The Unholy Trinity: The Sea Beast (2 of 3) – Revelation 13:1-4

by Roger McCay
13 August 2023
Sermon Passage: Revelation 13:1-4
Link to Audio Version

Government as religion and rulers elevated to godlike status are nothing new in the world. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote long ago, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” We could say much on the historical ways the deification of rulers and of government taking on religious significance has played out in history. However, today we’ll primarily focus on this phenomenon in the first century, with Nero and the Roman Empire, while also considering some contemporary ways we see this playing out in our own society.

As for what is taking place in the US, we’ve seen politics and political leaders elevated to religious status by both major political parties over the past few decades. Much has been written on this, and the discussion as to how this has been playing out is fairly mainstream, so it should be no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Consider Samuel Benson’s observations, in his article, “The danger of trading religion for politics,” writing for Deseret News:

While religious leaders have warned against the increasing secularization of America, perhaps a more troubling trend is the religious putting faith in the wrong things…. People are leaving pews for political parties, and their devotion, their donations and even their deities are subsequently replaced.[1]

Shadi Hamid, in his article, called “America Without God,” elaborates:

“As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief. Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations. This is what religion without religion looks like.”[2]

And so Benson laments:

Religion without religion is not just counterintuitive — it’s dangerous. While the political arena can provide the community and the sense of belonging that others find in religion, little in politics feeds the natural human yearnings for moral blamelessness and an understanding of eternal truth. Looking to politicians to save us from all of life’s problems — to view them as saviors — borders on idolatry.[3]

Benson blunts the blow in his last statement, but the elevation of politicians to the status of deific saviors does not just “border on idolatry.” It falls square into the realm of idolatry.

And like I said, this is a phenomenon that takes place among both the right and the left. Presidents and hopeful presidents particularly seem to have been increasingly elevated to cults of personality. I could go on about this, naming names, but I really don’t have to. I’m sure you get it. People are looking for a Savior, and they are putting that mantle on their chosen political demagogue. And when this happens, a cult-like worship of the individual comes into being. This can even draw in well-meaning folks, including people who identify as Christians that have gotten caught up in the furor of the political moment. And in that furor, a type of give-and-take feeding cycle can take place. As one sociological expert, Stephen A. Kent, explains:

There are “social-psychological associations that give adherents a sense of vicarious power through a heightened sense of destiny and purpose. The figures who receive adherent’s adulation themselves feel validated and encouraged by their followers’ energy, which supplies narcissistic leaders with emotional validation and creates for them a body of potentially mobilized people enacting their directives and whims.”[4]

It’s idolatry. And it’s a very dangerous thing that can draw even well-meaning, church-going people into its vortex, a vortex of misplaced worship.

But what’s really going on here? We considered a couple of weeks ago how Satan works to influence government and government leaders according to his purposes, particularly as a means of warring against the Kingdom of God and God’s people, the Christians. Indeed, a failure to recognize Satan’s influence in government can lead to such misplaced worship. And this is no small matter. The Scriptures teach that such misplaced worship is, essentially, demon worship and even the worship of Satan (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 2:9; Rev. 9:20; and as our passage today lays out in Rev. 13:4).

Now, when we looked at Rev. 12:17-13:1 a couple of weeks ago, we considered some very “necessary, textually derived limiting principles” found in Revelation along with the context of its writing, that limit the possible candidates as to the identity of the Sea Beast (introduced in Rev. 13:1). Kenneth Gentry puts forward five key limiting principles, which help zero us in. First, “The beast’s number is that of a man;” next, “The beast is an evil man of debased character;” and third, “The beast possesses ‘great authority’.” Then, as we touched on a couple of weeks ago, “The beast is one of John’s contemporaries;” and “The beast is relevant to first century Christians.” [5] Also, I went ahead and told you the BLUF, which is that the Sea Beast is an historical entity from the first century, specifically Emperor Nero but also the Roman Empire generically. So, we took a first look at the picture John paints of an unholy trinity, who are enemies of Christ and his church: the Dragon and the Sea Beast. The Dragon, is of course, Satan. And we’ll identify the Land Beast when we get to it, in Rev. 13:11.

Let’s look again at Rev. 13:1-2:

13:1 And I saw 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. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.

Now, why call the Beast “a beast”? Well, the imagery John describes is certainly beastlike. But let’s look closer at this.

First off, the 10 horns and 7 heads echo the description we had of the dragon, Satan, back in 12:3. The Beast is here pictured as a reflection of the dragon, who is pulling the Beast’s strings and empowering him to do his will, in Satan’s war against the Christians.

A difference in the image is that the diadems are on the Beast’s horns rather than its heads. And this fits with Rev. 17:12, revealing that the 10 horns are ten kings (diadems are crowns, after all). And these “incidental variations” could have some deeper meanings, but perhaps the difference simply has to do with a differentiation of the dragon and the beast in order to avoid confusion. [6]

As it is, horns, in antiquity, speak to two things—military strength and political authority (e.g. Num. 24:8; Deut. 33:17).[7] This understanding is reinforced in 13:2, where the dragon gave the beast his power, throne, and authority.

As for the seven heads, they represent the first seven Emperors of Rome, starting with Julius Caesar, where “five of whom have fallen” are followed by the one who “is” (being the reigning Emperor at the time John received his vision, circa. AD 65), the sixth emperor, who was Nero Caesar. We’ll dig into that more when we get to Rev. 17:10.

But on this issue of authority and power, take a look again at Rev. 13:4.

And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

So, Satan gave his authority to the Beast. This is no small thing. It’s a massive amount of power. And this fits with the extreme power and dominance the Roman Empire had in the world, during that time. They were the mightiest empire of the ancient world, establishing their dominion and enforcing their authority with the mightiest army to be found anywhere.

This is easily shown in history. King Agrippa gave a speech to the Jews, when Agrippa (yes, the one whom Paul went before in Acts 26) … when Agrippa was trying to convince the Jews not to go to war against Rome. As recorded by Josephus, Agrippa said, “The power of the Romans is invincible in all parts of the habitable earth,”[8] and “all that are in the habitable earth are [under the] Romans.” [9] Agrippa then, in his speech, gave all sorts of examples of the many, many nations that succumbed to Roman power. Agrippa’s view was in line with Philo’s (a first-century Hellenistic Jew who lived in the Roman province of Alexandria, Egypt), who wrote (circa. AD 40) of Caesar’s “sovereignty” over (as he puts it) “the most numerous, and most valuable, and important portions of the habitable world, which in fact one may fairly call the whole world.”[10] Surely, those to whom John wrote Revelation, in the Roman province of Asia, would have had the same point of view.

Thus, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” In the face of such power and authority (indeed dominance throughout their world), people looked to the Beast as a force of deity, which was not out of place among pagan cultures (the goddess Roma, for example, was a personification of Rome and the Roman state). And keep in mind, the image of the Beast was, conceptionally, an entity that fluidly spoke of both the Emperor and the Empire, as they were wrapped up together. It’s similar to how we speak of the body of Christ being Christ’s literal body but also being the body of believers, with Christ at its head. As Gentry points out, “The Roman poet, Ovid, has said, ‘The state is Caesar.’ So somehow the whole state of the Roman Empire is rolled up in the Caesar who the rules the Roman empire.”[11] So, Rome, with the emperor at its head, brought the Pax Romana, the “peace of Rome.” It established trade and currency throughout the empire. It established laws and carried out Roman justice. The Beast ruled with an iron fist, and its influence was everywhere.

In religion, for example, Rome even dictated who would be the Jewish High priest, in Jerusalem. Also, the imperial cult and emperor worship was well-established by AD 65. Milton Terry sums up Josephus’ record on emperor worship, “The honors which were demanded by the Caesars included among other things that all subjects of the empire, in all the provinces, should build altars and temples to him, treat him as they would treat other gods, and even swear by his name.”[12] This began with the first emperor, Julius Caesar, who was elevated to the status of a god after his death, and emperor worship was still going strong when John wrote Revelation. Nero, accordingly, insisted that he be worshipped (thinking he was Apollo, the sun god, in the flesh). Nero even had an 120-foot statue of Apollo crafted, that depicted him, his own face, on the statue of Apollo, which was erected in Rome. Much more could be said about his narcissistic god-complex, and how it played out in his reign. But, suffice it to say, Nero was worshipped by great and small—by senators and the people.[13] We even have a record of a reigning king giving worship to Nero. Dio Cassius[14] tells of when the Parthian king, Tiridates (and this would have taken place in AD 66), when the Parthian king presented himself before Nero with these words: “I have come to you, my god, to worship you as I do Mithras. The destiny you spin for me shall be mine; for you are my Fortune and my Fate.”[15] And this all speaks to the blasphemous names on the heads of the beast. The emperors were named as gods. Such is, by definition, blasphemy against the Living and True God.

And so, Rev. 13:4: “And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’” Worshipping Nero and the empire (that were backed by the authority and power of Satan), people across the empire were, in actuality, vicariously worshipping Satan – worshipping the one in the other.

Now, at this point I want to commend you to Dan. 7, from where Rev. 13:1-2 is clearly drawing its imagery. The Beast’s coming was prophesied, and Daniel’s visions relate the Beast in various ways. The fourth Beast of Dan. 7 (the fourth Kingdom) was clearly the Roman Empire, and the little horn (vv. 8, 20-21 & 24) seems a reference to Nero. And I admit, that statement involves quite a bit of logical reasoning and connections, and there is no way I can go into detail, explaining it all today. But, in Daniel’s vision, he describes four beasts, the first like a lion, the second like a bear, with the third like a leopard. As to the fourth Kingdom, Daniel says in v. 7:

“and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.”

Each of the four beasts represented a Kingdom from Daniel’s time on up through the time of the coming of the Messiah King and the establishment of his Kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14). As we know, Christ Jesus came and established his Kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire. Counting the four empires through history, we see they were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.[16]

Now, in Rev. 13:1-2, John is not vague in linking the images he uses to make his point. He makes a link with the 10 horns, (which, in Dan. 7, may have represented the first ten Roman emperors—Julius to Vespasian) a thesis that logically makes sense, due in part to the little horn’s antics, his placement among the ten, the diadems on the horns (in Rev. 13:1), and Vespasian being the reigning Emperor when Jerusalem was once again destroyed.[17] John then, in Rev. 13:2, links other images in the description of the beasts of the first three kingdoms (of Dan. 7) by listing them, in reverse order, as descriptions of the Sea Beast: “the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.” In such a way, John is deliberately cluing us in on the fact that the Sea Beast he’s describing was the same beast as the fourth beast Daniel describes, in Dan. 7. And, as David Chilton observes, “The fourth empire, Rome, partakes of the evil, beast-like characteristics of the other empires, but it is much worse.”[18]

The image of a Beast, in Rev. 13:1ff. was also more than just a nod to Daniel’s prophecy. It was very much a description of Nero’s beastly character. Stories of Nero’s depravity are legion. He was truly a monster. Gentry provides a good sum of Nero’s depravity:

Nero certainly possessed an immoral and beastly character. He killed his own mother, brother, aunt, and wife—as well as many prominent citizens of Rome. He was known to tie slaves to stakes, dress in a lion’s skin, and attack and molest them. He was feared and hated by his own people. A perusal of the ancient literature demonstrates that Nero “was of a cruel and unrestrained brutality.”

… Tacitus speaks of Nero’s “cruel nature” that “put to death so many innocent men.” Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder describes Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.” Roman satirist Juvenal laments “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” Elsewhere, he calls Nero a “cruel tyrant.” In the first century, Apollonius of Tayna even calls Nero a “beast.”[19]

As Suetonius laments, “Nero practiced every kind of obscenity.” He raped men and women, was a thief, and was a murderer (taking it upon himself to kill whoever he liked, for whatever reason, and to do so in creative ways).[20] He squandered the treasury of Rome. And, of course, Nero blamed the Christians for a fire that burned down a good portion of Rome (a fire which popular rumor suggested that he started, according to Tacitus).[21] This then led to the great persecution of the Christians beginning in AD 64, which included sending them to be mauled to death by lions. And the Romans were not blind to all this. Although he was worshipped, as emperor, his evil excesses had led to his becoming greatly hated. For even the Romans recognized that Nero’s character was that of a horrific beast.

With that said, what about Rev. 13:3? What is up with the Beast’s revival? Take a look. Verse 3:

3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.”

Now, there’s been quite a bit of speculation about this verse. Some like to use it as an argument against Nero being the Beast, using it as an argument for a later date of the writing of Revelation (circa. AD 95). This is because some proponents of the early date of the writing of Revelation (circa. AD 65 – which is the correct dating of when John wrote Revelation) have attributed Rev. 13:3 to the Nero Redivivus myth. This myth was a rumor that Nero would return after his death in AD 68. So, over time, as Tacitus and Suetonius record, various imposters turned up saying they were Nero, in “quests for power” (the first rising up in AD 69).[22] So an argument by late daters (for example, Leon Morris)[23] is that Revelation doesn’t say that one of the heads died, but, rather, was wounded, when Nero actually died. Thus, according to that argument, the early daters must be wrong, as it couldn’t be a reference to the Nero Redivivus myth. The thing is, there are both late-date and early-date proponents who suggest that Rev. 13:3 may speak to the Nero Redivivus myth.

However, Rev. 13:3 has nothing to do with the Nero Redivivus myth. Gentry makes a splendidly simple and perfectly sensible proposal, with which I agree. The passage is about the sixth head of the beast, Nero, who died by suicide on 9 June AD 68 (what seemed a mortal wound to the Beast (the empire generically) on one of the Beast’s heads) and what followed. A terrible Roman civil war had begun, starting shortly before Nero died, and it continued during “the year of the four emperors” (AD 68-69). This war was so terrible, and it shook the empire so badly, that it seemed the Empire was about to collapse and to die. Remember, John refers to the Beast in a way that shifts as a particular to a generic reference and back (Nero particularly and the Roman Empire generically). With Nero’s suicide (in the wake of Galba’s revolt, Nero’s abandonment by the praetorian guard, and the senate declaring Nero a public enemy) … with his death, having cowardly killed himself out of fear of the justice coming his way, the proud line of the Julio-Claudian dynasty was ended. Gentry spells out what this meant:

The Roman Empire’s founding family vanished from rule, for “almost overnight, a hundred-year-old dynasty had vanished.” The blood line that had given birth to, extended, stabilized, brought prosperity to, and had received worship from the Roman Empire was suddenly cut off forever.[24]

Afterwards terrible events very nearly destroyed the empire. Tacitus’ lengthy account of the times, in his Histories, spells out disaster after disaster and the despair of the people. General Vespasian, on the verge of conquest, even put the war against Israel on hold. As Josephus records, concerning Vespasian’s reaction to the chaos, “And as this sorrow of his was violent, he [Vespasian] was not able to support the torments he was under, nor to apply himself further in other wars when his native country was laid waste.”[25] In all, it seemed to the world that the death of Nero was a mortal wound to the Empire. Yet, what happened? After Vespasian took the crown, he and his forces were able to restore order to the empire. Thus what seemed a mortal wound was healed. Josephus likewise saw it this way: “So upon this confirmation of Vespasian’s entire government, which was now settled, and upon the unexpected deliverance of the public affairs of the Romans from ruin, Vespasian turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea.”[26]

And so the whole world marveled at the unexpected return of the Empire (which had seemingly gone through the throes of death) back to its great strength, power, and authority. Thus, Rev. 13:3, “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.”

So, of the five limiting principles as to the identity of the beast (which I mentioned earlier), we covered two, today (having now covered four of the five). First, “The beast possesses ‘great authority’.” And second, “The beast is an evil man of debased character.” Satan gave Nero Caesar and his empire his own power, throne, and authority. And the dominion of Rome was so vast and exceptional, and so expansive into people’s lives that it had taken on a religious nature to the point that its emperors were worshipped. And Nero took full advantage of his false deification. Also, the Roman Empire and Nero were prophesied in Dan. 7 (as the fourth beast and the little horn), as exceedingly terrifying, beyond the other three Kingdoms. Along these lines Nero’s character was such that (combined with his enormous power as Emperor and elevation by the Empire to be a god), he was enabled to be an insanely monstrous, evil beast, paralleled (perhaps) only by a few throughout the history of mankind. Of who else is it said that Satan gave his power, throne, and authority, after all? And then with Nero’s suicide and the unexpected deliverance of the Empire from a seemingly mortal blow? Well, what we have here is an evil parody of the Kingdom of Christ.

The Lord Jesus died, but not out of cowardice, but bravely, out of love for his people, in order to save his people. He was resurrected, bodily. He ascended to his throne in heaven, and he reigns even now. He truly is God, and his power and throne and authority are from the Father, the Ancient of Days, prophesied in Dan. 7:13-14. His reign is righteous, where he rules with perfect justice and mercy over the heavens and all the earth—every nation. He works all things to the good of his people, and not a single one of his people will be lost. Rather, we will live and reign with him into eternity. What a contrast.

But, my friends, remember what we considered earlier. Satan is still out there and influencing governments and government leaders. So let us be very careful to resist the popular push to elevate the government to a religious level. Let us be careful to not buy into cults of political personalities, whatever their political party. And let us be careful to refrain from putting the burden of expectation upon the government and its leaders to be and do what can only be found in the Lord Jesus and his realm, the Kingdom of God.

Because the Lord Jesus reigns supreme, his people should be confident in his Kingdom.


[1] Samuel Benson, “The danger of trading religion for politics,” Deseret News, accessed 10 Aug 2023,

[2] Shadi Hamid, “America Without God,” The Atlantic, accessed 9 Aug 2023,

[3] Benson, “The danger of trading religion for politics.”

[4] Matthew Rozsa, “When does a political movement become a cult?” Salon, accessed 9 Aug. 2023,, quoting Stephen A. Kent.

[5] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., The Beast of Revelation, Second Edition (Fountain Inn, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2002), 7-10.

[6] Milton S. Terry, The Apocalypse of John (Chesnee, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2021), 170.

[7] Cf. Kenneth Gentry, The Book of Revelation Made Easy (Powder Springs, GA: The American Vicon, Inc., 2019), 60.

[8] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 621 (Jewish War, 2.16.4).

[9] Ibid., 623.

[10] Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 758 (Embassy to Gaius, 10).

[11] Gentry, Revelation Video, Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 3, lesson 15.

[12] Terry, 172, referencing Josephus, Antiquities, 18:8:1.

[13] Cf. Dio Cassius, Roman History, 62:20:5. There he records that upon Nero’s return to Rome from Greece, where he participated in chariot races, he had quite the reception: “The city was all decked with garlands, was ablaze with lights and reeking with incense, and the whole population, the senators themselves most of all, kept shouting in chorus: “Hail, Olympian Victor! Hail, Pythian Victor! Augustus! Augustus! Hail to Nero, our Hercules! Hail to Nero, our Apollo! The only Victor of the Grand Tour the only one from the beginning of time! Augustus! Augustus! O, Divine Voice! Blessed are they that hear thee.”

[14] Dio Cassius was a 2nd/3d century Roman historian who wrote 80 volumes on the history of Rome.

[15] Dio Cassius, Roman History 63.5.2. Cf.*.html. Also, cf.

[16] For more on this, see Jay Rogers, “The Identity of the Little Horn and the Fulfillment of Daniel 7,” accessed 10 Aug. 2023,

[17] See Jay Roger’s explanation in his book In the Days of These Kings (Media House International; Clermont, FL, 2017), 56, 99,  625. He also explains this in his article “Notes on Daniel 7: Daniel 7 – Who are the “ten kings” ?” Forerunner, accessed 10 Aug 2023, There he also provides an illustrative video explanation.

[18] David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 328.

[19] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Book of Revelation Made Easy, 63.

[20] See Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, particularly his section on Nero for a plethora of details.

[21] Tacitus, Tacitus: The Histories and The Annals: English Translation, ed. G. P. Goold, trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, vol. 4, The Loeb Classical Library (London; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann Ltd; Harvard University Press, 1925–1937), 283 (Annals, 15.44).

[22] Cf. Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, 227ff., where he handles the Nero Redivivus myth. Also cf. Tacitus, Histories 1:78; 2:8-9 and Suetonius, Nero 57.

[23] Cf. Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 162.

[24] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., The Beast of Revelation, 92.

[25] Josephus, Jewish Wars, 4.10.2.

[26] Ibid., 4.11.5