Part 6. Conflict between the church and the powers of evil (12:1—14:20)
6.4. The beast from the sea (13:1-10)
6.5. The beast from the earth (13:11-18)
† PICTURE: John witnesses the war between Satan and the Church. Two satanic beasts appear and fight with God’s people: one from the sea and one from the earth. They make war with the saints through political and religious persecution, and deceive the whole world into following Satan and receiving the mark of Satan.
13:1 Continuing with the war between Satan and faithful believers, the dragon stands on the seashore to summon two beasts to assist him in the war, one from the sea and one out of the earth. The dragon and the two beasts form an unholy trinity of malicious evil.
The first beast apparently emerges from the water as the horns and the heads are seen first. The ancient world commonly associated the sea with evil. The 10 horns are like those of Daniel’s fourth beast (Dan 7:7). On each horn is a diadem, the insignia of royal authority. They are the 10 kings that rise out of the fourth kingdom. Since the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire, the 10 (future) kings come from the territory of the ancient Roman Empire. Some believe that these are real historic kings of the Roman Empire. The reason is because many Roman emperors assumed titles of deity and would therefore fit the description of blasphemy. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. Some modern commentators interpret the 10 kings as all the nations in the European Union. It represents the deification of secular authority. It demands total allegiance and excessive praise.
The 7 heads are also 7 kings (see 17:10). These, however, are very different from the 10. As seen later in ch.17, they may be a succession of secular empires. The 7 heads obviously are related to the 7-headed dragon in the ch.12. The power and authority of the beast come from the dragon. The number seven carries the idea of completeness. This is the ultimate enemy of the believing church. He is the dragon’s agent or representative in human society. Many identify this as the antichrist.
13:2 The beast combines characteristics of the 4 beasts of Daniel 7. They were 4 historic kingdoms hostile to the people of God. They were a winged lion, a bear, a 4-headed leopard with wings, and a terrible and strong beast with great iron teeth and many horns. The beast receives the power, the throne, and the authority from the dragon.
13:3 One of the 7 heads has been dealt a mortal wound by the sword (v.14). But the beast survives the death stroke and draws the whole world after him in amazement. Many commentators take the slaughtered head as standing for one of the Roman emperors. Caligula had a serious illness and recovered. He also tried to set up his statue in the Temple. Some chose Nero who committed suicide in AD68. However, the rumour persisted many years that he had not died. Later, there was an expectation that he would rise from the dead and return to seize power.
It was the beast who recovered from the death stroke upon one of his heads (v.14), not the head. Perhaps, the event shows the tremendous vitality of the beast. Some explain it symbolically as the pagan state that survived every assault and deadly blow against it.
13:4 The “inhabitants of the earth” worship both the dragon and the beast. Symbolically, the deification of secular power is in fact the worship of Satan. People use questions that should be asked of God to describe the beast. The questions also show that the motivation for worship is not the beast’s moral greatness but the awesome power of his might which was given by Satan.
13:5 The beast is allowed to speak arrogantly and blaspheme for a period of 3.5 years. This again is similar to the little horn of Daniel 7 with its “mouth that spoke boastfully” (Dan 7:8), who is to “speak against the Most High” (Dan 7:25; 11:36). Four times in vv.5-7 are the passive action “was given” (Gr. edothe), emphasizing the subordinate role of the beast. Although the beast operates under the dragon, the beast has no power beyond divine permission that emphasizing God as the ultimate source of all power.
13:6 The beast opens his mouth to blaspheme God just as portrayed in 2Th 2:4: “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God…proclaiming himself to be God.” The phrase “opened his mouth” suggests prolonged speech, meaning sustained blasphemies. There are 3 objects of blasphemy: the name of God, His dwelling place, and those that dwell in heaven. To slander the name of God is to speak evil of all that He is and stands for. The name sums up the person. His dwelling place is His “tabernacle”. Those who dwell in heaven are either angelic beings or the church.
13:7 Universal authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation is given to the beast. He exercises his authority first by making war against the saints and conquer them. The saints are physically defeated yet they are spiritually victorious. The relinquish their lives rather than giving up their faith in God.
13:8 The second kind of exercise of authority is his demand of universal worship. The “inhabitants of the earth” (pagan world) will join in worship of the beast, except the ones whose names have been written in the book of life. Paul speaks of his fellow workers as those “whose names are in the book of life” (Php 4:3). In Revelation, the book is mentioned 6 times (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27). It is a register of the names of all who belong to God. Here and in 21:27, the book of life is said to a book owned the Lamb. It is through His sacrifice that life is possible.
“The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” indicates that the death of Christ was decreed since eternal past in the master plan of God. The phrase also points possibly to the existence of the names of the elect in the book of life since eternal past. However, it is worth noting that there is the possibility of names being blotted out (Rev 3:5).
13:9 This is a call to attention, equivalent to “Now hear this!” It alerts the reader to the importance of the proverbial statement that follows.
13:10 The literal translation of this verse is: “If anyone into captivity, into captivity this one goes. If anyone by a sword to be killed, this one by a sword to be killed.” There are 3 interpretations:  The likely connection of this verse is with the previous verse. The statement is about those in the book of life. In the persecution, captivity and death by the sword await those who faithfully follow the Lamb. They WILL be taken into captivity, and many WILL be put to death by the sword. The statement stresses the inevitability of persecution and death for the faithful.
Other less probable explanations:  Warning to the enemies: If anyone leads (verb added) a believer into captivity, into captivity that person will go. (This alternative is employed in the Chinese translation.) The verse would then be stressing that the enemies of God’s people would be punished for their persecution of believers.  Warning to the Church: He who kills with the sword, must be killed with the sword. This would correspond to the words of Jesus in Mt 26:52, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Then the first half would teach that the believer must accept what God has ordained, and the second half would warn against any attempt on the part of the church to defend itself by the use of force.
The conclusion of the verse is that “there is need for endurance and faith on the part of God’s people.” John’s warnings served to prepare the early Christians to stand firm in face of the persecution in the near future.
13:11 The second beast now comes out of the earth. Ancient tradition spoke of two primeval monsters, which inhabited the ocean depths and the dry land. Leviathan (the female monster) lived in the abyss of the ocean and Behemoth (the male monster) lived in a waste wilderness.
If the first beast is a political leader, the second beast represents a religious leader. This one is a deceiver who is called the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). He sets up an image in honour of the first beast. The evil triumvirate (satanic trinity) is now complete—dragon, antichrist, false prophet. As Christ received authority from the Father (Mt 11:27), so antichrist receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:4); and as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (Jn 16:14), so the false prophet glorifies the antichrist (Rev 13:12).
His two horns like a lamb represent his attempt to convey the impression of gentle harmlessness. The dragon-like speech may mean either that he spoke with the roar of a dragon or that, as the serpent in Eden, his speech was deceitful and beguiling. His role is to cause people to worship the image of the first beast, enforcing compliance with economic boycott and the threat of death. Such a religion may appear either as a personal cult of the antichrist or the worship of both secular institutions and humanism (man as God).
13:12 His authority comes from the first beast and he forces the inhabitants of the earth” (again the unbelievers) to worship the first beast.
13:13 While the true prophet performed signs and wonders to lead people to worship the one true God, the false prophet performs signs and wonders to deceive people into worshipping antichrist. Like Elijah, he calls down fire out of heaven. This has been foretold in many different Bible verses (Dt 13:1; Mk 13:22; 2Th 2:9).
13:14 The inhabitants of the earth are deceived. The second beast then instructs the people to make an image (possibly a statue) of the beast who survived the stroke of the sword.
13:15 The second beast was given power to animate the image of the first beast. The image then speaks and passes death sentence upon all who would not worship.
13:16 The second beast requires all people to receive the mark of the beast on their right hand or forehead. The 3 pairs of opposites stress the totality of the human society.
The origin of the mark could be:  the practice of branding disobedient slaves or soldiers defeated in battle.  Religious tattooing was widespread in the ancient world to indicate loyal devotion.  The Greek word for “mark” is also a technical designation for the seals that were attached to commercial documents and stamped with the name and date of the emperor.  The practice may also come from the practice of making the sign of the cross on the forehead of new Christians. It is interesting to note that the mark in Eze 9:4 was a Hebrew tau, which in Greek would be written as a cross—X (Greek letter chi), a symbol for the Greek word of Christ (Christos), such as Xmas.
As the elect are sealed upon their foreheads (ch.7) to escape the destruction by demonic forces, so the followers of the beast are to bear the mark of the beast to escape the wrath of Satan. The mark is obviously visible. It symbolizes unqualified allegiance to Satan. Only those who would rather die than compromise their faith will resist the mark of antichrist.
13:17 The mark allows the people to engage in simple commercial transactions of the day. An economic boycott is raised against all who refuse to fall into line. Those who do not have the mark will find life extremely difficult, being unable to obtain any necessities of life from others.
The mark is identified as the name of the beast written in its numerical equivalent. The mark IS the number of his name. In ancient times, letters of the alphabet served as numbers. The first nine letters stood for the numbers one through nine, the next nine for the numbers ten through ninety, and so on. As there were not enough letters in the Greek alphabet, certain obsolete letters and signs were brought into the system. Thus, every name yields a number. Among the Jews, the practice of making sense of numbers was known as gematria. Rabbis loved to discover the esoteric meanings in the numbers found in Scripture.
13:18 The verse opens with the declaration, “This calls for wisdom.” This is then followed with an invitation, “If anyone has insight, let him calculate.” Perhaps because of this, no verse in Revelation has received more attention than this one with its cryptic reference to the number of the beast. There is no consensus on whom or what John had in mind in this verse. Gematria was widely used in apocalyptic literature because of its symbolic and enigmatic quality. It served as a precaution against the charge of sedition.
There are many solutions:  Irenaeus (2nd century church father) gave several possibilities: Euanthas (reference of this name no longer identifiable), Lateinos (the Roman Empire), Teitan (Titans of Greek mythology).  full Latin title of Emperor Domitian,  666 is the triangular number of 36 (1 plus 2 plus 3 etc. up to 36), and 36 is the triangular number of 8—the number of the antichrist.
 The most commonly accepted today is that of Nero Caesar. It is calculated from a Hebrew transliteration of the Greek form of a Latin name. However, Revelation is written in Greek and there is no indication that the riddle is to be solved by transposing it into another language. Also, this possibility was never suggested by the ancient commentators.  The numerical value in Hebrew of the Greek word for “beast” (therion) is also 666.
 Some take the number more as a symbol than a cryptogram. 666 is the number that falls short of perfection in each of its digits, thus meaning “failure upon failure upon failure.” It is symbolic of the beast’s continuing failure to accomplish his purpose. It is the trinity of imperfection.
 Possibly, the most appropriate conclusion is that John intended only his intimate associates to be able to decipher the number and all speculations must not be taken as definitive.
† 1Jn 2:18 says that, “the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” Just as the two beasts in Rev 13, we can see satanic influence in both the political sphere and the religious sphere. Political institutions have become increasingly more secularized, trying to expel God from the public square. Many religions try to deceive the world to worship false gods and Satan. Even among some Christian denominations, many leaders openly teach against the Bible. Christians must try hard everyday to build a solid foundation of faith based on the Word of God and to discern and reject these antichrists.