The dragon, upset that he could neither unseat the reigning Son in heaven nor annihilate the people of God upon the earth, decided to make war against the saints. Though he will ultimately fail (and he knows it), he will use whatever resources he can muster to hurt as many as God’s people as he can. He now pursues the offspring of the woman, the followers of the Lamb, and the dragon chooses his weapons…the monsters (beasts).
The dragon stands on the seashore and summons a monster from the deep. The dragon empowers the beast. When the beast is worshipped, it is really the dragon who is worshipped. The beast is given authority, power and a throne by the dragon. The dragon is the real power behind the monster’s throne, claims and actions. The beast is but one manifestation of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. It is not the first and neither will it be the last, but it is the monster that the seven churches of Asia encounter daily in the marketplace and civic areneas of their cities. The monster is an evil empire with the human face of its Emperors.
The monster arises out of the sea which is symbolic for the chaos (“waters”) God ordered in creation and defeated in the Exodus (Psalm 74:13-14; 89:9-10). That the monster comes from the sea signals that it is trouble. If that were in doubt, its description would erase any hesitation left. The monster is described as the epitmoe of the enemy of God as it is a amalgamation of elements of the horrible creatures that arose from the sea in Daniel 7. The four beasts of Daniel (winged lion, winged leopard, ravinous bear and a ten-horned unidentified creature) are combined into one image here. Daniel identifies these beasts as kings or kingdoms and the little horn of the fourth beast is the one which makes war on God’s saints.
Just as the beasts in Daniel represent kingdoms that oppose the kingdom of God, so this monster of the deep in Revelation 13 represents an evil empire. Using particulars from Daniel 7 (such as the ten horns and the likenesses of the animals) the vision enhances the horror of this creature. Its evil nature is seen in that it has ten hours and seven heads just like the dragon (Revelation 12:3) and its authority–its royal diadems–derives from the dragon’s diadems.
Keener (NIV Application Commentary) suggests that there was a consensus in late Second Temple Judaism that Rome was the fourth beast (cf. 4 Ezra 12:10-11; 2 Baruch 39:7). The seven heads, as we learn later in Revelation 17, represent seven kings. The blasphemous names probably refer to the titles that Emperors assumed such as “Saviour,” “Son of God,” and “Our Lord and God” (often imprinted on coins with Emperors dressed or posed as gods). The head that has a mortal wound but yet lived alludes to a common late first century rumor that Nero was still alive or would return in some form. This was a common belief among some first century Jews (cf. Ascension of Isaiah 4:2-14; Sibylline Oracles 5: 33-34, 137-54, 361-85). As Keener notes, the Christians expected a “new Nero (8.68-72), who would be called ‘a great beast’ (8.139-59).” Early Christians expected that another would arise like Nero who whose opposition to the kingdom of God would rival Nero’s. Revelation 17 will say more about this scenario.
The beast exercies a wide authority. The same spread of nations and ethnicities that live in the presence of God’s heaveny throne in Revelation 7 is also the extent of the beast’s authority. This is another point of contrast between the security of the heavenly throne room and the war that is raging on the earth. The point is not that this is a universal rule over every geograpical region of the earth but rather it represents how the Roman empire portrayed itself as the ruler of the whole globe. Roman claimed authority over the whole world; it is part of the arrogance of the beast.
The beast, representing the cosmic power of Satan, is worshipped by the inhabitants of the earth. The “whole earth” follows the beast, worships the beast, and asks, “who is like the beast?” This is a parody of God and the Lamb. The offspring of the woman follow the Lamb, worship God and confess that there is no one like God (cf. Exodus 15:11). The language sets up a choice. Whom will you worship? Whom will you follow? Whom will you confess as unlike anything or anyone else in the universe?
The choice is focused on the beast versus the Lamb. Both represent a larger power and authority. The beast mirrors the interests of the dragon while the Lamb reflects the glory of the one who sits on the throne. The choice is reflected in those who worship the beast in contrast to those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. God knows those who belong to the kingdom of God.
The choice is pressed upon the cosmos as the monster is permitted to exercise authority for three and 1/2 years (42 months, 1260 days). This is the same period of time the woman hides in the wilderness in Revelation 12. It refers to a limited period of time. During this time the beast is permitted and empowered “to make war on the saints and conquer them.”
This is divine permission. God could end the days of the beast any time God willed. God permits the dragon to empower the beast. God permits the beast to “conquer” (overcome) the saints. This permission is similar to God’s counsel to the martyrs to wait till their number is full. There will be more martyrs; the kingdom of this world will yet wield power and authority over the saints. The beast will overcome them, but in so doing the faithful witnesses overcome the beast, just as the Lamb overcame through faithful obedience.
The way the followers of the Lamb overcome is through faithful witness. They do not take up the sword and engage the war as political revolutionaries. Rather, the witness of the prophetic proverb of Revelation 13:10 is that violence is self-destructive. It has the seeds of its own destruction. The empire takes captives and wields the sword and ultimately the empire will be taken captive and be destroyed by the sword. The faithful witness Jesus refused the protection of the sword and counseled that those who live by sword will die by the sword. Jesus rejected the use of swords but instead waged the battle through a faithful witness, through suffering martyrdom. The saints will experience imprisonment and sword at the hands of the empire, and their martyrdom and suffering will be the undoing of the empire.
As followers of the Lamb the seven churches of Asia are called to endurance and faith (or faithfulness). They are called to imitate the same faithful witness that the Lamb offered and to endure suffering just as the Lamb endured it. Saints are called to action, but it does not involve a sword. It calls for endurance and faith.