Rev. 14:9 – And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, 11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (HCSB)
A third angel follows the other two and pronounces woe on those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands. The consequences of rejecting God – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture – are spelled out plainly. The one who embraces the beast will experience the consequences of his or her rebellion.
First, the beast worshiper will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger” (v. 10a). The Greek word for “cup,” poterion, is used 82 times in the New Testament (HCSB) and denotes a drinking vessel of any sort. Commonly, a cup is a small bowl made of pottery, wider and shallower than today’s tea cups. However, the wealthy enjoy their drinks in goblet-shaped cups of metal or glass. The cup used at the Last Supper likely is an earthenware bowl large enough for all to share.
Figuratively, however, throughout the Bible the word “cup” may describe a measure of blessings or wrath divinely allotted to people or nations:
- In Psalm 16:5, David calls the Lord “my portion and my cup of blessing.”
- In Psalm 116:12-13, the writer declares, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.”
- But in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet warns, “Wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem, you have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord; you who have drunk the goblet to the dregs – the cup that causes people to stagger.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus agonizes over His impending suffering and death, He prays, “My Father! If it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
- And moments later, after Peter cuts of the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus tells him, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” The cup Jesus endures, of course, is His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross to secure our salvation, a most bitter cup as “the One who did not know sin [became] sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s also a cup Jesus endures “for the joy that lay before Him” because it results in our salvation (Heb. 12:2).
But now in Revelation the cup, which the Babylonians entice the world to drink, is turned into the cup of God’s wrath.
Rev. 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?
Rev. 13:8 – All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. (HCSB)
The sovereignty of God and the freedom of human beings are two seemingly irreconcilable biblical truths. Just as Satan acts freely to empower a beast who acts freely, those who worship these evil beings act freely as well. They make choices for which they are held accountable, and unbelievers will join Satan, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. At the same time, their deeds are known to God and always have been known by Him, just as the willful acts of believers always have been in God’s view.
While some argue that God merely foresees the faith of the righteous and the rebellion of the unrighteous, and others contend that God has determined all things (without becoming the Author of sin or the Creator of a fixed game), it appears the ways of God are beyond human understanding. If God can allow Satan and his minions to slaughter countless Christians for no other reason than their staunch faith in His Son, and through these sinful acts enable believers to conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, can He not also allow unbelievers to worship a false Messiah and vindicate Himself in their judgment?
We do God a disservice when we accuse Him either of dispassionate sovereignty or spineless foreknowledge. He is sovereign. He knows all things. He has all power and authority. And in the midst of this mind-boggling transcendence, He created people in His image and entrusted them with the ability to make choices for which they are held responsible. Though the beast-worshiping unbelievers of Revelation 13 are excluded from the Lamb’s book of life, they would never have signed their names anyway – even if the Son of God opened the pages Himself and offered them a pen.
Rev. 13:7 – And he was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. He was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation.
Take note of the sinister will of Satan and the permissive will of God. The dragon gives the beast his power, authority and throne (v. 2). The beast’s fatal would is healed (v. 3a.). The whole earth is amazed and follows the beast (v. 3b). They worship the dragon … and worship the beast (v. 4). A mouth is given to the beast to speak boasts and blasphemies, and he is given authority to act for 42 months (v. 5).
So far, the emphasis is on the work of Satan, manipulating the beast. But things begin to turn in verse 7, where it becomes clear that God permits the evil to take place. The beast is permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. He is given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation (v. 7). All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name is not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who is slaughtered (v. 8).
Rev. 13:5 – A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act for 42 months. 6He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling – those who dwell in heaven. (HCSB)
A mouth was given to him
The dragon, who has given the beast his power, authority and throne, also endows him with great rhetorical skills and he uses them to blaspheme God, His name, and His dwelling.
In the Old Testament, the root meaning of the word “blasphemy” is an act of effrontery in which a person insults the honor of God and for which he or she may be put to death by stoning (see Lev. 24:10-23; 1 Kings 21:9ff). In the New Testament, the meaning is extended to include God’s representatives. For example, Jews from the Freedman’s Synagogue accuse Stephen of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” (Acts 6:11).