A Trinity of Evil
There is a Trinity in heaven, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How wondrously beautiful they are. Three persons of boundless wisdom, goodness, and truth. In the book of Revelation, John also speaks of a Trinity from the pit of hell: The Dragon, His image— the Beast from the Sea, and the Beast from the land.
We meet the Dragon for the first time in Revelation 12. “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems…. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Revelation 12:3,,9, ESV).
In the next chapter, we meet His image bearer, the Beast from the sea. Notice the similarity: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.” (Revelation 13:1, ESV). In the Old Testament (where all of John’s imagery originates), the sea is a metaphor of mankind’s restless, resentful, rebellion against God: “The Wicked are like a troubled sea whose waters cannot rest…" (Isaiah 57:20-21).
The Beast from the Sea is the power of the State arraigned against God and the Church. Notice how John stresses the rule and authority of this beast: “And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” (Revelation 13:2, ESV). Illustrations of this beast’s anti-God vendetta litter the floor of history.
Another Beast arises, this time from the earth, to complete the Triunity of evil. Later in the book he is identified as the false prophet (Rev 16:13). This beast is a symbol of all false religion (notice he is like a lamb, but he speaks like the dragon, Rev 13:11). Like the Holy Spirit, he leads people to worship (13:12), and performs great signs and wonders convincing people to follow his testimony (13:13-15). He marks out His followers on their heads and on their hands (13:16). Many commentators find their imagination running wild here. What could this mean? Some credit card number tattooed on the skin, perhaps? Or a computer chip inserted into the body? Well, if we remember the source of all John’s imagery, the answer is much simpler, and more penetrating in its import. In the Old Testament, God’s people were to be marked on their heads and on their hands with the word of God (Deut. 4:6-8). This signified a distinctive way of thinking (the mark on their head), and a distinctive way of living or working (the mark on their hands). In a similar sense, John seems to be saying, the devil’s brood will have their own way of thinking and living. Without this mark, it will become progressively impossible to do business in the world’s system (Rev 13:17).
It is interesting to note that John describes the devil in beastly terms. Whatever he might promise (Genesis 3:1ff), follow Him and you will become less human not more. He is not safe, his nature is red in tooth and claw. The world might appear at times bright and lovely, but this appearance is deceiving. John wants to show you things as they really are. Open your eyes! We face danger on every side: physical threats, spiritual deception, and material seduction. The path of duty is one of separation (Come out from among them and be separate), and endurance (He that endures to the end will be saved). We need the Word of God in our minds to steel our thinking against the opportunities for compromise that stand always at the door. Let us follow the Exodus road out of Egypt to the Wilderness; God is there. As we do, let us remember Lot’s wife, confident that Jesus will keep us kept on the Highway of Holiness:
“And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:8–10, ESV)