So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast
So is the conjunction καὶ [kai] , often translated by and. It links that which follows with that which preceded. In this case, it indicates that worship of the dragon is in response to the miraculous healing of the Beast. This must not be missed!
It is not clear whether they worship the dragon explicitly and directly. This is most certainly possible, as some people today openly worship Satan. But it is also said that they worship the Beast. The text emphasizes the dragon as the source of authority for the Beast. This may indicate in the same way in which idol worship is understood as being worship of the demons behind the idols (Deu. Deu. 32:17; Ps. Ps. 106:37; Rev. Rev. 9:20+), so too the worship of the Beast includes that power which is behind him. This seems even more likely because Scripture indicates that the Beast will exalt himself above every god and show himself as God (Dan. Dan. 11:36; 2Th. 2Th. 2:4). Thus, worship directed to the Beast is equivalent with worship of the dragon who empowers him. At the time of the end, Satan will almost achieve one of his most treasured goals: universal worship (Isa. Isa. 14:14; Mtt. Mat. 4:9; Luke Luke 4:7).
they worshiped the beast
This refers to the worship of an individual, not an empire.1
Some wish to interpret this as a reference to the revival of the Roman Empire, . . . But a revived Roman Empire would not cause man to worship it as God any more than the revival of Poland or Israel did. . . . It is the resurrection of the man Antichrist which creates this worship.2This is the first phase of the abomination of desolation (Mtt. Mat. 24:15) when the man of sin himself sits in the temple of God proclaiming himself as God. His initial declaration as God will take place in the Tribulation Temple.
Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women,3 nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all. (Dan. Dan. 11:36-37)
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2Th. 2Th. 2:3-4)The early church, having no knowledge of preterism, understood Pauls epistle to the Thessalonians as describing an Antichrist yet future:
And again, speaking of Antichrist, [Paul] says, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped [2Th. 2Th. 2:4]. He points out here those who are called gods, by such as know not God, that is, idols. For the Father of all is called God, and is so; and Antichrist shall be lifted up, not above Him, but above those which are indeed called gods, but are not.Irenaeus, Against Heresies, iii.vi.24The Beast, being empowered and possibly indwelt by Satan, shares the same aspirations as his master. He says in his heart:
I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High (Isa. Isa. 13:13-14)Yet, ultimately he is only a man:
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying, Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities? (Isa. Isa. 14:15-17)Worship of the Beast will include worship of his image. See commentary on Revelation 13:15.
Who is like the beast?
The adulation of the world for the Beast is a perversion of acclaim which should go to God:
This cry of the world, Who is like unto the Beast is a travesty of the song of Moses. When celebrating Jehovahs overthrow of their enemies at the Red Sea, Israel sang, Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the Gods! Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders! (Ex. Ex. 15:11 cf. Ps. Ps. 89:8).5Who is able to make war with him?
His revival from the abyss, the holding pen of demons (Rev. Rev. 9:1-2+), and his ability to sway the world and overcome Gods prophets all point toward his demonic possession, possibly even by Satan himself (Luke Luke 22:3):
The Antichrist will be a man (2Th. 2Th. 2:4), but at some point in his life, he will be indwelt by a powerful demon from the abyss. This demon-possessed man will be a gifted orator, an intellectual genius, possess great charm and charisma, and have immense leadership power. Added to those natural qualities will be the hellish power of Satan. The result will be a person of superhuman power, vast intelligence, and consummate wickedness.6
1 The preference for an individual to worship is evident from the time of Rome: The worship of emperors . . . provided a living tangible, audible deity for men who had been accustomed to the formal routine of ritual observance. The gods of Graeco-Roman legend had no reality; and their very existence had been challenged by the philosophers. The [Roman] emperor was the living head of the state and the guardian of its welfare. . . . His abilities and deeds seemed almost superhuman to the ordinary man of the street. Here at last was a real person whose position and powers made him worthy of worship.Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 24.
3 Regarding the phrase, the desire of women: Gen. 3:15), making the expression a symbol of the Messianic hope in general. The desire of women would be a subjective genitive: that desired by women. Favoring that interpretation is the contextual position of the phrase sandwiched between references to the gods of his fathers and any god. Merrill F. Unger, Ungers Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), Dan. 11:37.
6 John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), Rev. 13:1.