The book of Revelation is highly symbolic. Its prophecies are written in a kind of code language that must be interpreted to make sense. A casual reading will blur the eyes and befuddle the mind. One must take the time to define each symbol by searching the entirety of Scripture, for in Revelation all the books of the Bible meet and end. Once this work has been done, the prophecies of Revelation can be read with understanding, each symbol automatically triggering an interpretation in the reader’s mind.
What you are about to read is Revelation 13 with simple explanatory notes provided in parentheses after each symbolic word and phrase. The effect, I think you will find, is quite rewarding. In a matter of just a few minutes you will have read and understood this remarkable prophecy at a glance, as it were.
One more preliminary note before you proceed: this is not intended to be a systematic study that provides the biblical and historical proofs for the interpretation offered. That type of study you may read here, when you have more time and want to dig into more detail. My only goal is to provide a brief and simple annotated reading of the passage for immediate, big-picture understanding. Consider this an aerial view of the forest, not a detailed examination of the trees.
Here you go.
The Beast From the Sea
Then I stood on the sand of the sea (John is standing on the shore looking out over the ocean, and a vision unfolds before him). And I saw a beast (the papal church-state) rising up out of the sea (coming to power among the populous nations of Europe), having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns (possessing political power through alliances with nations), and on his heads a blasphemous name (a God-defaming character).
Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion (it is an amalgamation of religious and political elements from the three kingdoms that preceded it: Greece, Media-Persia, and Babylon). The dragon (Satan himself working through the pagan Roman Empire) gave him his power, his throne, and great authority (the pagan Roman Empire gave way to the papal Roman Empire and the Catholic Church became the new Rome).
And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded (the end of papal supremacy in 1798 when Napoleon dethroned and imprisoned the pope), and his deadly wound was healed (but then came the gradual reestablishment of the papal church as a political entity, beginning with Napoleon himself re-acknowledging the pope, then in 1929 with Mussolini restoring property and political status to the papacy, followed by President Reagan acknowledging the Catholic Church as a political state by the appointment of an American ambassador to Vatican City). And all the world marveled and followed the beast (papal influence and authority has gradually grown throughout the world).
So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast (they put Satan in the place of God by attributing to God characteristics that actually belong to Satan by incorporating pagan beliefs into the Roman Church from the Roman Empire); and they worshiped the beast (gave allegiance to the papacy), saying, “Who is like the beast? (Is there any other power like the papacy, a church and a state in one?) Who is able to make war with him? (Who can defy or resist the self-asserted claims of the papacy to represent God on earth?)”
(John now loops back to the period of papal supremacy prior to the inflicting of the deadly wound). And he was given a mouth speaking great things (making high claim to speak for God) and blasphemies (defaming God’s character through its theological system of merit-based salvation, the mediatorial interposition of Mary, the saints, and human priests, as well as the horrific doctrines of eternal torment, purgatory, and idol worship), and he was given authority (political power) to continue for forty-two months (1260 years, from 538 to 1798).
Then he (the papal church-state) opened his mouth in blasphemy against God (claiming God’s position on earth), to blaspheme His name (to defame the character of God), His tabernacle (to defame the priesthood of Christ by putting the papal priesthood in its place), and those who dwell in heaven (the entire heavenly system of salvation).
It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them (the persecutions of the Dark Ages, during which at least 50 million people were martyred in the name of God). And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation (the Islamic crusades, the conquests of the Americas, and the inquisitions of Europe).
All who dwell on the earth will worship him (the papacy’s false picture of God will pervade the world), whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (except those whose faith is centered in the revelation of God’s true character of selfless, non-coercive love manifested in Christ).
If anyone has an ear, let him hear (please understand these things because they are of major importance).
He who leads into captivity (governs by force) shall go into captivity (be overcome by force); he who kills with the sword (of military power) must be killed with the sword (suffer the wrath of the nations who will retaliate; coercion only breeds war). Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (here are those who endure with faith the pressures of persecution incurred by refusing to embrace the papacy’s coercive picture of God)!
The Beast From the Earth
Then I saw another beast (a second political power arising on the scene the 1260-year papal reign was ending) coming up out of the earth (the rise of Protestant America in a relatively unpopulated area of the world), and he had two horns (two sources of power: religious and civil freedom) like a lamb (based on principle of liberty embodied in Christ) and spoke like a dragon (Satan’s principle of coercion will eventually be brought back upon the world through the legislative and military action of Protestant American).
And he exercises all the authority of the first beast before him (America will abandon its governing principles of religious and civil freedom and exercise the same kind of coercive power once employed by the papacy), and causes (by the force of law) the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast (to be dominated by the authority of the papacy), whose deadly wound was healed (whose political influence and power was restored).
He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (a deceiving display of miracles will be used to mimic the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost).
And he (Protestant America) deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived (Protestant America will lead the inhabitants of earth to form a one-world government after the pattern of the Roman Church of the Middle Age, to unite church and state and legislate religious practice).
He (America) was granted power (political authority) to give breath (life) to the image of the beast (to the coercion picture of God embodied in a joining of church and state), that the image of the beast should both speak (make laws) and cause (force) as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed (a death penalty will be enacted for dissenters).
He causes all (by the force of law), both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark (a symbol of compliance with the new system) in their right hand or on their foreheads (either behavioral compliance or intellectual compliance will suffice),
and that no one may buy or sell (economic controls and penalties will be imposed) except he who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name (except those who comply with the beast system’s legislated test of loyalty).
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man (the head of the papal system): his number is six hundred and sixty-six (the number that represents the man-centered papal system, which can be calculated by the numeric value of, Vicarius Filii Dei, meaning Vicar of God, which was one of the early titles of the pope).