Beast from the sea (13:1-10)
Like the dragon of Chapter 12, the beast that arises out of the sea has seven heads and ten horns. If the dragon symbolizes Satan, the opponent of God in the spirit world, the beast out of the sea probably symbolizes the opponent of God in the world of humankind. As God took human form in Jesus Christ, so Satan takes human form in one called the antichrist (GNB: enemy of Christ), or man of lawlessness (GNB: wicked one). He combines cunning, strength, cruelty and ferocity (13:1-2).
Though always in the world, the spirit of antichrist expresses itself in different ways in various people, eras and systems (1 John 2:18). In John’s time it expressed itself in the Roman Empire, but its fullest expression will be in the days immediately before Christ’s return (2 Thess 2:3-10).
The antichrist tries to imitate Christ by giving an appearance of death followed by resurrection. He appears to lose his power, only to regain it and do greater and more horrible evil. People in general are impressed with his show of power and believe that none, not even God, can fight against him. They are overcome with a sense of awe, and gladly give their allegiance to the antichrist and his master, Satan (3-4; cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4,9-12).
Suffering Christians are encouraged to endure by the news that God has set a limit to the time of the antichrist’s rule. But while he rules he curses God and demands that people worship him instead. All people give him homage except the Christians, and these he mercilessly attacks (5-8). Christians are given a special reminder that it is useless to resist when they are about to be captured or killed. They cannot establish God’s kingdom in the world by force (9-10).
Beast from the earth (13:11-18)
With the appearance of the beast from the earth (who is identified as the false prophet; see 16:13; 19:20), the trinity of evil is complete. As the true Christ received his authority from the Father, so the antichrist receives his authority from Satan (see 13:2b; cf. John 8:28). As the Holy Spirit gives glory to the true Christ, so the false prophet gives glory to the antichrist (see 13:12; cf. John 16:14). The spirit of the false prophet is always in the world, for it represents false religion, or whatever philosophy people use in place of religion (Matt 24:24; 2 Peter 2:1). It too will have its most intense expression in the days immediately before Christ’s return (2 Thess 2:11-12).
The false prophet tries to make himself look as harmless as a lamb, but his speech shows that he belongs to Satan (11). He has the same satanic power as the antichrist and cooperates with him. The meaning seems to be that religious power (represented by the false prophet) joins with secular power (represented by the antichrist) to establish anti-God rule throughout the world. The false prophet gains worldwide worship for the antichrist and builds a living image of him. False religion supports the ungodly system that controls human society. Any who refuse to give their support face death (12-15).
Since God marks his people with his seal (see 7:3), the antichrist marks his people. If any refuse to follow the anti-Christian system, they suffer social and economic discrimination. They are not able to buy even the basic necessities for living (16-17). But whereas the seal placed on God’s people is that of the living God (see 7:2), the seal placed on the ungodly is that of the human rebel who fights against God. Its number, 666, is that of a man, not God. It is a human number, for it falls short of the perfect divine number, 777. The antichrist wants to be God, but he must fail, for he is only a man (18; cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4).