What is the Beast from Revelation?

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. 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. 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. 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?"  Revelation 13:1-4

The dragon and the Beast are two different entities.  The Dragon is Satan.  The Beast is a political power.  Here is what this passage says:
  • The Beast had ten horns, seven heads, ten crowns.  Can't be taken literally.  It's not some weird seven headed king dragon.
  • It was strong, quick, cunning, unstoppable like a leopard, bear, lion combination.
  • The beast derived its power from Satan and his blasphemous practices.
  • The whole world followed this beast.
What are the seven heads?

This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.  Revelation 17:9

Later in Revelation it says the seven heads stands for seven hills.  Rome stood on seven hills.  The ten crowns/kings could then stand for ten Roman emperors.  The ten horns then stands for the ten cities of the Decapolis.  It appears to lean towards political power.

What are the ten crowns?

Ten rulers most likely. During the generation of John's writing, there were
  1. Augustus 1/27 BC – 8/14 AD
  2. Tiberius 9/14 – 3/37
  3. Caligula 3/37 – 1/41
  4. Claudius 1/41 – 10/54
  5. Nero 10/54 – 6/68
  6. Galba 6/68 – 1/69
  7. Otho 1/69 – 4/69
  8. Vitellius 4/69 – 12/69
  9. Vespasian 7/69 – 6/79 (called for the attack on Jerusalem)
  10. Titus – 6/79 – 9/81 (led the attack on Jerusalem)
What are the ten horns?

One possibility is The Decapolis, ten cities that were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status.  John says later the ten horns are ten kings.

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” Revelation 17:12-14

John says they are ten future kings of the Beast and they will persecute the Lamb (Christians).  Christians were persecuted by Roman Emperors until Constantine (306-337 AD). Over 40 Emperors rose to power.  Eleven of them after Titus are noteworthy in terms of their persecution of Christians. Are these the ten? Maybe, probably not.
  1. Domitian
  2. Trajan – 98 – 117
  3. Hadrian – 117 – 138
  4. Marcus Aurelius – 161 – 180
  5. Septimius Severus
  6. Maximinus the Thracian
  7. Decius
  8. Valerian
  9. Diocletian
  10. Galerius
  11. Julian the Apostate
Who is this Beast?

Daniel 7:1-8 describes other beasts that look like a lion/eagle/man, bear, leopard/bird, ten horned beast/teeth.  In verse 15 Daniel begs to know the identity of the fourth beast.  The angel tells him.

"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. 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. 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.  Daniel 7:23-25

It’s the same beast from Revelation.  The beast is not a man, but a kingdom.  There have been many kingdoms that have risen to power after John: Rome, Islam, England, Germany, Japan.  For the people of the time and the purposes of John’s audience, it would point to Rome.
  • Rome lasted over 400 years
  • Spread from Africa, all of Europe, Asia.
  • Highest population 56 Million
  • 1.9 million square miles
  • Depending on the time Revelation was written and whether some emperors were considered true emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius), there were 10-11 emperors by the time John wrote this.
  • The Christians were persecuted heavily under Roman rule.  No idea of the numbers since they were recorded.
  • Rome appeared unstoppable.  It swallowed up other kingdoms and tried to swallow up Christianity.