Everybody has to take a stab at least once in their life at interpreting the symbolism of Revelation, especially the two beasts in Revelation 13. So here’s my attempt, which represents my unofficial, but well-considered opinion. I am sure that there will be new interpretations that come out in the future that will be better than mine as world events progress. I’m also pretty sure my ideas will change over time as I learn more. But for now, here’s my take on it.
1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. (Revelation 13:1-6)
I suspect that the first beast that rose up from the sea represents apostate religion.
It rises out of the sea (v1)—It appears from the unstable masses of people in the world.
It has seven heads and ten horns(v1)—Heads seem to represent thoughts to me, and horns represent power. Its thoughts and ideas are not unified (all kinds of doctrines are taught, making perfect confusion), but having plenty of people with power to back them up. (Notice some heads must have more power than others, since you can’t divide 10 horns evenly among 7 heads.)
It is like a leopard (v2)—It is predatory.
It has the feet of a bear (v2)—Its acts are vicious and crushing.
It has the mouth of a lion (v2)—Its words are vicious, loud, and fearsome.
The dragon gave him his power, seat, and authority (v2)—The beast’s authority is NOT from God, but based on Satanic methods.
Upon his heads the name of blasphemy (v1)—This is the blasphemy of false doctrine about what God is like or what He can or can’t do.
One of the heads was wounded to death and was healed and everyone wondered (v3)—There are two ways to look at this. One way is to see it as a performance staged like Christ’s death and resurrection, not for the sake of truth, but to deceive. Another way is to see it is that the imagery is meant to remind of the promise given in the Garden of Eden of how Christ’s mission and Atonement would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). So Christ and the former-day church put a huge dent in apostate and false religion, but when the church fell into apostasy, the wound on the head of the beast was healed. (http://www.bibleprobe.org/rev13.html) This would certainly cause great wonder and dismay and make people wonder if it was possible to fight it.
Everyone worships the beast, thinking they can’t fight it and there’s nothing else with that kind of power (v4)—I imagine people have felt for a long time that even though they didn’t believe the apostate doctrine, there was no way they could fight the apostate religion.
A mouth to speak great things and blasphemies was given to the beast (v5)—Lots of power over the media, both for greatness and for blasphemy.
The beast blasphemed God, heaven, the tabernacle, them that dwell in heaven (v6)—False doctrine about God, heaven, the temple, and the angels is certainly a sort of blasphemy.
7 And it was given unto him [the beast] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:7-10)
It was given him to make war with the saints and overcome them, and power was given him over all kindreds (v7)—Apostate religion stamped out true religion. Everyone comes under the sway of this religion. Inquisition is just one example.
Those who worship this beast are those whose names aren’t in the book of life (v8)—It seems that those who do not worship Christ will be worshipping their religion instead. And worshipping religion doesn’t get your name in the book of life. The flip side of this is that a true worshipper of Christ is going to get a lot of persecution from false worshippers and probably have to endure marginalization, captivity, and even death. This is why verse 10 was added—to reassure the true worshippers that those who led them captive or killed them would likewise suffer captivity and death.
The next beast that appears seems to me to represent Science.
11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. (Revelation 13:11-14)
The second beast comes up out of the earth (v11)—It comes from the study of natural phenomena of the earth. Darwin studying the animals, the study of dinosaur bones, the discovery of prehistoric cave paintings, men experimenting with chemicals and steam and electricity.
The second beast had two horns like a lamb (v11)—Two represents witness, which can remind us how scientific study needs multiple witnesses with multiple studies to establish advances. The horns represent power. A lamb doesn’t start out with horns, but they grow bigger as time goes on. Similarly, science didn’t start out with power, but its power has grown over time.
It speaks as a dragon (v11)—This is temptation made more fearsome. If a snake represents Garden of Eden temptation, a dragon is a snake on miracle-gro, or huge temptation. It is extra tempting to believe science that seems to have such logical authority. Dragonish temptations are those that say, “Studies show that [something bad for you] is not as harmful as previously believed, but can actually be beneficial.” Dragonish temptations may also be those that come by way of technology, such as pornography and other addictions.
And he exercises all the power of the first beast before him (v12)—Science has gained the same slavish respect and awe that apostate religion once had all to itself, but…
The second beast causes everyone to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed (v12)—The temptation presented by the second beast drives the people to cling more tightly to their religion, even though it is apostate because while the first beast is bad, the second beast denies God completely.
The second beast does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (v13)—This evokes the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal in which Elijah called fire down from heaven to burn his sacrifice to prove that Jehovah was God. The point of Elijah’s story was that wonders were used to prove the truth. Used in this context, the imagery tells us Science also does experiments to prove scientific truths, and certainly can do amazing things. Think of the fire of the space shuttle blasting off, or the immolation of the atomic bomb, not to mention all the non-fiery scientific advances the world has witnessed.
The second beast deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do (v14)—We believe science has the answers because science has done so much for us. Are we deceived by the temptations technology offers us? Christ said great wonders could deceive even the elect. Are we deceived by the temptations that come with cell phones, computers, internet, TV, and other technology?
The second beast says to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound and did live (v14)—Scientific religious thinkers want to remake religion, give it a good reputation, systematize it, use scientific practices to build it up, etc. They want to use science to make the worship services more appealing with lights, music, saturation of the senses, etc.
15 And he [the second beast] had power to give life unto the image of the [first] beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:15-18)
The second beast had power to give life to the image of the first beast to make it speak and cause the deaths of those who don’t worship it (v15)—This is evoking the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego, who were told they must worship the huge golden image or be killed. In that story, worshipping that image was definitely silly, since it couldn’t move or talk and couldn’t do anything for or against anyone. However, in this story worshipping the image is harder to resist because it talks and it seems to have control over whether people are saved or destroyed. It is harder to discern that it can’t really save anybody. Here, Science is being used by apostate religion to make apostate religion (which is dead) appear alive. It has the form of godliness, but denies the power thereof. And of course, if anyone resists worshipping it, apostate religion causes them so much pain and hurt with spiritual abuse and disfellowshipping that it kills all desire to be involved in religion at all. This leads to spiritual death. (There may also come a time when the killing becomes literal too, but let’s hope not..)
He causes all to receive a mark in their right hand or forehead (v16)— This is where the Book of Mormon’s doctrine about the mark comes in to give us encouragement. The Book of Mormon teaches that anyone who is marked chose to be marked, so we need not worry that ALL are FORCED to receive the mark of the beast.
None may buy or sell without the mark (v17)—Does science want to control all the commerce of the world? I don’t know the answer. But another way of looking at buying and selling may be to view it as a symbol for the exchange of ideas. Do we see a restriction on the kinds of ideas that may be shared and traded in the public square? I would say so.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (v18) –The best idea I’ve run across so far for the meaning of 666 is from the Enduring Word’s webpage “Revelation 13 – The Two Beasts.” It suggests that 666 is a reference to 1 Kings 10:44, which tells Solomon received 666 talents of gold yearly. We are reminded that Solomon was a wise, good man, but he was eventually corrupted into idolatry. This is also adds extra significance to the Revelation verse’s text that says the number calls for wisdom, which was certainly a characteristic of Solomon. So if Revelation says that the mark of the second beast was 666, perhaps this suggests that those who follow the beasts had great wisdom and goodness that was terribly corrupted into the idolatry of seeking gain.
I find this interpretation of the two beasts very helpful because it substantially demystifies much of the stranger imagery, it clarifies where we are in history with a sweeping view, and it also gives solid information about the spiritual difficulties we face.