Last week Andrew covered the first half of Revelation 13 and the first beast that rises out of the sea. The second half of the chapter before us now shows us that this first beast is not alone.[1] No, he is joined by a second beast who rises out of the earth. Taking these two beasts together then we see something of what John is getting at. If the first beast represents the fallen political state or authorities of the world (like the Roman Empire and others), the second beast shows itself to be the religious and social support for that fallen state.[2] What is its role in support? What does it do to support? How does it spread it’s the beasts fame, increase its followers, and persecute the Church? We see this and more explained in v11-18, so first notice v11-12 where we see…

The Parody of the Beast (v11-12)

“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.”

As this beast comes up out of the earth it is said to have ‘…two horns like a lamb…’, ‘…exercises all the authority of the first beast…’ in its behalf, and points out that the first beast had a mortal wound ‘…but was healed.’ In these things do you hear language that sounds familiar? You ought to. This language is similar to the language the rest of Scripture uses to speak about the Holy Trinity. Think about it: first, the second beast has two horns and shows itself as a lamb mimicking the true Lamb of God Jesus Christ who back in chapter 5:6 was said to have seven horns. Second, the second beast exercises all the authority of the first beast in its behalf, mimicking how Jesus received all authority from the Father and exercised/exercises that authority in His behalf. And third, the second beast acts like an evangelist or prophetic voice calling out in favor of the resurrection of the first beast, because though it did have a mortal wound it has healed mimicking how the holy Spirit awakens our souls to look back and see Jesus’ own death and resurrection with new eyes and be saved.

In all of these things we should see that a parody is before us.[3] We know what that is. Most of us have heard and laughed at Weird Al Yankovic’s music: Amish ParadiseEat It, and Like a Surgeon. Those are humorous and fun for sure, making a great mimic of the original with a totally different and laughable twist. But the second beast’s parody of our triune God is horrific. Even so, John’s audience back then and we ourselves today shouldn’t be duped, for this second beast doesn’t speak like a lamb or preach like the Holy Spirit, no, he speaks ‘…like a dragon.’ And also one of the evil beasts back in Daniel chapter 8 had two horns like this one. Nevertheless it still calls out forcefully, powerfully, and persuasively making ‘…the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast.’ Perhaps we ought to remember here Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15, about those who will come to in our midst who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Who intentionally look like sheep but they hide sharp teeth. They portray themselves as holy figures who preach what sounds like holy messages, but they’re wolves bent on consuming the Church. Yet we remember v8. The only worshipers this second beast will win for the first beast are those whose names have not been written in the book of the life of the lamb who was slain. Or in other words, God’s elect will not be swayed to worship this beast.

This isn’t all to this beast. Keep on with me and see next…

The Wonder of the Beast (v13-14)

“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.”

Not only did this beast pretend to look a lot like God Himself, but apparently it also performed great signs and wonders. Seemingly showing itself able to do what only Elijah could do in his battle with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, call fire down heaven. So in order to make his evangelistic arguments look credible and plausible, the second beast shows a great display of miraculous power.[4] This second beast is no different than the servants of Pharaoh who used a kind of magic trick or slight of hand to produce some of the Moses could do. There are many accounts of ancient magicians doing work like this, in John’s time and well before. Some of their common tricks included things like moving statues, fireballs, explosions, and disappearing acts.[5] Though all one had to do was look behind the curtain to see the magician pulling his strings, these signs and wonders did give a display of great divine power and duped many. It says in v14, that many were deceived and made an idolatrous image of the beast to worship it. And sadly these tricks are still used today by hucksters of all kinds. Those who present themselves as God’s anointed ones, as God’s apostles, as God’s prophets, claiming to have done many signs and wonders and staging some for those watching, all to deceive and get into the pockets of those in attendance to make themselves wealthy. As we did before, let’s remember Jesus’ teaching here too. Matthew 24:24, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Once again we rejoice in God’s sovereignty over us and all things. For He preserves His elect even in a world so hostile to the Church.

The Persecution of the Beast (v15-17)

“And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”

Not only did this beast pretend to look a lot like God Himself, not only did it perform great signs and wonders to sway many to worship the first beast, but now we see it did this with a Satanic power and fierce penalty. A satanic power in that it claims to have the ability to give breath, or life, to the image of the first beast so that it would come alive and speak. And a fierce penalty in that those who didn’t worship the beast or the image of the beast were killed. So perhaps then, a great deal of the persuasive power of the second beast didn’t come in its signs and wonders, but came in its threats of death.[6] That is seen in v15, see more persecution in v16-17, “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

For those who remained alive and were not killed or not killed yet, there was economic and social persecution in what is called here the mark of the beast. Regardless whether one is small, great, rich, poor, slave, free, whatever you are…if you refuse to worship the beast you’re cut off from society. Effectively making you unable to buy, sell, have certain jobs, live in certain places, sometimes even eat. As you can imagine this would be an extremely difficult position to be in, and many throughout history have been in this position. And usually in every case this has occurred throughout history it looked like a refusal to compromise with, or arrive at a consensus with, the state or society at large.[7] It’s a ‘get in line’ or else kind of argument.

Allow me to say this: at this point many people wrongly put down their Bibles and begin thinking about what the mark of the beast could be. You’ve heard these things. A literal stamp with the beast’s number (which we’ll talk about soon), perhaps on the forehead or the right hand or palm. Today many think of a small chip that has credit card information making one able to buy and sell with ease. Some even have ideas that one can receive the mark by accident and be forever condemned to hell for it. I’d encourage to leave these ideas behind and stick with Scripture.

Here are two things to help bring you back to a biblical view of what this dreadful mark is. First, this kind of persecution isn’t something reserved only for the future as many think, it was already occurring in John’s day. Back in Revelation 2:9 in the letter to the Church in Smyrna we read of the economic persecution and the poverty of the Smyrnan Church. But how did Jesus encourage them? “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…” Jesus not only knows the details of their poverty and what they’re suffering, He says they’re rich. So true riches then, must come from something other than financial prosperity. Indeed that’s it: they may kick you out of society, not allow you to purchase basic fundamental needs like food and clothing, treat you like barbarians for believing what you do, but having Jesus truly does mean you have everything. What then is Jesus’ call to these early churches like Smyrna and Pergamum suffering like this? “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). As hard as that is to swallow in our current cultural climate it remains true. So this kind of persecution isn’t only reserved only for the future, it’s been around as long as the Church has been around.

Second, I don’t think this mark is a literal mark, it wasn’t a literal mark in Smyrna or Pergamum, it’s certainly not a literal mark now on those who reject the gospel. Rather, I think it’s a further parody of Christ.[8] We’ve already seen the second beast parody the trinity in our passage tonight, now we see it again in this mark. How so? Ephesians 1:13-14 speak of our being ‘sealed’ in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. This sealing marks us out as Christ’s own possession forever and nothing can change that. We rejoice in this, do we not? More so in Revelation 7:3 we already read of believers being ‘sealed’ on their foreheads as the servants of God and back then we concluded that wasn’t a physical reality but a spiritual one. In this mark here in our text, I think the second beast and the governing authorities in view are trying to parody their own kind of ‘sealing’, marking out who is truly theirs.[9] This isn’t to say it one day could not involve a physical mark or badge much similar to the a Nazi armband. In this light I think it says the mark will be on the head or hand likely points us to a mind that agrees with the beast and hands that mimic the beast’s evil ways. All in all the mark of the beast involves a choice between following the ways of the world and following Christ.

And now, lastly, see…

The Number of the Beast (v18)

“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

What a fitting beginning to a verse with such controversy to it, right? Before we dive into what this verse means, we’re encouraged to remember and return to wisdom. Not only to be able to calculate the number of the beast, but surely also to stay away from foolish doctrines that have been taught concerning the number of the beast. We’re told the number is the number of a man, which could also be translated the number of man, and that the number is 666, but it’s worth mentioning the footnote below which tells us some manuscripts have 616 instead. As with the mark of the beast we just discussed, the number of the beast has perhaps even more speculation surrounding it. What do we do with this? Here are some options.

1) Some believe we ought to combine what is said about the mark in of v16-17 is the number of v18. They get this from that last phrase in v17, “…so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” In this view the mark is a literal mark, usually on the forehead or hand, not of a symbol but the number 666. As I mentioned before I do not think the mark is literal, so naturally I don’t think the number is too. I therefore disagree with this view, even though this is the view most popularly held and portrayed in recent end times film and books. Those that take 666 literally have also said Ronald Regan was the antichrist because his three names each have six letters in them: Ronald Wilson Regan. Or this literalism can take a different form, and it did for some recent republicans who said Barack Obama was the antichrist. Why? Because in Hebrew ‘barak’ means ‘blessing’ and ‘bama’ means ‘high place.’ See that? With the numerous pagan temples/shrines in the Old Testament on high places coupled with the term blessing we have a clear statement that Obama is a pagan ‘high place blessing.’

2) Because it says in v18 we need to calculate the number of the beast, that is 666, some believe math is in view, specifically the ancient practice of gematria.[10] Because ancient Hebrew and Greek only had letters and not numbers, numeric values have often been given to these letters, and when you add up the numeric value of the letters in a word you can sometimes find more meaning. For example, the word ‘beast’ in Greek adds up to 666. The person most then think of is Nero because if you calculate the numeric value for the words ‘Nero Caesar’ you get 666, therefore 666 refers to the beast Nero. That seems clear but many disagree and get other totals than 666 for this equation. Some who’ve held this view have often been given to do with all kinds of words. Example 1: Henry Kissinger, the American statesmen, was once said to the antichrist because his last name ‘Kissinger’ in this numeric value system add up to 666. Example 2: Barney, the children’s dinosaur was also stated once to be the antichrist because the words ‘cute purple dinosaur’ also add up to 666 in this system.

3) Here is the position I’d encourage you to hold on v18. The number seven and the number three throughout the Bible denote completion and perfection. So the number six is a number that falls short of perfection. After all in Revelation 1 Jesus speaks of seven churches, seven golden lampstands, and seven stars, and Revelation 3:1 mentions seven spirits of God, all referring to completeness. While the sixth seal, sixth trumpet, and sixth bowl all describe judgment coming onto those who follow the beast. Even though this beast appears to be perfect in every way, the number six repeated three times indicates the essence of incompleteness.[11] 666 is therefore a number describing something that falls short at every point. 666 then, refers to a government – a nation – these beasts – all who follow them – and all who ultimately reject the gospel. John isn’t intending to point us to any individual or government or nation, no, he wants us to see that many rulers, many nations, many governments, and many men throughout history could be described by the number 666. 

Conclusion:

Let me just end with this thought, and then I’ll take questions. “Those who bear the mark of the beast partake of the failure that his name and number imply. But those who reject the beast, even under persecution, and hold fast to the perfect Christ will partake of His blessings.”[12]


[1] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 376.

[2] J. Ramsay Michaels, Revelation – IVP NTC (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997) 164.

[3] Paul Gardner, Revelation: The Compassion and Protection of Christ, Reprint edition (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008), 182.

[4] Dennis E. Johnson and Robert L. Plummer, ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018), 671.

[5] Craig S. Keener, Revelation – NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999) 351.

[6] Phillips, Revelation, 379.

[7] Gardner, Revelation, 183.

[8] Gardner, 185.

[9] Phillips, Revelation, 381.

[10] Phillips, 383.

[11] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013), 722.

[12] Phillips, Revelation, 384.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: