Thursday, October 7, 2021

49. The Revelation: Seven Features of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10)


Seven Features of the Antichrist

The opening verses of Revelation chapter 13 reveal seven features of this ultimate dictator, the Antichrist:

1. His Ancestry

And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. (13:1)

The first sentence of this chapter belongs as the last sentence of chapter 12, since it concludes the account of the dragon. While some Greek manuscripts read “I stood,” the older and more reliable ones read “he stood.”1 The imagery of the sand of the seashore depicts the nations of the world (20:8). In John’s vision, Satan takes his place dominantly in their midst as if they were his rightful possession. But in reality, he is a usurper who seeks the world’s worship and adoration.

Next the dragon summons the Antichrist, described as “a beast coming up out of the sea.” The word “beast” is also used to describe Antichrist in 11:7. It refers to a wild, vicious monster, describing Antichrist as a ferocious personality. The beast must be understood as representing both a kingdom and a person. The beast must represent a kingdom, because of the complex description of him in the latter half of verse 1. Yet the beast must also represent a person, since he is always described with personal pronouns. Daniel (Daniel 7:25; 8:24–25; 11:36–45) and Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:4) also describe the Antichrist as a person.

There has been much discussion about what the sea symbolizes. Both Revelation 11:7 and 17:8 indicate that the beast comes up out of the abyss, so it is best to equate the sea with the abyss. That interpretation fits the Old Testament, which also uses the metaphor of the sea to picture satanic activity (Job 26:12; Psalms 74:13–14; 89:9–10; Isaiah 27:1). Some of the demons are currently in the abyss (9:1–11; Luke 8:31), and Satan will be imprisoned in that abyss during the millennial kingdom (20:1–3).

The Antichrist will be a man (2 Thessalonians 2:4), but at some point in his life, he will be indwelt by a powerful demon from the abyss. This demon-possessed man will be a gifted orator, an intellectual genius, possess great charm and charisma, and have immense leadership power. Yet no one in human history will be more completely the devil’s child than the Antichrist. His “family likeness” to Satan becomes strikingly apparent from John’s description of him as having ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on his horns. That same grotesque description was applied to Satan in 12:3. The description of Antichrist emphasizes the importance of the ten horns by mentioning them first and associating the diadems with them instead of the heads.

“Horns” in Scripture symbolize strength and power, both for attack and defense. Here they represent the power of the kings who will rule under Antichrist’s authority. “Ten” fits the imagery of the fourth beast in Daniel 7:7, 24, and is a symbolic number representing all the world’s political and military might. Antichrist will rise from among these ten (Daniel 7:16–24) and will not rule merely ten nations, but the entire world (Daniel 7:23). Unlike the seven heads, which represent successive world empires, all of the rulers symbolized by the ten horns will rule at the same time (cf. 17:12).

In addition to his ten horns, the beast is described by John as having seven heads. Those seven heads represent seven successive world empires: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Antichrist’s final world kingdom. The ten diadems indicate the horns’ regal authority and victorious power. John also noted that on the beasts’ heads were blasphemous names. Like many of the Roman emperors and other monarchs before them, these rulers will choose divine names and titles that dishonor the living God.

2. His Authority

And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. (13:2)

As John looked more closely at the beast, he saw that it incorporated the characteristics of the animals from the vision recorded in Daniel 7:3–7. The leopard, bear, and lion were well-known in Palestine. They dramatically emphasize the characteristics of the nations they represent. The lion was a fitting symbol for the fierce, consuming power of the Babylonian Empire. The ferocity, strength, and stability of the Medo-Persian Empire led to its depiction as a bear. The Greeks’ swift conquests, particularly under Alexander the Great, reflect the speed and viciousness of the leopard. John lists the three animals in reverse order from Daniel, since he was looking backward in time. Daniel, looking forward in time, listed the animals and the kingdoms they represent in chronological order.

Like the indescribable fourth beast of Daniel 7:7, which represents the Roman Empire, Antichrist’s final empire will be a composite of the empires that preceded it. It will incorporate all the ferocity, viciousness, swiftness, and strength of the other world empires. This powerful empire, unparalleled in human history, will be Satan’s last and greatest attempt to stop the reign of Christ. But, like all Satan’s other attempts to thwart God’s purposes, it will ultimately fail.

3. His Acclaim

I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; (13:3)

A startling event will help Antichrist solidify his hold on the world. John “saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed.” Some argue that the head, whose “fatal wound was healed” was a kingdom that will have been destroyed and restored. They see the death and resurrection miracle as the revival of the Roman Empire. Antichrist, they believe, will unite the countries occupying the territory of the ancient Roman Empire into a new empire. That revival of power will so amaze the rest of the nations that they will also submit to his rule.

The most obvious problem with this view is that while verse 3 speaks of one of the heads being slain, other passages specify that the beast himself is slain (13:12, 14; 17:8, 11). The personal pronoun in the phrase “his fatal wound” also indicates that one of the kings is in view, not the empire as a whole. Granting that it is a person who dies and is restored to life, the question remains as to the identity of that person. Yet the head whose fatal wound will be healed can only be the future Antichrist.

Whether his death is real or fake is not clear. It may be that Antichrist is really killed and God allows him to be resurrected. More likely, Antichrist’s alleged death and resurrection will be a counterfeit of Christ’s death and resurrection, staged, as one of the “lying wonders” perpetrated by the false prophet (13:12–15; 2 Thessalonians 2:9).

Whatever actually happens, people will believe that Antichrist has transcended death. Since the tribulation will be a time when the world will experience death at an unequaled level, Antichrist’s apparent power over death will win him widespread acclaim. As a result, the whole earth will be amazed and follow after the beast (cf. verse 14; 2 Thessalonians 2:8–12).

4. His Adoration

they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (13:4)

The world’s fascination with Antichrist will quickly become worship. He will encourage and demand that worship by “exalt[ing] himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Not content with acclaim, Antichrist will seek adoration. He will be aided by his associate, the false prophet, who “makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast [Antichrist], whose fatal wound was healed” (13:12). Not only will the deceived unbelievers worship Antichrist, but they will also worship the dragon (Satan) because he gave his authority to the beast. By worshiping Antichrist, unbelievers will actually be worshiping Satan, the real power behind him.

As the people of the world worship Antichrist, they will cry out in awe, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” The implied answer to both rhetorical questions is “No one!” By referring to Antichrist in language reserved for the worship of God, Antichrist’s deluded worshipers will attribute deity to him (2 Thessalonians 2:4). In the political, military, and religious realms, Antichrist will reign supreme and unchallenged by earth and hell.

5. His Arrogance

There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. (13:5–6)

Like his master, Antichrist will be an arrogant blasphemer. The phrase “there was given to him” refers to God’s sovereign control of events (6:4, 8; 7:2; 9:5). God will allow Antichrist to blaspheme and so give full expression to the wickedness that will cover the earth at that time. Antichrist’s arrogance, predicted by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:8, 11, 25; 11:36) will surpass that of anyone else in human history. He will be Satan’s mouthpiece, voicing his master’s frustrated rage against God, and the supreme blasphemer in a world filled with blasphemers. Yet neither Antichrist’s blasphemies nor his reign of terror will last indefinitely. God will grant Antichrist authority to act for only forty-two months (the last three and a half years of the tribulation, the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 9:24). Antichrist and Satan will be allowed to operate only within the time limit set for them by the true Ruler of the universe.

6. His Activity

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. (13:7)

Once again the text notes that Antichrist can do only what he is given permission to do by God. Because they will refuse to worship him, Antichrist will make war with the saints and overcome them. Believers will bear the brunt of his murderous fury. The result will be a worldwide slaughter of God’s people (6:9–11; 7:9–17; 11:7; 17:6; Daniel 7:25).

Daniel long before predicted this widespread martyrdom of God’s people. He wrote that Antichrist “will … wear down the saints of the Highest One … and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time [three and a half years; the last half of the tribulation]” (Daniel 7:25). This persecution will begin at the midpoint of the tribulation, when Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27) and sets up the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).

7. His Admirers

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (13:8–10)

The phrase “all who dwell on the earth” is used throughout Revelation to describe unbelievers and does not include everyone who will be alive at that time. Here the limiting factor is specifically stated. It is “everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” Unbelievers, those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life, will “perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Seven times in the New Testament, believers are identified as those whose names are written in the Book of Life (3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Philippians 4:3). The Book of Life is the registry in which God inscribed the names of those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world. Antichrist will not be able to destroy believers’ saving faith, for the Lord Jesus Christ promised, “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5). Believers have been in the keeping power of God since before creation, and they will be there after the destruction of this order and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth (21:1ff.).

Believers are doubly secure, because the Book of Life belongs to the Lamb who has been slain. Not only the decree of election, but also the atoning work of Christ seals the redemption of the elect forever. Believers “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold … but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18–19). Antichrist may take their lives, but he cannot destroy their faith.

This astounding vision of the beast from the sea concludes with a call for spiritual understanding. The warning “If anyone has an ear, let him hear” is echoed fifteen times in the New Testament with the phrase “He who has an ear …” to emphasize a particularly important truth. In all its previous uses in Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), it is followed by the phrase “what the Spirit says to the churches.” The omission of that phrase suggests that the church is not in view in this passage, having been raptured before the start of the tribulation (cf. 3:10).

Here the phrase introduces a proverb: “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed.” This proverb contains important practical truth for those believers alive at the time of Antichrist’s persecution. They are to depend on God’s providence and not take matters into their own hands.