Revelation – the end…or the beginning… Rev 13 – Mark of the Beast
What was the last big decision you had to make? I don’t know about you-but 2020 has been the year of lots of decisions of what not to do, hasn’t it? Can’t go there, can’t do that, can’t attend that concert or go to the movies or eat at that restaurant-or stay out after 10! Better stay inside, do all my shopping on Amazon and call Door Dash! A lot of decisions in 2020 have ended up with staying home, watching Netflix and getting takeout! Has that been your life? Just this past week, Monica and I had to make the decision not to travel back to the Midwest over Thanksgiving as the number of Covid cases was dramatically increasing. Definitely not an easy decision to make-but certainly the wisest decision for now. But as I’ve mentioned Thanksgiving-and we have the Thanksgiving boxes up here-I want to address an important upcoming decision for all of us. Who’s planning on seconds at Thanksgiving? Who already knows you’re going back for more-guaranteed? I certainly am-my first plate at Thanksgiving is more like the sampler plate. A little bit or potatoes, a bit of stuffing, some turkey, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, etc. And then my second plate is what really hit it out of the park that year-lot of potatoes well done, more Brussel sprouts because they had bacon in them, but I’m good on turkey-a little dry this year! So for me this decision of having seconds, possible even thirds, is a given-even though I know full well how painful that decision is later on-as I’m totally full, struggling to breath and needing to find my big pair jeans or elastic sweatpants! But does anybody debate this decision at Thanksgiving dinner? Now if I have more I will be stuffed-maybe I should avoid the pain and stop now-no more stuffing or pumpkin pie for me. Words that I have never uttered at Thanksgiving! But certainly a noble decision if you’re able to make it. But I would say that many of the decisions we make are done in the moment without counting the cost later on. You make the decision to diet and lose weight-great decision-but you’re not thinking about the difficult challenge later on of turning down that late-night bowl of ice cream-what was I thinking with this diet? Or you make the decision to exercise more-another great decision-but when the reality of having to get up early and head to the gym or go right after work when you’re tired and would rather be home on your couch is that second guessing-do I really need the exercise-I’ll walk around the office more at work? Or maybe you find exactly what you’ve been looking for online and decide to buy it-it’s right there on Amazon or Ebay which is super easy with a just a couple of clicks-but later on you have the painful cost of your credit card bill-why did I buy this-I don’t really need it?
It’s easy to be make a decision in the moment-but challenging to deal with the cost and results afterwards-especially when they’re difficult and painful. And yet as believers that’s the essence of what following Christ is all about. It’s making a decision now that we know will be challenging later on. Look at Jesus’ words-Matt 16:24-25. Talk about a cost! Talk about challenging results! Following Jesus is the best decision you can ever make-there is no better decision-and yet He’s very clear about the costs. It’s picking up your cross, it’s dying to self, it’s a willing choice to lose your life for His sake-because only in Him will you find it. Have you counted this cost as you’ve decided to follow Jesus? That’s the overriding question this morning because that’s been true ever since Jesus said those words 2000 years ago. Believers have always been called to carry their cross-Platt, 235. Those words are so true-but we’ll see the reality and the depth of those words only increase as the end of the world draws near. The closer we come to the end the more the more believers will be called to literally lose their lives for Jesus’ sake.
So turn to Revelation 13 or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 13:11. So the parade of strange animals continues-this is the second beast-or what is known as the False Prophet. And his description isn’t nearly as fearsome as the first beast, the Antichrist. Remember from last week, the Beast had 7 heads, 10 horns, body like a leopard, feet like a bears and teeth like a lion. This second beast appears far more gentle as his main description is like a lamb. He’s got a couple of horns-so not nearly strong as the first beast. Instead of looking intimidating, he seems approachable. No one walks up to a leopard or bear or lion, there’s a reason they don’t have those animals at petting zoos-but no one’s scared of walking up to a lamb. And that’s the whole point of this second beast, this False Prophet. He appears harmless, he seems like someone we can relate to and understand, no need to be scared of him. But that’s where the deception comes in. Across the pages of Revelation who is the Lamb? Jesus. He’s the Lamb who was slain, the one who gave Himself up for us. 29 times the word lamb appears in Revelation-and 28 of them refer to Jesus. This is the one time it doesn’t-and that’s very intentional because this lamb isn’t the Lamb-far from it. What did Jesus say in Matt 7:15-16a. So when it’s all words but no results, when it’s something that sounds good on the outside but there’s no transformation on the inside you know something is wrong. And I’m sure we’ve all heard people speak with smooth sounding words, who tried to appear like sheep and even act very godly, but something was off, something wasn’t right. There wasn’t the grace of the gospel in their words, but the judgment of legalism or the seeds of division. False prophets and false teachers have always been around-appearing like sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves ready to tear you apart and take you down. When we come to Revelation, this is the False Prophet of all false prophets-instead of just being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, this is a dragon in sheep’s clothing-look back at the description-Rev 13:11.
So here’s a lamb with a deep, slithering voice! And of course we’ve seen in the last few weeks that the dragon is Satan. And Satan handed his power and authority over to the first beast, the Antichrist. Now this second beast becomes his spokesperson, his mouthpiece. He’s the False Prophet who’s convincing and steering the world towards the worship of the Beast-Rev 13:12. What a chilling statement-He makes the world worship the Beast! He’s telling the story nonstop. Remember this guy, remember this world leader, he was on death’s door, but was healed. His nation was basically ruined and buried but look at how it’s risen to power and prominence! If this beast can do that then surely he is worthy of your worship and affection-this is the guy we’ve all been waiting for on planet earth. Our great superhero has arrived! This False Prophet is the press secretary to the Beast, his advocate proclaiming the wonder of the Beast. So Pt1:False Prophet’s Campaign: Spectacular Signs and Soundbytes-All must worship the Beast. And if you think about it-we’ve already seen in previous chapters the worldwide chaos, natural disasters and widespread death that’s already happened through the 4 Horsemen of the apocalypse and the seven trumpets. The world is coming on the brink of collapse-so someone like this who swoops in and offers false hope, someone who appears to have been healed and seems to be bringing world peace and unity is exactly what the world is looking for. So the False Prophet has an eager audience-and some spectacular signs and soundbytes will easily do the trick! Especially when we see how easy those soundbytes can be. Look at what one commentator said about the False Prophet-Phillips, 196. And that was from 2001-19 years ago-and technology has advanced so much since then to make that even easier! But this is a message, this is a series of soundbytes and clips and tweets-or whatever it will be-that will unite the world over the Beast. Public opinion will be swayed to think that this guy-and this guy only-is who we must follow-and if you don’t you’re foolish-why? Because this Beast was wounded and now healed. Ironically, the world is foolishly chasing after what the gospel already promises in an incredible way-that Jesus died and rose again-there was a real resurrection. But the world wants a counterfeit resurrection, a false gospel where the Beast was wounded and healed. And the difference is that when it comes to Jesus who died on the cross, believers are called to follow Him by picking up their own crosses as we read in Matthew, to surrender and repent and die to self. But following the Beast doesn’t require any of that! No need to repent. Live however you want, be as free as you want-except do these couple of things. And we’ll quickly see what they are and that any supposed “freedom” in worshipping the Beast is anything but freedom-which is always the devil’s favorite trick. Get people to think they’re living however they want, doing whatever they want, worshipping what they want, when all the while they’re locking themselves into their own chains of idolatry.
Which is exactly the direction where this goes-look at how the False Prophet continues his campaign of doom-Rev 13:13. If you remember back from the OT, this is what Elijah the prophet did in the power of God when he challenged the false prophets of Baal and proved their god was false. Now the devil is trying to reverse that, proving God is false and his Beast is true. Satan is always twisting and trying to undo what God has already done. And he uses whatever limited power he has-which is still under God’s sovereignty. Don’t forget that. Whatever power the devil has is still given to him and allowed by God for a season. The battle of good vs evil isn’t two equal but opposite forces battling together-let’s hope good wins. God is firmly and completely in control even when Satan is using his power to do something spectacular like enable his False Prophet to call down fire. As one writer said-Not everything that appears to be a miracle is a miracle. And not everything that is a miracle is a miracle from God. In this case, the False Prophet’s fire isn’t from God at all but comes from the devil where people see it and are led astray. But that’s not all-Rev 13:14. Once again there’s that narrative-probably the biggest news story of the year-the Beast who was wounded and yet lived. That despite all odds, with the deck stacked against him, and all reports going the other way-this great man lived! He recovered and he’s risen to power-therefore make an image of him! And what’s that? A visual, a picture, a reminder, a replication-an idol! Do you see what’s happening here-the whole planet is told to make for themselves an idol of the Beast. Pt2:False Prophet’s Campaign: Impressive Image-All must serve the Beast. You can just hear the False Prophet telling everybody that in light of this great world leader that we’re all following, this wounded man who’s back to full strength and guiding us to a new future-let us embrace him in our homes and in our hearts by building our own personal and portable version of the Beast so his picture and presence are always with us! Again-such a counterfeit truth to the promise of Scripture that the Holy Spirit is always with us dwelling right in our hearts. But the False Prophet wants us to steer hearts away from the Holy Spirit-and instead of living by faith-as the gospel commands-his command is to live by sight by building this idol. No need for faith-serve the Beast by constructing this image to worship that you can see. And who knows what it is? Set up this shrine in your house, build this little statue, order this idol from the mail, update your operating system and run this new software, download this app on your phone, subscribe to this new channel and start streaming Beast TV today! It’s so plausible-we could see it happening now. Look at what it says-Rev 13:15. That’s some serious power-who knows what sort of spiritual warfare is taking place where this idol has the power to speak and destroy. Are lightning bolts literally coming out of the tv for whoever doesn’t worship it? I don’t think our role is to speculate on what the idol is-but rather to be serious in taking our stand against it. Look at-2 Thess 2:9. God’s Word is so clear on this point. There’s going to be some serious power and wonders at work, people will be amazed at what’s happening, it could certainly be some new technological achievements. The new genius and innovator of mankind has arrived as the Beast and his False Prophet. But where does it lead? Not to freedom and life and world peace-but to destruction and death-2 Thess 2:10-12. That’s a scary passage. This manmade idol, this false message and strong delusion ultimately comes from God to those who have rejected God, who have discarded His truth and chased after the lies of the world instead.
And look at where the lies of the world culminate-Rev 13:16-17. So here we come to the famous mark of the beast. Lots of fascination and uncertainty and bad horror movies from the 70s and 80s have surrounded it-whether it’s a literal mark, the invention of barcodes at grocery stores, SS numbers, credit cards, cell phones, microchips or even Covid vaccinations in 2020. Speculation has run the spectrum-and yet what I find most interesting is how it’s a mark of identification. So back in John’s day when he’s having this vision he’s probably thinking a literal mark on someone’s forehead or hand, like a tattoo. And isn’t that what a tattoo is-it identifies you with something? For example-if you were to get a tattoo what would it be? Important lunch time discussion! Or if you have a tattoo what does it say? Years ago I used to think I would get either a Chicago Bears or an Iowa Hawkeyes tattoo-representing my favorite sports teams-but sad to say neither have been very good recently-so I don’t want to be associated with losing teams! Because as we said that’s what a tattoo or mark does-it identifies and associates you with something! But here at the world’s end-the False Prophet is telling the world that this mark promises you’ll be associated with the winning team-with those who identify with the Beast and follow his cause. Did you notice how expansive it is-all people-small and great, rich and poor.
So Pt3:False Prophet’s Campaign: Misleading Mark-All must submit to the Beast. A day is coming when that command will become reality. When everybody is required to get it and submit. No exceptions. No avoidance. It’s a city ordinance, a national mandate, a worldwide law. Everybody needs to show up or book an appointment or download the app or do whatever they need to do do get the mark of the beast-because without it you’re not getting anything-back to v.17. People can’t buy or sell, they can’t make money or spend money without this mark. Your name is listed, your accounts are frozen, your assets seized, your ability to eat and feed your family is stopped-unless you get the mark! Now back when John recorded this vision many people thought it was the Roman Emperor Nero who was worshipped as a god. His face-his image was on all the coins used in the marketplace to buy things. And if Christians didn’t worship Nero they were either put on trial and told to-or put to death if they refused. Now at the end of history, that mark is still based on a man-but it’s not Nero-it’s the Beast. The new emperor who thinks he’s god-Rev 13:17-18. Back then they associated the Hebrew letters of Nero’s name with the numbers in the alphabet getting 666-so whether this is John’s reference to Nero-or a literal future number, the point is that the world is declaring its allegiance and identification to a man, to the Beast-meaning the antichrist. He’s become their god and object of worship, not our God of heaven! Did you catch that-it’s less about the number-we can speculate all day on that-what’s 666? It’s all about the nature of what the mark identifies-and ultimately it identifies a man. Remember, man was created on the 6th day-so John says-6 is the number of man-and we have never been called to worship a man, we’ve never been created to worship a man. We’ve been created to worship the One who is fully man and also fully God-and that’s Jesus our Savior.
So getting this mark is no accidental or trivial thing. No one can say they were caught up in the moment or that it’s just a little mark that doesn’t mean much-as if you got a tattoo in college once and it didn’t mean much-it was just on a whim with some friends one night! This tattoo does mean much, this mark is the line in the sand, it’s the declaration of who you’re worshipping and submitting to. Getting the mark proves your allegiance to the Beast; refusing the mark declares your faith in Jesus. So it’s a big deal-and that’s why John says-This calls for wisdom. I love how he says that. This calls for understanding. This calls for prayer. This calls for faith-because it’s a hard decision. Sure on this side of things we can say there’s no way we’d get the mark of the beast. You can count on me-no way they’re stamping 666 on my forehead! No one’s forcing me into that crazy tattoo! It sounds like a simple decision-but it won’t be when the alternative is going hungry and facing the reality of a long, slow death of starvation. This is when compromise and second-guessing will come in. I’ve got to get this mark-what else can I do, how can I avoid it? Lord, I’ll get the mark on the outside-but I’ll still worship you on the inside. But that’s not possible. It’s one or the other. People will have to choose between interacting with society and buying the stuff they need or being shut out and going broke by refusing the mark. Parents will have to choose between feeding their families and providing for their kids or defending their faith in Jesus! What could be harder or more costly than that? But what did we say at the start of the message-Pt4:Following Christ: There’s always a cost and it’s not easy-but it’s worth it in the end. As we come to these latter days of planet earth that truth can be any more clear! There’s always a cost to following Christ. It’s always the harder decision to make. It’s far easier to submit to the world and go where it’s headed than submit to Christ.
Back to Platt, 235. And that idolatry is only on the rise, it will only increase and become more profound not less, forcing all believers-including you and me-to no longer hide behind the walls of our homes or churches-but step out into the open, in public to refuse the idolatry of the world and declare our allegiance to Christ. We’re always called to pick up our cross and and die to self if we want to follow Him. But what did Jesus say-back to Matt 16:24-25. Do you believe that? Have you picked up your cross to follow Jesus? Are you willing to deny yourself and lose your life to order to save it? It begins right now, today by giving your allegiance to Him and not to the world or the things of the world. Have you put your faith in Jesus to save you and give you hope beyond this life? He’s the only who can! One day the world will bear the mark of the Beast-do you bear the mark of Christ today? Have you turned to Him and received His grace and forgiveness? Are you marked as His, belonging to the King of Kings? Is your heart set on things above where Christ is? Because for all who aren’t, for all who’s minds are set on earthly things and are trying to save their lives on their own, who think they don’t need Jesus, that the cross is irrelevant or out-dated, look at where the fulfillment of Jesus’ words occur-Rev 14:9-11. It is no mere tattoo or outer mark, it represents the state of people’s hearts and what they worship. And for all who took the mark of the Beat to save their lives in the moment, to buy and sell and have food and provisions-in the end they lost their life, they entered into eternal punishment away from God’s presence-and maybe the scariest statement of all is that they have no rest day or night-forever. But what happens to those who refuse the mark and are willing to lose their life for Jesus’ sake-Rev 14:12-13. What you do now-and more importantly who you trust matters and follows you into eternity! There is life and rest for all who pick up their cross now and follow Jesus. Back to Pt4. Whether it’s the challenges you face right now standing for Christ-and maybe you’re being persecuted by your family and friends for following Him-or whether it’s the challenging decision one day to refuse the mark of the Beast-there’s always a cost and it’s not easy-but trusting Jesus and following Him is worth it-totally and completely worth it-in the end!