In chapter 13, we are introduced to something new that is really something old. We are introduced to two beasts: a sea beast and an earth beast. Who are they? Let’s start with the sea beast. He has 7 heads and 10 horns. He has characteristics of a leopard, a bear, and a lion. The dragon Satan gives him his power to get the earth to worship him. One of his heads is slain but his fatal wound was healed. He blasphemes God and is given power to act for 42 months.
While all this might sound strange and mysterious to us, I don’t believe it was so to the first readers of this vision. They key to identifying this beast is Daniel 7. Daniel saw 4 beasts in Daniel 7: a lion (Babylon), a bear (Media-Persia), a leopard (Greece and Alexander), and an iron beast with 10 horns (Rome). An 11th horn arises after that and blasphemes God and does great harm to the saints. He will be called the “little horn”. The Jewish Christians would have been very familiar with Daniel 7. In Daniel 2, Daniel had interpreted the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw to be: the head of gold (Babylon), the chest of silver (Media-Persia), the thighs of bronze (Greece), and legs of iron (Rome). In the days of the 4th kingdom, the iron one, God would set us his eternal kingdom and put the Son of Man as king over that kingdom forever (Daniel 7:13). 600 years later, Jesus and John the Baptist came preaching, “the kingdom is at hand”. Rome was the ruling kingdom at that time and therefore we conclude that Rome was the iron legs of the statue. We also conclude that Rome was the iron beast of Daniel 7. Putting all this together would have been easy for the believers of Jesus. The sea beast must be the Roman Empire. They would have been very familiar with the pressure they faced to worship the emperor as god. The Jewish non-Christians actually offered a daily sacrifice to the emperor in the temple to appease the emperor. They did they up to 67 AD when they stopped that sacrifice, which Josephus says was the beginning of the wars of the Jews, the rebellion of the Jews against Rome that led to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
No doubt the “power to act for 42 months” refers to the period from 67-70 AD when the Romans killed thousands of Jews and then Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. No doubt this is the same 42 months in Revelation 11:2 during which the nations (Rome) would be allowed to tread under foot the holy city (Jerusalem) for 42 months. No doubt this is what Jesus was predicting in Luke 21:24 when he said that Jerusalem would be “trampled under foot” by the Gentile nations.
So what are the 7 heads and 10 horns? We go to Revelation 17 to identify the 7 heads. Revelation 17:9-10 says that the 7 heads are 7 kings of the beast that the harlot woman is riding on in 17:3. 5 of the kings “had fallen”, and 1 “is”, and 1 is yet to come and will remain for a little while but is the 7th head, and then there an 8th who will be “one of the 7”. The wording here can only refer to the emperors of the beast, Rome, that the woman is riding on. It is so specific. The first 5 emperors of Rome had already died and the 6th was reigning the time John wrote this letter. While some say that Augustus was the first emperor, there is no doubt whom the Jews considered to be the first king of Rome, i.e. Julius Caesar. Josephus, who lived in the 1st century, several times says clearly that Augustus was the 2nd king of Rome. So the first 5 would be Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Calilula, and Claudius. The 6th king would be Nero, the one who “is”, i.e. the one reiging at the time John wrote the letter. He reigned from 54-68 AD. Thus John wrote this letter while Nero was still alive. He wrote it before 68 AD when Nero died. But who are the 7th and the 8th? After Nero died, 3 emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellus) reigned for less than one year total, and are considered insignificant by John. Thus the 7th king would actually be Vespasian, the 10th emperor of Rome, but the 7th head in Revelation 13 (if you disregard the 7th, 8th, and 9th. Vespasian was the general sent to squelch the Jewish rebellion in 67 AD, and he killed thousands of the Jewish rebels until he heard that Nero had died and he began making plans to become emperor, and he did become emperor in 69 AD. He then sent his son Titus to finish putting down the Jewish rebellion, and it was Titus who destroyed the temple and the city in 70 AD. No doubt, the “8th” in Revelation 13 is Titus, who was not an emperor at the time he destroyed the temple, but would become an emperor later in 79 AD. Thus Titus could be considered as “one of the 7 heads”.
So who are the 10 horns? Daniel 7 said that the iron beast, Rome, had 10 horns. But an 11th horn, a “little horn”, arose after the 10, and blasphemed God and did harm to the saints. The 10 horns would be the first 10 emperors of Rome (Julius Caesar through Vespasian, this time including Galba, Otho, and Vitellus. The 11th horn would be Titus, a “little horn” because he was not yet an emperor when he killed thousands of Jewish “saints”. This fits in with Revelation 13 and the 8th head is Titus, not yet officially a head but given the same status as the first 7 heads or kings.
So who is the head that was fatally wounded and yet was healed? Tacitus and other historians mention that many thought that Nero was not dead, or that “false Neros” arose after his death. Thus, Titus could be the image here of a resurrected Nero since Titus finished the work Nero started, i.e. the squelching of the Jewish rebellion, killing thousands of Jews in the process.
Am I arrogant to think that I have interpreted all this correctly? I don’t think so. This is sound Biblical logic. This interpretation fits perfectly with the fact that in Revelation 1 and 22 John said the predictions in the book would occur soon. The internal evidence of 13:9 that the book was written during the reign of Nero who died in 69 AD is undeniable, in spite of what many thing Ireneaus said in the late 2nd century. I will take this early pre-70 AD dating of the book based on internal evidence instead of the late date of 96 AD taken from Ireneaus.
In Revelation 17, who is the woman who was riding on the Roman beast with the 7 king heads? That’s not hard to figure out either. 17:16-19 is the key. The 10 horns of the Roman beast that the harlot woman if riding on turn on the woman and burn her with fire. And this is part of God’s plan! It then says that the harlot woman is the “great city”. So if we can identify the “great city”, then we can identify the woman, and we can! Revelation 11:8 says that the “great city” is where “the Lord was crucified”. This can only refer to Jerusalem being the great city where Jesus was crucified! Thus, in 17:19 the woman is the same as the great city of 11:8, i.e. Jerusalem. It is easy to see why many interpreted the “great city” to be Rome, not Jerusalem, since Rome was the capital of the empire, but this internal evidence shows us that the great city was Jerusalem, not Rome. Plus, the woman was a harlot drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus. That fits Jerusalem. In Matthew 23, Jesus had predicted that the blood of the prophets, saints, and apostles that had been shed by the rebellious Jewish nation would be avenged “in that generation”. She was a harlot because the unbelieving Jewish nation had committed spiritual adultery, just as the Jews had done so vividly described in Ezekiel 16 and 23. The Jewish nation was God’s “bride” who turned after other gods and became a “spiritual harlot”. The name “Babylon” is written on the woman’s head in Revelation 17. The Jewish nation had become as wicked as the ancient city of Babylon. Revelation 18 is devoted to the fall of Babylon the great. There Babylon will be “burned with fire” (18:8), just as predicted in 17:9-10. Twice, in 18:20 and in 18:24 it says that the “blood of the apostles, prophets, and saints” will be avenged when Babylon is destroyed. This is actually the theme of the book of Revelation. Babylon, the name of the woman’s forehead, is synonymous with the woman, who is the great city, which is Jerusalem, not Rome. Rome never persecuted the prophets of old, but Jerusalem did, as mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 23. It is easy to see why some think that this Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18 is Rome, but it is not. It is just another picture of Jerusalem.
So who does the “earth beast” of Revelation 3 refer to. One key is that he comes from the earth, and not the sea like the first beast. In the prophets’ predictions, the sea is the realm of the Gentiles, coming from far away places by sea. The earth is the realm of God’s people, His chosen nation, the Jews, i.e Palestine, the Holy Land. This earth beast is Jewish in nature, not Gentile like the sea beast. Another key is the he does “signs” to get the earth, i.e. the Jews, to worship the sea beast Rome. He would give the mark “666” on the forehead of those who would worship Rome and the Roman emperors so as to allow them to buy and sell in the Roman guilds. In later centuries, there would even be a “libellus”, a one page document affirming that the person had performed a pagan sacrifice showing his loyalty to Rome and its emperors as gods. A such libellus has been uncovered in archaeology. The number 666 is figurative of course, but one thing is clear: whoever it refers to was living at the time John wrote this letter. In 11:18 John says that one with understanding could calculate who he was referring to, so it had to be someone living at that time. Many think it is Nero, and there is a numbering system that matches the number 666 to the name of Nero. There is a change of one letter to Nero’s name that results in the number 616, which is the number found in 13:18 is some early copies of Revelation. Indeed, Nero was the first emperor or king to persecute and kill Christians around 64 AD when Rome burned and he was trying to throw the blame off himself over to the Christians, which would include many Jewish Christians who were not worshiping the emperor.
So who, of a Jewish nature, did “signs” to deceive the Jews to worship Rome? It can only refer to the Jewish false prophets that Jesus said would come before the tribulation and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Matthew 24:11,24). Jesus said they would do “great signs and wonders” to deceive many. Of course, they could not do real signs but instead false signs (like Pharoah’s magicians did), but even that would deceive many.
On a side note, read 2 Thessalonians 2. Some said that the 2nd coming had already come (as of about 55-56 AD when Paul wrote 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. Paul says that it had not happened yet, but that an apostasy must first happen and that a “man of sin or lawless one” must first come, one who would sit in the temple of God, blaspheming God. Paul said this process was already occurring at the time he was writing, so it had to be someone living at that time. He said that the coming of this man of sin would be accompanied by “powers and signs and false wonders”, deceiving many. Was it not Titus who finally broke through the 3 walls of Jerusalem and stood in the very temple of God, allowing the legions to worship him as god, before proceeding to burn the temple to the ground? The “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2 can only refer to Titus. Some have thought it refers to Nero, but Nero never stood in the temple of God in Jerusalem, blaspheming God, claiming to be god.
I hope this is helpful. I hope it is true to the text. It bothers me greatly to hear preachers today interpreting the predictions of Revelation to be something that will happen in our future. Their predictions will not come to pass in our generation, just as the predictions of William Miller did not come to pass in 1843 AD. Many lost their faith because of his failed predictions, and several cults formed soon after that trying to salvage the damage done. The 2,000 years of church history since Revelation was written have been filled with many false predictions of fulfillment of the predictions in Revelation. No doubt, skeptics of the Bible and Christianity have fed on these failed predictions. Instead of seeing the failed predictions to be due the the misinterpreting of Scripture, they see them as predictions that were made that did not come to pass. In other words, Jesus and the apostles made predictions about the end time that did not come true! Thus Jesus and the apostles are false prophets! And indeed they are, if the predictions of Matthew 24 and Revelation did not happen before that generation living at that time passed away.
It gives us great comfort to understand that the predictions of Jesus and the apostles came true in their generations just as they predicted. It gives comfort to see the completed plan of redemption, which included one last critical event, the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Only then would it be eternally clear for all times that God no longer considered the Jewish nation to be his chosen nation, but instead the church, a spiritual nation and kingdom, would be his chosen nation and priesthood (1 Peter 2:6-9). It gives comfort to know that God will eventually avenge the blood of those who persecute his church, even if we don’t see that vengeance executed in our lifetime. Millions have died without seeing their blood avenged, but it will be avenged. It gives us comfort that we don’t have to listen to all the preachers speculating on world events that they say are the fulfillment of Revelation and Matthew 24.