The Beast from the Earth
Following on to the rest of chapter 13, we are met with the second beast. We're reminded that the first beast, gaining its strength from the dragon (Satan), is Rome and the Roman Imperial cult. This second beast points and promotes the first beast. With it coming from the land (opposed to the sea like the first beast), we see this beast represent the native aristocrats. Those rich elites that live in Asia Minor and support Rome. The local authorities that gain wealth and power from being aligned to Rome and all that it stands for. It is the local elite that pays and builds the temples to these gods and to Caesar. That shows nepotism by putting relatives in prominent positions, such as priests at these temples. This super-elite getting richer and richer while oppressing and suppressing the poor, many of which were Christians.
In the last two chapters, we're presented with the dragon and these two beasts. A Satanic trinity in opposition to God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This imagery of the beast as a lamb, but only with two horns (Jesus Christ represented in 5:6 as a Lamb with seven horns). This faux lamb spoke like the dragon, while Jesus speaks the Word of God. But it is this second beast that promotes and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast. In Ephesus, an 8-metre statue of Domitian had been erected. An example of Caesar worship. Having to bow down to it, causing Christians to compromise by elevating Caesar to the same level as the one true God. The way Christians would be identified would be if they refused to worship Caesar when asked. Signs and myths, magic, and tricks would be used at these temples to show that the various gods had power. Oracles and false prophets were everywhere. The Imperial cult was life, not just a small part, but rather everywhere and entwined into every part of day-to-day life.
It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, (Revelation 13:16)
The cult cut through every layer of society. This time the mark wasn't the mark of the righteous, of protection (as in Rev 7:3-4). Slaves were branded as property, Soldiers were branded to show loyalty. Even the Jews wore boxes on their wrists and heads with scripture as reminders. This mark was required for commerce. Even coins were minted with the head of Caesar and words and titles that should only be used for Jesus, e.g. son of God. Working as part of a trade guild meant taking part in the Imperial cult. If you didn't, you couldn't get work. No work, no money or food. A few centuries later Rome introduced certificates of sacrifice (to idol gods). You had to show your certificate to take part in everyday life and buy things. No certificate, no food. This meant economic suicide for true followers of Jesus.
666 points to a man, but the way to get to who it represents has been lost. The original audience would have been clear, with the main commentators telling us it was Nero. Throughout the years, each generation has attempted to show others as this man. It is therefore dangerous to interpret when the method can't be confirmed and comes back to the point that every generation since believes the book of Revelation speaks to that generation specifically. My personal favourite for calculating 666 comes from the abacus found with every street vendor in a Roman market. Using Roman numerals and their values:
D = 500
C = 100
L = 50
X = 10
V = 5
I = 1
Each row would have beads to help add/subtract, but the sum of each row value adds up to 666, (500+100+50+10+5+1).
What does all this mean? Well, it builds upon this idea that (for the original audience), God's people are not to be tempted by the Roman Empire. For every generation since the cross, it is the biblical truth that our values are not to be compromised by the culture we live in. We are not called to live apart from the world in little cut-off communities, but rather as part of the world, to abstain from its values, temptations, and idolatry, and also to witness into it about Jesus Christ.
We may not have the Roman Empire in our generation, but we certainly have a culture that lives apart from God, in its values and beliefs. How are we to live as followers of Christ and worship the one true living God, surrounded by a world that values other things above God? A world that tells us we can achieve ideal circumstances if we set our minds to it, that material property is the reward for our selfishness, and that social popularity should be the purpose of our lives? We are called not to be compromised by the world, but rather to bring glory and honour to God in all that we do - through Christ.