Monday, June 17, 2019

Thinking Outside the Walls of the Church Pt. 1

Summer is often a time of vacations, time off, and a great deal of fun with family and friends. However, it is also the time of year when many new and exciting blockbusters surface at the movie theatre. My family has already taken in Aladdin and the new Toy Story 4 movie with the kiddos. Both of these films, as with many other summer blockbusters, involve stories of great adventure where characters overcome certain odds to achieve something meaningful. The more I got to thinking about it, believe it or not, your life and my life in Christ is intended to be a blockbuster of sorts. What is different, however, between our lives in Christ and the movies is that our great adventure is real and the mission we are asked to confront against all odds suffers eternal implications. I’m talking about the mission of God that is articulated in Matthew 28:19-10-“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
That said, many believers today don’t live as though they are on mission—instead, they live like they are on retreat. Many so-called Christians today trade adventure for passivity. Instead of playing offense, they are perfectly satisfied exclusively on defense. However, when Jesus told Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18), he envisioned hell as powerless against a robust offense, he assumed courageous action would be required, and he intended for mission to be at the forefront of the church and her people.

Therefore, in an effort to remind us of what our mission is, explain how our church is supposed to carry it out, and inspire us to action, we are going to embark on a new series for the next few weeks entitled “Thinking Outside the Walls of the Church.” Consider this quote by William Tyndale: “The church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.” But what about discipleship? What good is discipleship if it does not result in disciples making new disciples of those who are currently outside the church? What about fellowship? What good is fellowship (really) if those outside the church aren’t being invited to experience it? What about preaching? What good are the messages preached if they aren’t applied in our everyday lives and shared with those outside the church?
It is my prayer, hope, and goal, that over the next few weeks we will have our gaze turned outward and that we might be equipped through God’s word to extend our worship experience outside the walls of this church in the real world among those who are without a relationship with Jesus. After all, this is our mission. This is our adventure. This is our calling.

As we introduce this today, we are going to consider three phrases of the mission as articulated in God’s Word and as adopted by our church.

I. PHASE #1: KNOW (The Seed falls on Fertile Ground)-John 20:26-31

John 20:36-31-“After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Phase 1 of the mission is KNOW Christ. In john 20:26-31, we read the account of someone who was not easily convinced that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Although we could make a compelling case that this account only teaches us how we shouldn’t doubt, I believe that it also teaches us how God is pleased to provide more than enough evidence of Himself to doubters and skeptics in order that they might be know something about Him. Thomas, as a result of this encounter with Jesus Christ knew Him in the purist sense—in a deep and meaningful salvation kind of a way. “My Lord, and My God” is the exclamation that highlights the climax of John’s Gospel as He works to show Jesus is indeed God Almighty in flesh.

Knowing Christ is a theme throughout the New Testament that must be echoed in churches today, in this church today. If we want to be a church that is on mission, we will concern ourselves with bringing people to encounter Jesus Christ and experience His love so that they might Know Him in a saving way. This is the first phase of the mission.

What was true of Thomas and true of everyone who believes in Jesus is that they have responded positively to some sort of revelation. Revelation is, quite simply, anything that speaks of God’s character or will. In this passage, John speaks of “many other signs Jesus also performed,…” These signs that Jesus gave to the disciples were ways in which He divulged more about who He was, giving the disciples a chance to respond to that information. Today, many things testify to who God is in unique ways. The Bible says creation itself speaks of His glory. The talents and gifts of even the lost testify to the creativity and diversity of God Himself. While many phenomena are a revelation of God that has been made known to man, the greatest means by which God has divulged His character and will is the Word of God itself and Jesus Christ who is the WORD of God incarnate. John writes, “but these things have been written…” The inspired and perfect Word of God is the greatest reference resource of God’s unspeakable attributes and perfect will.  It is the primary source by which all things are judged and understood.

What is the purpose however for God having made himself known to the world?

Revelation has as its purpose the salvation of men. God reveals Himself in these ways in order that people may KNOW Him for who he is. This phase of the mission has as its purpose the salvation of men through a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Romans 10:17-“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of (that is from, about, concerning) Christ.”

Phase 1 of our mission is to share the revelation of God—His Word about Christ—with those around us so that they might hear, understand, and believe the message of the gospel. The same transforming power that changed Thomas’ life is available to change the lives of those doubters, cynics, and disenfranchised that you know. Part of your adventure and this church’s mission is sharing the message of salvation with them!

II. PHASE #2: GROW (The Seed Begins to Germinate and Develop)-Acts 2:42

Phase 2 of the mission is GROW. Growing in one’s relationship with Christ is paramount to seeing the mission completed. Remember, Matthew 28:19-20 does not say “go into all the world and make converts.” It says, “go into all the world, making disciples.” A beautiful picture of this is illustrated for us in Acts 2:42—“ They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The verb “continually devoting” is important. It means to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of difficulty. The tense and form of this verb suggest that Luke is talking about a devotion that becomes a part of someone’s character and takes place continuously. This word does not describe a passive activity (i.e. sitting in a service of some kind and listening to what is being presented and leaving unchanged). It describes vigorous activity that leads to growth. The growth of the church or the individual believer is not the responsibility of some third party like a pastor or priest—it is the responsibility of every follower of Christ.

The first direction of intense effort and focus required in growth/discipleship is on the apostles teaching. For those in the Book of Acts, these were the words preached and spoken of by the twelve who ministered with Jesus. However, for you and me, the teaching that God decided to preserve in the Bible is the primary source of information that leads to growth and development in Christ (the same word that saves is the word that sanctifies). The teaching of the apostles for these new believers and for us today provides the nourishment and nutrition required to mature and grow in one’s understanding. Much like soil feeds a plant, the teaching of the apostles fertilized the hearts of their listeners.

The second direction of intense devotion is toward fellowship. Fellowship is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. We read about this type of association in Acts 2:43-47.

Acts 2:43-47-“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed [c]were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

It is this type of fellowship that warms the heart of each believer and allows one to grow by association. Much as the sunlight gives a plant warmth and the ability to grow, fellowship involves a bunch of light-bearers getting together to encourage and love each other in a way that fosters growth.

The breaking of bread and prayer that follows fellowship renames or defines what the fellowship is/consists of.  It was customary for New Testament believers to gather together and eat a meal. This was their primary means of entertaining and experiencing life together. One thing that often accompanied such meetings was the sharing of the Lord’s supper. Ultimately, fellowship and/or the breaking of bread simply means doing life together in spiritual community. Association in such environments is crucial for proper spiritual growth.

Along with doing life together, prayer was understood to be an essential element to corporate meetings and integral to Spiritual growth. If the Word is the nutrients, and fellowship is the sunlight, then prayer is the life giving and refreshing water that is necessary for the believer to grow in Christ.

“prayer is where the action is”-John Wesley.

“The most important thing a born again Christian can do is pray”-Chuck Smith.

In Acts 2:42, commitment to the Word of God, community, and prayer, were seen as the only proper response to belief in Jesus as Messiah. The picture of growth portrayed in this passage is spiritual and relational. All of these considerations make up the second phase of the mission and out to preoccupy believers in the great adventure to which God has called his people. Scenes of meaningful fellowship punctuated by Bible study and prayer ought to fill the motion picture of our lives as we see those who know Christ grow in Him. We ought to “do life” together, recognizing that our mission is “our” mission—not yours, not mine, ours, and that any great adventure worth having is one that is shared with like-minded people and any mission worth accepting is for the benefit of others.  Phase 2 is growing in Christ together. However, this is not where things end.

III. PHASE #3: SHOW (The Seed Flowers, and Spreads its Seed)-Col. 1:28

Now that we understand Phase 1 and Phase 2 (knowing Christ and growing in Christ), this leaves only the third—SHOW Christ. Understanding phase 3 takes us to Colossians 1:28. When one considers how insignificant of town Colossae was and how small the church that met there would have been, you might begin to wonder why this letter from Paul was preserved in our Scriptures and important enough to include in the Bible. The truth is, although this letter was addressed to an unlikely destination to a small group of people, the problem they were dealing with in Colossae was very disturbing to Paul and the message of the Gospel. Heresy and false doctrine had already begun to sneak its way into the church and Paul desires to confront this head on before it gets out of hand. This is why, after introducing His letter he concludes his opening remarks with this exhortation of proclaiming Christ—“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

The plural pronoun here refers to not just Paul, but the church as a whole as they share in the responsibility of showing Christ to others. While most people will readily insist that Paul and certain others are perhaps gifted to proclaim Christ to others, they fail to realize that they are also included in this phase of the mission as well. After all, are we not all a “priesthood of believers” (1 Pet. 2:9)? Are we not all gifted by God for the purpose of showing him to others (1 Pet. 4:10)?

Showing Christ well involves two things: teaching and admonishing. While many think of “teaching” or “admonishing” in a formal sense exclusively, one need not limit these terms to popular connotations. Rather, anything that provides instruction or warning to the lost of this world is included in the call to show Christ to others. This includes, but is not limited to serving people in love, encouraging those around you, taking initiative to have conversations, and the like. This also involves discovering and using the gifts God has given each and every one of us. The truth is, there are as many ways to teach and admonish as there are people. Notice the repetition of “every” in this verse. You’d think that Paul was trying to get something across.  Showing everyone around us who Christ is by anything and everything we say and do is how we show Christ to others.

The purpose for this mission is so that every man and woman might join God’s mission/great adventure and be taken through these phases themselves to maturity in Christ. The end product of this process is maturity. Much as a flower matures and gives forth seed of its own after it blossoms, Christians who know and grow don’t reach maturity until they show Christ to others and scatter seed of their own into the lives of those around them. The process began with believers responding to revelation by knowing Christ on a deep and meaningful level in phase 1, and ends with the believers themselves communicating that revelation in all wisdom to those around them so that they might join in on this glorious process in phase 3.

These are the three phases of the mission of Crystal Spring Baptist Church. These are the activities that ought to galvanize us to action in the great adventure to which we have been called.

So What?

No matter how you label these three phases or what type of illustration you use to explain them, ultimately, the mission of this church is the mission spelled out throughout the New Testament. It is not something cute that I or somebody else cooked up in order to sound religious. It is not a meaningless phrase or slogan that looks good on paper or in a poster. It is the expressed and intended process every individual is designed to complete. We’ve examined three passages in the Bible that have spanned the Gospels, Acts, and a later letter from Paul that explicitly define a biblical understanding of growth and discipleship both for the individual and the church. What will you now do about it?

 Many are content with just knowing Christ and coming to Church on Sunday Morning and leaving unchanged. Some are comfortable Knowing Christ and even praying with others and attempting to grow in His likeness. However, very few are willing to complete the final phase of the process we’ve described in an actively show Christ to others. May we choose today to be a church of the few. And may we begin praying for those we know right now who need to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others.

Want to take a first step to this end? Visit the link below:

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Sidekick- Revelation 13:11-18

Over the past few weeks in our study of Revelation 12-13 we’ve taken a close look at what the Bible reveals about what is to come by means of various story-telling elements. As every good story has good character development, so too does Revelation in its depiction of the woman (Israel), the dragon (Satan), and the boy (Jesus) (12:1-6). As many epics depict tension and conflict, so too did we see a prediction of a war in heaven that will successfully expel Satan from ever reentering that holy realm again (12:7-17). As any good adventure has a compelling villain, we were introduced last week to a villain of epic proportions in the emergence of the beast from the sea (Rev. 13:1-10). We continue to trace the conventions of storytelling as we progress in our study of the prophecy in Revelation 13:11-18 with a look at an evil sidekick. Dr. Frankenstein had Igor, Scar had his hyenas, Bonnie had Clyde, and the beast from the sea (Rev. 13:1-10) will have his own as well. However, what is truly scary is that while we mostly associate popular villains and sidekicks with works of fiction, the prophecy John gives us in this passage is sure to actually take place in a future period of tribulation. Therefore, let’s carefully examine four components of the sidekick’s emergence and activity as described in Revelation 13:11-18.

Image result for Beast from the land

1. His Emergence-13:11

Immediately following the emergence of the beast from the sea is the advent of the beast out of the earth—“then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth” (13:11a). As land-based monsters were viewed in the ancient world as less intimidating than monsters from the sea, this beast will play a secondary role to villain described earlier (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 172).

Though this beast plays the role of sidekick to the first beast, he appears to be just as ferocious as he is introduced as “another beast” (or like the first). Later, after observing the nature of his many activities, it will be clear that this beast’s role is predominately religious in nature, indicating that he is the coming false prophet.  

The insidious nature of this false prophet is indicated by his unique appearance mentioned in the second half of verse 11—“and he had horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon” (13:11b). This other beast parodies the description of Christ as the Lamb in Revelation 5:6 and sets up another example of the Dragon deceptively counterfeiting the things of God. That said, while Christ had seven horns, this lamb only has two—indicating his limited and/or lesser power. Also, against the first beast’s 10 horns, this lamb only has two, reinforcing again his status as. While this sidekick appears as a young lamb, his true nature is revealed by what proceeds out of his mouth—“and he spoke as a dragon” (13:11b). Like many false prophets before him, this coming false prophet will serve as an example of what Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:15—“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” While Jesus spoke of false prophets in the days immediately following his ministry and in the ages thereafter in terms of wolves in sheep’s clothing, Revelation predicts the worst false prophet of all as a dragon in lamb’s clothing. 1 John 2:18 and 4:1-3 speak of the “many antichrists” or false teachers that have arisen to spread heresy in the church. “This second beast will be the ultimate ‘false prophet’ who will sum up all the others” (Osborne, Revelation, 512). Like the Antichrist (beast from the sea) the false prophet is an agent of the dragon that was expelled from heaven (see Revelation 12). While the Antichrist will act and rule with the power of the dragon, the false prophet will speak with the voice of the dragon.

2. His Activities-13:12-14

Next John reveals the false prophet’s activities beginning with how he exercises authority—“he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence” (13:12a). In other words, the power given to the beast from the sea is shared with the beast of the land so that he can go about his wicked deeds. Interestingly, there appears to be a close connection between the two beasts as the authority with which the false prophet acts is said to be shared “in the presence of” the Antichrist. It may be that the false prophet is incapable of acting independently of the Antichrist who, in turn is being powered by the dragon. This unity, as with many other parallels sets up an unholy trinity of sorts that counterfeits the holy trinity of God (Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet vs. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

Much like the third member of the one true Trinity, the false prophet encourages worship. However, while the Holy Spirit points all attention and reverence to Christ, the false prophet encourages worship of the Antichrist—“and he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed” (13:12b). Once again, the great deception of the Antichrist is in view—his supposed slaying and healing. While the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross so that those who look upon him in faith might be saved, the False prophet will exalt the Antichrist, after having recovered from a mortal wound, so that all who look upon him might be deceived.

We ought not wonder at many will be deceived so easily/quickly. In Lewis’ words, the human heart is an idol factory. We cannot help but worship something because we were created to worship. People everywhere, in all cultures and in all places, look for or create things/ideas/personalities to worship. However, the only proper destination of our worship is the one true God who created, redeemed, and will one day glorify. Because of sin, the direction of people’s worship is often misplaced. So too will it be here for many as people improperly direct their worship to the beast of the sea at the beck and call of the false prophet.

One tool at the disposal of this false prophet will be his supernatural abilities—“He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (13:13a). What does this comment make you think of? The two witnesses mentioned earlier in chapter 11 (particularly 11:5) and Elijah with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Think of it, what the prophets of Baal were unable to do, this false prophet in the future will be allowed to do—call down fire out of heaven. Such wonders will deceive those who will believe that such signs demonstrate truthfulness and supreme power when, in reality, they betray only deception and damnation. Like the priests of Pharaoh against the miracles of Moses, this future false prophet will match, at least in part, the signs and wonders of the two witnesses in the tribulation period.

John reveals that this program of grand deception is fairly effective—"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” (13:14). What John describes here is eerily similar to what Jesus predicted would happen in Matthew 24:24.

Matthew 24:24-“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.“

Culminating in the erection of an idol to be worshiped, idolatry on the earth during this period will reach its apex. In many ways, this program of idol worship and building a vehicle to that end is similar to what Nebuchadnezzar tried to do in his day. In Daniel 3, the Babylonian ruler erected a statue and demanded that it be worshiped under penalty of death. This spectacle will repeat itself on a global level in the future tribulation period with the false prophet leading the effort.

3. His Purpose-13:15-17

In fact, this is in keeping with the false prophet’s purpose--“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,…” (13:15). The beast of the land exists for one thing and one thing only, the exaltation of the beast of the sea. Whether he has to trick people into worshiping him or threaten people to worship him, he will stop at nothing until the propensity to worship in the hearts of men everywhere is misappropriated and misdirected toward the Antichrist.

Please recognize, once again, that the authority with which this beast goes about his business is “given to him.” In fact, the same was true of the first beast (“it was also given to him to make war”-13:7). Earlier, the rider on the white horse (probably another picture of the coming Antichrist) had authority that was given to him as well (6:2). This reveals that no matter how powerful these players appear to be, they are only allowed this power temporarily by an even greater power who is ultimately in control—the Lord God Almighty!

In addition to tricking people to worship the beast and threatening people to that end, the false prophet will play on human insecurity to force mankind into complacency—“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” (13:16). This kind of list, which includes every sub-group of humanity from the socially unimportant to the significant appears three times in the book (6:15; 13:16; 19:18) and every time speaks of unbelievers. The purpose in each case is to stress all humankind and reveal that neither God nor the satanic realm plays favorites or distinguishes between the haves and have nots (Osborne, Revelation, 517). This is peer pressure and advocacy for equality to the nth degree. Everyone who is anyone (literally) will be racing to take on this mark after either being deceived by the signs and wonders or fearful of the consequences if they do not comply. Such a mark will figure prominently on their person—either on the typically dominant right hand or in the even more obvious position on the forehead. Everyone everywhere will know to whom these mark-bearers will belong—they will be the Antichrist’s.

Think obvious wickedness, threats, and weird tattoos or other such markings are a bit too on the nose to deceive people? There is an even more insidious program that the false prophet will endorse that will be sure to draw in the nonconformist types—systematic economic pressure—“And he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except  the one who has the mark, either that name of the beast or the number of his name” (13:17). After hitting the heart, threatening life, and playing on insecurities, the false prophet will hit the world in the wallet.  It will be impossible to buy or sell merchandise, goods, or services, without this mark. That is sure to draw in the spiritually weak and/or fake Christians.

Friends, the infrastructure for such is already in place as everything goes digital. Ebay, Amazon, and Google are already refusing to share or repost products or goods that they don’t agree with. Twitter and Facebook/Instagram are already censoring messages that doesn’t comport with their agenda. Make no mistake, the world is just a few clicks away from outlawing Christianity by rendering their message un-sharable and their goods and services impossible to find. It may not be done in the name of censorship or to comply with an idolatrous program. It may, in fact, be put into place under the guise of efficiency, “tolerance,” and convenience.

While economic servitude is the last mentioned, I imagine it might be the most effective as our culture continues to be driven by the almighty consumer. Money and the condition of the heart are closely related. After all, the Bible makes itself very clear—“you cannot serve God and money” and “where your treasure is there your heart will be also” and “the love of money is the root of all evil” (Matt. 6:24; 6:21; 1 Tim. 6:10 respectively).

In all, the false prophet will be about the business of promoting idolatry, even if it requires the threat of death, pressuring individuals to belong to a new world system, and placing people in economic servitude. Unfortunately, apart from the remnant and a small group of newly converted people, he will be very effective in his task.

4. His Warning-13:18

The final component to the introduction of the false prophet is the warning that accompanies his emergence—“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” (13:18). This verse has been the victim of perhaps the most speculation of any in the Bible as the number of the beast has literally been linked with 100s of people from ancient Roman emperors like Nero Caeser to Mickhail Gorbachev. It is mysterious to say the least and yet, what readers can know for sure is that 666 serves to represent a political reality in which despotic individuals use their power to persecute the church and oppress humanity (Wilson, ZIBBC Vol. 4, 331).  

So What?

Pretty scary stuff in store for those in the tribulation period! And yet, what is prophesied in this passage is not too far removed from our own experience today. We ought not be surprised that we can see glimpses of this prophecy at work in our world at present given the New Testament’s pervasive warnings against false teachers and false prophets.

1 John 4:1-“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

2 Pet. 2:1-“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

2 Corinthians 11:13-15–“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

Romans 16:18-“For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Make no mistake, people are being deceived today by what looks religious but is, in fact, satanic. People today are being pressured into conformity either under threat of persecution or not fitting in. Forces are in place right now that make it harder for Christians to do business and share the message of the gospel. In the face of such, believers can’t afford to be deceived—any person, pastor, teacher, or TV personality that does not direct attention and glory to Jesus Christ ought to be ignored. In the face of such, believers cannot succumb to pressure—to live is Christ and to die is gain and your identity and satisfaction ought to come from your relationship with Jesus, not how many friends or followers you have.  In the face of such, believers cannot conform to the world to get ahead—as God’s word reminds us: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

It is imperative that we not be deceived, succumb to pressure, or conform to this world so that we might be used to point the way to Christ for those who would rather follow and worship what is more attractive, popular, convenient, or personally expedient all the way to their own ultimate destruction.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Villain-Revelation 13:1-10

Most great adventure novels/movies have a compelling villain. In fact, sometimes the more sinister the villain, the more the reader/viewer appreciates the plot and victory over him/her. Of all the great stories/films, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best villains: Darth Vader from Star Wars, that loathsome general in the British army in the movie The Patriot, Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs, Jezebel, the Joker from Dark Knight, Scar from Lion King, Norman Bates from Psycho, etc. However, there is another villain that I want to introduce you to today from the book of Revelation—the beast from the sea in Revelation 13:1-10. The emergence of this villain is organized into five components in this passage and serves as a sobering reminder of what the world will one day be up against in the end, and, in large part, what the world is up against even now.

1. His Emergence-13:1-2

In a transition from chapter 12’s depiction of the war in heaven to a lengthy introduction of those powers at work on the earth, John sets the scene by placing the dragon in a position of anticipation. Unable to reach the woman (see 12:7-17), he stands prepared to call his wicked colleagues into action. “And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore” (13:1a). What is to come in chapter 13 is loosely based, in part, on Job 40-41—the only Old Testament description of two satanic beasts opposing God. In Job there is a beast from land (40:15-24) that is slain with a sword and the other is a sea dragon that wages war by his mouth (Job 40:25; 32). While the Job text alludes to an early defeat of the dragon by God (cf. 40:32), it also implies a future battle in which this sea beast’s stubborn defiance is dealt with once and for all. The idea here is that though the dragon was defeated, he continues to exist in a subdued condition (Beale, The Book of Revelation, 682). Applied to Revelation and in view of the dragon (Satan) situated on the seashore, the idea is that while Satan has been humiliated in the war in heaven (12:7-17), evil will become incarnate in what comes out of the sea and enact terrifying destruction on the earth.

The frightening emergence of this beast is recorded next—“then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea” (13:1b). Not only does the location of the beast (from the sea) connect it to Job 40-41, it also serves as a textual and cultural indication that what is emerging is evil, villainous, and frightening. Contextually “sea” and “abyss” (see 11:7 and 9:1) are nearly synonymous. In other words, this beast is, as far as the context of Revelation is concerned, emerging from the same place as the demonic horde described earlier (Osborne, Revelation, 490). Culturally, in the ancient world, the sea was a place of danger, mystery, confusion, chaos, and uncertainty. As travel by sea was precarious and monsters were believed to inhabit the depths, the sea is nearly always imbued with negative and ominous connotations. It is from the depths of these dark waters that the beast emerges slowly (almost as if to add more drama)—slow enough in fact for John to take his time describing the creature beginning with the top of his head—the first parts of this creature to surface.

John’s description is as follows, “having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names” (13:1c). Again, remember how the number 10 has typically been used in the apocalypse (and in Daniel 7). When/if you see 10, excess and wickedness is nearly always in view. Like the dragon with ten horns and seven heads, this beast possesses the same features (almost like Satan-incarnate). Added to the horns and heads are ten diadems indicating great power and influence on the world’s stage. However, this power and influence is soiled by the blasphemous names that also grace the beast’s brow.

The identity of the beast is helped along by the remainder of his description in 13:2a—“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.” This is certainly an allusion to Daniel 7:1ff.

Daniel 7:1-8-“ In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions [a]in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the [b]following summary of it. Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.”

In this vision, many scholars agree that Daniel’s dream serves as a timeline of great and idolatrous empires that would grace the world’s stage. First, you have the lion (the Babylonian empire). Babylon was known in the ancient world by the symbol of the lion—a symbol the was stamped onto the capital city gates. The wings on the lion are peculiar but their being plucked along with the presence of the human stature and mind probably refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s (the greatest Babylonian emperor) humiliating bought of insanity and then restoration following his conversion. Second, you have a lopsided bear—the Medo-Persian empire that took over Babylon swiftly in the days of Nabonidas. The Persians were far more powerful that the Medes (hence the lop-sidedness of the bear) and the three ribs in the mouth probably refer to three kingdoms the Medes and Persians destroyed (Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt). The four-headed leopard with the four wings most likely describes the Greek empire that swiftly took over much of the known world under the leadership of Alexander the Great. Following his early death, the empire was split into four jurisdictions each led by their own general (i.e. four-headed leopard). The indescribable juggernaut to follow the leopard with iron teeth is probably both the Roman empire and a precursor to this beast here in Revelation. Inasmuch as the beast witnessed by John in this vision is a combination of these four historical empires, it is clear that the empire this future beast will control will be similar to but far greater and more wicked than any global empire preceding it. All previous regimes in their own way foreshadow this coming global regime under this beast from the sea.

That the beast is imbued with power is mentioned in 13:2b—“and the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2b). It is here that the reader can almost sense the parody or imitation being attempted by the forces of evil in the Apocalypse. While the dragon attempts to usurp the role of God, the beast from the sea will attempt to usurp the role of Christ. As God sent the Son to the world to save it (imbued with all authority and power to do so), so too will the dragon conjure up the beast to destroy the world (and empowers him to that end). This beast is that long-anticipated Antichrist that embodies the spirit of antichrist that has been loosed on the planet ever since the days 
of Jesus. He will emerge as a powerful world leader to deceive those left on the earth.

2. His Deception-13:3-4

Chief among his deceptive attributes is the beast’s near-death experience recorded in verses 3-4—“ I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain and his fatal wound was healed,…” (13:3a). The verb used for “had been slain” indicates that the beast will incur a wound that will appear to take his life. The fact that the wound was applied to one of the heads indicates something of the severity of the injury. However, he “was healed” (or, “recovered”). The recovery of the beast from the severe injury will appear unexpected and/or miraculous to many. The fact that the text describes this ordeal as a slaying and a subsequent healing draws parallels between the beast and the Lamb who, as introduced in 5:6 was shown standing, though slain. This is all part of the dragon’s attempt to counterfeit the death and resurrection of Christ, apply it to his Antichrist, and deceive many (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 157).
This program of deception will be effect as the text reveals “the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 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?’” (13:3b-4). Notice again here how opposite/backwards the world will be in this future period. While Jesus did actually die and rise from the dead, many rejected him and did not worship God nor Christ. Here, in this future age of darkness and tribulation, the Antichrist will appear to die and be healed and many will follow him and worship Satan and Him. Yikes!

3. His Blasphemy-13:5-6

The next component of the emergence of the Aantichrist that John presents is the beast’s blasphemy-“there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him” (13:5). Coinciding with the “blasphemies on his heads” (see 13:1), this description runs parallel to Daniel 7:25 which speaks of a little horn that will emerge out of the head of the fourth beast, that will “speak against the Most High.” Similar to the little horn of Daniel 7:25, the beast of Revelation 13’s blasphemous claims to deity and his demands to be worshiped in the place of God and Christ will form the core of the his evil work (Osborne, Revelation, 491). This obvious and over-the-top campaign for self-glory and idol worship will be yet another characteristic of the second 3.5 years of the tribulation period (the final 42months).

It is during this time where the beast’s program of deception will be rampant: “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and his tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven” (13:6). The word “blaspheme” means “to speak against someone so as to injure his/her reputation—i.e. to defile/defame. In this case, the beast of the sea and all who follow him will speak against the things of God so as to injure (in ways never before experienced) the public image of Christ and his people. This is one of the many characteristics of this terrifying period at the end of the tribulation.

Review: Let’s review what will transpire midway through the tribulation period:

1. The trumpet (Rev. 8-) and bowl judgments (Rev. 16) will be poured out on the earth
2. Persecution and pressure against God’s people will grow (Rev. 8-18)
3. This will come, in part, as Satan will be forcibly expelled from ever accessing the heavenly realm again (Rev. 12:7-17)
4. Made to work on the earth exclusively, Satan will embolden and empower the Antichrist whose true colors and program of blasphemous influence will be revealed (Rev. 13)
5. A remnant of God’s people (newly-converted Jews and gentiles) will be supernaturally protected. (Rev. 12:1-6)

4. His Power-13:7-8

In addition to his program of blasphemy “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). Total global geo-political control will be handed to the beast form the sea and with all of this power amassed, these forces will seek to exterminate those recently converted to Christ left on the earth.

Helping these efforts along will be the masses of the lost who become followers of the Beast—“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” (13:8). A cursory reading of this text might suggest that every single person on the earth will be deceived—“all who dwell on the earth will worship him.” However, what of those God is protecting? What of the recent converts in the tribulation period? Often, where someone dwells is indicative of their spiritual state. When Israel dwelt in the Promised Land, they were living as the distinct people of God obedient to the Lord’s commands. However, their estrangement from God in idolatry was in view when they were exiled or scattered. To be an earth-dweller in this context, doesn’t just indicate geography, but something about the spiritual nature of those envisioned.  In other words, everyone belonging to the world’s system will worship the beast and prove that their name is not written in the book of life of the lamb that has been slain. Notice, that the same distinguishing event/activity in the life of the Lamb and the beast is in view in this passage—“has been slain” (13:3, 8). This reveals that ultimately there will be two kinds of people in the world—those who because of the slain and risen Lamb overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and those who are deceived by the beast who appears to have been slain but then recovers thereafter.

5. His Warning-13:9-10

The emergence of this beast elicits a warning from John for believers —“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” (13:9-10).  This warning/call speaks to both those unfortunate converts that might be made to endure the tribulation period to come and any saints that endure all kinds of tribulation around them at present. In the face of tribulation brought on by beast or other foes, God’s people are not called to actively capture the wicked and/or take it upon themselves to kill them. Those who do these things will themselves be captured and killed. Instead, God’s people are to persevere in a pattern of non-violent resistance, the likes of which was exemplified most in the life of Jesus as he endured the cross (remember the words he had for Peter when the apostle sliced the ear off the guard sent to arrest Jesus). In other words, it is faith, not force, that will ultimately glorify God in the midst of tribulation both now and in the future.

So What?

While this passage anticipates the emergence of a villain to come, hopefully, this prophecy will also illuminate the nature of the enemy that we face today. As I mentioned earlier, while the Antichrist may not yet be present, the spirit of antichrist certainly is—“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). While deception is not yet global, people are being deceived in growing numbers today. This ought to encourage believers everywhere to hold fast to the truths of Scriptures. We must be people who know where to find the truth, know how to apprehend the truth, know how to understand the truth, and know how to apply the truth of Jesus Christ so that we might not fall prey to the program of Satan and the spirit of antichrist that is alive and well today will and ultimately lead to what we read about in this passage. We must also be vigilant to share this truth with those around us so that they too may not be deceived by imposters and counterfeits as the world continues down its dark path toward destruction.