Whilst the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a well documented and fairly comprehensively understood doctrine within believing circles the three key figures of the end time are a much more shadowy and controversial grouping. Termed by some the 'Unholy Trinity' these three figures seem to fulfill some of the roles of the Godhead. However within the Bible itself these three are referred to as individuals and the relationships between them is fairly well documented. The purpose of this essay is to note each of the three, detail the relationships between them and to suggest the interpretation that should be placed upon this network.
The dragon is the first one introduced in this section as a fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. This could lead to a broad array of differing interpretations except that Rev 12:9 progresses to explain who the dragon is: referring to him as the Devil, Satan and the serpent of old. This is about as close as the Bible gets to providing DNA evidence. Of the Power Bible commentators ACC alone manages to find a way to ignore the obvious stating that the description is figurative of the emperors of the Roman Empire. Poole views the dragon as Satan but views him being cast from heaven as figurative of the defeat of the Roman Empire. Barnes hedges his position by seeing an event here from before the Garden of Eden that was literal but which shadowed an event of the defeat of the Roman Empire which was figurative. Robertson sees this as something future and to come. For me personally Rev 12:6 makes quite clear that the time is the mid-point of the tribulation and Satan himself has just been thrown out of the atmosphere and is now trapped upon the Earth awaiting the arrival of the Lord Jesus.
I have detailed my reasoning behind the identification of the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth in great depth in my essays upon The Tribulation and Daniel 7 - The Little Horn and shall not repeat that here. However I think that under the title of the Unholy Trinity it is profitable to look at the interactions between them.
One extremely interesting potential interaction comes from a translational difficulty in the first verse of chapter 13. Whilst most Bibles read "I stood" upon the sand of the sea, Robertson, Biederwolf, the ASV, Weymouth and the NU text assert that 'he stood' is a better rendering. If this is the correct rendering then it implies that not only was John watching these beasts arising but that they were under the watchful gaze of Satan himself. This highlights the already moderately obvious point that the beasts were inspired by the Devil from the beginning. However it also introduces a 'fatherly' role for Satan in this trio.
The description of the beast from the sea clearly ties to the four beasts of Daniel's vision and thus speaks of a vision of a kingdom. However I also believe that an individual is seen as the head or epitome of this beast and that the individual in question is the little horn of Daniel 7. The key issue with regard to the unholy Trinity however is Rev 13:3. The beast has had a deadly wound which has now been healed. I believe this is nothing short of a counterfeit resurrection. We are specifically told that is causes the world to marvel and follow the beast. This is obviously a mimic of the glorious resurrection of our Lord and has led some to describe the beast from the sea as the anti-Christ.
Rev 13:4 brings out another step in the relationship of the two players thus introduced. The dragon gives authority to the beast. This tells us that at this point, Satan has earthly authority and that he is able to delegate it. However it also tells us what the dragon gets in return: worship. Verse 5 does however sound notes of caution for any who take the 'unholy trinity' notion too far: whilst the dragon gives authority to the beast he is only able to give it for 42 months. The Trinity versus the Unholy Trinity is not even close to an even battle. Satan gets a completely set number of days within God's tolerance. Then he is done.
The beast from the earth arises in Rev 13:11. Scofield and Gaebelein both consider this to be the anti-Christ as it comes from the Earth which is a picture of Israel and it has horns like a lamb which suggests a fake lamb. ACC, Barnes, BFB, JBN, JWN, Poole and RWP all see this as either the papacy, a subset of the papacy or some extra organization aligned to the papacy. John and the Holy Spirit who wrote the book of Revelation both consider this beast to be the false prophet so I'm inclined to go with that interpretation.
I believe the best way to understand the role of the false prophet is simply to see what he does. Note from verses 12&14 that he only has authority in the presence of the beast. Unlike the Holy Spirit which came when the Lord returned to Heaven; the false prophet is not capable of acting autonomously. He does have all the authority of the first beast, and he appears to be able to perform more tricks than the first beast, but he is very much physically tied to the first beast for power. However his zenith has to be verse 15 where he is allowed to bring an image, at least apparently, to life. This mimics the work of Christ in creation.
It is possible that attempting to impose a Trinity pattern upon this ungodly trio actually distorts the picture of what they actually are. Whilst we have been reminded Satan is the deceiver we need to remember that faking Christ would be a mammoth undertaking. In particular I think the Beast from the Sea and Earth both share in attempting to replicate Christ's work. When attempting to place the label antichrist we should note that John is the only person to use the label, he never uses it in Revelation, and when he does use it he refers to multiple antichrists that were already extant.
In this essay we have considered three entities; one of whom is Satan, the other is essentially "Satan's man on Earth" and the other is really a side-kick of Satan's man. They fulfill the symbols of Dragon, Beast of the Earth and Little Horn, Beast of the Sea and False Prophet. Together they appear awesome and fake the miracles of the Resurrection and creation. It is certainly their aim to replace the Godhead in the minds of the Earth dwellers but the Bible leaves us in no doubt that this is nothing other than a grotesque parody of the Holy Trinity. We will see in future chapters that the Earthlings follow this trio to slavishly and despite all; may we follow the true triune God with similar vigor.