The false prince

Revelation 13:1-10

In this chapter, which is pivotal to the whole book, we see Satan try to counterfeit the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) by joining together and giving his power to two beasts, which come up out of the sea and the land. We even see a false resurrection! Satan always wants to show off his power to entice people to follow him.

The symbolism of the animals recollects, firstly, the dream that Daniel interpreted for King Nebuchadnezzar then, secondly the vision that he himself had much later. The dream for Nebuchadnezzar turned out to be a prophetic word about Babylon and three great empires that would replace it. The image seen by Nebuchadnezzar was a great statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, loins and thighs of bronze, then legs of iron and feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. (We looked at this earlier in study eighteen. The table there sets out the symbolism representing, in succession, the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires.

This earlier dream can also be linked to Daniel's later vision of four beasts, with the first three animals representing Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece, whilst the fourth beast (which he described as "terrifying and frightening and very powerful") can be identified with the Roman empire. This was described in Revelation, chapter seven, which we looked at, earlier, in study eighteen. Incidentally, what a contrast with our wonderful "perfect Lamb, without blemish and without spot"! (1 Peter 1:19)

The beast from the sea

The sea (as we saw previously in study twelve) can represent different things in Scripture. It can mean people or the systems of belief and thinking that govern human society. By extension, it can also be used to signify evil or even the "Abyss". This last meaning links back to John's previous references to the "beast" so probably fits best here as well. (Revelation 11:7; 17:8) Similarly, although in recent times some have regarded "the beast" as a personification of evil, from the early days of the church the "beast" was identified with the antichrist and seen as an actual person. (We looked at this earlier in study twenty-three.) The antichrist will operate using all the methods that Satan normally employs: lies and deception, backed up by signs and wonders.

"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing." (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

The beast is described in much the same terms as the dragon in chapter twelve: having seven heads and ten horns. The difference is that the dragon has crowns on its heads, whilst the beast has crowns on its horns. Furthermore, one of the beast's heads appears to have suffered a fatal wound, but a wound that has been healed. Whatever the precise interpretation of the heads, horns and crowns may be, it is clear that, working together, the dragon and the beast have control of an enormous amount of power and dominion throughout the world. The "resurrection" of one of its heads can also be seen as simulating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The beast is described as having the characteristics of three animals, with echoes again of Daniel's vision. There is the leopard (symbolising Greece), the bear (symbolising Medo-Persia) and the lion (symbolising Babylon). All three come together in this one beast, who contains all the skills and abilities of those empires that had ruled so successfully earlier in human history. John then describes how the beast has blasphemous names on its heads and opens its mouth to blaspheme God. Indeed, blasphemy is a recurrent theme. The dragon is said to give to the beast: "his power, his throne and great authority". This is surely a blasphemous echo of passages such as: "God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church." (Ephesians 1:22) The people of the world at that time will be convinced. They will follow the beast and worship the dragon. Sadly, there will always be people who are just looking for signs and wonders. Jesus was very economical with the miracles that He performed and He frequently warned those for whom He had performed miracles not to tell others about it. (Luke 5:14; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9; Matthew 16:20) When the religious leaders approached Jesus and asked Him for a sign, He was bluntly short with them: "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it, except the sign of the prophet, Jonah." (Matthew 12:38-41)

A wicked and adulterous generation

At the end of the book of Daniel, God gives instructions to Daniel to "roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge". (Daniel 12:4) The practice with official or important documents in Daniel's day was for the scribe to make a copy of the document and deposit it in a safe place. This copy would be "sealed" with the scribe's cylinder seal - an early form of printing - to confirm it as authentic. Daniel was given this information about the future, even though he wasn't in a position to understand it and could not make sense of it at the time. (Daniel 12:8-10) God then told him to preserve it for future generations and finished by saying that a time would come eventually when knowledge would increase and people would be in a better position to understand it. Jesus said something similar to His disciples when they were asking Him questions after the "Last Supper": "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:12)

We now live in very interesting times. Never in all of history have people travelled as much as we can today, reaching the far corners of the earth in a matter of hours or days at most. Never has so much knowledge been collected and made available so readily. We have books, newspapers, the internet, radio and television all catering to our vast appetite for knowledge. During the period from 1950 to 1970 it has been estimated that knowledge, fuelled by education and technology, doubled. By the end of 2012, that knowledge was beginning to double every seventy-two hours! This applies equally to our knowledge of the Bible and Christian faith. Hundreds of versions of the Bible in many different languages are now available through cheap, mobile telephony in many areas of the world, both populated and remote. Search engines make it increasingly simple and quick to find, compare and analyse passages of Scripture. Many websites exist to provide commentaries and explanations to help us in studying the Bible. We may well now be standing at "the time of the end" as foretold in Daniel's writings.

But are people really looking for knowledge, or are they simply seeking "signs and wonders"? Are we better able to forecast the weather, but still unable to interpret "the signs of the times"? (Matthew 16:2-3) John records that the beast (the antichrist) and the dragon (Satan) will have "authority over every tribe, people, language and nation" and "all inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast". Such control will need to be exercised through some form of human government. We have already seen determined efforts at totalitarian control from various governments and political systems. We are now beginning to see a different form of control through religious beliefs, not springing from particular political systems, but coming from a united conformity to religious beliefs and principles. We are also seeing the spread of secular ideas and beliefs through the enormous power of social media. It seems that our world today may only be a small step away from providing the "building blocks" for the dragon and the beast to take over the whole world.

The beast from the earth

For those living in Asia Minor, "the earth" represented what was local and familiar in terms of administrative and cultural practices. It represented an ordered society, civilised and cultured, but very much of the world. It would also have been seen as less threatening or powerful as the beast from the chaos of "the sea". This is indicated by the fact that the second beast only has two horns and appears as a lamb, which is generally a peaceful creature. Nonetheless, his speech is satanic. He is just as much a false prophet as the antichrist. This beast also completes the blasphemous counterfeit of the Trinity. He will be the "mouthpiece" of the antichrist and, as the Holy Spirit points constantly to Jesus, so the second beast will defer to the antichrist and lead the worldwide worship of him. He will also have the power to produce great signs and wonders that cause people to believe in the antichrist and to be more than willing to follow him. Again, we can think back to the days of the Exodus from Egypt and see a similar role being performed by Aaron on behalf of Moses. In so many ways, this satanic trinity will try to emulate God's activity, but will prove to be a pale imitation of the real thing.

The final copycat action will be for the second beast to require those giving their allegiance to the antichrist to bear its mark. Back in study seventeen, we saw that the one hundred and forty-four thousand Jewish evangelists were "sealed" with God's protective mark. The second beast will now introduce this as a means of identifying those who worship the antichrist - with the added incentive that nobody will be able to buy or sell goods without the mark! In John's time, it was commonplace for slaves to be branded by their owners and even for Roman soldiers to brand themselves in honour of a particular general if he inspired them to great loyalty. Citizens who burned incense to Caesar would receive a certificate to confirm that they had done so and this entitled them to trade without threat of persecution.

The number "666" is seen by many as another indication of an attempt by the dragon and the beasts to seek to copy the perfection and divinity of God, the Three-in-One. An extensive study of numbers as codes or symbols for ideas and identities has developed over the years. Certainly, in Jewish thinking, the number three signified wholeness, fullness or completion, whilst the number seven represented a completed work of God (such as creation) or something that was authentically divine. On this basis, the number six can be viewed as mankind's "work" (because the seventh day was decreed as a day of rest) and three times that number ("666") represented a perfect and completed human achievement. However, rather than speculating about the possible identity of the antichrist and his number, it may be better to accept that these things will only be fully known once these events (during the "tribulation") begin to unfold.

The remarkable and sad thing about this satanic system is that the whole world will want to belong to it. People desire to worship something. They will see these strong leaders as the very thing that is needed if the world is to survive the onslaught of chaos and catastrophe from which it is suffering. Some may even see this as an heroic attempt by humanity to fight back against God, who claims their allegiance and expects their worship. Having rejected Jesus, when Satan gives them the opportunity to become part of a well-organised, global, alternative religion, they will fully embrace it and become doubly enmeshed - both financially and spiritually - in this religious lie. The very essence of the scheme will be opposition to the one, true God. The nations will regard the beasts as invincible. No one will dare to come against them and there will be a deceptive state of peace. John is being given this warning from God well in advance so that those in the future who take heed might not be fooled.

The false prophet

One flesh, one bone, one true religion

The whole purpose of this satanic system will be to destroy God’s creation, especially His people. Humanly speaking, it will look as if it is being successful. Any who belatedly realise that God's word was telling us the truth all along and who put their faith in Jesus as Saviour will face immediate discrimination, leading quickly to persecution, imprisonment and torture, eventually leading to martyrdom. The good news is that, even when they do pay the ultimate price, their spiritual lives will be preserved for ever because, in death, they will go home to be with the Lord for ever. The world will not be worthy of them!

As the persecution worsens, the people of the world will only increase their homage to the dragon and his corrupt system. "The man of lawlessness... will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called 'God' or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) At this point, it is important to remind ourselves, that God knows those who are His. He has known them from the foundation of the world. (1 Peter 1:18-20) The beasts will be totally impotent when it comes to the glorified people of God. As Jesus Himself said: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

The Saviour

One way, one truth, one life

Jesus’ death, as a sacrifice and substitute for us, is the only answer to sin. Nothing else will ever be sufficient, but it takes courage to believe in - and to receive - His amazing grace. Just being good is not enough. According to Isaiah, our good deeds are no better than "filthy rags" - literally, his original words refer to menstrual pads or cloths. (Isaiah 64:6) Of course, today, many people throughout the world willingly choose to follow Jesus, even if their choice means that they will be ostracised by family and friends, face persecution or, in some cases, be martyred. Some suffer terribly for their faith as history has always shown. (Hebrews 11:32-38)

Is there anything or anyone whom we can revere more than God? What could be more important than worshipping the King of kings, who made us and loves us so much? The western world has enjoyed relative peace until recently, but we need only to scan the media to find people who are being prosecuted for their beliefs, even in democratic, so-called "Christian" countries. Elsewhere, people are condemned to death for converting to Christianity, or sharing their faith and what Jesus has done in their lives. How might we react in such circumstances?

Worship is our voluntary response to God’s love. When we become believers, the Holy Spirit places a seal on us – not a physical mark as the satanic system requires - but a mark which is identifiable by God: His fingerprint on us, declaring that we belong to Him. How can we, as believers, take on any other mark, especially one that is satanic and in direct opposition to our Lord and Saviour? In this chapter, we see that the main challenge for us is to ensure that we each become a wholehearted follower of Jesus, even through trials, tribulations and trouble - through good times and bad. Nothing and no-one else is worthy of our allegiance. (Joshua 24:14-15)

Click on the button below to load the QUESTIONS for this study in a new browser tab. You can opt to print the question sheet or simply follow the questions and write down your answers in a notebook or a separate file on a computing device, such as a laptop or mobile 'phone.