If there is one learning reinforced to me from this whole quarantine period, it is the importance of corporate public worship. I realized more than ever the great spiritual impact of prolonged periods of no physical gathering. Yes, the preaching of God’s Word via YouTube livestream encourages us week by week but it is not public worship nor intended to replace Lord’s Day gatherings. So, it is indeed a privilege, despite of the limitations and restrictions, to preach to all of us who are gathered here publicly in our new temporary place. Let us continue to pray God will soon allow others who are still required to stay home to join us and may the Lord continue to call his people to attend the Lord’s Day with us.
We have only 2 hours to spend together and with the inclusion of the Profession of Faith and Lord’s Supper, I have decided to limit our preaching to our first sermon point and continue again next week for the second sermon point. The two sermon points are: 1) The Demonized State and Its Worship; 2) The False Prophets and Its Counterfeit Religion. They are both based on our text from Revelation chapter 13.
Revelation 13 reveals to us two symbolic characters. They are the two beasts of the dragon. The former comes out from the sea while the other comes out from the earth and both are symbolizing it expansive global reach. The first beast represents a demonized state persecuting the church while the second beast points to false religion from its false prophets. It is importance for Christians then and more so us Christians today to identify our enemies in order to fight against their forces and their lies. While unhealthy interest to Satan and his demons must be discouraged, yet here in Revelation 13 we can have the inspired Word of God regulating our view for help us appropriately know much about them and their strategies to deceive the nations.
So with that in mind, let us continue our study of the book of Revelation but before we begin, let us pray.
The Demonized State and its worship
Verses 1-10: “And I saw 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. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 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.
So there are again several question we need to answer in detail in order to understand the meaning of these passages. Who is this first beast what does he symbolize? Who does it intend to imitate in order to deceive others? And as Christians what did John ask us to do about it?
Verse 1 describes the beast just like the dragon from Revelation 12:3: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” We can conclude that the beast is made in the image of Satan. We know from Hebrews 1:3 how the Son is the exact representation of the Father, yet here Satan, in his creaturely attempt to imitate God, shows himself as a beast who reflects his power (horns), cleverness (heads) , and rule (diadem). It is indeed an abomination because this figure of Satan only brings persecution and suffering towards God’s people.
Simply put, the beast is a demonized state demanding worship from the people it rules. We can see this parallel from the book of Daniel who predicted the 4 empires who will rule the world before the coming of Christ. In Daniel 7:1-10, the prophet Daniel saw in his dream these world powers ruling the world and they are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and then Rome. True enough after Israel came back from exile up until the coming of Christ, these empires ruled the world. However, from verse 2 of Revelation 13 we read here a combination of these great beasts rolled into one symbol picturing for us a greater beast coming.
Historically some have speculated this beast refers specifically to the tyrannical emperor Nero who died by suicide. Legends grew he did not really kill himself but was in exile and plots his revenge promising to return and to bring down the whole empire with him. Also, Early interpretation of these passages concludes the beast is the Roman empire as a whole who during the first century was the persecutor of Christians. Only after Constantine in the 3rd century Christians enjoyed toleration by the empire and somehow making this view less relevant.
So in general the beast then represent any state governing any nation or empire who becomes an instrument for Satan to persecute God’s people. It is a demonized state demanding worship from the people its rules over. And just like with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3), we choose to stand against it and face the burning furnace than bow down before anyone who is not God.
How does modern state or country demand worship from us as Christians?
Verses 3–4 tell us how the beast imitates the resurrection of Christ. I saw an end times movie showing this in a literal sense where the “World Leader” resurrected from the death but I think we need to interpret this symbolically. The wound sustained by the beast and getting healed from it seems to show a crisis-rescue narrative. The beast “saves” the nation from danger or threat then suddenly everyone adores him and even worship him. This messiah complex can represent anything or anyone who promises to deliver and when they do, people begin to blindly pledge their allegiance. But since this comes from fallen nature, they lead by fear and tyranny. Vern Poythress explains: “…citizens are tempted to look to the state as if it were a messiah. It is the greatest concentration of earthly power, and so it must be the remedy for all ills, economic, social, medical, moral, and even spiritual. Moreover, state persecution in its blatant form threatens to overwhelm us through fear. But in subtle ways in our hearts we are tempted to give ultimate commitments to anything that we fear: fear of man (human opinion), fear of death, fear of pain, fear of poverty.”
Now the state itself properly viewed in Scripture as instrument of God’s justice (Romans 13). It is not all evil as some might easily conclude and to insist this view means to usurp its God-given authority. There is common and public use of government to ensure order and supress chaos. God allows the common civil life as a way for the gospel to flourish and expand to the nations. However, we must also never conclude, no matter how open, friendly, and supportive the state to Christianity that it becomes for itself Christianity. Yes it can become an instrument of good but in so far as equating it to Christianity, we must not.
Augustine’s view is helpful on this matter. He wrote a book City of God during time when the Roman Empire fell during the 4th century. Dr. Calhoun explains how Augustine relates Rome with Christianity.
Augustine says, Rome is not the source of all evil. We should not view the state as the totality of evil…That was a “Christ against culture” idea….Augustine makes it clear that we should not view the state as the source of all evil. Yet neither should we view the state…as God’s chosen instrument of salvation, or the source of all good…That led to a “Christ of culture” approach that Augustine also rejects. For Augustine, the state is the creation and instrument of God. So it could be and had been the source of much good. Augustine recognized that Christianity had greatly profited from the Roman state. The conversion of Constantine and all that went with it led to great blessing and profit for the church. Because of sin, however, the state can degenerate, and often does degenerate, into a city of this world. It can be a city that aims at dominion and holds nations in enslavement.”
Christians often get trapped into thinking that we can put our hope on things other than God. Yes, the civil sphere is part of God’s common and good creation. As instrument of his goodnes, order, and justice, we are called to support and to receive it in gratitude but we should not place it above God himself. We cannot make technology, science, progress become the source of our security and safety. None of these can protect us from any tribulation. Only God can do this for us so never place your allegiance to anything or anyone other than God.
Lastly, what are we to do when persecution comes? Verse 9-10 reminds us: “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.” I used to think two extremes with regard to persecution. First, Christians are no longer being persecuted in our day. Second, I am not a real Christian if I am not experiencing persecution portayed in Scripture. Learning that the great tribulation happens during the millennium period, this is between the first and second coming of Christ, and we are living under it, I have come to understand that persecution still happens. It may not be where I am but it is still on-going. This is why we pray for them every time we gather every Lord’s Day. I also learned that local persecution happens. It may not be highly publicized or even popular but it does happen. Now, no one should seek out persecution like an extreme sport giving an adrenalin high. We should not seek any validation from getting to parade our sufferings. Instead, we are called to be faithful where God leads us and if by his providence he permits persecution to visit us then we follow what John says we must our ground, accept what is coming. We take the sword if we have to. We endure and stand faithful until the end.
ZCRC(Imus), the Lord will protect us from our enemies. We must fight against all forms of evil and deceit. Let us continue to encourage one another to endure and persevere until the end. Amen.