Revelation 13 takes us into the second half of the tribulation (“forty-two months” v. 5). The dragon (Satan) has been hurled to the earth and is mustering his forces that he may war against God and His saints. The dragon operates through the agency of two beasts: one out of the sea (v. 1), and one out of the earth (v. 11). Many commentators believe they represent the dragon’s civil government and religious system respectively. Whatever these beasts literally are, the text paints us a picture of a vile, satanic regime that will exercise complete authority over the earth for a short while.
Even given a futurist view of Revelation, we can observe “beastly” governments and leaders, past and present, that exhibit many of the same qualities of the two beasts. In these uncertain times, many are more open to the idea that we are fast approaching the grim future presented in Revelation 13. Whether or not that is the case, we are called to “patient endurance,” “faithfulness” and “wisdom” (vv. 10, 18) to navigate whatever times we find ourselves in.
I. A Beast Out of the Sea
V. 1a: “Coming out of the sea.” In the ancient world, the sea represents chaos (Gen. 1:2). In Revelation, it represents wealth and commerce, ships carrying precious cargo around the world (Rev. 18:19). In the new heavens and earth, there will be no sea (Rev. 21:1).
VV. 1b-2a: “Ten horns and seven heads, with then crowns.” This coincides with Daniel’s vision of four beasts that represent four kingdoms (Dan. 7:1-7; cf. Rev. 17:9-12). This may indicate that the beast is not a personal antichrist, but a conglomerate one world kingdom.
V. 2b: “The dragon gave the beast his power.” This is a (1) satanic counterfeit to the Son of Man (Jesus) receiving power and authority from the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14). The earth has been handed over to the dragon, and he is exercising his authority through the beast.
V. 3: “The fatal wound had been healed.” Another (2) satanic counterfeit, this time to the resurrection of Christ. This sign will validate the beast’s demand for total allegiance in the eyes of the world.
V. 4: “People worshipped the dragon.” Satan is now out in the open, and people still worship him. This bears witness to the propensity of man to make idols out of things they can see, or that display the most power, or that promise them prosperity.
“Who is like the beast?” a (3) satanic counterfeit to the Song of Moses (Ex. 15:11). Music, a gift given to man by which he may praise God, has often been coopted by Satan to extol the works of darkness.
VV. 5-6: “A mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies.” One of the hallmarks of a “beastly” state or ruler: self-deification. We see these types throughout the Bible and throughout history- Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus IV, Nero.
“1,260 days.” The second half of the tribulation. Take heart that this is still a limited time. The beast’s reign of terror will come to a decisive end.
V. 7: “Power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them.” While “the woman” (the remnant out of Israel) is being supernaturally kept by God, “her children” (those who are saved through their witness) are persecuted relentlessly (Rev. 12:6, 13-17). While in this age, we may conquer the dragon and his hosts (Rev. 12:11; Luke 10:18-19), those who are saved in the tribulation will simply have to endure suffering and keep the faith (v. 10).
V. 8: “The Lamb’s book of life.” Those known by the Lamb from the foundations of the earth that will ultimately persevere and inherit salvation (Rev. 3:5; 20:12).
“The Lamb who slain from the foundation of the world.” God’s knowledge and will from the beginning was that man would fall, but that His Son would atone for their sins and all who trust in Him would be saved (John 3:16-18). Thus, the death of Christ retroactively justified the saints of old that lived by faith in God (Rom. 3:25-26). This was not based on their knowledge, but their faith, and on God’s complete knowledge that a perfect “once for all” sacrifice would be offered (Heb. 10:10, 14).
V. 9: “Whoever has ears let them hear.” The reader or hearer of this letter is to carefully heed these words. Remember, regardless of the timing of the events in Revelation, all saints in every age are called to live in readiness for Christ’s return, lest they grow weary and fall away (Mat. 24:9-13, 45-51; Rom. 13:11-14). Perhaps many professed Christians will realize this when its too late.
V. 10: “If anyone is to be killed with the sword.” Deliverance will not come at this time. While the faithful can expect to be resurrected in the end, God has elected not to intervene, but to allow the dragon to impose his will for a time.
II. A Beast Out of the Earth
VV. 11-13: “Two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon.” A (4) satanic counterfeit to the true Lamb, appearing as a false Christ or as a Christian leader. The second beast represents the dragon’s religious system. Both in the tribulation and in this present age, we can expect to see “false brothers” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”—those who appear as Christians but are, in fact, “antichrists” (Mat. 7:15; Gal. 2:4; Acts 20:28-31; 1 John 2:18-23). With the introduction of the second beast, the (5) satanic counterfeit to the Trinity is complete—the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.
VV. 14-15: “The image of the first beast.” Certain cults were known use ventriloquism to make their idols appear to talk. Given the rapid advancement of various technologies and the fact that we are already witnessing the rise of surveillance states, it is easier to imagine how a government can counterfeit omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence such as seen in the image.
“All who refused to worship the image to be killed.” This should remind us of the three Hebrew children that refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold and were thrown into the fiery furnace as a result (Daniel Ch. 3). It is natural for the self-deifying beast state to coerce their subjects to worship and conform to their religious expression. Even so-called secular states have religiously based morals and dogma that they enforce with the sword (Rom. 13:4).
VV. 16-17: “A mark on their right hands or on their foreheads.” The mark is reminiscent of the branding of a slave or of a prisoner of war. It is also a (6) satanic counterfeit to the “mark” that God’s faithful ones were to bear (Dt. 6:8; Rev. 7:3; 22:4). This can be a literal mark of some kind that will test the allegiances of those living on the earth.
“Buy or sell.” Economic sanction often precedes or comes in tandem with violent persecution. In beast states, it is not uncommon to limit the career and economic opportunities of Christians. Our modern “cancel culture” that attempts to destroy the livelihoods of those they deem blasphemers is a great example of this.
“666.” Many attempts over the centuries have been made to decipher this number, dating back to Nero in the first century. Given that none of these calculations have led us to the true beast of Revelation 13, it may be wise to understand 666 as symbolic- the unholy trinity of imperfection.
Patient Endurance: In this age, we may see great deliverance and great victory from the hand of God, but that is not always the case (Heb. 11:32-38). Suffering is sometimes appointed for the Christian by God and is therefore unavoidable (1 Pet. 4:19). Like the church in Smyrna, we must simply brace ourselves for the troubles ahead and resolve to keep our faith (Rev. 2:10).
Faithfulness: Faithfulness is essential in the end times, for the unfaithful will necessarily be sifted before the end comes (2 Thess. 2:3; Mat. 24:9-13). Faithfulness exhibits itself in both word and works. That is, our Christian confession (Mark 8:38) and our service to God and others (Rom. 12:11). Christians that are timid, lazy, and apathetic about their faith will be quick to jettison it when the heat of persecution comes (Mark 4:17).
Wisdom: Doing the right thing at the wrong time is doing the wrong thing. Therefore, wisdom is required to understand the times (Ecc. 3:1-8; Eph. 5:15-17). We are to be like the sons of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Ch. 12:32). Jesus expects us to be able to interpret the “signs of the times” (Mat. 16:1-4). God wants us to know the truth that we may spot the satanic counterfeits and respond appropriately.
**GOD AND GOVERNMENT: UNDERSTANDING THE BEAST**
This year, the United States government, on both the federal and state level, has gained an enormous amount of power over its citizens in a very short span of time. Between endless lockdowns, a massive spike in those receiving government aid, many churches being cowed into closure, and the prospect of martial law in major cities, we must be wary that any government this big with this much reach into our lives is capable of devouring us if it so chooses.
This very thing has been happening in China for decades, punctuated by the recent order that Chinese Christians must renounce their faith and essentially worship the State or else lose their welfare payments. Of course, this is hardly surprising. Under a Communist regime where belief in a transcendent God is renounced, the State invariably takes the place of God and rules capriciously with an iron fist.
Totalitarian governments the world over and throughout history have similarly made a practice of deifying their leaders and canonizing their core documents, forming a State religion.
This all fits the description of what was revealed to John as a “Beast coming out of the Sea” (Rev. 13:1). Among other things, the Beast is said to “utter blasphemies” (vv. 5-6), “wage war against God’s holy people and conquer them” (v. 7), and receive worship from the inhabitants of the earth (v. 8). We know that this Beast represents governmental power of some kind, because it is given authority to exercise in the world, albeit for a short period of time (v. 5).
This is not an attempt to identify *the* Beast who will presumably appear near the tribulation and return of Christ. But understand that John and his readers already knew of men like Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus IV and Nero that were rather “beastly” in their own right. And since Bible times, many “beasts” have come and gone- demanding worship, defying God and destroying His people.
The fact that every generation fails to learn from the Bible or history, allowing for new beastly governments to form, shows us two things:
1) When allowed to grow unchecked, governments will always develop a god-complex and become oppressive.
2) People without spiritual discernment will not only allow a beastly government to take power, they will even demand it.
With this in mind, the church must tirelessly resist and repudiate government overreach. Romans 13 has declared governing authorities to be “God’s servant” and has set the limits of their authority. Moreover, the Bible contains four books (Exodus-Deuteronomy) of case law that guide us into understanding how a civil society should operate. Therefore, God has given the church a clear standard that we are to hold the government accountable to. And should they violate the standard, our prophetic duty is to call them to conform to a Law higher than their own.
Yet many Christians bring up Romans 13 as a prooftext for unqualified obedience to everything the government says, including how we are to worship God. COVID has really exposed this naïveté. Christians further feed into the government’s god-complex when they call for the state-sanctioned redistribution of wealth and increased funding to various government programs to achieve “social justice.” Besides being blatantly Marxist, the hidden assumption is that the government can and must eradicate all societal woes and make all disparities go away if we just give them enough money and power.
Pictured below is Tiananmen Square, where in 1989 the Communist Party of China put down a student led protest with military force, resulting in thousands of deaths. Please do a Google search and educate yourself if you were not alive or old enough to remember this event. Though hardly an outlier to China’s countless human rights atrocities and millions of murders over the decades, let this represent to you what a “beast” looks like and what our constitutional republic can become in very short order.
Parabolically, the church is the “tank man” in the picture. We are the only thing standing between relative freedom and tyranny, civility and chaos. In point to fact, the church- the pillar and foundation of the truth- is the dividing line of every culture it inhabits. However, considering how far gone our nation is, there is no guarantee that America will not morph into a hideous beast in the years to come. But for our own soul’s sake, we must stand, we must remain faithful, we must overcome the beast. We must overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, not loving our lives so much as shrink back from death.
Revelation 17:14 KJV
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.