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the false prophet, revelation 13:11-18

As we enter more deeply into the vision of Revelation 13, John sees Satan enlist two helpers to enforce worship that is in direct opposition to the authentic worship of the true God. (He’ll summon a third helper in Revelation 17, and we’ll get to her later).

The first little helper is a beast that rises out of the sea. It’s seven heads assume various forms of political oppression. The dragon’s second little helper is a beast that rises out of the earth. This land beast had “two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (Rev 13:11). Although the second beast looks like a lamb, it is far from harmless.

The second beast is called “the false prophet” for a good reason (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). It’s rhetoric spews out satanic propaganda and entices the world’s citizens to worship the first beast, the political antichrist (13:12). The false prophet is also able to perform tricks and “great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (13:13). Jesus warned us about these guys. “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24; cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15).

The false prophet in Revelation “deceives those who dwell on earth telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (13:14). It maybe common to interpret this image as a statue; but I think the command to “make an image for the beast” is way more insidious.

The word “image” can mean “likeness” or “representation.” So, instead of reflecting God’s image in Christ, I would suggest that people “make an image for the beast” by reflecting its likeness (Satan’s character). In the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire, the term “image” was “not merely an artistic representation of the god, but an incarnation of the god. The image partakes of the reality of which it symbolizes. A similar usage can be seen in Paul when he writes that Christ ‘is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15)” (Robert Mulholland). Worshippers become living images. We all eventually become like what we worship.

The blasphemous parody continues with a mockery of Pentecost“And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast might even speak” (Rev 13:15). The spirit of the antichrist is “allowed to give breath” to the beastly imagers, commissioning them to “speak” on his behalf. While the spirit of the antichrist seeks to create “one fallen humanity” to reflect a beastly image, the Spirit of God creates “one new man” to conform to the image of Christ (cf. Eph 2:14-15; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

I know that’s its popular to interpret the “mark” literally. But if the mark on God’s people is symbolic (Rev 3:12; 7:3), then to be consistent, the 666 “mark” must have symbolic meaning as well. Our beliefs and actions always leave a conspicuous mark.

It’s not hard to see the unholy trinity here: the satanic dragon, the antichrist, and the false prophet, each one symbolized by the number of fallen humanity. One is either in the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness—there is no kingdom of gray. Let us be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish” who “shine as lights” in a crooked and twisted world (Phil 2:15). “This calls for wisdom,” John says, especially when the dragon’s propaganda targets God’s image-bearers (Rev 13:15-16, 18).

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the antichrist sea monster, revelation 13:1-10

Revelation 12 ends with Satan standing on the sand of the sea. John then sees “a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” to mock King Jesus (Rev 13:1). Who (or what) is this sea monster?

Most scholars call the beast “the antichrist.” In his epistles, John informs us that “the spirit of the antichrist … is in the world already” and “many antichrists have come” and gone (1 John 2:18-22; 4:2-3; 2 John 7; cf. Matt 24:24).

However, John and Paul also warn of one antichrist, a “man of lawlessness,” who “is coming” at the end of the present age (1 John 2:18; 4:4; 2 Thess 2:1-12). The beast, the antichrist, at times seems to be both a political empire and at the same time a person. This is not all that unusual (e.g., when you think of Nazi Germany you think of Hitler). “The dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” to the sea monster to try to silence the Church’s witness (Rev 13:3).

The sea beast appears as a compilation of all the evil traits of Daniel’s beastly kingdoms (Rev 13:2; Dan 7:4-8). Throughout the Bible, beasts are presented as exaggerated caricatures—like political cartoons. The main goal of political cartoons is not to make us laugh; it is to provoke people to think about current events from the artist’s point of view (i.e., God’s view of the beast).

John notices that someone with a “sword” had mortally wounded one of the antichrist’s seven “heads” (Rev 13:3, 14). John doesn’t tell us who wounded him. But when Jesus issues judgments from his mouth, his mouth acts like a “sharp sword” (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21). Plus, the Greek word translated “wound” is the same word that is repeatedly translated “plagues” in Revelation (9:18; 11:6; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18). Mixing metaphors are common in apocalyptic literature. What are we to make of all this?

Every antichrist figure in history has died and yet the “antichrist spirit” continues to do its dirty work. Daniel puts it this way: “As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season” in the next antichrist (Dan 7:11-12). The people of the world may look around and think, “It doesn’t look like Jesus defeated Satan.” But the ancient dragon is just using the sea monster to dupe them into believing that Jesus is not King. They are wrong. Jesus is King and he is in control.

The dragon camouflages his defeat so persuasively that “the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshipped the dragon, … and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Rev 13:3-4). The sea monster will appear to be slain again and again, only to rise again and again, until one last antichrist incarnates lawlessness at the end of history (2 Thess 2:1-12).

You can always spot the sea monster at work. It has a real potty mouth. It disparages God’s name, ridicules the Church, and deceives by making unrighteousness seem pleasurable (Rev 13:5-6). Its malicious power generates universal admiration and praise (13:8). Dissenters will stick out. The beast “was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over” the entire globe (13:7-8).

“The proper response is not to kick and scream, but to hold firm to patience and faith” (NT Wright). So, John concludes, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:9-10). The sea beast is Satan’s tool to cause us to compromise. Yet Christ left an example that we might follow in his steps. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21-23). Jesus is King and he is in control. We must trust him.