Counterfeit Worship (Rev. 13:1-10)
Many people search for a church to attend without ever asking the most important questions. They look for entertainment, a cool atmosphere, or even nice people. But the fundamental factor that should be considered is whether or not the worship is biblical. That question doesn’t only apply to the preaching, but to every element of a worship service.
Worship should be guided and supported by Scripture from beginning to end. You might be unfamiliar with certain aspects of our service, but each component is prescribed in God’s Word. This is not a time to be inventive. Developing alternative ways of “doing church” is a recipe for heresy. Many false churches are not recognized by our Lord.
Revelation 2-3 warned of that possibility even in first century Asia Minor. The church had become so compromised with the secular culture that Jesus was about to remove the lampstand from their midst. Beneath their compromise was the ongoing influence of Satan (2:9-10, 13, 24; 3:9). This is the dragon that we have been learning about in Revelation 12. He had already successfully led many astray with false teaching and false practices.
Satan was defeated on the cross as the seed of the woman crushed the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), but he was actively persecuting the woman some seventy years later (12:17). So it should not be shocking to think that we deal with the same threats to true worship some 2,000 years later. This has been true for every generation since Christ’s ascension (12:5).
Read Rev. 13:1-10
The Appearance of the Beast (1-3)
A beast resembling the dragon rises up from the sea. The dragon had 7 heads, 10 horns, and 7 diadems (12:3). The beast has 7 heads, 10 horns, and 10 diadems (13:1). Everyone agrees that the beast represents a combination of political power, but, “who?” “where?” and “when?” are the questions.
Preterists associate the beast with various Roman authorities. This comes from the allusion to the beasts in Daniel 7. The beast (2a) looked like a leopard (Dan. 7:6), with feet like a bear (Dan. 7:5), the mouth of a lion (Dan. 7:4), and ten horns like the fourth beast (Dan. 7:7). Daniel was told that each beast represented a kingdom that would successively arise. The traditional view among Jews and Christians is that those kingdoms were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. These were evil state powers which persecuted the Church leading up to Christ’s first coming.
Thus, if the beast in Revelation is Rome (as Preterists argue), then it is equivalent to the fourth beast in Daniel. Roman emperors were certainly blasphemous to demand worship which was prevalent at the time John wrote. But, although there are similarities, it is more accurate to see the beast of Revelation as a combination of all four of the beasts in Daniel. In other words, it is Rome, but it’s much more than Rome alone.
Futurists associate the beast with future political powers. Here speculation abounds about who they might be and what ideological worldview they might promote. Some futurists are fond of associating the number of heads and horns with various political structures to determine from which part of the world the beast might arise.
Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, and even Ronald Reagan have all been accused of being the Antichrist by creative Futurists. Others have confidently argued that the beast/Antichrist will appear in our lifetime. Hal Lindsey (1970) and Dave Hunt (1990) taught that the Antichrist is presently alive somewhere in the world. While speculations of this kind are generally unhelpful, we should expect a future manifestation of the beast.
The beast is represented in the past, the future, and every point in between. The many heads indicate various manifestations of evil state power throughout history (i.e., Babylon, Assyria, Rome, China, Germany, Soviet Union, Uganda, etc.). The 10 horns represent 10 kings (17:12). But we should not make it our goal to assign each horn to a particular figure in history (whether we find them in the past, present, or future).
The point is that evil state powers encompass every age until Christ returns. The original audience would have naturally feared Rome and throughout church history we find state powers who stood opposed to Christianity. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to restrict this beast to a particular period of time.
If this beast is the antichrist, it fills that role much like John wrote about in his first epistle. He represents the many antichrists who have come (1 Jn. 2:18). The first century church experienced blasphemous persecution, but it did not exhaust the fulfillment of this vision.
Paul, warned the Thessalonians, that “the man of lawlessness” would be revealed before the return of Christ (2 Thes. 2:4). But he also indicated that this “lawlessness is already at work” and will continue until Jesus removes him (2 Thes. 2:7-8).
This beast received its power, throne, and authority from the dragon (2b). This is the first time we are reading of the beast’s throne. We have seen God’s throne in heaven which is surrounded by the thrones of the 24 elders. But the dragon and his beast present a counterfeit alternative to God’s throne.
The beast imitates the Lamb. They both have horns (5:6 and 13:1). Both receive worldwide worship (5:8-14 and 13:4, 8). Both possess worldwide authority (5:9; 7:9 and 13:7; 17:12, 15). Both have disciples who receive marks on their foreheads (13:16 and 14:1).
The beast even depicts a counterfeit resurrection (3, cf. 12, 14). “Seemed to have a mortal wound” is the same language referring to the Lamb who was standing “as though it had been slain” (5:6). According to Rev. 17:8, the Beast “was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit.”
Rather than looking for a specific person/event that fits, we find numerous examples of cults and false worldview that mimic the biblical explanation throughout history. Secular worldviews die and revive all the time. Just when you think Marxism, Communism, and Socialism have been thoroughly defeated, they creep back into cultures through crafty politicians and educators. The overwhelming number of parallels alone cause many to doubt the biblical account of Redemptive History. That is precisely Satan’s hope.
On the one hand this is quite concerning that real evil empowers these fearful nations with the secular worldviews and false religions they promote. These popular ideologies are even more wicked than we realize, because they are supported by the devil.
But we just learned from the previous chapter how the dragon was defeated by Michael and his angels (12:8). Ultimately, this beast has a limited authority. He will always be inferior to the Head of the Church.
The beast is also revered…
The Reverence of the Beast (4-8)
The people perceive the beast to possess incomparable power and seek to align themselves with him. They worship the beast as well as the dragon who gave the beast its authority (4). This is not limited to those who identify themselves as Satan worshipers. Jesus told the scribes and the Pharisees that they were doing the work of their father, the devil. When Peter rebuked Jesus for warning the disciples that he would have to suffer and die, Jesus told him, “Get behind me Satan!”
Anytime someone attempts to hinder God’s purposes they are doing the devil’s work. Those who mock Christian morals as outdated and primitive, who promote sexual promiscuity and homosexuality, have adopted the practice of counterfeit worship. And this pleases their master, the beast.
Poythress One must give ultimate allegiance either to Christ or to the Beast. One cannot be neutral. All except the saints go after the Beast, since, apart from Christ, people remain in the power of Satan and darkness (Col. 1:13; Eph. 2:1-3; Gal. 1:4; Acts 4:12).
The beast utters blasphemy and exercises its authority for 42 months (5) against God, his name, and his dwelling – those who dwell in heaven with him (6). Even here we see the limits of his counterfeit authority. The beast is on a short leash.
Verse 7 surprisingly suggests that this beast will “conquer” the saints. Daniel 7:21 says the horn prevailed over the saints that it made war with. We’ve already seen how the two witnesses were conquered and killed (11:7). They were dead for three and a half days, before rising and ascending to heaven. This defeat is only temporary and it serves as another opportunity for God to show his superior strength in causing what is dead to come to life. How many atheists have predicted the death of God and Christianity? They have been repeatedly proven wrong.
If this Beast is nothing more than Rome in the first century, then his authority was never fully achieved. Nero did not have authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” His persecution was limited to Rome. Even though Domitian’s persecution extended to Asia Minor, it was also very limited.
We must see the beast as transcending past the power and authority of Rome. It began there, but it did not culminate there. If it did, the limited scope of her authority would invalidate this testimony.
Rather, if we take the Beast metaphorically as representing evil state power, then we can see its varied forms throughout history. We see repeated manifestations of fulfillment, which culminates with a grand display of evil just prior to Christ’s return.
The only alternative to biblical worship is counterfeit worship promoted by Satan. That has always been the case.
John returns to the idea of the beast’s worship in verse 8. “All who dwell on the earth” are those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world. In other words, those names who are written in the Lamb’s book of life will not be included among those who worship the beast.
The book of life (3:5) contains the names—written before the foundation of the world—of the saints who were ransomed by the blood of Christ (5:9). If your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then Jesus did not merely make your redemption possible, his blood actually purchased your salvation.
That is why we can endure…
The Endurance of the Saints (9-10)
John closes this particular vision with a warning (9). He acknowledges that some of the saints will be taken captive and others will be slain by the sword (10a). But he calls for the endurance and faith of the saints (10b).
Persecution is inevitable. We know it will continue, but we also know that it is limited. We have confidence that we will endure. Revelation repeatedly provides believers with encouragement to persevere.
Revelation 13 shows that one of Satan’s most deceptive techniques is to introduce counterfeit alternatives to true worship. Progressive methods of interpretation lead to new systems of church government and an abandoning of outdated beliefs. What brings praise and acceptance from a secular culture will almost inevitably lead to rebuke and rejection from the Lord.
If we are going to worship God in a manner that is consistent with his prescribed will, then we must come to him through his Son with the enabling of the Holy Spirit. True worship is Trinitarian in nature. This is why Satan mimics God with an unholy trio: dragon, beast, and false prophet (16:13).
True worship requires faith in Christ. Believing in Jesus is not simply professing his name, but placing your trust in him so that you turn away from your sin and pursue him in obedience (12:17). That certainly includes obeying him in the way we approach him in worship.
The regulative principle of worship teaches that we should only worship God according to the methods that he has prescribed. We are not free to choose our own adventure. Inventive worship is the devil’s tactic. The “faith of the saints” that will endure the beast’s blasphemy is the kind of faith that does not compromise God’s clear teaching.