Revelation: The Dragon and the First Beast

May 22, 2011

Revelation is filled with vivid images that dazzle our imaginations. Among the more prominent of those images are the dragon and the two beasts. Fortunately, the text provides us strong evidence about the true identity of these symbolic creatures.

(Rev 12:3) Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.
(Rev 12:4) His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.

The prophecy leaves no doubt who this dragon represents:

(Rev 12:9) The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

So we have an important clue: The dragon is Satan. Whenever Revelation speaks of the dragon, we know it is talking about Satan.

But what did the dragon do?

(Rev 12:17) Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
(Rev 13:1) And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
(Rev 13:2) The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.
(Rev 13:3) One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.
(Rev 13:4) Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”
(Rev 13:5) The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months.
(Rev 13:6) He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.
(Rev 13:7) He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.
(Rev 13:8) All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
(Rev 13:9) He who has an ear, let him hear.
(Rev 13:10) If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

The dragon (Satan) went off to make war on the saints. So a beast rises up and is given power “to make war against the saints” (vs 7). Clearly this beast was Satan’s agent in making war on the saints. The beast was given authority over “every tribe, people, language and nation” — clearly the dominant ruler over the entire world in that day. And note that the beast was worshipped by all the people.

The beast was made up of parts of a lion, a bear, and a leopard. Now where have we seen those three animals in prophecy before? In Daniel 7, of course — where the lion represented Babylon, the bear represented the Medes and Persians, and the leopard was Greece under Alexander the Great. Each successive empire devoured the preceding one. But there was a fourth beast in that prophecy, one with ten horns:

(Dan 7:23) “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.
(Dan 7:24) The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings.
(Dan 7:25) He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.

Revelation depicts this fourth empire as being made up of parts of the preceding three (lion, bear, leopard). So Revelation is making a direct connection with the prophecy of Daniel. And the kingdom represented by Revelation’s first beast is the same as the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7, the kingdom that succeeded Greece. That, of course, would be the Roman Empire.

In chapter 17 we get more information about this beast with seven heads and ten horns.

(Rev 17:9) “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.
(Rev 17:10) They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.

Five of the seven kings had already fallen at the time of the prophecy. (Remember, this was around AD 95-96). “One is.” That decisively determines that the kingdom under discussion is the Roman Empire.

If we need further evidence, note that the seven heads represent seven hills. At the end of the first century, any Christian in the Roman Empire would immediately have recognized that as a reference to Rome.

Thus we have another important clue: The first beast was the Roman Empire.

One comment

  1. […] 1) The dragon is Satan. […]

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