- Daniel 3:8-18
- Revelation 13:11-18
My dear friends in Christ,
Long before I arrived at uni, Steve had been there. It seemed that Steve had an academic problem: the lecturer to teach him Greek 1, was a classmate who did Greek 1 with him when Steve was repeating it for the third time.
It took us a while to work out why Steve did not at first succeed. Before every exam, Steve would go through all the old exam papers and work out the most likely questions. Even for oral exams, Steve would do his research. To predict questions, he teamed up with Math students who had access to the mainframe computer.
But Steve did not pass the exams. Why? He focussed all his energy on poorly-directed preparation. Yes, he was spot-on with the questions, but he was unprepared to answer them!
Scores of Christians read copious amounts of books and articles to work out what the number of anti-Christ is — the 666 — and what the signs on the forehead and the hands of his followers mean. All of these studies remind me of Steve: one can be occupied to work out what all of this means, but when it comes to standing the test against anti-Christ and his godless strategy against the church of Jesus Christ, the fascination with all the symbols blur the mind to the point that we find ourselves arranging the deckchairs on a sinking Titanic.
We have to carefully follow principles of Bible exegesis: This means that we do not go to the text with preconceived conceptions and read those into the text; this can make us biblical ventriloquists. A real danger is to work from history or read the newspapers first and then go to the Scriptures to see if we can find something to give us light on our pre-shaped mind. The process really should be the other way around: we must first of all honestly study the Bible, interpret it within the context of the book itself, understand the type of literal category we are considering, interpret the cultural, and historical background of the author, and know the broader context of the Bible itself. Only then can we come to conclusions and applications for our day.
Reading Revelation 13, we need to understand that the category of literature: It is apocalyptic—it is full of mysterious and symbolic language, written in times of distress, and puts some emphasis on salvation, either in a new world to come or in another world beyond.
John wrote his apocalypse in a certain historical setting, surrounded by certain cultural and historical events. The Revelation was not supposed to mean something only for the church just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When the letters were delivered to the congregations of Smyrna, Ephesus, Sardis and the others, the Christians then did not only read the first three chapters of the book and disregarded the others because they did not apply to them.
What are the implications of what we have just said? At least this: if we interpret the book as if was only written for our day we might, with spectacular mental gymnastics, come up with unbelievable speculations which will surely leave us red-faced in years to come.
I received an email last week of someone who concluded: “It seems clear to me that the Ottoman empire was the next empire after Romans which was in power when John wrote Revelation, and then there was another empire that controlled the middle east/old world and then this will be revived again at the time of the end.”
Interesting about the articles attached to the email is that there is no solid interpretation of the Scriptures. At one stage the number 666 is interpreted as pointing to the shape of a set of floor tiles in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem: the first “6” is the outer lines, this second “6” represents mini triangle within the bigger one, and the third “6” represents the six-sided polygon. The conclusion is that this “666” is the symbol of the ancient Rempha (or Chuin) also known as Moloch, which is another representation of Nimrod, husband of Semiramis, queen of Babylon which the Rothschilds, who were papal knights, put in the flag of Israel.
One can only ask, “What would the folk in the seven congregations make if this interpretation!” This is not how to read Revelation!
Another common wrong interpretation of Revelation is to narrow the implication of the message down only to the restoration of national Israel. Reformed understanding of Bible interpretation surely sees Israel as the descendants of Abraham out of which the Messiah had to be born. To understand how we should read the Old Testament is to look back from the New Testament as the fulfilment of the prophecies. To understand the New Testament is to interpret it as a continuation of the prophecies—all having its meaning in Christ and his completed work of salvation. Only then do we understand that all believers in both eras are of Israel because all who believe in Jesus Christ are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). Believers of the Old Testament together with believers of the New Testament together make up the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means the real Israel of the Old Testament was made up of those who expected the coming of the Messiah, together with those who actually received Christ when He came were included into the true Israel of which Paul writes in Romans 9. National Israel as we know it today is not the church, and as such not the unique nation of God; it is a political entity. Some nationals of that state believe in Christ, and many more will come to faith in Christ, and together with believers from all nations of the world who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, they are spiritual Israel. References to Jerusalem, Israel and the people of God in Revelation should be understood within this framework.
God is control
God gave John the visions “to show his servants what must soon take place.” (Revelation 1:1) The message was meant to encourage the believers for times of distress. It was intended to help them interpret what was going on around them on political and church level.
John writes about Christ, the Living One, who was dead but who is alive forever. He holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). John takes his readers to the throne in heaven. God is on the throne—He rules the world—and worshipping him, were twenty-four elders representing spiritual leaders from both the Old and New Testament era. (That this is the case, is also seen in Revelation 21 where the new Jerusalem is described as having twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them. The wall of the city has twelve foundations with the names of the twelve apostles written on them. The number of those inside the city is mentioned in Revelation 14 as 144,000. This number is the complete number of believers from the Old Testament and the New Testament: 12 X12 X 000 = 144,000).
Before the throne of God is the Holy Spirit of God; there are four living creatures who never stop proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). At the right hand of God is Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who triumphed. He is the Lamb who was slain but lives forever. To Him those around the throne of God bring the same praise as they bring to God, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” — seven attributes, meaning completeness. (Revelation 5:12).
So, never forget this scene: in whatever comes your way on this world, and in whatever you have to suffer for Christ, He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. All other rulers are under Him.
Over the last two Sundays, we had a brief look at chapters 12-13. The context is this: Satan lost his position in heaven and declared war against Christ. He is focussing on the people of God. With his two off-siders, they form the anti-trinity: they parade godlike, they are powerful and fearsome. John’s readers are warned to be careful to not fall for their cunning and craft.
Godless governments and states are controlled by the Devil, who employs all political and economic tricks to entangle and entice Christians into worshipping him, rather than Christ.
The false prophet
A false Gospel
The third party in this anti-Trinity is described in verses 13:1-18, our reading of today. He is a parody of the messianic Lamb of 5:6 and is the antithesis of the Lamb. It, too, is a lamb with horns. Like the first beast, this beast speaks with the devil’s full authority: “he was speaking as a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11)
This beast has primarily a religious role since it is later repeatedly called “the false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). In contrast with the true prophet, who calls people to worship the living God, this prophet leads them to worship the state. This beast may take many forms and may at times be equal to the state, as well as with false prophets within the church. Our Lord warned:
For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. (Matthew 24:5)
They appear harmless but,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
The false prophet professes to represent the truth and appears harmless as a lamb, but he reveals his Satanic nature because he speaks with the authority of the dragon. His message is the same deceptive speech of Satan that led Adam and Eve into rebellion against the Authority of God. The first beast, the godless leaders of states, speaks loudly and defiantly against God, but the second beast makes the first beast’s claims sound plausible and persuasive, sounding harmless like a lamb. False teachers in the church are encouraging compromise with the culture’s idolatrous institutions, which are all associated in some way with the Roman cult of Emperor or state worship. The Nicolaitans, false apostles, and Jezebel in chapter 2 show how the churches fell for the deception of this beast. It takes a discerning Christian to detect the evil intrinsic to the second beast.
In control of the Dragon
The false prophet’s purpose is stated openly in verse 12:
It makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. (Revelation 13:12, ESV)
The false prophet mimics his authority on the credentials of Christ’s apostles:  Just as Christ sent out his disciples under his authority (Acts 1:1–11), the false prophet too is the successor of his master in both ministry and authority,  Just like the apostles preached about the risen Christ in Acts 2:22–47, he too attempts to persuade others to worship his master who looked like his was slain but somehow was resurrected,  Just like the apostles did in Acts 2:43; 5:12, and 15:12, he too performs miraculous “signs” as concrete manifestations of his authority.  Like the true prophets receive their inspiration from the living Christ, likewise the false prophet receives his inspiration in the presence of the beast.
He employs every trick in the book to convince people that his master represents the real object of worship. He tries to present his master as the one who controls the nations, who has the power to overthrow all who dare stand against him. As a master of deception, he performs miracles, even causing fire to come down from heaven. Do you remember the magicians in the court of the pharaoh who mimicked Moses when his staff turned int snake?
In our day modern inventions, “new” scientific research, and electronic wonders are getting a controlling influence over the minds and actions of people. People are absolutely in its spell, and cannot live without it.
Computer forecast models for climate change is referred to as “science has spoken”. Just last week a professor of the James Cook University was fired because his own scientific research results questioned the acceptable trends, and he is not alone. What happened to the scientific method which demands that the same tests and experiments must deliver the same results when performed by other scientists? What happened to peer review? Students are not taught to think but to just regurgitate the ideas of lecturers.
Fantastic computer models and computing devices, based on augmented reality (miraculous signs?), bring to life extinct animals based on very scanty evidence, and the theory of evolution is projected over it to “with certainty” tell us how they looked like and where they lived. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between reality and animation. Documentaries with real-live animation are presented with commentary and “science” which makes it almost impossible to argue against it.
Unscientific prove about the outcomes for children is put forward against centuries of family units between a father and a mother. The sexual revolution, driven by gay and lesbian groups, as well as hostile feminist propaganda, promoting a society opposite to accepted Biblical norms, and are forced upon civilisations as a tool to force the world to bow before the image of the beast.
The servant of both the dragon and godless states
The power (verse 15) vested in governments, and even the UN with its handmaiden, the World Council of Churches, is enormous. Everything has to be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. Social pressure on Christians is extensive, just ask Christian bakers. Mass media outlets and TV bosses choose what they want to present, deliberately ignoring opposing ideas — and devout followers of Christ become the target of ridicule. And as a result, they lose their voice.
When it comes to Revelation 13:16, which talks about receiving the sign of the beast on the right hand and the forehead, very many predictions have been offered, most of them nothing more than wild speculations. Some are outright preposterous and would leave the folk in the congregations to whom the apocalypse was written in absolute bewilderment.
A servant of financial institutions
The mark hints to the state’s political and economic “stamp of approval,” given only to those who go along with its religious demands. Keep in mind that the Devil, along with godless world political structures, as well as the false prophet do one thing very well: they mimic God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The mark on the forehead, which is the name of the beast and the number of his name, is the parody and opposed to the “seal” of Revelation 7:3–8, which is God’s name written on the foreheads of true believers. We also read in Revelation 14:1:
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1, ESV)
The Name of our Lord is also on the foreheads of those who will be gathered in heaven with Him. Just as this invisible seal and the divine name on believers signifies God’s ownership and spiritual protection of them, so the mark and Satanic name mean those who belong to the devil and will undergo eternal punishment. It is most likely also invisible.
A battle for our hearts and minds
John writes to the early church which was under attack of the devil, and the same message which applies to us today. The “forehead” represents ideological commitment, and the “hand” represents the practical outworking of that commitment. Keep your mind free from influence from him who desires your destruction, and keep your hand from doing what he wants you to do. Do not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).
Just as the early Christians were excluded from trade if they did not set their minds and actions into going along with worldly demands and emperor worship, so Christians in all ages can be excluded from general financial activity. Is it possible to include a cashless society where all members of society must use prescribed methods to trade? Someone also thinks that money as we know it will be phased out in favour of an economy of carbon credits. Our cars and household goods are already carbon measured, and it would not be impossible to read our energy consumption in terms of carbon debits. To spread the privilege of energy evenly across the populations of the world, individuals will have to earn carbon credits, and will only get what they earn, the rest will be divided with the rest of the world. This seems plausible if international power grids are developed in a world without national borders. It will also restrict carbon consumption to prevent so-called climate change. Is it possible, but one must guard against fantastic schemes and speculations.
The identity of anti-Christ
How can we identify anti-Christ? What does his number 666 mean? Some ascribe numerical values to letters, and so get possible names. Indeed, if one would translate the name “Nero” into Greek and then add up the numeral values, one can arrive at 666. The problem starts when the spelling of Nero in Greek can differ widely between scholars. One can actually identify Hitler and Henry Kissinger as the ant-Christ if you pick the right language to work from. The dilemma is that John does not give his readers any indication that they must do some mathematical calculation. Remember Steve who did all the research but never passed an exam? Don’t miss the point here.
Every time John uses a number in Revelation it has a symbolic meaning. So, why would he, in this case, use a real number? The beast, although he parades as God while appearing to achieve divine perfection, always embodies imperfection; he always falls short. Only God is perfect: of Him, the number seven is used. The three Person of the Trinity gives as 777. Three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens. That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, he falls short of succeeding.
My friends, our text calls us to wisdom to see through the deceptive and imperfect nature of the beast. He is an imitator, nothing more. Adam and Eve could not see through his schemes and fell for him.
The beast is the supreme representative of sinful humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness, but always trying. God created man on the sixth day, but without the seventh day of rest and communion with God, Adam and Eve would have been imperfect and incomplete. The 666 for the Christians should emphasise that the beast and his followers fall short of God’s creative purposes for mankind. They are fake gods who can offer nothing but death.
Be careful of compromise, not just with the Roman emperor, but with all the facets of the state in collusion with religious, economic, and social aspects of the idolatrous culture, which all epitomise fallen humanity. Be like Daniel and his friends: when they needed it most, they were on their knees before God where they found insight and strength to combat the evil. Keep in mind, their steadfastness before Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge:
I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured Him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35, ESV)
Sermon preached by the Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 March 2019