What Is the “Image of the Beast”?
Revelation 13:15 speaks of “the image of the beast.” Many are confused as to what this image is. What actually is the “image of the beast” of Revelation?
What does Revelation 13:15 say?
"He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed."
The Bible prophesies about two powers, both described as beasts, that will rise to prominence in the end times. One is a beast that rises from the sea, and the other is a beast that rises from the earth (Revelation 13:1, 11).
Identifying the first and second beast
The first beast rises from the sea, which is perhaps a symbol of the nations of the world and of instability, as sea waters are always in constant motion (Revelation 17:15; Isaiah 57:20). This beast is a government that represents the final resurrection of the Roman Empire. (To learn more about this beast, read “Who Is the Beast?”).
The second beast, which arises from the earth, is different. While the first beast, the Roman Empire, rises and falls many times throughout history, the second beast’s power remains constant from its founding to its demise shortly before Christ returns (Revelation 17:16).
The second beast is described in Revelation 13:11 as “another beast” that has “two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” The comparison to a “lamb” shows that this beast appears to be like Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; Revelation 12:11; 13:8; 17:14). Yet, instead of speaking the actual words of Christ, it speaks words inspired by Satan, “the great dragon” (Revelation 12:9).
This same power is depicted in the book of Daniel as a little horn making “war against the saints,” speaking “pompous words against the Most High,” changing “times and law,” and persecuting “the saints” (Daniel 7:8, 21, 25). All these actions describe a religious power that opposes God, His truth and His people.
History shows that shortly before the collapse of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476, a religious power within the empire rose to prominence: the Roman Catholic Church. (To learn more, read “The End-Time Ride of the White Horse of Revelation.”)
The Bible tells us that this religious power sets up an “image of the beast” and deceives people to worship it (Revelation 13:14-15).
But what exactly is this “image of the beast”?
Some speculate that this may be a statue or a picture that appears to come to life and speak. Others speculate it could be a supercomputer, holograms, human clones, a cyborg or superhuman artificial intelligence.
You might be surprised that “the image of the beast” has been with us for over a thousand years—and it’s active in our world today.
First, we need to understand that this image is related to the “beast.” The beast is a political system centered in Europe with roots in Rome. The “image” has to be associated with that empire.
The Greek word translated “image” is eikōn and means a “resemblance” or “likeness.”
The same word was used in a discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus Christ when they asked Him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus asked them to show Him a coin and then asked them whose image was on it. They replied, “Caesar” (Matthew 22:17-21; Mark 12:14-16; Luke 20:22-24). The coin had an “image”—or likeness—of Caesar.
Second, we need to consider that this “image” is related to worship (Revelation 13:15; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20). There will be those who refuse to worship the “image of the beast” and will gain victory over the beast (Revelation 15:2; 20:4).
So what was patterned as an image of the Roman Empire and involves worship?
Consider that the Roman governmental structure seemed set to die forever when the Roman Empire collapsed. When empires die, their systems and customs often die with them. But the Roman way of governing didn’t die. It lived on in another institution—an institution that spread its ways throughout Europe and the world. That institution is the Roman Catholic Church.
The governmental structure of the Catholic Church—an image of the Roman system
An image is a likeness, or a resemblance, not an exact copy. And so, when we look at the structure of the Catholic Church, we see that, while not identical, it has much in common with the old Roman Empire. Consider the following:
- Governmental structure. The Roman Empire was divided into administrative units called dioceses, which were further divided into smaller units called provinces. In an attempt to “Christianize” the empire, Constantine appointed Roman Catholic clergy alongside the rulers of these administrative units. As the empire began to decline, the clergy took on more of the civil authority of the dioceses, on top of their religious authority. After the empire fell, the Catholic Church took on, and carried on, the empire’s governmental structure—with a priest in charge of a parish and many parishes grouped together into a diocese administered by a bishop.
- Language. Latin was the official administrative language of the Roman Empire and continues to be the official language used by the Catholic Church in its official communications and writings and also in its traditional mass and prayers. It wasn’t until late in the 20th century, with reforms of Vatican II, that other languages were permitted to be used in Catholic liturgies.
- Name. The Catholic Church carries the name of the empire in which it was founded, its full name being the “Roman Catholic Church.”
- Location. The capital of the Roman Empire was the city of Rome, considered to be the center of the world—where all roads led. Likewise, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Vatican, is within the city of Rome, which is known to the church as the “seat of the supreme authority” and by its ancient name, the “Eternal City.”
- Titles. “Pontifex Maximus” (supreme pontiff) was the title for the most powerful pagan priest in ancient Rome. Emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus both carried the title. The Catholic Church now uses the same title for the pope, who is appointed by the College of Cardinals, akin to ancient Rome’s College of Pontiffs.
- Calendar. The Romans developed a solar calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., known as the Julian calendar. It became the calendar the Catholic Church would use to observe its religious festivals. Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII added corrections to the leap year calculations in the calendar and wiped out 10 days to correct for past errors, giving rise to our modern calendar named after him, the Gregorian calendar.
- Monasticism. In ancient Rome, there were men and women who dedicated themselves to the service of their gods. One way some did that was through asceticism, the practice of self-denial. Men would be celibate, and young girls would dedicate much of their lives as virgins serving in the temple, such as the Vestal Virgins. This practice continues in the Catholic Church with priests, monks and nuns vowing to remain celibate and unmarried. The concept of a monastery and convent is not found in the Bible. The apostle Paul included this practice in a list of “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-3). (To learn more, read “Church History: Augustine.”)
- Persecution. The Roman Empire was originally known for its persecution of Christians, but eventually took on the banner of “Christian.” However, the form of Christianity it adopted was very different from the Church described in the book of Acts. Ironically, the Roman church continued to persecute those who practiced the genuine faith taught by Jesus, calling them “Judaizers” and an “anathema.” (To learn more, read “The End-Time Ride of the White Horse of Revelation” and “Who Changed the Day of Worship From Saturday to Sunday? Why?”)
- Art. Many images of Jesus in Catholic art have features similar to those in depictions of the Roman gods, particularly Apollo and Jupiter. Jesus is portrayed as having long hair, the sun’s rays and the moon’s halo as symbols of divinity. (To learn more, read “Where Did the Popular Image of Jesus Come From?”)
- Saints. In ancient Rome, there were gods for nearly all areas of life. For instance, there was Apollo, the god of healing and oracles. There was Aesculapius, the god of health and medicine. There was Venus, the goddess of love. There was Mars, the god of war. The Catholic Church simply replaced the ancient gods with the personas of dead saints. Every day, millions of Catholics pray to these dead saints as intercessors to try to get a desired outcome. (To learn more, read “Should We Pray to Saints?”)
Like an imprint of a dignitary on a coin, the Roman Empire made its imprint on the Catholic Church. A close look at the Roman Catholic Church shows that it has far more in common with the ancient Roman Empire than it does with the Bible. The Catholic Church has kept many of the practices, customs and imagery of ancient Rome alive into modern times.
We believe that the governmental structure of this church is “the image of the beast” described in Revelation. It will grow in power and influence as the end times get closer.
The real Church
Jesus said that He would build His Church, and “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). So, what happened to the Church Jesus Christ said He would build and would never be destroyed?
It must still exist today!
To learn more about the characteristics of the Church that is built on Jesus Christ, not the ancient Roman Empire, read our free booklet Where Is the Church Jesus Built?