Overview (Rev. 12:17)
Revelation 12 describes the conflict between the dragon (Satan) and the followers of Jesus from the time of Christ until the end of the 1,260 years. In the final verse of this chapter, we find the dragon “enraged” (NKJV) with the woman and preparing to strike back against the followers of Jesus. Revelation 13 broadly outlines the sweep of this final attack.
Revelation 13 also marks a significant change in Satan’s strategy. Up to this point, Satan’s primary tactic has been coercion. “One might observe that the word ‘deceive’ does not occur at all in the historical section of Revelation (Revelation 4–11). But it is used regularly in the eschatological section (12– 20) to describe Satan’s end-time activities in preparing for the final crisis.”1 What Satan could not win through brute force he now seeks to win through duplicity. He does so by enlisting the service of two great beast powers; together, they form a powerful three-part alliance—a sort of false trinity—to try to stamp out the people of God once and for all. We will now look at each of these three powers individually.
Both of these beasts are powerful figures, but they are simply used by the dragon as tools in his deception.
The Dragon (Rev. 12:3, 4, 7–9; 13:2, 4)
The dragon is explicitly identified as Satan, and he originated in heaven (Rev. 12:7–9). However, we see elsewhere in Revelation 12 that the dragon also works through human powers; for example, he tried to destroy the baby Jesus (verse 4) using the pagan Roman Empire (cf. Matt. 2:13, 16). What does the dragon want? Worship is one of the key themes in Revelation, and we see in Revelation 13:4 that the dragon’s plan includes getting the world to worship him.
However, to get this worship Satan must employ trickery. Few would worship Satan knowingly or voluntarily. Thus, Satan gives his power, throne, and authority to an agent, the sea beast, who receives worship on Satan’s behalf (Rev. 13:2, 4). In order to ensure that the world worships this sea beast (and therefore himself), Satan also uses a second power, the land beast (verses 11, 12). Both of these beasts are powerful figures, but they are simply used by the dragon as tools in his deception. Although the dragon disappears into the shadows and is rarely seen out in the open, in Revelation 13 he is still the mastermind working behind the scenes through these two powers.
The Sea Beast (Rev. 13:1–10)
The second power of Satan’s false trinity is the sea beast. The sea beast receives its power, throne, and authority from the dragon; and it even resembles the dragon (Rev. 12:3; 13:1). Just as children’s applause for a puppet performance is really applause for the puppet master, so the worship of the sea beast is really worship of the dragon.
The actions of the sea beast include blasphemy against God and persecution of the saints, which matches Daniel 7:24, 25. This beast is the same power Paul described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. One of the key distinguishing characteristics of the sea beast is that it persecutes for forty-two months— the same time period as the 1,260 days that the woman was persecuted in Revelation 12:6. This sea beast power, acting as an agent of the dragon, is the apostate Roman church. For 1,260 years, from the papacy’s establishment as the supreme ecclesiastical power in a.d. 538 to the abduction of the pope in a.d. 1798, papal Rome reigned. Revelation 13:3 notes that the sea beast received a deadly wound; but how would this wound be healed, and what would happen next? The answer is closely connected to the next power, revealed in the rest of Revelation 13.
The Land Beast (Rev. 13:11–17)
The third member of the counterfeit trinity is the land beast. This beast differs from the first in several ways. First, it arises from the land rather than the sea, indicating that it would originate in a very different area from papal Rome. Second, it arises around the time that the first beast receives its deadly wound in 1798. While the first beast had a long history, this second beast is new.
Finally, while the first beast was terrifying in appearance, this second beast appears lamblike and harmless. The only nation fitting such a description is the United States, which was founded on the premise of providing religious freedom. But while appearing lamblike, this beast speaks like a dragon—in other words, it ultimately becomes a mouthpiece for the dragon and a tool in his scheme.
The land beast also has the same authority as the sea beast: authority from the dragon. Ultimately, the second beast is the powerhouse causing the world to worship the first beast and, by extension, the dragon. The land beast is also instrumental in causing the world to make an image to the first beast and causing all to receive the mark of the beast; the former is the restoration of the medieval church’s religious system, while the latter is its counterfeit Sabbath.
Satan’s hatred of Jesus in Revelation 12 motivates him to attack His followers using deception and counterfeit Christianity. Satan’s powers of deception are quite formidable—nearly all the world will fall for his cunning plan. However, Jesus has revealed the devil’s plan centuries beforehand, thereby demonstrating that His power is greater than even the greatest schemes of Satan. Praise God; Satan cannot take Jesus by surprise! The great lesson we must take from Revelation 13 is that we must choose Christ today and depend upon His wisdom and His power to stand amid this final deception.