The Religious Nature of the Second Beast (vv. 11-17)
Christ Mocked: A Lamb that Speaks Like a Dragon (vv. 11-12)
One ferocious beast is alarming. Why would our Lord Jesus allow a second to arise? Will the church have no rest from Satan’s malice? Why must she suffer so much? We must like our Lord and Savior pass through the fires of persecution, tribulation so terrible that only the power of Jesus Christ enabling her to give a testimony unto death will save her. Recall that our Lord’s primary concern in this part of the book is the preservation of the Jewish church against the unbelieving Jewish leaders, with their center in Jerusalem and its temple. God’s people in the first century also faced a second enemy, symbolized by the beast from the sea: the Roman Empire.
But then, John sees another beast, who functions as the mouthpiece of the first, his cheerleader and propagandist. He arises from the land, which may contextually suggest the land of Israel. The imagery implies a religious authority that compels allegiance to the first beast. As an intended mockery of Christ, he is like a lamb with two horns, two centers of power or authority. He looks like a gentle lamb, but he speaks with the authority of the dragon. There are two main views of this lamb – the first, the cult of the emperor, the various social, civil, and religious institutions that united to force compliance with Rome’s supremacy and decrees. Another and likely related interpretation is that this second beast is the Jewish religious leaders. Perhaps the two horns suggest united Roman and Jewish efforts to suppress Christ’s church by forcing allegiance to the beast, the Roman Empire and its Caesars.
Support for this tragedy is abundant. One need only read of the Jewish leaders’ subservience to Rome when they condemned our Lord. Their response to Pilate’s final query is dreadful and reveals their base allegiance to Rome over Yahweh: “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Sadly, their treachery did not end at Pilate’s bench but is seen throughout the book of Acts. Local Jewish leaders in Thessalonica accused Paul before the rulers of the city of “doing contrary to the decrees of Caesar and saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Without any exaggeration, the Jewish leaders in Palestine and throughout the Roman world rejected the Lord of glory. Hating him, they were willing to bow before Caesar, the first beast. They were willing to submit to the hated yoke of the Romans in a desperate and useless attempt not “to lose their place and nation” (John 11:48).
Church Warned: False Prophet Full of Lying Wonders (vv. 13-14)
Our Lord warned of this very development in his “little apocalypse” in Matthew’s Gospel. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:11,24). There were Jews in Palestine during this period, even Flavius Josephus has been suggested, as well as the Herods, who encouraged worship of the beast, i.e., submission to Rome. Remember that worship primarily means devotion and allegiance. Verse 13 is a practical citation of Matthew 24:24, which means they are talking about the same things and the same time – first-century signs and wonders, fire from heaven, other miracles that deceive men into thinking that they must submit to the beast or perish. Such efforts were constant in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Acts records some of these lying wonders – like Simon Magus. It is not implied that these signs were real – statues with moving mouths and vocal apparatus, military machinery were Satan’s malicious efforts to deceive men into worshiping Rome, rejecting Jesus Christ, and persecuting his church.
Beastly Choice: Worship or Die (vv. 15-17)
The function of this second beast is to give life to the first – to support his authority, require allegiance, and punish dissent. In Palestine, the Jewish leaders cheered for Rome against Jesus Christ. They were also willing to kill the Christians, as Herod killed James (Acts 12:3). The economic pressure to submit to the false religion of Judaism in league with Rome resulted in the Jewish believers being expelled from the synagogues. This reduced them to poverty (John 12:42; Acts 4:34-35). Why? They would not receive the mark of the beast in their right hand or forehead. This is likely not a literal branding but symbolic of professed allegiance to Roman authority exercised through the leaders of apostate Judaism. Remember that Judaism is not the religion of the Old Testament but a perversion of it. Judaism is a false religion. It was therefore willing to make use of the Roman power to punish the Christians. Only those who would submit could buy or sell. This was also true in the Roman provinces. To do business, one had to participate in religious veneration of Caesar. The cost of discipleship for the early believers was not theoretically high. To confess that Jesus Christ was Lord, not Caesar, subjected the early believers to intense social pressure, physical attacks, economic loss, hunger, and death.
The Mark of the Beast (v. 18)
Nero Caesar Equals 666
666 is the most familiar concept in the book of Revelation. The Lord did not intend to obscure the identity of the beast but to reveal it in a manner that could be understand by believers with wisdom, i.e., an understanding of the overall context of the book of Revelation and the cultural surroundings and conflict of the first century. The number of the beast is the number of man, or 666. This riddle or gematria is solved by assigning a numerical value to the letters of the name of the man it fits. Each Greek and Hebrew letter had a numerical value attached to it, beginning with 1 for A, continuing by ones up to the tenth letter, in tens from the eleventh to the twentieth letter of the alphabet, and increasing in increments of one hundred from the twentieth to the last letter of each alphabet.
Nero’s name fits this riddle, if we adopt the Hebrew rendering, Neron Kesar. An objection to this identification is that virtually any name may be made to fit the riddle if sufficient flexibility is allowed in its spelling. This objection is beside the point. The question is not what name may be made to fit, but what name fits that suits the context of the book of Revelation. Nero suits both as none other. Given that he is the sixth emperor, who was reigning when Paul wrote (Rev. 17:10), that the beast from the sea is the Roman Empire, that Nero was the head of that empire, that his treatment of believers during his reign was infamously beastly, and that Nero was called a beast in contemporary Roman historiography, he is the best solution to the riddle. Another objection to this identification is that some knowledge of Hebrew was required to decipher the riddle, though the Asian congregations spoke Greek. This objection loses force when we remember that John has already given Hebrew renderings of words in Revelation (Rev. 9:11), thinks and writes Hebraically, and draws the vast majority of his symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures. We cannot assume that a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew was unknown to at least some of John’s readers and certainly their pastors and teachers.
The Beast Is Only a Man
There is a larger religious and philosophical point to be made by this riddle. As every Bible student knows, seven is a number of completion, not for any magical qualities but because the Lord has chosen it to reflect the fullness of his own character and works in the world. The number 666 reminds us that regardless of the divine pretensions that Nero and the Roman emperors claimed for themselves, they remained but men. They could never reach the perfection and power that is in God alone. All man can ever be is 666; he may claim to be more, but such a claim is idolatrous and self-destructive. This number also supports our Lord’s prohibition of fear. Do not be afraid of the beast. Do not be afraid of Satan or of evil men and their schemes. Do not be afraid to lose your life for Jesus Christ, for he has given us everlasting life that no beast can take away from us. The cost of discipleship is high. The cost of compromise is higher. The glory of Jesus Christ and our life together with him forever is our highest treasure, the pearl of great price for which we are willing to sell all we have, including our lives.
In the Shadow of the Two Beasts
The Religious Cheerleading for Statism Today
Today’s beast of statism is no less dangerous than in the first century. Hundreds of millions have died under its wars and militarism, totalitarianism, and globalist utopian schemes. The victims of statism are often deceived by the charade of patriotism, the promise of bread, the signs and wonders of the technocracy and easy money, and the diversion of the hedonistic entertainment circus. Statism is growing in our day under the rainbow flag of militant sodomy and transvestism – there is no such thing as transgenderism, for men cannot change their genders. They can mutilate themselves and play perverse dress-up, but they are who the Lord made them to be. But when governments that hate God encourage perversity and wink at violence against Christians who hold fast to God’s word, both beasts are in full operation – the building of the city of man and the cheerleaders that support the beast.
The second beast is found when the church supports ecumenicity without apostolic doctrine, flies the American flag as a symbol of allegiance to the state, and supports spiritualism loosed from Scripture. It is found, sadly, in those who unlike our spiritual fathers and mothers do not maintain the sovereign rights of Jesus Christ over his church and encourage us to modify our worship, government, doctrines, and morality to submit to state requirements. Each of these supports Satan’s malicious schemes – to stir up wicked men to attack the faithful people of God. They may not always be intentional, for believers are but men and sometimes get caught up in the confusion of the times. Why are these pressures increasing in our times? The claims of the King, Jesus Christ, and the claims of an absolute state will inevitably collide.
The Economic Presence of the Beast
This may be seen in the renewal of economic pressures to comply with the beast of statism. Corporations are now some of the worst examples of the second beast – supporting statism through their economic policies and enforcement of antichristian political agendas. It was recently unthinkable that Christians would need to make economic and vocational decisions based upon whether or not they would support political ideologies that are opposed to the Lord and his word. This is the place that the second beast tries the child of God. What if we lose our ability to work and provide for our daily bread? Will we trust the Lord to provide for us if we go against the beast? Must our extended family relations, place in society, and very lives be put in such jeopardy? Would not compromise be better? Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the answer to these questions. He will provide for us. We must seek his wisdom and trust his faithfulness when we live under the shadow of the beast. Our age is learning that the cost of discipleship is high. We must grow in our love for Jesus Christ and gain clearer views of his glory so that whatever cross he asks us to bear, we gladly bear it, without looking back, as Lot’s wife did.
Why Does the Christian Faith Generate Such Opposition?
Light has come into the world. Jesus Christ is the light who has come down from heaven to reveal the Father. When we come to know him by the quickening work of the Spirit within us, we become light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8) and therefore the light of the world (Matt. 5:16). Hatred for the light is the reason for Satan’s malice, schemes, and war against the Lamb. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). Unbelievers, until they are brought into the light by the sovereign grace of God working faith and repentance toward Jesus Christ, remain under Satan’s blinding delusions. They hate the light and persecute followers of the Lamb. Whatever an unbeliever’s specific area of darkness, sin resists the light. Then, the gracious light of Jesus Christ comes and drives out our darkness (2 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 2:9).
The darkness has been defeated. This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). He has been cast out of heaven, and now he may be resisted as we walk in the light and use God’s armor. Nevertheless, since the “flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17) and since Satan “still walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), we must have biblical expectations about our lives in the world. We should expect satanic attacks, tricks, slanders, misrepresentations, especially where God’s word is concerned. Our hearts are not yet perfected in holiness, and therefore we shall at times feel wretched as the battle rages in our own hearts. We should expect to feel the pinch of this conflict, to be sifted and tried, for this is the way the Lord not only purifies his church but also makes her shine as the light of the world when she holds fast to her Lord no matter what the cost of discipleship.
But where is our security in such times? In Jesus Christ our Lord. We have a great duty before us in these times – to hold fast to our Lord and his truth – speaking the truth in love, while loving our enemies and doing them good, and like our Lord refusing to revile when we are cursed (1 Pet. 2:21-23). He is our model. It is our duty and our privilege to be like our Master – not passive or refusing to defend ourselves, but also not returning evil for evil and doing good to all men. We must especially “love one another with a pure heart fervently,” for “by this all men will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35). From where does the strength come to walk as our Lord walked? What did he say? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:3-6). There is a hunger component in each of these – humility over what we have become before a holy God, mourning over our sins, desiring for the Lord to teach us and lead us in the paths of righteousness. Where do we find these? In fellowship with Jesus Christ. We must walk with our Lord, live out the union we have with him, and draw from him by faith and prayer fresh supplies of grace. He alone is our strength. And since he has overcome the beast and is light in us, we, too, can overcome and be faithful even in the midst of thickest darkness. It is not dark for us. We walk with Jesus Christ our Lord.
The surrounding darkness is more reason to walk in the light, as he is in the light (Eph. 5:8; 1 John 1:7). It is not dark for a Christian who lives in the word of God. Give yourself to abiding in Christ’s word, and his light will scatter your darkness. His glory will drive away your fear, his wisdom your confusion. Live in the light – think on things that are good, pure, and noble (Phil. 4:8). Meditate upon the glory of Jesus Christ. Know the Gospels inside and out – feast on every word our Lord spoke. Witness every healing by faith and ask him to be the powerful Savior in your life.
When we read of him raising the dead, if you are unbeliever, ask him to raise you from the dead. This is who he is and what he does. He raises the dead in sin and makes them alive in light and righteousness. If you have not bowed the knee to Jesus Christ, these beasts are your overlords, with the dragon at their head. You will suffer their fate – defeat throughout history and everlasting destruction away from the sweet presence of the Lord. Bow your heart to Jesus Christ. He was crucified and raised from the dead to give you new life. See your sinfulness before a holy God and that there is only one sacrifice that will pay for your sins and one blood that will cleanse you – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has come from heaven to make you alive and bring you into the light.
In his light, we can fight these beasts. Statism and city of man empire building is one of Satan’s frauds, an imitation of God’s true kingdom of righteousness and peace. We will see the lesser beasts in our day overthrown by the power of God and in his time. We must use the weapons he has provided to us. Remember – the dragon is behind the horns and heads of ungodly men, their blasphemies and lying wonders and proud claims. To defeat the beasts, we have to resist the devil. You can defeat men and philosophies, but more heads will come back until Satan flees away. The way to defeat evil is to resist it wherever you find it with the word of God, steadfast confession, and application of the light that is Jesus Christ. Do so with joy and confidence. We serve the Lord Christ.
Living under the shadow of the beasts in our day, we seek no earthly crown or kingdom. There has been too much of this in the church’s past – seeking heaven on earth, baptizing earthly kingdoms with Christian jargon but forgetting that the heart of God’s kingdom is not external confessions and the exchange of the beast’s livery with Christ’s. His kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). His kingdom is his power transforming men’s lives and motives in this world. If we are seeking earthly crowns and glory and peace, despair, or anger, or compromise will likely be our reward. We seek an eternal crown of glory. We seek Jesus Christ. Nothing less than him will satisfy, nothing less than his “well done,” seeing our Savior in his glory, being with him forever. He tells us to comfort one another with these words, so let us stir one another up to love and good works. We shall soon stand before his judgment seat to be crowned with glory and honor! Then, we shall be amazed that the cost of discipleship was so low. We would gladly give everything for him! Let us learn this now.