By James Coffman


This chapter has the two visions of the two remarkable beasts which rose out of the sea and out of the earth as allies and helpers of the dragon Satan. “He stood upon the sand of the sea” (Revelation 13:1) suggests the summoning of these beasts by Satan to aid his war against the saints of God; but it is incorrect to suppose that Satan, in any sense, either created or produced these monsters, called by Moffatt, “polycephalous brutes.”[1] He simply encouraged and organized the emerging tendency of a human creation in rebellion against God.

The beast out of the sea symbolically represents the great earthly governments which repeatedly in human history have exalted themselves against God and against his people (Revelation 13:1-10); and the beast out of the earth represents false, blasphemous religion reaching from the shadows of Eden to the end of time (Revelation 13:11-18). Before beginning our exegesis of the chapter, it will be appropriate to give the reasons that underlie the interpretations presented.


This beast is perverted government used by Satan as an instrument against God’s people, especially the seven great universal dominions in which the saints of God were persecuted. Despite the certainty with which so many identify this beast as the Roman Empire, we are certain that much more is meant, While true enough that this beast was indeed the Roman Empire at the time John wrote, the mention of the “seven heads” indicates a wider meaning. Some have viewed these as seven Roman emperors; but the fatal objection to this is that, “It was not merely one of the heads that was slain, but the beast himself received the mortal wound (Revelation 13:3,12,14).”[2] There were a hundred emperors, but only seven heads. The notion of Moffatt and others to the effect that the mortal wound of this beast was, “Nero’s death with the bloody interregnum after it (a wound to the state)!”[3] is totally inadequate. Nero’s death was not fatal to anything except himself. It certainly was not a mortal wound of the Roman Empire, but a blessing! The empire was not harmed at all by his death, but benefited. The true identity of the beast which recovered from the fatal wound is discovered in two considerations: (1) the connection of the prophecy with Daniel 7, and (2) the identity of the seven heads.

(1) Regarding Daniel 7, Daniel’s vision of the four beasts like a lion, a leopard, a bear, and then another “diverse from the others” (Daniel 7:4-7) must be interpreted as four successive world governments, such as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. John’s vision here is of a beast who is a composite of those in Daniel, requiring the conclusion that a great, continuous world government is meant, exercising an authority stretching over a period of centuries, with hundreds of rulers and emperors. To limit these visions in Revelation to a bare sixty-five years of European history is to ignore the cosmic dimensions of this prophecy. Of course, this is to be expected of those who deny any cosmic dimensions and repudiate any conception of predictive prophecy in the New Testament.

This writer believes that we are here studying a divine book, that it is inspired, and that every word of it is God’s truth. To this point in our interpretation of Revelation, we have refrained from citing historical fulfillments of earlier portions of the prophecy, despite the fact of there having been many such fulfillments; but this plain and undeniable connection with Daniel’s prophecy of the setting up of God’s everlasting kingdom in “the days of those kings” (the days of the Roman kings) (Daniel 2:44); that is, during the time of the fourth great world empire, requires the discernment that future history is emphatically prophesied in this chapter. Nor does this rob the chapter of its relevance to the generation first addressed by the apostle. They were living in the days of Daniel’s fourth beast, that of the Roman Empire; and “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) which would ultimately culminate in the second beast (the one out of the earth) was already working.

(2) The identity of the “seven heads.” Regarding this, Pieters has an extensive study of various views of their identity:[4]

The seven forms of government under which Rome existed; however, there were only six of these!

Seven prominent emperors of Rome during the latter part of the first century B.C. and the first part of the first century A.D. Of course, there is no agreement whatever on which seven!

The seven heads are to be understood not numerically, but symbolically. “Rome must have its full complement of kings” (the view of Beckwith).

The seven heads are seven world-kingdoms hostile to God and to his people, namely, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and a seventh to arise at a future time after Revelation was written.

Pieters referred to this as “a jumble of confusion,” but reluctantly accepted the view (stated last, above) that, “the heads represent the great world empires of which five were past and the sixth was flourishing when the book was written.”[5] Exactly the same conclusion has been reached by this writer, but with enthusiasm and confidence. No other explanation ever offered fits the prophecy so exactly and circumstantially as does this one. These seven world empires are indeed what is symbolized by the seven heads. Like practically everything else in Revelation, the seven heads are symbolical; and the interpretation of them here does not rule out the possibility that at some future time another world empire could develop; but significantly only seven have appeared in the entire history of the world up to the present time, a fact that certainly supports the view we have accepted.

“The ten horns” specifically identified later as ten future kingdoms (Revelation 17:12) represent this sea-beast in his final phase, not any longer as a worldwide empire, but as many multiple states (the ten is symbolical), none of them able to wield universal authority like the “seven heads,” but still exercising great authority and power to persecute and destroy God’s people. These are called the eighth head (Revelation 17:11). Nations like Russia and China today are just as much a part of this beast as was Nebuchadnezzar when he commanded all people to fall down and worship a golden image of himself (Daniel 3:5,6). An essential element in the personality of this beast is humanism, man worshipping himself.


In a word this beast is false religion opposed to God and persecuting God’s people. The widespread willingness of scholars to identify this beast as the pagan priesthood of the “emperor cult” is apparent in almost every commentary one may pick up; but such a limited view does not fill the bill at all and cannot possibly be the correct interpretation. “This beast, called also the false prophet (Revelation 16:13; 19:20), symbolizes false religion and false philosophy in whichever form these appear throughout the entire dispensation.”[6] This is surely correct; and views like that of Barclay who limited it to “the organization of Caesar worship”[7] are much too restricted, as are also those interpretations that would make this beast “self-deceit,”[8] “the proconsul sent yearly by the emperor to govern the province,”[9] etc. All such interpretations are focused upon details that in the large view are unimportant. “This vision represents a great movement already in progress”;[10] it represents the “capture of organized religion to help promote the aims of the first beast”;[11] “it includes the papacy (2 Thessalonians 2), but does not portray it separately but combined with all forms of a similar nature in the whole world.”[12] We shall deal with the papal aspect of this beast later.

Especially important is the fact of this beast’s period of operation being “forty and two months,” which without any doubt whatever means “the entire Christian dispensation.” This was the period of the first beast’s operation (the sea-beast); and the operation of the land-beast is coextensive with that of the first. Thus it is no isolated or provincial event which could be signified. No. These two beasts, both instruments of Satan, are the two great enemies of God’s people throughout history; namely, (1) the wicked, perverted government, and (2) false or apostate religion. Neither the world nor the church will ever be through with either one of these beasts until the end of time.


In order to interpret this chapter, the question of the healed “death-stroke” (Revelation 13:3) is crucial. Scholars have misunderstood it as follows:

The assassination of Julius Caesar.[13]
The illness of Caligula.[14]

The prohibition of paganism by Theodosius.[15]

The coming of Christ.[16]

The Christianizing of the Roman Empire.

The rebellion of Galba, Otho and Vitellius.[17]

The battle of Waterloo. The forerunner of the magazine Christian Herald published a book on this in 1860![18]

The actual death of the Antichrist and his subsequent resurrection from the dead (!) near the end of time![19]

Nero himself, the suicide who was raised from the dead (!) in a myth! This infamous “Nero redivivus” interpretation is parroted by so many scholars that it would be tedious to mention them; but of all the alleged interpretations of this question, this is the most worthless of all of them. In the first place, no such myth ever existed, except in the minds of imaginative scholars. Zahn was certain that when Revelation was written, no such superstition was in existence even if Revelation was written in 95 A.D.![20] Furthermore, as Pieters said, such an interpretation is “wholly incompatible with any believing acceptance of the book as a genuine prophecy; for the things foretold, if this interpretation is accepted, did not take place.”[21]

The persecuting policy of Nero revived by Domitian.

What is the actual meaning of the mortal wound that did not kill?

This part of the symbol was fulfilled when the barbarian hordes from the north swept down upon Rome, and the empire came to an end in 476 A.D …. This ended the western part of the pagan empire. The imperial government received its death-blow.[22]
But that death-stroke was healed. It did not mean the end of Roman persecutions of God’s people. Where the first beast left off, the second took over. The old pagan empire was revived in a Christianized form, “The Holy Roman Empire”; and all of the arrogance, hatred, and persecution of the first beast was restored. The fatal wound was healed. The sixth head of the sea-beast (Rome) was fatally wounded; but the worldwide government continued as a religious power. Without this religious phenomenon, Roman authority would have perished as totally as did that of Nineveh and Tyre, or Assyria and Babylon. That religious power, of course, was the apostate form of Christianity known as the Roman Catholic Church. One thing should be particularly noted: there has been no other worldwide authority in the history of the world which might logically be called a seventh head of the sea-beast.

This brings us to consider the essentially Christian nature of this second beast, the pseudo-Christian nature of it. This beast was no mere “committee set up in the Asia Minor to enforce emperor worship,”[23] nor “a proconsul sent out every year”[24] for the same purpose, nor a provincial council made up of local pagan priests;[25] but, “It was an institution devoted to the empire on its religious side.”[26] Its operations bore a genuine resemblance to Christianity, as attested by the lamb’s horns that crowned it. The essential nature of it manifested all the outward appearance of Christianity; its function was primarily that of conducting worship; “And this priestly role identifies the second beast as a religious power.”[27] In John’s day, of course, the pagan priesthood were a manifestation of this beast; but several things forbid our accepting the priests of paganism as the principal identity. In the first place, where were their “lamb’s horns,” their outward resemblance of true Christianity? Furthermore, the pagan priesthood perished before the sixth head (Rome) was mortally wounded in 476 A.D. The whole structure of paganism had already collapsed before Rome received the death-stroke, the Edict of Theodosius having previously closed all pagan temples throughout the empire in 389 A.D. The pagan religions were not visibly present when the empire received the death-stroke; but this second beast was present in the form of the apostate Medieval Church, which restored all the old forms of the state, crowned Charlemagne as the head of it, and by religious devices continued to exercise worldwide authority and dominion. These historical facts are clearly foreshadowed in Revelation 13. This “second beast,” the land-beast, is not “The Antichrist,” nor “the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2), but that worldwide, religious ally of wicked human government used repeatedly to persecute and destroy God’s people, as, for example, in the Spanish Inquisition.


The great apostasy foretold in the New Testament must be viewed as a significant manifestation of the entity symbolized by this second beast, an apostasy by no means limited to the papacy, but certainly inclusive of it. Measuring a chapter as, on the average, about twenty verses, there are at least seven whole chapters of the New Testament devoted to that phenomenon called the apostasy; and, if Revelation is the kind of book it is devoutly believed to be by this writer, there is no way for that apostasy to have been omitted from its pages. Where are the eyes of those scholars who can write a whole commentary on Revelation and never even mention it? What kind of astigmatism can be blind to the plainest references to it, and what kind of deafness is it that cannot hear the thunder of these middle chapters of Revelation? When we speak of the apostate church, we are not speaking of the devoted millions who are deceived within her ranks, nor of the countless faithful souls within her who may be doing their best to follow Christ. The apostasy is not The Catholic Church, but the religious apparatus which controls and exploits it, the secular state which the hierarchy created and controls, and the worldwide organization by which their tyranny and control are enforced. That is the apostasy, at least a significant part of it, but not the whole of it. A mere glance at what that religious apparatus has done historically should convince any thoughtful person that an apostasy of incredible dimensions did indeed overtake the historical church. Of what does that apostasy consist?

1. They placed a human being on a pedestal of authority above all Christians, receiving him as “the head of the church” instead of Christ.

2. This so-called “pope’s” word is honored even in its contradiction of what Jesus Christ said.

3. They took the word of God away from the human race and burned the men who dared to translate it for the common people, as witness the ashes of Tyndale and Huss.

4. They took the wine of the communion away from all Christians and drank it up themselves.

5. They tortured, tormented, burned, destroyed, and consigned to hell countless saints of God throughout the whole Medieval period, during which they alone had a copy of the sacred Scriptures. The Spanish Inquisition is the only example of this that needs to be cited; and, significantly, the principal architect of that diabolical apparatus is still revered as a saint in the apostate church.

6. They corrupted Christianity by the consecration of sacred images, the introduction of Mariolatry, and the acceptance of so-called saints (dead Christians) as mediators between God and man, thus denying the true office of Christ our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5).

7. They invented the evil doctrine of purgatory, the greatest fund-raising system ever devised.

8. They sold for money the right to commit sin, in that notorious sale of indulgences that financed the Crusades and many of their cathedrals.

9. They condemned and executed the great translators of the word of God who dared to challenge their wicked usurpation of power.

10. They forbid to marry and command to abstain from meats, specific actions associated with the apostasy (1 Timothy 4:3).

11. They perverted and changed the ordinance of Christian baptism.

12. They invented so-called “sacraments” for the purpose of solidifying their control over people’s lives; but of the “seven,” only two of them have Greek names, effectively divorcing the other five from any connection whatever with true Christianity (They are not in the Greek New Testament).

13. They have courted the favor of earthly governments and maintained a relationship with them described in Revelation 17 as “committing fornication” with them; and this is going on now.

14. They have arrogated to themselves alone the right of determination of who is or is not saved, and have ruthlessly enforced their decisions beyond the gates of cemeteries all over the world. Try to find the grave of a dead Protestant in Rome!

15. They have brazenly claimed the right to forgive sins, require penance, and grant absolution. Satan himself has as much right!

The above is only a very small list of a much greater one showing how extensive an apostasy actually occurred in the historical church, and which is so dramatically foretold in the symbolism of this second beast. What is to be thought of the “Christian scholars” who are either ignorant of this, or who do not have the guts to mention it? Again, we deny any vindictive or unchristian hatred of Catholicism. See our article extolling the virtues of “The Great Whore” in Revelation 18. Dear members of this writer’s family are members of the Catholic Church, as well as many precious and devoted friends; but, in this work, we are endeavoring to present the teachings of the sacred New Testament; and the word of the Lord leaves no doubt whatever with regard to the apostasy of the hierarchical apparatus which misdirected the historical church. Other characteristics of it will be mentioned in the notes on the text of the chapter, below.


This view in Revelation of great world-governments full of blasphemy, utterly opposed to God and Christ, persecuting and destroying God’s people, etc., is misunderstood by some scholars as a contradiction of the views of Paul and Peter (Rom. 13:1-7,1 Peter 2:13-16); but it is clear from Revelation 13:10 that John’s views were fully in harmony with theirs. Rist stated the erroneous view thus:

For Paul, the empire and its rulers were inherently good … under the direct control of God, not Satan … However, for John, there is nothing good about either the empire or the emperors. The rulers are not ordained of God, but are the agents of Satan himself.[28]
Such a view is based upon an inadequate understanding of what all the apostles taught. For a discussion of “The Christian and the State” from the Pauline viewpoint, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 447-449. There are two kinds of states; and, besides that, the same principles of submission are enjoined upon Christians with reference to both kinds, as plainly indicated in Revelation 13:10 where John implied the very fullest consonance with all that Paul and Peter wrote. Despite the satanic alliance between wicked states and Satan, such alliances exist clearly and only under the terms of God’s permissive will. What else could be the meaning of the recurring expression “and there was given unto him” (Revelation 13:5), “and it was given to him” (Revelation 13:7), “it was given to him” (Revelation 13:14), “and it was given to him” (Revelation 13:15), etc.? No, John did not teach that Satan is truly in control. We now turn our attention to the text of the chapter.

[1] James Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 429.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 179.

[3] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 430.

[4] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 214ff.

[5] Ibid., p. 218.

[6] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 179.

[7] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 89.

[8] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 334.

[9] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 112.

[10] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 410.

[11] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 183.

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 389.

[13] R. H. Charles, Revelation of St. John, Vol. I, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), p. 349.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Carl August Auberlen, The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John, Viewed in their Mutual Relation (Andover: W. F. Draper, 1857), pp. 298,304.

[16] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 394.

[17] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 220.

[18] Ibid.

[19] J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1900), Vol. II, p. 452.

[20] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 223.

[21] Ibid.

[22] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 191.

[23] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1961), p. 171.

[24] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 112.

[25] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 171.

[26] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 432.

[27] Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 259.

[28] Martin Rist, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 461.

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