Revelation Devotion #20
– Pastor Timothy
We need to read Revelation chapter 13 in conjunction with chapter 12. Failing in his objective to destroy the seed by which Christ would come and unable to thwart the mission that Christ fulfills in redeeming His Bride, Satan sets his sights on deceiving the world and decimating the church.
In doing so, the great dragon sends forth the beast from the sea (13:1-10) and the beast from the earth (13:11-18). Together, these three — Satan, the beast from the sea (antichrist), and the beast from the earth (false messenger) — form an unholy trinity, as if to parody the Triune God.
Satan lacks originality. Even as he wanted to be God himself, he patterns his misguided attempts at a kingdom after the being of God.
Satan lacks authority. Even as he aspires for power and dominion, God always remains in control. The antichrist and the false messenger never operate apart from divine limitations, as John uses the expression “was given” five times in 13:5-7 and 13:14-15.
The way that Satan chooses to wage war against the church comes through political power and religious deception.
The beast from the sea alludes to the teaching of Daniel 7, where four beasts portray nations and rulers who attack God’s people. Historically, John would have had in mind Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian, who took on divine names like “Savior” or “Our Lord and God.” The context, then, presents a secular power structure that not only dismisses God but seeks to establish itself as god.
This beast from the sea has appeared in various forms throughout history, thus explaining John’s teaching in 1 John 2:18 of many antichrists. It makes sense to see antichrists continuing to take on forms that involve political systems, which enact social, financial, and/or military structures in stark contrast to godly principles.
Robert Mounce points out, “Deification of secular power is in fact the worship of Satan.” When people defer to political authority over God’s authority, idolatry is afoot.
Micah 7:18 records, “Who is like you, God?” The Lord alone is sovereign and only the Lord can save.
Nevertheless, the forms that the antichrist takes deceive earth-dwellers to say, “Who is like the beast?” (13:4) The antichrist seeks to cause people to put their hopes in the wrong things. As if a self-serving, self-deifying entity would ever have the ability or even the desire to save humanity.
Think about the powerful Oz in the “The Wizard of Oz”. Whenever Dorothy arrives at the Emerald City with Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion in order to gain what they each truly needed — a heart, a mind, courage, and passage home — Oz attempts to overwhelm them and frighten them into submission. But Dorothy’s little dog Toto is not fooled. Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes Oz for the fake that he actually was.
The god of this age blusters and bellows like Oz from that classic film. Let the gospel message pull back the curtain and expose him for what he truly is: a liar and a murderer (cf. John 8:44).
Satan not only imitates the being of God, he also fashions himself after the operations of God. About the outworking of the unholy trinity, Mounce observes: “As Christ received authority from the Father (cf. Matthew 11:27), so antichrist receives authority from the dragon (13:4); and as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (cf. John 16:14), so the false prophet glorifies the antichrist (13:12).”
In other words, the beast from the earth advances heretical teachings that usurp the gospel message and misrepresent the true Christ. Throughout the course of history, this anti-spirit, if you will, seeks to convince people of deceitful propaganda, to misrepresent the nature of Jesus, and to establish false worship.
In John’s day, the church would have recognized the beast from the earth as perhaps the priesthood of the imperial cult, promoting homage to the emperor and to other pagan deities. For us presently, we must guard ourselves against the false religious messages that water down biblical truth and blend in with the pluralistic, relativistic, so-called progressive rhetoric, which runs either inconsistent with or completely counter to the full counsel of God.
To succumb to and embrace these false messages that promote the agenda of the antichrist is to take on the mark of the beast, or 666 (13:18).
We must not misconstrue this mark as a literal stamp. We are in no way intended to interpret this as some vaccine that the government pushes upon a society, a vaccine that if individuals refuse to receive will lead to lack of opportunities and open oppression (aka, a covid-19 vaccination). Instead, the mark of the beast is a figurative but real indicator of where one’s loyalties exist.
Followers of Christ do not receive a literal mark on their foreheads (cf. Revelation 7:3, 9:4; Deuteronomy 6:8). However, followers of Christ do demonstrate their allegiance through how they think, act, and worship.
The number 666 thus represents the unholy trinity and all that it stands for with its misguided political ethic, its false religious messages, and its intent to decimate the church and the things of God. Do not be fooled, for this mark of the beast easily seeps into our culture as well as our churches. Jesus warns of that when communicating to the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2:12-29.
Are we willing to suffer physical harm, financial hardship, and/or social ostracization by standing against the false messages of our time? (13:14-17)
Ultimately, the evil systems with their rulers that blaspheme the Lord’s name will emerge as a final, single eschatological figure who serves Satan, rejects God, and persecutes Christ’s people (13:5-7; cf. Daniel 7:23-25). Again, the appearance of what Paul calls the “man of lawlessness” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) presents Satan’s lack of originality and his lack of authority. In 13:3, John says this coming antichrist will appear to suffer a death-wound and yet experience something of a resurrection. Ring a bell?
Ultimately, the false messengers, those who either do not stand against ungodliness or who actively promote it, will emerge in a final manner so as to demand that people worship the antichrist or face the prospect of death (13:14-15).
Only, ultimately, here’s the thing: the number 666 and all that it represents falls short. Again, it has no authority. The church must stand firm while we wait for Christ to return in legitimate power, glory, and dominion. “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” (13:10).