In John’s third interlude, he has described a great war between Satan and everything godly. Satan tried to devour Christ and failed. Then, he tried to devour national Israel and failed. Now, he turns to persecute the church. He persecutes the church by building blasphemous nations of his own and influencing people to persecute people since He is so bound. Well, every heathen nation has a leader. If his nation is set against Christ, so is he.
Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλο θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς γῆς, καὶ εἶχεν κέρατα δύο ὅμοια ἀρνίῳ, καὶ ἐλάλει ὡς δράκων. 12 καὶ τὴν ἐξουσίαν τοῦ πρώτου θηρίου πᾶσαν ποιεῖ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ποιεῖ τὴν γῆν καὶ τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ κατοικοῦντας ἵνα προσκυνήσουσιν τὸ θηρίον τὸ πρῶτον, οὗ ἐθεραπεύθη ἡ πληγὴ τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ. 13 καὶ ποιεῖ σημεῖα μεγάλα, ἵνα καὶ πῦρ ποιῇ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβαίνειν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων. 14 καὶ πλανᾷ τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς διὰ τὰ σημεῖα ἃ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ποιῆσαι ἐνώπιον τοῦ θηρίου, λέγων τοῖς κατοικοῦσιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ποιῆσαι εἰκόνα τῷ θηρίῳ, ὃς ἔχει τὴν πληγὴν τῆς μαχαίρης καὶ ἔζησεν. 15 καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ δοῦναι πνεῦμα τῇ εἰκόνι τοῦ θηρίου, ἵνα καὶ λαλήσῃ ἡ εἰκὼν τοῦ θηρίου καὶ ποιήσῃ ἵνα ὅσοι ἐὰν μὴ προσκυνήσωσιν τῇ εἰκόνι τοῦ θηρίου ἀποκτανθῶσιν. 16 καὶ ποιεῖ πάντας, τοὺς μικροὺς καὶ τοὺς μεγάλους, καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους καὶ τοὺς πτωχούς, καὶ τοὺς ἐλευθέρους καὶ τοὺς δούλους, ἵνα δῶσιν αὐτοῖς χάραγμα ἐπὶ τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῶν τῆς δεξιᾶς ἢ ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῶν, 17 καὶ ἵνα μή τις δύνηται ἀγοράσαι ἢ πωλῆσαι εἰ μὴ ὁ ἔχων τὸ χάραγμα, τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ θηρίου ἢ τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ. 18 ὧδε ἡ σοφία ἐστίν· ὁ ἔχων νοῦν ψηφισάτω τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ θηρίου, ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν· καὶ ὁ ἀριθμὸς αὐτοῦ ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ.
The second beast (v. 11-14)
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.
John sees a second beast coming out of the earth. This beast portrays itself like Christ, having two horns like a lamb, but speaks like Satan, the dragon. This beast is, according to a very basic definition, an antichrist. This antichrist bears the authority of Rome while he is in the presence of Rome. He causes, either through force or flattery, all those who dwell in the earth to worship Rome. Doubtless this second beast, the dragon in sheep’s clothing, represents the Imperial Cult. The head of the imperial cult is the Roman emperor, the face of Rome and provider of all welfare and security. If Rome represents all worldly nations, then all worldly nations have antichrists to forward their nationalistic agendas against the growing and unstoppable kingdom of Christ.
He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.
Under Domitian’s rule, people are lawfully made to worship Rome, like John describes here. Imperial Cult worship even demonstrates deceitful signs and wonders and talking statues called αυτοφωνοι (autophones). The state religion has its own morality and casts moral judgment on those who do not agree, committing blasphemy by trying to be like God who brought fire onto Sodom and Gomorrah. By its signs, it brings a version of justice and deceives those who dwell on the earth. The imperial cult instructs those on the earth to make idols and offerings to Rome, pledge their allegiance to Rome—a nation which is basically a revived Babylon. Any other nation that is a revived Babylon has an imperial cult that does these same things, drawing people to worship their worldly nation rather than Christ.
The apostles recognized the reality of antichrist in the epistles. Paul wrote:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:1-13).
The Man of Lawlessness would present himself in the temple as God. As Paul wrote, the Man of Lawlessness was being restrained—which means he was alive at the same time as Paul, “already at work,” according to Paul in the First Century. There would be a great apostasy during that time, and the Man of Lawlessness would be unrestrained. Paul simply taught what Jesus did (cf. Matthew 24:4-28). The Man of Lawlessness, Titus Flavius, was revealed in AD 70, presenting himself to be worshipped in the temple and, ultimately, destroying the second temple. John, the apostle, expanded the idea of the man of lawlessness or abomination of desolation to antichrist:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:15-19).
Prior to writing Revelation, John recognized that there are many antichrists at different times who entice people to love the world and the things of the world. If people are so enticed, the Father is not in them. Instead, they are enticed toward the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. They take on the ideologies of the world rather than those of Christ. Such is normative in the last days, which John classified as contemporary with him—what he identifies in Revelation as the 42 months and 1,000 years. John is writing symbolically in Revelation what he wrote explicitly in 1 John.
So, there are many worldly leaders and state-religions that will entice people to worship worldly governments and force them to embrace the worldly ideologies of those governments. These are represented by the second beast. These are antichrists. Martin Luther was not wrong, then, to identify the Pope, following the events of 1517, as an antichrist. We are not wrong to recognize the antichrists of our day until Christ’s bodily return at the consummation of His kingdom.
The authority of antichrist (v. 15-18)
And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
The antichrist is given authority to give breath to the image of Rome. The imperial cult under Domitian commissioned statues that would speak. The beast has its idols, symbols of worldly nationalism—statues, signs, flags, and standards. Those standards demand that the people of the world pledge their allegiance to the worldly nation rather than Christ. If anyone refuses to pledge allegiance to the worldly nation and so worship it, they will be persecuted and may be killed.
And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.
Those who did not swear their undivided allegiance to Rome int he First Century are not able to participate in Roman commerce. Such is the case with worldly commerce in our day. If any person does not adopt the ideologies of the state, it is very difficult to participate in the marketplace or marketplace of ideas. Churches are being pressured into adopting the ethos of the state rather than Christ. Churches are asked to follow the rules of the state for their membership, weddings, charity work, etc… Such makes the mark of the beast a set of ideologies rather than a literal mark—a set of ideologies presented in place of Scripture, which was literally bound on the forehead and right hand:
Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
The ethos of the state replaces the Scriptures. The ethos of the state is the mark of the beast. All people bear one of two marks. They bear the mark (or seal) of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit (7:1ff). Those who bear the mark of Christ confess Christ as their Lord, worship Him alone, and seek to obey His word. Or, they bear the mark of the beast, which is the spirit or ethos of the state masquerading as divine law. Those who bear the mark of the beast pledge allegiance to the state, worship the government, and seek to live by a cultural ethos.
In every age and worldly nation, there are new imperial cults indoctrinating citizens with the ideologies of the state through means of state-run education—whether state churches, cult temples, or state-schools. Rest assure, the public school system in the United States is a state school that operates more like a state church. There is no public school system in the land—it’s a misnomer. Those who are not in Christ are destined to worship the beast by pledging their undivided allegiance to it.
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Doubtless, one could use gamatria to cause 666 to mean Nero. Nero certainly comes to mind. The number 6 is the number of a man and symbolizes imperfection, incompletion, and sin. Humankind was created on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:24-31). 3 represents holiness or importance. God is trinity. Christ was raised on the third day. 6 three times symbolizes the devastating imperfection of citizenship in this world and undivided allegiance to worldly kingdoms—a wretched, rather than godly, ethos. Why? They worldly nations run by people who are utterly lost in their sin. To bear the mark, 666, is to have an authority that is merely human rather than confess Christ as Lord. It is not a barcode, credit card, bionic implant, RFID chip, the COVID-19 vaccine, crypto currency, or anything that will come later. You can’t participate in the worldly marketplace if you are not worldly—a reality we are recognizing more and more as the ethos of our nation changes.
Unilaterally through redemptive history, the nations of the world have governed like John describes here in Chapter 13. People are either devoted to the world, symbolically bearing the mark of their nation, or to Christ, having been sealed by Him from the foundation of the world. Revelation is a story of allegiance in the midst of the ongoing tribulation. We are faced with a question; to whom to we swear our allegiances? Which flag to we wear? How do we paint our faces? Are we members of the imperial cult or of Christ? Do we live by the ethos of the imperial cult or of Christ? Do we pursue meaning given to us by the government or culture by idolatrizing the world’s education, labor, agendas, activism, and so on? Or, do we pursue Christ by counting all as loss simply to know Him? We cannot bear both marks. We are either of Christ’s nation, the church, or the nations of the world. Sadly, many people who claim to be in Christ actually bear the mark of the beast—being of worldly labor, education, athletics, and cultural agendas rather than being part of Christ’s church. Choose today whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Everything we do, we do as service to God, not ourselves and not with Caesar as our lord.
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