Revelation 13 is one of the most baffling chapters in the whole Bible, describing two beasts (one from the sea and one from the earth) which are described in fantastical detail. The beast from the sea has seven heads and ten horns and looks like a leopard with the feet of a bear and a mouth like a lion. (Rev 13:1-2) The beast from the earth has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. (Rev 13:11) Commentators throughout the years have sought to identify these two beasts, but it is impossible to be dogmatic about individuals who might fulfil these characteristics. What is important to understand is the source of authority of these beasts and their function.
This chapter makes it plain that the beasts are under Satanic authority, and this reminds us that what God is looking for in His people is whole-hearted devotion and allegiance to Him. The beast from the sea may be seen to represent the state, which is instituted by God to rule wisely (see Romans 13:1) but which can be corrupted and perverted by Satan to bring bad law and tyrannical order. The tension between submission to the authorities and resistance to that which is contrary to God’s law is one which has dominated history. Christians are not called to bow down and worship anyone but God, and this will at times lead to conflict with those over us. The beast from the earth may be seen to represent man-made religion, where supernatural means and a persuasive message seek to divert people from their allegiance to God; again, we must be vigilant in honouring God above all others. Michael Wilcock says of these two beasts, ‘The beast from the sea is Satan’s perversion of society; the beast from the earth is his perversion of Christianity.’ (The Message of Revelation, P 124)
Whilst we may debate the identity of evil empires and their leaders and ponder the significance of the mark of the beast and his number (666) (often coming up with elaborate ideas as we do so!), it is worth pausing to reflect on the pervasive nature of ideologies and political and philosophical systems which influence us almost without our realising it. The Bible tells us that we should not be unaware of Satan’s schemes. The Message version of 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, ‘We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.‘ We must be wholehearted in our devotion to God and aware of the destructive nature of every philosophy that sets itself up as worthy of worship. Only God is worthy of our worship.