Published July 3, 2008
Rev. 13:1-10; 16-17
Related Sunday School Lesson Bible Studies for Life, July 13
In his famous “The Screwtape Letters,” Christian writer and apologist C.S. Lewis describes how a senior demon, Screwtape, mentors a junior demon named Wormwood through a series of letters. In one letter, Screwtape advises Wormwood, “What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And.’ You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology…. If they must be Christian, let them be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself, some Fashion with a Christian coloring.”
C.S. Lewis beautifully illustrates Satan’s deceptive tactics in the “The Screwtape Letters.” Writing to Christians in the first century, John the Revelator also warns believers to beware of Satan’s deceptiveness.
In chapter 12, John described the dragon’s (Satan) failed attempts to destroy the Messiah (12:1-6). Indeed, Satan suffered a crushing defeat in chapter 12, ultimately being cast down to earth where he persecutes “those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” (12:17).
In chapter 13, John introduces two beasts – agents of the Devil – who will continue waging war against believers, believers not just in the time of John, but believers of all times. In other words, we have in chapter 13 a picture of how Satan attacks the contemporary church as well.
‘Some fashion with a Christian coloring’
Most people readily admit that imitations are never as good as the real thing, whether of some fashion or a religion. In Revelation 13, John describes two beasts through whom Satan attempts to take the place of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, they have remarkably similar characteristics: power and authority (v.2), received worship (vv.3-4), like a lamb (v.11), and had even been mortally wounded and healed (vv. 3, 12). As an imitator, the Deceiver has a ring of truth – what C.S. Lewis called a “fashion with a Christian coloring.”
To be sure, he looks and acts like the real thing. For example, John wrote that “he exercises all the authority of the first beast … and he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (13:12-13).
Ultimately, John writes, the beast’s goal is to “make the earth and those who dwell in it to worship to first beast” (13:12) – what Screwtape called “Christians with a difference.”
Relationship of the first and second beasts
The second beast promotes the worship of the first beast through every means possible. He may use miraculous signs (13:12-13) or even the threat of death (13:15). Just as Nebuchadnezzar threatened Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with the fiery furnace, so the second beast motivates the inhabitants to worship the beast by threatening them with death.
What the second beast desires is worship of the first beast, which John said actually constitutes worshipping the dragon who gave the beast his authority (13:3-4). Consequently, the first beast is often identified as the Antichrist – literally “against Christ.” This beast incites people to worship something other than Christ.
By connecting the first beast with the beasts in Daniel’s vision, John clearly identifies it as a Satanically empowered empire. By describing the beast as having ten horns and seven heads, John infers that this beast is an apocalyptic symbol of all those kingdoms that will persecute the church between Christ’s two advents. To be sure, Christians may rightly identify such examples of the beast in the Taliban of Afghanistan, the Third Reich of Germany, or even in the People’s Republic of China.
The second beast, however, John identifies as the “false prophet” (16:13). John describes the second beast as a Messianic pretender: “like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon” (13:11).
Like the first beast, the second beast is a poor imitation of the real Christ. John records that “the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast” (13:3). Indeed, “everyone whose name has not been written in the Book of Life” worshipped the beast (13:8).
Thus, John makes an explicit connection between two spheres: religion and politics. John describes a “false prophet” who encourages people to worship something other than Christ, namely, a Romanized Christianity, or what we might call a State Religion.
Recall that John was seeking to encourage first century Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. Similarly, contemporary Christians should receive comfort from John’s letter. Not only do we know the certainty of Christ’s victory and Satan’s defeat, we also know the tactics that Satan will employ to lead believers astray, namely deception.
Nevertheless, Christians can take comfort that Satan’s activities are limited. To be sure, John makes clear that Satan’s power is not ultimate; any power or authority he has was “given to him” and he can only “act for forty-two months” (13:5). Thus, God is still on the throne and in control.
Second, because God is on his throne, salvation is secure for the believer. Notice those whom John identifies as being led astray to worship the beast: “everyone whose name was not written in the Book of Life” (13:8). John encourages believers by reminding them of the absolute sovereignty of God. He will not lose anyone whose name is written down.
Third, by emphasizing the security of the believer, John underscores the importance the danger of neutrality when it comes to Christ. Stated differently, apathy and indifference to the things of Christ can be deadly.
Either one’s name is found in the Book of Life, or it is not. And the consequence of this absence leaves one vulnerable – indeed damned – to worship the beast. Therefore, John writes, “If anyone has an ear, he should listen” (13:9).
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