August 30, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:10 in the audio file.
Or, The Great Wannabe
Evil never creates, it only corrupts. Idols are like viruses: they need a carrier. Satan himself lives on borrowed glory, and it makes him furious. Power, when exercised against God, can’t help but reflect God who defines power, not to mention being delegated from Him.
Consider how it works with pleasure. Hell hath invented no pleasure, the best hell can do is pervert pleasure. C.S. Lewis had Uncle Screwtape observe the following:
“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.” (The Screwtape Letters, 44)
Now imagine a team of demon writers in the abyss, fever-sweating ideas for the great dragon who wants to be worshiped at a level above his creation grade. The best they can come up with is for the dragon to imitate the true God. Their most innovative efforts are mere plagiarism of the way their Enemy does it; they’ve got nothing original. When the dragon leaves the room, they whine about how unfair it is that the Enemy has all the best ideas.
The dragon has already been jealous of the Almighty and tried to devour the male child, God’s Son. In Revelation 13 the dragon sets up his own son-like character, repeating the pattern he saw in the Messiah. Rather than the “Son of Man” (Matthew 20:28), here is a Beast who has the “number of a man” (Revelation 13:18). The beast is the final Antichrist, he is the Great Wannabe of all time.
The apostle John is the only one in the NT to use the word, ἀντίχριστος, and only in 1st and 2nd John. There are also ψευδόχριστοι, “false christs.” Though he doesn’t use either of those exact words here, the beast is the ultimate embodiment of one who denies the Father and the Son (see 1 John 2:22).
This beast occupies John’s vision in Revelation 13:1-10. There is a second beast introduced in verse 11, a false prophet who points to the beast, like the Spirit came to point to the Son. It is a parody of the Trinity, but not in love or holiness. Parody is an imitation or version that falls short of the real thing, sometimes for (or resulting in) comic effect. A parody is the best the beast can be.
In verses 1-10 there are three paragraphs, the first two are about the beast and the third about believers in dealing with the beast. We’ll start by seeing the beastly parody, an attempted imitation of the male child, in five ways.
Last we saw with John, the dragon was standing on the shore of the sea (12:18), about to summon this agent of evil forth.
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. (verse 1)
The vision observes a creature appearing almost in slow motion, revealing more parts of the multi-headed monster as it rises. That this beast rises out of the sea connects it with the dragon, connects it with the abyss, connects it with the imagery of the deeps, of the unknown, of chaos (though it’s not the kraken). In Revelation 11:7 (and 17:8) the beast arises from “the abyss”; it’s more than the Mediterranean Sea.
The ten horns and seven heads matches a previous description of the dragon who had seven heads (12:3), except that horns and heads are switched in order. The similarity means the dragon and the beast are intimately connected, sort of a “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen him” parallel (John 14:9), even though the dragon and the beast are not the same being.
With the horns of the beast mentioned first, there is an emphasis on power, especially military force. There are ten horns on the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:7), referring to ten kings (Daniel 7:24) that come out of the fourth beast (Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece). It is also a parody of the ram with seven horns, which was John’s vision of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6.
In Revelation 17:10 we will be told explicitly that the horns and heads are kings. This is fascinating, and multi-faceted.
This would not be the first time that a beast from the depths pictured a devouring kingdom. “Rahab” was the name of a sea-monster that represented Egypt (Psalm 89:10).
The beast in Revelation 13 represents both the Roman Empire and the power of the Roman Empire embodied in one creature. This is the State as the agent of Satan, and, as is often the case, the State as typified in a figurehead. The Caesars fulfilled this fantastically, various heads of state fulfill this currently, and a future antichrist will fulfill it finally. The dragon is the figure behind evil and oppressive kingdoms.
For what it’s worth, the Reformers thought that the Antichrist would come from the Catholic Church, a combination of political and religious power. There is good arguments for it.
There are diadems on its horns, jewels on a wannabe crown. The blasphemous names on its heads show that the beast is attempting to take worship, which we’ll see in verse 4. Blasphemy is to speak slander against God, and the beast does so by presenting itself in God’s place. He’s taking names that don’t belong to him.
Here is “the deification of secular authority. It is a ‘counterfeit power’ that is self-centered” (Mounce). Augustus accepted temples built in his honor, and according to Suetonius, Domitian asked to be called “our Lord and our God.” The beast is a wannabe King of kings, a wannabe divine Messiah. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts blasphemously.
With the beast out of the water, John sees more.
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. (verse 2a)
Daniel 7 saw a lion (7:4), a bear (7:5), and a leopard (7:6), with a fourth beast with many horns. Here in 13:2 they are all wrapped up in one beast.
Three animals are mentioned: a leopard, a bear, and a lion. All three are part of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7, except there they represent three subsequent kingdoms. Here they combine into one. This is the Voltron of beasts.
It is swift and cruel, it is large and crushing, it is bold and terrible. It is the State as beast, as god. The Roman Empire was, is, and will be.
One of the great pictures in the Bible is the Father handing over authority to His Son. In the last couple chapters of Revelation, Psalm 2 has been echoed numerous times, including the anointing of the Male Child who would rule the nations (Revelation 12:5). The dragon jealously wishes that he could have a similar thing and goes through the same sort of ceremony.
And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. (verse 2b)
Again, the dragon and his beast are closely related, but there is a delegation here of three things: 1) power, 2) throne, 3) authority.
The dragon is going to work through the beast, through the State power, and specifically through the Antichrist. Satan transfers his authority, giving the beast all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, as he tempted Jesus with in Matthew 4:8-9.
Power means he can enforce what he mandates. Throne is center of attention. Authority is over business (Revelation 13:17), over life and death.
This is the most amazing, and most crucial part of the parody.
One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed. (verse 3a)
There’s no good trying to be an replacement-christ without appearing like Christ, and the glory of the Christ is in His resurrection from the dead. The beast, or at least one of its heads, gives appearance of having the same resurrection power.
In Revelation 5:6, John saw the Lamb “standing as having been slain.” Here one of the beast’s heads seemed to have a mortal wound, “as having been slain to death.” According to 13:4 it was by a sword.
He either comes back from the dead through demonic power, or he goes through a deceptive and dramatic presentation.
In the first century Caligula recovered from a severe sickness, who had altars made for him throughout the empire. There were expectations that Nero was going to come back from the dead; it’s called the Nero redivivus myth. He killed himself (AD 68), but many people didn’t believe it, or they expected him to return in some way.
But all of the details taken together in Revelation 13 aren’t satisfied with Nero, as beastly as he was, especially since Rome (as the beast) didn’t die. Nor even Vespasian who restored the Roman Empire after the the civil war and three successive Caesars after Nero (in AD 68-69, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius)(Mounce). While these may be precursors, there will be a final parody.
There is a worship component, a religious aspect to the state’s control. Pharaoh had it. The Caesars have it.
The (false) prophet will use this recovery as the centerpiece of his message to get the world to worship the Antichrist (13:14).
As I said, there is a religious aspect.
[A]nd 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?” (verses 3b–4)
This is universal acceptance; the whole earth, all of those who are not believers in the Lamb, give homage—public honor and respect—to the beast. They marveled and followed and worshiped. These are how men responded to Jesus as they saw His miraculous works and they walked after Him and hailed Him as the Messiah.
“Deification of secular power is in fact the worship of Satan.” (Mounce)
The worship is exclusive, no one else is in the beast’s class. “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” These are questions of preeminence and invincibility, of incomparability. The rhetoric demands an acknowledgment: the beast is best, the beast beats all contenders. The rhetoric deliberately parodies questions meant for the true God:
O LORD God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O LORD,
with your faithfulness all around you?
Both the Lamb and the beast have swords, followers, and horns, both are mortally wounded, recover, and receive universal authority and worship. It’s more than a first-century Caesar. But the beast brings chaos not order, evil not good, death not life (Thomas).
Is it so hard to imagine that the whole world will be delighted to follow this “savior”?
There is a God-shaped hole in every man’s heart. We are made as worshipers; we will worship. We are also made with a longing for eternity, with a want for an answer to death. Men long for a savior; it is the oldest story in the book.
But what they really want is a savior who promises salvation without dealing with their sin. This is what an antichrist offers, this is what the Messianic State offers.
These offers, though, are parodies of the Lamb’s sacrifice for sinners, and worse than parodies, they are ultimately useless, disappointing, and a proof of their guilt rather than a remedy for it. There is no salvation outside of Christ, no matter how much men wish it was, or how many men try to agree that it is.
The beast is a poser, the great wannabe. This isn’t to mock him per se, it is for clarity. Believers will see it for what it is, and suffer, while unbelievers will see and think they are saved while being devoured.
Do you hunger to know true glory? Do you long to live for true greatness? Do you need a pattern to follow? Do you need strength? Look to Christ. He is the only Savior you need, He is the only Savior there is.
May your hearts be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:2-3, 6-7, ESV)