Counterfeit Religion

In Chapter 13 of Revelation, John saw a “Beast ascending from the Earth,” the “False Prophet.” His intent was to deceive the “Inhabitants of the Earth.” The first “Beast” that John saw “ascending from the sea” was characterized by its political power. In contrast, the “False Prophet” used religion and propaganda to deceive, and economic control to suppress anyone who did not submit to its demands. As in Ancient Rome, the beastly World Empire will intermix politics, religion, and commerce to advance its imperial agenda.

In the Book of Revelation, the group known as the “Inhabitants of the Earth” gives allegiance to the “Beast from the Sea,” and by proxy, to the “Great Red Dragon,” namely, Satan. The “False Prophet” promotes religious devotion and political loyalty to the “Beast,” and gives it concrete expression to it by encouraging men to erect an “image” to the first “Beast” - (Revelation 13:4-8).

Church in Winter - Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash
[Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash]

The “
Beast from the Sea” had “ten heads” and “seven horns,” and one of its “heads” appeared to have been “slain.” But its “death stroke was healed.” The description, “as having been slain,” was applied previously to the “Lamb” in Chapter 5. Likewise, the “Beast from the Sea” was wounded “and lived,” just as Jesus portrayed as the Son of Man “died and lived” in Chapter 1 - (ezésen - Revelation 1:18-20, 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).

The restoration of the wounded “head” mimicked the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the restoration of the “Beast” to life struck the “Inhabitants of the Earth” with awe. Thus, the “Beast from the Sea” was and is a counterfeit of the Lamb - (Revelation 13:3-6).

Likewise, the “False Prophet,” the “Beast from the Earth” had two “horns like a lamb.” It was not identical to the “Lamb,” but it imitated him by speaking with what sounded like his voice. Moreover, while the “Lamb” had “seven horns,” the second “Beast” had only “two.” Thus, it is a pale imitation of the true “Lamb.”

However, the “False Prophet” also had the power to summon fire from heaven, making it the satanic counterpart to the “Two Witnesses” who consumed their opponents with “fire from their mouth.” Like the “Two Witnesses,” it was a “prophet,” which is why he was called the “False Prophet” later in the Book. This creature masquerades as a prophet of God and claims to speak for the “Beast from the Sea” though he does so with the voice of the “Dragon.”

RELIGION AND ECONOMICS


The “False Prophet” employs religious devices to direct the “Inhabitants of the Earth” to erect an image of the first “Beast,” and it uses economic pressure to punish anyone who resists, especially the overcoming saints who, like the three Jewish exiles in Babylon, refuse to venerate this “image”:

  • (Daniel 3:13-14) – “O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, you serve not my god or worship the golden image that I have erected!

His attempt to deceive the “saints” was anticipated in the letters to the Seven Assemblies with their warnings against “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “prophetess Jezebel,” and the “teachings of Balaam.”

Thus, the “Beast from the Earth” was active already among the churches of Asia. The economic attacks by the “False Prophet” were reflected in the economic deprivations suffered by the congregation in Smyrna, a foretaste of the more severe attacks to come - (Revelation 2:2-6, 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20).

However, the stress in Chapter 13 is on the use of religious deception to seduce humanity into giving allegiance to the “Beast from the Sea.” However, when coercion becomes necessary, the False Prophet’s tool of choice is economic power, especially economic sanctions that prevent the offender from participating in commerce.

BEASTLY NUMBER


The terms “Number of the Beast” and “image” use language from the story of the great “golden image erected” by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, and his demand for all his subjects to venerate the image “that I erected.” That incident resulted in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego being cast into the “burning fiery furnace”:

  • (Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image… the height thereof SIXTY CUBITS, its breadth SIX CUBITS… And the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and RENDER HOMAGE TO THE IMAGE. Whoever did not render homage to it was slain.”
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead… six hundred and SIXTY AND SIX.”

The background from Daniel is the source in Revelation for the “Number of the Beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, and it links that “Number” to idolatry; specifically, STATE IDOLATRY. Thus, idolatrous religion and political power are inextricably linked in the beastly World Empire.

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was “sixty” cubits, and its width was “six cubits.” The Greek Septuagint version reads hexékonta and hex cubits, the same form of the second two numbers added to “six hundred” in Revelation, and it divides the original number into three components based on the number ‘6’ (600 + 60 + 6).

The “number” is figurative. In the Book, the “Mark of the Beast” is contrasted with the “Seal of God” placed on the foreheads of those who follow the “Lamb,” which likewise is not literal. The Beast’s “Mark” or “Number” is the satanic counterfeit to the “Seal of God” and the “Name of the Lamb” - (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).

In the Book, humanity is divided into two groups: Those who “follow the Lamb wherever he does,” and those who take the “Mark of the Beast.” Total allegiance is given to one or the other, and there is NO middle ground or third alternative.

COUNTERFEIT


The “Beast from the Earth” and his activities imitate the “Lamb,” and his “False Prophet” mimics the true prophets of God. Thus, the “Beast” employs a counterfeit of the Apostolic faith to deceive men, causing them to render homage to the “Dragon” and the “Beast from the Sea.”

Apotheosis of Washington - Photo by Vishwas Katti on Unsplash
[Apotheosis of Washington - Photo by Vishwas Katti on Unsplash]

Its goal is to destroy the Church through deception and apostasy, or more directly, through economic pressure and persecution. Once deceived, the “Inhabitants of the Earth” become willing supporters of the “Dragon” in his quest to annihilate the “Seed of the woman,” namely, the men who have the “Testimony of Jesus” - (“
And the inhabitants of the earth rejoice over them… because the two prophets tormented them”).

The seven marginalized congregations of Asia would have recognized the arrogant pretensions of Rome in John’s visions, especially the demand for veneration and total allegiance to Caesar. Local magistrates pressured residents of the Empire to participate in the imperial cult, which certainly would have included economic sanctions against anyone who refused to comply.

If there is a lesson for us today, it is that the “Beast” and its vassals will imitate the true Apostolic faith taught by Jesus and his Apostles to deceive, if possible, the very “elect.”

For the disciples of Jesus, this counterfeit will look and feel all too familiar, and very likely, it will direct them to give the allegiance that belongs to Jesus ALONE to someone or something else. However, those who refuse to bow to the ungodly demands of the Beastly Empire may very well face impoverishment because of their “Testimony for Jesus,” if not something worse.

The Book of Revelation calls this figure the “False Prophet” and portrays him as the satanic counterfeit of the true “Lamb” and his Apostles. This label may very well reflect Christ’s own warning that “false Christs” and “false prophets” would appear and deceive many prior to the coming of the “Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.” His followers must count the cost and give their full allegiance to Jesus now in anticipation of what is coming.



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