13 The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. 4 People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
So begins a time of persecution where the dragon (Satan) empowers 2 beasts to come through both the sea and the earth. Some have compared the beast to Nero the emperor of Rome, since the church was undergoing intense persecution. And while that might have some relevance for that context, it seems the larger context is John's vision of the events that precede Jesus' return.
The clear purpose of the dragon is to use its power to turn people away from worshipping the true God, to himself. It uses power, manipulation and deception to mimic who God is. One example is the seal that God gave the believers to protect them and give them their identity in Him. The beast demands a similar seal be put on their foreheads to buy or sell in the market place. And the number given to the beast is 666. Ironically if 777 is a number of perfect completeness of God, then 666 is just one number short. I.e. It looks similar but is very different.
Finally, it performs great signs like fire coming down from heaven. This reminiscent of Pharoah's magicians imitating the plagues brought by God. This reminds us that not all apparent miracles are from God. One commentary says this,
True signs and miracles point us to Jesus Christ, but miracles alone can be deceptive. That is why we must ask with respect to each miracle we see: Is this consistent with what God says in the Bible?
So what might this mean for us? Whether we are living in the end times or not, it is good for us to recognize all the ways Satan's uses to disguise himself as an angel of light. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 regarding false teachers in his time,
"For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
So what is the antidote to all of Satan's strategies today? One word. The truth. The truth about God. The truth about Jesus and the truth about the evil one. And where do we find the truth? Jesus said, "I am the truth". And we have been given the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us discern what is true and untrue. It is no accident that Paul says in Ephesians 6 in regard to the spiritual battle we are all in, that one of our greatest weapons is the Sword of Spirit, which is the Word of God. And that Word is Jesus.
Jesus will have the final word on Satan's defeat. And we have the authority of Jesus to stand on that word when Satan tries to accuse or deceive us. So we don't have to be afraid, just aware. We need to be equipped for the battle which we will wage until Jesus brings us home.