The Enemies

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Series: 

Revelation 13 Jesus Wins: The Enemies

Hollywood Thrills and Chills
Perhaps this is a story you’ve heard:

A charismatic, blonde young man with Roman ancestry takes power in the European Union and then becomes a “superstar” leader in the UN and around the world. At a time when startling, and apparently inexplicable, events are rocking the world, this man—Nicolae Carpathia--gives the appearance of stability and hope. He gains unprecedented support from historic enemies, and ushers in an era of never-before-seen world peace. He’s hailed as a savior.

But all is not as it seems, he is ruthless in dealing with those who question him, and it soon becomes apparent that his agenda is not peace, but world-wide domination.

Or consider another story.

An American diplomatic couple stationed in Italy go to the hospital to give birth to their first child. They’ve already had two miscarriages, and after delivery the husband is pulled aside and given the devastating news that this child, too, has died. However, there is a solution: just that evening, another baby boy was born but his mother died in labor. The husband agrees to substitute the orphan child for his own, without telling his wife. They name the boy Damien.

Shortly after, strange events begin to happen. The diplomat is appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom when the original ambassador dies in a freak car accident six seconds after 6:06. Damien’s nanny commits suicide. A trip to the zoo ends with the animals attacking each other in a murderous frenzy. Damien becomes hysterical when his parents try to take him to church. And then, in one of the creepier scenes Hollywood has every produced, a smiling, 5 year-old Damien pushes his mother over a railing.

Both these stories, in their own way, are about the same thing: the Biblical Anti-Christ. The coming into the world of Satan’s representative. The Beast of Revelation 13

The first story—Nicolae Carpathia—is the basic plotline of the best-selling Christian novel series Left Behind. The second story—Damien—is the basic plotline of the 1976 Hollywood movie The Omen (which was remade nine years ago, and released on June 6, 2006: 06/06/06). Both stories take liberties with the Biblical material, but both also play on the morbid curiosity that seems to surround this mysterious—and frightening—Christian doctrine.

There is no element of Christian theology better suited to Christian fiction than the doctrine of the end times. There’s just enough information known—as well as enough legend and rumor—to write a story that entertains, explains the gospel, and—maybe—scares people a little closer to belief in Jesus. And, of course, Hollywood loves this stuff. Take a mysterious number, the concept of evil in the flesh, and throw in a little special effects gore and a few jump-scares, and you’ve got a horror thriller that will make a few bucks.

But do we really want to get our Christian doctrine from novels or from American popular culture? Will the Anti-Christ really come into the world as a creepy child? Will he emerge as a charismatic leader of the European Union?

Pastor Kim Riddlebarger writes:

Because we live in an age when Christians are not well-informed about either biblical teaching or the reflection of the church, many professing Christians fear an enemy of which Scripture does not speak (a slick, young world leader, such as Nicolae Carpathia), and they ignore those enemies of which scripture repeatedly warns—purveyors of false doctrine within our own churches and tyrannical governments that persecute God’s people. (The Man of Sin, p. 20-21)

There’s a lot of speculation and fear-mongering about the Anti-Christ out there, but if we want to keep our heads in the midst of it all, we would do best by studying what the Bible actually says. And so, today, we’re going to look at Revelation 13, the passage that talks about the Beast (actually, it talks about two Beasts).

The Dragon and His Beasts
We are in the midst of a summer series through the book of Revelation. This is one of the more controversial books in the Bible. Because it is written in a style that is highly symbolic, there are a lot of competing interpretations out there. Because it deals with the end of the world, there is a lot of nervousness and fear.

But we’ve found that the plot line of Revelation is actually pretty simple: there is a spiritual war taking place. The forces of evil are fighting against the people of God, and at times the persecution can get pretty bad. But through it all, God is on the throne and He is still in charge. He is exercising judgment against evil, and He will see His plans prevail. Most importantly, Jesus is the Lion/Lamb who has triumphed by being slain. Everything that needs to be done has already been done at the cross. Jesus wins.

But if there is a war taking place, who are the enemies? What can we say about them? That’s where Revelation turns in chapters 12 and 13.

I’m going to skip over chapter 12. Not because it is a bad chapter. Actually, it’s fascinating. It’s a retelling of the story of Jesus, told from a heavenly perspective. Several years ago, I used Revelation 12 as my main text for a Christmas day sermon. I’m not skipping it because it’s unimportant, but because I have to make some allowances for the schedule, and I think I can introduce you to the gospels enemies by focusing on chapter 13.

One of the main features of chapter 12 that I have to talk about, though, is the Dragon. He’s a grotesque beast: colored red with seven heads and ten horns and a tail that sweeps stars from the sky. And the Dragon is Satan. Revelation 12:9 makes that clear:

9The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

The Dragon’s whole goal in chapter 12 is to capture Christ, but he fails (think of Christ’s death at the cross, only to be followed by the resurrection). And so he’s angry, and he’s making war against the church. That’s how Revelati0n 12 ends and chapter 13 begins:

17Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandment and hold to the testimony of Jesus. 1And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea.

Satan is angry. He’s a frustrated animal, stuck on the shore of the sea, pacing back and forth, coming to the realization that he needs help in his war on the church. And that’s what chapter 13 is about. Two agents (the Beasts) that Satan commonly works with as he makes war against the people of God. Together, they make a sort of unholy trinity: the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet (cf. Rev. 16:13). Pale imitations of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

So let’s look at these two beasts, and the tactics Satan uses to attack God’s people.

The Beast from the Sea
First, the Beast from the Sea. Sometimes Satan resorts to brute force. The first beast represents the tyrannical power of an anti-God government. Verses 1-2:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

This beast clearly represents a ruler or a government of some sort. You see in verse 2 that the dragon gives him “a throne and great authority.” In addition, the animals in verse 2—this beast is a sort of patchwork of leopard parts, bear parts, and lion parts—is a reference back to Daniel 7 where Daniel sees three successive world powers emerge from the sea: Chaldea, Persia, and the kingdom of Alexander the Great. Each kingdom matches up to one of these animals.

Daniel also saw a fourth beast—more terrifying than the others—which was clearly Rome. The beast of Revelation, then, is clearly supposed to correspond to Daniel’s fourth beast—embodying all the evils of the previous kingdoms and deriving its power from Satan.

This beast is also a cheap imitation of Jesus. Verses 3 and 4:

3One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. 4Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?"

He has what seemed to be a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. Sort of like the Resurrection. The beast comes off as an almost cartoonish parody of Jesus. Trying to imitate Him in resurrection, but always coming up a little short. This is why the beast is called anti-Christ. He’s a poor, Satanic substitute for the Messiah. This is a theme though Revelation: the Dragon and his beasts never quite measure up.

This idea of the beast coming back from a fatal wound also gives us a hint that beasts keep reappearing throughout history. Chaldea is replaced by Persia is replaced by Alexander is replaced by Rome is replaced by…. And on and on it goes.

Remember, one of my principles for understanding Revelation is that John was writing for all times. In other words, John was describing things from his own day, while at the same time he is describing types of things that reoccur again and again in history. So this beast isn’t just something that happened in John’s day, nor is it something that’s going to happen only in the last days, but it’s something that happens again and again in history.

So, anytime you get a tyrannical, oppressive government in history, that’s a type of beast. So, Rome in John’s day qualifies. But so does the European rule of Napoleon. Or Nazi Germany under Hitler, or China under Mao Tse Dung, or Stalinist Russia, or Uganda under Idi Amin.

We keep getting “Anti-Christs afresh:” these oppressive governments come onto the scene, eventually they receive a fatal wound and the people rejoice, and then suddenly another comes into being. We can probably expect that there is still a great, final Anti-Christ to come, but at any given point in history you can look over the globe and find oppressive governments which might qualify. (There is a verse in 1 John that says: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.”)

So what do these beastly rulers look like? Verse 5 says that they are full of blasphemy:

5The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.

The beast slanders God and claim for themselves the kind of privileges and honor that belong to God alone. Just like the Roman Emperors who were declaring themselves to be god and demanding that all of their subjects pray only to them.

Verse 7 says that they make war against the saints and conquer them. These governments are not shy about going after anyone who opposes their agenda of evil. And God makes no promises that Christian will avoid persecution.

It’s so bad, that many people just go along to get along. Like verse 4 says, people start to say “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” You hear this in totalitarian regimes all the time: “What can we do? The government is just too strong, it’s better just to go along with it and keep our mouths shut. You can’t fight the state.” Absolutist states tend to seek absolute allegiance. Verses 8-10:

8All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
9He who has an ear, let him hear.
10If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.

It’s almost fatalistic: if the government comes after you, they’re going to get you. You can’t fight city hall. Better to go along to get along.

So what this first beast represents is Satan using the power of the state to brutally, and blatantly make war against God’s people. Whether it is the Roman Empire throwing Christians to the lions when they refuse to say “Caesar is Lord,” or the Communist Soviet Union throwing them into the gulags for preaching the gospel, this beast comes again and again in history.

Bonhoeffer’s Example
So what are we, as Christians, supposed to do when confronted by governments like this? The end of verse 10 gives an answer:

This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

Patient endurance means we must persevere. We can’t give in to the crowd. Even in the face of oppressive pressure, we must continue to hold on to the truth of the Bible. Even if it means arrest. Even if it means martyrdom.

And faithfulness implies more than mere passivity. It means we continue to live out our faith, we continue to exercise God’s mandate to show love and compassion, to speak the truth, and even to take a stand against evil

Consider the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the time when the Nazis came to power. In the early 1930s, many Christians in Germany welcomed Hitler, seeing him as a stabilizing force in a country that was in turmoil from social and political divisions.

Bonhoeffer and other pastors refused to conform, however, breaking away to create a Confessing Church to rival the Reich Church. Though he had many friends in England and the United States who offered to get him out of Germany, he decided it was his duty to stay in his homeland. While many of his countrymen swallowed their tongues and turned a blind eye to what was happening, Bonhoeffer actively worked to help Jews escape the Nazis.

Then, as war broke out, even though he was an outspoken pacifist, he took the extraordinary step of joining the military and joining a group of officers who were plotting to assassinate Hitler.

Eventually, Bonhoeffer was arrested for his outspoken criticism of the government and the assassination attempt unraveled. He spent about a year in Flossenburg concentration camp, and then, on April 9, 1945, just 11 days before the American army would arrive at Flossenburg, the 39-year old pastor was hung. It is said that Hitler personally ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution from his bunker in Berlin.

An SS doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “In almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God." In the last letter Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, he said: “This is the end, and, for me, the beginning of life." (Facts taken from “A Hitler dilemma” by Andrew Walker, BBC News profiles unit)

To me, Bonhoeffer’s story illustrates patient endurance and faithfulness in the face of beastly oppression.

The Beast out of the Earth
But direct attack with brutal force is not the only way Satan comes after God’s people. There is a second beast. Sometimes Satan resorts to subtle deception. This the propaganda power of a secular, anti-God worldview. Verses 11-15:

11Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.

The first beast was pictured as coming out of the sea, because in the ancient world the sea represented chaos and evil. With the first beast, you knew exactly what you were dealing with. This one comes from the land—not because he is good—but because in his deceptive agenda he wants to give that impression. Instead of a scary beast, this one is pictured as a cuddly lamb (again, a cheap imitation of Jesus) but he speaks with the voice of the dragon—reminding us that he’s anything but safe.

What we have here is the completion of the Satanic trinity. Later in Revelation we’ll see the three grouped together: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (i.e. 16:13). Just as the Holy Spirit is charged with bringing glory to Christ, who represents God the Father; so this land beast/false prophet persuades people to worship the first beast, who represents Satan.

And this beast is all about deception and trickery. Using miraculous signs like those performed by Elijah, he dazzles and impresses. Dressing up his false doctrine to look like church language, he convinces people to worship the beast.

And, just like the first beast, he demands conformity. Verses 16 and 17:
16He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

This provides great fodder for the Christian novelists and Hollywood conspiracy theorists. I’ve heard of everything from Social Security numbers to the bar codes on our groceries being somehow tied to this mysterious mark. But what’s going on here isn’t that complicated. Back in chapter 7 we read about an angel who sealed God’s people in preparation for the coming of God’s wrath. Only those who had God’s mark were sheltered from His wrath. Now, we see the Satanic counterpart. Everybody is expected to have the mark of the beast, and those who don’t face the beast’s wrath.

Everybody gets a mark, then. The question is: whose mark do you want? And whose wrath would your rather face? It’s not necessarily a physical mark so much as a symbol that everybody belongs to either God or Satan.

And verse 18 tells us the number of the mark:

18This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

Here, again, we come to one of the more debated things in Revelation.

It’s possible that we are dealing with an example of gematria, which was an ancient code that assigned numerical value to letters. Under this system, every word has a numerical value. The problem is, if you play around with it long enough, lots of words can be made to add up to 666.
• For example, the Hebrew transliteration of the Greek word for “beast” adds up to 666.
• Likewise, the full name of the emperor Domitian (who was probably emperor at the time of Revelation) can be made to add up to 666, provided you use the correct spelling.
• The most popular candidate is the emperor Nero, one of the worst emperors for claiming divinity and persecuting Christians. If you use the Hebrew spelling of the Greek form of Nero’s Latin name, you get 666.

Or, it is possible that the number 6 simply represents sinful man (man was created on the sixth day, after all). If seven is the number for perfection in Revelation, then six, six, six represents a threefold failure to achieve perfection. Failure upon failure upon failure. For a satanic attempt to ape the divine trinity, 666 makes a pretty fitting number. It just reinforces that everything about these Beasts fails to measure up.

At any rate, precise identification of the number of the beast isn’t as important as recognizing that we are again dealing with something that recurs again and again in history. For the time in which John lived this false prophet clearly brings to mind the cult of emperor worship and the pressure to conform. And again and again in history you can find examples of common thinking which was heretical and antithetical to God.

What this second beast—this false prophet—represents is Satan subtly and slyly using the power of propaganda to deceive God’s people and thus lead them away from truth. Satan doesn’t come to us with a great big packet labeled “Heresy”, and try to get us to believe it. Rather, he convinces us that there are perfectly good reasons to give a little on orthodoxy here, give up a little doctrine there, and before you know it we’ve forgotten who we really serve.

This Calls for Wisdom
So what are Christians to do? Again, the Bible gives us an answer. The beginning of verse 18:

This calls for wisdom.

Wisdom. That’s the application for this section.

We have to do hard, critical thinking. The first beast is scary—who wants to live in a world where you could be thrown in jail for going to church?—but at least it’s pretty obvious. You can see him coming. But this second beast is much more circumspect.

Satan uses a multitude of tactics. It’s almost like “good cop/bad cop.” You know how, on TV police shows, they put a suspect in an interrogation room and the first cop comes after him really hard, with lots of yelling and perhaps a well placed punch? And then that guy leaves, and the second guy comes in and acts friendly, and brings a glass of water, and apologizes for his friend, and says he doesn’t know how long he can control him, but maybe if the guy would like to get some things off his chest? That’s what these beasts represent. One is all force and bluster, the other is urbane and civilized, but never forget that they both want the same thing—your destruction.

And while we may not see too much of the first beast here in 21st Century America, we see plenty of the second. There are all sorts of philosophies and worldviews out there that are trying to win us over and pull us away from Christ. And from Satan’s perspective, getting us to deny Christ through our worldview is just as good as getting us to deny Him at the point of a gun.

And the thing is, while it’s pretty easy to pick out yesterday’s errors in thinking, it’s not so easy when you live in the middle of it. So again, this calls for wisdom. We have to do the hard work of thinking through our assumptions and our beliefs. We need to hold closely to scripture, and we need to keep going back again and again to make sure that the things we think and believe are in keeping with God.

So, for example, politics. How might Satan be using the political culture of our world to lead us away from Christ?

Well, think of the so-called “political correctness” of the left. If you are a blue-stater, then political scientists say you believe in a moral relativism that says pretty much every lifestyle choice is acceptable and ought to be celebrated. The politics of the left preach tolerance and inclusivism as the great American virtues. Elements of the environment are elevated to mystical, almost god-like status and the idea of objective, higher authority is beaten down.

So, does that mean all Christians should practice the politics of the right? Not necessarily. Red-staters tend to gravitate to blind boosterism, creating a kind of civic religion that wraps itself in the flag and equates love of country with love of God. If we think carefully and honestly about it, we’ll realize that a lot of things that are supported by the “Religious Right” are more about chasing the American Dream than establishing the kingdom of Jesus.

So, what’s a Christian to do? Should we all be moderates, or independents? Or worse, should we all just drop out of politics all-together? I’m not saying anything like that. Living in a democratic government is a great blessing from God, and we should take advantage of every opportunity to push back the darkness and exercise our rights for the sake of the kingdom. And I believe sincere Christians can make a difference through both the Republican and Democratic parties.

But what I am saying is that we need to think hard and critically about the political positions we are taking. We need to be careful that we are not allowing the party, or the political philosophy espoused by the leaders of a specific party, to drive our Christianity. Rather, it is our Christianity and our faith in Jesus which should drive our politics.

Always Be Slaying the Beasts
So the doctrine of the Anti-Christ is not just something for an unknown time in the future which should fill us with dread, it’s actually a current reality. We are wrestling with forms of both these beasts all the time. And so, as Christians, we must exercise patient endurance and faithfulness, persevering in the faith no matter what our circumstances. And we must have wisdom, doing the hard work of thinking critically through our beliefs and making sure they line up with scripture.

In these ways, we can be always slaying the beasts.