The book of Revelation contains an apocalyptic vision of two beasts emerging from the sea and land to take control of the world. It’s in this vision (in Revelation 13) that the image of the beast is first mentioned.
The first beast is a ten-horned, seven-headed monstrosity empowered and given authority by a dragon (Revelation 13:1–2). One of the heads is mortally wounded but is healed (verse 3). The beast is blasphemous against God and actively persecutes God’s people on earth (verses 5–7). It not only rules the world but receives the worship of the world’s inhabitants (verses 4, 7–8). The first beast is a symbolic picture of the Antichrist, and the dragon is Satan (cf. Revelation 12:9).
The second beast is a two-horned, deceptively benign creature that shares authority with the first beast (Revelation 13:11–12). The task of the second beast is to cause everyone to worship the first beast. As the second beast deceives the world with miracles, it orders that everyone “set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (verse 14). It also requires that everyone receive the mark of the beast in their forehead or right hand (verses 16–17). The second beast is a symbolic picture of the false prophet.
The Bible does not provide many details concerning the image of the beast. We know this, however: the false prophet will have “power to give breath to the image of the first beast so that the image could speak” (Revelation 13:15). This breathing, speaking image of the beast will then demand worship. Anyone who refuses to worship the image of the beast will be killed. Revelation 20:4 says that the mode of execution for those who do not worship the image of the beast is beheading. It is likely that the image of the beast is the “abomination that causes desolation” in the rebuilt temple, mentioned in Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15.
What exactly is the nature of the image of the beast? The Bible does not say. The old speculation was that the image of the beast is a statue given the appearance of life. With the rise of new technologies come new theories, including a hologram, an android, a cyborg, a human-animal hybrid, or a human clone. Whatever it is, the image of the beast is the focal point of worship in the “religion of the beast” during the second half of the tribulation. Paying obeisance to the image of the beast is how the deceived people of the world will worship the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) who sets himself up as a god in the temple of Jerusalem.
Those who do not worship the image of the beast will suffer the wrath of the Antichrist. But those who do worship the image of the beast will suffer the wrath of God, which is far worse: “If anyone worships the beast and its image . . . they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur. . . . And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image” (Revelation 14:9–11). The first of God’s bowl judgments is aimed specifically at the worshipers of the image of the beast: “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image” (Revelation 16:2).
Those who refuse to bow the knee to the Antichrist and the image of the beast may be persecuted on earth, but they will be rewarded in heaven: “I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang” (Revelation 15:2–3). The image of the beast is front-and-center in the nightmarish kingdom of Satan, but it will not last. The Bible specifies forty-two months, or three-and-a-half years, that the Antichrist will have worldwide influence (Revelation 13:5). After that, the image of the beast will be destroyed, the two beasts will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20), Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:1–3), and the Lord Jesus will establish His unending kingdom of perfection (Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32–33).