Revelation Part 26
The False Prophet: Now It’s Getting Personal!
Last time, in vss. 1-10, we saw Satan calling up out of the sea, what the text calls – The Beast. And we came to see this Beast was what we also call – antichrist.
It might have been a surprise to some of you to learn that not all in the church have held quite the same understanding of who or what antichrist is historically. As I said last time, 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.
1st : 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. And this interpretation is certainly possible and reasonable.
2nd : Antichrist isn’t so much a person as it is a pervasive heresy which deludes the world and keeps people 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 is neither political nor personal. It’s why many of the Reformers identified antichrist with the Papacy. Not a specific Pope, but the office and the system deceiving many in the guise of Christ and true Christianity. This is the direction I took because I believe has the most Biblical support. Though as I said, both views have both their pluses and their minuses.
I hope you are also able to see that no matter which of these two views you might hold, the take away points from the chapter are exactly the same. This is not a place for Christians to divide, even if we may not have precisely the same understanding. The bottom line is the reality of God’s sovereignty over Satan and world events; His provision for those who are His, and His promised protection for the saints against the deceptions of antichrist. These apply to both views equally.
That said, we will now go on to look at the 2nd Beast Satan brings on the scene in vss. 11-18 – a figure named later in the book as “The False Prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). And here, commentators tend to be far more agreed.
This beast is denominated The False Prophet in Revelation 16:13–14 “And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.”
And here we get another interesting parallel: Where Christ is the logos, the Word Of God / Antichrist is seen as the word of Satan.
So I argued that taken together, the data seems to indicate antichrist is: The fundamental denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible and the entire world view which springs from that revelation.
A global deception regarding the person and work of Jesus instead of a specific individual or person. Nevertheless, I do see this portion of the text indicating a specific end-times individual who we can call The last False Prophet.
Just as every product has a spokesperson, and every cause or movement has its one person who seems to be the face and the voice of that cause or movement – so does antichrist.
Revelation 13:11–18 divides up into 3 parts.
- (11-12) 4 Characteristics of the Beast (False Prophet)
- (13-17) 4 Actions of the Beast
- (18) The call to wisdom about 666
Then I saw another beast:
(11a) Rising out of the earth. Some have thought that rising out of the earth is meant to be in contrast to the 1st beast rising out of the sea, but Daniel 7:1-17 shows the two are used synonymously. This seems to be simply reiterating that Satan has been cast down to earth (12:9), and that this is his theater of operation. What he does is earthly, not heavenly.
(11b) It had two horns like a lamb.
Probably a mock of Jesus as the Lamb of God as we saw in Ch. 5.
I.e. The False Prophet comes meek, mild, winsome. A Lamb not threatening. He doesn’t appear evil, threatening or scary.
Perhaps he even comes out of the Church? 1 John 2:18–19 “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. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Cults and cult leaders might be good examples of this.
(11c) And it spoke like a dragon. In other words, it speaks deceptive lies like Satan does.
Satan was a liar from the beginning. Deception has always been his primary tool. John 8:43–44 “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
1 John 2:22 “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.”
(12) “It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.”
It makes the case. As the False Prophet it does its job of being so convincing as to bring about a near universal mindset. It speaks with authority. And one has to ask, what authority any more – is universally appealed to? Certainly not the Bible. Given our current climate, I think a good argument can be made for this authority being “science”? Not genuine science as investigation and study, but science hijacked by political and social agendas that moves things moral from the realm of God and the Bible – to supposed science. A science that directly speaks to morality and denies the special creation of man as made in God’s image. The implications of which are vast. Some scientists have – for all intents and purposes – become the new priesthood. So it is the likes of the late Stephen Hawking, as brilliant as he was, begin to weigh in on theological topics – such as the existence of God, from a scientific point of view. Or consider this from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” Evidence determined and interpreted by – “science.” Science that starts with a purely naturalistic explanation of all things and from the outset rejects anything supernatural. This is what Webster’s Dictionary refers to as “Scientism” – “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)”. And, we might add – religion.
Those are the False Prophet’s characteristics, now what does he do?
(13-14a) “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth.”
Science can and does often do – the seemingly miraculous. Something we are all grateful for. But Science is not God. Science is not the final arbiter of all truth. Even when science has rightly called the Church to go back and re-examine its interpretation of some Biblical passages – it cannot be the final word – since science too has its limits, and its practitioners have their own interpretations of all things – which often need revised. We cannot displace the revelation of God with the suppositions of fallen mankind. When we do, a true, new idol has entered – at the feet of which all may be required to bow.
Am I saying this is it? No, but it is an example of how this kind of pervasive thought system can exert so much influence on society.
Matt. 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
2 Thess. 2:8–10 “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 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.”
In terms of calling down fire – Primasius (fl. 550–560), Bishop of Hadrumetum in North Africa (modern Tunisia) speculates this refers to a false Pentecost. Trying to deceive the Church especially, the False Prophet recreates Pentecost and uses it to convince religious people he is from God. Don’t be fooled by false demonstrations of what people tell you is the Holy Spirit because of their supposed gifts. Just because they may speak in tongues or even work miracles DOES NOT mean they are Christ’s.
Whether false miracles or false gifts of the Spirit, the Church is being equipped to avoid deception.
Matt. 7:21–23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
(14b) Telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.
The False Prophet will gain such influence that virtually everyone one will be forced by social and other pressures, to make his teaching, his worldview, the one which must frame everyone’s understanding. The ultimate image.
(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.
And the image will be given breath. Probably just a way of saying it will speak and be heard everywhere.
(16-17) 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, 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.
To THINK, and to ACT, according to the deception they are motivated by.
Remember how we saw in Ch. 7 & 9 that God marks His own people in their foreheads, and this was not a physical mark but a spiritual marking out? So here too. The idea isn’t a physical computer chip or tattoo, but a way of them being identified with the antichrist. The forehead once again pointing to a way of thinking. And the hand, as one working to promote antichrist’s mindset.
What might that look like in concrete terms? Let me give you just 1 of many examples – this, from our neighbors to the north – Canada.
Trinity Western University was founded in Langley BC in 1962. It serves 4,000 undergrad and grad students.
Research revealed a demand for a legal education from a school with Christian values like Trinity. So they applied to the accreditation agencies in all 8 provinces. 6 gave their approval, 2, Ontario and BC did not, preventing them from starting such a program. So Trinity took them to the Supreme Court.
The problem it turned out, was that the founders gave the school a mandate to teach from a Christian worldview. And it requires students and faculty hold to a very specific, Bible-based code of conduct. The community covenant each student is required to sign includes a pledge not to lie, steal, cheat, curse, get drunk, use pornography—and to abstain from sex outside Biblical marriage. The last point proved too much for the Canadian Supreme Court. It was ruled that to require students to abstain from sex outside of marriage discriminates against gay people. And on that basis, Trinity was told their rejection to add a law degree program was upheld.
In the decision, a majority of the judges recognized that religious freedom was violated for the University in this case. But ruled the law societies had the authority to refuse to approve this law school. Simply holding to a Biblical view of marriage was sufficient to keep them from forming a law school.
- (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.
Wisdom then is needed on several fronts.
1st. To recognize what is really going on. Once again this is a spiritual battle, not a political one. Seeing what is behind such things is vitally important in dictating how we respond to them. You cannot fight spiritual blindness and the deception of Satan in court. Faith as Rom. 10:17 reminds us “comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
2nd. Wisdom is needed to navigate what become increasingly complex and confusing waters. Christians are called upon by Jesus Himself to be both as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves. Knee jerk and retaliatory reactions will diminish the progress of the Gospel. We will suffer some injustices at times, and having the wisdom when and how to speak and what to do will grow increasingly important.
3rd. Wisdom is needed to recognize the limits of our understanding, and therefor to rein in the focus and use of our energies.
Example: What is meant by 666? And to be perfectly honest, no one really knows. There are far more than 666 theories, but none of them is absolute. I’ve read a good many, and have my own – but ultimately the text does not appear to give us a solid interpretation.
Personally I think a reasonable connection can be made to the only other place in Scripture where 666 appears. 1 Kings 10:14 “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold.” Possibly an allusion to what we’ve already looked at as fundamental to the City of Man vs the City of God – material wealth and well-being being all consuming. But that is mere speculation and I would not want to take it very far even though it makes sense.
Perhaps more likely than any direct 666 meaning is the idea that we simply do not need to know until time and circumstances reveal it.
Nor is that completely unusual in the Scripture. In 2 ways.
First you have many of the prophecies of the OT about Jesus that didn’t make complete sense until they were fulfilled in His incarnation.
Who knew before hand that Matt. 2:15 “Out of Egypt I called my Son” was fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 until it happened? We have many such examples in Jesus’ case.
Second, we have some revelations that are explicitly “sealed” until a time in the future.
We encountered this back in Daniel 8. Part of what Daniel had seen in a vision didn’t make sense to him. When he inquired God said: Daniel 8:26 “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” I’ve shown it to you, but it is not for publication to others. It must remain a mystery for now.
We saw this again in Revelation 10:4 “And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”’”
Irenaeus: “It is therefore more certain and less hazardous to await the fulfilment of the prophecy than to be making surmises and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved.”
Andrew of Caesarea (early 6th century). Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. “For the sober-minded, time and experience will reveal the actual significance of the number and the truth of whatever has been written about it. For, were it necessary, as some of the teachers say, that such a name be clearly known, the seer would have revealed it. But the divine grace did not consent that the name of the destroyer be noted in the divine book.”
- Look at the wisdom God has put at the disposal of His saints.
We not only have His promise earlier in the ch. that those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will not be deceived – we have all of this detailed information to prepare us.
- Note too how we are are fortified against fear by seeing how The Father has told us all about this before hand, and also revealed that no matter how supernatural the enemy may appear, his number, 666, is just the number of man – just that of a creature. A creature made by God and under His authority. Neither the dragon, nor antichrist nor the false prophet are divine. Angels were created to be servants of the heirs of salvation. They are not our superiors. In the Garden, Adam abdicated his authority and listened to the serpent rather than to God. We will be given the honor of reversing that scenario, and exercise our rightful place in refusing to hear the dragon, and heeding our Heavenly Father instead.
- If 666 is tied some way to the amount of gold Solomon received as tribute each year, then how powerfully we are warned against the false gospel of material wealth that has become so prevalent in the church today. Wisdom from God rejects finding our hope, our security, our wellbeing in precious metals instead of the true treasure of Heaven.
1 Peter 1:18–19 “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Sin and the World and Satan and the False Prophet can promise the gold of this earth to those who bow before them, but oh how wretchedly worthless that is compared to the Christ who is promised to all who are His by faith – trusting in His saving work on the cross.
John Flavel: “It is a special consideration to enhance the love of God in giving Christ, that in giving him he gave the richest jewel in his cabinet; a mercy of the greatest worthy, and most inestimable value, Heaven itself is not so valuable and precious as Christ is: He is the better half of heaven; and so the saints account him, Ps. 73:25. “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” Ten thousand thousand worlds, saith one, as many worlds as angels can number, and then as a new world of angels can multiply, would not all be the bulk of a balance, to weigh Christ’s excellency, love, and sweetness. O what a fair One! what an only One! what an excellent, lovely, ravishing One, is Christ! Put the beauty of ten thousand paradises, like the garden of Eden, into one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colours, all tastes, all joys, all sweetness, all loveliness in one; O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it should be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ, than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths. Christ is heaven’s wonder, and earth’s wonder.
Now, for God to bestow the mercy of mercies, the most precious thing in heaven or earth, upon poor sinners; and, as great, as lovely, as excellent as his Son was, yet not to account him too good to bestow upon us, what manner of love is this!”