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29 December 2018

Counterfeit Faith of the Beast

SYNOPSIS The “beast from the sea” is a counterfeit who mimics the Lamb of God in order to deceive the saints and destroy them - Revelation 13:11-18.

Loopholes - Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash
By Nathan Bingle on Unsplash
The 
book of Revelation includes a vision of two different beasts; one that "ascends from the sea," and a second "beast from the earth.” The first Beast is a composite of the four creatures from the vision of Daniel of four beasts ascending from a chaotic sea - (Revelation 13:1-18, Daniel 7:1-8).

The "beast from the earth" in Revelation combines the langue from two different passages from the book of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 7:17) - “These four are four kings that will ascend out of the earth.”
  • (Daniel 3:1-7) - “Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits, and its breadth six cubits.”
In the vision of Daniel, the four beasts represented four consecutive kingdoms, beginning with Babylon. However, where Daniel saw four individual beasts, John saw only one and it possessed the characteristics of all four of the beasts from the book of Daniel.

in Revelation, the beast from the sea is characterized by its political and economic might. It first appeared in the vision of the “Two Witnesses” where it "ascended out of the Abyss" - In Revelation, the source of evil beings and destructive forces. After they completed their testimony, the “beast made war with them, overcame them, and killed them." The Two Witnesses are identified as “lampstands”; that is to say, they represented churches - (Revelation 1:20, 11:4-7).

The "Beast" next appears in Chapter 13 where John saw it “ascending from the sea.” Its ascent from the sea represented the same reality as the "Beast that ascended from the Abyss.” Like the Dragon, this "beast" had seven heads and ten horns, for it operated with all the authority of the Dragon - (Revelation 11:7, 12:9, 13:1-3).

One of its seven heads appeared as though “slain unto death, and its death-stroke was healed.” This is not a prediction of a future politician who will be assassinated and restored to life miraculously. The "beast" is more than an individual - It symbolizes a political system and has the characteristics of all four of the kingdoms seen in the vision of Daniel - (Revelation 13:3, 17:9-10).

As having been slain.” This replicates a Greek clause applied previously to the slain Lamb (“A lamb standing as having been slain”). Likewise, the beast was “wounded by the sword and lived.” The same Greek verb rendered “lived” and applied previously to the Lamb is also applied to the "beast from the sea" - (“The words of the first and the last, who died and lived” - Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3, 13:14).
The restoration of the head of the beast mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. Its “resurrection” causes the "inhabitants of the earth" to render homage to it; it is a counterfeit of the true Lamb.
The "Beast" uses its power “to make war against the saints” and “to overcome them”. The repetition of terms used earlier for the slaying of the two witnesses by the “beast from the abyss” is deliberate - Again, the same reality is in view in both visions. The term “saints” refers to the same group that was represented by the “two witnesses” - The “war” waged against the latter is the same as the “war” that the "beast from the seawages against the saints - (Revelation 11:7, 13:7-10).

The "war of the beast" against the "saints" ends with the exhortation: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear…Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints”. This call is reiterated in the next chapter when the “saints” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” In short, this group is comprised of followers of the Lamb - (Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6).

The first beast is the most impressive and frightening of the two. However, the importance of the second beast, the "beast from the earth," and its use of a counterfeit faith to deceive the "inhabitants of the earth" must not be downplayed. It plays a vital part in leading men into the idolatrous allegiance to the first Beast, and it does so by means of religious practices, NOT by violence and oppression.

The second beast “ascends out of the earth” and has “two horns like a lamb.” “Lamb” translates a Greek diminutive for “little lamb” (arnion), a noun applied consistently to Jesus in Revelation; thus, the "beast from the earthmimics Jesus, the true Lamb - It is a counterfeit - (Revelation 5:5-6, 13:11).

Cathedral - Photo by Priscilla Fraire on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Fraire on Unsplash

The second beast has two horns. The number two means that it mimics the "Two Witnesses" who bore prophetic witness before the earth, and like Elijah, they had the power to devour their enemies by fire. Likewise, this second "beast" performs miracles like Moses and Elijah - It “makes fire come down out of heaven upon the earth.”
Thus, the second Beast presents a counterfeit prophetic witness to the "inhabitants of the earth," one that directs humanity to a false messiah, an imitation of the true "Lamb" - The "beast from the sea" - (Revelation 11:4-5, 13:13, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Kings 1:10).
The "beast from the sea" is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ and is proclaimed to the earth by its “prophet,” the one with "two horns" but “speaks like the Dragon.” Elsewhere in the book, the latter is called the “false prophet.” This figure was anticipated earlier in the letters to the churches of Asia when Jesus criticized the teachings of the “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” Jezebel, and the teachings of Balaam - (Revelation 2:2-6; 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

In other words, the false prophet was already active within the churches of Asia. The second beast possessed all the “authority of the first beast to cause the inhabitants of the earth to render homage to the first Beast, whose mortal wound was healed,” which it achieved this by performing “great signs” - (Revelation 2:2-6; 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

The description parallels the warning of Jesus about coming deceivers and “false prophets” who will work “signs and wonders” in order to deceive the elect - Likewise, the Apostle Paul’s warning about the deceitful activities of the “man of lawlessness” that he linked to a coming “apostasy” - (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

The false prophet in the book of Revelation uses "signs and wonders" to “deceive those who dwell on the earth” so they build an image to the "beast from the sea." The description of the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, builds on verbal allusions to the story of the enormous golden image “set up” by Nebuchadnezzar in the “Plain of Dura”:
  • (Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image…the height thereof sixty cubits, its breadth six cubits…the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and render homage to the image. Whoever did not render homage to the image was slain.”
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – The second Beast “causes the earth’s inhabitants to make an image to the Beast who had the stroke of the sword and lived…It caused that as many as should not render homage to the image… should be slain. 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 first beast is given authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation,” the same authority that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, claimed. The literary source for the number links it to idolatry. But the "beast" and its "prophet" also wield great economic power in order to compel men and women to render homage to the "beast from the sea" - Idolatrous religion and the power of the State are intermixed.

Nebuchadnezzar forced everyone in his empire to fall prostrate before his image, slaying all who refused to do so - Likewise, the same fate awaits anyone who refused to render homage to the "beast" or itis "image." The attempt by Nebuchadnezzar to slay the three Jewish exiles who refused to worship the Babylonian image foreshadowed the fate of all “saints” in Revelation who refuse to take the "mark of the Beast" or to worship its image. Thus, the "Dragon" uses persecution and religious deception to wage "war against the saints."

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image was “sixty” cubits and its width “six cubits.” The expansion of this number in Revelation may intensify its symbolic significance. Similarly, the figure of “ten days of tribulation” given to the church at Smyrna is cubed to become the “thousand years” during which martyrs reign with Jesus as “priests” (10 x 10 x 10). The reign of the saints is paradoxical - It is of a different nature than the reign of the Dragon or his Beast - (Revelation 2:10, 20:2-4).

The number six hundred and sixty-six is figurative. Both the background from Daniel and the context link it to idolatry, a sin of concern throughout Revelation. The "mark of the Beast" is contrasted with the “seal of God” and His name on the foreheads of them who follow the Lamb. In other words, the Beast’s "mark" or "number" is a counterfeit of the "seal of God," as is his “name.”

If God’s "seal" is not a visible mark, neither is the Beast’s "mark." Humanity falls into two categories - Those who follow the Lamb and have the seal of God, and, Those who take the mark of the Beast and render homage to it - (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).
On some level, the beast system will be an imitation of Jesus, a counterfeit to the true faith. This may include religious rites, language, and symbolism borrowed from Christianity. The goal of the Dragon is to destroy the church. Christians are not easily fooled by non-Christian beliefs and practices - But Satan can appear as an “angel of light” and the best deception is one that imitates the true faith.
Christians alert for the rise of religious deception in non-Christians religions, philosophies, and movements must heed developments closer to home. The Devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, especially within the church.

Followers of Jesus need to exercise caution towards “Christian” organizations, preachers, and “prophets” that glorify political systems, ideologies, and governments, especially any and all attempts to identify Christianity with a nation, government, political movement, or economic system.

Biblical Christianity does have a decided political side to it - The kingdom of God. But the allegiance demanded by its king is total, leaving no room for divided loyalties.

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