Monday, October 11, 2021

50. The Revelation: The False Prophet (Revelation 13:11-18)



Just as the false christs who have plagued mankind will culminate in the final Antichrist, so also will the false prophets culminate in a final false prophet (cf. Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). He will be Satan’s last and most powerful lying deceiver. Along with Satan, the counterfeit of the Father, and Antichrist, the counterfeit of Jesus Christ, the false prophet will form the satanic false trinity. He will be the counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. The false prophet will be Antichrist’s partner in Satan’s massive final deception of the world. John’s vision of the false prophet reveals three key elements essential to his role.

1. His Person

"Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon." (Rev. 13:11)

Having seen the terrifying vision of the first beast (Antichrist) in 13:1–10, John then saw another beast. Some view this second beast as an institution or a form of government. However, the use of the Greek word “other,” meaning “another of the same kind,” indicates that he will be a person like the Antichrist (19:20).

In contrast to the first beast, who will come up out of the sea (13:1), the second beast will come up out of the earth. Like Antichrist, the false prophet will be indwelt by a demon out of the abyss (13:1), which is pictured here as the flaming depths of the earth. In the ancient world, the earth was less mysterious and foreboding than the sea. That the false prophet arises from the earth suggests that he will be less overpowering and terrifying than the Antichrist. He will be winsome and persuasive, similar to the wolves in sheep’s clothing Jesus warned of (Matthew 7:15).

The description of the first beast, with its ten horns, seven heads, ten crowns, and seven blasphemous names (13:1), was grotesque and frightening. In contrast, the second beast merely had two horns. That indicates that he is not characterized by the same massive might as Antichrist. Unlike the savage, ferocious, fierce, and deadly Antichrist, who is likened to a leopard, bear, and lion (13:2), the false prophet seems as harmless as a lamb. He does not come as a conquering dictator, but appears as a subtle deceiver, with meekness and gentleness, though not without great authority.

Despite his deceptive appearance, the false prophet is no less a child of hell than the Antichrist. That is evident because he spoke as a dragon—a strange voice indeed for a lamb. The false prophet, like Antichrist (13:2, 5), will be the dragon Satan’s mouthpiece, speaking his words. He will speak winsome, deceiving words of praise about the Antichrist, luring the world to worship the satanic dictator.

2. His Power

"He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life." (Rev. 13:12–14)

Though primarily a subtle deceiver, the false prophet will still have power. John notes that “he exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Antichrist). That he exercises his authority in Antichrist’s presence implies that Antichrist will have delegated that authority to him. The false prophet’s mission will be to cause the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast. He will lead the worldwide religion of Antichrist worship.

The false prophet’s efforts will receive a tremendous boost from a startling, spectacular event: the apparent healing of the first beast’s (Antichrist’s) fatal wound (verse 3; 17:8). That is a satanic imitation not only of Christ’s resurrection, but also that of the two witnesses (11:11). It is most likely that Antichrist’s death will be staged, and hence his “resurrection” is a ruse. Whether a true resurrection or a faked return from death, the world will accept Antichrist’s resurrection as genuine, thus greatly enhancing both his prestige and that of the false prophet.

The false prophet will also perform great signs of his own. Those signs mimic not only the miracles performed by Jesus Christ, but also those of the two witnesses (11:5–6). Those who reject the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will eagerly accept the damning false gospel preached by the false prophet since it appears to be verified by spectacular supernatural signs.

Amazingly, the false prophet, imitating the two witnesses (11:5), “even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth.” The present tense of “makes” suggests that he will repeatedly perform this supernatural act to impress with his power. “Deceives” is from a Greek word that means “to wander.” It forms the root of the English word “planet,” since the planets appear to wander through the heavens. The world will be utterly vulnerable to his deception during the tribulation. Having rejected the true gospel and blasphemed the true God (16:9, 11), the unbelieving world will be eager to believe the deceiving lies propagated by the false prophet.

John defines the people who will be deceived as “those who dwell on the earth,” a technical phrase used to refer to unbelievers. Though persecuted, God’s elect cannot be deceived (Mark 13:22). Because believers know the truth and are protected by their God (John 10:3–5, 14, 27–30), they will recognize the false prophet’s teaching as lies. That the unbelieving world will be deceived is due not only to the wicked deception of Satan, the demons, Antichrist, and the false prophet, but also comes as God’s judgment (2 Thessalonians 2:10–12).

As the power of Antichrist and false prophet grow, Satan will escalate the false world religion of Antichrist worship. Humanity will eventually obey the prophet’s command to make an image to the beast. The world will engage in the most shocking, blatant idolatry ever seen. This blasphemous image will probably be set up on the temple grounds in Jerusalem (2 Thessalonians 2:4) and will be connected with the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15). It will be a tribute to the awesome power of Antichrist, who has come to life to seemingly conquer death.

3. His Program

"And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six." (Rev. 13:15–18)

The image of the Antichrist will be different from any other idol in human history. In another display of his power to deceive, the false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak.” “Breath” translates as “spirit” or “wind.” The false prophet will animate the image of Antichrist so that it gives the appearance of being alive. With today’s amazing special effects technology, that is not out of the realm of possibility. Add to that the world’s desperate need, amid the carnage of the tribulation, to believe in a death conqueror, and the deception becomes very believable.

After his immense worldwide success and after dropping his façade of gentleness, the false prophet will cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. The death sentence will be decreed for those who refuse to worship the image of Antichrist. Many of the martyrs mentioned earlier in Revelation (6:9–11; 7:13–14) are those who will be killed during this terrible time of persecution. But though the death sentence will be decreed on all, not all believers will be killed. Some will survive until Christ returns and will enter His millennial kingdom as living people (Isaiah 65:20–23; Matthew 25:31–40), including many Jews (12:6–7, 14).

As part of his plan to enforce the worship of Antichrist, the false prophet will require all people “to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead.” “Mark” was the term for images or names of the emperor on Roman coins. In the ancient world, such marks (tattoos or brands) were commonly given to slaves, soldiers, and devotees of religious cults. God sealed, with a mark on the forehead, the 144,000 to preserve them from His wrath against the unbelieving world (7:2–3). The false prophet marks the unsaved to preserve them from Antichrist’s wrath against God’s people. The mark will signify that the person bearing it is a loyal follower of the Antichrist. In much the same way, the Roman emperors required their subjects to prove their loyalty by offering sacrifices to Caesar. Those who refused, like those who refuse to take the Antichrist’s mark, were subject to execution.

Besides the constant threat of death, refusing to take the mark of the beast will have dire practical consequences in daily living: no one will be able to buy or to sell without it. Antichrist’s empire will maintain strict economic control over the world. Food, and the other necessities of life in demand on the devastated earth, will be unobtainable for those without the mark. Currency will probably vanish, to be replaced by controlled credit. Instead of a credit card, people will have a mark of some unspecified type in their forehead or hand.

Further describing the mark, John notes that it will consist of “either the name of the beast or the number of his name.” Antichrist will have a universal designation consisting of his name within a numbering system. The exact identification of that phrase is unclear. What is clear is that everyone will be required to have the identifying mark or suffer the consequences.

The exclamation “Here is wisdom” is a warning to those alive at that time to be wise and discerning. They will need to recognize what is happening and understand the significance of the number connected with Antichrist’s name. Those with understanding will be able to “calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” Perhaps no detail in Revelation has intrigued people more than this number. There has been no end to the speculation as to its significance and how to calculate it. In Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, letters had numerical equivalents, and a myriad of schemes to associate the names of historical individuals with the number 666 have been put forth. All such speculation is futile. Since the Antichrist is still to come, the number 666 cannot be associated with any historical individual.

This sobering passage is not intended to be the source of fruitless speculation about its details. Rather, it stands as a warning to the unbelieving world. It challenges believers to lead careful, godly lives (1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11) and to evangelize a world headed for destruction.