Here we come to possibly one of the tougher subjects in the Bible. I’m not going to pretend to be 100% certain about any claims as I know this is heavily contested scripture. On the same note, it does no good to ignore these concepts and relegate them to some far future fulfillment since we aren’t able to verify with certainty answers that would be acceptable to everyone. It’s important to note we are still dealing with the same time period. We see that this chapter is a continuation of chapter 12, with the dragon giving power to an agent (v2). Based on the rest of the book so far as relevant to both the timeline and the society listed, we can begin to see the possibility that the beast would have some form of representation to the invading Romans as they were the chief persecutors of Christian and Jew alike at this time (v7).
In verse 1, we have a fairly straightforward description of the beast. The standard view is that the seven heads represent the seven Caesars up to Titus. In addition, it would seem that this beast would be foreign, away from Jerusalem, and from the “sea,” a concept that could specify outsider, chaos (as in Genesis), or the abyss (as in other parts of Rev). The sixth wounded and healed head would be that of Nero/Vespasian (v3). Verse 2 states the make-up of the beast’s body: Leopard for Greece, Bear’s feet for Medo-Persia, and a Lion’s mouth for Babylon—the kingdoms the beast has encompassed. In verse 4 we see that many marveled at the strength of the Roman empire and worshiped it. The Caesars generally set themselves up as gods, blaspheming in turn. We see the theme of 42 months, again the theme of the entire book—the duration of the coming judgment on the Jewish people (v5). In verse 6, it seems the description gets more personalized. The beast opens his mouth to blaspheme specifically against God and heaven. He was also given the power to war with and kill the saints/Christians as well as dominion over all the principalities of the area (v8). In verse 9, it would seem that the original recipients are called to take note of these things. As well, in verse 10, they are called to endure for Christ even unto death or captivity.
Verse 11 introduces another beast, this one from the land with two horns that speaks like a dragon. He has the authority of the first beast. He makes others worship the beast (v12), possibly a sign of the Roman conquest. He makes fire come down from the sky (v13) possibly a sign that he commands troops that can launch fiery assaults with something like catapults or arrows. He also forces people to worship Caesar (v14), commanding that images are to be created, and speaks for Caesar in his stead (v15-16). This also seems to intimate, as does the history, that rumors circulated of Nero surviving the “sword wound” and would reappear to take over Rome again. This would have been a tactic to keep loyalty of both Rome and the conquered territories until a new ruler was established. This beast also causes all to have a mark on their hand or forehead that would cause them to be loyal to Rome (v17), this most likely being a type of parchment of fealty or coins bearing Caesar’s image as the official currency. In such a land that Rome is vehemently occupying, all would be required to acknowledge Caesar as lord and would likely be limited (or worse) from buying and selling if they hadn’t submitted. In verse 18, we of coarse see the infamous 666 reference, but are also given acknowledgement that many among the original recipients of this writing would be able to discern this.
Given the evidence so far and a brief study of history, it would seem the first beast would be considered a conglomeration of 7 Caesars including the three involved in the Christian persecution—Nero, Vespasian, and Titus, yet more specifically speaking of Nero with Vespasian being his healed head. Titus would seem related to the second beast as he was mainly in charge of the siege of Jerusalem. The two horns of the second beast most likely represent Vespasian and Titus.
The common spellings of Titus Flavius Vespasianus Augustus (both Titus and Vepasian were known as this until their ruling dynasty began in 69 AD) and Nero Caesar in Hebrew would both equate to the number of the beast in the Gematria (ref). Here, the most likely scenario would be Nero referred to primarily as the beast from the sea, with Vespasian being the healed head. Titus may have been primarily represented by the second beast from the land, though the Flavian dynasty may represent the beast as a whole since the Julian dynasty expired with Nero. These texts seem to have been written as such (the heavy symbolism) so they could be circulated to the assemblies without Rome becoming aware of their intent if these writings were to fall into their hands.
Here we can see how the abomination prophecies of Daniel seem to be fulfilled by Titus, the second beast. As well, when Jesus mentions the abomination standing in the holy place (Matt 24:15), this would seem to line up with Titus encamping Jerusalem. At this point, the Christians were encouraged to flee Judea as to not get caught up in the tribulation (Matt 24:16,21). Meanwhile, the “man of sin” references of Paul (2 Thes 2:1-12) seem to coincide with Nero, the first beast, as his own acts defined him, in addition to how Titus would have presented him during the war—as a god. While the second beast was part of the first, they seem to be signified as two separate entities because of the representation of the two dynasties (Julian and Flavian).
These are my initial conclusions while attempting to stay within the limits of this chapter. I know this might sound complex, and there are deeper considerations as well as more references to these beasts later in Revelation. However, we can reasonably understand during the multi-faceted political upheavals during this time, the degree of symbolic specificity would have been more easily understood by the original intended recipients of these writings.
The rest of this series can be found here.