Revelation 13:1 and 11: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea . . . Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth.”
Who are the two beasts in Revelation 13? Gill suggests they are two Roman entities which serve the interests of the antichrist; namely, (1) civil powers and (2) religious powers. He states,
This chapter contains a description of the Romish antichrist, under the figure of two beasts, the one representing him in his civil power, the other in his ecclesiastical power.”John Gill, introductory comments to Revelation 13
Earlier, in Revelation 9, Gill named the antichrist as the succession of popes. He believes Satan has worked through the popes to establish and foster false religions and to consolidate secular powers against the saints. What emerges in Romans 13 is the chain of command: (1) Satan is the grand architect; (2) the antichrist (or, the popes) implement his mystery of lawlessness to keep men in subjection to Satan (2 Thess 2:3–12); and, (3) the two beasts manage the whole affair.
Gill & Prophetic History
The whole narrative runs along these lines. Historically, the church hummed along during the first few centuries. Once Constantine implemented a Christian empire, an enraged Satan began working through the popes to consolidate power under the church and state in order to enslave mankind under his iron fist. This mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the Apostle Paul’s day in its civil powers (2 Thess 2:7), but it became more pronounced as the popes and the kings worked together. For instance, Gill states:
[T]his man of sin was springing up in the apostles’ time, and by degrees rose up to the power and authority he is here said to have.John Gill, comments on Revelation 13:11
That specific time, he says, was in 606 AD when a man named Phocas murdered Emperor Mauritius. This same, Phocas, gave Pope Bonifice the Third the title and power of universal bishop.1See Gill’s comments on Rev. 9:1. From that point forward, the popes accumulated more and more power unto themselves, even acting as kingmakers; as Gill notes, “by removing kings, and setting up kings at pleasure.”2See Gill’s comments on Rev. 13:6.
He speculates antichrist’s reign began in 606 AD and will end in 1866 AD (1,260 years later, or 42 prophetic months, as Rev. 12:6 and 13:5 indicate).3See Gill’s comments on Rev. 13:5. Gill, of course, died in 1771, with the popes still holding immense influence and working in concert with many of the world’s kings.
Specific Symbolism Regarding the Beasts
The first beast represents the pope of Rome in his civil powers once the empire divided into 10 kingdoms. He began to emerge in 455 AD when Rome was taken by Genseric the Vandal.4See Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:12. The “sea” represents the pagan nations from which he arose. The “ten horns” represent the 10 kingdoms. The “seven heads” represent the whole Roman monarchy. The “mortal wound” was when Augustulus, the last of the emperors, was forced to abdicate the throne in 476 AD.5See Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:12 and 13:3. The “wound was healed” by the establishment of the 10 kingdoms when power was given over to the pope of Rome. Gill describes how the pope began to accumulate enormous world power:
His followers . . . admire his power and authority, his grandeur, pomp, and riches, his signs and lying wonders, his pretended infallibility and holiness, his stock of merits and unwritten traditions, his skill to interpret Scripture, and his power to forgive sins, and the like.John Gill, comments on Revelation 13:3
Indeed, he rose in power above earthly kings:
[H]e could depose one, and set up another, kick the crowns of kings, tread upon the necks of emperors, oblige them to hold his stirrup, whilst he mounted his horse, and keep them barefoot at his gate for days together, waiting for admittance.John Gill, comments on Revelation 13:4
The second beast represents the pope of Rome in his religious powers: clergy, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, etc. The “earth” represents the antichristian segment of the church (the apostacy). The “two horns” represent the eastern and western empires, now revived under papal authority. The “mortal wound” is the same as before: the empire now revived under the pope of Rome. He works in concert with the civil powers as follows:
[B]y preaching and writing against them, by anathemas, excommunications, and bulls, and so overcame and silenced them, or delivered them over to the secular arm to be put to death, ruling over the consciences of men in a tyrannical way.John Gill, comments on Revelation 13:12
The two beasts, in tandem, are given extraordinary power even over buying and selling. Finally, the number “666” represents King Lewis, as he presides over France, which is the last of the 10 kingdoms.6See Gill’s comments on Rev. 14:18.
I can see this picture in an experience I had in Noyon, France. I went there to see John Calvin’s birthplace. A short walk away was the cathedral where Calvin worshiped as a boy, replete with frightening demons and goblins etched into the columns. In the bottom of the cathedral was a door with iron bars.
“What is that?” I asked our tour guide.
“It is the town jail,” he informed me.
The town jail was in the dungeon of the cathedral! The grip of power became clear to me all at once. The priests knew all the secrets from the confessional booths. They also controlled the civil authorities. The town jail was in the basement of the cathedral. What’s more, they also controlled the town treasuries. Each town reported, ultimately, to the pope of Rome. The church held extraordinary power over spiritual life (through excommunication) and civil life (through the penal code). Calvin recognized that, which is why his commentaries are filled with chippy comments exposing abuses in papal authority.
Once again, Gill’s purview seems shortsighted, but we’re beginning to understand his spiritual milieu. In the west, we’ve never seen any accumulation of power like this. While his specific details may be off (regarding antichrist’s reign ending in 1866 AD and “666” referring to King Lewis), principally he is correct. The two beasts are powerful weapons for antichrist, who serves the pleasure of Satan. While we know not precisely who/what antichrist is, it is reasonable to think he/it will use secular and religious powers to deceive the nations.