"And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name." NIV translation
The sea always represents the nations of the world and the dragon stood on the shore and called out the beast from among the nations. This beast is a person that is to be the political head of this kingdom that Satan is trying to set up. We must understand that God is still over all and in control but he is turning the world over to Satan for a period of time which we call the great tribulation. God's purpose in doing this is so that Satan will see that he does not have the power to set up a kingdom to replace God's. The ten horns represent complete control of the earth and the seven heads represent complete knowledge and this beast will be a world dictator.
"The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority." NIV translation
Now, John describes the beast and it is very similar to the beasts that Daniel saw in Daniel 7. The body was like a leopard and was a symbol of the Greco-Macedonian empire and its outward culture. The feet were like that of a bear which was a sign of the Media-Persian empire which was known for its pagan wealth and splendor. The mouth was like a lion which was a symbol of the Babylonian empire which was known for its dictatorial authority. When you put them all together you end up with a man that is refined and cultured, is wealthy and rules with dictatorial authority where any opposition is dealt with quickly. We see that this man is given all of his power and authority by Satan himself.
"One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast." NIV translation
This verse tells us of a huge lie that Satan and the beast get people to believe. People believe that the beast has been raised from the dead by Satan but, in fact, Satan does not have the power to do that. It is crazy that the people won't accept the resurrection of Jesus but they will accept this fake.
"Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, 'Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?'" NIV translation
So the dragon has set himself up to replace God and this first beast has been set up to take the place of Jesus. The people were deceived by the big lie and worshiped them. They thought that, if the beast could not be killed then there was nobody that was powerful enough to stand against them and so they must be a god.
"The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months." NIV translation
This first beast will brag about himself and his power but his time to exercise that power is limited to forty-two months. That is the period of time that we typically call the great tribulation. Blasphemy has two meanings in the Bible but here it is talking about showing contempt for the name of God. In Leviticus 24:10-16, God defined this type of blasphemy and prescribed the penalty for this sin as being death.
"He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven." NIV translation
This beast not only disrespects God but also heaven and those that live there as well.
"He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation." NIV translation
This may seem confusing to us at it says that the beast will conquer the saints but these saints are the people that accept Christ after the rapture of the church. It may seem like Satan is winning but, when the saints are conquered, they will be killed and go to be with the rest of the saints and Jesus. The rest of the earth is controlled by the beast for a period of time.
"All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast - all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." NIV translation
There are only two options at this point. Those that are children of God will be killed and go to join Him. Those whose names are not written in the book of life will worship the beast and be eternally condemned. It seems that today many are standing in the middle ground between good and evil but really, if your name is not in the book, then you are really serving Satan; there is no middle ground.
Revelation 13:9 & 10
"He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints." NIV translation
The ability to hear comes from God and it is only by His call that we accept Jesus Christ and escape the captivity of sin and Satan. At this time, the beast will hunt the people that accept Christ and when they are caught they will have their heads chopped off by a sword. Many say that this cannot happen but if you look at what is already happening in many countries it is easy to see that it is almost here. In these countries today, Christians are hunted and killed by having their heads chopped off with a sword.
Revelation 13:11 & 12
"Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed" NIV translation
Now, we are introduced to the third part of this unholy trinity. This second beast is the religious leader of the world. There is going to be a new world religion that will worship the beast. All those left on the earth will be forced to worship the first beast (the political leader).
"And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men." NIV translation
This anti-christ is going to perform signs that will cause the people to be deceived. Just as God rained fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah, this beast is going to do the same thing. This is similar to what happened with the magicians when Moses performed signs before the Pharaoh (see Exodus chapters 7 - 11).
"Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived." NIV translation
Once they are deceived, the beast will order them to commit idolatry (set up an image to worship).
"He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed." NIV translation
The second beast (religious leader) is going to cause the image that was set up to speak. Those that do not worship this false god will be killed.
Revelation 13:16 & 17
"He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name." NIV translation
How do you get someone to do something that they know is wrong? The simple answer is demonstrated here in that they are not given any other option. At this point, you are either identified with the beast and can participate in the world system or you are identified with Christ and killed. If you choose neither, then you will starve to death because you cannot buy food. There is much effort given to trying to figure out exactly what the mark is but, as Christians, we do not have to worry because we will not be here. It is not going to be some type of secret mark that is put on you without you knowing it.
"This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." NIV translation
A simple number but with a big meaning. Throughout God's word, the number six represents man's works and their imperfection. The number three represents divine perfection and the establishment of God's will and purpose. In this we see that, the beast is a man that is claiming to be divine (God) but God's purpose will be done.