Chapter 13 introduces Satan’s (the dragon’s) two evil accomplices: (1) the beast out of the sea (the Antichrist, 13:1-10) and (2) the beast out of the earth (the false prophet, 13:11-18). Together, the three evil beings form an unholy trinity in direct opposition to the Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
13:1 And now in my vision I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God.NLT The Beast came from the Abyss (or bottomless pit, see 11:7) to do Satan’s bidding. John described the Beast as horrible to look at, for it had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns. In 12:3, the dragon was described as having “seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” (niv). The dragon has the seven crowns on his seven heads; the Beast has the ten crowns on his ten horns. This could simply be a picture of the dragon’s authority over the Beast. It may also be that the ten horns represent national leaders who followed the Beast; their crowns symbolized their authority, but they actually belonged to the Beast—who belonged to Satan. Initially, this Beast was identified with Rome because the Roman Empire, in its early days, encouraged an evil lifestyle, persecuted believers, and opposed God and his followers. But the Beast also symbolizes the Antichrist—not Satan, but someone under Satan’s power and control who would be able to draw the whole world to himself.
John described the hideous, satanic system that will manifest itself as the end draws near. Revelation also seems to imply that this blasphemous creature will have a devastating effect on the believers.
On each head the Beast had a blasphemous name. Some have suggested that these refer to the divine names that had been given to various Roman emperors. Whether referring to the Roman emperors or not, these blasphemous names signified the Beast’s challenge of God’s sovereignty and his setting himself up as god.
Believers must not be too concerned about attempting to identify any person as the Antichrist. This has been done with many world leaders since the first century. However, God’s timing is perfect, and when it happens, God will still be in control, even of the Antichrist.
13:2 This beast looked like a leopard, but it had bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth! And the dragon gave him his own power and throne and great authority.NLT This Antichrist seems like a combination of the four beasts that Daniel had seen centuries earlier in a vision (Daniel 7:4-8), combining the characteristics of a leopard, a bear, and a lion. In Daniel’s vision, the lion with eagle’s wings represented Babylon with her swift conquests (statues of winged lions have been recovered from Babylon’s ruins). The bear that ravaged the lion was Medo-Persia. The three ribs in its mouth represented the conquests of three major enemies. The leopard was Greece, its wings picturing the swiftness of Alexander the Great’s campaign as he conquered much of the civilized world in four years (334-330 b.c.). The leopard’s four heads were the four divisions of the Greek Empire after Alexander’s death. The fourth beast pointed to both Rome and the end times. Many Bible scholars believe that the ten horns on the fourth beast correspond to the ten kings who will reign shortly before God sets up his everlasting kingdom (see also Revelation 13:1). These ten kings had still not come to power at the time of John’s vision recorded in the book of Revelation (17:12). The little horn is a future human ruler or the antichrist (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). God was illustrating the final end of all worldly kingdoms in contrast to his eternal kingdom.
In combining these four beasts, John’s vision reveals the epitome of evil power. The dragon (Satan) gave the Beast (the Antichrist) his own power and throne and great authority. Those same words are used in the hymns in Revelation sung to God. So Satan attempted to again make a false copy, by giving his Beast his power, throne, and authority. As the dragon (12:17) was in opposition to God, so the Beast from the sea was against Christ and may be seen as Satan’s false messiah.
The early Roman Empire was strong and also anti-Christ (or against Christ’s standards); many other individual powers throughout history have been anti-Christ. The original readers would have immediately identified Antichrist with one of the Caesars. Certainly the emperors were against Christ (“antichrists,” 1 John 2:18). Many Christians believe that Satan’s evil will culminate in a final Antichrist, who will run an evil world system. He will focus all the powers of evil against Christ’s followers.
The Antichrist will appropriate the powers of government and religion in himself. As a political figure, the Antichrist will become so powerful that opposing him will be futile. All nations on earth will serve him. Opposition against the Antichrist’s rule will be brutally suppressed. Only those who are branded with the Beast’s mark, showing their loyalty to him, will be able to participate in the world’s economy.
Throughout history, many enemies of God and the church have arisen. The people who faced the persecutions of Nero, Hitler, or Stalin couldn’t imagine that anything worse was yet to come. Believers may have to face many antichrists.
CHART: SATAN’S WORK IN THE WORLD
|Satan’s . . .||Reference in Revelation|
|Hatred for Christ||12:13|
|Hatred for God’s people||12:17|
|Power and authority||13:2|
|Popularity among unbelievers||13:4|
|Blasphemy against God||13:6|
|War against believers||13:7|
|Ability to deceive||13:14|
13:3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.NIV Using spectacular miracles, the Antichrist persuaded the world to accept his false teachings. The Beast seduced the world by imitating Christ’s resurrection when he recovered from a fatal wound (from a sword, see 13:14). Because the Beast, the Antichrist, is a false messiah, he will be a counterfeit of Christ and will even parody Christ’s resurrection (13:14). People across the whole world will be astonished and will follow him because they will be awed by his power and miracles. Paul had written, “This evil man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of wicked deception to fool those who are on their way to destruction because they refuse to believe the truth that would save them” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 nlt).
The Antichrist will unite the world under his leadership (13:7-8), and he will control the world economy (13:16-17). People are impressed by power and will follow those who display it forcefully or offer it to their followers. But those who will follow the Beast will only be fooling themselves: he will use his power to manipulate others, to point to himself, and to promote evil plans. God, by contrast, uses his infinitely greater power to love and to build up.
|LIFE APPLICATION – BE NOT DECEIVED|
|Satan uses counterfeit miracles to draw people to him. John 8:44 says, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (nlt). Revelation shows Satan copying the work of God and thus deceiving people. But he would not be able to deceive if people were not so easily astonished by his displays of power and intelligence and so prone to follow. Pray each day for discernment to tell the difference between good and evil, so you will be immune to counterfeits. Saturate your life with God’s love and serve him. Then, you will be able to withstand Satan’s temptations.|
13:4 They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”NRSV The ultimate goal of the dragon was, of course, to draw people away from Christ and to himself. He wanted people’s worship. Thus, the people who were astounded by the Beast followed him and even worshiped him (ultimately worshiping the dragon, Satan). Worshiping anything other than Christ is worshiping Satan. At this point, the Beast gained complete governmental and religious power. The question “Who is like the beast?” is a parody of God’s Word, when God’s people asked, “Who is like the Lord?” (see, for example, Exodus 15:11; Micah 7:18). Here, the peoples of the earth asked, “Who can fight against the beast?” Some scholars think the Beast will actually bring world peace so that no one can fight against him. But that peace will be based on domination and without real substance; thus, it will be shallow and short-lived.
13:5-6 The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.NRSV Verses 5-7 record a series of passive verbs regarding the Antichrist—he “was given” a mouth and time to exercise his authority (13:5); he “was allowed to wage war,” and he “was given authority to rule” (13:7). The passive voice indicates either that these had been given by the dragon, Satan (13:2), or by God. Either way, God has control over Satan’s activities.
The Antichrist was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies, exalting himself as God. This compares to the “little horn” that Daniel had seen, “The little horn had . . . a mouth that was boasting arrogantly” (Daniel 7:8 nlt; see also 7:20; 11:20-39). He blasphemed God by placing himself in God’s position. “He will exalt himself and defy every god there is and tear down every object of adoration and worship. He will position himself in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 nlt). Setting himself up in the temple is what Jesus spoke of as “the abomination that causes desolation” (Mark 13:14 niv).
The Antichrist slandered God’s name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. (This shows that God’s dwelling place is his people.) Such pride and blasphemy are the heart of this world. The Antichrist will be the archenemy of all who side with Christ. “Those who dwell in heaven” could refer to angelic beings or to the believers who will one day be safe there, for in Revelation, people are divided into two groups—those who belong to the earth, and those who belong to heaven. The Antichrist blasphemed anything that had to do with God and his Son. As a result, confessing faith in Christ as Lord may result in death (13:7). The Antichrist and his followers (the people who belong to this world) would slander the Christians, calling them evildoers (1 Peter 2:12).
Whether one subscribes to the pre-Tribulation or post-Tribulation theory, the text is clear that there will be believers on earth during the Tribulation. Those who believe that the Christians will have been taken before this time think that the believers on earth will be those who will become Christians during this time of tribulation. Those who believe the church will not be taken until after the Tribulation would assert that all believers on the earth at this time will face this persecution.
The Antichrist will unite all nations and all religions under his authority. Even so, the power given to the Beast will be limited by God. He will allow the Beast to exercise authority only for a short time—forty-two months. This is the same time period as noted in 11:2 for the trampling of the holy city, in 11:3 for the ministry of the two witnesses (stated as 1,260 days), and in 12:6 and 12:14 for the protection of the woman (God’s people). (For more information on that time period, see commentary on 11:2.) Even while the Beast is in power, God is still in control (11:15; 12:10-12).
13:7 And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to overcome them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation.NLT The Antichrist was responsible for unleashing the Tribulation, the most intense period of persecution God’s people would ever experience (Mark 13:14, 20). The Beast would be allowed (by God) to wage war against God’s holy people and to overcome them (see also 12:17; Daniel 7:21). The phrase “wage war” does not refer to a military campaign (at least not yet), but to harassing God’s people. The Antichrist would “overcome” believers, but he could only do so physically, as part of this world. In reality, those who died for the faith are the ultimate overcomers, for they have participated in Christ’s death (12:11). The Antichrist could not harm God’s holy people spiritually.
The Antichrist would establish worldwide dominance—given by God—to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. He would demand to be worshiped as God (13:8). And many will worship him—everyone except true believers. Refusal to worship the Beast would result in suffering for God’s people, but they would be rewarded with eternal life. The ultimate irony is that although the Beast was given power to overcome, the believers were the final “overcomers.” Every believer’s death brings the end nearer (6:10-11).
13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.NIV The Beast had been given control over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (13:7) for the express purpose of gaining their worship. The coming battle had only two sides—those who worshiped Satan and those who worshiped God. All inhabitants of the earth (referring to those who refuse to accept Christ) will worship the beast. Awed by his miracles and awesome power, they will look to him as a god (13:3-4).
These people are all whose names have not been written in the book of life. As noted in 3:5, the Book of Life is a register in heaven of those who have trusted in Christ for their salvation (see also 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). Only the people whose names are written in this register will be accepted into heaven. Despite the horrors of this time of tribulation, not one believer will be lost, for their names are in the book. Two types of people exist—those whose names are in the book and those whose names are not in the book. Clearly, the people who will worship the Beast will be those whose names are not in the book of life. They will have made the choice to reject Christ and worship the Beast. Such people were described in 9:20-21 as those who “still refused to turn from their evil deeds. They continued to worship demons and idols . . . and they did not repent” (nlt).
The Book of Life belongs to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. There has been debate as to whether the phrase “from the creation of the world” refers to the names written in the book of life or the slaying of the Lamb. Some suggest that the names have been written “from the creation of the world” based on 17:8 (niv), which refers to “the inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world. . . .” If the phrase refers to the Lamb having been slain from the creation of the world, it would refer to God’s plan from eternity past to have his Son redeem mankind from sin. In either case, the verse shows the distinction between those who belong to God and those who belong to Satan.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THE BOOK OF LIFE|
|The Book of Life is a record of heavenly citizenship. Registered there are the names of those who put their trust in Christ (3:5). This should comfort those facing severe trials. It guarantees that death will not erase Jesus’ promise of eternal life in him. Jesus said, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment” (John 5:24, 28-29 nlt). Do you ever doubt what happens after death? Those who believe in Christ can take him at his word. Their destiny is certain.|
13:9-10 Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand. The people who are destined for prison will be arrested and taken away. Those who are destined for death will be killed. But do not be dismayed, for here is your opportunity to have endurance and faith.NLT This phrase, “anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand,” also appears at the end of all the letters to the seven churches. It warns readers that they had better listen.
These verses come from Jeremiah 15:2: “Those who are destined for death, to death; those who are destined for war, to war; those who are destined for famine, to famine; those who are destined for captivity, to captivity” (nlt)—the basic point is that the captivity would be divine judgment upon the rebellious nation of Israel, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
|These verses describe how believers should act during this time of tribulation by the Beast (see 14:12). They understand that God is in control. He already has it all in his plan—some who are destined for prison will be arrested and taken away. Some who are destined for death will be killed. John wrote that||This is a wise, sane Christian faith: that a man commit himself, his life, and his hopes to God; that God undertakes the special protection of that man; that therefore that man ought not to be afraid of anything!
believers must stand up for their faith, but they must not take up arms in an attempt to fight. Their job, at this point, would be to show endurance and faith. God has the battle under control; this time of persecution would only draw closer the time of Christ’s glorious return. See 1 Peter 2:19-24 for more on suffering patiently.
|LIFE APPLICATION – AS A TESTIMONY|
|The times of great persecution that John saw will provide an opportunity for believers to exercise patient endurance and faithfulness. The tough times we face right now are also opportunities for spiritual growth. If God wills for us to be put to death for our faith, then our death will serve as a testimony to the goodness of God. Paul wrote, “Don’t be intimidated by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:28-29 nlt). Don’t fall into Satan’s trap and turn away from God when hard times come. Instead, use those tough times as opportunities for testifying for God.|
13:11 Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.NRSV The first Beast had come out of the sea (13:1), but this second beast rose out of the earth. Later identified as the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), he was a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. This beast completed the unholy trinity with the dragon (Satan) and the Beast from the sea (the Antichrist). The false prophet would be in charge of the worldwide worship of the first Beast.
There is a further imitation of Christ, the Lamb of God, in that the false prophet has two horns like a lamb (5:6). Perhaps his very similarity to Christ will be part of his deceptiveness. He may appear good, helpful, and caring—an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Jesus had warned of false teachers, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart” (Matthew 7:15 nlt). The beast looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon. The source of his words was Satan himself—the dragon.
As with their interpretation of the first Beast, scholars are divided about the beast from the earth. The different thoughts are that the second beast represents either (1) a movement or power, or (2) an individual who, at the end times, will arise along with the Antichrist to take control of the world. Those who believe that this beast represents a movement or power point to the first Beast as representing the worldwide anti-God system, with the second beast representing false teachers who cause people to stray. These false teachers will be the opposite of the two godly witnesses in chapter 11.
13:12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.NIV The first Beast’s authority came from Satan; the second beast exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf. This second beast’s job was to make the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast. The false prophet was in position when the Antichrist was killed and came back to life. Then the false prophet made everyone worship the Antichrist.
13:13-15 He did astounding miracles, such as making fire flash down to earth from heaven while everyone was watching. And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world.NLT The second beast was also empowered to do astounding miracles, such as making fire flash down from heaven. Again, in copycat style, this was the same miracle that the two witnesses for God could perform (11:5), which is a reference to a miracle of Elijah recorded in 1 Kings 18:36-38. Ironically, Elijah had performed that miracle so that God could show who was a true prophet and who was not. Christ had warned, “False messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform miraculous signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones” (Mark 13:22 nlt).
This miracle and others deceived all the people who belong to this world. The phrase “people who belong to this world” refers to those who were deceived and worshiped the Beast, not to the believers on the earth at this time (see also 13:8). True believers must not be swayed or deceived by these great miracles that the false prophet will perform.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CONVINCED?|
|The Bible repeats many miracles performed as proofs of God’s power, love, and authority. But here counterfeit miracles are performed to deceive. This is similar to Pharaoh’s magicians, who duplicated Moses’ signs in Egypt. True signs and miracles point to Jesus Christ, but miracles alone can be deceptive. That is why we must ask with respect to each miracle we see: Is this consistent with what God says in the Bible? The second beast gained influence through the signs and wonders that he performed on behalf of the first Beast. The second beast ordered the people to worship an image in honor of the first Beast—a direct flouting of the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6). Allowing the Bible to guide our faith and practice will keep us from being deceived by false signs, however convincing they appear to be. Any teaching that contradicts God’s Word is false.|
He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.NIV As with all worship that is not of the one true God, this worship of the Beast is idolatry. The false prophet ordered them (the people of the world) to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. Actually the Beast had been fatally wounded and then brought back to life (13:3, 12). This brings to mind the great statue that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had built to himself and then had required everyone to worship (Daniel 3:1-11).
The false prophet was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak. The statue seemed to live and supposedly spoke to its worshipers. This, again, convinced many on this earth. The God of the Christians seemed to be mysteriously silent and invisible, but this god could be seen and he spoke audibly. No wonder many followed. And no wonder the believers needed to be warned so that they would not be swayed from the truth.
The heart of the false prophet’s power is in the next words, “all who refused to worship the image” would be “killed.” Christianity had become a capital offense—for only those who followed Christ were unwilling to worship the Beast’s image. This was universal persecution.
Note that the false prophet is “allowed to perform” miracles to deceive people (13:14) and “was given power to give breath” (13:15). Both verses use the Greek passive, edothe, which means that God permitted these events to occur (see also 13:5-6).
13:16-17 He required everyone—great and small, rich and poor, slave and free—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name.NLT The false prophet went further in the worship of the Beast by requiring everyone, no matter their age or social status, to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. The mark is described as the name of the beast or the number representing his name (13:18). This mark of the Beast was designed to mock the seal that God had already placed on his followers (7:2-3). Just as God had marked his people to save them, so Satan’s Beast marked his people to save them from the persecution that he would inflict upon God’s followers. Identifying this particular mark is not as important as identifying the purpose of the mark. Those who accepted it showed their allegiance to Satan, their willingness to operate within the economic system he promoted, and their rebellion against God. To refuse the mark meant to commit oneself entirely to God, preferring death to compromising one’s faith in Christ.
People will have to worship the Beast in order to receive the mark and to be able to buy or sell anything. Clearly those who refuse the mark (the Christians) will be set up for economic ruin, homelessness, and hunger. In the end times, no one will be able to buy or sell anything without the mark of the Beast. Those who receive the brand of the Beast will be readily identifiable. The mark will be stamped prominently on their right hands or foreheads. The mark will be the number 666 (13:18).
Those who receive the mark of the Beast will benefit economically for a brief time. Their short gain, however, will be quickly offset by the eternal consequences that await them. Revelation warns that those who accept the mark of the Beast will have to endure God’s cup of anger (see 14:9-12; 20:7-15).
|LIFE APPLICATION – BE A SKEPTIC|
|In every generation, Christians need to maintain a healthy skepticism about society’s pleasures and rewards. In our educational, economic, and civic structures, there are incentives and rewards. Cooperating Christians must always support what is good and healthy about our society, but we must stand against sin. In some cases, such as Satan’s system described here, the system or structure becomes so evil that there is no way to cooperate with it.|
13:18 Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understanding solve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.NLT The meaning of this number has been discussed more than that of any other part of the book of Revelation. The three sixes have been said to represent many things including the unholy trinity of Satan, the first Beast, and the false prophet (16:13).
Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understanding solve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. Throughout church history, people have assigned numerical values to the letters of names to try to identify the Beast. The first readers of this book probably applied the number to the Emperor Nero, a man symbolizing all the evils of the Roman empire. (The Greek letters of Nero’s name represent numbers that total 666.) Some proposed figures include Lateinos, which alludes to the entire Roman Empire; Neron Kaisar (referring to Caesar Nero), under whose direction the church suffered intense persecution; and Teitan, for Titus, the Roman emperor who destroyed Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The number continues to be linked with various world leaders, institutions, and types of economic transactions.
Three sixes together—666—implies a trinity of imperfection—a parody of the number seven. The number symbolizes the worldwide dominion and complete evil of this unholy trinity designed to undo Christ’s work and overthrow him.
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Source: Bruce B. Barton et al., Life Application Bible Commentary – Revelation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 149-161.