Robert was a bully. I don’t know what motivated him, but I learned he was no one to “mess with.” For one thing, he was the biggest kid in class – 6 foot, 6 inches in first grade! Or at least he seemed that big to me. For another thing, he demanded instant compliance.
Our first conflict came when I brought my musical spoons to school for “Show ‘n Tell.” At recess, Robert asked me if he could borrow them. I didn’t trust him, so I told him, “No.” “Maybe you didn’t hear me,” he repeated, drawing himself up to full height, “I want to borrow your musical spoons!” But I wasn’t about to let him intimidate me, so I said “No” again. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was failing to keep a lookout on the way home. He ambushed me and let me have it for not sharing with him earlier in the day.
When I finally arrived home, I was crying. My mother wanted to know why. “Robert beat me up on the way home!” “Well, why didn’t you hit him back?” she asked. “I did,” I said. “I kept hitting him with my lunchbox, but he wouldn’t let go of me!”
Bullies. Most of us have had to face them – at school, at work, in our neighborhoods. In fact, spiritually speaking, there is one bully whose blows no one ever avoids. What bully is that? The one from which every bully takes his cue—Lucifer the devil. Hebrews 2:15 says that before we fled to Jesus, we were “held in slavery” by him all our lives through “fear of death.” Furthermore, even now that we’re safe in Jesus, he still tries to intimidate us. For this reason, Paul encouraged Timothy, the timid shepherd of Ephesus, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Sadly, most of humanity does not share our victory. On the contrary, this study reveals that the situation will only grow worse with time. For it introduces us to two human rulers whom the devil will raise up to bully the whole world into submission to his will. These two characters give us our first glimpse at what many call the satanic trinity. In our last study, we met the counterfeit father who originates all the evil in the world. Revelation 12:9 labels him “that serpent of old, called the Devil or Satan, who deceives the whole world.” Jesus added in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
His greatest lie is that like God the Father, he can grant us God’s powers. Isaiah 14:13-14 records the boast that led to the loss of his home in heaven, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Silly cherub! A creature cannot be equal to his Creator. But the devil continues to live in denial and lies to us by trying to copy God’s glory. His lie to Eve was, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5 ESV) Now, in his greatest feat of deceit, he raises up two partners to counterfeit God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, making a satanic trinity
BEAST #1 – THE ANTICHRIST
The first character John introduces is the Antichrist, whom we met in chapter 6. There he was pictured as a king and savior making a covenant with Israel and appearing to solve the world’s problems. But here, at the midpoint of the Tribulation, the man of peace becomes a “beast.” Dr. Jekyl turns into Mr. Hyde. That’s God’s opinion of him. John says he is like a leopard with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. This reminds us of Daniel chapter 7’s description of the rulers of ancient Greece, Persia, and Babylon. The winged leopard was Alexander the Great who conquered swiftly and without mercy; the bear pictured Cyrus the Great whose power was absolute and widespread; while the lion was Nebuchadnezzar whose glory puffed him up and caused him to blaspheme the God of heaven.
The point is the coming world dictator will incorporate the worst traits of all three. He will be merciless in his quest for power, iron-fisted in his control of his subjects, and blasphemous in his attitude toward God and His people. This becomes even more obvious as we read four additional facts about him—
1. HIS ORIGIN
Verse 1 says of him, “And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea.” The first thing to notice about the Antichrist is his origin – he comes “out of the sea.” The definite article “the” points to a specific sea with which John and his readers were familiar. What sea is it? The Great Sea or Mediterranean Sea from which all the ancient empires arose. What does this indicate about Antichrist? Like the ancient dictators, he will be a Gentile king who will rule over the same general vicinity as Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Alexander the Great. Daniel the prophet is even more helpful. In Daniel 9:26-27, he predicts that he will be a Roman prince from a revived form of the Roman Empire that will reemerge in the final days.
The second thing John mentions is his spiritual origin. The NASB gives the literal translation of verse 1:, “And he (that is, the dragon from chapter 12) stood on the sand of the seashore.” Enraged at the Woman Israel, the Dragon who was cast out of heaven now stands at the edge of the Holy Land, surveying the world scene and out of hatred for God, comes up with a final solution for destroying His chosen people. His solution is Antichrist. In a final effort to exterminate the Jews, Satan “gives his power and his throne and his great authority (verse 2b)” to the Beast, making Antichrist the most powerful and evil dictator of all time – the literal son of hell – Satan manifest in human flesh.
The closeness of Satan and the Beast is also seen in verse 1. He has “ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns.” This is virtually identical to the description of Satan in our last study. To what do horns, heads, and crowns refer? Revelation 17 says the heads are “seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come.” This refers to the six world empires (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) that have preceded his and over whose territory the Beast will rule. As for the ten horns and ten crowns, these refer to the ten weaker kings and kingdoms with whom Antichrist will share power during the first half of the Tribulation. Before taking over as world ruler, he will head a United States of Europe – whose beginnings we may see in the European Union. But once he’s indwelt by Satan, the Beast will no longer be content sharing power. In his final grab for power, he will “bump off” the other ten rulers and crown himself “king of the world.
2. HIS WORSHIP
Even more frightening than his origin is his thirst for worship. Verse 8 adds, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” All former allegiances will become null and void – including those people share with their family members and long-time friends. No one will know who they can trust, for now all will be given to the Beast. What will motivate the world to worship him? Two factors:
First, his power. Verse 4 explains, “Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against the beast?’” Mankind has always worshiped success – the business genius of Bill Gates, the athletic prowess of Tom Brady, the celebrity of Oprah Winfrey, and the charisma of today’s TV peachers. So, when Antichrist appears sporting all the power of hell, people will be impressed. They will be so hungry for the prosperity and security he offers that they won’t even ask where it comes from. Consider this excerpt from a speech by a well-known politician. It won the hearts of his countrymen.
The streets of our country are in turmoil; the universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting; Communists seek to destroy our country, and the Republic is in danger – danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order, our nation cannot survive.
Who said it? Adolf Hitler in a 1932 speech to the German people. And the Germans welcomed them as the words of a savior. Germany was in financial trouble. Inflation was so high many were starving. Crime was rampant with Communists stirring up riots in the streets and chaos on the campuses. The nation was on the verge of collapse. But in the midst of the chaos rang a voice of authority. With impassioned fury, Hitler proclaimed the glory of Germany, promising the people they would again rule the world, and the Germans swallowed it “hook, line, and sinker.” Even Christians climbed on board the band wagon. It’s said that as many as 80 percent of German evangelicals voted for Hitler. Why? Because of what he promised – power and prosperity. Here was the man who would meet their domestic needs and give them victory over their enemies. Unfortunately, as Hegel the German philosopher warned, the only thing history teaches us is that man learns nothing from history. For when Antichrist rises to power, the world will suspect nothing. They will be so impressed with his power they will simply fall at his feet in worship.
Second, they will worship him because of his resurrection. Verse 3 says the Beast will receive a “fatal” head wound that will be healed. What does this mean? Some argue that the head refers to the revived Roman empire which will be reestablished in the last days. While it’s true that the heads of Revelation 17 refer to empires, including a revived Roman empire; they also refer to the kings of those kingdoms. For that reason, I prefer a literal interpretation. I believe at the midpoint of the Tribulation, Antichrist will receive a head wound and appear to die. But then “with all the power and false signs and deceitful wonders” of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9), he will try to counterfeit the resurrection of Christ, claiming that he, not Jesus, is the savior of the world.
There are four reasons I believe this is true. First, his wound is emphasized three times in this passage, indicating that it’s something literal, not figurative. Second, verse 14 says it’s a wound caused “by a sword,” something that would be difficult to apply to an empire. Third, it’s been Satan’s ambition from the beginning to counterfeit the works of Christ, robbing Him of His glory. Only a real resurrection could accomplish this purpose. Finally, the reaction of the world suggests a literal resurrection. “The whole world was amazed and followed after the Beast!” I doubt that would happen at the revival of Rome as a power. But the resurrection of a charismatic world ruler? Imagine the amazement if President John F. Kennedy had suddenly sat up in his coffin that dismal morning in November 1963!
Someone may say, “Is it possible for Satan to raise the dead?” Not by his own power. But 2 Thessalonians 2:11 says God will allow Satan to perform unusual miracles in that day, so that those who reject Christ will believe a lie. In this case, the resurrection of Antichrist will be so convincing that the world at large will no longer have the power to distinguish God from Satan. They will be so deceived that they not only will worship the Beast, they will also worship the Dragon who gives him his power. (verse 4)
3. HIS WORDS
One of the typical ways man shows his contempt for God is by taking His name in vain. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says this is proof of God’s existence – that deep down in his heart man knows who controls all things, so that when things go wrong, whose name does he curse? The name of God and Christ. But John says this contempt will reach a new height during Antichrist’s reign. Verse 5 says, “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies…to blaspheme God, and to slander His name.” Of course, this is happening even now. No longer can we watch an hour of television without hearing the name of God blasphemed. Nor are Christians innocent of these habits. How common it is to hear believers exclaiming, “Oh, Lord!” or “My God!” not only as declarations of praise to God, but as empty expressions of anger or surprise.
One example took place years when I was our church’s Christian Education director. Having studied the Third Commandment, we assigned the children to listen for examples in the week ahead when they heard the Lord’s name taken in vain. They didn’t have to wait long. 10 minutes later, one of our college students came to share with our Children’s Church how he came to believe in Christ. Stumbling at one point, he became embarrassed and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” Suddenly the whole group of children gasped in unison. They had just found their first example. So, watch out! As 1 John 2:18 reminds us, Antichrist is coming, but his spirit is already at work in the world, trying to get us, like Peter, to curse the very Lord who bought us.
4. HIS WAR
Verse 6 says he will blaspheme God’s “dwelling place and those who live in heaven.” That sounds strange until you remember that’s the place from which Satan was just cast out. He was at the Judgment Seat of Christ accusing us of sin, hoping to rob us of our eternal rewards. But then Michael the archangel steps in and casts him to the earth, so that all he has power left to do is curse those who prevailed over him in heaven.
On earth, it’s a different story. Verse 7 says, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them.” What does this refer to? The mass executions of the Tribulation. Revelation 20 says that those who refuse to worship the Beast will be beheaded for their faith. But his victory will be short-lived. Verse 5 says his power will last only “forty-two months.” Then those who have been beheaded for their faith will be resurrected and the Beast will be cast alive into the fire that burns forever and ever.
Finally, before moving on to the second beast, I want to end with John’s warning in verses 9 and 10. He adds, “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 faith of the saints.” John is emphasizing that the judgments he has just described are not merely for the Beast and his followers, but for anyone in any age who hardens his heart against God’s truth and gives himself to the spirit of Antichrist. Why is it called “the perseverance and faith of the saints?” Because one of the strongest incentives for doing right is the reminder of sin’s outcome and the relief of knowing we’ve been forgiven. Remember that the next time Satan knocks at your door. Remember where you’d be headed and what you’d be facing if not for the grace of Jesus Christ.
(Our next lesson will finish this study of the satanic trinity with a focus on the False Prophet. At that time I will also make available the audio version of this message. Thanks for reading and studying with me.)