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In the context of the scriptures and culture that the vision was revealed, what was implied by "the dragon" which is also implied to be a serpent?

At first, one might conclude a simple snake with seven heads. But when a "dragon" is mentioned, perhaps a reader might have envisioned a variation of the hydra.

I doubt this is a simple matter of opinion though: What type of creature is the bible implying? Is it spinning from a mythical icon of the nations, or is it simply scaling up a snake and adding heads?

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7 Answers 7

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Assuming you are referring to Revelation 13:1ff, the seven-headed beast and the dragon are two different things. The Greek refers to a seven-headed thērion (θηρίον) - (wild) beast; and a drakōn (δράκων) - "dragon", which gives power to the beast

Revelation 13:1 (1904 Patriarchal Text)

Καὶ ἐστάθην ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον τῆς θαλάσσης· καὶ εἶδον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης θηρίον  ναβαῖνον, ἔχον κέρατα δέκα καὶ κεφαλὰς ἑπτά, καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν κεράτων αὐτοῦ δέκα διαδήματα, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτοῦ ὀνόματα βλασφημίας.

And I stood on the sand of the sea, and I saw a beast [θηρίον] coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and on his heads names of blasphemy ...

Revelation 13:2

καὶ τὸ θηρίον ὃ εἶδον ἦν ὅμοιον παρδάλει ... καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ δράκων τὴν δύναμιν αὐτοῦ

And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard ... and the dragon [δράκων] gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

Revelation 13:4

καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ δράκοντι τῷ δεδωκότι τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῷ θηρίῳ

And they worshipped the dragon [δράκων] which gave power unto the beast [θηρίον]:

Andrew of Caesarea (563-637 AD), who wrote the first extensive commentary on the Apocalypse, interpreted the beast to be the Antichrist and the dragon to be Satan, who gives power to the Antichrist. (See Dr. Eugenia Constantinou's Ph.D. thesis, "Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation")

The word drakōn appears 13 times in the New Testament, but only in the Apocalypse. It does appear 36 times, however, in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Brenton translates the word as sometimes as "serpent" and sometimes as "dragon". Some examples:

Exodus 7:9 LXX
Take thy rod and cast it upon the ground before Pharao, and before his servants, and it shall become a serpent [δράκων].

Psalm 103:26 LXX
There go the ships; and this dragon [δράκων] whom thou hast made to play in it.

Sirach 25:16
I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon [δράκων], than to keep house with a wicked woman.

There is also this interesting passage in the Septuagint version of Job:

Job 26:13 LXX
And the barriers of heaven fear him, and by a command he has slain the apostate dragon.

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Daniel, in his vision in Daniel chapter 7, saw four beasts:

  • Lion: 1 head, 0 horns
  • Bear: 1 head, 0 horns
  • Leopard: 4 heads, 0 horns
  • Fourth: 1 head, 10 horns

These beasts, in total, have 7 heads and 10 horns.

So, the dragon with the seven heads and the ten horns is the culmination of the four beasts that Daniel saw.

When John saw a dragon, he saw the "real" nature of this/those beast(s).

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Dragons are never a safe creature to be around, especially the fire breathing variety.

The "dragon" with seven heads in the book of Revelation (Rev. 17: 7-8) is metaphorical idea of the antichrist according to Cardinal John Henri Newman (1801-1890) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Newman] in his four lectures on The Patristical Idea of Antichrist. [http://www.newmanreader.org/works/arguments/antichrist/lecture4.html]. The seven heads symbolizing the seven-hilled-city (Rome) from where he shall rule all the kingdom of the earth.

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    Ken - thank you for your response. To gain points for your answers, please amplify your answer with more details. For example, why do the heads of the dragon appear with crowns, and then later the horns have the crowns instead? What we want is your analysis of the passage. For the Book of Revelation, which is full of images, one must adopt some sort of approach to explain the images. Can you provide us more detail of what you see? Please do not cut-and-paste various commentators, but tell us what you see and understand with clear references and logic. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:30
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What type of “dragon” is implied by the seven headed serpent of revelation?

Revelation 13:1-2 (NASB)

The Beast from the Sea

1 "And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw 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."

The Dragon.

The Dragon is none other than Satan the Devil, John wrote in Revelation 12:7-9 (NET)

The Angel Michael and war in heaven with the huge dragon.

7 "Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon—the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world—was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him."

The Beast:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. So what is the beast? The prophet Daniel whilst being a captive in Babylon has a vision.

Daniel has a Vision of four great beasts coming up from the sea. (Read Daniel 7: 1-8)

The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle, a second one, resembling a bear, the third was like a leopard , and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

The fourth beast is very much similar to the beast seen by John towards the closing years of the first century,notice that the beast had similar characteristics of a leopard, a bear a lion and had ten diadems on ten horns.

Daniel informs us that the huge beasts are four kings, or empires /kingdoms : 17 "These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come."(Daniel 7:17 NASB)

The Seven Heads.

The seven heads of the beast represent the six major empires that are mentioned in the Bible up to Johns day and the seventh was prophesied to appear later, and are: Egypt-Assyria- Babylon- MedoPersia- Greece - Rome and the other(the seventh) has not yet come.

Revelation 17:9-10 (NASB)

9 "Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while."

Notes: Was thrown (the Dragon-Satan the Devil)) down to the earth, and his angels along with him, refers to the angels that materialized and took human form in the pre-flood days of Noah.

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Psalms 74: 12 But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. 13 It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. 14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.

"Canaanite mythic imagery was the most impressive means in that ancient cultural milieu whereby to display the sovereignty and transcendence of Yahweh, along with His superiority over Baal and all other earthly contenders. Although the Hebrews did not borrow the theology of Canaan, they did borrow its imagery—here the imagery of Baal’s enemy, Sea/Dragon/Leviathan." [John N. Day, “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 155:p.436. Quoted here.]

Revelations is like the finished jigsaw puzzle of the entire Hebrew bible, borrowing elements from all over to make a single montage. The seven headed dragon is one such element taken from psalms 74.

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    Welcome, @jiohdi_1960, and thanks for your answer. The quote from John Day is a good start, but I think the connection needs to be stronger. You linked to an excellent source, and the discussion there about the Canaanite myth of the 'leviathan with seven heads' is directly relevant. I think this could be a good answer!
    – Schuh
    Feb 10, 2016 at 6:17
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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

This interpretation is based on 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.

Seven Heads and Ten 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

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.

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The dragon is referring to Satan who caused 1/3 of the Angels (symbolically 'stars') to rebel against God and tried to kill Christ as a baby (through Herod's fanticide in Bethlehem) see verse 4

Rev 17:3 talks again of this 7 headed dragon calling him a 'beast' and this time there is a woman sitting on him. A woman symbolically is a church or religion. This is a religion which claims to worship God but is deceived and really worships the devil.

Throughout Revelation the dragon gives power and authority to world rulers and causes people to worship him. The dragon/beast itself is further described in Rev 13 and its four characteristics match the four beasts of Dan. 7 which are four world-dominating powers.

The seven heads are defined for us in Rev. 17:9--they are seven mountains on which the woman (church/religion) sits. These seven heads are of the fourth beast of Dan. 7, and are the seven resurrections of the Roman Empire with 7 kings or emporers, hence the crowns on the seven heads--Rev 17:10. This becomes the Holy Roman Empire when the Pope begins ordaining emperors in 554AD.

The ten horns are ten kings--hence more crowns! (Rev 17:12) which all exist at the same time and give their power to the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire for a short time until the return of Christ. This federation of nations will be a sort of United States of Europe united unsteadily to form the greatest world power ever known--hence the feet of iron mixed with clay--which does not mix well br form a strong bond--representing the same world power as in Dan 7. It won't last long but will be overthrown by Christ at His second coming!

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  • I wouldn't go so far and call the roman empire "Holy". Aug 11, 2016 at 8:58
  • The beast and the dragon are two different things. See Rev 13:1ff
    – user15733
    Sep 10, 2016 at 10:58

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