The beast from the earth – Revelation 13:11-18

Previously: If anyone has an ear – Revelation 13:9-10

The scripture

revelationRev. 13:11 – Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; he had two horns like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived. 15 He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 And he requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (HCSB)

A second beast

We are introduced to the second of two beasts in this passage: the beast from the earth. We have met the beast from the sea in verses 1-10. The dragon empowers both beasts; this is explicitly stated of the first beast and implied with respect to the second, which has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. He is endowed with great authority and power, compelling people to worship the first beast and deceiving them with miraculous signs. He even gives life to an image of the first beast and causes those who refuse to worship the image to be killed. Finally, he restricts commerce so that only those who take a mark on their right hands or foreheads, indicating their allegiance to the Antichrist, may buy and sell.

Who is this beast from the land? Is he a person, or perhaps an institution? Why does he compel people to worship the first beast rather than himself? Does he really make a statue come alive? Is the mark of the beast a visible sign, or should we interpret this figuratively? And is there any way of knowing what 666 – the number of the Antichrist – really means?

John writes in verses 11-12, “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; he had two horns like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.” This beast is “another,” with the Greek word allos meaning another of the same kind. The first and second beasts have quite a lot in common. The main similarity between them is that both are described as beasts. The Greek word therion refers to a dangerous animal, or a venomous wild beast. John uses this word to describe their character. They are ravenous, sinister, wicked. Yet they often appear as tame as domesticated animals. They are charismatic, intelligent, and eloquent, and their words and deeds attract the attention of the whole world.

Different from the first

But the second beast also differs considerably from the first. He has two horns like a lamb – or like a ram. From all appearances, he carries his authority with gentleness and humility, just as he carries himself with a majestic dignity. Yet he speaks like a dragon. His words, like Satan’s, are cunning and sweet. He beguiles, cajoles, convinces, backing his words with great authority and proving his power with miraculous deeds. He does not speak rank blasphemy, as the first beast does, but a more subtle form, convincing multitudes to pledge allegiance to the first beast, whose fatal wound has been healed.

Further, he differs from the Antichrist in that his work is designed to exalt the first beast and to cause the whole world to worship him. There is no mention of seven heads here. The so-called “false prophet” has only one. And he is focused on gathering all humanity so that people of every tongue and nation worship the one who speaks boastful and blasphemous things.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two beasts is their place of origin. The first beast comes up out of the sea. Commentators say this is a reference to the Gentiles, or to the vast sea of troubled humanity. Meanwhile, the second beast rises from the earth, which is taken to be either Israel or established human institutions. In any case, the dragon stands on the shore and manipulates both men, moving them to strike awe in the hearts of the world’s people and commanding their utmost attention. The first beast confers his authority on the second but expects payment in the form of homage.

Like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the dragon and his two beasts parody the Holy Trinity.  They shun the creative intent of God, plotting instead to take a kingdom for themselves and deceive the whole world into following them. Their work will result in hardship, deception, distrust, and ultimately death. And their method of operation shuns the truth – the truth that leads men and women to the Light of the world rather than to the darkness of the evil kingdom.

Who is this beast?

But who, or what, is this beast from the earth?  Many scholars relate the second beast to the cult of Roman emperor worship and its priesthood in the first century and beyond. If in fact John has written Revelation prior to the destruction of the temple, and if the first beast is Nero, then it’s possible that the false prophet is a Roman governor of Judea, perhaps Gessius Florus, who operates with great cruelty and forces Christians to pay homage to a large statue of Nero that has been erected. Others contend that the second beast is the heretical brand of Judaism practiced in the first century. Still others argue that the beast symbolizes false religion in general; its goal throughout the church age is to feed man’s spiritual hunger with any food but the Bread of Life.

Still others identify the second beast as papal Rome or the priesthood of the Roman church. The pope, cardinals, bishops and priests mimic the Lamb in their appearance but speak like the dragon with their false teachings. Futurists say this beast is a yet-future religious leader, perhaps even a false messiah or an evil counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. His miracles duplicate those of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, just as the magicians in pharaoh’s court are able to match Moses wonder for wonder, at least for a time. This future false prophet causes people to take a literal mark on their foreheads or hands, pledging allegiance to the Antichrist in order to engage in commerce and feed their families.

Finally, consider the possibility that these views are all true, at least in a sense. There are remarkable similarities between Emperor Nero and the first beast, and John writes to the churches in Asia Minor at a time when the cult of Caesar worship is prevalent. Perhaps Nero and the cult of emperor worship fulfill the prophecy in John’s day. But maybe it’s also possible that, as John writes in 1 John 2:18, there are many antichrists, and John’s words ring true throughout the church age as false messiahs and false prophets lead people astray. Finally, consider that perhaps there is yet a figure to come who will eclipse even Nero in deception and cruelty, one empowered by Satan and exalted by an eloquent sidekick who performs miracles and compels the world to worship the “beast from the sea.”

Whatever view is correct, let’s keep these truths in mind:

  • John is writing to a first-century audience suffering persecution at the hands of Jewish religious leaders and the Caesar-worshiping Roman legions; this letter is designed to comfort them and encourage them to persevere faithfully, even to the point of death.
  • All scripture is given for us, even though it’s not directly written to us, but rather to an immediate audience in a historical context. Even if most of Revelation is fulfilled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there are abundant truths that still apply today – including the promise of Christ’s return, a future resurrection of all people and final judgment.
  • The dragon, Antichrist and false prophet appear to be a counterfeit Trinity that mimics God while opposing Him.
  • The Antichrist and the false prophet have no power apart from the dragon, just as Christians have no power apart from God, and no miracle-working servants of God are able to act under their own power.
  • Satan’s tactics remain the same. He masquerades as an angel of light. He repeats the words of God but twists them ever so gently into damning lies. He appeals to us in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16). And he uses willing servants to propagate his evil purposes for mankind.
  • God permits Satan and his minions to carry out their evil, yet He keeps them on a short leash, even using their wicked words and deeds to His purpose.
  • Antichrists – those who oppose God and/or claim to stand in His place – and false prophets will be with us throughout this present evil age. They have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). They appeal to us with signs, wonders and miracles. They oppose genuine godly leaders. They pervert the scriptures in order to make merchandise of us. And their days are numbered.
  • God will judge the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. Their eternal destiny is already fixed in the lake of fire.

Next: He also performs great signs – Revelation 13:13-14

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