IT TURNS OUT THAT SATAN HAS two unholy beasts to assist him, one that comes out of the sea (Rev. 13:1–10), and the other out of the earth (Rev. 13:11–18). Together they constitute an unholy triumvirate that in some ways apes the Trinity.
Admittedly, many of the apocalyptic symbols in this chapter have been interpreted in mutually exclusive ways by different schools of thought. It is entirely beyond these brief meditations to defend a particular structure. In my view, however, these beasts represent recurring historical manifestations of evil—in the one case, evil in its guise as outright opposition against the people of God, and in the other, evil in its guise as religious deception. (It is not for nothing that the beast out of the earth is described later in this book as “the false prophet”: e.g., Rev. 19:20.) Satan deploys not only agents who overtly and viciously attack believers, but also agents whose mission it is to seduce and deceive, if it is possible, the very elect.
Observe one of the extraordinary elements in the description of the first beast. He has received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. This sounds incongruous: surely if the wound has been healed, it was not fatal, and if it was fatal then obviously it could not be healed. But this symbolism is meant to describe the repeated historical manifestations of this monster. He emerges in a Nero, in the Roman Emperor, in Innocent III, in a Hitler. In every case, the monster is cut down. Many people think that evil in its worst form has finally been destroyed. The thousand-year Reich lasts a decade and a half: surely this was the war to end all wars. Then the genocide starts again—in the Eastern block, in China, in Cambodia, in Rwanda. The beast receives a fatal wound, but always the beast comes back to life.
Note some of the symbols used to describe the false prophet. He looks like a lamb, but he speaks like a dragon (Rev. 13:11): this probably does not mean that he roars like a dragon and scares everyone off, but that he appears innocent, even though his speech is the speech of the dragon—the “great dragon” of Revelation 12:9, none other than Satan himself. This “lamb” turns out to be Satan’s mouthpiece. He performs miraculous signs and thereby deceives the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 13:14). There is no suggestion that the signs are mere tricks; miraculous power does not necessarily attest divine power. Ultimately he uses the authority he derives from the first beast to constitute an exclusive identity for his own followers, excluding all others with severe economic sanctions (Rev. 13:16–17). Even little historical knowledge can remember manifestations of such deceitful coercion.