Revelation Part 25
Catching a glimpse of Antichrist
Ch. 12 gave us quite a bit of insight regarding the nature of true spiritual warfare. James Hamilton in his commentary summarizes what we looked at last time: “By his death, resurrection, and ascension Christ defanged the dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Satan no longer has any standing in Heaven to accuse believers. He knows his time is short, and he is making war on the woman and her seed. Hamilton Jr., James M.. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (p. 258). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Exactly HOW Satan wages this war is what 13 focuses upon. And what emerges in this chapter is a picture of 2 “beasts”. 12 ends with Satan standing on the shore of the sea. And as we have seen all along, the sea is usually a symbol of what is mysterious, dangerous, unstable and unknown – the unredeemed world. Now, Satan calls the first beast from this sea. In vs. 11, he’ll call out another beast – but from the earth. And we’ll have to wait until next time to see how the 2 figure together. What we have at this point is Satan and the 1st beast.
This Beast, given all that is said about him here and then in more detail in ch. 17 is most often identified as “The antichrist.” In fact the chapter ends with the very familiar idea that this Beast gives a mark to all who are his, and that the number of the Beast is – 666. Something we’ll have to wait to address.
Antichrist. The very word conjures up all kinds of mental images. Most often, a charismatic world leader with near supernatural powers, poised to lop off the heads of anyone who doesn’t worship him. Reigning over a one-world government using a one-world religion. Scary to say the least.
But it might surprise many today that not all in the church have held quite that same vision historically. From the 2nd century on, there have been 2 main ways of understanding the idea of antichrist. Both are orthodox. Both views have their pluses and their minuses.
First view: Antichrist as a literal historical person who will try to pass himself off as Christ, with the goal of replacing him and wreaking havoc on the world. Irenaeus (130-202) would be a prime example. He along with many others – solid, excellent men throughout history have argued some future, specific person will emerge as THE antichrist. F. F. Bruce, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Robert Mounce, George Eldon Ladd, John Walvoord, John MacArthur – etc. It is perhaps the most dominant view in American Evangelicalism today. It has a political, one-world government emphasis.
Second view: Antichrist isn’t so much a person as it is a pervasive heresy which deludes the world and keeps them from the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. This view was held by Polycarp (69-155), a personal disciple of John and Tertullian (160-220) to name a few. The idea here is of antichrist being a false teaching with perhaps a primary false teacher rather than a political figure. So the emphasis here is neither political nor personal. It’s why many of the Reformers identified antichrist with the Papacy. Not a specific Pope as much as the office and the system deceiving many in the guise of Christ and true Christianity. This is the direction I am going to take and the one I believe has the most Biblical support. Though as I said, both views have both their pluses and their minuses.
Whichever view one may take, we have the words of John in 1 John 2:18 reminding us: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Other passages like this must be used in forming an opinion.
Interestingly, 1st and 2nd John are indispensable here since those are the only 2 books where the word antichrist is ever used in the Bible. So how John uses it must bear on how we understand the concept here.
Whoever or whatever antichrist is – from John’s words we know that while a final manifestation of antichrist is coming, in some sense it has already been here, and is here even now. Something more than a simple future person must inform our thoughts. That said, let’s look at the passage itself.
It divides itself up into 4 sections. The 4th section specifically aimed at Christians, encouraging us and calling us to courage and faithfulness.
I. Revelation 13:1–2 “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. 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. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.”
The 1st thing we have to ask ourselves is – do we see anything like this anywhere else in Scripture? And if so – is there help in explaining what we see here? And thankfully the answer is a resounding YES! Not only do we get far more detail about The Beast in Ch. 17, we especially have the 7th ch. of the Book of Daniel to really help unpack it.
Daniel 7:2–8 “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings…And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear…After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this…behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
The first thing you want to notice here is that the Beast in Rev. 13 – shares the key characteristics of the 4 beasts in Dan. 7. It is in some way a composite if you will. Leopard, Bear, Lion and 10 horns. But next, we need to see how Dan. 7 explains that vision.
Note then that The Beast in Revelation it is a composite of – kingdoms, not of individuals. We know this from the explanation given in Daniel itself. This would seem to indicate The Beast of Rev. 13 is not a man either but something else – a sort of kingdom unto itself. Let’s go further in Daniel.
Daniel 7:17–25 “These four great beasts are four kings…“Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest… and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them…“Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.”
Dan. 8 goes on to explain that the Lion represents the Babylonian world empire. The Bear = the Medo-Persian empire. The Leopard = the Grecian empire, which then breaks into 4 after Alexander the Great’s death, and then into 10 (the 10 horns) which gives rise to the one horn that persecutes the Jews terribly for -1260 days – Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Which then gives way in some way to Rome. Contemporaneous with Rome, Christ’s kingdom will come on the scene.
In other words, no more global world powers are prophesied to come after these. Not in terms of political or military might. Yet we see this Beast here in Revelation and it is identified somehow with what Daniel saw.
So what might all of this mean? One thing is for certain, that the historical rise and fall of these world empires, prefigure in some way a final world empire – one that bears the traits of all that came before – and to which they were pointing. But not necessarily a political empire or government.
This prefiguring is a common way the Bible speaks. Historical events of the past are often meant to foreshadow things yet to come. Example 1: The Flood, followed by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are both pointed to as prefiguring the final destruction of the earth in judgment. Both serve as specific examples of God’s coming judgment. Example 2: The Jews entering Canaan is meant to prefigure both something of our rest now in Christ, and the final rest of heaven yet to come.
Second, remember John’s words that we looked at earlier – antichrist is to come, but there already ARE antichrists? The idea is that there have always been world systems that have been contrary to God’s rule and His people. This is nothing new. But behind them, inspiring them as it were – is Satan’s influence. We see this in John’s vision here.
Let me try to illustrate this in contemporary terms. Behind the murderous and godless rise of Marxist Stalinism and its opposition to all things Christian – was the influence of the Devil. He was behind the rise of Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot – and inciting the murder of the 94 million killed in the 20th century under movements dedicated to stamping out Christianity as central to their core values. Each one of these was an antichrist.
So in some sense antichrist has been here in the past in Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Communist Russia, China, Cambodia and Germany etc.
And, for 215 million Christians today, antichrist is here now the way I John notes. Antichrist is here in some Islamic countries & present-day China and North Korea. Did you know for instance that for the 17th year in a row N. Korea has been ranked as the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian? 27% of the population live in prison work camps. Simply owning a Bible is a capital offense. For N. Korean Christians today, they are staring at the very face of antichrist. And, antichrist, the final antichrist, is yet to come.
What I am, arguing is that antichrist is not so much a person, as it is a global mindset, a universal worldview that denies God, the very idea of God, and marginalizes and persecutes everyone not in sync with it. A sort of dominant global group-think. All of which aligns perfectly with the demonic deception we saw portrayed in locusts from the bottomless pit and what came out of their mouths, and the flood that came out of the mouth of the dragon in Ch. 12.
Its key features are easily identifiable. If you do not buy into a completely naturalistic view of humankind as a cosmic and evolutionary accident; and of no moral responsibility beyond ourselves; of the highest good being material wellbeing, self-government, ever shifting cultural morality and self-defined “spirituality” – you’re out! So that while many are on the lookout for an antichrist person, they are at the same time actually imbibing the very spirit of antichrist in the world’s values versus God’s. It will have its various spokesmen, it’s false prophets – (we’ll see that later), but ultimately, its savagery becomes evident in how it blinds people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and sees them lost in Hell and under judgment for the very sin they deny even exists. This is far more subtle and pernicious, for you have far more control over people if they simply all believe your version of reality.
In fact the 4 places where John uses the term antichrist spell it out for us quite plainly I think.
1 John 2:18: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
1 John 2:22–23: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
1 John 4:1–3: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
2 John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
If I understand these correctly, when taken together, antichrist is: The fundamental denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible, and the entire worldview which springs from that revelation.
Let me summarize these: Every religion and every cult that denies the Biblical revelation of the incarnate Son of God dying a substitutionary death for sinners on Calvary – is antichrist. But the great antichrist of the last day is a secular denial of God & Christ, that gains global acceptance and will demand a totally naturalistic worldview. No God of creation, and no humankind as the special creation of God in His image. This, IS antichrist. A wholly secular worldview.
II. 3-4 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and 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?”
The idea this pictures an individual receiving some sort of physical head wound seems unlikely given what we’ve just seen. Based on this verse some in the early church speculated Nero might be the antichrist, since after he died rumor had it he would rise from the dead and re-take the Roman empire. I remember similar wild speculations that JFK would recover from his head wound, and under the guise of being a great social reformer, then gather a one-world government. In fact, in Ch. 17 we read: 17:8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.”
All those speculations aside, given the historical antichrists and the present day antichrists and the antichrist to come, it seems best to see this as understanding that time after time after time, antichrist rises up as an ideology, usually attached to a nation and a leader, and then it is brought down – as all of the previous empires were. And then it rises up again somewhere else with new leadership. It is a never-ending repeat. The Beast, was, and is not, and is to come. Antichrist thought systems emerge, die and remerge.
But what of the world? It never stops giving its allegiance to the Beast. It worships the Beast and what it stands for. Godlessness raises its head over and over and people love it so. In what way do they worship the Dragon and the Beast? 2 Cor. 4:3–4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And to hear the present-day atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris – all belief in God must go! For it frees mankind to live out his most base desires without guilt or shame or fear of judgment.
III. 5-6 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.”
So the Beast will be allowed to have its day. And it does what it does by one primary means: Uttering haughty and blasphemous words: By what it teaches and promulgates as truth. It will deny the truth of God, of the Gospel, of sin and judgment and righteousness. It will mock and make fun of everything sacred and holy and good. And it will have its 42 months, its 1260 days, its 3-1/2 years. Its period of trampling God’s people down.
IV. 7-10 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”
Conquering the world in its deception and the church in its persecution, there will come a day when it will seem like the Church and the Gospel will seem to be all but snuffed out. For those in N. Korea, that day is now. But just as Jesus was crucified and buried and even His disciples thought it was all over – the new dawn is just about to break.
No wonder vs. 10 ends by saying this calls for “the endurance and the faith of the saints.”
Well then, what provision has been made for Believers so that we will endure? John is given 3 things.
1. vss. 5–7 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months…7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,
Our God and King is as much Lord over Satan and The Beast as He is over all else.
Without God’s permission – even The Beast can do nothing.
We can trust our Heavenly Father who reigns over all.
2. vs. 8 All who dwell on earth will worship The Beast EXCEPT, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Believers have been promised that we will NOT be deceived – because our salvation was decreed before God even made the world.
We can trust our God.
3. vs. 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.
Believers have their trials appointed by God and so are not at the mercy of The Beast – even when it may look like it.
He knows our individual strengths and weaknesses. He knows our constitutions. He is as much Lord over our sufferings as He is our blessings. We can trust Him.
The very confidence of Jesus when He stood before Pilate is ours. Pilate said don’t you know I have the authority to release you or crucify you? And Jesus calmly answered: You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.
As He trusted the Father, so do we. For in our faith in Him, we overcome The World, The Beast, and even Satan himself.