Composite Beast

The sea beast of Revelation 13 is clearly a composite of the beasts of Daniel. It has features of a lion, a bear, and a leopard, which match the first three beasts of Daniel’s vision. If we can import Daniel’s imagery into Revelation 13, we can say that the sea beast incorporates features of Babylon, Persia, and four-headed Greece.

Daniel’s fourth beast is indescribably horrible, not like anything Daniel has ever seen. Perhaps we can describe it, though, by projecting back from Revelation 13. Perhaps the fourth beast in Daniel 7 is already a composite beast, incorporating lion, bear, and leopard.

The fourth beast of Daniel is Rome and if the logic here is right then Rome is not just the fourth and climactic empire but embodies in some fashion the previous three empires. This makes some historical sense: Rome imposes Romanitas to some degree, but also leaves a good deal of local and regional culture in place: Greek is the common language of an empire based in Italy.

As a composite empire, Rome anticipates and parodies Christian cosmopolitanism. As my son Christian pointed out when he discussed Revelation 13 in class, the beast exercises authority over tribes, tones, peoples, and nations, and the land beast encourages all sorts and conditions of men to worship the image of the beast (v. 16).

Rome’s rise marks the fullness of the times, the climax of the ancient grandeur, ultimately the climax of ancient sin.

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