Pastor Scott Andrews | January 15, 2023
I knew when we started the book of Revelation that I would face some challenging sections – basically, chapters 6 to 20. I knew right smack dab in the middle of that would come Revelation 13 and the two beasts – the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. And I knew the end of chapter 13 would bring us to – cue music in a minor key – the mark of the beast. 666 and all that.
People have always been fascinated by the mark of the beast, just like they’re drawn to horror movies in a minor key. While there is something mysterious, unsettling, eerie about it, we just can’t help ourselves. I reminded you some time ago of a book by Salem Kirban simply titled, 666. I asked, why would anyone buy a book with that title by an author named Salem?
Published in 1970, it sold over half a million copies in its first three years. It was a fiction book based on the book of Revelation – post-rapture with the primary antagonist – the Antichrist. Most agree it paved the way for the later 16-book series Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Those books sold a combined 65 million copies. Many made it to the New York Times bestseller list, several made it to number 1. Jerry Falwell, Sr. – founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University – was quoted regarding the first book in the series, “In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.”
By the way, our fascination with the mark of the beast and 666 has led to some interesting Christian cultural challenges. When the Baptist church we were at in Colorado Springs was first started, the founding pastor was able to choose the phone numbers for both the church and his home. You used to be able to do that – pick from a list of available numbers. He noticed and chose, for the church, 597-6666, and 597-7777 for his home. But later, we would actually get phone calls from people saying something like, we would never attend a church with that phone number. We would politely explain we inherited the number, and that it wasn’t 666, but 6666. That was never a satisfying answer – we eventually had to change the number.
I read both those books – 666 when I was a young teenager – it kept me up at night – and the Left Behind series, as I’ve mentioned– because I knew the evangelical church was reading it. I also mentioned, it was neither good literature nor good Bible, but we evangelicals were drawn to it like moths to the flame. Just like we’ve always been drawn to guessing the identity of the Antichrist with that numeric clue, 666. We’ll come back to that – his identity by that number at the end of our time. That, with some music in a minor key, will keep you on the edge of your seats.
Yes, we are in Revelation 13. As I’ve said, we are being introduced to the key players as they are positioned for the end of time. While they are not new in the course of history or prophecy, they are entering center stage. In chapter 11, the seventh trumpet sounded. We will find in chapters 15 and 16 that the seventh trumpet contain the seven bowl judgments – the final seven judgments of God, because in them, the wrath of God is finished.
But first, we have these extended interludes. In chapter 12, we encountered the woman who gave birth to the Christ. We also met the dragon – that is Satan – who desperately wanted to kill the child at His birth. He failed. The Christ was born, completed His mission through His perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection for sinners, and His ascension or return to heaven. So, the dragon went after the woman – that is, the nation of Israel which had produced the Messiah. But, having failed again, Satan turns his attention to her children – that is, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. These are believers at the end of time – I think during the last half of the final seven years called the Tribulation before the return of Christ.
Now, to make war with these believers still alive on earth, the dragon, Satan, calls forth two beasts in chapter 13. Two more who take center stage. Last week, we saw the beast from the sea. He was an odd-looking creature – and we must remember this is apocalyptic, image-driven literature. That’s important. Please understand, I believe this book to be the very Word of God – inspired and therefore inerrant. And we should believe every word. And interpretations of Scripture should be taken seriously and literally, inasmuch as we are supposed to do so. But apocalyptic literature is image-driven – the images point beyond themselves to something else – literal and real, absolutely. And so, when we see the beast had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, are we supposed to see this? You can hang that in your living room, or better, in your child’s nursery, but it’s not likely what we are supposed to see.
We saw that likely referred to a position of great strength. The horn throughout Scripture speaks of strength, and having ten horns with crowns on the horns speak of this Antichrist’s great strength, probably as a political or military world ruler. So also, the dragon, Satan, had seven heads and ten horns – but his crowns were on his head, speaking of his supremacy, his right to rule this fallen world, as the god of this world.
Well, we saw he gave his authority to the beast. Further, we found the beast was like three animals – a leopard, a bear and a lion. But here was the point: we couldn’t help but notice the clear allusion to the four beasts from the sea which represented four kingdoms in Daniel 7 – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Surprisingly, this beast from the sea has the likeness of all four beasts – which means all the evil of the empires of the past and their opposition to God and His people culminate in this beast.
Now, we also saw one of the heads of the beast looked as if it had been slain – the same words used of the Lamb in Revelation 5 – of course, speaking of Jesus – a Lamb standing, as it had been slain. And so I pointed out we are seeing a parody, a sick imitation of the Trinity. The dragon imitates the Father, the first beast imitates the Son, and the second beast imitates the Holy Spirit as we will see today.
At any rate, this beast had a mortal wound to one of its heads, but it was healed. Resuscitated, resurrected. As a result, the whole earth is amazed and follows the beast, worships the beast and the dragon, saying, who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him? And it is given to the beast – that is, divine permission was given for the beast to speak arrogant words and blasphemies against God. And it is also given to him to make war with the saints and overcome them. But don’t miss this – the beast can only make war against the saints and kill them physically, but he has no power over them spiritually. God will preserve the faith of His own.
That’s important you see, because last week, John finished the first beast and briefly turned his attention to us, if anyone has an ear, let him hear. There may be physical torture coming – even martyrdom. The one destined to captivity will go to captivity. The one destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. But that’s okay – is that the worst they can do? Yes, it is. And so, we remain faithful and persevere to the end. Bringing us to the second beast, the beast from the earth, in 13:11-18. Read that with me.
Last week, I pointed out the first beast, the beast from the sea, is the Antichrist. While there have been many throughout time with the spirit of antichrist, there was a well-developed understanding that the Antichrist would come. We read about him in Daniel, in II Thessalonians 2, in I John 2. The Antichrist, who will have the authority to set himself up as the world ruler, will come on the scene at the end of time. That is, if you hold a futurist view of the book of Revelation. But even if you hold the idealist view – that is, this book has been happening over and over through the church age – that view also understands that things will get worse and worse until it culminates in this evil figure called the Antichrist. Now whether that Antichrist is a person or an empire is up for debate.
But there also is a second beast – one which will later be called the False Prophet, who will also take center stage. Robert Mounce writes of these three (the dragon, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet):
“The evil triumvirate is now complete. As Christ receives authority from the Father (Matthew 11:17), so Antichrist receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:4); and as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14), so the false prophet glorifies the Antichrist (Rev 13:12).”
That’s important – look at John 16:13-14 – Jesus is speaking and says:
13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
There are many other passages we could look at, but it is clear the Holy Spirit’s job is to make much of Jesus, to point people to Jesus, to regenerate them or make them alive in Christ, and to fill them for holy living. Here, the False Prophet does just the opposite – he points people, unbelievers, to the Antichrist, and forces them to worship him, fills them, if you will, for blasphemous, unholy living. So, that’s who we meet today. Let’s make our way through the text with this outline:
- The Beast from the Earth Revealed (11)
- The Works of the Beast (12-15)
- The Mark of the Beast (16-18) – this second beast actually causes or forces all people to receive the mark of the first beast.
John saw another beast – this one coming from the earth. The implication seems to be these two beasts together control the entire world. They exercise both political and religious domination of the world. This one only had two horns like a lamb – seems more normal. But, having seemingly only one head and two horns without crowns likely speaks of him being less powerful than the first beast. But these horns like a lamb remind us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
In Revelation 13, of course, the false prophet, coming like a lowly lamb, is filled with savage, evil intent, as is seen by the way he spoke. He spoke as a dragon – interesting wording. It seems to mean his words are deceiving like his master, Satan himself, the father of lies. As we read on, we find that to be true. At the very least, he is an agent of Satan, spewing his lies. The message for us today is, don’t be deceived by looks or by flattery or by smoothness. Sheep’s clothing. Satan often comes disguised as angel of light. He knows the Scripture well, as false teachers do, and twists it to his own ends. This lowly lamb will come only to deceive, and will deceive the world.
Which brings us to our second point, the Works of the Beast. Apparently, the dragon will give him authority as well, because we find that he exercises all the authority of the first beast, the Antichrist, in his presence – before the Antichrist. Not in competition with or opposition to the first beast. Quite the opposite – he will exercise his authority to point people to the beast. And he will be quite successful.
You see, he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. We were told that in verse 3, now we are told again, because it is significant. Can I tell you how angry and sad this makes me. Angry, because Satan and his henchmen, the Antichrist and the False Prophet, will parody the Trinity. And the Antichrist, who imitates Christ, will actually have the audacity to imitate His death and resurrection. Why? Well, it worked for Jesus, didn’t it? There have been millions – maybe billions – of His followers through the centuries who have declared their worship of and allegiance to Jesus. They have believed in His death and resurrection. After all, Romans 10 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” And so, I’m angry Satan would seek to imitate our Christ.
But I’m also sad that so many will believe the lie. And then I am reminded, many/most today refuse to believe the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, for sinners. And they will either turn to a false religion – and all false religions have demons behind them, Paul tells us. Or, more likely today, they will turn to themselves. As if they are the masters of their own fate, the captains of their destiny. They deny the reality of God – the One to whom they will one day give an account – and live for themselves, exactly how they want, without fear of reprisal. Well, until they are forced to bow to the beast. You say, I won’t. Well, if you’re truly a believer you won’t. But if you’re not a believer, you will. You will be deceived like the rest – just like you are today.
You see, verse 13, the second beast, the false prophet, will be very convincing. He will perform great signs. That’s an interesting word. It’s the same word John used in the Gospel of John to refer to the miracles of Jesus as signs pointing to who He was – the reality of His divine personhood. We remember the signs God gave Moses to do in the presence of Pharoah – to prove he was sent by God. But we also remember the magicians of Pharoah’s court were able to duplicate the signs.
Have you ever wondered if they were just that – magicians who by slight of hand were able to perform fake miracles – or were they demonically empowered so as to do the very things Moses did? That seems to be the case here – these are bona fide, demonic miracles. Counterfeit yes, in that they are empowered by evil, but bona fide nonetheless. One of the signs the false prophet will perform will be just like Elijah. Remember that story, when all the prophets of Baal met Elijah on Mt. Carmel to have a battle – who is the true and living God? Though they tried all day, the prophets of Baal were unable to get him to answer – because he was not God. But Elijah prepared the altar, dug a trench, covered it with water, prayed a short prayer, and fire came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice and the water.
Here, the false prophet will actually call fire out of heaven to earth in the presence of men. And they will be impressed. Verse 14, and he deceives those who dwell on the earth. The earth dwellers – unbelievers – will be deceived because of the signs the false prophet is able to perform in the presence of the beast. That’s interesting to note – as I suggested last week, the first beast, the Antichrist, seems to be a political/military leader who brings the whole world to subjection. Here, the False Prophet seems to be the religious leader of a worldwide false religion who will cause the world to worship the beast, the Antichrist.
This would have been quite understandable to John’s first readers. The Roman Empire was reaching its peak. For many years, the Roman Emperors were declared divine after their deaths. Statues and temples erected in their honor. But a few years before Revelation, Caligula wanted his image erected in the temple of Jerusalem. Fortunately, he died before his wish could be carried out. By the time we get to Domitian in the 90s, when Revelation was written, emperors were being declared divine before they died. Domitian even took the title, our Lord and God.
And temples were erected, and worship was demanded. Throughout the Roman Empire, there were pockets of officials and imperial priests who demanded worship of the emperor, or else risk sanction, being expelled from a trade guild, for example. Livelihood, even life was at stake. John’s readers would have understood what he wrote. And at the end of time, this demand for worship of an emperor, the Antichrist, will be worldwide.
This worship of the beast will include the building of an image of the beast – like a statue. The False Prophet will demand that the people of the earth make the image of the beast who had the wound of the sword but has come to life. This is third time this wound of the beast is mentioned – it’s a big deal. But it’s the first time we find how he received the wound – it was from a sword. And we are told clearly that the wound was a mortal wound, a fatal wound, but he came to life. Again, an imitation of the resurrection of Christ. And it will wow people.
Again, John’s readers would have understood this, and perhaps immediately thought of Emperor Nero. Nero did viciously oppose the Christians for his own political gain. But Nero was crazy, and after being removed from power by the Roman Senate, he went to one of his villas and committed suicide by plunging a dagger into his neck. For years, there was a myth called Nero Redivivus that Nero wasn’t actually dead but had gone to the Parthian Empire to the East of the Roman Empire, and he would soon lead the Parthians against them. From that, the myth became that he did die but was revived, raised from the dead. The myth had all but vanished by the 90s – but the readers would have remembered it. John counts on it – there will be a worldwide ruler in the future who will somehow survive or be resurrected from a mortal wound – and all will worship him. Nero is not he of whom John wrote, but he serves as a type of the coming Antichrist.
Now, it was given – perhaps a divine passive – it was given to the second beast, the false prophet, to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image would even speak. Again, we don’t know how literally to take this. We don’t know if this is some kind of magic art or if the image actually speaks, but, somehow, he does. And either the beast of the image or the beast cause those who do not worship the image to be killed. That is, those who would not worship the beast but those who have declared their allegiance to God.
Of course, we are reminded of the story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. He had an image of himself made some 90 feet tall, and gave an order that when the music played – no doubt in a minor key – people of the kingdom would fall down and worship the image. Anyone who did not would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Who didn’t? Those who had declared their allegiance to Yahweh, the true and living God. It’s interesting to note there are only three mentioned – perhaps they were the only Jews present at the time – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They refused to bow and were taken to the king, who was furious.
The best part of the story is this. Nebuchadnezzar asked them, did you not hear the decree? Did you not hear the music? Let’s play it again and I’ll give you the opportunity to fall and worship my image. To which the three Hebrew men replied, it’s not necessary to play the music. Be it known to you that we will not bow down in worship, and our God is able to save us. But even if He does not, know this, we will still not bow down. You know the rest of the story – they were thrown into the furnace, and instead of three walking around in the fire, there was a fourth figure Nebuchadnezzar said looked like a son of the gods.
This will be the choice of the those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Will you bow to save your skin, or will you maintain your allegiance to Jesus? What do you do now when it might cost you a little rejection or ridicule?
Bringing us to our last point, the Mark of the Beast in verse 16-18. And he – probably the False Prophet – causes all people – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – the point is, all people, no exceptions, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Lots of discussion about this, but whatever the mark is, this is clearly another imitation of God. How? Back in chapter 7, God had sealed the 144,000 – remember, 12 times 12 times 1000. I think referring to all His people – they were sealed. And that seal meant ownership and protection. These are My people, and while you may kill them, they are still Mine.
Here, Satan copies God again. He marks those who are his. In the ancient world, slaves were marked for ownership, soldiers voluntarily took on marks of those leaders they respected. And the religious took on marks of those they worshiped. Here, they receive the mark of the beast as the one they worship. And he adds a little incentive to receive the mark – if you don’t get it, you will not be able to buy or sell. Can you imagine? You cannot survive without the ability to buy and sell – that’s the point.
He tells us, further, the mark is either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Back then, many cultures, to include the Jewish culture, had numerical values assigned to letters. In the Jewish world it was called gematria, so every name had a corresponding number, based on the letters of the name. Some point out a piece of graffiti from this time that reads, I love her whose number is 545.
So, verse 18, 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 666. Figure it out – it’s a little mystery. The number of this man’s name is 666. And so later, many suggested the name Nero is 666. How so? Well, you have to change the letters of his name from Latin to Greek to Hebrew, then misspell it, apply gematria, and you come up with 666 – or 616. Is it Nero? Highly doubtful – because we’re talking about someone in the future. But it could be Nero is a type.
And so, through the centuries, many guesses have been made. During the Reformation, it was either the papacy or a specific pope. During later days, it has been Mohammed, Napoleon or Hitler or Mussolini or Anwar Sadat or Saddam Hussein or Henry Kissinger or Ronald Reagan or Mikael Gorbachev or Barack Obama or Bill Gates or Donald Trump. And people who have made those suggestions give all their rationale – and most of those men are dead. Salem Kirban’s 666 fictitiously had him as a US President and world religious leader named Brother Bartholomew. The Left Behind series had him as a world leader from Romania names Nicolae Carpathia.
By the way, just a quick aside on the actual mark of the beast. It is somehow his name or the number of his name. So some suggested it might be the barcode or UPC symbol – that was popular when I was growing up. Of course, we continue to hear about our global economy going to some kind of moneyless currency like a chip implanted in everyone to replace the credit or debit card. Guess where the chip may be implanted? For a brief time, some conspiracy theorists suggested the COVID vaccine came with a tiny microchip as a way to track people.
Others suggest 666 is simply a way to refer to imperfection. If 7 is a number of perfection, 6 is a number of imperfection – three times imperfect. Could be. Here’s what I think. When the Antichrist is revealed and comes to power, he will be obvious to believers – as will the number 666 associated with his name. I don’t know what it is or what that means. But when we need to know, we will know. We should probably stop guessing.
What we do know from this text and others is he will be evil incarnate, empowered by the dragon, Satan himself. And his false prophet will cause the world to worship him. The only holdouts will be followers of Christ.
This is important – I close with this. Don’t worry – if you are a true believer, you will not be deceived. In His Olivet Discourse talking about this period of the end times, Jesus said, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” The point is, they, even the False Prophet, will not be able to mislead the elect – followers of Jesus.
It will cost us. But if we go to captivity, if we are oppressed, persecuted or martyred, we will still belong to God. Because nothing can separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord.