Rev. 13:16 – 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. (HCSB)
He requires everyone … to be given a mark
Next, the false prophet requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on their right hands or foreheads. No one is able to buy or sell unless they have the mark, which is the beast’s name or the number of his name (Rev. 13:16-17).
The identity of this mark is a matter of much debate. Some interpreters believe it is an actual mark – a brand burned into the skin, or a tattoo. Others point to imperial coins that bear the image of the emperor. Futurists say it could be a microchip planted just beneath the skin. Others argue that John’s language is figurative, referring to people’s thoughts (foreheads) and deeds (right hands) as they place their trust in the first beast and pledge their allegiance to him.
Rev. 13:15 – 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. (HCSB)
He was permitted to give a spirit to the image
In verse 15 John writes of the false prophet, “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.”
Note first that the false prophet is permitted to give life to the image of the beast. His power comes from Satan; his permission comes from God. Thusly armed, he gives a “spirit” to the image. The Greek word pneuma is used more than 300 times in scripture and may be translated “spirit,” “breath” or “breeze.” It also may refer to the human spirit or rational soul; an angel, demon, or the Holy Spirit; or even a ghost. Here it appears to be best translated “breath” or “life,” for the image speaks and acts.
This is a stunning miracle, for it convinces many to worship the first beast. It’s quite possible that the false prophet uses sleight-of-hand tricks to make it appear the image is speaking. However, it could be that demonic forces are at work. In confronting the Corinthians with the truth about hand-carved idols, Paul pulls back the veil to expose the truth that those who offer sacrifices to idols – which cannot speak or act – are in fact sacrificing to demons, which the idols represent (1 Cor. 10:20). But in Revelation, John depicts the idol as being alive – or apparently so. Whether animated by demons or creative illusions, the image of the beast inspires both wonder and terror in the hearts of people, for he pronounces death sentences on those who hold fast their allegiance to Christ.
Rev. 13:13 – 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.
He also performs great signs
In verses 13-14 we read of the second beast: “He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 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.”
The beast from the earth is a miracle worker, but his purpose is deceitful. His goal is to cause all people to turn away from the one true and living God to a false god, and even to his image. What a contrast to Jesus, whose miracles confirm His deity, and to the apostles, whose signs and wonders establish them as Christ’s anointed representatives. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The signs of an apostle were performed with great endurance among you – not only signs but also wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Further, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “[H]ow will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will” (Heb. 2:3-4).
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. 13:4 – They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”
They worshiped the dragon and the beast
Witnessing the spectacle of the beast’s miraculous recovery (or resurrection), the earth’s inhabitants “worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?’” (v. 4).
Verse 8 makes it clear that the world’s unbelievers – not Christians – worship and dragon and the beast: “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.” This miraculous deception – a counterfeit of the resurrection of Jesus and an answer to the resurrection of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 – is enough to convince the world’s lost people that a savior has come.
How interesting it is to observe the selective belief of those who reject Jesus. In Rev. 11:9-10, people from every tribe, language and nation display the corpses of God’s two witnesses, rejoice over their deaths, and even exchange celebratory gifts. But when God raises the witnesses from the dead, they are terrified and give glory to the God of heaven. That is, they acknowledge a divine miracle but do not commit their lives to the One who performs it. When we get to Rev. 13, however, and the apparent healing / resurrection of the beast, the earth’s unbelievers do more than pay lip service to the one who performs the miracle – they worship the dragon and the beast.