Revelation 12 ends with Satan standing on the sand of the sea. John then sees “a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” to mock King Jesus (Rev 13:1). Who (or what) is this sea monster?
Most scholars call the beast “the antichrist.” In his epistles, John informs us that “the spirit of the antichrist … is in the world already” and “many antichrists have come” and gone (1 John 2:18-22; 4:2-3; 2 John 7; cf. Matt 24:24).
However, John and Paul also warn of one antichrist, a “man of lawlessness,” who “is coming” at the end of the present age (1 John 2:18; 4:4; 2 Thess 2:1-12). The beast, the antichrist, at times seems to be both a political empire and at the same time a person. This is not all that unusual (e.g., when you think of Nazi Germany you think of Hitler). “The dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” to the sea monster to try to silence the Church’s witness (Rev 13:3).
The sea beast appears as a compilation of all the evil traits of Daniel’s beastly kingdoms (Rev 13:2; Dan 7:4-8). Throughout the Bible, beasts are presented as exaggerated caricatures—like political cartoons. The main goal of political cartoons is not to make us laugh; it is to provoke people to think about current events from the artist’s point of view (i.e., God’s view of the beast).
John notices that someone with a “sword” had mortally wounded one of the antichrist’s seven “heads” (Rev 13:3, 14). John doesn’t tell us who wounded him. But when Jesus issues judgments from his mouth, his mouth acts like a “sharp sword” (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21). Plus, the Greek word translated “wound” is the same word that is repeatedly translated “plagues” in Revelation (9:18; 11:6; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18). Mixing metaphors are common in apocalyptic literature. What are we to make of all this?
Every antichrist figure in history has died and yet the “antichrist spirit” continues to do its dirty work. Daniel puts it this way: “As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season” in the next antichrist (Dan 7:11-12). The people of the world may look around and think, “It doesn’t look like Jesus defeated Satan.” But the ancient dragon is just using the sea monster to dupe them into believing that Jesus is not King. They are wrong. Jesus is King and he is in control.
The dragon camouflages his defeat so persuasively that “the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshipped the dragon, … and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Rev 13:3-4). The sea monster will appear to be slain again and again, only to rise again and again, until one last antichrist incarnates lawlessness at the end of history (2 Thess 2:1-12).
You can always spot the sea monster at work. It has a real potty mouth. It disparages God’s name, ridicules the Church, and deceives by making unrighteousness seem pleasurable (Rev 13:5-6). Its malicious power generates universal admiration and praise (13:8). Dissenters will stick out. The beast “was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over” the entire globe (13:7-8).
“The proper response is not to kick and scream, but to hold firm to patience and faith” (NT Wright). So, John concludes, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:9-10). The sea beast is Satan’s tool to cause us to compromise. Yet Christ left an example that we might follow in his steps. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21-23). Jesus is King and he is in control. We must trust him.