"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" Psalm 119:105

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Beast of the Earth

(This is a Bible study on Revelation 13:11-18 based on Rev. Keith Davis’s sermon of the passage)

Introduction

I don’t think there’s any question that of all the books of the Bible, it is the book of Revelation that has generated the most interest from people inside as well as outside the church of Jesus Christ. But sadly, some of that interest has taken on a form of obsession. Some who are only Christian in name and have no interest in Christ or His church are oddly interested in the book of Revelation, reading certain parts of it with great regularity for different reasons – curiosity, some kind of knowledge of the future, etc.

So Christians as well as non-Christians have obsessed over this book. They have probed it; analyzed it; studied it; trying to uncover its so called mysteries. And without a doubt, the main passage over which people obsess, the #1 point of interest is the passage before us in Revelation 13:11-18.

There is a universal fascination with the number 666, the name and number of the beast. Ever since the days of the early church, scholars, mathematicians, theologians and laymen alike approached this passage as if it were a secret code for them to break or decipher. The ancient church had actually developed a system whereby every letter of the Hebrew and Greek alphabet was assigned numerical value: Alpha (the Greek letter ‘A’) was given a value of 1. Beta (‘B’) was given a value of 2, and so on. So people used that system to try to figure out what this number means, who it points to, and how to uncover the identity of the antichrist.

With this system, common names took on a whole new meaning. People went to ridiculous measures to match someone’s name with the infamous number. To give you one example, it was discovered that when the name Caesar Nero was translated into German, Neron Kaiser, the numerical value of his German name equaled 666. Similar calculations have been done for the name Adolph Hitler (six letters in his first and last name).

Ronald Wilson Reagan was also accused of being the antichrist because he had six letters in his first, middle and last name. Just to tell you how silly this gets, someone did the calculations and concluded that Barney (the purple dinosaur from our imagination) was the antichrist; someone else’s calculations led to the conclusion that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the agents of the antichrist.

To this nonsense, we respond with the opening words of verse 18, all this calls for wisdom – not foolish conjecture; not some wild predictions and accusations; but wisdom. William Hendriksen said it best, the attempt at an interpretation by adding the numerical values of the letters in the name Nero, Plato, etc. leads to nothing, (precisely) because it leads to everything! The Apocalypse (the book of Revelation) is a book of symbols, not a book of riddles.

This book is not a code that calls for clever deciphering, but it is the Revelation of God that calls for faith and obedience and trust. Our passage reveals the second beast, the beast out of the earth. Yes, his number is given, but there’s no cause for alarm. No reason to panic or fret. For Christ tells us all we need to know about this beast: his name, his number, as well as his practice of deception and oppression. Christ even tells us the ultimate end of this beast. So here in Revelation 13:11-18, the Lord reveals the identity of the Beast whose number is 666. ~ Keith Davis

The Beast’s Deceptive Appearance (vv.11- 14)

(1) Where does the second beast come from (v.11a)? Detail the characteristics of the second beast (v.11b). How does it differ from the first beast in v.1? What does it mean for the beast to look like a lamb, but to speak like a dragon? What other lambs appear in Revelation? What does this beast represent?

Previously we dealt with the beast that arose out of the sea. The dragon stood on the shore of the sea and he called forth a helper, an ally in his war against the offspring of the woman (Christ’s church). In our passage we meet his second ally. The fact that this beast comes from the earth may symbolize the dragon’s world-wide opposition to Christ (earth & sea).

But notice the differences between these two beasts. The beast we met last week was ghastly and monstrous to behold. It had a leopard’s body, bear’s feet, and a mouth like that of a lion. It also had ten horns, seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and he had blasphemous names written on each head. We pointed out how this beast closely resembled the dragon himself, that his heads and horns were symbolic of his power and authority over nations, rulers and kingdoms.

But the beast we meet in tonight’s passage doesn’t appear to be frightening or intimidating. In fact, this beast appears to be as gentle and harmless as a family pet. He’s described as having two horns like a lamb.

So outwardly, this beast is docile, peaceful, like a lamb. Yet we know who is concealed behind the mask, the facade; the beast may look like a lamb, but he still speaks like the dragon. As the passage tells us, this second beast, this lamb is the messenger of the first beast.

(2) What did the beast from the earth do (12-14)? What is the relationship between the two beasts? Given our interpretation of the beasts, how do you understand this relationship?

In verse 12, he exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf. This second beast is likely none other than the false prophet whom we read about later in Revelation. In Revelation 16:13 we find this evil trio (evil version of the Trinity) listed. That verse refers to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the enemies of Christ whom we’ve met in Rev. 12-13).

Also, Revelation 19:20 speaks about how the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped his image.

So this second beast works for the first beast. He has a priestly mission, to preach the false gospel of the first beast, to fill the earth with the lies and propaganda of the first beast; to proselytize the world, to cause people to worship the beast/dragon. So think of the first beast as the political muscle for the dragon – the beast that exercised political domination, who held authority and power over people, nations, empires. Think of the second beast as the religious muscle for the dragon. He applies his power of deceit to entice people to follow the beast.

What makes this beast, this false prophet so dangerous, so deadly, is that his teachings are accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders. This beast in lamb’s clothing has the power to back up whatever claims he is making about the beast. Verse 13 tells us that he is able to call down fire from heaven upon the earth (reminiscent of Elijah on Mt. Carmel). A sign like that functions as confirmation of the truth of his teaching.

(3) What does this all mean to the first century believers?

We can see the clever strategy of Satan as he seeks to imitate, to mimic the divine power of God. Notice also this lamb appears to have the power to give life, as he breathes life into the image of the beast (it’s as if he animates the image, makings it come alive). By doing these things, this gentle looking, smooth talking, miracle working beast manages to enlist more and more worshippers of the first beast.

As we remarked last week, that is one of the goals of the devil, to steal worshippers from God and gain worshippers for himself, to try to abate his prideful, unquenchable thirst for glory and renown. Now, just what exactly does all this mean? What form will the deception take?

We’ve already hinted at the fact that this beast will work through false teaching – false teaching in the world, but also in the church. This was certainly one of the most deadly influences upon the church in Asia Minor.

Think of the church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18ff). This was a church whom the Lord had commended for her deeds, for her love, for her faith. In fact the Lord observed how she was doing more now than she was in the beginning. On the surface she was a thriving church…

But then the Lord says, "I have this against you. You tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of foods sacrificed to idols." Later on in that same passage the Lord refers to the prophetess’s teachings as “the so-called deep secrets.” The teachers of this cult or new religion lured people in, tricked them with the promise of new, deeper truths about God.

Some of these new, deep truths were that God didn’t care about what we do with our bodies. He only cares about the heart and soul. So they permitted believers to take part in religious ceremonies at the local temple which included temple prostitution, sacrificing meat to idols, etc.

So there’s no doubt that the churches in Asia Minor knew exactly what this second beast was all about. They knew how dangerous, destructive, infectious and fast-spreading this evil was, how these false teachers wormed their way into the church appearing to be angels of light bearing new truths, but they were nothing more than messengers of death and darkness.

The Apostle Paul knew something about the dangers of deceptive appearances. In Acts 20 he warned the Ephesian elders that savage wolves would come in among them and would not spare the flock. Even from their own number men would arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. It would seem that Paul had stared at this beast right in the face!

(4) So what does this mean to us now as twenty-first century believers? How should we defend and prepare ourselves against the enemy’s strategy and power to deceive and disguise as a lamb?

Obviously false teaching is still one of the greatest threats to the church. The church will always have savage wolves among her that will emerge and seek to lead God’s people astray. But I’d like us to reflect a moment on the insights of one author who offered rather provocative ideas as to how this beast gets his message out in the 21st century.

Dr. Vern Poythress (in his book "The Returning King") illustrates how this beast works through the institutions of modern society. He writes: what then are the principal means of deceit around us now? In our modern society, the mass media, educational institutions, advertising, and (what he calls) the whole “knowledge industry” offer the principal channels through which people learn and confirm their views of themselves and their world.

He pointed out how the beast works to control and manipulate these institutions, these avenues of information and education to his own advantage – to get his message out! Take our nation’s public school for example. They are touted as being a religion free zone. But they’re not! The beast makes sure that wherever God is pushed out of the picture, he takes center stage (agenda).

Our nation’s public schools do endorse a religion – secular humanism. That is a religion that thrives upon false teaching. Here trusting disciples sit in classrooms listening to their priests fill their minds with lies, with unproven and outlandish theories about how this world was created, about how man got here, and about man’s role in this world. Our schools and universities are the breeding ground for the beast’s brightest and best followers.

But the beast's influence goes way beyond education. Just think about the worldly agenda and propaganda that we’re exposed to everyday, in the workplace, in our own homes, through our televisions, even the 10 o’clock news – even some members of the media seem to have an antichristian agenda. (Beast manipulates information; he shapes and warps public opinion).

Is there anyone here who wonders who’s really at the controls in Hollywood? Yesterday I read a story on the Fox News web site which reported how NBC is running Veggie Tales on Saturday mornings. But (much to the surprise of the producers of Veggie Tales) NBC producers have removed all non-historical references to God and the Bible.

NBC defended itself by saying that they have a policy which prohibits them from making specific references to religions. We don't get too specific with any particular religious doctrine or any particular religious denomination. So apparently the name God can be spoken on their programs when used as an expletive, but it can’t be used in a wholesome, worthwhile manner.

So we see that especially in our public institutions, in our nation’s school, in our advertising, in movies, in literature, in our (supposedly unbiased) media, the deceptive influence of the second beast is everywhere.

He is subtle and deceptive in his appearance. His message is quite convincing but it is clear to all who are discerning, that his voice is none other than that of the dragon! This beast is the propagandist extraordinaire and he will stop at nothing to spread his false teachings, to spread his lies about God, to cut off all mention of God and Christ from human hearing. That is his mission, his agenda, so that all the inhabitants of this world will worship the beast.

The Beast’s Destructive Purpose (vv.15-18)

(1) What power was given to the second beast (v.15)? What did the beast require all to receive? Why? What was its purpose? (vv. 16-17)

People of God, I’m sure you already know what his purpose is. There’s no mystery or surprise behind the motives of this second beast. He desires exactly what the first beast desired, exactly what the dragon (Satan) desires, namely, the annihilation and total destruction of all those who do not bow down and worship the beast.

Last week we mentioned how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced this very threat themselves. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to the golden image which he had made. We equated that with the way Christians in John’s day were oppressed economically and even martyred for their refusal to worship Caesar.

Christians throughout history have been the target of the beast and his influential false prophet. Think of the evil plot that Haman hatched, how he manipulated King Xerxes into declaring that on a certain day all of the Jews in Persia, all of God’s people were to be killed (Esther 3). That is the deceit and cunning of the second beast at work.

In our previous studies we’ve looked at many such examples. But what is entirely unique to this passage is the revelation that the second beast will force all those who belong to him (rich or poor, slave or free) to receive a mark to signify that they belong to the beast.

The object of this marking is twofold: first of all, it is to clearly mark those who belong to the beast; but secondly, it is designed to economically isolate and oppress and eventually exterminate all those who refuse to wear the mark of the beast.

(2) The beast requires its subjects to get a mark on their foreheads or right hands. Look again at Rev. 7:2-3. What are the consequences of refusing the sign of the beast? What are the implications for us today?

So again, the Christians who read this letter (from Christ) would have known exactly what this was all about. As far as the actual mark is concerned – the mark of the beast – there has again, been much wild speculation and conjecture as to what it really is.

There are those who confidently assert that the mark of the beast is our social security number. Others insist that the mark of the beast is the international product codes or bar codes, and that eventually all human beings will be identified by a similar bar code. Meanwhile some think that the beast will force everyone to have a micro-chip implanted within us.

But the key to understanding the mark of the beast lies in its similarity to the sealing of the saints. Again, let’s not forget the imitative tendencies of the beast. He mimics Christ. He mirrors his power and authority. He simulates his miraculous signs. He duplicates Christ’s mission to bring his message into all the earth.

So in that regard we saw that Christ sent his angels to seal all those who belonged to the Lamb (ch. 7:1-8). They were sealed on their foreheads. But we mentioned that this seal was not a visible seal. It was not a physical seal, but it was spiritual in nature. God sealed his people, assuring that in their persecution Satan could not harm their souls.

Here too, the mark of the beast is not to be understood as a literal, physical mark or number that will appear on our bodies. Rather, the mark of the beast is spiritual. Those who bear this mark are those who have shown themselves to be loyal to the beast; who follow his agenda; who promote his cause; who worship and pay homage to the beast.

So it is even in our day. I believe it is becoming more and more obvious to discern who bears the mark of the counterfeit lamb, who follows the agenda and teachings of the second beast, and who are sealed by the Lamb of God.

That distinction ought to be more and more obvious in our daily lives – in the way we run our business (ethically, honestly, uprightly), to the way we teach and train our children; to the way we spend our money; to the way we spend our Lord’s Day; even in our choices of fun and entertainment. All these ways we show who we are, we show who we worship.

(3) Look at verse 18 carefully. The NIV is particularly accurate here: "This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." John tells the one with insight to calculate the number of the beast, man’s number. Presumably the reader would then pause, waiting for people to do the calculations! Then he gives the answer. How is 7 used in Scripture, particularly in Revelation? How is 3 used? Why might 666 be an appropriate number for the beast, for man’s number?

So what is this number 666 all about? The last verse tells us if anyone has insight let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. I have already spent enough time telling you all the wrong ways in which people interpret and understand this number.

But how are we to rightly understand it? I think we have to confess that this is one of those mysteries which we will never fully understand, never be completely sure about. While there’s no doubt that this number applies to the one who is the antichrist, we also know that many people fit that description in history.

But there are some theologians who insist that this designation belongs to the one final antichrist, the man of lawlessness revealed in II Thessalonians 2. I am of the mind that this number refers not to one particular person, but to any and all who would champion the cause of the beast.

However, I did read one commentator who made a very intriguing observation about this number. He pointed to the fact that in the Greek text, 666 is written out not in long hand, in words, such as we might write out a check for six hundred and sixty six dollars. No, the Greek text uses three letters in a row.

The first letter stands for the number 6; the second letter signifies its multiple by 10 (which would be 60). Then the last letter signifies its multiple of 10 again (which would be 600). So in the end, you have the numbers 6, 60, and 600.

Now all along in the book of Revelation we have been dealing with numbers. Of the numbers we have dealt with, number seven is the most significant number in this book. It is said to be the divine number. It symbolizes completeness and perfection.

So let’s reflect upon this a moment. The number of man, the number of the beast is 666, but that number falls woefully short of the perfection and power and permanence of God of the universe. We could add that his number is the perfection of evil and wickedness.

If God’s number (perfection) could be classified as 777, then we see how God and His Christ completely surpass the number of the beast. It signals to the wise and discerning reader that the beast and those who follow him are destined to fail. They are destined to perish.

Conclusion

Death and judgment is the ultimate end of any and all who dare to stand against God and His Christ. The number of the beast, therefore, this number that for ages has people running around frightened, paranoid, and panicking — this is in reality, a number of shame; a number of failure and weakness, a number of reproach, and disgrace, of utter humiliation.

Many have worn it over the years, and more will wear it in the years ahead if the Lord tarries. As John says in his other epistle, "I tell you that already many antichrists have come. Many have come bearing the name and number of the beast."

Many have come along and spread lies and false teaching, turning men to follow the beast; many have come persecuting and oppressing the church. The beast, like man, cannot escape the final judgment of God.

In the end, the dragon, the two beasts, and all who are followers of the beast will be utterly destroyed (number will expire), while God and His people will live on forever and ever in glory, in perfect happiness and never ending fellowship.




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