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Revelation 13:1-18: Know Your Enemy (Part 2) Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 May 2012

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Preaching the gospel is not safe.  Holding fast to the Word of God is a dangerous act in the enemy-occupied world in which we live.  We saw an example of such dangers even this week in the news.  A Church in Portland had rocks thrown through its windows on Thursday night.  An email was sent out later to local media outlets claiming that the people who did it opposed the Church because of its belief that homosexuality is a sin.  For those of us who came to the “Love Costs Everything” simulcast a few weeks ago, we know that such an attack is actually mild in comparison to what is taking place in other parts of the world.  Should we be surprised when a local Church has to face such challenges?  Should the persecution of believers be unexpected?

Our enemy does everything he can to deceive people.  Jesus calls him ‘The Father of Lies’ (John 8:44).  To be sure, his deception is not always obvious.  In fact, we see him in the Bible using half-truths and subtle tactics to deceive.  He does not come in a red suit with a big pick-fork.  He knows better than that.  Rather, he comes dressed as light, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and seeks to convince that he is good and worthy of worship.  He is the ‘great imitator,’ longing to take God’s place as the ruler of the world and the focus of man’s affections.

Most view Revelation 13 as a further description of Satan’s war against God’s people in 12:12-17.  Once again John gives us a vision that helps us know our enemy.  The chapter has been called the ‘great imitation’ because over and over again we see the dragon seeking to imitate God and His authority.  This is most clearly seen in the parallels between the Holy Trinity, or the Father, Son, and Spirit, and the ‘unholy trinity’ in this chapter (the dragon, the antichrist, and the false teacher.  The parallels are striking: “As Christ received authority from the Father (Mt 11:27) so Antichrist receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:4), and as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (Jn 16:14) so the false prophet glorifies the Antichrist (Rev 13:12).”   The Enemy imitates to distract and deceive.  Thus, we need to pay attention to what John sees so that we can avoid being deceived.  Let’s consider his description of the two beasts in Revelation 13.

The First Beast, or the Antichrist (v. 1-8)

John begins with a brief description of the first beast in v. 1-2.  Look at those verses with me.  The description of the first beast is similar to the description that we are given of Satan in 12:3.  As we said last week, such a description is meant to show the fierceness and authority of the enemy.  We could add that it also parallels the description of Christ in chapter 5, who has seven horns and seven eyes.  John identifies such a figure in other places as the Antichrist (see 1 John 2:18) and Paul calls him ‘The Man of Lawlessness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3ff).  He is a serious enemy of God’s people who will arise in the last days.  Yet, in light of those passages, we should note that the ‘spirit of the antichrist’ and the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ is already at work.  Thus, if the beast represents an individual figure (and I lean towards thinking that it does) then we need to see him as the culmination of all of the evil ‘antichrists’ who have come before.

As we noted above, the dragon gives authority to the beast to oppose Christ.  He uses this authority to deceive people and cause them to worship the dragon.  Look at v. 3-4.  The beast has a wound that seemed like a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed.  It is hard to know exactly what is being referenced here, but the parallel with Christ’s death and resurrection is obvious.  Whatever the ‘mortal wound’ is, the beast recovers from it, and that recovery causes the whole world to marvel.  They worship the beast and the dragon for these acts.  The beast deceives the world into thinking that he cannot be defeated through this recovery.  Thus, they conclude: “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?”
Not only does John tell us about the beast’s deception of people, he also tells us of his labors to destroy in v. 5-8. 

It begins with blasphemy in v. 5-6.  Look at those verses with me.  We are told that the beast was uttering blasphemies against God and His people.  We are not told the content, but again in light of what we have seen, these blasphemies probably include claims to be God and reasons to reject God and the Church.  The destruction gets worse in v. 7-8.  The beast is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.  Perhaps you are thinking: ‘Wait a minute William, you said last week that the enemy would fail in all his attempts to conquer God’s people?’  Actually, the point we made is that the enemies’ plans will ultimately fail.  The Church will have its martyrs.  Men and women will die at the hands of the beast.  Yet, even so, they will ultimately win by the blood of the Lamb (12:11).  One commentator notes: “In the crucial test of faith they (the martyrs) relinquish their lives rather than their confidence in God.  This is true victory!”   John supports this when he notes that even though the whole world participates in worshipping the beast, God’s people, those whose names were written in the book of life, will not.  They will persevere and their faith will ultimately conquer the beast.

The second beast, or the false prophet (v. 11-18)

John describes another beast in v. 11-12.  Look at those verses with me.  This beast also has horns and speaks with authority and power.  In fact, this beast has the authority of the first beast and does all he can to make people worship the first beast (which parallels the Spirit’s work in causing people to worship Christ). 

John tells us of the second beast’s deception in v. 13-15a.  Look at those with me.  The second beast will perform great signs which will deceive those who dwell on earth.  The signs will be similar to those performed by former prophets (like Elijah) and he is therefore referred to as the false prophet later in the book (16:13, 19:20, 20:10).  The New Testament repeatedly warns of false prophets and the second beast is a culmination of all of those who have sought to deceive people through false signs and wonders.  The image that the second beast sets up reminds us of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.  He is actually able to make this image speak.  We see in these signs the great power of the enemy to deceive.

Like the first beast, the false prophet also brings destruction.  After the image speaks we are told that those who did not worship the image will be slain.  Look at v. 15b.  Once again we see the cost of remaining faithful.  God rescued the three men from death in Daniel, but here He rescues them through death.  They would rather die than worship the image of the beast.  To them, Christ matters more.  John goes on to describe one of the most controversial parts of the whole book.  Look at v. 16-18.  The image of the beast causes all people to receive a mark on their forehead (paralleling the seal of God, 7:1-8).  The mark controls the economy.  No one can buy or sale without the mark.  And the mark is the name of the beast or the number of its name, which we are told is the number 666.  So then, what can we say about this?  First, we should note that it was common practice for names to be symbolized by numbers taken from the letters of Greek and Hebrew.  Thus, most see this number as an example of that practice.  Of course, the obvious question is what name is symbolized by 666?  Many argue for Nero, which seems to fit best, since he would have been well-known to the original readers and a good symbol of Satanic evil.  Yet, there are problems with this interpretation as with all the rest.  It has been mysterious for two thousand years and it remains so today.


What are we supposed to do with these visions?  Do they have any importance for us this morning?  In order to answer, let me close with three implications from these visions.

First, they warn us of what happens to those who side with the enemy.  Satan does not ‘take care of his own.’  He deceives them.  He enslaves them.  And with him, they will be punished forever in the lake of fire (20:7-15).  Siding with him is siding with the one who will lose.  In fact, even in this passage we see that even though the devil exercises some authority, it is God who is ultimately in control.  Look at v. 5, 7, 14, 15.  It is clear that the enemy is only doing what he is allowed to do.  One of my commentator’s note: “Neither Satan nor the beast can do a single thing without permission from God.”   From beginning to end, the Bible makes it clear that God is in control.  The enemy rages against the Lord and His people, but even so, the Lord’s purposes are still accomplished.  So then, why would we not side with the Lord?  He has sovereignly and graciously sent us a Savior to set us free from this defeated foe.  He died for us and rose again to give us victory over this enemy.  Will you not turn from your sins and trust in Him today?

Second, these visions prepare us for the deception and destruction of the enemy.  These last days will be dark and difficult.  Again, Satan is not going to show up in a red suit proclaiming: ‘Hey, I’m Satan, I’m going to lose, come follow me.’  He is going to deceive and destroy.  Many who claim to be Christians will fall away.  Jesus foretold of these days so that we would not be lead astray (Matthew 24:24-28).  God gives John these visions so that we will not be caught off guard.  Thus, we must take advantage of this teaching.  Mothers teach your children the truth.  Prepare them for the deceptions of the enemy by focusing on the truth of Christ.  Know the truth.  Believe the truth.  Proclaim the truth.  It will guard you against the lies of Satan.

Third, this chapter causes us to endure in the faith and conquer the enemy.  Look at v. 9-10.  The difficulties of following Christ are real.  Some will be taken captive and some will be put to death by the sword.  Yet, again, God is in control of all of this.  We are His people and our lives belong to Him.  He has written our names in the book of life even before the foundation of the world.  We know that the enemy is not going to win the battle in the end.  All of his deception and all of his destruction will not be enough on the last Day.  We know this is true because of these visions that John gives us.  God perseveres us through these warnings.  He uses them so that we will endure in the faith and conquer the enemy.

The book of Revelation teaches us that even though the enemy is fierce, he will not win.  He will rage against God’s people but he will not be able to ultimately conquer them.  We are victorious over him through the blood of the Lamb.  So then, as we said last week, may we live in the victory that Christ has secured for us at the cross.  If you are here and you have never turned from your sins and trusted in Christ, then I plead with you to do that today.  Do not be found on the wrong side on that Day.  If you are a believer in Christ, then walk in the victory of your Savior.  Do not give in to sin because you don’t have to.  Do not believe in the lies in the enemy because you know the truth.  Do not grow weary in the fight because the battle belongs to the Lord.  Indeed, may these visions of John be a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.  Amen.

1 Robert H. Mounce, The book of Revelation NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1977), p. 258.
2 Ibid., p. 255.
3 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 498.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 May 2012 )

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