If you’ve followed my blog for several years, you will have seen that every so often I go back to imagery in the Book of Revelation and try to make sense of it. I’ve looked at Revelation 13 several times-- the beast with seven heads and ten horns, warring against the Saints, and the second beast deceiving others and causing people to receive a mark in the forehead or hand. I’ve come up with a number of different ways of looking at it, all with the caveat that I would probably interpret differently in the future.
Well, here I am, looking at it again, and talking about it again, with a different view.
One of the things that has puzzled me for a long time first has to do with Revelation 12--the chapter about the woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to the child and who is fought by the dragon. I wondered, “Why was this chapter put here?” I wondered this because from about Revelation 6-11, there is this very strong sense that things are happening in a linear timeline, from the beginning, through to the end. There’s a sequence of seals opening and a sequence of angels blowing trumpets. But then Revelation 12 is thrown in, which has imagery of the war in heaven, which represents a flashback to the beginning, so it is hard to know 1) how long this flashback lasts and 2) where the imagery rejoins the timeline of future history. Is there any track-backs or reviews of previous material? Are there any skips ahead? It’s hard to know.
So here’s the insight I had (and it is going to sound simple, but its implications are very useful): The beast of Revelation 13 that rises out of the sea is very similar to the dragon in the Revelation 12 flashback about the war in heaven. Seven heads and ten horns. There are some cosmetic differences—the beast in Revelation 13 is described as like a leopard, with bear’s feet, and a lion’s mouth (Rev. 13:2) instead of a dragon—but the essence is the same. Still predatory.
Think about what information we would lose about this beast in Revelation 13 if we didn’t have Revelation 12 in there.
Next, there’s something we learn from the Joseph Smith Translation.
KJV Revelation 13:1
JST Revelation 13:1
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 I saw another sign, in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth;
a beast rise up out of the sea,
and he stood upon the sand of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
Joseph Smith contributed the information that this beast in Revelation 13 was in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth. But don’t forget this beast is similar to the dragon in Revelation 12 in the war in heaven. Since we associate the Revelation 12 dragon with Satan and his followers, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call that the devil’s kingdom, which was cast out of heaven. So we then we can infer that the beast of Revelation 13 is the political kingdom(s) of the devil that is set up on earth. It rises up out of the sea like it is something that hasn’t been seen before.
Next question: Would we be able to recognize the kingdom(s) of the devil as a political entity(s) here? Do we see it on earth today? Based on the stories in the Book of Ether, I suspect that devil’s kingdom will make use of secret combinations to try to keep people in captivity to it. But I don’t know if we see that just yet. I suspect it is still in the future. But it's hard to know because our individual knowledge is so limited. It seems like when we get to this point in history, it will be so obvious that pointing out the correct interpretation will no longer be seen as "out there" but actually a daring thing to do.
Here’s a bonus note: In Revelation 17, we see the seven-headed-ten-horned beast again, but this time it has a rider, and its rider is the whore, the mother of abominations, which drinks the blood of saints and martyrs. The position of the whore riding the beast communicates that the forces of immorality will eventually acquire ascendency in the earthly kingdom(s) of the devil and then set the agenda. Happily, we are also told that the beast will lose in its fight against the Lamb (Rev. 17:14) and eventually turn on the whore and destroy her (Rev. 17:16), which will be another instance of the wicked punishing the wicked.
So for me, my question has been answered about why the content of Revelation 12 was put where it was. It gives us valuable context about the nature of the beast that appears in Revelation 13. The beast in Revelation 13 is patterned after the kingdom of the devil that fought against God and the Saints before the foundation of the world. And that means that when we are trying to pin the identity of the seven-headed-ten-horned beast on some entity, it has to fit kingdom(s)-of-the-devil criteria as well.