Since the time of the Reformation, the Protestant view was that the papacy was the beast of Revelation. John Wesley declared that “This beast is the Romish Papacy, as it came to a point six hundred years since, stands now, and will for some time longer.” The only Protestant view I could find on the image of the beast that comes out of the earth is from a Protestant Evangelical source (not a Protestant denomination):
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 honour 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.
I am not altogether convinced with that view. More recently I have found a view that comes from a Reformed and Protestant source, but it is by no means common to all Reformed and Protestant churches. Indeed, it might be unique. I refer to the book by John Metcalfe, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’, first published in 1998. I will attempt to give a brief overview of the section that discusses Revelation 13:14-15, quoting relevant passages. I don’t know how to access the book electronically and am copying and pasting from the book itself, which I bought online this year.
Before attempting to discover what the image of the beast is, first we have to identify the beast that comes from the earth. The earth beast has two horns like a lamb but speaks as a dragon. It pretends to be like the Lamb upon Mount Zion – holy, harmless and undefiled. However, it is not merely religious – it incorporates the power given to it by the Entity who seeks total dominion over heaven and earth, that same Entity who is behind the first beast that comes out of the sea and the second beast that comes out of the earth. The purpose of the image of the beast is to cause humanity to worship the Entity who is behind the second beast that comes out of the earth. With regard to the image of the beast, Metcalfe perceives it as:
...all the accrued wisdom and experiences from ages past, together with all the modern discoveries and technologies that have shaken the foundations of the world... It is patently obvious that the image of the beast cannot be literal because, since it is an image of an admittedly allegorical figure, literal representation could never be intended. But in a figure the image signifies that ideology which exaults man, establishes world peace and order under a unified rule, and expresses the concept of humanity evolving to the pinnacle of his destiny. The image of this – once shaped by religion – is that of man without the Fall; the world without the condemnation; the earth without the curse; and the future without the judgement to come. Now, man must surely bow down to that. (The Fourth Opening, pages 329-330)
Think how some Christian denominations downplay the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve and the Fall, of how sin entered into the world and of the judgement to come. Think how scorn is poured on the idea of a God who will condemn sinners to eternal punishment. Even professors and doctors of theology try to soft-pedal the harsh reality of the consequences of sin.
Metcalfe now turns his attention to what makes the image of the beast so appealing:
An ideal that gives new life to humanity, and to human achievement. This universal concept works: it gives life to its beliefs, so that the whole of mankind is swept along by the tide of apparently irresistible achievement. And if any not be conformed, such aliens as these can not be fit to live or labour or remain part of consenting society. (The Fourth Opening, page 330)
Think how the rulers of some secular and anti-Christian countries persecute any who fail to conform to their demands, who subject dissenters to imprisonment, forced labour and worse. Think of what is happening right now in so-called civilised Western democracies where any person who speaks out against the views of minority groups will be punished. Free speech is being eroded by those who will not tolerate any challenge or opposition to their demands.
The first beast, glorified by the second beast – to take the figure – bestows upon the inhabiters of the earth such social, welfare, medical, technological, educational, leisure, pleasure, and incremental benefits, that all the earth defies any who dare to criticize such universal prosperity. Who dare? A people who hear what the Spirit says. A little flock that hears the voice of the good Shepherd. A remnant with an ear to hear the word of the Lord, ‘Come out of her, my people’.” (The Fourth Opening, page 331)
Unlike those who commit spiritual fornication with the world, they do not love the world, which will pass away (1 John 2:15-18). The enemies of the Lamb of God have been active since the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. From the time of the Roman Empire the faithful have been killed because they refuse to worship at the altar of man-made religion, politics, science, technology and human achievement. They worship only God and are prepared to die rather than deny Christ Jesus (John 16:2; 15:18-19).
Metcalf comes to this conclusion:
Even now the rise of a massive and global system is falling into place. Behind it is the invisible dragon, called the Devil, and Satan, unknown and unseen by the world. Humanity is being drawn into one great humanistic, political and social ideal that can see nothing but itself. It is the world of man substituting itself for the word of God where iniquity passes for righteousness... It is blasphemy against the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. (The Fourth Opening, pages 331 and 333)
Given the rapid escalation of starvation, wars, a global viral pandemic, and climate changes resulting in soaring temperatures, floods, wild fires and pollution, time is running out for those who refuse to repent and turn to God. Humanity is sleep-walking into the final conflict between the Lamb of God and the forces of death, darkness and evil who oppose Him. This paragraph does not come from Metcalfe’s book, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’, but is how I would summarise the section that deals with Revelation chapters 12 to 14.