Symbolism of the Second Beast of Revelation
"Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth"
Previously, we discussed The Characteristics of the Two Beasts of Revelation and the Symbolism of the First Beast.
Now, we analyze the symbolism of the second beast of Revelation 13.
Rises out of the earth
The first beast, symbolic of Leviathan, rises out of the sea, and the second beast, symbolic of Behemoth, rises out of the earth.
Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. … Can one take him with hooks, or pierce his nose with a snare? (Job 40:15-18, 24)
Behemoth may be a hippo or an elephant or possibly even a mythical beast, but the point the author of Job makes is, as mighty and powerful as Behemoth is, he is still nothing to God who made him. The author invites us to consider: How much more mighty and powerful is God, the Creator of the mighty and powerful Behemoth? Revelation’s author gives us a similar message: Both Leviathan and Behemoth, as powerful and terrifying as they may be, are subject to their Creator. Still, the beasts have authority over the entire earth, land and sea, for a limited period of time.
Has two horns like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon
Though the second beast appears as harmless as a lamb, it is nevertheless an agent of Satan, like the first beast, who speaks the words of Satan. This beast is a mockery of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and is a religious symbol (while the first beast is a political symbol) later identified as the “false prophet” (Rev 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).
Exercises all authority of the first beast; makes all people worship the first beast; and deceives them with great signs
The second beast represents the priests of the Roman imperial cult who encourage the people to worship the emperor (to practice idolatry). Like the first beast, the second beast has the authority of the dragon, Satan, and is an agent of Satan. Calling down fire from heaven calls to mind God’s prophet, Elijah (1 Kgs 18:38; 2 Kgs 1:10), but the second beast’s power is only a false copy of God’s power.1
Requires the people to make images of the first beast; gives breath to the images so that they speak; and causes those who do not worship the image of the first beast to be slain
Images of the emperor would be in the form of statutes to which divine honors were given. The priests giving “breath” to the images is a reference to ancient magic, the practice of animating images.2 This is a mockery of God breathing life into man’s nostrils in Genesis (Gn 2:7), the wind of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:2) and Jesus breathing on the disciples in the upper room after the Resurrection (Jn 20:22). The second beast does not kill those who resist idol worship, but “causes” dissenters to be executed by the first beast, i.e., it participates in the state’s crimes.
Causes all to be marked on the right hand or the forehead so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark which is the name of the first beast or the number of its name which is 666
The mark belongs to the first beast, the Roman state. It is a mockery of the Lamb’s seal (Rev 7:3, 14:1). The number, 666, appears to be the numeric value of the Hebrew letters of Nero Caesar’s name (and we are told the number belongs to a man).
The Greek word used for “mark” is χάραγμα (charagma) which literally means a stamp or imprinted mark, which could include an imprint found on coins, but the mark described by the author is not necessarily a literal brand or tattoo (note, ancient slaves were branded and tattooed).
Like the religious cult’s participation in the state’s murder of dissenters, the cult also “causes” the people to be marked. The second beast is apparently a willing participant in the Satanic system, encouraging and even benefitting from it. Those who do not bear the mark, i.e., worship idols, face economic discrimination.3
The second beast of Revelation was the Roman imperial religious cult. Though they did not carry out executions themselves, they were willing participants in the Satanic system and collaborators in the murder and economic persecution of Christians. They encouraged idolatry, marked the people to segregate them, deceived the people with magic, and used lies and trickery to incite violence against Christians. The second beast is an agent of Satan and serves the totalitarian state. It is a dragon dressed as a lamb. However, like Leviathan, Behemoth’s time is limited by God.
John of Patmos, wrote about the Roman imperial cult, but like all other books of the Bible, Revelation is applicable to all people and all times. Even now.
Are people or groups taking on the role of “false prophet” today in service to the state?
Aguilar Chiu, Jose Enrique, Richard J. Clifford, Carol J. Dempsey, Eileen M. Schuller, Thomas D. Stegman, Ronald D. Witherup, eds. The Paulist Biblical Commentary. New York: Paulist Press, 2018.
Attridge, Harold W. ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible, Including Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Clabeaux, John J. “Revelation.” In Aquilar Chiu, The Paulist Biblical Commentary, 1571-1611.
Harrelson, Walter J., ed. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Harrington, Daniel J., ed. Sacra Pagina: Revelation. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993.
Powell, Mark Allan, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
Youngblood, Ronald F., ed. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
Statutes were made to appear to speak using tricks like ventriloquism, and could be used to incite and justify violence against Christians who refused to comply.
I’ll elaborate on this in a future post.