Are the souls under the altar alive? (Rev 6:9-11)

PURPOSE

In Revelation 5, “Him who sat on the throne” gave Jesus a book that is “sealed up with seven seals” (Rev 5:1, 7). In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the first six seals one by one. John wrote:

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God …
they cried out with a loud voice:
   ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true,
    will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood …’
And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer ….” (Rev 6:9-11)

This seems to be disembodied but conscious souls literally crying out to God. On the other hand, John saw these very same “souls” again after Jesus had returned (Rev 19:11-), and this seems to say that they were not alive:

“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
because of … the word of God …
and they came to life and
reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Rev 20:4)

Since “they came to life” at Christ’s return, these “souls” did exist but were not alive before He returned. How are we to understand those ‘souls’?

SUMMARY

The interpretation of the souls under the altar as disembodied but conscious persons requires a literal reading of the text. However, for the following reasons, it must be understood as symbolic:

The entire Book of Revelation is symbolic.

1) The book begins by saying that the visions in the book were given in the form of signs (Rev 1:1).

2) Many things in the book simply cannot be literal. For example; a harlot woman riding a seven-headed dragon (Rev 17:3).

3) Even things that seem literal are symbolic on further investigation. For example, the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is really a symbolic description of God’s eternal people.

Given the pervasive symbolism of the book, the safer route is to assume that everything is symbolic unless proven otherwise. This applies also to the souls under the altar.

Everything else in the fifth seal is symbolic.

The Lamb broke the fifth seal. – It is not a literal lamb but a symbol of Jesus (Rev 5:6). It is also not a literal seal or a literal book. The sealed book symbolizes a crisis in heaven (Rev 5:3). See – The sealed book.

I (John) saw.  – John did not see anything literally. The Holy Spirit imparted knowledge directly to his mind

Underneath the Altar – John did not see an altar because there was no literal altar. In the Old Testament, the “life” (literally the “soul” – nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood (Lev 17:11). In sacrificial rituals, the priest poured out the blood of the animals at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12) where it would soak into the ground “underneath the altar.” The fifth seal uses this ritual as a symbol to say that God’s people are symbolically sacrificed on a symbolic altar. Since the altar is not literal, the souls under the altar are also not literal.

The souls of those who had been slain – Literally, John did not see In Rev 20:4, these slain souls come to life and reign with Christ, meaning that these ‘souls’ symbolize ALL of God’s people; also those who have not literally been “slain.”

They cried out for revenge – This implies that they have mouths. Furthermore, God’s people do not seek revenge. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would ask the Father to forgive their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60)! Similar to Abel’s blood that cried out from the ground to God (Gen 4:10-11), it is the injustice God’s people had suffered that cries out to God; not living beings.

There was given to each of them a white robe – Souls do not have bodies and do not need robes. The white robes are symbols of “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8) and serve as God’s guarantee that they will be resurrected to eternal life.

They were told that they should rest for a little while longer. – In other words, they were resting and they must continue to rest. Both Daniel and Revelation use ‘rest’ to describe death as a state of inactivity. For example, an angel told Daniel: “You will enter into REST and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13; cf. Rev 14:13). In other words, Daniel did not receive his “allotted portion” when he died and he will “rest” until the end of the age.

For a little while longer – Since the souls receive their white robes (their guarantee for eternal life) not at death but only “a little while” before Christ returns, they could not have gone to ‘heaven’ immediately when they died.

Until the number of their fellow servants … who were to be killed … would be completed also – Another article shows that this is not a literal number but means that God’s end-time people would be completed QUALITATIVELY in character; not numerically to a specific number.

Since everything else in the fifth seal is symbolic, the souls underneath the altar cannot and should not be taken any more literally than the description of Jesus as a bleeding lamb (Rev 5:6).

Psuché (soul) refers to mortal life.

A “soul” is often understood as an immortal but conscious part of human beings that survives death. In Revelation, the word translated as “soul” (psuché) is used seven times. Twice it refers to the normal mortal life of animals (Rev 8:9; 16:3) and twice to the normal mortal life of humans (Rev 12:11; 18:13). It is also used to refer to a person’s innermost being (Rev 18:14). The two remaining verses use psuché to refer to something that survives death (Rev 6:9; 20:4). These verses refer to the same group of people, namely, God’s people who were killed for their faith, but 20:4 states that they are made alive when Christ returns, meaning that they are not alive now. The part that survives death may be understood as follows:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

– End of Summary –


REVELATION IS A SYMBOLIC BOOK.

The interpretation of the souls underneath the altar as conscious, disembodied persons requires a literal reading of the text. But Revelation is a book of symbols:

Jesus ‘signified’ the revelation to John.

The opening verse of the book (Rev 1:1) states explicitly that this book is given in signs and symbols:

“A revelation of Jesus Christ,
that God gave to him …
he did signify [it]” (YLT).

The word translated as “signify” in YLT means “to give a sign.”

Many things in the book are clearly symbolic.

Many examples can be provided of things that simply cannot be literal. Examples from the vision of the seven seals include:

      • A bleeding lamb that breaks the seals (e.g., Rev 6:9; cf. Rev 5:6);
      • The four horsemen in the first four seals; and
      • The people hide in the mountains after stars have fallen on the earth (Rev 6:13, 15).

Examples from other visions in Revelation include:

      • Monsters with multiple heads (Rev 13:1);
      • Talking frogs (Rev 16:13-14);
      • A harlot woman riding a dragon (Rev 17:3);
      • Locusts with scorpion tails, horses’ heads, yet faces like humans (Rev 9:7); and
      • A woman standing on the moon, giving birth to a male child, while a great red dragon stood ready to devour her child the second it was born (Rev 12:1-3).

Things that seem literal but are symbols.

There are things in Revelation that may seem literal at first but further investigation reveals these things to be symbolic. For example:

The New Jerusalem in chapter 21 is 12000 furlongs (1,500 miles) in length, width, and height (Rev 21:16). A city of this size would reach past the atmosphere into outer space and unbalance the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the moon. For a discussion of the meaning of the dimensions of the city, see – What do the numbers in the Book of Revelation mean?

One of the angels said to John that he would show him the bride of Christ but then John saw “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:9-10). This is one of the hear/see combinations in Revelation in which John hears about something but then sees something very different, but what he hears and sees are two perspectives of THE SAME THING. The New Jerusalem, therefore, is the bride of Christ.

Assume everything symbolic until proven literal.

Given the pervasive symbolism of the book, the appropriate hermeneutic for Revelation is to assume that EVERYTHING is symbolic except when something is shown to be literal. This means that, until the opposite has been proven, we must assume that the souls under the altar are not literal souls but symbols of realities in the cosmic struggle between the forces of life and death.

THE FIFTH SEAL IS SYMBOLIC.

For this reason, the remainder of this article focuses on the fifth seal to determine whether the souls are literal or symbolic. It discusses several aspects of that seal, shows that these things are symbols, and explains what these symbols mean. The concepts discussed below include:

It is not a literal lamb or a literal seal.

“The Lamb broke the Fifth Seal” (Rev 6:9).

God had in His right hand a book that was sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1). Nobody was able to open it (Rev 5:3). But then Jesus overcame by becoming a slain lamb and, thereby, became regarded as worthy to break the seals (Rev 5:5-6, 9). The Lamb, therefore, symbolizes Jesus Christ.

Another article has interpreted the seals as follows:

This book is “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8); also called “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27), identifying the people God has chosen for eternal life (Rev 3:5).

The seals are the things that prevent understanding of what is written in the book; specifically, Satan’s informed objections to the people identified in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 12:10).

By breaking the seals, Jesus removes these barriers to understanding. Specifically, He shows that Satan’s objections are groundless.

The reader may have a different interpretation of the book, the seals, and of what breaking the seals mean but it is at least clear that these are not literal things.

John did not see anything literally.

John says that he saw the souls under the altar. What did he see? What does a soul look like?

More specifically, He wrote that he saw that these souls “had been slain because of the word of God.” How did he know that they were killed and why they were killed? The text does not say that anybody told him that. Do murdered souls differ in appearance from other souls?

I propose that we interpret this as follows:

John did not literally see anything; at least not with his physical eyes. That these people were “slain because of the word of God” are thoughts that the Holy Spirit gave directly to John’s mind (cf. Rev 1:10).

The same possibly applies to the “souls.” In other words, the Spirit did not give John a visual image of these souls. In vision, he simply knew about these souls.

Under the Altar is an Old Testament concept.

John continues:

“I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9).

Here, Revelation uses an Old Testament ritual as a symbol:

In the Old Testament, the altar of burnt offering was the place of sacrifice. The priest slaughtered the animal, sprinkled some of the blood at the sides of the altar, and “poured out” the rest at the base of the altar (Exo 29:12; 39:39; 40:29; Lev 3:2, 4:7, 18, 25, 10, 34, 8:15; 9:9; etc.). The blood would, of course, soak into the ground beneath the altar.

According to Leviticus 17:11, the “life” (literally the “soul” – nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood. Therefore, in Old Testament terminology, the SOULS of the animals were been “poured out” at the base of the altar.

The fifth seal converts this ritual into a symbol: When God’s people remain “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10) and do “not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11), in the symbolic language of the fifth seal, they are sacrificed ON the altar and their souls (lives) are poured out at the base of the altar. In that sense, they are symbolically “underneath the altar.”

This interpretation is confirmed as follows:

1) Revelation 16:6 states that the people of the world “poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” “Poured out” is the same phrase used for the blood of the sacrifices that was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Lev 8:15).

2) The Greek word translated as “slain” in the phrase “had been SLAIN because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9) is the primary word used in connection with sanctuary sacrifices in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) (Exo 29:11, 16, 20; 34:25; Lev 1:5, 11; 3:2, 8, 11; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33, etc.). This confirms that Revelation presents these people as sacrificed on the altar.

3) The Book of Revelation also uses this same word (translated as “slain”) for Christ’s death (Rev 5:6; cf. 13:8). God’s people, therefore, symbolically, are sacrificed just like their Master was.

John, therefore, did not see a literal altar and he did not see literal souls under the altar.

Symbolically, all of God’s people are slain.

In the fifth seal, the “souls” are “of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). In other words, literally interpreted, these are not the souls of ALL of God’s people but only of those who have been murdered for their faith. Literally interpreted, the souls of God’s people who died without being murdered are somewhere else. However, “slain” is also a symbol:

Revelation 20:4

Revelation 20:4 describes the “souls of those who had been beheaded … because of the word of God.” These, therefore, are the same as the people represented in the fifth seal. However, 20:4 adds that they came alive “and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Logically, they, and therefore the martyrs in the fifth seal, include ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE of all ages; also those that have not been killed for their faith.

The Innumerable Multitude

The fifth seal refers to a point in history after many of God’s people have already been slain but before “the number of their fellow servants … who were to be killed … would be completed” (Rev 6:9-11). The people killed both before and after this point in history, consequently, are “underneath the altar.”

The people before God’s throne in Revelation 7:9-17 “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). Given the context, the “great tribulation” is the killing of God’s people described in the fifth seal. The people in Revelation 7:9-17, therefore, are the same people as the “souls underneath the altar.” This is confirmed by the fact that they, similar to the souls under the altar, have white robes; (Rev 7:14; cf. Rev 6:11).

But the people in Revelation 7:9-17 are identified as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). Therefore they, and the souls underneath the altar, include ALL of God’s people. For a discussion, see – Who is the innumerable multitude in Revelation 7:9?

The souls under the altar, therefore, symbolize all of God’s people; also those who have not been literally “slain.” Symbolically, in Revelation, all of God’s people are “slain” because all of God’s people suffer some form of persecution.

To put on robes, the souls have bodies.

Since these “souls” “cried out with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10), they seem to have mouths. And they wore white robes (Rev 6:11). A robe needs a body to hang on. So, symbolically, these souls had bodies, again showing the symbolic nature of the vision.

It was injustice, not souls, that cried for revenge.

The souls under the altar cried out, asking God why he delays “avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” (Rev 6:10)

This is not a literal call for revenge. Firstly, the souls are resting (Rev 6:11) and resting souls do not cry out for revenge. Secondly, God’s people do not seek revenge. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would cry:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60)!

This call for revenge must be understood as similar to the call of Abel’s blood. In Genesis 4:10-11, after Cain killed his brother Abel, God said that the ground has opened its mouth to receive Abel’s blood from Cain’s hand and that Abel’s blood is crying out to Him (God) “from the ground.” It was not Abel who cried out but Abel’s blood. Hebrew 11:4 comments: “By faith Abel … still speaks, even though he is dead.” Notice the similarities to the fifth seal:

      • Both Abel and the souls under the altar had been killed for their testimony (cf. Luke 11:50-51, Heb 11:4).
      • Since the souls are “underneath the altar” (Rev 6:9), both these souls and Abel’s blood are in the ground.
      • Both Abel’s blood and these souls cry out to God. In other words, symbolically, both have voices.

Abel’s blood did not literally cry out to God. It was a symbolic way of saying that God is aware of the injustice done and His desire to set things right.

In the same way, the cry for revenge of the souls under the altar does not confirm some kind of spirit-existence in heaven. It is not a literal cry for revenge. It is not the slain ones themselves who call for vengeance, any more than it was Abel himself who cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). The slain souls are not in heaven; they are under the altar on which they have been sacrificed, which is on earth. It is the injustice they had suffered that cries out to God; not living beings. It symbolizes God’s awareness of the suffering of His people and His promise to set things right.

The robes symbolize salvation.

White symbolizes purity.

The souls underneath the altar are given white robes (Rev 6:11). These are not literally white robes. “The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). This quote does not mention “white” but white and “clean” have similar meanings. For example:

“They have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

Those who “have not soiled their garments …
will walk with Me in white,
for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4).

People clean their own robes.

White robes reflect “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8). White robes relate to what God’s people DO:

Those who “have not soiled their garments
will walk with Me in white” (Rev 3:4; cf. 3:5).

The innumerable multitude (Rev 7:9)
“have washed their robes and
made them white
in the blood of the Lamb”
(Rev 7:13-14; cf.
16:15).

White robes signify assurance of eternal life.

Since the white robes symbolize “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8), the white robes are not literal but symbolize acceptance by God; the assurance of eternal life. For example:

“The one who overcomes will be clothed … in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:5; cf. 20:4-6)

In Matthew 22:11-14, Jesus told a parable of a wedding where there was a man “who was not dressed in wedding clothes.” The king gave instructions that the man be thrown “into the outer darkness.”

The implication is that the white robes symbolize both “the righteous acts of the saints” and acceptance by God. In other words, man is saved by his deeds, which is contrary to the standard Protestant teaching that nobody will be saved by the works of the law. For a further discussion, see – The doers of the Law will be justified but NOT by the Works of the Law.

NOT CONSCIOUS SOULS

The purpose of this section is to provide more specific evidence that the souls are not conscious human beings. It consists of three parts:

    • A discussion of the word that is translated as “soul” (psuché),
    • The description of these souls as resting, and that
    • They will receive their white robes only shortly before Christ returns:

Psuché (soul) refers to mortal life.

A “soul” is often understood as an immortal and conscious part of human beings that survives death. In Rev 6:9, “soul” is translated from the Greek word psuché, which is found in seven verses in Revelation:

Psuché is the normal mortal life of animals.

Twice, psuché refers to animals:

      • “A third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life (psuché), died” (Rev 8:9).
      • “Every living thing (psuché) in the sea died” (Rev 16:3).

Since we do not normally think that animals have an immortal portion that survives death, psuché does not have that meaning in these two verses. Furthermore, in both these two verses, the psuché (soul) dies. It refers, therefore, to the natural mortal life that animals have on this earth today.

Psuché is also the normal mortal life of humans. 

Twice psuché refers to mortal human life:

    • “They (presumably, “our brethren”) did not love their life (psuché) even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11).
    • “… horses and chariots and slaves and human lives (psuché)” (Rev 18:13).

In an interlinear translation, 18:13 reads, “souls of men.” This is part of a long list of the merchandise of “the merchants of the earth” (Rev 18:11-13). Since the phrase “souls of men” is listed with other literal things, it does not refer to an immortal, conscious part of humans. In these instances, the psuché of humans is similar to that of animals.  The NASB translates psuché 43 times as life (or lives) and 47 times as soul (or souls). “The word ‘soul’ [ψυχή] is one of the most difficult words in the Bible and in Christian literature.”1C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith (in Greek), p.55 

Psuché can refer to the innermost being.

      • “The fruit you (psuché) long for” (Rev 18:14)

In an interlinear translation, Rev 18:14 reads, “the desire of the soul are departed from you.” This perhaps refers to the innermost being; not an immortal, conscious part of humans.

Psuché can survive death but is not alive.

The remaining two verses refer to the psuché of dead people: 

    • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9)
    • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been beheaded … because of the word of God… came to life” (Rev 20:4).

In both verses:

    • John writes “I saw the souls.”
    • These souls were killed “because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.”
    • These “souls” seem to have survived death in some sense.

The souls in 20:4, therefore, are the same people as the “souls underneath the altar” in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9). But, in 20:4, John continues and says, “and they came to life.” Since 20:4 is part of the description of Christ’s return (cf. Rev 19:11), they “came to life” when Christ returns. Therefore, they were not alive between death and resurrection.

The psuché that survives death is God’s promise.

The souls in 6:9 should not be understood as an immortal, conscious part of human beings. The “souls” of God’s people that survive natural death may be understood as follows:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

In other words, they have the promise of eternal life.

The dead rest, meaning inactive.

The “souls” cry to God for revenge but “they were told that they should rest for a little while longer” (Rev 6:11). In other words:

      1. At the point in time indicated by the fifth seal, they are resting.
      2. They must continue to rest until the time when they will have their revenge.
      3. Since 6:9-11 describes God’s “slain” people, “rest” explains the state of the dead.
      4. “Rest” describes death as a state of inactivity.

Until when must they ‘rest’?

In Revelation 19:1-3, “a great multitude in heaven” praises God because “He has avenged the blood of his bond-servants.” This is followed by Christ’s return (Rev 19:11). In other words, the “blood” of the souls under the altar will only be avenged when or immediately before Christ returns. By implication, the souls under the altar will rest until Christ returns.

Rest describes the state of death.

In Daniel 12, an angel said to Daniel:

“You will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).

Revelation 14:13 reads:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
so that they may REST from their labors,
for their deeds follow with them.”

As an example from the Old Testament, “the righteous man perishes … they rest in their beds” (Isa 57:1-2).

Rest and Sleep are synonyms.

Both “rest” and “sleep” describe death as a state of inactivity. Earlier in Daniel 12, we read that, at the end of time:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (Dan 12:2).

In other words, Daniel 12 uses both the concepts of sleep and rest (Dan 12:13) to describe death as a state of inactivity. Consistent with this principle, the angel said that Daniel will NOT receive his “allotted inheritance” at death but only “at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13), namely, when Christ returns (Matt 13:40).

Therefore, the word “rest” strongly implies that the souls under the altar are not awake.

They do not receive white robes at death.

When the “souls” “were told that they should rest for a little while longer,” they were also given white robes (i.e., confirmation of salvation) (Rev 6:11). In other words, they received their white robes NOT while alive nor at death but only “a little while” before Christ returns. Since they have not received their white robes at death, the righteous cannot go to heaven at death and the wicked dead cannot go directly to hell.

RESURRECTION IMMEDIATELY ON DEATH

Concerning the state of the dead, we must realize that we live in a finite universe but that God exists beyond time. At death, the spirit goes to God. But, with God, time does not exist. Therefore I propose the following:

At death, each of us is ‘wormholed’ through to the dawn of eternity. The spirit continues to live and is then reunited with a new body at the resurrection. For the individual, this happens instantly at death. They are immediately with both their parents and their children because all people arrive simultaneously at the same ‘moment’ in eternity. For those who are left behind, it seems like a long time.

To me, this reconciles the two views of the state of the dead. Then Paul’s statements, that “to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and that he desires “to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:21, 23) are fully compatible with the concept that death is a state of inactivity.


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith (in Greek), p.55

Revelation’s Dragon is the Roman Empire.

OVERVIEW

In the Book of Revelation, there are three beasts that each have seven heads and ten horns. One of them is the Beast that comes out of the Sea, called the Sea Beast in this article. It is the mark of this Beast that people will receive on their foreheads in the end-time. This article identifies the Sea Beast as the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7, which a previous article identified as the Roman Empire.

Daniel 7 presents world history, from the time of ancient Babylon until Christ’s return, by symbolizing four empires as four animals. The fourth has, at first, 10 horns, symbolizing the nations into which the Roman Empire fragmented. Then an 11th horn arises that dominates the other nations, blasphemes God, and persecutes God’s people. It continues until it is destroyed when Christ returns.

To identify the Dragon, this article first shows that Revelation’s beasts are part of the kingdoms in Daniel 7 and that Revelation’s beasts add detail to what we see in Daniel 7. Indications of this include that the Revelation’s beasts have the same number of heads and horns as Daniel’s animals and that both Revelation’s beasts and Daniel’s animals cover the time from before Christ’s birth until His return.

This article then continues to identify the Dragon as the Roman Empire. The Dragon is first mentioned in the context of Christ’s life on earth, where He was put to death by the Roman Empire. Then, by comparing Revelation 13:1-2, which describes the birth of the Sea Beast, to Daniel 7, this article shows that the Dragon is the fourth animal of Daniel 7.

PURPOSE

In the Book of Revelation, there are three beasts that each have seven heads and ten horns:

      • The Great Red Dragon (Rev 12:3);
      • The Sea Beast, whose mark is put on the foreheads of his followers (Rev 13:1, 16-17); and
      • The Scarlet Beast, on which the harlot sits (Rev 17:3).

Given their strange appearances, they cannot be literal beasts. Since all three have seven heads and ten horns, they must be related. Since they are different beasts, they represent different things. This article series explains what these beasts are and how they relate. The purpose of the current article is to identify the Dragon.

DANIEL 7

The Dragon is identified from Daniel 7.

This article series argues that Revelation’s seven-headed beasts are part of the series of animals in Daniel 7 and that Revelation’s beasts explain Daniel’s animals in more detail. The articles on Daniel 7, therefore, form the foundation for these interpretations of the seven-headed beasts. The following is a brief overview of the conclusions of articles on Daniel 7:

The Animals of Daniel 7

Daniel 7 uses four ferocious beasts as symbols for four empires that will arise one after the other:

      • The Lion (Dan 7:4) = Babylonian;
      • The Bear (Dan 7:5) = Medo-Persian;
      • The Leopard with four heads (Dan 7:6) = Grecian (Macedonian) Empire of Alexander the Great;
      • A fourth animal that is described as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong” (Dan 7:7) = Roman Empire

The main conclusion is that the fourth animal symbolizes the Roman Empire.

Heads and Horns

While the animals in Daniel 7 in TOTAL have 7 heads and 10 horns, the beasts in Revelation EACH have the same number of heads and horns.

The Ten Horns

While the first three animals have none, Daniel’s fourth animal “had ten horns” (Dan 7:7). This is explained as that, “out of this kingdom (the Roman Empire) ten kings will arise” (Dan 7:24). In other words, while each of the first three kingdoms will be replaced by one single kingdom, the fourth kingdom will fragment into “ten kings” (kingdoms). The number “ten” is probably not literal but signifies “many” (e.g., Dan 1:20).

The Seven Heads

While the other three animals have one head each, Daniel’s third animal, the Leopard, has four heads (Dan 7:6), giving seven in total.

Heads also symbolize kingdoms. For example, the four heads of the Leopard are the four parts of Alexander’s Greek Empire. But heads and horns are different:

      • Heads are the parts of the kingdom, like the parts of the Greek kingdom.
      • Horns are the fragments of a kingdom AFTER it has disintegrated.

One question, answered below, is whether the heads and horns in Revelation are the same as the heads and horns in Daniel.

The Eleventh Horn is the main character.

But the main character and purpose of Daniel 7 is not one of these four empires or one of the ten horns. Most of Daniel 7 describes another power, namely the 11th horn that grows out of the fourth beast (Dan 7:8). Daniel 7 allocates more space to this 11th horn than perhaps to all four animals and ten horns put together. The only reason that Daniel 7 describes the preceding four animals and ten horns is so that the reader can identify that 11th horn.

Initially, 10 horns grew out of Daniel’s fourth beast. The Roman Empire came to its end over hundreds of years as ‘barbarian tribes” assumed control of more and more of its territory. (See, The Fall of Rome.) The ten horns symbolize the nations that were formed in the process.

At the end of that process, an 11th horn grew out of the Roman Empire. It dominates the other kingdoms (Dan 7:20, 24), blasphemes God, and persecutes His people (Dan 7:25). It will be the main enemy of God and of His people of all time. It will become so important that a court will sit in heaven to judge between it and God’s people (Dan 7:26, 9-11, and 14). At the return of Christ, this 11th horn will be destroyed (Dan 7:26, 11), and the everlasting kingdom will be given to the saints (Dan 7:27) and to the Son of man (Dan 7:13-14). This 11th horn will, therefore, be a continuation of the Roman Empire in some way and will exist until the return of Christ. 

There are, therefore, actually, five main powers in Daniel 7:

      • The Babylonian Lion;
      • The Medo-Persian Bear;
      • The Macedonian Leopard;
      • The Roman Dragon; and
      • The 11th Horn of the Roman Empire

REVELATION’S BEASTS

Revelation’s beasts explain Daniel’s animals.

For the following reasons, Revelation’s seven-headed beasts explain the animals in Daniel 7 by giving more detail:

Later prophecies explain earlier ones.

It is a general principle that later prophecies explain and expand on earlier prophecies. Daniel 2 is the base prophecy. Daniel 7 and later Daniel 8 and Daniel 11 expand on that prophecy. Revelation, itself, is grounded on Daniel’s prophecies. Given this principle, Revelation’s beasts provide even further detail of the empires portrayed in Daniel.

They have the same number of heads and horns.

As already noted, while Daniel’s four animals have, in TOTAL, seven heads and ten horns, Revelation’s beasts EACH have seven heads and ten horns: 

This does not mean that the heads in Daniel are the same as the heads in Revelation. Neither are they the same horns. In fact, Daniel’s fourth animal actually has 11 horns (Dan 7:8). (See below for more detail.) But it does mean that Revelation’s beasts are related to Daniel’s animals.

It also means that Revelation’s beasts are the same types of things as Daniel’s animals, namely kingdoms or nations (cf. Rev 17:9-12).

They exist at the same time.

Daniel 7 covers the entire Christian age. The animals cover the time from the ancient Babylonian to the Roman Empires. The 11th horn, which grows out of the Roman Empire, then continues to exist until Christ returns (Dan 7:26-27).

The prophecy of Daniel 2 confirms that the 11th horn will exist until Christ returns. While Daniel 7 shows the four animal-kingdoms as four separate entities, Daniel 2 combines them into a single symbol; the image of a man. Different body parts represent the successive kingdoms. The head of the man is the first (the ancient Babylonian empire). The feet, representing a “divided kingdom” (Dan 2:41) are equivalent to the horns that grow out of Daniel’s fourth animal, including the 11th horn. Then the entire image is destroyed when Christ returns (Dan 2:44).

Revelation’s three seven-headed beasts exist at the same time as Daniel’s animals. They cover the period from before Christ’s birth (Rev 12:5) to His Return (Rev 19:11-20).

The Sea Beast looks like Daniel’s animals.

Revelation’s Sea Beast looks like the four animals of Daniel 7. It “was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2). These are the four beasts in Daniel 7. This description means that the Sea Beast inherits something from each of the four beasts of Daniel 7, which brings us back to the concept in Daniel 2 that these kingdoms are parts of one single thing.

Conclusion

For these reasons, Revelation’s seven-headed beasts provide more detail about the series of animals in Daniel 7. Exactly what Revelation’s beasts symbolize, and how they relate to Daniel’s animals, will now be discussed.

THE DRAGON

Revelation’s Dragon is the Roman Empire

The Dragon in Rev 12:3

Great Red Dragon

When the dragon is first introduced in Revelation 12 as standing before the woman, ready to devour her Child (that is, Jesus – see Rev 12:4) as soon as He is born, it has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3). Since heads and horns represent “kings” (cf. Rev 17:9-10, 12) and since “kings” symbolize earthly kingdoms (Dan 7:17, 23), the Dragon symbolizes the earthly kingdoms through which Satan works. In the context of the birth of the Messiah (Rev 12:5), the dragon represents the specific earthly empire at the time when Jesus was born, namely the Roman Empire.

The Dragon in Rev 13:2

The context in this verse is the birth of the beast. It arises out of the sea (Rev 13:1). The sea is a symbol for the peoples of the world (Dan 7:3, 17; cf. Rev 17:15). In other words, the beast was formed out of the peoples of the world – it is a human organization.

Rev 13:2 mentions four animals from which the Sea Beast receives something. Three of them are explicitly the first three of the four animals used by Daniel 7 to symbolize a series of kingdoms, namely the lion, bear, and the leopard (Dan 7:3, 5, 6).

The fourth animal in Rev 13:2, which gave the Sea Beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2), is called a “dragon.”

The Dragon is Daniel’s fourth animal.

For the following reasons, this “dragon” is the fourth animal of Daniel 7:

(a) The dragon has 7 heads and 10 horns (Rev 12:3; 13:1); the same number of heads and horns as the animals of Daniel 7 have in total. This implies that the dragon is part of the series of kingdoms in Daniel 7.

(b) The Sea Beast receives something from each of four animals (Rev 13:2). Since the first three (the lion, bear, and leopard) are the first three animals of Daniel 7, it is implied that the fourth – the Dragon – is the fourth animal in Daniel 7.

(c) Daniel 7 does not say what kind of animal the fourth animal is but describes it as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong, and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet” (Dan 7:7). This sounds like a dragon.

(d) Daniel’s fourth animal and Revelation’s Dragon give rise to the same world power. To explain:

Both the 11th horn of Daniel 7 and Revelation’s Sea Beast are described as God’s main enemy (Dan 7:25; Rev 13:6-8) that will only be destroyed when Christ returns (Dan 7:26-27; Rev 19:20).

They are, therefore, one and the same entity. That means that the entities that generate them, namely Daniel’s fourth animal Revelation’s Dragon, are also one and the same entity. This is discussed further in the article that identifies the Sea Beast.

Daniel’s fourth animal is the Roman Empire.

So, the “dragon” of Rev 13:2 is Daniel’s fourth beast, which has already been identified as the Roman Empire. (See – The Animals of Daniel 7) The Dragon, therefore, is a symbol for the Roman Empire,

THE DRAGON IS SATAN.

However, in the context of the war in heaven, the Dragon is explicitly identified as Satan (Rev 12:7-9; cf. 20:2). The reason is that Rev 12 describes a series of wars between God and Satan, beginning before the birth of Christ and ending with the end-time persecution of God’s people, and in every one of those wars, “dragon” is used as symbol for Satan’s forces:

(A) First, the Dragon confronts the woman who is about to give birth to Christ (Rev 12:3-4). This woman is now a symbol for God’s people before Christ’s birth.

(B) Once her Child is born, the Dragon attacks the Child but the Child is “caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5).

(C) After the Child has been caught up, war breaks out in heaven between the Dragon and Michael and their angels (Rev 12:7).

(D) After the Dragon has been defeated and thrown down to earth, it again attacks the woman (Rev 12:13-14, 6). She now represents God’s New Testament people. (To see why verses 6 and 14 describe the same event, refer to the article on Revelation 12.)

(E) After the Earth has helped the woman (Rev 12:16), the Dragon “went off to make war with the rest of her children” (Rev 12:17). This refers to the end-time war against God’s people.

So, in Revelation 12, “dragon” serves as a symbol for Satan’s forces during the “time and times and half a time” (Rev 12:14), which is the same as the 42 months during which the Sea Beast has authority (Rev 13:5). In other words, in Rev 12, “dragon” also serves as a symbol for the Sea Beast. During the “time and times and half a time,” “dragon” does not represent the Roman Empire.

But Revelation 13:1-2, which describes the birth of the Sea Beast, makes a distinction between the Dragon and the Beast so that the Dragon is the symbol for the Roman Empire and the Beast the symbol for the organization that continued the authority of the Roman Empire after it had fragmented into various nations. See – the next article.


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    The Antichrist in Daniel, which is the same as the beast in Revelation, arises out of the Roman Empire; it is not Antiochus Epiphanes.
  • 2
    Discussion of the prophecy and the four main interpretations
  • 3
    Critical scholars teach that Daniel was written after the events it claims to predict.
  • 4
    The ultimate purpose of this website is to explain the mark of the beast.
  • 5
    Does Revelation describe events chronologically? Must it be interpreted literally? The temple in heaven, Christ’s Return, Hear/See Combinations, and the Numbers in Revelation
  • 6
    There was a book in heaven that not even Christ was able to read because it was sealed up with seven seals. But, by overcoming, He became worthy to break the seven seals and open the book.
  • 7
    This is the apex of Revelation, providing an overview of history from before Christ until the end-time, with emphasis on the end-time persecution.
  • 8
    These plagues will follow after the end-time Christian persecution and will be followed by Christ’s return. What is the purpose of these?
  • 9
    Revelation has three beasts with seven heads and ten horns each; a great red dragon, the beast from the sea, and a scarlet beast.
  • 10
    Babylon is mentioned only once in the first 15 chapters but the seventh and final plague targets her specifically. Then Revelation 17 and 18 explain who and what she is.
  • 11
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 12
    The decision to adopt the Trinity doctrine was not taken by the church.
  • 13
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation
  • 14
    Discussions of the Atonement – How does God do away with sin?
  • 15
    How people are put right with God
  • 16
    Must Christians observe the Law of Moses?
  • 17
    Must Christians observe the Sabbath?
  • 18
    Are the dead still alive and aware?
  • 19
    Will the lost be tormented in hell for all eternity?
  • 20
    And why does God not make an end to all evil?
  • 21
    Key events that transformed the church into an independent religion
  • 22
    When? How? Has His return been delayed?
  • 23
    I do not have any formal theological qualifications and I am not part of any religious organization. These articles are the result of my studies over many years.
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