27 July 2021

Counterfeit Religion


The Beast from the earth, the False Prophet, mimics the Lamb and presents a counterfeit of the true faith of Jesus

Caracalla - Photo by Ian Noble on Unsplash
In chapter 13, John sees a “
Beast ascending from the earth,” one whose purpose is to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth.” The latter is characterized by political power, and the former by its ability to use religion to deceive and the economic power that it wields against anyone who does not submit to the first “Beast.” - [Caracalla - Photo by Ian Noble on Unsplash].

In Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” render homage to the “Beast from the sea,” and by proxy, to the “Dragon,” Satan himself.

But it is the “Beast from the earth,” the “False Prophet,” that promotes this religious devotion and gives it concrete expression by encouraging men to erect an “image” to the “Beast from the sea” - (Revelation 13:4-8).

FIRST BEAST


The “Beast from the sea” has “ten heads” and “seven horns,” and one of its “heads” appears to have been “slain.” Buts its “death-stroke is healed.” The description, “as having been slain,” was applied previously to the “Lamb.” Likewise, the “Beast from the sea” is wounded “and lived,” just as Jesus “died and lived” - (ezésen - Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).

The restoration of the wounded “head” mimics the death and resurrection of the “Lamb,” and the restoration of the “Beast” to life strikes the “inhabitants of the earth” with awe. Thus, the “Beast from the sea” is the counterfeit of the Lamb - (Revelation 13:3-6).

Likewise, the “Beast from the earth” has two “horns like a lamb.” It is not identical to the “Lamb,” but it imitates him.

And while the “Lamb” has “seven horns,” the second “beast” has only “two.” And it has 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.” And like the “Two Witnesses,” it, too, is a “prophet,” which is why later this figure is called the “False Prophet.”

THE FALSE PROPHET


This malevolent figure employs religious devices to direct the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image of the first “Beast.” But it uses economic pressure to punish anyone who resists, especially, overcoming saints who, like the three Jewish exiles in Babylon, refuse to render homage to 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 churches with their warnings against “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “prophetess Jezebel,” and the “teachings of Balaam.”

According to Revelation, the “Beast from the earth” is active even now among the churches. The economic attacks by the “False Prophet” are also 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).

But the stress is on the use of religious deception by the “False Prophet” to seduce humanity into giving allegiance to the first “Beast.” However, when coercion becomes necessary, his tool of choice is economic control.

BEASTLY NUMBER


The terms “number of the beast” and “image” use language from the story of the great “golden image erected” by Nebuchadnezzar, and his demand for all his subjects to venerate the image “that I have 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.”

This background is the source for the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, and it links the “number” to idolatry; specifically, to state idolatry. Thus, idolatrous religion and political power are inextricably linked.

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 reflects the sexagesimal or 60-base numeral system of Ancient Babylon.

The “number” is figurative. In the book, the “mark of the beast” is contrasted with the “seal of God” that is placed on the foreheads of those who follow the “Lamb,” which likewise is not literal.

Thus, the Beast’s “mark” or “number” is the satanic counterfeit to the “seal of God” and the “name of the Lamb” that is inscribed on the foreheads of the latter’s followers - (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).

Humanity is divided into two groups: Those who “follow the Lamb” and those who take the “mark of the beast.” Total allegiance is given to one or the other, and there is NO middle ground, no third alternative.

COUNTERFEIT


Thus, the “Beast from the earth” and his activities imitate the “Lamb” and mimic his true prophets. The “False Prophet” employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men, causing them to render homage to the “Dragon” and the “Beast from the sea.”


But the 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,” those 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 these visions, especially the demand for them to venerate the emperor. Local magistrates pressured citizens to participate in the imperial cult, which certainly would have included economic sanctions against anyone who refused to do so.

If there is a lesson for us today, it is that the “Beast” will imitate the true faith so it may deceive the “saints.” For Christians, this counterfeit will look and feel all too familiar, and very likely, it will direct us to give the allegiance that belongs to Jesus ALONE to someone or something else.

The best preventative medicine is to give our allegiance to Jesus alone, and daily, to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him “wherever he goes.”

Thus, the book of Revelation calls this figure the “False Prophet” and portrays it as the satanic imitation of the true “Lamb.” This may very well reflect Christ’s own warning that “false Christs” and “false prophets” will appear and deceive many prior to the coming of the “Son of Man on the clouds of heaven,” even the “elect.”



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