John’s vision included two beasts.
First-century readers understood the first beast to the power of Rome whose insistence on worshiping the emperor was a major threat to the church.
The second beast (Revelation 13.11-18) was believed to be the imperial priesthood that promoted the worship of the emperor.
The two beasts can be identified throughout history. There will come a time when the full force of the beasts will fall on humanity.
It is wise to understand the nature of the beasts so we are not deceived by their schemes.
Characteristics of the Second Beast
The second beast is a “religious” figure who uses propaganda to promote the worship of the first beast.
Then I saw another beast that rose 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 on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed (Revelation 13.11-12).
The second beast imitates the relationship between Jesus and God and seeks to deceive the world to worship the dragon, who is Satan.
As Christ received authority from the Father, so Antichrist receives authority from the dragon.
Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
Notice how the authority of the beast comes from the dragon (Satan).
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?” (Revelation 13:4)
The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and the second beast glorifies the first beast (the Antichrist).
Jesus said this about the Spirit, “He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).
The second beast glorifies the Antichrist (the first beast).
It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed (Revelation 13:12).
How can religious leaders be so deceived that they support the oppressive rule of tyrants? It is tragic that God’s people have been in league with beast-like rulers to the detriment of God’s reputation.
For example, during the rule of Francisco Franco in Spain (1939-1975), the Catholic Church maintained a close alliance with the dictator. It benefited from his policies, including the establishment of Catholicism as the state religion, and in turn, supported his regime.
In the example of South Africa, during the era of apartheid (1948-1994), many Christian denominations remained largely silent on the issue or even supported the policies of the apartheid government. This silence and lack of opposition from religious institutions allowed the oppressive regime to persist.
Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, is a very prominent supporter of Putin’s war against Ukraine.
Can’t Happen to Me!
If you think the above three examples can’t happen to you, pay close attention to Jesus’ words.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Ideology refers to a system of ideas, beliefs, values, or principles that form the basis of a particular social, political, economic, or cultural theory or movement.
If our ideology – whether religious, philosophical, or political – gives power to any human social structure organized independently of God, we have been deceived by the second beast.
John’s vision placed Rome and emperor worship as the primary cause of the churches’ suffering.
The question for us in 2023 is to ask what or who is deceiving society to serve and worship something that is a substitute for God.
Jesus warned his followers against the second beast and the false prophets who follow his lead.
He said, “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:22).
In a like manner, John warned his readers.
It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all,
And by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived,
And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed (Revelation 13.13-15).
The second beast imitates the miracles of the true prophets to deceive the people into worshiping the beast.
We do well to see false prophets as the Antichrist’s ministers of propaganda.
As we read Paul’s words about the “lawless one,” let’s pay attention to why humans can be deceived.
The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders,
And every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
When we refuse to “love the truth,” we set ourselves up for deception. The antidote for deception is to immerse ourselves in a loving relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
The Mark of the Beast
In the ancient world, a brand or tattoo was given to defeated foes and loyal followers alike.
A “mark” was also used for the likeness or name of the emperor on Roman coins. For example, Nero had his image and the words “Savior of the World” on coins he minted.
It was also used as a technical designation for the seals that were attached to commercial documents and stamped with the name and date of the emperor.
All three of these possibilities could describe what John saw in his vision.
Also, it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be given a brand on the right hand or the forehead,
So that no one can buy or sell who does not have the brand, that is, the name of the beast or the number for its name.
This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number for a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six (Revelation 13.16-18).
Here’s what we can know about the mark of the beast during all phases of human history.
It is visible and symbolizes the unqualified allegiance to the demands of society that is separated from God. It can be as simple as a lapel pin, a tattoo signifying affiliation to a club, or the money we serve more than God.
The mark allows people to buy and sell. The examples I gave earlier of how religious persons supported tyrants were not free from monetary considerations. Transactions are made between strongmen and the people who support them that are beneficial to the propagandists.
The mark is the number of the name. Six is the number for humankind. The best humans can do is to fall short of God’s glory (symbolized by the number 7).
Three sixes reflect pure incompleteness. Three sevens picture God in his perfection.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube. It is on the Bob Spradling channel.