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The Identification of the first Beast

There are two beasts mentioned in Revelation,  The first is introduced in Chapter 13:1 with the second one coming on the scene in verse 11.  We are going to focus primarily on the first beast with this study.  If there is to be any degree of accuracy in the identification of this beast we must consider two things.  One is to whom this letter was written, and secondly, we must take into account the symbolism in effect in the day and time in which the book was written. 

Many people today think the beast is a malignant force yet to come.  I have read of people in a panic over the veri-chip technology which advocates the implanting of a microchip under the skin in order to identify and track people.  They are convinced that this technology can grow into the mark of the beast.  There is also technology in the development stages where certain world wide retail chains are looking into a chip that can automatically scan items as one walks from the store and automatically deduct the cost of these items from one's account.  The problem with this is that this does not take into consideration, those to whom the letter was specifically addressed.  What value would such a letter have for people who were undergoing severe persecution at the time if it were a revelation of events roughly 2000 years in the future?

The text we will be looking at is Revelation 13:1-10
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.
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  the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.
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;
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?
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.
6 And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, (even) them that dwell in the heaven.
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.
8 And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, (every one) whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.
9 If any man hath an ear, let him hear.
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.

First, we can determine easily that the beast is not Satan.  Satan is represented in chapter 12 as the dragon who made war with the remnant of the radiant woman's seed.  In verse 2 we see the dragon, Satan, giving the beast his power, his position or throne, and his great authority.  In verse 4 we read that the heads of the beast worshipped the dragon, Satan.  So the beast cannot be Satan since it derives it's abilities from and is in a submissive allegiance with him.  It is obvious that the dragon, Satan, is using the beast for the achievement of his own purpose.  So with Satan as the enabler of the beast we can confidently eliminate him from being in consideration as the beast. 

Verse 1 of Revelation 13 starts with the continuance of the sentence in Revelation 12:17.  John saw the dragon, (Satan), standing on the sands beside the sea where the beast emerges from the water.  Interestingly, the symbolism used for "beast" was used by Daniel to represent a ruler or his government, (Daniel 7:2-8).  Daniel used the same animal imagery to represent the the four world empires which were Babylon, Medo-Persian, Grecian and then the Roman Empire.  The fact that the leopard, bear and lion are used here probably demonstrates that the Roman empire was a composite of the other three.  This usage of apocalyptic language would have been familiar to those of the time who were versed in old covenant figures of speech.  This goes back to the thought that Revelation was written in language the Jews would be able to understand without incrimination before the Romans, thereby giving them more incentive to destroy those who were holding fast to their faith.  We can easily see today how successful this manner of writing was in that the book of Revelation continues to be a source of misdirected doctrine.  Anybody with a poor familiarity of old testament speech would be utterly baffled by the figurative language of this book. 

Looking closely at John's description of the Beast we see Satan standing upon the sand of the sea.  This would likely be the Tyrrhenian sea, which bordered the territory and land of Italy, where the Roman empire had its capital with the imperial palaces built alongside the Tiber river.  This imagery places the dragon within close proximity of the Beast, overlooking and personally directing the coming struggle against the faithful remnant of the radiant woman's seed.  This thought squares perfectly with new testament teaching that Satan had been given the power to do as he will with the nations of the Earth, (Matthew 4:8-9).  In addition to the close proximity of the Dragon to the beast, the Hebrews not being a seafaring people, recognized the sea as being capable of bringing storms of immensely destructive proportions.  David wrote in imagery of a storm coming inland from the sea, breaking the cedars from Lebanon and shaking the wilderness of Kadesh, which represented Jehovah revealing His strength and power, (Psalm 29).  Daniel used the imagery of the sea when describing the 4 great beasts arising in Daniel 7:3.  Notice particularly the language used in Daniel 7:7, "After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns."  While not all scholars agree, it is my belief that Daniel's prophecy is about the rise of the Roman empire.  Certainly, the Jewish Christians, well versed in old testament teaching would instantly see a parallel and draw the conclusion that the beast of Revelation 13 and the beast of Daniel 7:23 were one and the same. 

The beast is said to have ten horns with a diadem, or crown, on each, and seven heads with the name of blasphemy on each. An interesting point in History may shed some light on what the 10 horns could represent. The Roman Empire was made up of several geographic territories called provinces. Each province fell under the control of a provincial governor.

As a rule set by Augustus there were always 10 senatorial provinces in the Imperial government system. These provinces were under the direct control of a Proconsular Senator, with little need for intervention by the Emperor, though he had the power to appoint or dispose of these governors if he wished. The governors, served for one to three years depending on which province he was over.

Notwithstanding, there were other lesser provinces under the rule of the Roman empire as it expanded. There were about 28 in all by the middle of the second century. The number "ten" carries with it the meaning of completeness in the minds of the Hebrews, thus simply meaning the complete number of vassal kings within the Roman empire which I personally believe to be the more likely interpretation. One must be very careful when literalizing a number surrounded by so much symbolic language. Consistency almost demands it be taken in the same way as the rest of the surrounding imagery.

The seven heads probably referred to the seven hills of ancient Rome. Every October there was a commemoration to the fact that Rome was founded on seven hills. The seven hills of Rome; Cermalus, Cispius, Fagutal, Oppius, Palatium, Sucusa and Velia, figured prominently in Roman mythology, religion, and politics.

The seven heads could also have represented the seven Roman emperors from Augustus Caesar to Flavius Domitianus, better known as Domitian. These emperors reigned with such power and distinction that Roman temples were erected to each one of them. These emperors were worshipped in these temples as Gods and Lords. This practice started with Augustus Caesar and by the time of Domitian, evolved into mandated emperor worship. Under Domitian, those who refused to worship him as a God were subjected to various punishments from exile to death. Revelation 17:10 lends great support to this interpretation.

So we now have a mental image of just how powerful a foe has arisen against Christianity.  The Parthians were no help, The Romans, who worshipped many Gods, hated them.  There were not enough Christians to make any kind of impact on the socio-economic scene.  When drought, famine, or natural disaster struck, the Christians with their one deity worship were blamed.  The Jews were no help, they were excused from Emperor worship and were of no help whatsoever to the Christians.

Revelation 13:3, "And (I saw) one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed:"  There are plenty of theories as to what this death blow was.  One of the most popular I read was that this was the crushing of Satan's head prophesied in Genesis 3:15.  However, upon careful consideration of the text, we see that the beast is something other than the dragon, (Satan), which therefore does not make sense.  John mentioned this death blow to one of the seven heads, (emperors), as a means for the identification of the beast to the Christians.  It therefore stands to reason that this blow must be something that is widely known and easily attributed to its rightful understanding by the intended audience.  This said, in 64 AD, during the night of July 18, fire broke out in the merchant area of the city of Rome. Fanned by summer winds, the flames quickly spread through the dry, wooden structures of the Imperial City. Soon the fire took on a life of its own consuming all in its path for six days and seven nights. When the conflagration finally ran its course it left seventy percent of the city devastated.  Of Rome's fourteen districts only four remained intact. Three were leveled to the ground. The other seven were reduced to a few scorched and mangled ruins.   This event happened during the reign of Nero and would be something that definitely would be in the minds of the people of that day.  The association in their minds between the burning of Rome and the wounded head of the Roman Empire would be easily recognized.  There was plenty of time for this death blow to one of the heads to be healed.  History tells us that Rome was built back bigger and better than ever. 

When considering the facts, the Roman emperor Domitian, who reigned from 81 AD through 96 AD best fits the description of the beast, especially considering the internal Biblical evidence that states things which will "shortly come to pass" in Revelation 1:1.  We learn from history that Domitian pushed the concept of him being a God so far that he would reject any communication written to him if it was not addressed to "Supreme Lord and God".  From a Christian viewpoint, this is nothing short of blasphemy of the name of God to ascribe the title of God and Lord to anybody or anything other than Jehovah Himself.  The imperial Roman empire at the time was said to include all the inhabited earth, depending on whether you heard it from a Roman or a Parthian.  The body of water we know as the Mediterranean Sea got it's name because it literally means "the middle of the earth".  All people, with the exception of the Christians worshipped Domitian as a God.  The Jews were excused from this but they did compromise by praying to Jehovah on behalf of Domitian to avoid persecution. 

In the Hebrew mind, the number 6 was symbolic of that which was not perfect, thereby evil.  Seven represents perfection.  Six being one less than perfect is falling short of the mark.  The definition of "sin" is literally, "to miss the mark".  So to obtain the ultimate of that which was evil or lacking, the apocalyptic writers of John's day were using a series of three sixes to represent the worst evil that could befall.  Furthermore this number was reserved for those in government who caused evil to be administered. 

No other emperor in the history of the Imperial Roman Empire fits the description of the beast better than Domitian.  We therefore conclude that the first beast of Revelation 13 can be none other than the evil Imperial Roman Empire, which was personified in the person of Flavius Domitianus, (the number of a man).

Church of Christ Lessons on the Revelation of Jesus Christ

1.  Understanding Revelation
2.  Symbolic Objects in Revelation
3.  Understanding the Numerical Symbolism in Revelation
4.  Identifying the Opposition Characters in Revelation
John's Introduction to the Churches of Asia

6.  John's Vision of Jesus Christ
7. The Church who Left Her First Love, Ephesus
8.  Smyrna, the Suffering Church
9.  Pergamum, the church in Hell's Headquarter
10.  Thyatira, the church that Condoned Sin
11. Sardis (The Dead Church)
12. Philadelphia (The Church With Opportunity)
13.  Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)

14.  Letter to Your Church
15.  John's Throne Vision (chapter 4)
16.  God the Redeemer Revealed  (chapter 5)
17.  God the Avenger of His Children (Chapter 6)
18.  Who Will Be Able To Stand  (Chapter 7)
19.  The First Four Trumpets
(Chapter 8)
20.  The Fifth Trumpet (Chapter 9:1-12)
21.  The Sixth Trumpet Announcement (Chapter 9:13-21)
22. The Little Book and the Unutterable Thunders (Rev 10)
23.  The Seventh Trumpet Announcement (Rev 11)
24. The Conflict (Revelation 12)
25.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the First Beast)

26.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the Second Beast)

27.  Chapter 14 (The Victorious Lamb and the Redeemed)
28.  Revelation 14 (The Turning Point)
29.  Revelation 14 (The Sickle and the Winepress)
30.  Chapter 15 (Comfort for the Saints)
31.  Chapter 16 (Bowls of Wrath)
32.  Chapter 16 (The Battle of Armageddon)
33.  Chapter 17 (The Scarlet Woman)
34.  Chapter 18 (Fallen  is Babylon)

35.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19)
36.  The Fall of Satan  (Chapter 20)
37.  Heaven, the Home of the Soul  (Chapter 21)
38.  The Spirit and the Bride Say Come  (Chapter 22)
39.  The Dating of the Revelation

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Revelation 21:5-7

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.  And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.  He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.