THE ENEMIES OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH – [2] Revelation 13: The Two Beasts

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Chapter 13 begins with the dragon, Satan, intent on his war against the woman, the Church, standing on the shore of the sea - where the sea and earth meet. As he stands there two beasts emerge, one from the sea and one from the earth. It appears that these two beasts are summoned by the dragon and emerge to do his work. They bear Satan’s nature and engage on his behalf in his attack on the Church.

Again we need to remind ourselves that we are dealing with an apocalyptic vision in which symbols are being used to reveal reality. The truth contained in the vision was relevant for John’s original readers and is relevant for all the redeemed from all generations.

A. THE BEAST OUT OF THE SEA – 13:1-10

The obvious similarity of this single beast to the four beasts of Daniel 7 [compare 13:2a with Daniel 7:3-7] makes it reasonable to conclude that ‘the beast from the sea’ is a symbol for world governments in their opposition to the people of God, the true Church. In Daniel 7:17-25 the 4 beasts and the ten horns of the fourth beast are clearly stated to represent kingdoms and kings of the earth. The beast from the sea, representing the kingdoms of the earth, wars against God and ‘the saints’ [13:5-7] who are mentioned without the use of symbol. We find a similar war against ‘the saints’ in Daniel 7:25]. In opposing the Church, in seeking to silence or remove the Church, the governments and rulers of the world are doing Satan’s work for him.

This conclusion that the nations of the world are represented by this beast is supported by Isaiah 17:12 which sees the nations raging like the sea, and Psalm 2 where the nations and their kings are ranged in opposition against the LORD and his Anointed.

As we look into this enemy that seems so powerful – the anti-god nations and rulers of nations – it is good to look briefly at the three Old Testament references mentioned above to get a biblical perspective on who is really in control:

In Daniel 7:
In Daniel’s vision [7:8-14], while the ‘little horn’ of the fourth beast is raving on about his own power and importance, the ‘Ancient of Days’ took his seat on his throne. He looks quite similar to the one on the throne in Revelation 4.  Daniel saw the beast destroyed. Then he saw ‘one like a son of man’ to whom authority, power and glory is given, who is worshipped by all peoples, nations and languages, and whose dominion and kingdom are eternal. In the explanation given [7:17-27], when the Ancient of Days took his seat he ‘pronounced judgment in favour of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom’ [verse 21]. This happened after a period when a king [symbolised by the little horn] persecuted the saints. That period was ‘a time, times and half a time’ [verse 25]. Following this verdict against this little horn of the beast, the kingdoms of the world are handed over to the saints of the Most High [verse 26,27]. The kingdom of the Most High will be everlasting, and he will be the object of global worship [verse 27].

Daniel was greatly troubled by all of this. However, what is written in Daniel 7 gives us this strong assurance: that God, the Ancient of Days, and his Christ, the one like the son of man, are in control. He makes an end of the power and authority of the beasts and of this boastful little horn – he makes an end of the enemy. The enemy is judged and found wanting. The saints of the Most High enter and possess the eternal kingdom where God alone is worshipped.

In Isaiah 17:
The continuing raging of the nations and the peoples [17:12,13] has the appearance of great power and great potential to destroy, yet those nations and people are nothing, their power and their threat are nothing, compared to the power of their Maker. When he rebukes them they are ‘like chaff on the hills’ driven by the wind, ‘like tumbleweed before a gale’ [verse 13]. This, says Isaiah, is ‘the lot of those who plunder us’ [verse 14]. This perspective is restated forcefully in Isaiah 40:15 where the nations are likened to ‘a drop in a bucket’, the islands to ‘fine dust’. Then Isaiah states:
 
‘Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing’ [verse 17].

In Psalm 2:
Verses 1-3 report the conspiracy of the nations against the Lord and his Anointed One. Then verse 4 states ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them …’ The rest of the Psalm speaks of the importance and role of the Son and the necessary submission of the nations to him. Warnings are given about the wrath of the Son, and the blessedness of those who take refuge in him is affirmed.

Each of these Old Testament references acknowledges the presence of the enemy; in each case the immediate enemy is the nations – the kingdoms of the world and their rulers. But in each case there is a clear affirmation of the superior power and authority of the sovereign Lord and the relative insignificance and impotence of the nations. In the Daniel 7 and Psalm 2 there are also clear statements about the authority and kingdom of Jesus Christ.

It is essential to keep all of this in mind as we read Revelation 13:1-10. When we read these verses we may be troubled, like Daniel, but we know, with a certainty and an understanding that Daniel could never have, how sure and how glorious is the victory of God, of his Anointed Son, and of his saints. We know that the Lion of Judah has already triumphed, we know that the Lamb has the marks of slaughter upon him, we know that this Lamb is now, already, seated on his throne, and that he is building his Church, against which not even the gates of hell can prevail.

A.1 Satan’s empowerment and incitement of governments and rulers
The incredible atrocities committed by various governments and rulers down through the history, including our current era, and the unexpected rise to power of individual dictators, surprise even the godless. What has enabled such horrific events? Where does such evil come from? How did such power come into their hands?

We are informed in Revelation 13 that the source of this unprecedented power and this unprecedented evil is Satan. This is not merely an extreme expression of human evil, it is an expression of the historic hatred of Satan towards God and towards the people called by God’s name.

In his war against the saints Satan equips the governments and rulers of the nations with his own authority and power and with his own hatred: the ‘beast’ has the same number of heads and horns as the ‘dragon’. In addition the ‘beast’ has ‘ten crowns’ – those same diademata of usurped authority that Satan himself wears. In the case of the ‘beast’ these crowns are on the horns, not the heads – indicative of the physical power that enables these governments and rulers to succeed in their atrocities. We read that ‘the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority’ [verse 2, see also verse 4]. It is this satanic power, fuelled by his hatred of God and the saints, that empowers and moves the governments and rulers.  It is Satan who inspires their evil intentions and their evil actions [compare John 13:27].

A.2 Governments and rulers usurp the role and authority of God
Inspired, enabled and sustained by Satan [see verse 3] the governments of the world attract the allegiance and the praise of men [verse 4]. Their evil resonates with the evil hidden deep in the human heart  – even while it horrifies them it excites and allures them, even mesmerizes them, like a magnet drawing them towards ‘the beast’. The worship that is due only to God is given to both ‘the beast’ and ‘the dragon’ - the evil one is honoured when evil is honoured [verse 4,8]. The governments and rulers are lauded as invincible, and who would not vow allegiance to such evil dictators who elevate themselves above the normal boundaries of justice?

For John’s original readers this would have been a clear allusion to the enforced emperor worship of their day. But the detail of this chapter is non-specific, allowing the saints of any and every generation to perceive that the evil realities of their own era, their own persecution, are described here.

Not only do the rulers of the nations usurp the role of God by identifying themselves as God [the beast has blasphemous names on its heads – verse 2], they also, in their diabolical arrogance, actively blaspheme God, slander the name of God, and slander his dwelling place – his people [verse 5] - godless rulers of godless governments, proactively working to dishonour and remove God and faith from their nations.

A.3 Governments and rulers in global attack against the saints
Verse 7, like Daniel 7, refers to the deliberate ‘war against the saints’ waged by the rulers of the earth. These rulers are not just intent on political supremacy in their own country, nor even on world supremacy. Behind their apparent political agenda is a deliberate determination to eliminate the saints, the people of God. Through these governments and their rulers Satan’s destructive, corrosive power extends across all the earth – to every tribe, people, language and nation, until ‘all the inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast’ [verses 7,8].

A.4 The boundary set by God
And here the perspective we saw in those three Old Testament passages comes to the fore. Neither Satan, nor those governments and rulers whom he empowers and inspires to war against the saints, are actually in control. Nothing in the above three points is evidence that God has been dethroned. As we have seen before, and will see again, God is on the throne. All the above happens within definite boundaries set by God, and happens only with his permission.

[1] The self-exalting arrogance and blasphemies of the rulers of the world are limited to ‘forty-two months’ – that is, to the same period during which the ‘two witnesses’ witness and are persecuted, and the same period that the ‘woman’ sojourns in the desert attacked by ‘the dragon’. It is ‘given’ to them to rule, and to engage in their blasphemy against God and their war against the saints only for this period.

[2] The ability of Satan, via the governments and rulers, to attract the worship of ‘all the inhabitants of the earth’ is also limited: it is actually not ‘all’ the people on earth, it is only ‘all’ whose names are not in the Lamb’s book of life who will worship ‘the beast’. He cannot attract the worship of the saints. It is simply not possible.

A.5 The sovereign control of God
In verse 7 we read that the ‘beast’ was given power to ‘conquer’ the saints. This obviously does not mean that the saints recanted, that they retracted their acknowledgement of and allegiance to Jesus Christ - that is made clear in verse 8. This is about the physical appearance of things: Christians are killed for their faith; Christians are imprisoned for the faith; Christians are tortured for their faith. They appear to be beaten, overpowered, vulnerable to whatever attack the rulers of the world bring against them. They appear to have been conquered, and, physically, in many, many instances they are. This is testified in verse 10: they go into captivity, they are killed. But even this outcome is under the sovereign control of the Sovereign Lord. From his perspective it is neither arbitrary nor accidental.

A solemn word
This activity of the beast – this reality of the anti-God and anti-Christian power of world governments and rulers, and their war against the saints calls for two things on the part of the saints: patient endurance and faithfulness [verse 10b]. The things that have been mentioned, the atrocities perpetrated against the saints and against God are severe, but the hope to which we are called, the kingdom to which we even now belong, the joy that is set before us, and the Christ whom we follow, inspire and empower us to run the race, to fight the good fight of faith, and to trust him regardless of the physical outcome.

Suggested reading:
Job 13:15; 23:10
Matthew 10:17-23
1Corinthians 1:8,9
Philippians 1:27-30
2Timothy 1:11,12
Hebrews 12:1-4

 

B. THE BEAST OUT OF THE EARTH – 13:11-18

Also inspired and empowered by the dragon, and also working to implement the agenda of the dragon and of the ‘first beast’, is ‘the beast’ coming out of the earth. This beast, this enemy, this manifestation of the evil one, is far more subtle. As we read about this beast we realize that it symbolizes false religions and philosophies. This beast is called ‘the false prophet’ in 16:3, 19:20 and 20:10.

B.1 The power of deception
The first indication of deception is in the appearance of this ‘beast’. Unlike the first beast with its multiple heads and horns – its obvious and terrifying physical power – this beast appears harmless, it has only two horns, little ones like those of a lamb [verse 11]. The mention of a ‘lamb’ has the effect of somehow giving the false impression of similarity to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and by that inferred association deceiving the unwary so that they do not discern the extreme danger posed by this seemingly gentle ‘beast’.

The second mention of this beast’s deception is his performance of miraculous signs by which he ‘deceived the inhabitants of the earth’ [verse 13 -14]. Compare this to 2Thessalonians 2:9,10, where someone called ‘the lawless one’ deceives the godless with counterfeit miracles inspired by Satan. Note that this second aspect of deception is also an imitation of Jesus Christ: Jesus performed genuine miracles, this ‘beast’ performs ‘counterfeit’ miracles. [Note: ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ and similar phrases are used in Revelation to refer to the unbelieving world, in contrast to the saints.]

That this deception is inspired and engineered by Satan is obvious in the Scripture.

Suggested reading:
Matthew 7:15
Matthew 24:4,5,11,23,24
2Corinthians 11:1-4,13,14
Ephesians 4:14
2Thessalonians 2:1-11
2John 7

What we are confronted with here is counterfeit ‘religion’: ideologies and belief systems are promoted as truth and compete with the real truth for human belief and allegiance. Although this beast looks like a lamb, he speaks like the dragon [verse 11] – what he teaches is exactly what Satan teaches.

B.2 The impact of his deceptions
This beast performs his deceptive miracles ‘on behalf of the first beast’ [verse 14]. Whether or not all who promote world religions, false cults and other philosophies realise whom they are serving is irrelevant; the fact is that they are serving ‘the first beast’ who in turn serves and promotes the evil one. [In fact it promotes the interests of the evil one when these religious leaders believe that they are teaching God’s truth; he does after all promote himself as God.] It is the beast of false ideologies who promotes the worship of kings and rulers on the physical level, and of the evil one on the spiritual level.

In the symbols of this vision the second beast gave orders for an image of the first beast to be set up, and breathed life and speech into that image. It then ordered or arranged the death of all who refused to worship the image, and imposed economic sanctions on everyone who refused to receive the ‘mark of the beast’ [verses 14-17].

What is the reality revealed by these symbols? False belief systems work in conjunction with political systems to further the agenda of the evil one in his opposition to the Lamb and his Church. Together they seek to kill believers or to make it impossible, or extremely difficult, for believers to remain faithful to Christ and survive physically.

If we study the persecution of Christians in the world today we learn that in the large majority of those countries where persecution is worst, that persecution issues from governments that are committed to ideological or religious beliefs. The persecution is directly related to the belief system espoused by the government or ruler.

Historically there has been much discussion about what ‘the mark of the beast’ is. In the vision it is a mark on the forehead or right hand. But this is only a symbol of a greater reality. The reality is the beliefs and the actions that characterise those aligned with the evil one. Just as the saints, in the vision in 7:3 have the ‘seal’ of God on their foreheads – which is not about a physical seal – so here the ‘mark’ is not about a physical mark. It is the whole orientation of one’s thoughts and actions that identify a person’s allegiance to the evil one. This ‘mark of the beast’ has been present through all generations.

The biblical criteria for distinguishing the true from the false are what people believe and what people do – their mindset and their actions:

Suggested reading:
Matthew 7:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46
John 8:24,31; 14:15,21,23
1John 1:6; 2:3-6; 4:2,3; 5:1

B.3 The boundary set by God
As with the persecution generated by the first beast, so here: there is a boundary set by God: This beast, these belief systems inspired by the evil one, do not deceive the saints, they deceive ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ [verse 14], a term which, as we have seen, refers to the unredeemed.

Matthew 24:24 teaches us that it is not possible for the ‘elect’, that is the saints, to be deceived by these false Christs and their powerful miracles.

2Thessalonians 2:1-12 gives us further insight into the impossibility of the saints being deceived in a final way. The signs, wonders and evil perpetrated by the ‘lawless one’ deceives only ‘those who are perishing’, those ‘who refused to love the truth and so be saved’ [verse 10], who ‘have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness’ [verse 12].  Verse 11 tells us that it is God who ‘sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie’. Their choice of the lie instead of the truth reveals the true state of their hearts and minds and the justice of their condemnation.

A solemn word
This vision of the second beast, like the first, ends with a solemn statement. In the presence of physical persecution generated by governments and rulers the statement was ‘this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’. Now, in the presence of deceptive ideologies, which are a far more subtle and more powerful enemy, with great potential to persuade, the statement is ‘This calls for wisdom’ [verse 18].

There are multiple warnings in the Scriptures to ‘be on guard’ to ‘watch out’ to ‘stay alert’ so that we are not deceived and carried away by false teaching and false prophets. We must not ‘go with the flow’, we must not take the line of least resistance as if it does not matter what we believe. Rather, the presence of these deceptions means that we must exercise wisdom. What we believe is of critical and eternal significance. [There are extensive studies on how to deal with false teaching here. ]

But the solemn statement does not end there. It gives us a clue by which, if we have ‘insight’, we can recognize false teaching when we see it: this beast, this enemy that comprises false belief systems, has a number, and that number ‘is man’s number – 666’ [verse 18].

About false teaching the New Testament teaches:

The Jews had replaced God’s word with ‘rules taught by men’ [Matthew 15:9].

The false religion against which Paul warned the Colossian Christians was ‘based on human commands and teachings’ [Colossians 2:22] – ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’ [Colossians 2:8, see also Colossians 2:20].

Paul described the thinking of unbelievers as ‘futile … darkened’ [Romans 1:21; see further in Ephesians 4:17-19].

The ideologies and philosophies of the world, whether they are secular or religious, come from the minds and hearts of men. There are two things about humans that render their construction and definition of truth unreliable:

[1] They are human, and therefore not omniscient. Even in Genesis 1 and 2, humans, though perfect, and though perfectly innocent, did not know everything. That is not what being human is. Only God is omniscient. Only God knows all the truth. Only God can define what spiritual truth is, and what true religion is. Man simply cannot do it.

[2] They are sinners. Their rejection of God in Genesis 3 resulted from the twisted perception of God suggested and cultivated by Satan. Deceived into this false belief about God, human perceptions of God, from that day forth, have been twisted. Any belief system proposed and developed by humans, including, indeed especially religious belief systems, can only be defective. With a distorted perception of God, and having rejected God as he really is, no religious beliefs invented by humans can ever be true truth, true religion. The ‘god’ they define is not the true God. The way of salvation they define is not the true way of salvation. They are all expressions of the lie perpetrated by the evil one.

This unavoidable imperfection of any religion or philosophy of man is embedded in the number given to this ‘beast’ – it is man’s number, it is 666. The number of perfection, the number of God, is seven. As William Hendriksen points out ‘six … is not seven and never reaches seven. It ever fails to attain to perfection; that is, it never becomes seven’ [p.182, More Than Conquerors, Baker, 1967].

In this matter of religious truth we do not dare to depend on ourselves: we are utterly dependent on God to speak, to reveal himself and his truth to us. And this he has done – God has spoken, he has not left us in the darkness. The title of Francis Schaeffer’s book is instructive: ‘God is there and he is not silent’.

And it is here that ‘wisdom’ and ‘insight’ must be applied by the saints: that any philosophy or religion that has its origin in man must be rejected. Any teaching that differs from the word of God and the testimony of Jesus [referred to so frequently in Revelation] is from man - from man who has been led astray by the evil one, by the evil one who so often presents himself as good. Read 1Timothy 4:1,2.

 

C. CONCLUSIONS

Satan manifests himself in a trilogy of co-conspirators against the Lamb of God and his Church. We have met two of these manifestations here in Revelation 13. The third will be mentioned in Chapter 14 and more fully described in Chapter 17. Together this trilogy of evil attacks the saints and attempts to lure them away from the Saviour. Together this trilogy of evil holds the inhabitants of the earth mesmerised and in bondage. Together this trilogy of evil generates opposition to the saints.

Together these three combined enemies are the source all of the issues addressed in the letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2 and 3. There those seven churches, and all churches in all places and at all times, are warned against physical and economic persecution, against corruptions of the truth, and against inappropriate or immoral life choices. Here in Chapter 13 the source of the first two of these are explained, the third in Chapter 17. Here God’s perspective on the difficulties and temptations confronting the saints is given.

To strictly limit the identity of these two ‘beasts’ to a specific political ruler or to a specific religious leader who is yet to appear at some future time, overlooks several important facts:

That the message of Revelation was relevant and empowering for its original readers.

That these two enemies of Christ and his Church were present in the New Testament era and have been present in every era of the Church. Indeed, they were present in the Old Testament era – where the whole history is the people of God is the story of physical political attack and corrupt beliefs.

That in every generation these two enemies manifest themselves in various places throughout the world.

Revelation is, as we need to remind ourselves repeatedly, a highly symbolic book. It uses symbols to reveal truth. We have here the symbol of two ‘beasts’. Later we will have the symbol of the great ‘harlot’. We have, in Chapter 12, had the symbol of a ‘woman’ and a ‘dragon’. We do not expect that sometime in the future there is going to be a real individual female human being who will be pursued by a real, enormous, physical red dragon with multiple heads and horns, spewing a river out of his mouth. We know that the woman symbolises the people of God – this one woman symbolising countless millions living through all the generations of the Church. Similarly, each of these two ‘beasts’ represent Satan working through all the anti-god governments and rulers, and all the false beliefs systems from every age and every place – the ever-present enemies.

In the context of this reality the saints are to exercise patient endurance, faithfulness, wisdom and insight.