Part Five

The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet


By Gary Ray Branscome


The fact that chapter eleven ends with the final judgment (Rev. 11:18), while chapter twelve begins with the birth of Christ, tells us that chapter twelve is the beginning of a new vision – a vision which introduces the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. This vision unfolds into a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.

Chapter twelve opens with John’s vision of, “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev. 12:1). And the verses that follow tell us that she “travailing in child birth” and gives birth to “a man child, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron,” namely Christ. At the same time, John also sees, “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns on his heads,” who “stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born” (Rev. 12:3-4). Verse nine then tells us that this dragon is Satan.

The words, “her child was caught up to God, and to his throne,” point to Christ’s ascension, while the words, “the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ has come,” point to His death, burial and resurrection (Rev. 12:10). However, we are left with a question: Who is the woman? And, the words, “The dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war against the rest of her children, who keep God’s commandments, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ,” give us a clue as to her identity (Rev. 12:17). The fact that her children have the testimony of Jesus Christ points us to Galatians 4:26, “the Jerusalem which is above is free, and she is the mother of us all”. As we compare those two passages, it becomes clear that the woman is the heavenly Jerusalem. And, chapter twenty-one, verse two tells us that the heavenly Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, His church (Rev. 19:7, 2Cor. 11:2, Eph. 5:23).


          Chapter thirteen opens with something new, a beast with seven heads and ten horns which rises out of the sea and receives its power from the dragon (Rev. 13:1-2). This beast will be referred to time and again in the following chapters, and it is one of the things that ties those chapters together. In chapter seventeen, John sees a woman sitting upon that beast (Rev. 17:3). At least it appears to be that same beast, because it is also described as having seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 17:7). And, that woman is described as “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:5). Now, the reason I have brought this up is because, in that chapter an angel tells John that the woman he saw, the one sitting on the beast, “Is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18). Notice, that the city “reigns” (present tense). The use of the present tense points to the time the angel was speaking. And, the city which reigned at that time was Rome. Moreover, we know that following Christ’s death His church was persecuted first by Jews, and then by Rome. For that reason, I identify this beast with Rome.

          In verse three we are told that one of the heads of the beast was “as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed” (Rev. 13:3). And, there are many different opinions as to what that wound signifies. There was an attempt to assassinate Nero, which he survived. However, we do not know if that is what is being referred to because the Bible does not tell us. The key fact is that the beast has something to do with Rome, and is persecuting the saints (verse 7). Other than that, this is just one of those details that we should not let ourselves be sidetracked with. The words, “no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,” tell us that the Holy Spirit will never give anyone their own private explanation of the text (2Peter 1:20)

In verse eleven John sees “another beast coming up out of the earth,” one that has “two horns like a lamb,” but speaks “like a dragon”. Now, the “horns like a lamb” call to mind Christ’s warning to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). Therefore, it is no surprise that he is called a “false prophet” in chapter nineteen (Rev. 19:20).

Now, it is important to remember that we are reading the description of a dream/vision, not actual earthly events. The Bible tells us that time and again. Such as when it tells us that the heads of the beast represent both mountains and kings (Rev. 17:9-10). We need to keep that in mind as we read the text. For, just because John saw a beast (not man) cause fire “come down from heaven to the earth in the presence of men,” does not necessarily mean that some man will do that (Rev. 13:13). Just as the people living in Bethlehem did not actually see a red dragon, the world may never see a false prophet calling down fire from heaven. In fact, in light of our modern technology it might not even impress people if someone did. The thing we need to notice is that this false prophet has power from Satan to deceive.

Part of that deception involves leading people to make an image of the first beast (Rev. 13:14). However, what is the nature of that image? If the first beast represents the Roman political system, one could hardly make a statue of that. However, could that image represent a power wielding organization or institution that is patterned after the Roman political system? If so, the Papacy would certainly fit that description. And, at the time of the Reformation, when the Papacy was actively burning people at the stake, there were many who thought so. Moreover, if that image does represent the Papacy, then the one who causes it to speak would be its spokesman, the Pope, the false prophet (Rev. 13:15).

This brings us to the “mark” of the beast, which is described in the last verses of chapter thirteen (Rev. 13:16-18). These verses actually speak of three things that seem to go together: 1) the mark, 2) the name of the beast, and 3) the number of his name. We are not told what these three things are, but they must involve unbelief for the Bible makes it clear that those who receive them are not saved (Rev. 14:11).

While we are told that the number is the “number of a man” (Rev. 13:18), the fact that the “mark” is to be received on the forehead or on the right hand harks back to the Old Testament, where the Children of Israel were told to bind God’s commandments upon their forehead and hand (Deut. 6:8 and 11:13, 18). That parallel with the law of Moses suggests that the mark may represent works righteousness. It may involve either placing those who received the mark under the Law – which was the problem at Galatia – or leading them to rely on their own works for salvation rather than on Christ (Galatians 5:4). And, that was clearly the problem at the time of the Reformation.




          Three things to remember are: 1) Chapter twelve begins a new series of visions that are tied together by repeated references to the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, 2) Just because John saw something in his vision does not mean that people living on earth will see the same thing, and 3) the mark of the beast must involve unbelief.

          In the next section we will look at chapter fourteen and fall of “Babylon”.