The beast is first mentioned in Revelation 13. A Roman history lesson allows us insight into the experiences of the first-century church with the beast and the Roman Empire.
Octavian ruled Rome from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He was proclaimed divine by the Roman Senate and given the name “Augustus.” The name was Latin and meant “venerable” or “dignified.”
Augustus didn’t claim to be a god in his lifetime, but that didn’t stop the emperors who followed him from demanding worship from their subjects.
Nero (54 AD to 68 AD.) claimed to be divine. Coins were imprinted with his image and contained the words, “Savior of the World”
It is ironic that Nero, the supposed “Savior of the World,” died by suicide in 68 AD after being declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate.
Domitian (81 AD to 96 AD) was the emperor when the Book of Revelation was written. He demanded to be worshiped as a God and addressed as “our Lord and God.”
It is against this background that we read about the beast in chapter 13.
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names (Revelation 13.1).
The seventh chapter of Daniel is an Old Testament picture for our understanding of the beast. The image of the beast in Daniel provides a symbolic illustration of the beast in Revelation.
After this, I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet.
It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns (Daniel 7:7).
The big picture reveals that the authority of the beast rests on brute force. Seven carries the idea of completeness.
The names that Roman emperors ascribed to themselves demonstrate the way they blasphemed God.
What Jesus said to Satan is true of earthly authorities who assume a role only designed for God.
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8)
Only God is worthy of our worship.
John identified the beast as the Roman Empire, the persecutor of the church.
The beast is the spirit of imperial power that claims religious sanction for its gross injustices.
Yet, it is more than the Roman Empire.
The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.
The Power Behind the Throne
The power and authority of the beast come from the dragon.
And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority (Revelation 13.2).
The beast receives his power, dominion, and authority from the dragon. The Roman Empire’s power stemmed from its alliance with Satan.
It is important to understand God’s view of the world’s system.
On one hand, God loves the world, that is, he loves the people of the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3.16).
On the other hand, God views the world’s system as an opponent that will be replaced by the kingdom of God.
In the High Priestly prayer, Jesus said: “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours” (John 17.9).
In the prayer, Jesus revealed why he did not pray for the world’s system.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17.14-15).
The persecution that Jesus’ followers’ experience comes from the world’s system that is dominated by the evil one. That is why Jesus loves the world but will replace the world’s system with his kingdom.
To make this quite clear, let’s remember what John wrote, “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5.19).
One good response we can make to protect ourselves from the activity of the beast (the institutional representative of the world’s system) is to ask Jesus to pray for us and protect us from the evil one.
Two Greek words are used for worship in the New Testament. One means to prostrate oneself in awe before God. The other means to worship God by serving him.
The beast and the dragon demand service and worship from their subjects. They will use deception and raw power to obtain this from humans.
One of its heads seemed to have received a death blow, but its fatal wound had been healed. In amazement, the whole earth followed the beast.
They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13.3-4).
Caligula’s reign (37 AD to 41 AD) was marked by extravagance, tyranny, and cruelty. He was considered one of the most notorious and infamous emperors in Roman history.
Caligula is a good representative of the beast in the first century. He recovered from a serious illness and wanted to set up a statue of himself in the temple in Jerusalem. Only his death prevented this from taking place.
The beast resembles strongmen in every generation. The motivation for worship is not moral greatness but the power of their might.
As for the dragon, notice how he perverts worship by claiming what is only due to God.
Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in splendor, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
When humans serve and worship secular power, they need to recognize that this is in fact the worship of Satan.
Think about it!
Although Revelation 13 discusses events from over 2,000 years ago, the themes are still relevant today.
The abuse of power, the pursuit of false gods, and the perversion of worship are still present in our modern world.
The passage reminds us to be vigilant and mindful of these issues and to stay true to the worship of God.
Let’s pursue moral greatness rather than the power of might.
Let’s serve and worship only God rather than the false gods of business, politics, money, and power.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. It is on the Bob Spradling channel.