Teaching series from Revelation

The Beast

Revelation 13:1-18

Teaching t23018


For the last couple of weeks, we have been studying this longest section of Revelation (6-16) which describes the end of the age—what Jesus called the Great Tribulation—the period of unparalleled evil and suffering that he will interrupt through his Second Coming (read Matt.24:21,22). Last week, we studied the vision of chapter 12, which revealed the Dragon (Satan), the spiritual being who is ultimately responsible for the Great Tribulation. This morning we will study the vision of chapter 13, which reveals the key human instrument of Satan during this time—the beast.

Rev. 13 is one of many biblical passages that speak of this person by different names (“the little horn” in Dan.7:8,24,25; “the prince/ruler who is to come” in Dan.9:26; “the king” in Dan.11:36-45; the one wrongly hailed as “the Christ” in Matt.24:23; “the man of lawlessness” in 2Thess.2:3; “Antichrist” in 1Jn. 2:18). Let’s read the three scenes of this vision to distill the main characteristics of this person, and draw upon other biblical passages to explain these characteristics.

Who is the Beast?

Read 13:1-5. Here John describes the emergence of the beast.

He will be called forth and energized by Satan. 13:1 describes the Dragon (evidently) calling the beast up out of the sea, and 13:2b,4a specifically states that the Dragon bestows upon him his power and authority. The demonic power that energized evil rulers like Adolf Hitler will be nothing compared to this person, who will be essentially Satan-incarnate (counterfeit to Jesus, who was God-incarnate).

He will emerge from & be identified with a geo-political empire. 13:1,2 are an elaboration of the vision given to the Old Testament prophet Daniel in Dan.7.

Daniel saw a vision of four beasts coming out of the sea, and was told that these four beasts represent four human empires that would emerge in the future. The first was a lion, which represented the Babylonian empire. The second was a bear, which represented the Media-Persian empire. The third was like a leopard, which represented the Greek empire. The fourth was a terrible composite of the first three, which represented the Roman empire. Daniel was told that this empire would have two phases—the first would follow immediately after the Greek empire, and the second would emerge immediately prior to what we call the Second Coming of Christ. The antichrist (“little horn”) would rise up in this empire, take it over, and do his evil work. NOTE: The vast majority of this prediction has already been perfectly fulfilled, so we can reasonably expect the rest of it to be fulfilled.

John’s vision describes this same person. The beast is both the empire and the person who rules and personifies it (as Hitler did with Nazi Germany).

He will probably miraculously recover from a fatal wound (13:3). This may refer to the surprising re-emergence of this geo-political empire. But more likely it is a physical healing (13:12), a satanic counterfeit to Jesus’ resurrection (5:6), which amazes most of the world and persuades them to follow and worship him.

He will gain world-wide dominion for a short time (13:3b-5). Satan’s counterfeit Messiah will rule his counterfeit global kingdom. He will succeed in what earlier dictators have tried but failed to do, and he will do it by amassing great military power (13:4). Dan. 11:38,39 (read) says that he will pour vast financial resources in to military weaponry. He will skillfully and ruthlessly use this military power to intimidate many of his rivals into submission, while he will use it to annihilate others (resulting in the devastations of nature described in many of the seal and trumpet judgments). The duration of his world-wide rule is consistently described as 3.5 literal years (Dan.7:25; 9:27; Rev.11:2; 12:6), after which God will dismantle his kingdom for 3.5 more years before terminating him.

Read 13:5-10. Here John describes the religious goals of the beast.

He will blaspheme the God of the Bible (13:5a,6). This doesn’t mean that he will curse a lot; it means that he will usurp God’s rightful role as the One to whom people owe ultimate allegiance. This blasphemy will reach its peak when he displays himself (or an image of himself – see 13:15) as God and demands people’s worship (read 2Thess.2:3,4). The Bible refers to this event as the “abomination of desolation” (Dan.9:27; Matt.24:15) because it takes place in the (yet-to-be-rebuilt) Temple in Jerusalem (parallel to the blasphemy of Antiochus IV in 167 BC).

He will deceive non-Christians into worshipping him (13:8). More on how he will do this in the next scene.

He will persecute those who follow Jesus (13:7,10,11). Overt persecution of Christians, which has been common throughout the Church Age, will reach its peak under his reign. They will be vilified as traitors because they refuse to give their ultimate allegiance to any other person or state. He will kill many thousands of Christians—but God will preserve many (12:15,16) and work through the martyrs to bring many to Christ (6:11).

Read 13:11-18. Here John describes the ally of the beast. He is described here as a second beast who is in league with the first beast. In Rev.19:20 he is called “the false prophet.” This term, along with 13:11’s description of him as a “lamb,” suggests that he is a religious leader (perhaps even posing as a Christian religious leader) who:

  • validates the first beast by performing miracles in his presence (13:13,14). Paul describes these miracles as “in accordance with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2Thess.2:9). This is one of many biblical passages that warns us not to follow someone just because they can perform miracles. The real test is what they say about Jesus (1Jn.4:1-3).
  • animates an image of the first beast to speak and kill those who refuse to worship him (13:14,15). This image is probably set up in the Temple; it probably is “the Abomination of Desolation.”
  • cuts off people’s commercial freedom unless they swear allegiance to the first beast (13:16-18). More on this in a few minutes. What is the meaning of “666?” I don’t know; it will evidently become more clear at the time. Maybe it is ironic—referring to the beast’s failed attempt to deify himself.

The most important thing about the beast is not mentioned in this passage. But the Bible is clear that he will be completely defeated by Jesus Christ when He returns. Daniel says that he will be annihilated forever (Dan.7:26,27). Paul says that Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth (i.e., the authority of His word) when He appears (2Thess.2:8). John likewise sees a vision where Jesus slays him with the sword of His mouth (19:15,21). We will learn more about this event in a few weeks. But let’s spend our remaining time considering the personal relevance of this information...

So what?

I observe three common-but-wrong reactions to this prediction. Let’s consider these reactions, and consider how the Bible says we should react instead.

The first wrong reaction is unfounded skepticism (“This could never happen”)—which is the way I reacted initially. But there are several reasons why this scenario is very plausible.

First, lust for world domination is historically common. Empire after empire has sought to attain this goal ever since ancient Babylon, right up to our era (NAZIS; SOVIETS). The reason why no one has ever ruled the whole world is not because people don’t aspire to this, but because they haven’t had the means to do so...

Furthermore, key pieces of this scenario are now in place for the first time.

As we saw a few weeks ago, the Bible describes the beast’s military devastation of nature and people that is so horrible that Jesus intervenes to prevent us from completely annihilating ourselves. Only in the last 70 years has this become a possibility (WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION)—and now it is a threat that concerns every country.

As we saw today, the Bible describes the beast’s power to control every individual’s economic activity. Only in the last few decades has the technology been developed to make this scenario possible (CASHLESS COMMERCE; CREDIT/DEBIT CHIPS). It is not the technology itself that is evil; it is the misuse of it that is evil.

As we saw today, the Bible describes the beast’s blasphemy in Israel’s temple in Jerusalem. This implies what dozens of other passages explicitly state—that Israel would be re-constituted as a state before the end of the age. This astounding restoration occurred in 1948, and Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967. This is just one of 100’s of events predicted by the Bible that have been fulfilled. And since its track-record is so accurate, we can reasonably believe that the rest of what it predicts will also be fulfilled. If you’re interested in studying the accuracy of biblical prophecy, check out Christianity: Discovering God.

So yes, these events could happen. And, in fact, they could happen in our lifetimes.

The second wrong reaction is the opposite of the first reaction. This reaction believes that these events will take place—but gets obsessed with foolish speculation. Many Christians get obsessed with foolish speculation—about who might be the beast (e.g., POPES; HITLER; JFK; GORBACHEV; etc.), what “666” means (and numerology with beast-candidate names), what the mark of the beast is (EXAMPLES), the date of Jesus’ return (EXAMPLES). This reaction tarnishes Jesus’/the Bible’s reputation (and fuels the first reaction) when these foolish speculations are exposed. Sadly, this kind of pseudo-spiritual speculation is appealing to many western Christians.

Christians were also indulging in this kind of speculation in Paul’s day. Someone told the Thessalonian Christians that the Great Tribulation had come. But notice Paul’s response (read 2 Thess. 2:3,4). There is no need to speculate about when the beast will emerge; we will know when he is here because the Abomination of Desolation will be unmistakable to Christians (see also Matt.24:15ff.). This may happen in our lifetimes, or it may not. Until then, we should reject foolish speculation and get on with our main task—to reach out to a lost humanity with the gospel (refer to Matt.24:4,6,14).

The third wrong reaction is to believe these events will take place—and to controlled by unhealthy fear. Many Christians react this way—refusing to use credit cards, hoarding their money, joining survivalist groups, preparing for the apocalypse, etc.

The essence of this reaction is a lie—that the world is out of control (even God’s control) so I have to selfishly protect myself. Ironically, such people commonly cite the book of Revelation as the justification for their behavior. But the whole point of Revelation is that (as one Revelation commentary is entitled) “the Lamb wins!” Demonic evil will not be allowed to have the last word; Jesus will have the last word! Human history is not out of control; human history is headed for the feet of Jesus! The followers of Jesus are not abandoned orphans; they are eternally secure children! So we do not have to live in self-protective fear; we can with realism about the evil in this world, yet with deep hope and peace (read Jn.16:33)!

GOSPEL: The first step toward this realism with hope and peace is to establish a personal relationship with Jesus (EXPLAIN HOW). Have you done this? If not, why not do so today?

In Dan.9’s “70 Weeks” prediction, the “weeks” refer to 7 literal year periods. The Messiah came 476 literal years after the issuing of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Therefore, the final “week” must be a 7 literal year period.