Who is the “beast” mentioned in Revelation? What are the different theological views of the beast?
Essentials and Nonessentials
All Christians cannot possibly agree on every single belief they hold in regard to the Bible. We may have different views on things like tongues, the rapture, the tribulation, healing, miracles, and certainly biblical prophecy. Some believe one thing about the false prophet and the beast while others may think something totally different. That’s okay. We can agree to disagree on things that are not essential to salvation, but we don’t have to be disagreeable. No one will go to hell if they don’t understand all prophecies. None are going to be condemned if they end up being wrong about the rapture. What we must get right is what God teaches on essentials: We are saved by grace through faith alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9); Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 6:44, Acts 4:12); and we must repent and believe in order to be saved and make that profession public (Romans 10:9-13). Other essentials are that Jesus is God; He came into the world and was born in the flesh through a virgin; He never sinned; and He died for our sins. These are all non-negotiable. They are essential to our being saved; prophecy is not. That’s our starting point. Where we don’t have perfect understanding about the beast and other things in the Book of Revelation, let us be willing to show grace to those who disagree with us.
Beasts in Scripture
The beast is mentioned several times in Scripture. However, primarily and for our purposes, we look in the Book of Revelation, which contains the highest number of references to the word “beast” than any other book in the Bible. Elsewhere in Scripture the word “beast” is simply referring to animals (Numbers 3:13, Mark 1:13) or humans with animalistic behaviors (Titus 1:12, Jude 1:10). When we read the word “beast” in most of the Bible, it’s not about a specific person; it’s referring to animals or humans (due to their behaviors). The Book of Revelation is unique in the sense that when the beast is mentioned, it’s referring to someone who’s much more dangerous than any man or animal. It’s the only book in the Bible that refers to “a” beast in a very specific way. It is sometimes a world power, and sometimes it is an animal; but our focus is on a specific, evil being.
The Beasts of Revelation
The word “beast” is mentioned 32 times in the Book of Revelation. Apparently, he has great authority, as he “causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead” (Revelation 13:16) in order that “no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:17). Tragically, whoever receives this mark, in whatever form it comes, “will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:10-11). Whoever the beast is, it’s better to be martyred than to worship him.
An Unholy Trinity?
There seems to be a very unholy trinity, which John sees in Revelation 16:13 where he writes, “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.” We know from this that the beast is not Satan (the dragon) and is not the false prophet, at least here because there are three mentioned: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. This means the beast is someone different. Some believe the beast is a financial system where if you don’t cooperate and receive the number or mark, you can’t eat (and probably can’t work, buy, or sell either). The Old Testament often referred to someone having a mark when referring to obedience to God. God said to Israel in Exodus 13:16 that “it shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” He was referring to the Passover because whoever didn’t observe the Passover and didn’t have the shed blood of a lamb on the door posts, their firstborn would die (Exodus 13). This meant that observance of the Passover would be a mark of God’s people, and it still is among some orthodox Jews. Is this the same “mark” that is to be received from the beast so that he can be worshipped (Revelation 15:15)? There is more than one beast mentioned. There is the first beast (Revelation 13:1-10), which is a world power that will dominate, if not rule, the world. Then there’s a second beast (Revelation 13:11-18), who is “allowed to exercise authority” (Revelation 13:5), which may also be a part of financially controlling the world.
The Beast’s Counterfeit of Christ
John writes about what seems to be a counterfeit Christ in Revelation 14:12-13 where it says, “He (the beast) exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people.” The second beast in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 13:11-19) looks very much like a counterfeit Christ because the beast has two horns. Notice there is one horn like a lamb (imitating Christ?) and one horn like a dragon, which is just another name for Satan. In the Bible, horns represent power or authority and are often associated with a nation. Just like Christ performed miracles, the beast performs miracles. Just like Christ has all authority over the nations, the beast will have all authority over the world, even though it’s for a short time. The beast even seeks worship, just as Christ receives today.
Can I identify who the beast is today? No. I know this must be a bit confusing. I had to really do a lot of Bible searching to try and make sense of it. I don’t want you to be overly concerned if you don’t understand it all because even the Apostle Paul said, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). We show this love by seeking the lost so they might be saved. God can use any one of us, no matter who we are, as a means to reach someone for Christ. Thankfully, the main things (John 3:16) are the plain things (Acts 4:12). We don’t have to understand all prophecy, but we should understand the Great Commission given to me and every one of you reading this (Matthew 28:19-20).
May God richly bless you,
Pastor Jack Wellman
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