Then another sign appeared in heaven, an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. (Rev. 12:3)
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)
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 dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. (Rev. 13:1-3)
At first glance all this looks pretty confusing, but the heads, horns, numbers, and crowns are all symbolic. When used this way head means knowledge/wisdom, while horn means authority. Seven is the number of perfection, and 10 denotes completion, meaning nothing is lacking. Seven is also more often used in the spiritual sense, and ten usually refers to earthly things. The seven heads and ten horns symbolize perfect wisdom and complete authority.
The facts that both Satan and the beast have seven heads and ten horns show us that when Satan is cast to Earth, he will immediately in-dwell the beast, who we call the anti-Christ. This is the point at which the Great Tribulation begins on Earth. Some people see the beast as a system or government, but the use of so many personal pronouns in Rev. 13 indicates the beast is a person, with all of Satan’s power at his command. Then there’s the fact that a second beast, known as the false prophet, will build a statue of the anti-Christ, and cause it to breathe so it can speak. (Rev. 13:15) How do you build a talking statue of a system, or a government?
The crowns denote rulership. Notice that Satan has seven crowns and they’re on his heads, while the anti-Christ will have ten crowns on his horns. Also, in the description of Satan the heads come first, but with the anti-Christ the horns are first. The Lord tends to list things in descending order of importance. This means that Satan will rule out of his super natural wisdom, his predominant power (Ezek 28:12,17), and the anti-Christ will rule because Satan will give him the authority to do so.
The Beast Of Rev. 17
Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.(Rev. 17:3)
Here we see a beast ridden by a woman. This beast also has seven heads and ten horns, but no crowns, and is covered with blasphemous names. This beast can not be the anti-Christ but has to be another view of Satan. We can see this because the seven heads are listed first, as they were with the dragon in Rev. 12:3.
Furthermore Rev. 17:8 tells us this beast once was (before John’s time), now is not (in John’s time), will come up out of the abyss (after John’s time). The anti-Christ was not around before John’s time, but Satan was, and from Rev. 13 we know he’ll come back. But what caused him to go into hiding?
Condemned And Defeated
On the night before His death Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and said that the prince of this world (Satan) would now stand condemned. (John 16:11) Paul said that at the cross, Jesus made a public spectacle of the (spiritual) powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:15)
In his first letter to the Church John wrote about the spirit of the anti-Christ and said it was already in the world (1 John 2:18). Paul agreed, calling it the secret power of lawlessness that was already at work in the world (2 Thes. 2:7). In the past, Satan had enjoyed an unrestricted presence in the world. But from John’s time on that would not be the case. He would be limited to working in secret through disobedient men until sometime in the future when he’ll appear again to the great astonishment of the unbelieving world. What force has restrained him from John’s day until ours to the point where the vast majority of people in the world today, believer or not, deny his very existence? Will the world be astonished when he appears again because they didn’t think he was real?
According to Paul, this restraining power is the promised Holy Spirit, resident in the Church. He’ll continue to restrain the secret power of lawlessness until He’s taken out of the way (literally out of the midst) of the world. And then at the proper time, the beast will once again be revealed to do his worst before finally being destroyed (2 Thes. 2:7-8). Rev. 13:4 says the unbelieving world’s reaction to Satan’s reappearance will be to bow down and worship him.
The subject of Rev. 17 is mystery Babylon, the false religion. I believe this second vision of the beast was given to John at such a late point in the Book of Revelation to provide some background on the Satanic nature of religious Babylon and show why it has to be completely destroyed.
The seven heads represent seven hills on which the woman sits. The woman signifies the pagan religion that originated in Babylon. Later it was moved to Rome where in the 4rd century it was merged with the church and hidden behind the veil of Christianity. The fact that no crowns are mentioned and the woman is the rider (and therefore in control) indicate that one of Satan’s strategies is to work through this false religion to deceive the world.
This is confirmed by the fact that the seven heads also represent seven Kingdoms. (Rev. 17:9) Five of them had fallen by John’s time, one was currently in power, and the remaining one would come later. The five previous kingdoms were Egypt, Assyria, neo-Babylon, Persia and Greece. The current one was Rome, and the one to come is the one we call the revived Roman Empire. Each one had a version of the pagan Babylonian religion that influenced the decisions of the kingdom.
The ten horns are ten Kings who in John’s time had not yet received a kingdom but for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. (Rev. 17:12) This hour is the hour of trial that’s going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the Earth, out of which the Lord has sworn to keep us (Rev. 3:10). The Greek word translated “from” in Rev. 3:10 means out of the place, time, or cause of the event referred to, in this case the hour of trial. The Greek word for hour also has a figurative meaning and that’s the way it’s being used here. Figuratively it means a certain definite time or season. The time or season being referenced is the Great Tribulation.
After the Church is gone and the restraint against Satan is lifted he’ll come out from hiding and inhabit an earthly king to rule openly again. We first saw this in Rev. 13 and in Rev. 17 we can see it confirmed.
The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.(Rev. 17:11)
Together Satan and these kings will take up arms against the Lord, but he’ll overcome them because He’s Lord of lords and King of kings. And when He does, we’ll be with Him.
“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.” (Rev. 17:14)
In this comparison of Rev. 13 and Rev. 17 we’ve seen that Satan has been working on several levels to thwart the plan of God. One of his most successful strategies has been to use religion as a tool. And we’ve also seen more evidence that the Church has to be gone before his end game can begin.