And I stood upon the sand of the sea, &c. Here the beast is described at large, who was only mentioned before, Revelation 11:7; and a beast, in the prophetic style, is a tyrannical idolatrous empire. The kingdom of God and of Christ is never represented under the image of a beast. As Daniel (Dan 7:2-3) beheld four great beasts, representing the four great empires, come up from a stormy sea, that is, from the commotions of the world; so St. John (Rev 13:1) saw this beast in like manner rise up out of the sea. He was said before (Rev 11:7) to ascend out of the abyss, or bottomless pit; and it is said afterward, (Revelation 17:8,) that he shall ascend out of the abyss, or bottomless pit; and here he is said to ascend out of the sea; so that the sea and abyss, or bottomless pit, are in these passages the same. No doubt is to be made that this beast was designed to represent the Roman empire; for thus far both ancients and moderns, Papists and Protestants, are agreed: the only controversy is, whether it was Rome, pagan or Christian, imperial or papal.
St. John saw this beast rising out of the sea, but the Roman empire was risen and established long before St. John's time; and therefore this must be the Roman empire, not in its then present, but in some future shape and form; and it arose in another shape and form after it was broken to pieces by the incursions of the northern nations. The beast hath seven heads and ten horns Which are the well-known marks of the Roman empire, the seven heads alluding to the seven mountains whereon Rome was seated, and to the seven forms of government which successively prevailed there; and the ten horns signifying the ten kingdoms into which the Roman empire was divided. It is remarkable that the dragon had seven crowns upon his heads, but the beast hath upon his horns ten crowns So that there had been, in the mean while, a revolution of power from the heads of the dragon to the horns of the beast, and the sovereignty, which before was exercised by Rome alone, was now transferred and divided among ten kingdoms; but the Roman empire was not divided into ten kingdoms till after it was become Christian. Although the heads had lost their crowns, yet still they retained the names of blasphemy In all its heads, in all its forms of government, Rome was still guilty of idolatry and blasphemy. Imperial Rome was called, and delighted to be called, The eternal city; the heavenly city; the goddess of the earth; the goddess: and had her temples and altars, with incense and sacrifices offered up to her: and how the papal Rome likewise hath arrogated to herself divine titles and honours will be shown hereafter.
As Daniel's fourth beast (Dan 7:6) was without a name, and devoured and brake in pieces the three former; so this beast (Rev 13:2) is also without a name, and partakes of the nature and qualities of the three former; having the body of a leopard Which was the third beast, or Grecian empire; and the feet of a bear Which was the second beast, or Persian empire; and the mouth of a lion Which was the first beast, or Babylonian empire: and consequently this must be the same as Daniel's fourth beast, or the Roman empire. But still it is not the same beast, the same empire entirely, but with some variation. And the dragon gave him his power Δυναμιν, or his armies; and his seat Ορονον, or his imperial throne; and great authority Or jurisdiction over all the parts of his empire. The beast, therefore, is the successor and substitute of the dragon, or of the idolatrous heathen Roman empire: and what other idolatrous power hath succeeded to the heathen emperors in Rome, all the world is a judge and a witness. The dragon, having failed in his purpose of restoring the old heathen idolatry, delegates his power to the beast, and thereby introduces a new species of idolatry, nominally different, but essentially the same, the worship of angels and saints, instead of the gods and demigods of antiquity.
Another mark, whereby the beast is peculiarly distinguished, is, (Revelation 13:3,) one of his heads as it were wounded to death It will appear hereafter, that this head was the sixth head, for five were fallen (Rev 17:10) before St. John's time: and the sixth head was that of the Cesars, or emperors, there having been before, kings, and consuls, and dictators, and decemvirs, and military tribunes, with consular authority. The sixth head was as it were wounded to death, when the Roman empire was overturned by the northern nations, and an end was put to the very name of emperor in Momyllus Augustulus; or rather, as the government of the Gothic kings was much the same as that of the emperors, with only a change of the name, this head was more effectually wounded to death, when Rome was reduced to a poor dukedom, and made tributary to the exarchate of Ravenna. But not only one of his heads was, as it were, wounded to death, but his deadly wound was healed If it was the sixth head which was wounded, that wound could not be healed by the rising of the seventh head; the same head which was wounded must be healed: and this was effected by the pope and people of Rome revolting from the exarch of Ravenna, and proclaiming Charles the Great Augustus and emperor of the Romans. Here the wounded imperial head was healed again, and hath subsisted ever since. At this time, partly through the pope, and partly through the emperor, supporting and strengthening each other, the Roman name again became formidable: and all the world wondered after the beast; and (Rev 13:4) they worshipped the dragon, which gave power unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him? No kingdom or empire was like that of the beast; it had no parallel upon earth; and it was in vain for any to resist or oppose it; it prevailed and triumphed over all; and all the world, in submitting thus to the religion of the beast, did in effect submit again to the religion of the dragon, it being the old idolatry with new names. For the worshipping of demons and idols is in effect the worshipping of devils.