As John watched the first beast speak blasphemies to and about God, wage war against God’s people, and slaughter all the Christians it could find, another beast rose up. The first dangerous animal had emerged from the sea. This second one now moved up out of the earth. It was given all the authority and power the first creature had been given (by the dragon), power to rule the earth, power to perform miracles, and to beguile the inhabitants of earth with masterful deception.

The second beast conscripted people to create an image of the first beast, then imbued this image with a spirit that could speak. The second beast insisted – using threat of execution – that all people everywhere worship the image of this first beast.

Malevolent and manipulative, this second creature seems more horrifying than the first.

Château d’Angers; Angers; Pays de la Loire, Maine-et-Loire; France; Tenture de l’Apocalypse; no 44, La bête de la terre fait tomber le feu du ciel; Cultural heritage; Cultural heritage|Tapestry; Europeana; Europe|France|Angers; Hennequin de Bruges (Jan Bondol en flamand); connu également sous les noms de Jean de Bruges ou de Jean de Bondol ou encore Jean de Bandol


Though there is a wide range of historicist interpretations of the first beast, most agree the second has to be the priesthood of the Roman church. Once Charlemagne established the Roman church as the Church worldwide in the eighth century, many pagan Roman religious practices became normalized as Christian practices. The priesthood were given the authority of civil law to enforce the word and will of the Roman church, and all people were expected to come under the authority of the Church.

Scholars turn to Jesus’s warning about false prophets as their basis.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15 (NRSV)

Sheep’s Clothing

The ”two horns of a lamb” that identified the second creature are likened to the woolen vestment worn by all bishops, and the two-pointed mitre (hat) worn by all abbots and bishops, beginning with Pope Gregory in 590. So attired, these church leaders came to be known as the Goruti, the “horned ones.”

False Prophet

The second beast is identified as a false prophet in later chapters of John’s Apocalypse.


Historicists also point to the many miracles the Roman church has claimed down through the centuries in defense of its authority, often by images which have been purported to*

  • Light their own candles (“fire from heaven”?)
  • Speak (specifically crucifixes, calling to mind the second beast’s imbuing of the first beast’s image with a spirit to speak)
  • Heal
  • Raise the dead

* All examples taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg

Ravenous Wolves

The dangerous animal may have the appearance of a lamb, but once it speaks “like a dragon,” its true, rapacious nature is revealed.

Château d’Angers; Angers; Pays de la Loire, Maine-et-Loire; France; Tenture de l’Apocalypse; no 45, L’adoration de l’image de la bête; Cultural heritage; Cultural heritage|Tapestry; Europeana; Europe|France|Angers; Hennequin de Bruges (Jan Bondol en flamand); connu également sous les noms de Jean de Bruges ou de Jean de Bondol ou encore Jean de Bandol;;; Ref.: PMa_ANG042_F_Angers


For expositors with this perspective, there are three possible identifications for the second creature.

  • Cult of worshiping the Roman emperor. The two lamb’s horns imply a religious nature, making the first beast the political power of the emperor, and the second beast the religious system supporting that power.
  • Procurator of Judea. Having two horns rather than ten proposes a smaller province. The procurator served and upheld the authority and power of Rome. The two procurators during the War of the Jews were both ruthless oppressors: Albinus and Gessius Florus.
  • Jewish Religious System. As false representatives of God, the Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, led the effort to crucify God the Son. These were also false prophets, opposing the truth of the Gospel.

Two further justifications of this last possibility are found in the Book of Acts.

Persecution of the Church: There are at least a dozen examples of Jewish religious authorities joining with Roman imperial authorities to eradicate the nascent Jesus movement.

False Miracles: There are at least two or three passages which point to Jewish false prophets using supernatural power and working under the direction of Roman officials. In one instance, the false prophets attempted to invoke the name of Jesus as their talisman of power.

Finally, preterist interpreters turn to Paul’s indictment of Jewish faith to show the language of idolatry is symbolic.

You, then, who teach others, will you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

Romans 2:21-22 (NRSV)
San Miguel vence al demonio/De heilige Michaël overwint de draak; Patrimonio Nacional; Madrid; Madrid, Spain; ref: PM_020693_E_Madrid; ; serie: Apocalypsis; serie: de Apocalypse; Photographer: Paul M.R. Maeyaert;, © Paul M.R. Maeyaert;; Cultural heritage; Cultural heritage|Tapestry; Europe|Spain|Madrid


Interestingly, futurist expositors see the second creature as less frightening, less powerful, though certainly intended to be a faux Lamb of God. In keeping with the other views, this perspective also recognizes the second beast as religious in nature, compared to the political tenor of the first beast—a religious leader, the visible figurehead of worldwide religion.

Seen in this way, the second beast (rather than the first) would more accurately be identified as the Antichrist, perhaps a Jewish religious leader posing as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, whose sphere of operation is Israel. Other futurists argue this false Messiah cannot be Jewish, as he will mercilessly persecute those of Jewish faith and parentage.

Not all commentators see this second dangerous animal as a personage. Perhaps it is symbolic of a concept, or representative of a religious movement or institution that connects itself with a political movement—when church and state become intertwined as they were in many parts of the world in millennia past.

However, most interpret various passages in scripture, and the monikers mentioned, to suggest that a political figure, the first creature, is the Antichrist.

This will be the long-anticipated Antichrist. The second beast will be subordinate to the first, having been summoned to support and enforce the Antichrist’s rule.

Fire from the Sky

Just as the two witnesses could propel spumes of fire from their mouths as authentication of their calling and empowering by God, so now this false witness will call down fire from heaven as seemingly divine approval.

Image of the Beast

Futurist scholars see this as a literal image given animation so as to appear alive. In fact, the Greek word πνεῦμα | pnuema can mean alternatively “breath,” “wind,” “spirit,” or that vitality of life that breath and spirit bring to mind. Such an image would be deceptively lifelike much in the way Artificial Intelligence is being treated today, though considering current rapid advances in technology, it is hard to imagine what will seem awe-inspiring about this image. Perhaps massive size? Or uncanny lifelikeness?

Some consider Rome the center of operations for both creatures, however most understand this image as the “abomination of desolation” both the prophet Daniel and Jesus indicated would be placed in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple.

“Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the desolating sacrilege.”

Daniel 11:31 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

“So when you see the desolating sacrilege, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)”

Jesus, Matthew 24:15 (NRSV)


The second dangerous animal, appearing harmless and meek, acts as both foil and support to the ferocious and formidable first creature. But its deceptively gentle demeanor disguises its true (dragon) nature. It is a false religion, or philosophy that seeks to serve secular power. Underneath its religious overtones is an appetite for power and control.

Such unholy alliances appear in every era. For John’s audience, it was the Jewish ruling religious party and various Sanhedrinists who cooperated with Roman rule. It was also the Roman religious body, called the “Commune” or “Concilia,” which promoted (and enforced) emperor worship, placing altars before images of the emperor on which, under their watchful eye, were to be left offerings.

The miracles described – fire from the sky and a talking idol – speak to the sleight of hand and marvelous displays, propagandist plays with their props and drama, and other devices religions have used to dismay and impress their audiences with the sense but not the reality of supernatural power.

This is religion aligned with nationalism, using the drama of the stage, magnificent trappings, powerful oration, and force of violence to take its audience in its thrall.  

By Unknown author – Book of Revelation. Book printed in 1893 year, Public Domain

The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg

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