The Beast from the Earth
As if the dragon in Revelation 12 were not enough—that great fiery red dragon who makes war with the saints of God, we were introduced in the opening verses of Revelation 13 to the beast from the sea. And as if the beast from the sea in Revelation 13:1–10—that beast that makes war with the saints and overcomes them, we are now introduced in Revelation 13:11–18 to yet another beast: the beast from the earth.
John begins with a description of this terrible beast. “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth . . .”
(v. 11a). Notice the beast’s place of origin: whereas the first beast of Revelation 13 arose out of the sea, this second beast arises out of the earth. The scene is at least somewhat reminiscent of the creation of man, who was created out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). Man was formed from the dust of the earth; the second beast rises up out of the earth: thus the two are in some fashion connected with one another.
Having disclosed to us the origin of the beast, John goes on to describe his appearance: “…and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon” (v. 11b). Deception is the mark of this beast from the earth: he appears like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. Looking like a lamb, he appears gentle and mild; we even expect him to be silent (like a lamb before its shearers). And yet, he speaks! And that like a dragon! This lamb is not what he appears to be. He appears gentle, mild, harmless, but in reality he is a monster. Deception is his game. And thus we conclude that he is in league with Satan himself, who masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan deceives, and so does this beast from the earth.
In fact, this beast from the earth is later identified in the book of Revelation as a “false prophet.” Revelation 16:13, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” Revelation 19:20, “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.” Revelation 20:10, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.” This beast from the earth is a false prophet: he appears as a prophet, but his message is anything but true.
This beast from the earth is most dangerous. He appears like a lamb but is not the Christ Himself who is set before us in the book of Revelation in terms of a Lamb. He speaks like a dragon even as Satan himself is set before us in the book of Revelation in terms of a dragon. Such is the deception of this beast from the earth: he appears looking like Christ, but his speech is that of the devil. Thus this second beast, rising up out of the earth, appearing like a lamb, speaking like a dragon, is far more dangerous than the beast from the sea. At least with the beast from the sea there is nothing deceptive: what you see is what you get. But with the beast from the earth everything is deceptive: what you see is not what you get. He rises up from the earth, he looks like a lamb, and he speaks like a dragon. Such is John’s description of this beast.
John now moves on to tell us of this beast’s activity. Verse 12: “And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” The second beast serves the first beast—the beast from the earth serves the beast from the sea. His intention is to deceive the earth into worshiping the first beast. And both of these beasts, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth, are in the service of Satan.
What is being laid bare before us here is nothing less than the work of an “unholy trinity”: Satan, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth. These three are in alliance with each other. What the one is unable to do, the other does.
Think of it in this way: if Satan himself were to appear before us as he is, the sight would be truly horrifying—artists and filmmakers have attempted to depict him—but no mortal has seen the true horror of Satan as he is in himself. If Satan were to appear before us in all of his horror, saying to us, “follow me”, we would recoil in horror. Satan worshipers, with all their practice of the occult, know not the things in which they meddle. Hollywood, with all its portrayals of Satan—sometimes gruesome, more often beautiful and seductive—knows not the things in which it meddles. Satan is horrific, and the sight of him as he is would cause us to recoil in horror.
The same holds true with the first beast: were we to see him as he is, we would again recoil in horror. If the first beast were to appear before in all of his hideousness, and say to us “follow me”, we would recoil in horror.
But now consider the appearance of the second beast, who serves the first, and who ultimately serves Satan himself: he appears as a lamb. Nothing horrific here. Nothing that would cause us to recoil in horror here. Nothing that would cause us to shrink back in terror here. He looks like a lamb, a gentle, mild, meek lamb. And lest we would be turned off by his meekness, he directs us to the first beast “whose deadly wound was healed” (v. 12b): the first beast appears to have the power of resurrection. In the first beast, power; in the second beast, meekness. And so the world is deceived by the second beast to worship the first (both of them being in the service of Satan). Such is the work the “unholy trinity”—Satan, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth.
John proceeds to see more clearly still the deception of the beast from the earth, verses 13–15: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
While these things are not to be taken literally, the point is clear: this beast is deceptive. He appears to have power, even the power of an Elijah who called down fire from heaven upon the earth, even the power of God Himself, giving breath to the image of the beast. Did not God Himself give breath to His image (Genesis 2:7)? Such is the deceptive activity of this beast: he deceives by his great signs.
And many are fooled and led astray. Verses 16–17: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” No one is immune from this beast, he deceives all. He deceives the small; he deceives the great. He deceives the rich; he deceives the poor. He deceives the free; he deceives the slaves. His intent is to deceive all mankind. In this he does not tire nor relent.
He places his mark upon all those whom he has deceived. That mark is placed upon the right hand or upon the forehead of all who are brought into his service. What is this mark of the beast? All sorts of things have been suggested: some have said that the mark of the beast is the symbol of freemasonry; others have said it is the picture found on American currency, while others think it is the Euro; still others believe that the mark of the beast is the UPC symbol found on the products we buy; while others believe it has something to do with computers; the list could go on. What is the mark of the beast? William Hendriksen summarizes it well when he writes: “Receiving the mark of the beast on the forehead or the right hand indicates that the person so characterized belongs to the company of those who persecute the Church; and that—either preeminently in what he thinks, says, writes or more emphatically in what he does—this antichristian spirit becomes evident.” In other words, the beast places his mark upon those whom he has deceived, bringing the thoughts and the activities of those who have been deceived into his service.
This mark is intended, then, to cast out all of those who have not received the mark of the beast: “no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark of the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (v. 17). Here is social excommunication. If your thoughts and your actions are not controlled by the beast—serving him in what you think and in what you do—then you are cast out from his communion. Life will be made difficult for you; your livelihood will be placed in jeopardy.
Having considered the description of this beast (v. 11), as well as the activity of this beast (vv. 12–17), John turns our attention finally to the identity of this beast (v. 18): “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: his number is 666.”
We are called here to wisdom. That’s a bit ironic is it not? If there are crazy and far-fetched ideas concerning the mark of the beast, then there are even crazier and far-fetched ideas concerning the number of the beast, that enigmatic number 666. I am not even going to begin to list for you those persons who have been identified as bearing the number 666. In Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the alphabetical letters have numerical value, and thus if you take a person’s name and add up the numerical value of the letters of that person’s name you will come up with that person’s number. Many have suggested that the primary candidate here for the number 666 is Nero, that wicked Roman emperor. But such a conclusion is tenuous at best. One commentator remarked that it is possible to make virtually any name add up to 666, he writes rather cynically: “First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling.” It’s a bit cynical, but you get the point.
We are called here to wisdom, and we are called to understand. Thankfully, John tells us how to understand. The number of the beast, we are told, is the number of man. What is the number of man? His number is 6. How do we know that? We know that because man was created on the sixth day. The significance of that is the fact that man, in and of himself, always falls short of the 7th day—that glorious day of rest; that eternal day, even the Sabbath of God. If left to himself, man will never attain that day. Man’s number is 666, “failure, upon failure, upon failure!”
Who, or what, then, is the beast from the earth? It is the kingdom of man. This is what is so shocking about the passage! You read all these terrible and horrible things about the beast from the earth, about his deception, about his service of the first beast, about his deceptive signs and power—you read of all that, and you learn at the very end that this beast is none other than the kingdom of man, and all those who are enslaved to its wicked enterprise!
John’s intention here is to communicate to us that which is always operative in the world: the kingdom of man is in constant opposition to the kingdom of God and of His Christ. The kingdom of man rises up in opposition against the kingdom of God; the city of man rises up in opposition to the city of God. This beast from the earth is alive and well: the kingdom of man is being built even in our day, and it will continue to be built until Christ comes again at the last trumpet, when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
But more sobering than that is this fact: the kingdom of man is being built not only outside of the church, but also within the church. Remember that this second beast is called a “false prophet”. As a prophet, he has an inherently religious nature. Satan does not come into the church, saying to us, “Follow me”; he knows that will not work. Instead he uses the service of the second beast—he uses man himself—to deceive many. More than one church has capitulated to the temptation of worldly power. More than one church has capitulated to the temptation of worldly success. More than one church has capitulated to the temptation of worldly riches. More than one church has been engaged in building in the kingdom of man, and thus deceived themselves. You might remember that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought they were doing God a service by crucifying Christ! You might remember that the Chief Priests, the religious leaders of the day, cried out at the trial of Jesus: “We have no king but Caesar!”
To be sure, such temptations come to us today in rather subtle forms. You have heard the sentiment so popular in our day: we must become like the world to win the world. The world has its rock music, we must have ours. The world has its dance, we must have ours. The world has its entertainment, we must have ours. To win the world we must become like the world. That is the temptation that faces the church: the temptation is to gain the world, even if it means surrendering the gospel itself. To the extent the church becomes like the world, she deceives herself and is deceived into building the kingdom of man.
The point then is not for us to become highly suspect of every other person in the church, or of every other church. The point, rather, is that we consider ourselves: who are we serving: the kingdom of man or the kingdom of God? To whom do we belong, the beast that looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon or the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world? Are we marked with the mark of the beast? Or are we sealed with the Spirit of God?!
Let us keep always before us, then, not the agendas of man but the cross of Jesus Christ. Indeed, if we truly understand what John is laying bare before us here in Revelation 12 and 13 in terms of the might, power, and deception of our enemy, we dare not do anything else but keep the cross of Jesus Christ before us. For in that cross—in the weakness of human flesh—Christ has won the victory for us once and for all. Our foe, mighty as he is, is a defeated foe. And our God will soon crush him beneath our feet (Romans 16:20).
1. Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967. p. 150.
2. Cf. Hendriksen, p. 151.
3. Cf. Beale, G.K. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. p. 721.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan