Although we will study much of the book of Revelation as we progress through the prophecies of Christ’s return, chapter thirteen is especially important for the discussion at this time. In one relatively brief passage, the Lord adds considerable detail to Daniel’s original predictions concerning the rise and fall of the last world empire. The book of Daniel is the springboard which takes us directly to the prophecies of Revelation. If the Lord did not provide through Daniel the background information necessary to comprehend the last book of the Bible, then most of the words that the Apostle John first wrote over 1,900 years ago would still be symbolic mysteries.
In the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, John’s words can be seen to draw heavily from those of the prophet Daniel, both in style and in the symbolism he uses. As we begin to study this prophecy, see if the imagery is familiar:
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
“And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.”
Over six hundred years after both King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel had visions concerning future world powers, the Apostle John caught a glimpse of these same mysteries. While he was being held prisoner on the Isle of Patmos, the Lord had come to John in spectacular glory to give him visions of things to come at the end of the age. One of these visions, found primarily in chapter 13, contains pertinent information related to the final political power which will reign supreme for a brief period just before Jesus returns.
John begins to write of his vision in verse one by describing how he was standing along the shore next to the sea when suddenly a great beast arose out of the waters. Whether John was in some kind of dream state or had actually experienced this event along the Mediterranean coastline, we can’t say for certain. One thing, however, is obvious: The imagery that symbolizes the prophecy is virtually identical to that which Daniel employed centuries before. Daniel previously saw four beasts rising out of a stormy sea, the last one of which had ten horns. Now John sees a beast coming out of a sea having seven heads and ten horns. The immediate similarity between these two prophecies is just too great to ignore. Let’s carefully look at the details of this symbolism.
As a starting point, Revelation chapter seventeen (which we will look at in more detail shortly) provides the answer as to what the sea represents in all of these prophecies. In that chapter, there is a statement that simply says,
“…the waters which thou sawest…are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues”
Thus, both Daniel and John figuratively describe the rise of the same major empire which, according to this interpretation, will arise out of a “sea” of people from different nations and having different languages. The sea from which the last Empire-Beast is birthed represents no single nationality, but is the raging sea of world politics, which in the end will begin to consolidate into this final world order.
Notice how John describes this Empire-Beast. He says that it has seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns upon its horns. In order to fully appreciate this symbolism we need to turn back one chapter in the book of Revelation and read a brief passage describing a character called “the dragon”. Revelation chapter twelve is a visionary description of the nation of Israel which symbolically presents its glorious history, including how it brought forth the Messiah (the child caught up to God’s throne). Within the symbolism that John uses, he introduces the dragon as being a “wonder in heaven…having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (Rev. 12:3). The dragon is obviously none other than Satan himself who has been present at every stage of God’s plan as the primary antagonist and evil influence in the world. However, in this passage Satan is curiously seen to have almost the same beast-like characteristics as the final form of the fourth world empire.
Why would the Lord present Satan with almost the same symbolic attributes as that of an empire? The reason for this strange description can be found in the first two verses quoted from Revelation chapter thirteen above. The rise of the last world empire is said to have been accomplished because “the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority”. Satan is the true motivating force behind the rise of all the empires of history, especially the final one that will arise in the last days. Therefore, he is symbolically seen to have characteristics very similar to the empires themselves. Jesus even called Satan “the ruler of this world”, meaning that he’s the real leader and evil influence behind all the powers of this present age.
One question, however, does come to mind when considering this symbolism, namely, ‘Why is Satan described in terms which seem to associate him with the last empire more than any of the others before it?’ He is said to have seven heads and ten horns just like the final Empire-Beast, but with a single differing characteristic: Satan is presented as having crowns upon his seven heads while the empire has crowns upon its horns.
A crown is the universal symbol of power and authority. He who wears one immediately is thought of as being a king in charge of some kingdom. And herein lays the secret to the difference found between Daniel’s vision discussed earlier and John’s prophecy in the book of Revelation. The representation of the fourth empire as having ten horns in its final form once again implies that over the kingdom will reign ten kings (or leaders) who will be loosely associated in some kind of confederation. At the moment they arise, these ten individuals will hold leadership authority over the alliance, thus John’s description includes a crown upon each of the horns of the beast. Satan is also described as having ten horns, but unlike in the empire’s symbolic imagery, his crowns appear upon his seven heads.
The Seven Heads of History
For a explanation to this subtle, but significant change in the symbolism we need to again refer to Revelation chapter seventeen. In that chapter, John prophesies of a “great harlot” that is said to reign over the kingdoms of the world. She is also said to sit upon a beast that has seven heads and ten horns. Although we will discuss this woman in greater detail later, including who she is and what she represents, for now we need to only focus on several verses in this chapter which are key to understanding the final Empire-Beast. This is what an angel told John concerning these seven heads:
“And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
And they are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.”
Don’t lose me here, because this is one of the most important concepts to understand if we are to make sense of all of these prophesies. The Lord is now extending the use of the symbolic term “beast” to mean all the major empires which have ever affected his people. This now includes more than just the four beasts which Daniel saw. For one thing, the original four empires only represented those powers which would arise from his time up until the time of the end. However, before Daniel lived there were actually additional powers which had affected the history of Israel. If we add the two primary empires which came before Daniel’s time to the four he prophesied would come from his time forward, we then end up with a total of six historical powers.
The angel who had spoken these words also helps to identify which empires are meant by the symbolism. When the angel revealed these things to John it was approximately the year 95 A.D. He first said concerning these empires that “five have fallen”. In other words, five of the empires of Biblical history had already had their zenith before the time of the Apostle John. He also says that “one is”, meaning that one of the empires was then in existence even as he spoke.
The empires which had already come and gone by John’s day are relatively easy to identify. According to the Bible, the kingdoms of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece all were major factors (mainly negative) affecting the nation of Israel. The two that Daniel did not mention in his vision (Egypt and Assyria) were not really oversights. They were not included simply because his prophecy was meant to be one describing the future, not the past. In addition, the power that was in existence at the time John lived was the empire of Rome; thus the angel uses the phrase, “and one is”. In this sense, it is clear that six out of the seven “heads” of John’s prophecy can be accounted for with relative ease.
The angel then goes on to tell John that there will be a seventh empire which “is not yet come”, and when it does arrive it will only “continue a short space”. What is this final world power? Remember, the “beast” of Revelation chapter seventeen is actually an image representing the epitome of all the Biblical world powers—not just the final one. Therefore, its peculiar attribute of having seven heads is the revealing detail which gives us information concerning what empires are indicated by the prophecy. With this in mind, there is only one empire remaining which can possibly be construed as having not yet arisen by the Apostle John’s day, and that is the empire of the Antichrist. In other words, in this “beastly” image, the final form of the empire is looked upon as being so different from the original Roman Empire that it is actually separated from it in the imagery and considered on its own. Where Daniel saw the Roman Empire as existing all the way up to the establishment of the kingdom of God, John says that the final form of it will be so unique that it should be considered a separate empire in its own right. Thus, the seven heads of Revelation seventeen are really the seven “mountains” of Satan’s world authority. Daniel saw only four of them in his prophecy of the future, but now the Lord gives us much greater detail in order to make the totality of world history more understandable.
When Satan, then, is seen to be a dragon having seven heads and ten horns with seven crowns upon his heads, it is to indicate who was (and still is) the true ruler of these seven historical kingdoms. Throughout history it has been primarily his evil influence working behind the scenes that has caused these powers to become the devouring “beasts” they are pictured as being. Satan’s symbolic similarity to the final world empire is not just a coincidence. In verse two of Revelation thirteen, John describes the last beast as being “like a leopard, and his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion”. These attributes are figuratively presented as various body parts which originally came from the previous three beasts of Daniel’s vision. The Lord is telling us that the kingdom of the Antichrist will be culmination of all the empires that have ever existed. It will be everything Satan has ever tried to build into each of the empires which came before, only in the end, the Antichrist’s kingdom will have all of these evil attributes rolled into one.
This is why the empire is said to have seven heads. The ruthlessness of all seven empires will manifest itself in one last kingdom which will rule the entire earth. In addition, the empire is further illustrated as having crowns upon it horns to indicate that at the beginning, ten literal kings will be the rulers within the confederation.
Thus, the Empire-Beast of the last days will be the most powerful, evil, and influential system Satan will ever possess. To bring about its rise to power is the one accomplishment he desires most. That’s why the Lord portrays Satan as having the same physical attributes as the empire—his goal and desire has figuratively made him appear to mirror the empire he creates at the end.
Next: The Empire-Beast Arises