The context of the image of the beast passage (Rev 13:14-15) is a counterfeit trinity, made up of the dragon (beginning with Rev 12:4), the beast from the sea (beginning with 13:1), and the beast from the earth (beginning with 13:11). The dragon is a parody of God the Father. The sea beast is a parody of Jesus Christ, who looks like the dragon (Rev 13:1; John 14:9), receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2; Matt 28:18), has a “ministry” that lasts for 42 months (Rev 13:5), and undergoes a death and resurrection like that of Jesus (Rev 13:3, 8). The beast from the earth is a parody of the Holy Spirit, who speaks not about himself (John 16:13), brings fire down from heaven (Acts 2), and brings life to the image of the beast. In the context of Revelation 13, this counterfeit trinity has set itself up as an alternative to the God of Revelation in the end-time battle between the dragon and the remnant (Rev 12:17). The formation of the image of the beast is the crucial development in the counterfeit trinity’s war with the saints and the God they worship (Rev 13:5-7).
Within chapter 13 itself, there are three themes that come together in the image of the beast. One major theme of the chapter is that of beasts, the chapter begins with a beast (13:1) and ends with a beast (13:18), making an envelope structure surrounding the rise of the two beasts from the sea and the earth. The concept of sea and land monsters has a long background in the OT and early Jewish literature, particularly Daniel 7, which is clearly alluded to in the rise of the sea beast. Another theme of chapter thirteen is worship; five times the inhabitants of the world are urged to worship the dragon, the sea beast or the image of the beast (13:4, 8, 12, 15). That call to worship becomes the decisive event of the conflict. Another theme in chapter 13, already explored, is image-making. The Bible starts (Gen 1:26-27) and ends (Rev 13:14-15) with the making of an image. The ideas of beast, worship and image-making all come together in the image of the beast figure.
When one explores the allusions to biblical texts in Revelation 13:14-15, the allusion to Genesis 1 has already been mentioned. But to that one needs to add Genesis 2. Giving breath to the image of the beast (13:15) recalls the creation of Adam in the Garden (Gen 2:7). The allusion is particularly strong in the Aramaic translation of Genesis 2:7, where the breath of life becomes in Adam a spirit capable of speech. Another allusion in Revelation 13:14-15 is to Isaiah 40:18-20. That passage extols the uniqueness of God in contrast with the nothingness of idols. The beasts parody that claim, but the author of Revelation suggests that because of the beasts unlikeness to God, the image of the beast project is doomed to fail from the start. A third powerful allusion is to Daniel 3. The demand for worship of the image of the beast is modeled on Nebuchadnezzar’s call to worship his image, on pain of death. Finally, the language of Revelation 13:14-15 parallels that of Acts 2:2-6. The bestowing of breath (spirit) on the image of the beast recalls the outpouring of the spirit (fire from heaven—13:14) on the disciples at Pentecost. A counterfeit spiritual revival falls on those who worship the image of the beast.
This coming together of images from the entire Bible paints a picture of the image of the beast as an end-time attempt to undermine God’s plan to reverse the consequences of the Fall by restoring the image of God in human beings. God’s plan is not only resisted by the beasts, they offer a counterfeit image and a counterfeit Pentecost to deceive the world into thinking they are the true God and the true objects of worship. What is not obvious, on the basis of the Bible alone, is how big a role the theme of idol-making played in the ancient world. The next part of Rebekah Liu’s third chapter turns to the evidence for idol-making in the ancient Mediterranean world.