Describing the Beast (13:11-12)
After seeing this terrifying beast rising out of the sea that blasphemes God and makes war on the Christians, we seeing the rising of another beast. This beast rises out of the earth. The beast had two horns like a lamb but it spoke like a dragon. This is an interesting beast because it is trying to look like the lamb but it is not the lamb. The words the beast speaks reveals he is like the dragon and from the dragon. Though trying to look like the lamb, the beast is not like the lamb or from the lamb.
This beast seems to have a religious role. This religious role is implied by it trying to mimic to the true lamb of God. Verse 12 reveals this religious role even further. The beast carries all the authority of the first beast. This point is emphasized by the authority being exercised in the presence of the first beast. Notice the role of this second beast. It compels the earth and its inhabitants to worship the first beast. In the first ten verses of Revelation 13 we saw the first beast representing the Roman Empire, its military might, political power, and its emperors who speak blasphemies against God and God’s people. This second beast represents a religious aspect. They carry the authority of the empire, compelling people to worship the beast. The second beast shows that in the various provinces and localities throughout the Roman Empire the inhabitants are going to be forced to engage in emperor worship and worship of the empire. When we examined chapters 2-3 we noted that these cities in Asia had a very strong center of imperial worship there. This beast is giving another title in the book of Revelation.
And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. (Revelation 16:13 ESV)
Notice we have our three main characters at work in Revelation 16. The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The second beast is given the title, “The false prophet.” This is why the description of this beast is having two horns like a lamb. He is like a false prophet. It deceives people into worshiping false gods, not the true God.
Acts of the Second Beast (13:13-17)
The second beast is described as performing great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to the earth. What is the point of these great signs? Verse 14 tells us the purpose. These signs are what the second beast uses to persuade the inhabitants to worship the first beast. These religious guilds are calling for the people to pay homage to Caesar and to the empire, to worship Caesar as divine. Asia Minor was a center of imperial worship. By the end of the first century, every city of the seven churches had temples dedicated to the deity of Caesar. We also know that there was a priesthood of the imperial cult. Further, there was a “Commune of Asia.” This was a council representing the major cities of the province of Asia. This group especially promoted the imperial cult and demanded that citizens participate in it. We also know that Emperor Domitian especially encouraged this, calling himself, “our Lord and God” (Osborne, 513).
It is these descriptions that are in parallel to Paul’s “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2.
Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 ESV)
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10 ESV)
This is the same deceiving power that the Roman Empire was exerting. Paul taught the Thessalonian Christians that the day of the Lord had not come yet because these events had not occurred yet. John in the book of Revelation is seeing the vision of these coming activities of the Roman Empire and the emperor worship. This idolatry is specifically pointed out in verse 14. The false prophet is telling to the people “to make an image of the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” Make an image to Caesar and worship him as divine.
Verse 15 reveals the sad news concerning the events to occur. Those who do not worship the image of the beast are going to be persecuted and killed. This statement has a reference to Daniel 3 when Nebuchadnezzar made a great image and demanded all to worship the image or be cast into the fiery furnace. Daniel’s three friends refused to worship the image and were cast into the fire, but God protected them from harm. Scholars have learned that there was the establishment of the provincial cult of Domitian in Ephesus with a colossal statue. This event involved the participation of the whole province of Asia Minor (Beale, 712). In Pergamum and other cities many imperial altars have been found which indicates the existence of these civic decrees to participate in celebrations honoring the emperor.
Verses 16-17 conclude this sad imagery. People would be given mark on the right hand or the forehead so that no one can buy or sell anything unless they have that mark. The mark is a figurative mark. We do not need to go into history and try to find when the Roman Empire was branding people. The mark is a symbol of ownership. The mark of the beast is going to be contrasted with the mark the Christians receive in chapter 14. We have seen earlier that the servants of God were marked with the seal of God. These are symbols of ownership. The servants of God are marked showing that they belong to the Lamb. The inhabitants of the world are marked to show they belong to the beast. Though not literal marks, the meaning of the markings has a historical reference. There was going to be a time when those who did not submit to the emperor worship and emperor sacrifices would not be allowed to participate in normal marketplace activities. They would not be able to buy food at the marketplace or sell the produce of their land to make money to provide for themselves. Under later persecutions under Emperor Diocletian and Emperor Decius, certificates were issued to those loyal to the emperor and participating in the required ritual of the imperial religion (Beale, 715). “There were, therefore, few facets of society from which Christians could escape pressures to idolatry. Indeed, the state was inextricably linked to the religious, economic, and social facets of culture” (Beale, 717).
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. (Revelation 13:18 ESV)
This is the verse causes difficulty for all and myriads of interpretations. As we have observed throughout our study of Revelation, the numbers are to be taken symbolically unless the context demands otherwise. John tells us definitively that this number is to be taken symbolically. The big question is what does the number 666 symbolically represent?
One of the more popular answers has been Nero Caesar. I would be thrilled if I could get past the obstacles that prevent me from understanding 666 to refer to him. First, why would Nero be the mark of the beast? The things that we are reading about the inability to buy and sell would not happen for a few decades after Nero. Further, Nero would represent the first beast, the beast with the fatal wound that healed, and would not represent the second beast, this false prophet. Second, to get 666 to calculate to Nero Caesar requires a lot of work. The numbers are converted to Greek and then converted to Hebrew with a strange spelling of Nero Caesar. Why would the Greek need to be transliterated into Hebrew? The problems for this are vast. It assumes the audience knew Hebrew. It assumes a knowledge of gematria (the system of assigning numerical values to words or phrases). It assumes the audience would know to make this conversion from numbers to Greek and then to Hebrew. No other number in the scriptures uses gematria. The number 666 can be used to prove nearly any person the student desires. 666 has been used to represent the calculation of the abbreviated Greek titles of Domitian. Some have made Emperor Titus add up to 666. 666 can also add up the numerical values of the initials of the Caesar names from Julius to Vespasian. More modern interpretations have included Roman Catholic apostasy, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Adolph Hitler.
We should also observe that this may not be asking for a particular man to be identified. The Greek word that is translated “man” is anthropos which does not declare a particular gender. Anthropos can refer to any human or humanity in general. Some of the translations show this. The NRSV reads, “for it is the number of a person.” Other translations show that this verse is not asking for a particular person, but is the number of humanity.
Because it is a human number. The beast’s number is 666. (God’s Word)
For it is man’s number, and his number is 666. (NET)
For it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six. (RSV)
For it is a human number [the number of a certain man]; his number is 666. (Amplified) (cf. CEV, NCV)
These translations make more sense of the statement. The number represents a human number, the number of humanity. Notice Revelation 15:2 where we see the number of the beast again.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. (Revelation 15:2 ESV)
The saints are pictured as conquering the beast, its image, and its number. These are not three different things. The point is that everything about the beast is in view, the sum total of the events surrounding the beast. Revelation 15:2 is not saying that the Christians conquered Nero.
Revelation has been full of symbolism with its number usage. We have read many “sevens” in this book. We have seen seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven thunders. We will read about seven bowls. The number “seven” has a symbol of perfection based upon seven days of creation. The number “six” is used for incompleteness, coming up short of perfection. This symbol works with the characteristics of the false prophet who is trying to look like the Lamb, but is not. The triple use of the number 6 is used for the intensity of the incompleteness. It is repetition for emphasis and to show how intensely false this beast is.
This is the reason why John says that this image calls for wisdom and understanding. John is not calling for mathematical acumen. John is calling for Christians to be smart and not be taken in by the deception of the beast. Have wisdom and see through the deception. Have spiritual perception and recognize the imperfect, unholy nature of the beast.
The danger of false worship. The warning of the second half of Revelation 13 is to beware of false worship. Do not worship that which is not God. Do not worship other things thinking that through this you are worshiping God. I believe this is a great danger today. How often we can justify ourselves to do things that are not godly because we put it in godly words. We will pursue wealth because we should “think about all the good that could be done for God.” Amway and other get rich networking plans use this technique. You are worshiping God by making money so that you can give to the church. This is false worship as you are honoring wealth, as false god.
Some health groups teach the same thing. By having good health by either eating healthy or using holistic means, you are worshiping God because God wants you to have good health. Again, this is false worship. To worship our bodies and think that we are worshiping God through good health is an idol to a false god that must be shattered. Worshiping anything but God directly is idolatry. Do not think you can worship God through your stuff. In the golden calf incident in the wilderness, the Israelites worshiped God through the calf and God nearly killed them all for this sin. Do not worship God through wealth or health. Do not worship God through any medium. Worship God directly and worship God alone.