14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads,17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark…
What a passage! One fantastical beast follows another. What could it all mean? Even the most learned Bible scholars probably can’t say for certain, but one thing pointed out in last week’s lecture was that these beasts and the dragon appear to be a counterfeit of God himself- an unholy Trinity.
To discover where he might be present today, I think we should pay close attention to the beast’s Modus Operandi.
First, he uses deception by performing a great show displaying his power (verse 13). Deception is literally the oldest trick in the book, first used with Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).
Satan is big into “knock off” designer wear. It looks like the real thing until you examine it closer. Since his full power isn’t yet unleashed, his tricks rely on subtlety, mimicking what God does.
I recently set up a table with my books at a community market. The next aisle over, a woman set up a booth with cute little angel figurines. I believe her business had to do with “angel readings,” as if she was claiming to talk to angels and channel their messages to anyone who wished to purchase her services. What a deception! Those are not the kind of angels we want to be talking to and we are expressly told not to use third parties (mediums) to communicate with the spirit world (Leviticus 20:27). If God has a special message for us, he is perfectly capable of sending his own messenger angels.
An even more widespread deception is the lure of wealth and prosperity. Popular TV evangelists twist this as being part of what God’s plan for his people. Let’s take an objective look at the most wealthy and famous people on earth. Do they have peace in their hearts? Satisfaction? We don’t need to look any further than Hollywood to see that all that glitters is not gold—family dysfunctions, addictions, and suicide are rampant among those who have wealth and fame.
Every day in my own life, I fight deceptions and temptations. I struggle with empty uses of my time. These pastimes seem attractive and harmless enough, but keep me from doing things that are better. Discouraging thoughts threaten to paralyse me if I don’t stay in the Word and anchored to God’s truth. It should be obvious where those are coming from.
Contrast the real thing here. Deception is not in God’s character. Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6) Our job is to become familiar enough with the Truth so we can avoid being deceived.
Next, in Revelation 13, this beast throws the weight of his new power around. He orders people to set up an image, incidentally going directly against God’s repeated command to not set up images of Him or worship them (Exodus 20). Anyone who refuses to worship the image the beast has made will be killed. Then the beast forces people to have a mark allowing them to make any financial transaction. He becomes an evil dictator.
After we give in to Satan’s deceptions, he limits our choices:
If you give in to the temptation of taking illicit drugs or drink alcohol to forget your troubles, you may become addicted. Your choices will only revolve around getting more drugs or booze.
If you give in to sexual temptation with someone you are not married to, you may get pregnant. Your choices become very limited. Ironically, though ending a pregnancy by abortion appears to be a “choice,” it completely eliminates any choice your child might have ever had.
False religion uses force and lack of choice. Cults offer their followers strict regimes, no latitude in thinking and dire consequences for disagreeing with the leader or group.
Religions which force conversion attempt to bring an earthly kingdom by eliminating their opposition or making people’s lives very difficult. Today, Christian brothers and sisters face the sword of radical Islam and have given up their lives rather than renounce Jesus Christ. These type of events sound like they are straight out of Revelation!
Jesus, on the other hand, does not use force. He gently invites us. Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). Instead of asking us to give up our lives, he gave up His in order to have a relationship with us.
When did Satan ever give up something for you or give you a choice that made your life better?
Lastly, I observe this beast brings bondage and slavery. In fact that is all he has ever done. Since that first great deception, we are born to sin and slaves to it. Romans 6:16a explains the concept. 6 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death…”
Offering oneself as a slave was often the only way a person had of paying off a debt. In some places in the world, this still occurs, but the person making the loan will make the interest so high, the debt becomes impossible to pay.
Eventually debtor remorse for the “loan” of what people thought they wanted, will be unprecedented. The people at the beginning of this chapter thought the first beast and the dragon were the greatest and worshipped them (verse 3, 4). The realization that they would have a debt to pay for their terrible sin of worshipping someone other than God, was far from their minds, but they become enslaved to the second beast, receiving his mark, just as a slave receives a tattoo or an animal is branded for ownership.
Slavery at this point in the narrative appears hopeless. There is no way out.
Except, as far as we know, these events have not yet taken place and people can still reject the Beast and his wicked ways.
The notes of week 17 state: “Satan’s worst devastation and deception cannot defeat the purposes of God.”
I would argue that one of Satan’s most insidious deceptions is slavery to believing that we can make it on our own. This is what “religion” teaches. Being good will get you to God. Do this and you will get salvation. Complete these rituals. Follow this path, wear these symbols. Legalistic thinking creeps in like a poison, even into our churches. NONE of these methods of getting to God will result in our redemption.
In contrast, Jesus promises the greatest and most complete freedom. We can throw off that burdensome yoke and the slavery of trying to be good when we follow Jesus. The chains of sin that bind us will fall away. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened… my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.) He invites us to life with Him and will change us from the inside out making us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The end result of Jesus’ way is freedom from fear! We need not fear death, Satan, his deceptions, his future dictatorship or his enslavement. Scary looking beasts, dragons or any earthly kingdoms or people they represent, cannot harm us.
We only need to know how the enemy works. Have ears to hear (verse 9). Recognize the enemy and have patient endurance and faithfulness (verse 10) as you worship the one true God.
Note: This series of blogs, while growing out of a “Bible Study Fellowship” (BSF) study of Revelation, is not affiliated or endorsed by BSF. Nor are these writings any sort of definitive theological commentary. The opinions expressed here are simply my own thoughts and reflections on the book and what I am learning from the study. Scripture passages quoted are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.