Rev. 13:10 -17
11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 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. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 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. 15 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. 16 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, 17 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. 18 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.[i]
Some stories in the Bible are so well-known that people who have never been to Sunday school or Hebrew School have still heard of them. Daniel 3 is one such story. It recounts how King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commissioned a 90-foot high, nine-foot wide golden statue to be worshipped by the entire nation. Those who refused were to be thrown into a furnace.
Daniel 3:2 reads:
He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. [ii]
This a description of Revelation 13’s sea beast: King, princes, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials. These are the sea beast, the ruling, idol-worshipping earth-dwellers under the power of the devil, the great red dragon opposed to Messiah and his Kingdom. Revelation 13 gives us a picture of the unholy trinity of the devil and his two beasts as the rulers of this present evil age into which Messiah’s Kingdom is breaking. The sea beast is the compilation of all the political powers of the earth. It demands worship for itself and its father, the devil.
The earth beast also plays a scene in Daniel 3. The job of the earth beast is to direct worship to the sea beast and its father, the devil. It is the cheap imitation of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s job is to glorify the Father by pointing to the Son. The earth beast makes its appearance in Daniel 3:8-12:
8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. “… there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” [iii]
You may recall Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego made it out of the furnace alive through God’s intervention; but they were sent there by the witness of the earth beast, represented by some astrologers. The message of Revelation is that most of us must and shall suffer at the hands of the dragon and his beasts because the cross comes before the crown. But, our miraculous intervention comes by our being sealed into Christ. We have citizenship in the New Jerusalem that neither the devil nor his beasts can destroy.
The sea beast represents human government working against Messiah and his people. He is joined by a second beast John sees, “rising out of the earth” (13:11). The sea beast, to John’s readers, represented Rome arriving in Asia from the sea. The earth beast represented the local forces collaborating with Rome by using lies and coercion. Revelation 16:3 identifies the earth beast as “the false prophet.” The sea beast is Satan’s earthly political, economic and social power. The earth beast is Satan’s Ministry of Propaganda, priests fostering worship of worldly systems and idols.[iv] “As Christ received authority from the Father (Matt 11:27), so Antichrist receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:4); and as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14), so the false prophet glorifies the Antichrist (Rev 13:12).”[v]
The earth beast is every person, every entity, every idea or doctrine that promotes the religion of self and the comfortable kingdom of me. It loves governments that promise me lots of stuff with little effort. It also loves governments that promise me the right to succeed in accumulating lots of stuff and self-glory through self-effort. It preaches god, guns, and beer. It preaches crunchy granola and free love. It preaches Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Individualism and Collectivism. It preaches moralism and amoralism.
It promotes the core belief that man is born morally neutral and is corrupted by an imperfect-but-perfectible socioeconomic environment. Eat this forbidden fruit. Become your own god. Make your environment better. Make yourself better. Acquire the stuff you need, create the circumstances you need to feel happy and fulfilled.
The earth beast loves and promotes everything and anything offering personal happiness, self-fulfillment, and freedom from suffering. But, most of all, it promotes everything that represents freedom from the rule of Messiah Jesus. It promotes worship of the material, idolizing this passing world John has warned believers NOT to love. The earth beast is every human philosophy, every theology, every “ism” – good or bad – that draws earth-dwellers away from God in Christ Jesus and curves them further inward upon themselves.
Because the prophecies of the earth beast appeal to our flesh, our Old Adam, they appear as sweet and harmless as a lamb. “It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (11b).[vi] The earth beast is a parody of the meekness of Jesus as the Lamb of God. It is also a picture of Messiah Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.[vii]
The powers (horns) of the earth beast come from the devil in the sense that he harnesses them for his use. But, the power also comes from our own flesh – our corrupt desires to be free of God’s rule and to seek our own perverted ideas of good. The earth beast spoke like a dragon because it questions God’s holy law and tempts us further into our own false sovereignty. The sea beast and its false prophet the earth beast are tools of the devil. But Satan did not create them. He is a creature, not The Creator. My sins, your sins, and the sins of our neighbors create the governments, societies, economies, and philosophies the two beasts represent.
John’s readers would have known the earth beast in the form of local elites of the cities and provinces who copied Rome’s culture and curried Rome’s favor by insisting that everyone under their authority should worship the emperor and the Roman demon gods. It was not always the emperor who demanded worship, but the local leaders who erected statues and temples to compete with other cities for the favor of imperial Rome. That’s why persecution varied in its severity across Roman Asia; it was dependent upon the local authorities.[viii]
We know the earth beast in our day as any and every philosophy, personal ideology, and sociopolitical theory promising the fig leaves of personal fulfillment apart from Christ and his benefits. If it feels right pursue it; If it works, do it; if it offends you, sue it. “… the second beast is …the ideology—whether religious, philosophical, or political—which ‘gives breath to’ any human social structure organized independently of God.”[ix] That is why John closes this section by saying, “This calls for wisdom….”
MIRACLE WORKER AND PERSECUTOR
John writes in verses 13 and 14, “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 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.”[x]
The false prophet is a parody of Moses and Elijah and God’s two fire-breathing prophets of Rev. 11:4-11. In Rev. 11, God’s witnesses breathed the fire of God’s law and gospel. In Revelation 13:11-15, the false prophet testifies to a false gospel of self-salvation through idolatry. The earth-dwellers are seduced by the prophetic ideologies so that they worship earthly power, authority, wealth, false religions and any other demonically-driven idol that is not Jesus.[xi]
In our modern world, no cheap magic tricks or ventriloquism will fool earth-dwellers into following the demon gods of Rome. Today, in developed countries, we have the advancements of science and technology to woo us into the false gospel of human knowledge and achievements. Science and engineering are gods to us in the same way Rome brought advanced public engineering (roadways, bridges, indoor plumbing), public safety, and medical knowledge to its outer provinces. Earth-dwellers are left with no explanation for school shootings, much less the soul-crushing bondage of sin because they give themselves entirely over to the earth beast’s deception.[xii]
Not only does the earth beast deceive through its false prophecy, it also wields the sea beast’s and the devil’s authority to persecute God’s people. It persuades earth-dwellers to slay the citizens of heaven (13:15) for their refusal to worship false gods. In John’s day, this was reflected in Christian’s refusal to offer sacrifices to Emperor Domitian and the Roman pantheon. In our day it’s reflected in being snubbed by society in developed Western cultures. But in developing countries, it’s still reflected in actual torture and killing for failure to acknowledge Allah and his prophet.
The earth beast compels the earth-dwellers to be baptized into its worldly system so that they bear the mark of their true god, the devil. His mark is the cheap imitation of the 144,000 holy warriors sealed with Christ’s true mark of baptism (Rev. 7:4-8). This pseudo-baptism of the earth-dwellers is Satan’s sacrament. It is the same self-worship the serpent encouraged in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve at a sacramental meal of forbidden fruit with him to reflect their choice to follow their own hearts and pursue their own happiness.
In John’s day, slaves, soldiers, and loyal devotees of religious cults were tattooed as a sign of being owned by slave-holders, the Roman state, or a particular demon god. In our day, the mark of the earth beast is not computer bar codes or chips implanted under your skin. The beast’s mark is evident in the same way Christ’s baptism is evident upon his followers. Who we worship determines whose mark we bear. If you worship yourself as the god who determines what is best for you, you bear the devil’s mark. If you worship God through Messiah Jesus as the overcomer of the world, the flesh, and the devil, then you are sealed with God’s mark.
Deuteronomy 6:8 says:
You shall bind [God’s commands] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.[xiii]
In order to show devotion, diligent Jews would tie little boxes containing some portion of God’s law upon their heads and around their arms. But God’s point is that he wants his people to think and act according to his Law and Gospel. In the same way, the devil and his beasts want people to follow the law of self-worship and felt needs.[xiv] Who you worship determines whose mark you bear.
THE “MAGIC” NUMBER
The mark of the beast is a choice between self and Christ. In John’s day, believers in Pergamum could not join trade guilds without accepting and participating in idolatry. They could not hold jobs or sell their products and services. In some cases, they could not buy food in the marketplace (assuming they had funds to do so) unless they worshiped Rome’s demon gods and emperors. The choice for believers of Roman Asia was not a subtle one. But where discrimination against God’s people is not a life and death matter, discerning the mark of the beast calls for even greater wisdom.
Many students believe the number 666 is a coded message where a specific person’s name spelled out in Greek equals the number 666. Some have argued 666 stood for the Roman Emperor Nero – if Nero Caesar is first spelled in Greek, then transliterated into Hebrew, and then slightly misspelled before assigning a number value.[xv] If Revelation was written at the end of the 1st century (as most credible students believe), Nero would have been dead for at least 20 years.
Using this letter-for-number system, people have argued that former US president Ronald Reagan, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Charles, Prince of Wales, George W. Bush, and Barney the purple dinosaur are the 666 Antichrist. William Tapley, self-proclaimed “Third Eagle of the Apocalypse and Co-prophet of the End Times,” claims John McCain is “prefiguring the Antichrist” with his brain cancer being a “fake” head wound (which has nothing to do with gematria, but I just couldn’t resist mentioning it).[xvi] As long as we’re naming names, my own personal study indicates 666 to be either Kanye West or the Kardashian sisters (or some evil combination thereof). After all, Kanye did have head troubles with his 2016 breakdown and hospitalization. And, he as “risen” with the coming release of his new album (Love Everyone, June 1, 2018).
Naming names notwithstanding, the best approach to unpacking 666 is to consider the symbolism of the number six. We have seen the number seven in Revelation (1:11-12, 20; 3:1) as the number of completion and perfection. Six falls short of God’s number of perfection. It is incomplete, imperfect like fallen mankind. Therefore, John calls it, “the number of a man.” The Greek text literally reads, “number for man” (no definite article is present). In scripture, the repetition of something three times is done for emphasis and, often, represents completeness – as in the Holy Trinity, as opposed to the unholy trinity of the devil, the sea beast, and the earth beast. “…six repeated three times indicates the completeness of sinful incompleteness found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection. Three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens. That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ, and the prophetic Spirit of truth (cf. 19:10) he falls short of succeeding.”[xvii]
To be identified with a person’s name is to take part in their character. If you lived in a town like Pergamum, or in ancient Babylonia in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, it would be very easy to discern the beasts. But if you lived in wealthy Laodicea discerning the beast’s character called for much wisdom. The Laodicean church was engrossed in pursuing their own idols of self-generated happiness. They were SO good at it, they saw themselves as needing nothing. They were perfectly satisfied with all their city had to offer them. They were so satisfied, they excluded Messiah Jesus from their worship. So, Jesus said to them:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [xviii]
[iv] Phillips, 376.
[v] Mounce, 255.
[viii] Phillips, 377.
[ix] Mounce, 256.
[xi] Beale, 709.
[xii] Phillips, 379.
[xiv] Phillips, 380.
[xv] Beale, 719–720.
[xvii] Beale, 722.