“The Unholy Trinity: The False Prophet” (Part 1) – Revelation 13:11-12

by Roger McCay
1 October 2023
Sermon Passage: Revelation 13:11-12
Link to Audio Version

If we think that Satan is not active in the church, we fool ourselves. And when God’s people fail to recognize Satan’s influence in Christian religious contexts, particularly when it comes to false teachers and false teachings, it can result in tragedy. Examples include: people who think they are Christians, dbut have no idea as to what the gospel message truly is; disillusionment caused by the lies of false teachers, when the lies start to fall apart and the emptiness of their false teaching is exposed (lies which the deceived thought were the true teachings of the gospel and God’s Word, but were not); people abandoning of the church altogether; whole congregations and even denominations being led into apostasy; and even true Christians being misled into sin and sinful practices.

False teachers are particularly fruitful in environments that downplay personal Biblical study. They would prefer that you just take them at their word and not delve into what the Scriptures actually say, or question them, or cross-check them with the teachings of other teachers and preachers of the Word. They would not commend the Bereans, who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11). Indeed, Biblical ignorance among people (be it a church congregation or students attending a university ministry, and so forth) … Biblical ignorance leaves people vulnerable, as any charismatic, smooth-talker (seeking after their own agenda) can weave together lies from select elements of the truth of Scripture and pseudo-truths that serve their agenda, making the lie seem so right and good, even sounding Biblical. And without sound biblical and theological foundations in place (in other words armed with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which has been honed sharp, skilled in its use from study) … without these foundations, the deceived are helpless against these servants of Satan.

Now, I mention false teachers, for they are a contemporary equivalent of the second beast of Rev. 13. And we’ll cover why that is as we move along.

In our recent journeying through the Apocalypse of John, leading up to today’s passage, in Rev. 13:1-10, we took a look at the actual text of the passage along with the textual and historical context of its writing (circa. AD 65). Based on several limiting factors defined by the context, and logical deductions, we identified the Sea Beast (later referred to as just “the beast,” starting in Rev. 13:14) as being (in a generic sense) the Roman Empire and (in a specific sense) the reigning Roman Emperor Nero, who was brutally persecuting Christians at the time of the book’s writing.

Today, as we begin working through the passage, on the second beast, otherwise known as the False Prophet (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; and 20:10), we are going to cover some introductory information and a few arguments as to the identity of the False Prophet. We’ll dig further into things like, for example, how the False Prophet symbolically called down fire from heaven (Rev. 13:13), over the next few weeks.

Concerning the identity of the Land Beast, my first inclination was to think that it was speaking about the imperial priesthood of the imperial cult (AKA the emperor cult) and their facilitation of the worship of the Beast. Numerous scholars (such as Jay Adams) hold to this position, and on the surface, it seemed a plausible fit. It was an obvious candidate, due to its religious nature, clearly stated in v. 12, as all through the empire the imperial cult facilitated the worship of not only dead emperors but the worship of Nero (worshipped as an embodiment of the divine state—the Roman Empire).

However, digging deeper, it turns out that the imperial cult does not best fit the full picture described by John. A key reason is that he describes the second beast, in Rev. 13:11, as “rising out of” or “coming up from” “the Land,” which is a major identifier. The first beast arose out of the “sea,” (symbolic for the Gentile nations), and the second beast (called “another beast”), arose from the “Land.” And while your English translation may say the beast was “rising out of the earth,”the word translated “earth” is here better translated as “land.” And earlier in our study of Revelation, I explained how the Greek word can be translated as either “land” or “earth,” depending on the context. It seems too, as J. M. Ford points out in her discussion of this verse, that “likely … ‘the land’ means Palestine, since … ‘land,’ is synonymous with Israel in Jewish writings.” [1] So the contrast here is between the beast that arose from the Gentile nations and the beast that arose from the Land of Israel. Kenneth Gentry clarifies:

Though distinct from and subordinate to the Roman beast, he is in league with him in Judea, “the Land.” So then, just as the sea from whence the greater beast arises touches most of the Roman provinces, thereby presenting him on the “world” … stage, so the subordinate beast has a lesser realm, “the Land” …, Israel.[2]

Furthermore, in the second part of v. 12, those whom the False Prophet makes to worship the first beast is better rendered as “the Land and those who dwell in it.” This is a specific reference to the land of Israel and the Jewish nation. So, the False Prophet is a dominant religious power in Israel, and the dominant religious power in Israel was centered at the Temple, with the high priest at the top of the religious hierarchy.

Another thing is that the distinctness of each of the two beasts from each other, indicates that the imperial cult’s priesthood is not what is portrayed here. The imperial cult was wrapped up in the Empire itself, as part of its function in the Gentile world. But the Land Beast is presented as a separate entity from the Empire, although subordinate to the Empire. As for its subordination, v. 11 describes it as having two horns like a lamb (in contrast to the ten horns of the terrifying first beast), indicating the first beast is more powerful. Then in v. 12, the second beast’s authority flows out of the first beast, as indicated by the concept of it exercising its authority in the presence of the first beast. Essentially, as Gentry puts it, “Any authority he has, he is exercising it, but only under the watchful eye of the first beast.”[3] In other words, the Land beast exercised its authority under the oversight of the sea beast, subject to the constraints of the sea beast.

Further, considering Satan’s intentions given in Rev. 12:17 (to persecute the Christians), the two entities of Rev. 13 symbolize those who carried out his intentions by directly persecuting the Christians, in the first century. We’ve covered Rome’s persecution, as the Beast. But who does the NT repeatedly point to as actively persecuting Christians (like in the book of Acts)? The New Testament does not mention the imperial cult’s priesthood. Rather, it overtly points to the culpability of the Jewish religious leadership with the high priest at its head. Thus, for example, Acts 5:17ff. begins with “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him …,” to then proceed to tell of them persecuting the apostles.

There are also the themes of judgment and vindication in the book of Rev., to take in account. Rev. 19 and 20 speak of the False Prophet suffering eternal torment in the lake of fire and sulfur, singled out along with the Beast and the Dragon to this fate. The imperial priesthood (considering the themes of vindication found in Revelation) just does not seem to warrant being specially called out in such a way as part of the Unholy Trinity. Rather, to whom did Jesus say, “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”? He said it directly to the high priest, Caiaphas, in Matt. 26:64. Jesus was affirming that he was the Messiah, and he was telling the high priest that he (whom the high priest and Jewish leaders were doing everything they could to kill)  … that he, the Messiah, would be vindicated. And (as we observed when we studied Rev. 1:4-8 and Matt. 24:30), the prophetic imagery used in Rev. 1:7, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds” signals the theme of divine judgment. When Jesus used this terminology in his Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24:30 and then in 26:64, he was saying that his vindication and vengeance would come down upon the Land and Jerusalem. So when we later read of the False Prophet’s burning in the lake of fire and sulfur for eternity, it brings final resolution to the issues of Christ Jesus’ promise of vindication that his claim that he is the Messiah would be proven true and that judgment and punishment would be carried out upon “those who pierced him” (Rev. 1:7).

Now, Gentry, in his book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, spends a whole chapter on the issue of the Land Beast’s identity. [4] It’s a helpful study, and I recommend it. The identity of the second beast, which he (among other scholars) suggests, seems to make the most sense of the textual and historical context and the themes of Revelation. He posits, “the second beast symbolizes apostate Judaism as concentrated in its religious leadership in its High Priestly aristocracy.” Gentry elsewhere clarifies this as “the apostate high priestly aristocracy – the high priesthood and all the subordinates of the priesthood who are governing Israel.” [5] Consistent with the identity of the Sea Beast, we can break this down into a generic and specific identity of the Land Beast—generically it would be the subordinate Jewish religious leaders under the high priest, and specifically it would be the high priest (of whom there were quite a few from the time of Annas and Caiaphas).

Rev. 13:11-12, provides even more support to this understanding. For one, the second beast has the appearance of a lamb (v. 11). The lamb imagery combined with the religious nature of the second beast seems to reflect the lamb in the Jewish sacrificial system. And this, of course contrasts with Christ Jesus, who is referred to 28 times in Revelation as “the Lamb”—“the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). Like Jesus had warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Such were these Jewish religious leaders, a ravening beast that sought to feed its own appetite and desires (i.e. its power and status, with all the benefits—John 11:48) at the destructive expense of the Jews and Christians.

As for the second beast exercising “all the authority of the first beast” (v. 12) Gentry clarifies what “authority” this is referencing:

This must contextually refer to the particular, relevant, dramatically-presented authority in view: the authority to continue what Satan seeks…. That is, Satan’s attempt to overthrow God’s redemptive purpose by securing the death of Christ (Rev 12:4d) and accusing the brethren (Rev 12:10) to the point of “death” (Rev 12:11) by means of persecution (Rev 12:13, 17). Thus, the Land beast reflects the sea beast’s “authority to act” (Rev 13:5) which “was given to him [by the dragon] to make war with the saints” (Rev 13:7). This is the authority in view, not literally “all …” of Rome’s authority in everything …, for the next phrase places constraints upon the Land beast’s exercise of authority.[6]

The Sanhedrin (even as the highest court of Israel, with the high priest at its head) was forbidden to convene without the consent of Roman authorities.[7] It could not get together and exercise its authority without the Romans empowering them to do so. The Sanhedrin’s authority was under the oversight and constraint of Roman authority. And we see this admitted, in particular, by Jews, in John 18:31, in that the Sanhedrin could not legally execute anyone but could only refer the case up to the Romans for them to judge, before execution might be carried out. Thus Jesus had to be brought before the proper Roman authority, which was Pilate, who had been appointed by Emperor Tiberius to be the governor of Judea. [8] And the Jewish leaders, knowing from whence their own power came, expressed their loyalty to the Empire, even challenging Pilate, saying that if he released Jesus, he was “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12), implying they were true “friends,” of Caesar. Indeed, they rejected their own promised Messiah and his Kingdom by declaring their loyalty to the Beast, as we see when the chief priests of Israel cried out “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). They were obedient dogs to their master, Rome. However, the Romans were smart not to trust the Jewish leaders. So, in a quite literal sense of the False Prophet exercising the authority given to it by the Beast, “in its presence,” the Romans built a massive tower (the tower of Antonia) to observe the activities of the Jews in the Temple (something which really irritated the Jews). [9]

In Rev. 13:11, John says the second beast spoke “like a dragon.” This indicates that the False Prophet spoke and acted according to Satan’s directives (in harmony with the Sea Beast, who likewise was carrying out Satan’s objectives). Such is consistent with Jesus’ accusation, when he was in the Temple speaking to the Jewish religious leaders. He said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Then Jesus later refers to the Jewish synagogue system, specifically referring to both the synagogue in Smyrna and Philadelphia, as synagogues “of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). So, from these verses we can derive that the high priestly aristocracy was doing the work of the Dragon (Satan) along with its subordinate leaders, including those throughout the provinces at the synagogue level (e.g. the elders, heads (or rulers) of synagogues, and so forth) who would have taken their cues from Jerusalem. We see this in Acts 9:2, where Saul carried letters of authorization from the high-priest to the synagogue in Damascus (the capitol of Syria). And coming from the mouth and pen of the high priest, the Jewish leaders persecuted the Christians, speaking lies about them, accusing them, like Satan “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10), pushing the Christians before the Romans for persecution.

That Revelation calls the second beast “the False Prophet” is also telling. In the Scriptures, prophecy is associated with the covenant people of God. Even Balaam, brought on the scene by Balak, could only prophecy blessings on God’s covenant people. But then there are the false prophets, and, as Cornelis Vanderwaal observes, “In Scripture, false prophecy appears only within the covenant context.”[10] David Chilton likewise comments, “[False prophecy] is the imitation of true prophecy, and operates in relation to the Covenant people. Moses had warned that false prophets would arise from among the Covenant people, performing signs and wonders (Deut. 13:1-5).”[11] And interestingly, the high priest was assumed to be able to prophesy, as we see in John 11:51. Yet, the high-priestly aristocracy came to be under Satan’s influence, speaking and acting according to Satan’s will. Like the OT false prophets spoke counter to the truth of God’s true prophets, they spoke against the word of Jesus and his apostles. They rejected the promised Messiah, falsely accused both Jesus and Christians, denied the teaching and claims of Jesus, denied the testimony of the apostles, and persecuted the Christians. Like when the high priest claimed that Jesus “blasphemed,” when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the high-priest and his subordinates were, in effect, claiming to authoritatively speak according to God’s voice, while in reality they were speaking according to the voice of Satan. And their falsehood corrupted their teaching of the people and worship at the Temple.

Along those lines, as for how the Land Beast caused the people of the Land to worship the first beast (second part of v. 12), we’ll pick up there at a later date.

So, what, exactly, was the high priestly aristocracy? Well, until shortly before the Temple’s destruction, the Jewish high priest and the religious leaders under him carried tremendous power over the people of Israel. Josephus put it this way:

These men [the high priests and priests in general] had the main care of the law and of the other parts of the people’s conduct committed to them; for they were the priests who were ordained to be the inspectors of all, and the judges in doubtful cases, and the punishers of those that were condemned to suffer punishment. [12]

Josephus also records that after Herod Archelaus (whom Augustus Caesar removed from power, about AD 6), “the government became an aristocracy, and the high priests were entrusted with a dominion over the nation.”[13] So the Romans “entrusted” the high priests, by appointing them to that position, thus tying them to the first beast’s will.

For centuries, the high priestly aristocracy’s power and structure had evolved, particularly after the exile. During the 400 years between Testaments, the high priests were busy, as leaders of Israel (some good, some bad). Some even serving as both king and high-priest at the same time. It’s a fascinating history, and I recommend H.A. Ironsides’ book, The Four Hundred Silent Years, which talks about various high priests and the events in Israel from the time of Nehemiah until Christ.

But in 63 B.C., (under Julius Caesar) General Pompey established Roman rule in Israel, and Pompey became the first Roman to decide who would be the high priest in Jerusalem. And from the time of Herod the Great (appointed king of the Jews under Mark Antony in 37 BC) the Romans were in charge of who held the position of high-priest. [14]

In the New Testament, three high priests are named, Annas, his son-in-law Caiaphas, and Ananias. Annas had been removed from being high-priest, in AD 15, by the Roman procurator. And Caiaphas was appointed, in AD 18. However, the Jews continued to treat Annas with the respect due to the high priest, and he and Caiaphas worked together on the Sanhedrin. Both of these men were instrumental in Jesus’ murder (John 18), and both of them persecuted the apostles and Christians (of which we read, in Acts). It was Caiaphas who sent Saul with letters to Damascus in order to persecute the Christians (Acts 9:2). Years later, after the Apostle’s Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, in Acts 23:2, he was brought before the high priest, Ananias, for trial. He was the one who unlawfully ordered for Paul to be struck on the mouth, and whom Paul called a “whitewashed tomb” (Acts 23:3).

Josephus provides lots of details on the high-priests through the centuries. For example, he tells of Ananus (high priest in AD 63), who ordered the death of James (the brother of Jesus). But Ananus was quickly rebuked and threatened with punishment by the Roman procurator, Albinus, for convening the Sanhedrin without his permission. So, the Jewish King under Roman rule, Herod Agrippa II, quickly removed and replaced Ananus.[15] A few high priests later, at the beginning of the Jewish War, in AD 66, the Zealots (who sought to completely overthrow all things Roman in Israel) overthrew the Roman appointed high-priest Mattathias ben Theophilus. And he was the last of the Roman appointed high-priests. The Zealots, who had occupied the Temple, cast lots to select his replacement, appointing Phannias ben Samuel as the 83d high priest of Israel (who would be the last).[16] Josephus described him: “A man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he.” What a sad end to an institution, of which Aaron (the brother of Moses) was the first.

As for the organization of the high priestly aristocracy, it consisted of the high-priest at its head, who also the head of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish court, consisting of 71 men. It is described as consisting of

“high priests (i.e. the acting high priest, those who had been high priests, and members of the privileged families from which the high priests were taken), elders (tribal and family heads of the people and priesthood), and scribes (i.e. legal assessors), Pharisees and Sadducees alike.”[17]

The captain of the temple was second in charge of the Sanhedrin, after the high priest. The chief priests included both the high-priest and the captain of the temple, and also the Temple overseers and treasurers (basically those with administrative duties, and who were likewise on the Sanhedrin). After these, there were the ordinary priests, about 18,000, who lived throughout the Land, and served at the Temple two weeks out of the year, participating in sacrifices. And behind them were the Levites, numbering about 10,000, who were in charge of music and other services in the temple, including the police force of the temple. It is thought that they were the ones who physically arrested Jesus and the apostles.[18]

With that, I need to conclude. So, what was the great evil of the high priestly aristocracy? In a nutshell, it all came down to their aggressive rejection of Christ Jesus and his Kingdom, and their subsequent actions in line with that rejection. In their rejection of Jesus, they rejected their Messiah (some did come to believe, as we know), like Joseph of Arimathea – Luke 23:50). But for the most part, with the high priest at their head, they rejected the “I AM” who brought them into existence (Ex. 3:14). Like Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Denying Christ is to deny God himself (1 John 2:23; 2 John 1:9). Thus, having turned their backs on the Lord, they turned to another god, leading the people of the Land astray.

My friends, like then, Satan is still out there, working to undermine the covenant community—the church. You and I need to be on watch for his false teachers, who (like the high priestly aristocracy) would seek to lead us astray. But in order to recognize them, we must know the Lord’s Word. Confident in our knowledge of the Lord’s Word and empowered by the Spirit of God, we become bold and able to stand against false teachers. So, let us strive to know God’s revealed truth so that we will recognize Satan’s lie. Let us diligently study the Bible. Because only the Lord God is “I AM,” his people should be confident in his Word.


[1] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, vol. 38, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 213.

[2] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, Second edition. (Fountain Inn, SC: GoodBirth Ministries, 2010), 122.

[3] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 3, lesson 16.

[4] Gentry (Navigating the Book of Revelation, 120ff.) lists six suggested identities of the Land Beast: “the imperial priesthood,” “the Judean procurators,” “General Vespasian,” “political messianism,” “Flavius Josephus,” and “apostate Judaism.” He suggests: “The final three options meet the three fundamental requirements of Revelation: contemporary relevance, judgment on Israel, and focus on the Land” (123). And he concludes that the second beast symbolizes apostate Judaism as concentrated in its religious leadership in its High Priestly aristocracy” (ibid.).

[5] Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, lecture 16.

[6] Gentry, Navigating the Book of Revelation, 126.

[7] Josephus, Antiquities, 20:9:1 (20:197-203).

[8] Cf. the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 1.1; 7.2; and the Palestinian Talmud, Sanhedrin 41a.

[9] Josephus, Jewish Wars, 5:5:8.

[10] Cornelis Vanderwaal, Search the Scriptures, Vol. 10: Hebrews-Revelation (St. Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1979), 89, quoted by David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 336.

[11] Chilton, 336.

[12] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 805. Against Apion, 2.187.

[13] Ibid., 541. Antiquities, 20.251.

[14] I had to seriously cut down on my initial abbreviated history, so I’ve moved it here in the footnotes:

During the time of Aristobulus II, who served as both the Jewish High Priest and King of Judea from 66 BC to 63 BC (a priest-king in the manner of most of the Hasmonean Dynasty, descended from the Maccabees) … during the time of Aristobulus II, there was civil war in Judea. Aristobolus had overthrown his older brother John Harcanus II to take power. So, both brothers appealed to the Roman general Pompey to come and restore order and set things right. However, this proved to be a terrible idea. Pompey did restore order, but he also brought in Roman rule, beginning in 63 B.C. And, in the process, Pompey nearly destroyed Jerusalem, including desecrating the Temple when he decided to take a stroll into the Holy of Holies. Pompey also restored John Harcanus II as the high priest, thinking he was more loyal to the Romans than Aristobulus. However, Pompey did not restore the kingship to him. Rather Antipater (an Idumean and father of Herod the Great) was placed in charge of Judea by Julius Caesar. And from the time of Herod the Great, who was appointed King of the Jews under Mark Antony in 37 BC, the Romans were in charge of who was the high-priest in Jerusalem.

[15] Josephus, Antiquities, 20.200-203.

[16] Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 4.155; Antiquities, 20.227.

[17] Paul Levertoff, “Sanhedrin,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 2689.

[18] Cf. Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Priest in the New Testament,” https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Priest-New-Testament.