in 65 AD, Nero changed the names of several months; April to Neroneus, May to Claudius, and June to Germanicus. (This would be undone later under Vespasian. Tacitus, Histories 4.40.2; Vid. Tac. Ann. XV.74; XVI.2. Cf. Suet. Cal. 15; Dom. 13; and Hist. Aug. Vit. Com. 11.8.) In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Roman historian Suetonius mentions Nero instituted many new laws and goes on to list several, including Christian persecution:

During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, […] Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers […] actors and their partisans were banished from the city. (Lives, Nero 16:2.)

Who are the Seven Kings? (Revelation 17)

In Revelation 17, an angel shows John a vision of the beast with seven heads and ten horns (as it was in Revelation 13.) The beast carries a woman, Mystery Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots, who is drunk with the blood of the saints, the martyrs of Jesus. Revelation 17:9 shows us more details about the beast:

9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman sits,

The woman rides the beast, therefore she cannot be Rome; Rome cannot ride Rome. As it happens, in ancient times, Rome was known as The City of Seven Hills. Verse ten shows us the seven heads also represent seven kings:

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.

Five of these kings are fallen (dead) at the time of John’s writing, one is currently reigning and then there will be another who will be in his position for a short time. The language here seems to point to human kings since angelic princes do not experience physical death.

Is Nero the Sixth King Who Is?

Of the Julio-Claudian emperors, if one begins with Julius Caesar, Nero is the sixth (both Suetonius and Josephus’ Antiquities 18.2.2 number Tiberius as the third, making Julius the first.) This would make Nero the one “who is,” and Galba the one who will “remain only a little while.” Since Galba only lasted seven months, this seems like we have the mystery solved! The timeline, from Julius to Domitian, would look like this:

    --- THE BEAST WHO WAS -----------------------------------------------------
  1. Julius Caesar (46–44 BC); fallen
  2. Augustus (27–14 BC); fallen
  3. Tiberius (14 BC–37 AD); fallen
  4. Caligula (37–41 AD); fallen
  5. Claudius (41–54 AD); fallen
  6. Nero (54–68 AD); who is
    --- IS NOT & WILL BE AGAIN (NERO REDIVIVUS) ------------------------
  7. Galba (7 months, 68–January 69 AD); will remain only a little while
  8. Otho (4 months, January-April 69 AD); (avoided or spiritualized)
  9. Vitellius (8 months, April-December 69 AD)
  10. Vespasian (69–79 AD)
  11. Titus (79–81 AD)
  12. Domitian (81–96 AD)

 

Objections to this view; Over and over, I found those scholars who hold Nero as the sixth king “who is” undoubtedly stop their exposition with verse 10; they completely avoid verse 11! Or, if they are one of the few who do recognize it, they use it as a launch point for spiritualizing the seven kings to mean something more esoteric than human kings. But we will do neither; there is a solution. Here is verse 11:

11 The beast which was, and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

Right. To confuse things further, we now have an eighth king who was one of the seven. This one is slated to “go to destruction,” a phrase Revelation 17:8 applies to the beast that “rises from the bottomless pit” (the wellspring of fallen angelic power.) If we look at Otho, he does not fit this description! Though Otho may be considered an eighth, he certainly doesn’t solve the “one of the seven” language and his reign was even shorter and less fruitful than Galba’s. Our Nero timeline doesn’t fit—at least, not completely.

Nero Redivivus

It’s at this point some scholars point to the Nero Redivivus (redi-vee-vus) myth as a possible solution for this eighth king and how the beast would rise again. The Nero Redivivus myth was a superstitious belief that Nero either wasn’t really dead or, if he was, he would resurrect to wage war upon all those who had opposed him. There were, in fact, several imposters who arose after Nero’s death. These pretenders claimed to be Nero, but all were revealed to be hoaxes and were summarily executed. Alas, Nero never did return from the dead, so it’s fair to say just imagining him as the eighth king isn’t enough to make him the eighth king. This myth clung to the citizenry’s imagination even as late as the fifth century, making it easy to refute the modern idea John Nelson Darby cooked up the Nero-Antichrist connection in the early 1800s (see the Sibylline Oracles 5:488-490; 8:92 and Dio Chrysostom, Discourse XXI On Beauty 10.)

Who Are the Five Fallen Kings?

And they are seven kings; five have fallen (17:10); Let’s back up. Though Julius Caesar was indeed Rome’s last dictator under the republic, not all Romans counted him an emperor; historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio among them. Julius’ adopted heir, Augustus, became the first true emperor of Rome and he worked to maintain the illusion of a full-functioning republic even as he replaced it with dynastic autocracy. Recognizing Augustus as the first official emperor of the Roman Empire, we must begin our count with him. Our corrected timeline then skips Julius and identifies the five fallen kings as Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero:

    Julius Caesar (46–44 BC); not an official emperor
    --- THE BEAST WHO WAS -----------------------------------------------------
  1. Augustus (27–14 BC); fallen
  2. Tiberius (14 BC–37 AD); fallen
  3. Caligula (37–41 AD); fallen
  4. Claudius (41–54 AD); fallen
  5. Nero (54–68 AD); fallen

 

The Beast’s Mortal Wound

After Nero’s untimely death in 68, the Roman Empire entered a year of great upheaval known as the Year of Four Emperors. Nero’s death meant the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, leaving the emperor’s seat empty. Since Nero lacked an heir, the Roman senate named Servius Galba as his successor. Galba immediately executed any perceived threats to his ascension, including several of his own supporters. He made many enemies, defaulted on his promise to pay the Praetorian guard for deserting Nero and made the bad call of overlooking his prime supporter, Marcus Otho, as his successor. In return, the jilted Otho leveraged the disgruntled Praetorian guard and assassinated Galba.

However, even as Otho ascended the throne, military commander Vitellius was already mobilizing the Germanic legions to take Rome. Otho rose to meet Vitellius on the battlefield, but succumbed to the stronger German forces and took his own life. Vitellius proved to be as ruthless as Galba, a gluttonous gambler who killed or tortured at the “slightest pretext” (according to Suetonius in his Lives of the Caesars.) Vitellius was soon defeated by Vespasian’s legions in December 69 AD. Vespasian was declared emperor and reigned well for the next ten years.

These three military commanders—Galba, Otho and Vitellius—rushed to fill the power vacuum left by Nero’s death. These men had no dynastic ties to the empire, they did not participate meaningfully in the imperial cult, and they only contributed to the empire’s mounting instability through their corruption and civil war. These three embody the “head that received the mortal wound” (Revelation 13:3), which we’re told in Revelation 13:14 was “by the sword.” Death by sword began with Nero and continued in these three. 69 AD was the tumultuous year between Nero and Vespasian when Rome’s head appeared to be dead; this was the time the beast “was not.”

Beast That Was, Is Not, and Will Be Again (Revelation 17)

One is (17:10); All the empire heard the news of the troubles in Rome. Vespasian himself groaned over the tumult, ceased his war against the Jewish nation and returned to Rome, taking time to amass a larger army on the way. By December 69, Vitellius was dead and Vespasian was declared emperor, restoring the empire’s strength and focus. By early 70, stability had returned, thanks largely to Roman general and Vespasian supporter, Gaius Mucianus (myu-shen-us). Vespasian finally entered Rome by September 70 AD. In contrast to the previous three would-be kings, Vespasian offered the Roman populous the humble Flavian family line through his sons, Titus and Domitian, and a return to Augustinian Roman tradition. Revelation 13:3-4 shows us this time:

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. 4 They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

All the [known] world marveled, for surely the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty appeared to spell the end of the empire, its death roll of civil war was evidence of its certain demise. But when it resurrected again under Vespasian? Who could make war with this beast? It would not die!

P.S. If Vespasian is the “one [who] is”, this means John may have written the book of Revelation between December 69 and before the temple fell in 70 AD. But the dating of Revelation will be another lesson.

The other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. (17:10); Upon Vespasian’s death by natural causes in 79 AD, Titus ascended the throne. The Roman public had a few concerns at first. Beside a slight ruthless streak, there was Titus’ intense romance with the Jewish princess, Berenice, which, for many, was too reminiscent of the trauma wrought by Marc Antony and Cleopatra during the days of Augustus. Yet, quickly Titus became respected as a fair emperor and was generous with financial aid when Vesuvius erupted and after a second fire damaged Rome. His reign was cut short on September 13, 81 AD, when he died of a fever. Titus’ reign lasted only two years.

The beast which was, and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. (17:11, cf. v8); Notice the reference to the beast! This is a reference to the spiritual prince who drove Rome and Nero, momentarily lost his influence at Nero’s death, apparently struggled through the Year of Four Emperors, but was able to recover the Roman Empire and would eventually surface again through the eighth king, whom we count as Domitian.

Question: How does Domitian fit the description of an eighth king who was “among the seven?”

A moment ago, I mentioned the death of Vitellius and the transfer of power to Vespasian, though his return to Rome was still months away. When infighting between Vitellius’ and Vespasian’s supporters broke out in Rome, guess whose teenage son was caught up in the middle of it?

As insurance against Flavian retribution, Vitellius placed Vespasian’s youngest son, 18-year-old Domitian, on house arrest. On December 19, 69 AD, as Vitellius’ men were hunting down the Flavian family and their supporters, Domitian was smuggled into hiding. The next day, under Mucianus, the Flavian legions arrived in Rome, killing Vitellius and his men. Domitian was hailed as Caesar and escorted to his father’s house.

On December 21, the Roman senate declared Vespasian emperor. From that point forward, Domitian represented the Flavian party before the senate. He received the title of Caesar, with limited power, and was largely managed by Mucianus until Vespasian arrived in Rome months later. Vespasian would rule Rome for ten years, followed briefly by Titus, before Domitian would take his seat as emperor again in 81 AD.

And so, Domitian was the eighth king who was among the seven. Our corrected timeline looks like this:

    Julius Caesar (46–44 BC); not an official emperor
    --- THE BEAST WHO WAS -----------------------------------------------------
  1. Augustus (27–14 BC); fallen
  2. Tiberius (14 BC–37 AD); fallen
  3. Caligula (37–41 AD); fallen
  4. Claudius (41–54 AD); fallen
  5. Nero (54–68 AD); fallen
    --- IS NOT -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Galba (7 months, 68–January 69 AD); not counted
    Otho (4 months, January-April 69 AD); not counted
    Vitellius (8 months, April-December 69 AD); not counted
    --- AND WILL BE AGAIN -------------------------------------------------------
  6. Vespasian (69–79 AD); the one who is
  7. Titus (79–81 AD); not yet, will stay a short time
  8. Domitian (81–96 AD); an eighth that was one of the seven

 

Who are the Ten Kings?

12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:12-14)

Okay, stop. As we just saw, the seven heads represent the Roman Caesars (kings) from Augustus to Domitian; those were earthly kings. So, who are these ten kings?

Theory #1: Ten Roman emperors, including the earlier seven; Some believe these ten kings include the seven (eight) in verses 17:10-11, but this time from Julius to Vespasian, adding Galba, Otho and Vitellius prior to Vespasian taking the throne in 69 AD. The theory says the seven kings point to the Neronic persecution of the Church while the ten kings point to the destruction of Jerusalem. On the surface, this sounds good! In fact, this might even explain what we see in Daniel’s account of the ten horns (Daniel 7:8,24-26). This idea develops some challenges by the time the horns show up in Revelation 17, however.

First, six of the seven kings have already received kingdoms, but verse 12 says none of the ten kings have received a kingdom yet. The ten horns all seem to receive their power at the same time which they, in turn, extend to the beast. This can’t be a reference to the seven Roman emperors!

Second, these ten kings receive power and authority for one hour (not a literal hour, but simply a brief span of time) to align with the beast and war against the Lamb. Revelation 13:2 shows us the origin of this authority: “The dragon gave [the beast] his power and his throne, and great authority.” Well, according to Revelation 17, that authority was channeled through these ten kings. Not all emperors persecuted the Lamb, so again, this theory doesn’t fit.

Theory #2: Roman governors backing Vespasian; Still others say these ten kings are ten Roman governors who extended their support to Vespasian, elevating him to the throne (Josephus, Wars 4:9-11). In the first-century Roman Empire, there were, in fact, exactly ten senatorial provinces and another twenty imperial provinces. Still, once he was made Caesar, Vespasian did not wage war against the saints of the Lamb but rather ordered his son, Titus, to resume Rome’s war against the Jewish rebellion.

Theory #3: Jewish generals who persecuted the saints with Nero; Were these ten horns Jewish religious or military leaders who aided Rome in its Christian persecution? Well, no, these kings can’t be Jewish because, as we see in Revelation 17:16-18, the beast from the sea (Rome) doesn’t turn on its own horns; it turns on the mother of harlots, Mystery Babylon the Great.

Theory #4: Angelic princes; Our clue is that they “wage war against the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them.” “Lamb” can’t be a metonymy for the saints of the Lamb; they were overcome! Where is the Lamb? Remember that war in heaven we saw in Revelation 12? This cosmic conflict is in view again. This also explains how you can have “kings who have not yet received a kingdom.” If this was a reference to the line of Roman emperors or governors, it wouldn’t fit; they obviously progressively received and administered their kingdoms. Though the number ten symbolizes completeness in biblical numerology, this may also be a literal reference to ten Satanic princes.

These ten kings are angelic princes among the “third of the stars of heaven” (Revelation 12:4) who have aligned with the dragon. To earth, it appeared the saints were conquered, but in heaven, the Lamb won the war. These princes are cast down to earth and continue to pursue faithful Israel, the early Church, the woman who bore the male Child (12:13). The woman flees into the wilderness to a place prepared for her (the Christian exodus to Pella, 12:6,14) and the earth (the nation of Israel) swallows the flood (the Roman armies, now focused on quelling the Jewish uprising.) Rome’s turning toward rebellious Judaism and away from its Christian sect is seen again in Revelation 17:16:

16 And the ten horns you saw upon the beast will hate the whore. They will make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

With the battle against the Lamb lost (Revelation 17:14) and the saints safely out of reach, these kings turn on the Whore of Babylon. Hint: The only nation ever accused of spiritual adultery in the Bible is Israel. Jerusalem, the great city called Babylon by the apostle, is the one who is drunk on the blood of the prophets and saints (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:33, Revelation 17:6, 18:24).

Even if Daniel 7’s ten horns have in view earthly kings, it appears Revelation 17 has angelic princes in mind.

The Number of the Beast (666)

To say the mark of the beast has been completely abused by centuries of wild speculation would be an understatement. UPC codes, microchips, smartphones, tattoos and vaccines have all been recent candidates; even Sabbath on Sunday! Revelation 13:16-18 introduces us to the mark of the beast:

16 And [the second beast, the beast from the earth] causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 and he decrees that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

We’ll discuss the second beast of Revelation, the beast from the earth, the false prophet, in another lesson. Suffice it to say, if Revelation’s beast is first-century Rome, the mark of the beast also belongs to first-century Rome. Not to say there couldn’t be a future mark of the beast (as the saying goes, those who don’t know their history are prone to repeat it), but the one we see in Revelation 13 has already come and gone. I’ll go deeper with the mark of the beast and what it means to take a mark in a separate lesson.

As for the number of the beast (verse 18), recognize this number, six hundred sixty-six, points at a man; we’re not talking about a nation or a spiritual prince, though he may offer such a metonymy. Probably the most widely accepted understanding for 666 is the ancient practice of gematria, whereby numeric values are attached to letters. “I love the girl whose number is 545” is an example of gematria’s first-century popularity, preserved to our day among the graffiti of Pompeii when the city was encased in ash during Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD.

If gematria is indeed the key, then we simply need to identify candidates for 666. As it turns out, when the Greek letters are transliterated to Hebrew, Nero’s title, Nrwn Qsr (pronounced Ner┼Źn Kaisar, Neron Caesar) adds up to 666 (nrwn qsr, 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200). If the Latin spelling is transliterated to Hebrew (nrw qsr, this time), dropping the n in Neron (and its equivalent 50), the name equals 616, which also happens to be the number found in one of the oldest known copies of the New Testament, and is considered to be a copyist correction. [3]

Though there are other nuances surrounding the number of the beast, Nero seems to solve both 666 and 616, placing him well above any other candidates from the first century, including Caligula and Domitian.

What Happens to the Beast?

Returning to Daniel 7, we see the Ancient of Days (Father God) take His seat in the courtroom of heaven (v9-10). In verses 13-14, the Son of Man [the Messiah] is brought before the Ancient of Days where He is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” Remember where we are in Daniel 7’s timeline; this is during the days of the Roman Empire.

11 I watched then, because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn spoke: I watched until the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12 Concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. (Daniel 7:11-12, cf. 21-22)

Questions: If Daniel’s four beasts represent successive, earthly kingdoms, how is Daniel’s fourth beast, the Roman Empire, “slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame,” per Daniel 7:11? Maybe this is a metonymy referring to Nero? Or—if this means the end of the Roman Empire—how were Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece “prolonged for a season and time” though these nations were absorbed by one another until finally by Rome?

First, we know Nero committed suicide at the end of his own dagger; this passage can’t be talking about him. And the Roman Empire? It would live on for another 400 years. These references don’t fit a nation or a man; but they do fit the rebellious spiritual entities behind them.

These fallen angels can be seen again when we are given a view of the beast’s and false prophet’s destruction in Revelation 19:20-21:

19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

21 And the rest were slain by the sword which proceeded from the mouth of him who sat upon the horse, and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

How were Rome and Israel thrown into the lake of fire together? Lest we think this is a prophetic euphemism for Rome and Israel (cf. Leviticus 21:9) being caught up into the flames of war, this is the same lake of fire we’ll later see Satan, death, Hades and the wicked thrown into at the end of Revelation 20 (verses 10, 14 and 15.) In contrast, the men that were with them were slain by the sword and the birds were filled with their flesh (19:21). Here, we see the beast and the false prophet—metonymies for the fallen heavenly princes who arose from the bottomless pit (Revelation 17:8; remember Daniel)—captured together by the Lamb and thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

Four Lenses for Understanding This Prophecy

Finally, what teaching would be complete without briefly acknowledging the other views surrounding the beast of Revelation? Throughout this lesson, I have been unpacking the preterist view (“praeter,” Latin for “past”.) I feel this is the correct view, due largely to the beast’s clear connection to Daniel 7’s timeline. But you should be aware of a few other positions in case you run across them in the wild.

Idealist View

Objections to this view: I’m not even wasting time summarizing this view before rejecting it. As I mentioned when I introduced you to idealism in the Lenses vs Labels lesson, idealism spiritualizes pretty much everything, freeing its user from the tension of expecting any actual prophetic fulfillment. Here the beast is materialism, imperialism, capitalism, the aristocracy or whatever social injustice you can pin to it. Idealism gives up on any literal fulfillment and instead typifies Revelation’s symbolic imagery, at best representing it as the struggle of every believer across every generation. Idealism is high on application, low on fulfillment. Moving on.

Historicist View

Beginning in the 1500’s, Martin Luther and the Reformers came to believe the beast of Revelation prophesied the corrupt papacy and the increasingly pagan Catholic church. Those who would not submit to the Pope’s rule often lost their property, their ability to make a living, their children, their virginity or their life. Not to be outdone, the Catholic Church, in turn, pointed its finger at the defecting Reformation leaders in what became a wave of heresy-hunting wrapped in the candy-coating of a public relations campaign.

Several Christian denominations continue to hold this historicist lens over Revelation today, still believing the Catholic Church may be the beast of Revelation.

Objections to this view: Obviously, if this were true, this view would have come as quite the relief to the first-century saints! (“What? The beast won’t arrive for another 260 years? Emperor Constantine? Some meeting in Nicea? Whew! That was close! Hey, John, you got anything else in there for us?”) Right. The vision actually becomes irrelevant to the original audience when we apply this lens to it. Of course, the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages and its persecution of Christians should remind us of the reprobate Jewish theocracy and its own persecution of the early Church.

Futurist View

As I opened this lesson, I briefly panned the common eschatological sin of creating Antichrist stew out of various biblical “big bads.” The futurist view of the Antichrist antagonist almost always relies on perforating Daniel’s 70th Week with a 2,000-year gap called the “Church Age” and importing a tyrannical New World Order dictator to stand in as the one who makes a “covenant with many.” A composite caricature is then crafted, pulling imagery from Paul’s son of perdition, John’s antichrists and, of course, the beast of Revelation.

Objections to this view: If you’ve been tracking with me through the Prophecy Course, you may have detected some of my distaste for futurist abuses of the biblical text. Please hear me: The futurist prophetic lens—when properly applied—is vital. All prophecy is born into the futurist position, but as a prophecy is fulfilled, that prophecy then finds itself in the preterist, or the past. What frustrates me is when well-meaning Bible students tear scriptures out of their ancient Jewish context to cook up wild-eyed end-time scenarios, terrorizing both friend and foe with their last-days delusions. This has been going on for about 2,000 years now. Since we don’t know our past, we take Bible prophecy that’s already been fulfilled—and we export it into our ever-near future.

Beast of Revelation Revealed

The concrete connection between Revelation’s beast and Daniel 7's fourth beast—and its place in Daniel's timeline—neatly kills any notion that the beast of Revelation is future to us. Since the scriptural evidence clearly indicates both John and Daniel speak of the same beast, the beast of Revelation has to be Rome. The timing of 1) the Lamb of God, 2) the inauguration of the kingdom, and 3) the war against the Lamb and his saints all happened during the time of the Roman Empire in the first century. If a Bible student enters the book of Revelation without Daniel’s clear anchor to the first-century Roman Empire, it will be difficult for them to ascertain whether the events are past or future. [Enter error here.]

  • The Roman Empire, from Augustus to Nero, is the beast “who was;”
  • “Is not” refers to the death of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the near death of the empire under the three military commanders, Galba, Otho and Vitellius;
  • “Will be again” refers to the stabilization of the empire under Vespasian and the Flavian dynasty; and finally
  • “Goes into destruction” refers to the prince of Rome who was judged and “thrown alive into the lake of fire.”

Could Nazi Germany, Communist Russia or the Catholic Church have been the beast of Revelation? Only by stretching the text symbolically and loosing it into historicism or idealism. The beasts of prophetic literature represent fallen, reprobate nations, their kings, and the spiritual princes behind them, all who walk in blindness apart from God. Have there been other beastly nations since Rome? Absolutely. There will continue to be until Jesus returns on the last day.

Daniel 7, and its connection to the beast of Revelation 13, is one of the most compelling proofs for timing the events of Revelation, and even for establishing the date of the book itself—but that will be a different lesson.

That's all for this lesson. Remember, it’s the Truth that sets you free.

 



Footnotes

[1] Pliny, Natural History, trans. Harris Rackham and W. H. S. Jones, 10 vols., Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann / Cambridge: Harvard University, 1938-63), 2:537 (7.8.46), 6:359 (22.46.92); Juvenal, Satires, in Juvenal and Persius, trans. G. G. Ramsay, rev. ed., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge and London: Harvard University, 1940), 177 (8.223); Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 4:38. Quoted in Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, 42. Cf. Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Epistles of Apollonius and the Treatise of Eusebius, ed. J. S. Phillimore, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University, 1912), 1:437-39.

[2] Though verse 24 seems like it could point at 11 kings, it is commonly understood by its clearer counterpart, verse 20, that “another shall rise after them” simply means “one will rise among them.” Daniel is seeing ten kings, and among those ten, one takes the place of three and makes war with the saints and prevails against them. This is further supported by the other similarities with the beast of Revelation.

[3] Oxyrhynchus Papyri, fragment P115, late third or early fourth century.


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