Would you please explain the "image of the beast," as described in Revelation 13:14?


In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Revelation, John sees two “beasts.” These are symbolic descriptions of powerful world empires.

Beginning with Revelation 13:1, John sees in a vision a fantastic beast rising out of the sea, which has seven heads and ten horns. This beast received a deadly wound, but was healed. We explained in previous Q&A’s and some of our booklets, that this beast describes the Roman Empire at the time of John, its subsequent fall and its ten revivals or resurrections throughout history until the time of Christ’s return. The last and tenth resurrection is unfolding in Europe right now before our very eyes. (For more information, please read, for example, our free booklet, “Europe in Prophecy.”)

Beginning with Revelation 13:11, John sees in vision a second beast coming up out of the earth. This second beast had two horns. It looked like a lamb (Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lamb of God throughout the New Testament, compare John 1:29), but it spoke like a dragon (Satan is identified as a dragon in Revelation 12:3, 9). This second beast is obviously a religious power, which is influenced by Satan, while pretending to speak on behalf of Christ.

We read in Revelation 13:14 that the second beast will make an “image” to the first beast–the Roman Empire.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states the following regarding the nature of that “image”:

“All that is stated here would be fulfilled if the old Roman civil power should become to a large extent dead, or cease to exert its influence over people, and if then the papal spiritual power should cause a form of domination to exist strongly resembling the former in its general character and extent, and if it should secure this result—that the world would acknowledge its sway or render it homage as it did to the old Roman government. This would receive its fulfillment if it be supposed that the first ‘beast’ represented the ancient Roman civil power as such; that this died away—as if the head had received a fatal wound; that it was again revived under the influence of the papacy; and that, under that influence, a civil government, strongly resembling the old Roman dominion, was caused to exist, depending for its vital energy on the papacy, and, in its turn, lending its aid to support the papacy.

“All this in fact occurred in the decline of the Roman power… In the empire which then sprung up, and which owed much of its influence to the sustaining aid of the papacy, we discern the ‘image’ of the former Roman power; the prolongation of the Roman ascendency over the world.”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible gives a similar explanation:

“… the Roman empire… had received a deadly wound… but now revived in… the pope of Rome… the image made to this beast some understand [to describe] the translation of the empire to Charles the [Great], and [subsequent] emperors, by the pope of Rome… this was an image to the first beast… for [the pope received] the power of inaugurating and crowning these emperors, and of setting up and deposing them when the pope pleased…”

However, this passage about the “image of the beast” is not just of historical application for us today, but it also contains a prophecy for the immediate future. Therefore, many commentaries suggest that the “image” to the first beast–a final revived political and military Roman Empire–might very well point at an ultimate literal fulfillment of the creation of a real image—and this even more so, as there have been isolated incidents in the past, which might serve as forerunners to a final all-encompassing deception.

We read in Revelation 13:15 that the image will speak and cause those to be killed who will not worship the image of the beast. In applying this statement quite literally and figuratively, John Gill writes:

“[This] may be understood either of the images of the virgin Mary, and other saints, which it is pretended, and the people are made to believe, that they do at times actually speak, and really weep and laugh, as it may serve their different purposes; or this image may be said to speak by the decrees, canons, anathemas, curses, threatenings, persuasions, doctrines… of the pope and his clergy… these are the known orders and decrees of the Papacy, which have been executed by the Inquisition, and other hands, in innumerable instances…”

The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown adds the following:

“Charlemagne’s image was set up for homage; and the Pope adored the new emperor… Rome’s speaking images and winking pictures of the Virgin Mary and the saints are an earnest of the future demoniacal miracles of the false prophet [the final representative of the second beast, which looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon, and which makes an image to the first beast–the revived Roman Empire] in making the [first] beast’s… image to speak.”

Lehmann Strauss writes in “The Book of the Revelation”:

“The false prophet will attempt to lead the people to finance the erection of a great image in Jerusalem, thereby making Jerusalem the center of a world-wide religious system… How the image is made to speak, or what it says, is not revealed… When the image speaks, Jews and Gentiles, Roman Catholics and Protestants, wherever they are, will worship the image or be killed if they refuse.”

Whatever the exact meaning of the “speaking image,” it is clear that it includes the description of a future worldwide demonic deception, leading to the murder of all those who will not worship and obey the beast (Revelation 13:4, 8, 12) and its image (Revelation 13:15). We are warned in God’s Word to be aware of these terrible times to come in the very near future. We are told to consciously prepare for these evil days. Even though misguided and deceived men may persecute us for refusing to worship the beast and his image, God assures us that He will punish us very severely if we give in to pressure and worship them. Revelation 14:9-11 leaves us with this warning of the third angel:

“…’If anyone worships the beast and his image… he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation… they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image…'”

But notice, too, this blessing pronounced for those who refuse to worship the coming beast and his image: “… then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image… And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4, 6).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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