September 13, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 19:05 in the audio file.
Or, A Trifecta of Ineptitude
If you understand these parts of Revelation to describe future events, as I do, you may wonder how you could reasonably claim an optimistic eschatology. The dragon hates the community connected with the Messiah and chases them into the wilderness in chapter 12. The beast out of the sea parodies the Messiah and conquers many of the saints to their death. Another beast is introduced in this final paragraph of chapter 13, and he appears to be successful in wooing the world into beast worship and putting to death those who refuse. Where is the optimism supposed to fit?
Jesus will return, and will win, eventually, but everyone (who’s orthodox) believes that. We might look longingly over at those who seem so happy believing that these things in Revelation already happened (except for Jesus’ return), that we’re past all this beastly Roman Empire stuff, and all we see today are bumps in the gospel’s path to success.
A couple things: in order to say that all this beastly stuff was fulfilled in the first century, you have to selectively skip over a bunch of the story; the same is true if you only think the beasts are repeating cycles of cruelty throughout history. Even more than that, the angle I really want you to see from this passage: the world does go to hell in a hand-basket, but in a flame of desperation. The reason it seems so bad is due to deceit. Behind the scenes is the truth of failure and ineptitude.
We’re optimistic because we know the truth. We’re optimistic because we know why it’s bad; this is the best the beasts can muster.
In a parody of the Trinity, the dragon gives his authority to a beast from the sea, and now a third being comes to point to the first beast. While this second beast is identified as a false prophet (explicitly as soon as 16:13), he rounds out the unholy trinity, just as the Spirit came to point to the Son.
A new vision begins as John again says, 11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.
We know this is a second beast, a third character, because John says it is another, because it comes from a different place, because it has a different number of horns, because it is represented by another animal, and because it points to “the first beast” in verse 12.
The beast comes out of the earth, which probably meant it was less scary than a beast out of the sea. In the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch, Leviathan is a female monster who lived in the ocean’s abyss and Behemoth was the male monster who lived in a waste wilderness (Mounce). That this second beast only had two horns rather than ten means that it is less forceful, and looking like a lamb suggests that it is less fierce, unlike the leopard-bear-lion. Jesus Himself said that false prophets come in “sheep’s clothing.” The nominal and compromised in faith may not notice.
Nevertheless it spoke like a dragon, like a serpent, like the serpent, charming and deceiving Eve in the garden. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, big mouths and slick tongues. “Whereas the first beast speaks loudly and defiantly against God, the second beast makes the first beast’s claims sound plausible and persuasive” (Beale).
Verse 12 introduces us to the activity of the beast in two general ways which are expanded in verses 13-17. The key word in Greek is ποιέω (poieo), variously translated as “makes” or “causes” or “exercises” or “performs.”
12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, meaning that the earth beast works on behalf of and for the pleasure of the first beast; there is only one policy maker. We’ll see more specifically what his authority accomplishes starting in verse 13.
The primary sphere of the earth-beast is religious and his role is to make an idol out of the sea-beast. He’s in a support position under the sea-beast and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. This aspect will definitely get more attention below, for now we see the debut of his character. He is a parody of the Spirit who glorifies the Son (John 16:14). He will bring about the final www – world-wide-worship.
Is this an anti-God ideology, like secularism, or is this beast incarnate? Is the beast false religion or a false prophet, in other words, is the false prophet an abstraction or and individual? Is it merely an abstraction thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10)? It sure doesn’t appear to be so.
The earth-beast has a ministry. There are four main aspects to his work.
How is a false prophet to get any traction without some miracles?
13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people,
Like the magicians in Egypt mimicked the miracles God worked through Moses, so this prophet mimics the two witnesses in chapter 11. It’s happening around the same time as their testimony, in the three and a half years, so the earth-beast’s ability gets a side-by-side play in the news cycle. The witnesses called down fire from heaven like Elijah, and the earth-beast (makes) fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, as a public spectacle, for sake of gaining street cred. This beast is a master at wowing a crowd.
He does more than make a crowd to wow, he’s able to get the crowd to make an idol before which to bow.
14 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.
The signs point somewhere. The propaganda is significant and powerful enough that he deceives those who dwell on the earth. The earth-beast convinces the earth-dwellers that he is legit. They believe his Ministry of Truth. They swallow his lies. They do whatever he says. Paul also wrote about the culture of deception around the antichrist.
> The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10)
What the earth-beast tells the earth-dwellers to do is to make an image for the beast. This image is mentioned again in chapters 14, 15, 16, 19, and 20. The earth-beast makes worshippers out of all of them, but in this case he’s making all of them into idolators. There’s no truth behind this.
It’s similar to when Nebuchadnezzar made a huge image of himself and required all people to bow down whenever the trumpets blew (Daniel 3). He commanded their worship.
Caesars had temples built for themselves, including images of themselves to be worshipped. Caligula apparently had his head put on other statues (Osborne). Domitian had a 23-foot tall statue to himself in Ephesus. While all that’s true, don’t forget this image is of one that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. However anticipatory the Caesars might be to this beast, none of them attain to this level.
Note: it is allowed, another “it was given,” divine passive. The earth-beast only works with permission.
More miracle, more manipulation, more death.
15 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.
For the second time in as many verses we’re reminded that “it was given” to the earth-beast to give breath or “spirit” to the image. He makes it come alive. Ventriloquism and/or magic are possible. This could be a deep fake, sure. It could also be a demonic miracle, in which the demonic earth-beast is given power by God to give men over to their deceptive lusts.
The beast not only appears to be alive, the beast appears to be jealous. Also as with Nebuchadnezzar, any who refuse to worship this image will be slain, and the implication is that the image itself is given power to do the killing.
In cahoots with the Antichrist’s State, all parts of society will be under the domination of the deceit.
16 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, 17 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.
Even under a one-world-government, the only equality is that everyone needs to worship the government. The Marxists will still be disappointed since there’s still the Haves and the Have-nots. There’s still important people, rich people, elites, and the rest. They don’t lose their status, all the distinctions are not erased, but everyone will need to accept a public identification with the beast.
They must be marked on the right hand or the forehead. Perhaps the only thing in Revelation more discussed than the mark of the beast is the number of the beast, which is coming up in the next verse. The point of this mark is sort of allegiance, but more so ownership. The beast mandates it for submission and surveillance.
I am aware of the (modern) speculations of the various forms the mark might take, embedded microchips or barcodes. It could be as simple as a branding or tattoo, something John’s readers were familiar with and that still happens today. It is at least visible to John in his vision, and the locations are generally uncovered spots, not spiritual (though it is possible to understand the sealing in chapter 7 and the writing in 14:1 as spiritual; consider also Deuteronomy 6:8.). “The ‘forehead’ represents ideological commitment and the ‘hand’ the practical outworking of that commitment” (Beale).
It mimics the sealing of the 144k, but without such a mark no one can buy or sell. It’s a boycott, an embargo, a shunning, a magnus cultus requiring civil disobedience from believers. Is that so unimaginable?
The mark is the name of the beast or the number of its name. We’re about ready to consider the number. But note that the brand is connected to the beast.
As the image to be worshipped is of the first/sea beast, so is the number.
18 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.
It’s not six-six-six, it’s “six hundred (and) sixty (and) six.” In English we would call it the expanded form.
Why a number at all?
There was an ancient practice called gematria, which we sort of play on the back of cereal boxes for fun. It was a code, in which each letter of the alphabet corresponded to a number. For example, in Greek, alpha would be equivalent to the number one, beta would be two, and once you get to ten, then by tens to one-hundred.
Reverse engineering it is possible to make all sorts of names equal 666. It’s been done with Hitler and the pope; I’m sure there’s some way to combine initials and names for Trump. The most popular is Nero. But there are so many problems with Nero that I am not convinced. It would not only have to be “Nero Caesar,” but it would have to be based on the his Latin name turned into Hebrew equivalents for the counting, dependent on an incorrect Hebrew spelling (an entire letter must be dropped). The counting doesn’t work in Greek, and there is no clue in the context that tells us to translate (as 9:11; 16:16) and then calculate. Also, none of the pastors/theologians in the first few centuries of the church (Ireneaus has other suggestions) thought it added up to Nero.
Others make a case that it has the same number as the initials of the emperor’s names from Julius to Vespasian, except that it includes Galba and omits two, Otho and Vitellius (Beale), the three emperors in quick succession in AD 69.
And why would John write it this way? To avoid exile? Is he being cryptic to protect his readers while telling them to conquer?
While I do think that there is a future application of this number to the final antichrist, what is really significant is that this antichrist will still not be god. This is still the number of a man. He requires worship because he’s petty. He makes death threats against those who won’t worship him, because he’s not worth worshipping otherwise. He does have power, but the best he can do is deceive.
So the number 666 falls short of the 777 with a threefold hurt, “failure upon failure upon failure” (Hendricksen, quoted by Mounce). He can’t even get to 667. Nebuchadnezzar’s image was only a double-digit irony, sixty cubits by six cubits (Daniel 3:1). Remember, the mark is the name is the number, which means that he’s known by, and his followers are identified by, a trifecta of ineptitude.
It calls for wisdom, not to do puzzles, but not to be pessimistic. Understanding is a more of a moral calculation than a math problem. The beast is not divine, not perfect. He is the perfect not-perfect. No one comes so close and falls short of the glory of God. He is stuck being a man with a demon. He is never #1, but always #2. Always a beast, never the Bridegroom (think Revelation 19:6-8).
Was Goliath a monster? Did Goliath wreak havoc and work terror? Of course he did. Knowing what you know, do you want to be Goliath? Do you want that sort of glory? If you could see the end of the story at the start, how optimistic would you be when David picked out his stones? It’d be which stone would be the one, not whether the battle would be won.
The sea-beast is a parody. He’s propped up by the earth-beast. Those who worship him willingly only do so because they are spiritually blind. The unholy trinity is so desperate that they will self-destruct.
Yes, together they will make for public and perverted pressure and while the saints will need to endure, they will see right through the ineptitude.
You have been chosen not to be deceived or deluded, but to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13). You have been called through the gospel so that you may obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ (2:14). So don’t be bogged down by the propaganda of the toothless. They are all beast and no #blessed. Love and live for the truth of the Triune God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are marked by Him.
> Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17, ESV)