The “beast from the earth” mimics the Lamb and presents a counterfeit of the true faith – Revelation 13:11-18.
In his vision, John saw a second “beast ascending from the earth” whose purpose was to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth” to give their allegiance to the “beast from the sea.” The first “beast” was characterized by political power, and the second by its ability to deceive and its use of economic control to punish anyone who refused to render homage to the first “beast.”
In chapter 13, the “inhabitants of the earth” worshiped the “beast from the sea” and, by proxy, the “Dragon,” but it was the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” that promoted this “worship” and gave it concrete expression by encouraging men to erect an “image” to the first “beast” – (Revelation 13:4-8).
This first “beast” had “ten heads” and “seven horns,” and of the “heads” appeared to be “slain unto death.” However, its “death-stroke was healed.” The description, “as having been slain,” was applied previously to the “Lamb.” Likewise, the “beast from the sea” was wounded “and lived,” just as Jesus “died and lived” – (ezésen – Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).
The restoration of this wounded “head” mimicked the death and resurrection of Jesus, and its restoration to life caused the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to it. Thus, the “beast from the sea” was a counterfeit of the Lamb – (Revelation 13:3-6).
Similarly, the “beast from the earth” had “horns like a lamb.” It was not identical to the “Lamb,” but it also mimicked him. And while the “Lamb” had “seven horns,” the second “beast” had “two horns.” It 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.”
The “false prophet” employed religious devices to direct the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image to the first “beast.” But it used economic coercion to punish anyone who resisted with economic deprivation, especially overcoming saints who, like the three Jewish exiles in Babylon, refused to render homage to the “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 attempts to deceive the saints were anticipated in the letters to the seven churches, where Jesus warned against “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “prophetess Jezebel,” and the “teachings of Balaam.” Already, the “beast from the earth” was active among the churches. The economic attacks by the “false prophet” were also reflected in the economic deprivations suffered by the congregation in Smyrna – (Revelation 2:2-6, 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20).
The stress in the passage is on the use of religious deception by the “False Prophet” to coax humanity to give allegiance to the first “beast.” However, when coercion becomes necessary, his tool of choice is economic control.
The “number of the beast” and its “image” borrow language from the story of the great “golden image erected” by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian Empire, and his demand that all his subjects venerate the image “that I have erected,” which 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 for the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, and it links that “number” to idolatry. Thus, in Revelation, 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, which has divided 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” placed on the foreheads of those who follow the “Lamb,” which, likewise, is not literal. The “mark” or “number” is the satanic counterfeit to the “seal of God” and the “name of the Lamb” that was found on the foreheads of those who “follow him wherever he goes” – (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).
In Revelation, humanity is divided into two groups: Those who “follow the Lamb,” and those who take the “mark of the beast” and give allegiance to it. Total allegiance is given to one or the other, and there is NO neutral ground, no third alternative.
Thus, the “beast from the earth” and his activities imitate the “Lamb” and his gospel efforts. The “false prophet” employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men, causing them to render homage to the “Dragon” and his surrogate, the “beast from the sea.” The goal is to destroy the church, either through deception and apostasy, or more directly, through economic pressure and other forms of persecution – (“It made war against the saints”).
The marginalized congregations of Asia would have recognized the arrogant pretensions and hubris of imperial Rome in this vision, especially the demand to venerate the emperor. Local magistrates pressured all 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 in order to deceive the “saints.” Its 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, deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him “wherever he goes.”
Thus, the book calls this figure the “false prophet” and portrays it as a satanic counterfeit 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.”
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5 thoughts on “COUNTERFEIT RELIGION”
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