Please open your Bibles to Revelation chapter 13.
The Beast, the antichrist, the false prophet, the mark, 666, one world government, and one world currency. All those interesting topics most of us are curious about when it comes to end times theology and the book of Revelation. Today we are studying the chapter in Revelation where all those concepts are found. Should be a good time, are you ready?
Last week we studied chapter 12, where John has a series of visions involving a woman and a dragon. The dragon tries to kill the woman’s son, but fails. In a parallel vision, the dragon loses a war in heaven and is thrown out of heaven, where in anger he goes to make war with the rest of the woman’s children. We learned that the woman represents Israel, from whom the Messiah Jesus came, the dragon (who represents the devil, Satan) failed in his attempt to kill the Messiah, in fact it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that is the very thing that broke the power of the devil, and so now he roams the earth, making war on the rest of the woman’s offspring, which are a symbol for the church.
The message is something like: Satan wages war on God’s people on earth because he has been ultimately defeated. We learn that the way God’s people conquer the dragon is through the blood of the lamb, and the word of their testimony. In other words: by clinging to the gospel message in faith, trusting Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection as the sufficient power that saves them from their sin, and marks them out as God’s people who will be saved and so inherit eternal life.
Today we get to meet the other two members of the false trinity: The beasts.
Last week told us that the dragon makes war on the offspring of the woman.
This week show us how he does that. Through these two beasts.
In today’s passage, we will see that John records a vision that he was given. This vision reveals to Jesus’s church who their enemy is. It pulls back the curtain on the spiritual realm and shows us that all the political powers and ideologies that line themselves up against God’s people do so because we have an enemy, the devil, who is furious that he has lost the war for our souls, and so is waging war on our physical bodies, trying to intimidate us into giving up on the faith.
These political powers and false ideologies are symbolized by two beasts.
Let’s meet the first one.
The Sea Beast
12:18 The dragon stood on the sand of the sea.
13:1 And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. On its horns were ten crowns, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2 The beast I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. 3 One of its heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but its fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. 4 They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against it?”
5 The beast was given a mouth to utter boasts and blasphemies. It was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme his name and his dwelling—those who dwell in heaven. 7 And it was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. It was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. 8 All those who live on the earth will worship it, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.
9 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen. 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. This calls for endurance and faithfulness from the saints.Revelation 12:18–13:8 (CSB)
This chapter is not the only place we meet this beast. He is also mentioned in Revelation chapter 17, and in order to get a good idea of who this beast is, let’s look there. John sees a vision of a prostitute who is described as “seated on many waters” and “riding a scarlet beast”. It’s the same beast that we just read about. Here is the angel’s explanation of the woman and the scarlet beast:
Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the ten horns, that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind that has wisdom.,
“The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: 10 Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast that was and is not, is itself an eighth king, but it belongs to the seven and is going to destruction.
12 The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
15 He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.Revelation 17:7–15 (CSB)
So when we look at Revelation 13 combined with Revelation 17, we get a clear picture, and we’re going to get deep here pretty quick.
The Sea: is the same image as “the waters” on which the prostitute is seated, and we are told it represents many peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. In other words, this beast is seated everywhere. It can come from anywhere. To John’s original audience, the idea of a beast coming from the sea would have probably sparked the image of Rome, situated “across the sea” from the perspective of the recipients of the letter.
Like a leopard, feet like a bear, mouth like a lion: These images are taken from the four beasts in Daniel 7. In Daniel, each beast represented a king. Those images are combined into a single beast. The point: this beast represents multiple kings. And that is reinforced by the other imagery:
Seven heads: We saw from Revelation 17 that the seven heads are seven kings, five of them are in the past (from the perspective of the first century, so way in the past for us today), one of them was in the present day for John and his original audience, and one was still in the future (how far, he doesn’t say).
Ten Horns: The 10 horns are also 10 more kings, still in the future for John. And it says that all these kings have the same purpose: to give their glory to the beast, and to make war against the lamb. So these kings, past, present, and future, are all about the same thing. This beast, then apparently, transcends time in some way.
The Beast Itself: We see the whole beast itself also represents a “king – who was, is not, and is to come…” So a king who had existed prior to John’s day, was not around currently in John’s day, and was somehow going to come back at a later time.
This vision of a beast is not a simple image. In one sense it seems to represent a future individual, a “second coming” of something or someone that has existed previously, and in another sense, it seems to exist throughout time, past, present, and future, and refer to multiple people. It seems to be some sort of demonic megazord, rolling together multiple kings from multiple time frames into a single entity.
The Beast is a counterfeit Christ
Several of the other details here show us that this beast is a counterfeit Christ. One of the heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but then was declared to be healed. A false image of a resurrection. Blasphemous names written on the heads (kings) are a contrast to the name “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” written on Jesus’s robe and thigh in Revelation 19. They utter blasphemies against God and His people, in contrast to the words of truth spoken by our God.
This is a counterfeit Christ. An anti-christ. THE anti-christ. And that’s why this is a complex image. Seeming to refer to a single person, but also multiple people. Because that is precisely what it is doing. John has previously told us that there is an antichrist coming, and that there are many antichrists already at work.
Many Antichrists and The mystery of lawlessness
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.1 John 4:1–3 (CSB)
(And keep reading for encouraging truth on how we conquer the antichrists!)
Paul tells us that there is a Man of Lawlessness coming, but a “mystery of lawlessness” already at work.
For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.
…7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming.2 Thessalonians 2:1–10 (CSB)
The beast that comes from the sea is a composite image symbolizing Kings (political and military powers), past-present-and-future who oppose Jesus and God’s people. It is an image of political and military power carrying out the dragon’s bidding. And it is an image that includes a future, final king-beast, but also entails beast-kings throughout the ages.
And by the way, in there was the verse that people derive the idea of “one world government” from. If you didn’t catch it, that’s okay its because its kind of a stretch.
The Land Beast
And now let’s meet the third member of the false Trinity. The land beast, called “the false prophet” in Revelation 19. This is the counterfeit Holy Spirit. And mercifully is a much shorter section.
11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 It also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 It deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 It was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.Revelation 13:11–13:15 (CSB)
Looks like a lamb, speaks like a dragon. Again with the counterfeiting. The second beast fools people into thinking it is great and powerful and wonderful because of the great signs and wonders is performs. Lies and deceives and tricks people to worship the first beast.
Notice here that unlike the first beast, this second one is not specifically identified as a king, or really as any individual. Though it is referred to as “the false prophet” in chapter 18. It may be that there is going to be an individual who embodies all the things done here, but its also likely that what we’re looking at here is symbolism for something the Bible calls “the spirit of the age” – ideology that is opposed to the True Christ and tries to draw people away to worship false Gods.
Christ warned against false messengers toward the end of his ministry.
Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.Matthew 24:11–13 (CSB)
Here again is the call to persevere, to conquer by the blood of The Lamb and the Word of the testimony.
I think what we’re seeing here with the false prophet is an image symbolizing teachers of ideologies opposed to Jesus’s teaching. These teachers give ideas to the beast and move it to act on their destructive teachings. These teachers include the final False Prophet, but also exist throughout history.
And finally, we come to the “mark of the beast” we’re all so curious about. The second beast does one more thing here. Let’s take a look.
Mark of the Beast
16 And it makes everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a person. Its number is 666.Revelation 13:15–13:18 (CSB)
So what is this mark? Is it going to be a literal stamp on our forehead and hand? Is it a microchip? Maybe? I don’t know. Look, if someone tries to require you to have a mark put on your head or your hand as an act of allegiance to a state power, don’t do it! But my hunch is that the mark here, like every other mark in Revelation, is symbolic for something.
In fact, I’m confident it is intentionally contrasted with two marks found in the Bible. One in Deuteronomy 6:8, where they were to “bind God’s word as a sign on their hand and as a symbol on their forehead.” The other contrast is with the very next verse… This mark is an imitation of “the seal of The Lamb.” In chapter 14:1.
I wonder if this passage is especially scary for us here in the affluent west because it hits us right in the wallet. “No one can buy or sell unless he has the mark…” Can you imagine being excluded from the current economic system? Likely fired from your job? Not being able to use Amazon.com, or go to Walmart or Fareway? Seems a little far off. It wouldn’t have to the church in Smyrna. This was a present reality for them. Maybe this passage is a challenge to us in the same way Jesus challenged the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and join his band of disciples. The question for us is, would we rather worship the beast so we can keep shopping at Walmart, if it came to that? Or would we rather follow Christ?
Jesus’s encouragement in Matthew 6 seems important here.
So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Matthew 6:31–34 (CSB)
And what about the number? “Six hundred sixty six.” (Note by the way it is NOT 6, three times, or three random digits of 6, it is specifically 600 and sixty and six.)
Here’s the thing. No one knows what this is. If anyone did, we don’t know any more. Lots of people think they know, and there are a thousand theories, a ton of superstition, and even some self-fulfilling prophecies. There has never, in 2000 years of the church writing about it, been any consensus.
Afterword if you want to know the three major theories, and my best guess, I’ll be happy to talk with you about it. Just be careful about guessing and be careful about being too confident you know the right answer.
MAIN POINT: The mark of the beast is given to those who worship the beast. The seal of God is given to those who follow the lamb wherever he goes. (Rev. 14:11) You can’t have both, and its never too late to receive the seal of God.
Revelation 13 describes how The Dragon makes war on the offspring of the Woman. Remember from last week, how we conquer the dragon. This is how we fight the beast as well. We keep the faith. We keep our eyes on Jesus. We obey His commands. We love. We refuse to give in to the way the world tells us we should operate. We tell others about Him….
What do these images teach us?
1. Fear no threats from a King who opposes God.
4 They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against it?”Revelation 13:4 (CSB)
What is John’s response to this?
9 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen. 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. This calls for endurance and faithfulness from the saints.Revelation 13:9-10 (CSB)
Some Christians throughout history, and at the end might be threatened, imprisoned, or even killed by the beast. But that’s all that they can do to you. And we should not fear, because on the day we are killed, we will rise again to be in the presence of Christ, which is far better!
2. Believe no teacher who contradicts Jesus’s Teaching. No matter how amazing their miracles seem.
14 It deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to performRevelation 13:14 (CSB)
What is John’s response to this? The original readers of Revelation would have already known his teaching on this, we do too.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.
4 You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.1 John 4:1–6 (CSB):
We can have courage in the face of horrific beasts, and in the face of the fearsome powers they represent, because we know we have a great champion watching over our body and souls. We know to whom we belong. Find all of your security there, in Him.