Enraged because he had failed to destroy Christ, Satan pursues the people of Christ, attempting to destroy them. Although these people enjoy the Lord’s protection and cannot finally be conquered, they do suffer in the meantime as they wait for the consummation of the kingdom of God (Rev. 12).
Revelation 12:17 begins to describe one of the ways that Satan, the evil dragon, makes war on God’s people. This verse tells us that he stands “on the sand of the sea,” and in 13:1 he calls forth a terrifying beast from the sea. Here we should note that Scripture frequently associates the sea with evil (for example, Ps. 74:13–14; Matt. 8:28–31). This beast from the sea finds his origin in all that is wicked and opposed to the Lord, which is fitting since Satan brings him forth. Parallels with the rising of this beast from the sea and the rising of the beast from the Abyss in Revelation 11:7 to persecute the two witnesses—the church—indicate that the two evil figures are identical.
Daniel 7, which describes four beasts who oppose God and His people, forms the background of today’s passage. In Daniel, the four beasts represent the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires, all of which inflicted suffering on God’s children. The beast from the sea in Revelation 13 is an amalgamation of all four of the beasts from Daniel’s prophecy. By combining the features of Daniel’s four beasts, this beast from the sea exists as an escalated threat to believers. He is the epitome of evil governments who attempt to destroy the church by killing its members or by getting professing believers to deny Christ through idolatrous worship. In fact, Revelation 13:4 indicates that many people worship the beast from the sea.
The original first-century audience of Revelation well understood the threat of an evil government that demanded idolatry of its citizens. Since the time of Julius Caesar, there had been a tendency to deify the rulers of Rome. At first, this worship arose from the masses, but later emperors such as Domitian actually demanded worship. Christians who refused to show the honor of worship to the emperor faced a real threat of death, and they often ended up as scapegoats for the empire’s troubles. But Revelation is not saying that such persecution will be limited only to the Roman Empire. It is describing the kinds of things that believers will face until Jesus returns. Today, the church continues to face hostile governments in many parts of the world.