It is at this time of the year that we talk about “Santa’s little helpers”. Well, in this next chapter, we read about Satan’s little helpers!
Out of the sea thunders a beast of indescribable horror and viciousness. Ten horns, seven heads, ten crowns with a body represented by leopard, bear, and lion. It is such a powerful beast that the nations of the world worship it. Behind the scenes, as they worship the beast from the sea, they are also worshipping the dragon! This beast blasphemes God and wages war against God’s people for 42 months – the gospel age – and to enslave the rest of the people on earth. The only defence against such slavery is to have your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life – i.e., to be born again and submitted to Jesus.
What is this beast? Remember the parallel passage in Daniel 7, a dream where four beasts come out of the sea, first a lion, then a bear, then a leopard, then a terrifying one with lots of teeth. The interpretation of this dream was that each beast represents an empire that will oppress God’s people, and that eventually, the Lord himself will defeat these empires and will establish his own kingdom for us, his saints.
In Revelation 13, the Beast from the Sea has a composite of bear, lion, leopard, and other images. Consistency of interpretation should mean that this beast also represents human empires that fight against God’s people using political and military power to oppose the true faith. It further symbolises the persecuting power of world empires and ungodly nations – tools in the hands of Satan to oppose and attempt to destroy the church. In prophetic imagery, the ‘sea’ represents the ungodly nations and their governments – e.g., Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 57:20; Jeremiah 6:23; Revelation 17:15). So much so that the final grand entrance of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21 states that “…there was no longer any sea”.
Unsurprisingly, then, the Beast from the Sea has in reality emerged as a succession of evil empires that have persecuted God’s people through church history. Perhaps beginning with Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome, for example? The particular empire might change, but it is still an instrument in Satan’s hands to terrorise and destroy the church. In Roman times, actual worship was demanded by the later emperors, who often tortured and killed those Christians who refused to bow down to them.
And then there was the Beast out of the Earth. What is this? By outward appearances, this beast was much gentler, more ‘lamb-like’. Yet it still spoke with the dragon’s voice and assisted the larger sea-beast. It is also a great ‘performer’, doing some amazing (but false) miracles to deceive the peoples of the earth. It eventually showed its true colours when it began to kill those who would not worship the first beast. It also forced all who wanted to trade to have some kind of mark on their foreheads, with the ‘number of the beast’ – 666.
This second beast is also called the ‘False Prophet’ later on in chapter 19 v 20. It probably symbolises false religion and false philosophy and entices people to follow the dragon by more subtle means than the other beast. Whilst the first beast uses force, the second one uses deceit. Antichristian governments and antichristian religions work hand in hand to attempt to bring down God’s church. Jesus referred to them in Matthew 24:24.
The mark of the beast has always been a bit of a mystery. Many contemporary explanations have been given, but they all fall flat on the basis that they are too contemporary. What is highly topical in one generation is almost meaningless in another. So this ‘mark’ must be of more universal symbolism. It seems to relate to being ‘branded’ – like cattle – to signify some kind of ownership. Perhaps Revelation 14:9 throws some light upon it: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath”. Simply worshiping false gods and bowing down to earthly emperors is sufficient to be ‘marked’ as belonging to that beast!
As for 666, many commentators think that it might refer to a specific individual. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet each had a numeric value too, so it would not be difficult to find a name with letter/numbers totalling 666. But perhaps the fact that it is called “man’s number” indicates something more fundamental. In scripture, seven is the number of perfection, completeness and victory. Six falls just short of that. So a number like 666 indicates a consistent failure to attain perfection at every level. If our faith is only of human origin, it is imperfect and ineffective, false, and bringing failure. All mankind’s attempts to reach God by his own efforts are doomed to fail.