Last week, we heard how the dragon attempts to destroy the church by sending out his first beast from the sea. This is Satan’s last effort to rebel against God by punish those whom the Son, the slain lamb saves. The first beast represents a demonized state who demands worship from its constituents. We learned a great deal last week about it but now we move to the second beast who is the false prophet.
The second beast is described from Revelation 13:11-18. Later on we will read how John identifies it as the false prophet. He is the promoter of state worship. We will also find out the “magic tricks” it uses to deceive their followers and determine the symbolic meaning of the mark of the beasts.
So let us end our sermon series on the beasts but before we begin, let us pray:
“Grant, Almighty God, that we may remember ourselves to be pilgrims in the world, and that no splendor of wealth, or power, or worldly wisdom may blind our eyes, but may we always direct our eyes and all our senses towards the kingdom of thy Son. May we always fix them there, and may nothing hinder us from hastening on in the course of our calling, until at length we pass over the course and reach the goal which thou hast set before us.” ~ John Calvin
The False Prophet and its Counterfeit Worship
Verses 11-18: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.“
We begin again by inquiring several things from the text to learn what they mean in order to understand them and apply it properly in our lives. First, we need to know who is this second beast, where does it come from, and who does it symbolize? Second, how did the beasts promote the worship of the dragon through a demonized state? Third, what is the mark of the beasts and as Christians, what are we called to to about it?
In verse 11, John describes for us the identity of the second beast. It comes from earth and imitates the faithful witnesses of Christ in the church. Like what we mentioned last week, the origin of both beasts, coming out from the seas and lands, reflects the geographic range of its influence. They are coming out from all the corners of the world. It is possible reference to the symbolic monsters described in Job 40 as the Behemoth and in Job 41 as the leviathan. These land and sea monster strike fear in the hearts of the people and some imagine them bringing destruction to their lives.
Now coming out from the troubled seas, it attempts to imitate the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s faithful prophets. It tries to become a “witness” but just like the dragon, it only speaks of lies and deceit. In contrast to God’s holy prophets, they are the unholy false prophets of false religion. They promote the false worship of a false god through its false “resurrection” (verse 12). These promoters of false deities are calling all unregenerate fallen sinners to bow down before the image of the first beast. They even perform “miracles and signs” in order to deceive their followers.
Scriptures gave us clear examples of these false prophets. Both in the Old Testament and even the in the New. In the Old Testament there are those from Moses and Elijah’s time while in the New Testament, John himself mentions a few examples in the church.
During the time of Moses, Paul mentions to Timothy two magicians who opposed the God’s truth. 2 Timothy 3:8: “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” These men also attempt to perform miraculous “signs and wonders” (verses 13-14) similar to what the Holy Spirit performs during the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. Just like during the time of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:20-40, there were 450 prophets of ball who promised to bring down fire from heaven but failed. None of them truly achieved to demonstrate the supernatural power of the Triune God and yet their followers continues to deceive themselves into thinking they are truly holy men. These peddlers of false religion simply trick the eyes and minds of the these willful victims because just like them, they are all spiritually discerned.
John also warns the seven churches about these false prophets. Jesus himself commended them and commended them to rid the church of these false teachers. Both in the letter to Ephesus and Pergamum, Jesus mentions the Nicolatians (Revelation 2:6; 15). They seduce people into a religion of sexual immorality. Similarly, Jesus also warns the church in Thyatira against the prophetess Jezebel for her sensuous religion. He punishes anyone who allows such counterfeit religion to enter the church.
Now, John also lived in the time where historically there are leaders in their cities who promote emperor worship. They construct great temples and images of the emperors in order to gain favor with them. They bow down to the emperors as deity in order to receive financial power and military protection. These group of people are known as the “Commune of Asia” and according to Dr. Poythress, they promote loyalty and worship of the emperor.
Who then are these false prophets in our day?
Well, they are the peddlers of false religion inside and outside the church. Inside the church, their looks are more deceiving because they pretend to look like the real deal. Simply put, they are those who proclaim a false gospel. They teaches another gospel other than when Jesus teaches his apostles to proclaim. They promote a kind of spirituality that does not come from true saving faith and they put on loads of man-made laws for worship and deceives a lot of people into thinking they are saved but in reality they far away from God. These men who preys on the weak, the unlearned, and poor pretend they are for God but their teachings and practices show otherwise. Outside the church, these are your propagators of self-worship. they proclaim a message soothing to the selfish consumers. They teaches a message of autonomy and licentiousness and ungodly living. They promote a kind of spirituality from a false sense of individuality and bombards us with message of self-fulfillment yet none can satisfy. They also prey of the weak, the undiscerned pretending to bring us salvation from our bane existence into a world bliss.
No one can detect false religion by simply using our emotions and decide on them by how we feel. We are easily deceived by what is familiar and often time when it feels good, we tend to follow it. This is why we primarily need to use our minds first in order to properly discern what is true from what is false. It is in order we need to determine the sign of our times.
Sadly, if you think about it both inside and outside the church the message are same. The false prophet of the world is the false prophet inside our churches today. Modern churches are worldly churches and there is no discernable difference between those outside and inside the church. Materialism, sexual immorality, licentious living all are found among so-called “believers”. They do this either by toleration and compromise. There is no church discipline, no closed communion. Loose membership comes with loose living. Doctrines are neglected and godly practices are forgotten. And as Jesus himself warns, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:29).” Let us pray for the reformation of our churches in the Philippines. May the Word of God regulate the mind and lives of his people.
Before we end let us address the misconceptions popularized from these verses we are studying. They are the mark of the beast and the buying and selling, and the number 666.
The mark of the beast is commonly depicted as a literal mark received in the right hand or forehead (verse 16). Modern depictions of it is a chip implanted either in the hand or in the forehead (ouch). In relation to buying and selling, they are thought to act like credit cards allowing only those with them to transact business wit the government. I even heard Kris Aquino was reported to have one implanted in her hands. But symbolically, the mark of the beast is an imitation of the seal of the God marking the believers with the presence of the Holy Spirit. So the mark of the beast is simply the mark of unbelievers who worship (right hand and forehead) a demonized state and depends on it for material security (buying and selling). Fallen Imagination runs wild so let us settle with the spiritual meaning of the mark and seal.
The number 666 and its calculation started a whole religion about gemetria. It is the representation of letter with numbers. In Hebrew, the Greek name of Nero Caesar is calculated as 666. You can google these numbers and its equivalent so I will not anymore dwell on this. Simply put, the number 6 is the number of man as it is the day of his creation. However, man will always comes short of 7 which is the perfect number of creation. It is when God rested. The multiplication of six by three times equivalent to 666 may magnify the power and wisdom of man but it always fall short of God’s perfection 777. The John may have Nero in mind contextually in verse 18 yet of course this exhortation to keep watch must happen in the entire period of the first and second coming of Christ. There has been a lot of false prophets in Scripture as well as in our church history. Heresies, worldliness, and compromise abounds so it is wise to always keep watch.
ZCRC(Imus), this is what the apostle John wants us to do as Christians living as exile pilgrims between two ages: we must discern properly between what is true from what is almost true. We need the remind ourselves about the true gospel and continually reform our minds and lives with the whole counsel of God. Let us pray that the Lord will conform us to the image of his Son and deliver us from the evils of false religion. May God preserve us in his Word. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.