When we were studying chapter 12 I suggested that, after the seven seals and the seven trumpets, we now have seven signs in chapters 12 to 15. The first sign, which appeared in chapter 12, was of the conflict between the dragon and the woman and her children. And we saw that the dragon was the Devil and I said that the woman stood for the church; and her male child is the Lord Jesus Christ who was snatched up to heaven, where he now sits, enthroned at God the Father’s right hand side. Meanwhile, the dragon chased the woman into the wilderness where he made war on the rest of her offspring. In other words, since he could not destroy the Lord Jesus Christ, he is now trying to destroy the church of Jesus Christ on the earth. That was the first of the seven signs John saw.
Today we come to chapter 13 and to the second and third signs which are the sign of the beast from the sea and sign of the beast from the earth. And really, this chapter is expanding on what we read at the end of chapter 12, because this chapter is about the way the dragon wages war with the woman’s offspring in order to destroy the church of Jesus Christ on the earth.
And chapter 13 really begins at the end of chapter 12, because in the last line of chapter 12 we’re told that the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. So, we can imagine him, standing on the seashore, with one foot in the sea and another foot on the land. And he then called one beast to rise from the sea and then he called another beast to rise from the earth. Verses 1 to 10 are all about the beast from the sea, while verses 11 to 18 are about the beast from the earth. And these beasts are the dragon’s allies, his helpers, who are going to help him to attack the church. Most commentators see a connection here with the book of Job, because in chapters 40 and 41 of Job the Lord refers to the behemoth and the leviathan, two great beasts who are too powerful to be tamed by men. Well, here Revelation 13, we have two great beasts who cannot be tamed.
And among the commentators, many assume that the beasts in John’s vision must stand for specific historical people. For instance, many believe that the first beast stands for the Roman Emperor Nero, who caused so much suffering among God’s people. And they explain how many of the details in the text refer in oblique ways to what Nero did.
However, I’m more inclined to go along with those commentators who say that the beast from the sea represents not a single person, but the devil’s persecuting power; and the beast from the earth represents not a single person, but the devil’s deception and deceit. So, in these, the last days in which we live, the dragon continually attacks the church and tries to destroy it by either persecuting it or else by deceiving it. He tries to crush the church through persecution; and he tries to lead the church astray by deception. And that’s what these two beasts represent and that’s what the Lord is conveying to us through John’s vision: the Lord is saying to his church in every generation: you need to stand firm against the Devil who will try to crush you and who will try to deceive you.
But before we move on to consider some of the details, let me point out that some commentators suggest that the dragon and the first beast and the second beast are a kind of evil imitation of the Holy Trinity. So, whereas Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, those who don’t believe and who don’t belong to the church are following the Unholy Trinity of the dragon and his two beasts. And that makes very good sense — doesn’t it? — and especially when we get to the end of the chapter where we read how the beast from the earth forced everyone to receive a mark on their hand or on their forehead.
That mark — which the beast from the earth placed on his people — is a kind of evil imitation of the seal which we read about in chapter 7 which the Lord placed on his people to show that they belong to him. Just as God’s people were marked with a seal, so the Devil’s people are marked as well. So, it’s possible that we’re to view the dragon and the two beasts as an evil imitation of the Holy Trinity. And in that case, here’s the Devil, doing what he has always done: he’s trying to take God’s place.
Verses 1 to 10
Look with me at verse 1 where John tells us how he saw the first beast, which came from out of the sea. And John describes its appearance: it had ten horns and seven heads and it was wearing ten crowns. And on each head there was a blasphemous name. Well, since Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the fact that this beast is wearing crowns means that he’s trying to take the Saviour’s place. And in verse 2 we read that he resembled a leopard, though his feet were like those of a bear and his mouth was like that of a lion. Well, in Daniel 7, Daniel saw in a vision four different beasts which represented four kingdoms. The first was like a lion; the second was like a bear; the third was like a leopard; and the fourth beast had 10 horns. Whereas Daniel saw four different beasts, John saw one beast which was a frightening and terrifying combination of the four beasts Daniel saw. And look at the rest of verse 2: the dragon gave this beast his power and his throne and great authority. So, the dragon — who wants to make war on the church — had given his power to the beast so that the beast can help him.
And look now at verse 3 where we read that one of the heads of this beast seemed to have a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. Some of the commentators who believe that this beast stands for Nero point out that after Nero died, there were rumours that he had come back to life. And so, those commentators say that this beast’s fatal wound which has healed alludes to that. However, it’s more likely that here, once again, we have an evil imitation of God, because do you remember when John was brought into heaven where he saw the Lord God Almighty on his throne. And then what did he see? He saw a Lamb — it’s the Lord Jesus — but the Lamb looked as if it had been slain. So, Christians worship the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for us. But here’s this beast, who is setting himself up as a rival to the Lord Jesus, and he also looks as if he has been slain. But it’s only an evil imitation.
And look at the tragedy which follows, because John tells us that the whole world was astonished — taken in by this beast — and followed it. Men worshipped — not the Lord God Almighty who made all things or the Lamb of God who died for sinners — but they worshipped the dragon who had given authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast itself.
And the beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise authority for 42 months. Well, we’ve come across that time period before: 42 months is 1,260 days and it’s three and a half years. It refers to these, the last days in which we’re living, the time between the first and second comings of Christ. And during the whole of this time, the church is both protected by God but also persecuted by the Devil. And so, according to John’s vision in this chapter, during the whole of this time, the beast opens his mouth to blaspheme God and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. In other words, he’s speaking against God and his people. And he was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. He was also given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation so that all inhabitants of the world will worship the beast.
Will everyone worship the beast? Well, not everyone, because look at the rest of verse 8: only those whose names are not written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain will worship the beast. So, every one will worship the beast apart from the Lord’s people. But the beast will make war on the Lord’s people.
And in verses 9 and 10 we have the application: He who had an ear, listen to this: Some of God’s people will go into captivity; and some of God’s people will be killed by the sword. That’s what we can expect, in these the last days, because the dragon will come against the church with his persecuting power in order to destroy it. He will attack the church in different ways. And since this is true, this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. Instead of giving in and joining all those who are prepared to worship the dragon, we’re to stand firm and remain faithful to the Lord God Almighty and to the Lamb who was slain for us.
Verses 11 to 18
After the first beast, John saw a second beast, arising from the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, so that he looked innocent enough: only a lamb. What harm can a lamb do? But he spoke like a dragon. That’s what makes this beast so dangerous: its words and its speech are dangerous. And look: he exercised all the authority of the first beast; and he made all the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast. So, this beast works in cooperation with the first beast. And like many of the prophets in the Old Testament, or even like the Apostles in the book of Acts, this beast was able to perform great and miraculous signs; but, of course, these were signs to convince the people to follow its lies, for it is a false prophet. And in verse 13 we read that he deceived the inhabitants of the earth: and remember the phrase ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ is a kind of technical term for unbelievers, who belong to the earth and not to heaven. And because they’ve been deceived, the inhabitants of the earth set up an image in honour of the first beast. Think of Nebuchadnezzar’s great golden statue in the book of Daniel and how all the people were ordered to bow down to it. Well, John sees in his vision all earth-dwellers who don’t believe bowing down and worshipping this image of the beast. And the second beast made it possible for the image of the first beast to speak. Again, he’s trying to deceive the people.
And then he forced everyone to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead. Again, like the Lord’s seal in chapter 7, we’re not to think that people on the earth will actually have a mark on them which we can see. I remember when I was young, people speculating that the number of the beast would appear on credit cards and that kind of thing. But we need to remember that this is a vision with symbols and signs which need to be interpreted; and just as the image of the Lord’s seal in chapter 7 conveys the idea that believers belong to God and are under his protection, so this mark which the beast put on the people conveys the idea that these people — the inhabitants of the earth — belong to the beast.
And what is the mark of beast? Well, it’s a number. Now, there have been pages and pages and pages and pages written on what the number of the beast means. And people have offered all kinds of interpretations and suggestions; and no doubt you’ve heard how it’s a code; and if you work out the code, the number spells out a name; and the person who bears that name, is the beast. However, you should remember that I’ve suggested that these beasts are not meant to represent specific historical people, but they stand for the Devil’s opposition to the church and the way he makes war on the church in these, the last days in which we live. And in that case, we should remember how often we’ve encounter the number 7 in the book of Revelation: there’s the sevenfold spirit of God; and there seven churches; and we’ve had seven seals and seven trumpets; we’ve in the middle of seven signs; and later there will be seven bowls. Seven is a significant number because it represents fullness and completion; perfection even. So, that’s what seven signifies. And this beast marks his people with a number that three times falls short of seven. Not seven, but six. Not seven, but six. Not seven, but six. Not perfection, but less than perfection. The dragon and his beasts are a wicked imitation of the true God; but despite their power and authority and despite their strength, and despite the ways they mislead the world, they always fall short of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. They can try to take God’s place, but they always, always, always, fall short and fail.
And so, this chapter, with its two beasts is about how the dragon will continue to lead astray the people of the world and he will continue to oppose the church and make war on it during these, the lasts days. He will use his persecuting power against the church and he will use deception and deceit against the church. And many will be led astray. But not those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. You see, that’s the assurance believers have. If you’re a believer, your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life and no one and nothing is able to erase your name from his book; and the Lord Jesus will do everything it takes — absolutely everything it takes — to ensure that all those whose names are written in his book will be saved. Yes, some of his people may go into captivity; and some may be killed by the sword even. Nevertheless, our eternal salvation is secure, because our names are written indelibly in his book; and in the end, we will enjoy the victory, because the Lamb who was slain for us will one day come back for us; and when he comes, he will destroy the dragon and his beasts for ever; and we will live and reign with him for ever and for ever.