Rev.13 — FACING THE BEAST
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 16th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 13A.
Background: Last week we looked at the ancient battle between the woman and the dragon. This morning we will pick up where chapter twelve ended – “the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
What the dragon does immediately after he goes off to make war against the church, is to call the beast out of the sea. The background image that God uses to reveal the schemes of the enemy of the church to John, comes from Daniel 7. In this passage Daniel sees 4 beasts coming up out of the sea – they look like a lion, a bear, a leopard and a terrifying beast with ten horns. These beasts represent human kingdoms – world powers in their time – (the Babylonians, the Medes & Persians, the Greek empire under Alexander, and Rome). But the beast that John sees has characteristics of all of these – yet is none of them.
In other words, God uses this vision from Daniel 7 and expands it to speak, not of one particular kingdom, but of ruling kingdoms and states in general. What God is showing John, and us, in this vision, is the way that Satan influences the kingdoms of this world – particularly those in power – and sets them against the purposes of God and his church.
The Dragon Influences The State.
Before we look at this in detail, let us face, without apology, the teaching of Scripture regarding the state. On the one hand, we are told to pray for our leaders, to pay our taxes, to submit to the governing authorities. Scripture views the office of government as God given. Anarchy and rebellion against the state cannot be supported either by the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles – and according to this passage is doomed to fail (vs.9-10).
Having said that, on the other hand, what the visions of Revelation 13 make clear, is that there is a supernatural, even demonic influence that draws the greater purposes of nations and states and powers increasingly to its own purposes. The symbolism in Ch.13 is clear: (1) the dragon stands on the “the sands of the seashore”(NASV), a picture of numerous people and nations under his sway, and (2) the beast comes to him out of the sea – the place of chaos and demonic activity. The combination of images points to a ruler/state, comprised of people and nations under demonic influence.
The Purposes and Tactics of the Dragon.
To Rule and Have Authority Through Human Governments: Note that the Beast is given power and a throne and authority by the dragon (vs.2). These are symbolized by the ten horns (symbols of power), and the seven heads with blasphemous names on them. While it is true that some of the symbolism relates directly to Rome, the vision of the combination of beasts clearly refers to world powers in general.
The point is that Satan rules through nations and leaders whose agenda is ruled, not by submission to the one true God, but by the will to power – by military interests, by economic interests, by sociopolitical interests. Consequently, these agendas guide the will and policies of nations – so that they kill who they need to kill – displace who they need to displace – and exercise power and economy in a way that ultimately serves the purposes of the dragon… which is to say that nations, even those that have the trappings and symbols of Christian religion on their courthouses and money, set up and maintain their purposes apart from the purposes of God.
This is not to say that government does not do good things – because government itself is ordained by God. Rather we are saying that the Dragon corrupts all governments towards his own purposes.
To Blaspheme the Name of God: The influence of the Dragon is to cause nations either to reject and revile the name of God – such as communist governments, or to misrepresent and abuse the name of God. Where nations are called “Christian”, much of what they do is against the teachings of Jesus – in regard to violence and morality. Other states reject and blaspheme God as a matter of policy.
Behind these things is the influence of the Dragon, whose motive – from the very beginning – has been to call into question the character and power and authority of God.
To Gather People Away from the Worship of God to the Worship of Anything Else: vs.3 – The purpose of the Dragon is to captivate human beings with anything that will draw them away from the worship and wonder of God. As people made to worship, to praise God, we have been corrupted so that we tend not to recognize or care about the wonders of God – or ascribe praise or wonder to God – and instead give that same praise to professional musicians, political figures, race horses, even technological equipment like cars, or aircraft carriers or computers.
The agenda of the dragon is to draw the worship of people towards passing things – towards the state – to the exclusion of the worship of God.
To Overcome the Saints: Vs.6-7 – This is the stated purpose of the Dragon – to speak against and act against and overcome the saints – whether through accusation (as we saw last week) – or through violence and coercion – or through sweeping our interests away from faith to something other than the Gospel – or through making the saints irrelevant to the rest of the world.
The Church and The State – Responding to the Dragon’s Tactics.
How, then, is the church supposed to respond to the state?
1) Be wise in your participation. It is a privilege to participate in the state, however, we must recognize that the answer to the problems of society and the help that redeems and saves – is found in Jesus Christ – in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Sin drives human evils – not politics or economy. Jesus, when he returns will judge sin and eradicate evil – including death and the fallen natural order. Therefore, political solutions are only ever partial, and imperfect. And political power always, eventually, moves towards the purposes of the dragon.
So support your candidate, your party – but recognize that you are, at best, voting for a lesser dragon. Be Wary: The more identified you become with a political party – the more the other side begins to look like the beast. When we begin to feel this way, we begin to hate “those people” who support the other side – and we play right into the hand of the purposes of the dragon.
2) Recognize where your state dishonors and blasphemes the name of God, and be willing to speak the truth about how your state does that. e.g. America’s interests do not represent Christ’s interests. We are not a “Christian” nation – regardless of which party is in charge at the moment. Make the distinction! Recognize that the driving force behind our country is capitalism and don’t deify our nation. See with clarity the nation you live in and the influence of the beast.
3) Promote the wonder of God. The state, the beast – the dragon – compete with God for your wonder – your amazement – your praise. The Lord’s Prayer is a corrective – we are to begin, when we pray – by hallowing, worshipping, being taken up in wonder and praise with our God – who he is – what he has done – his goodness – his beauty – his rightness. Honor God and do not give his glory to other things, people, achievements, events – or to the state.
In these ways, we can face the beast – recognize what the dragon is doing with clear eyes and be a prophetic witness.
Rev.13:11-18 — THE USE OF RELIGION BY THE STATE
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 23rd, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link –Rev 13B..
Last week we looked at the vision in Rev.13:1-10, and – based on its background vision from Daniel 7 – saw that the beast of Rev.13 represents human kingdoms, their worship of power and wealth. We saw how the dragon influences human kingdoms to grasp power and authority, to blaspheme God’s name, to gather people away from the worship of God, and to overcome the saints.
Beginning with Rev.13:11, we see another beast emerge (the false prophet). The second beast is the servant of the first beast and his role is to deceive the world and to force the people of the world to worship the first beast. Who is this 2nd beast – the false prophet – and how are we to understand and apply this God-given vision to our lives?
The Origin of the Beast – We Want a King.
In the beginning there was no such thing as the state. In fact, it isn’t until Genesis 11 that we see a group of people gathering together to rule over others and to build a tower to the sky that we first see anything that looks like a nation/state.
In contrast to the nations around them, God gave Israel Prophets and Judges to rule them – men, and occasionally women, of God who inquired of the Lord and acted as priests. Priesthood not kingdom, was God’s design for his people.
When Israel asked God for a king – rather than a prophet or priest – God warned them that such government would lead to abuses of power. In the beginning, God desired a priesthood – spiritual authority that had the resources to deal with spiritual needs and issues such as sin and forgiveness.
When Israel finally demanded a king, God gave them a king, and anointed the kings of Israel to lead. And God has called us to submit to governing authorities. However, a secular government – while able to punish and reward – can never deal with the true spiritual need of people. As a result, governments need a spiritual authority – a deity or a spiritual truth or ideal to follow.
This is where the 2nd beast, or false prophet comes in… If the first beast is the state (speaking generally – not a specific state or a one-world government but the state – which, in John’s case, would have been Rome), then the clearly religiously oriented false prophet is a spiritual representation of the state sanctioned religion. All states need a state sanctioned religion of some kind (even if that religion is Atheism), in order to justify and give reason to their actions and choices.
We Are Easily Deceived When The State/ Beast, Uses Religion for its Own Purposes.
Let’s be clear about who and what we are talking about… There is no secretive conspiracy of demonically oriented senators or national party leaders who are trying to bring the Antichrist to power. When we talk about the beast, we are not talking about Hollywood monsters and horror films. Rather, the beast is a spiritual picture of what world governments become under the influence of the Dragon. The best describes normal people, driven by the desire to rule and to do what they believe is best for the state – who do not recognize themselves as being spiritually motivated – who put their trust in what they can see and make their decisions based on what is expedient and serves their purposes.
Human beings run governments. Human beings also make their desire to fix things and rule and gain power into a spiritual mission in which God or truth serve the purposes of the state. We want to believe that we can make or force government to serve God but the state either swallows or changes such efforts. RELIGION ALWAYS BECOMES THE SERVANT OF THE STATE; THE STATE NEVER BECOMES THE SERVANT OF RELIGION!
To Legitimize and Serve as The Mouthpiece of the State: The 2nd beast is clearly a picture of religious authority – he has horns like a lamb – like The Lamb – but his voice is deceiving and full of lies like the dragon. He also has all the authority of the beast. The symbolism points to a state sanctioned religion that promises salvation, but which supports the agenda and rule of the state – the beast.
Ever noticed how much religious language is used in political speeches? States and nations use the language of religion – whatever that religion might be – whether the Atheism of Soviet Russia, the Christianity of the U.S., or the Muslims of Iran – to describe political policies and purposes and to call people to action. Religious language becomes the ethical veneer to legitimize the purposes of the state. In our country this may be either (A) the Christian Nationalism that talks about getting back to our Christian roots or protecting the world as a bastion of Christian truth, or (B) the Enlightenment based humanism of free democracy that promotes personal freedom and happiness above all goods. All nations use the rhetoric of their faith statement or religion to serve their own political purposes.
The State needs to use religion as its mouthpiece because it needs divine authority to act and to legitimately rule. There is a reason why we have the ten commandments on the walls of the supreme court and “in God we trust” on our money. The state needs to appear to serve not merely the ends of man, but the ends of God. And where the trappings have been removed in our nation (e.g. prayer in schools), the state is merely putting aside the trappings of Christianity in order to serve its true agendas of personal freedom and enlightenment thinking.
Therefore the state will always use religion – even Christian religion – as a mouthpiece to serve its purposes – one only needs to listen to the religious language in presidential or other govt. speeches to become aware of this – but the state will never serve the purposes of Christianity.
To Draw People’s Loyalties to the State and What it Worships: The 2nd beast, or false prophet, exercises the authority of the beast to force men to worship the beast (vs.12). He sets up an image of the beast and gives breath to it so that it speaks and demands to be worshipped and puts to death those who refuse.
This is a weird image, but the image refers directly to the cult of emperor worship that went on in Rome. The emperor was considered to be divine or a son of the gods or to become divine after death. At any rate, emperors demanded worship to their image and if one refused the penalty was death. This practice was not exclusive to Rome – but John and his readers would have understood the image, given supernatural life and demanding worship to be a picture of the supernatural evil behind the cult of emperor worship.
Emperors demanded to be worshipped as a matter of loyalty. After all, one who was willing ot worship the emperor would be willing to obey him.
This same demand of loyalty is probably more clear in countries where the rulers are also religious clerics – but it is also present in countries where the demand is still present but more subtle – where values like personal freedom and the pursuit of wealth and personal happiness demand our loyal support and become the promise of life to us.
The point is that the state turns religion to the service of what it worships and towards the support of the state itself and what it wants.
to Influence the Minds and Actions of its People: Just like the mark given to believers in Rev.5 – the passover image where believers are marked as belonging to God – the mark of the beast is not necessarily some kind of physical tattoo. The mark in vs. 16-17 on the hands and foreheads symbolizes an influence of the beast over the thoughts (mark on foreheads) and actions (mark on hands) of people.
In other words, the state uses religion to influence the way people think and act – to reshape the way people think about the shape of their lives and what they are willing to do and how they should live. Whether the state calls its people to holy war, or to align themselves with the ideals of enlightenment pursuit of happiness or business – the state shapes its calling with patriotic/religious language.
We are Called to Be Lights in the World – Practice Your Faith.
The false prophet then is a deceiver who draws men to worship the state. The church needs to be a light and we as believers need to practice those things that will set us apart from the worship of the state and make us lights to the world.
Listen: Learn to hear the use of religious language and the suggestion that God supports the agenda of the state. Become wise so that you do not confuse the agenda of the state with the Gospel. Don’t expect the state to be Christian, but recognize that it has its own agenda.
Worship: Become aware of the things the state worships and values and runs after. DIstinguish between the following and worship of Jesus and the following and worship of the state. Do not allow your loyalty to be divided between allegiance to the state and allegiance to Jesus. God will not share his glory with another.
Confess: Do not accept any other version of a lesser salvation – promises about the economy – about security – promises of healthcare… whether the govt. delivers these things or not, they are only ever partial and imperfect blessings. God’s healthcare plan deals with death through eternal life – God is the one who provides for us financially – who holds the days of our lives in his hands and with whom our souls are ever truly secure. Make this your confession and your trust.
Think and Act: Let your understanding of the world around you be determined not by news or sound bytes or by what the govt. claims to be doing, or by what the constitution promises – but by the word of God. Let your actions and decisions and understandings be shaped by what God’s word says. God’s word is truth. Jesus said that whoever listens to his words builds his life on solid rock.