As we enter more deeply into the vision of Revelation 13, John sees Satan enlist two helpers to enforce worship that is in direct opposition to the authentic worship of the true God. (He’ll summon a third helper in Revelation 17, and we’ll get to her later).
The first little helper is a beast that rises out of the sea. It’s seven heads assume various forms of political oppression. The dragon’s second little helper is a beast that rises out of the earth. This land beast had “two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (Rev 13:11). Although the second beast looks like a lamb, it is far from harmless.
The second beast is called “the false prophet” for a good reason (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). It’s rhetoric spews out satanic propaganda and entices the world’s citizens to worship the first beast, the political antichrist (13:12). The false prophet is also able to perform tricks and “great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (13:13). Jesus warned us about these guys. “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24; cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15).
The false prophet in Revelation “deceives those who dwell on earth telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (13:14). It maybe common to interpret this image as a statue; but I think the command to “make an image for the beast” is way more insidious.
The word “image” can mean “likeness” or “representation.” So, instead of reflecting God’s image in Christ, I would suggest that people “make an image for the beast” by reflecting its likeness (Satan’s character). In the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire, the term “image” was “not merely an artistic representation of the god, but an incarnation of the god. The image partakes of the reality of which it symbolizes. A similar usage can be seen in Paul when he writes that Christ ‘is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15)” (Robert Mulholland). Worshippers become living images. We all eventually become like what we worship.
The blasphemous parody continues with a mockery of Pentecost. “And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast might even speak” (Rev 13:15). The spirit of the antichrist is “allowed to give breath” to the beastly imagers, commissioning them to “speak” on his behalf. While the spirit of the antichrist seeks to create “one fallen humanity” to reflect a beastly image, the Spirit of God creates “one new man” to conform to the image of Christ (cf. Eph 2:14-15; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:2).
I know that’s its popular to interpret the “mark” literally. But if the mark on God’s people is symbolic (Rev 3:12; 7:3), then to be consistent, the 666 “mark” must have symbolic meaning as well. Our beliefs and actions always leave a conspicuous mark.
It’s not hard to see the unholy trinity here: the satanic dragon, the antichrist, and the false prophet, each one symbolized by the number of fallen humanity. One is either in the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness—there is no kingdom of gray. Let us be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish” who “shine as lights” in a crooked and twisted world (Phil 2:15). “This calls for wisdom,” John says, especially when the dragon’s propaganda targets God’s image-bearers (Rev 13:15-16, 18).