THE FALSE PROPHET USES DECEPTION AND COUNTERFEIT SIGN MIRACLES TO ENFORCE RELIGIOUS LOYALTY (SEALED BY THE MARK OF THE BEAST) FOR THE WORSHIP AND DOMINION OF THE ANTICHRIST
Daniel Akin: Main Idea: Satan sends false prophets to deceive and coerce worship for himself, but at best he can only imitate the glory of the true Savior, Jesus Christ.
I. The False Prophet Will Be a Deceiver (13:11).
II. The False Prophet Will Speak the Words of Satan (13:11).
III. The False Prophet Will Promote False Worship of Antichrist (13:12).
IV. The False Prophet Will Use Miracles to Deceive the World (13:13-14).
V. The False Prophet Will Persecute Those Who Follow the Lamb (13:15).
VI. The False Prophet Will Mark Those Who Worship Antichrist (13:16-17).
VII. The False Prophet Will Lead the World to Worship a Mere Man (13:18).
So as we navigate verses 11-18, we will discover that it will be through the instrumentality of this second beast empowered by Satan that a one-world government, one-world religion, and one-world economy will come to fruition. Humanity will willingly submit to it. This individual called the false prophet will be given power by Satan to perform miracles (13:12-15). He will apparently duplicate the miracles of that one who comes in the spirit of Elijah (13:13; see 11:5-6), perhaps deceiving the world into believing that he is the one who fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 4:5. Further, he apparently will cause some type of lifeless image of the beast to come alive and to speak, and he will force the world to worship it.
James Hamilton: Revelation 13:18 states that the situation set out in 13:11–17 “calls for wisdom,” and the wisdom in view is the ability to distinguish between God’s truth and Satan’s counterfeits. God’s truth is found in the Bible; it exalts Jesus and the good news of his death and resurrection; it calls us to trust in Jesus and live out the gospel by laying down our lives in service to others. Satan’s counterfeits claim to be God’s truth, but they contradict the Bible; they blaspheme Jesus by teaching that the cross isn’t necessary; and Satan’s counterfeits promote self-centeredness at the expense of other people.
Grant Osborne: While the first beast has a more military function (conquering the saints and taking over the world), this one has a more religious function, deceiving the world into worshiping the Antichrist. Michaels (1997: 164) relates the relationship to “the state and a state church. The beast from the sea is a secular political power, while the beast from the earth is a religious institution fostering worship of the first beast.”
Kendell Easley: Throughout the ages God has seen religious evil as a horrible earth monster, and in the final time of Great Tribulation this monster will become a personal False Prophet who brings about the loyalty of earth’s people to Antichrist.
I. (:11-12) MISSION OF THE FALSE PROPHET IN SUPPORT OF THE ANTICHRIST
A. (:11a) Coming Up Out of the Earth
“And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth;”
David Thompson: The pronoun used here is allos, which means another of the same kind. So this will be another key Satanic beast that is like the first beast. Even though he is religious, he is another beast. Just because one is religious doesn’t mean one isn’t Satanic. . .
The first beast came up “out of the sea” (13:1). This beast comes up “out of the earth.” This is probably a reference to the fact that this second beast is Jewish or part Jewish, as opposed to being a Gentile.
In Scripture the “sea” people are often classified as Gentiles, that is those who are not Jewish (Rev. 17:1, 15). The land people are the Jews.
In fact, in other passages here in Revelation, this one is identified as the “false prophet.” This certainly lends itself to the fact he is Jewish as the prophets were Jewish (16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
Buist Fanning: all the references to him in later chapters call him “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
B. (:11b) Characteristics of the Beast
- Lamb-Like (Pretending Meekness)
“and he had two horns like a lamb,”
Robert Mounce: The horns like a lamb may refer to the seductive inducements (considerations of loyalty, patriotism, self-interest, etc.) held out to Christians by the beast. It is unlikely that the two horns are intended to contrast with the two witnesses of chapter 11. Neither do they allude to the seven-horned Lamb of 5:6. In the parody that runs throughout this section it is the first, not the second, beast who corresponds to the Lamb. That the beast spoke like a dragon may mean either that he spoke with the roar of a dragon or that, as the serpent in Eden (cf. 12:9), his speech was deceitful and beguiling.
- Dragon-Like (Presenting Fierceness)
“and he spoke as a dragon.”
Buist Fanning: The paradoxical mix of weakness (“like a lamb,” v. 11b) and savagery (“like a dragon,” v. 11c) masterfully captures the deceptive but demanding—and ultimately deadly—influence he assumes in his mission of compelling the whole world to worship the first beast. Taken together, the description of this beast “from the earth” and his association with the dragon and the first beast throughout as the third member of this infernal trinity shows that he takes the role of a personal aide to the first beast, who acts to deceive humans into worshiping and serving him.
Grant Osborne: This ultimate “false prophet” is probably the one who will arise from within the church and lead the “great apostasy” of 2 Thess. 2:3. First 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.
John MacArthur: The description of the first beast, with its ten horns, seven heads, ten crowns, and seven blasphemous names (13:1), was grotesque and frightening. In contrast, the second beast merely had two horns. That indicates that he is not characterized by the same massive might as Antichrist. And unlike the savage, ferocious, fierce, and deadly Antichrist, who is likened to a leopard, bear, and lion (13:2), the false prophet seems as harmless as a lamb. He does not come as a conquering dictator, but on the surface appears as a subtle deceiver, with meekness and gentleness, though not without great authority.
Despite his deceptively mild appearance, the false prophet is no less a child of hell than the Antichrist. That is evident because he spoke as a dragon—a strange voice indeed for a lamb. The false prophet, like Antichrist (13:2, 5), will be the dragon Satan’s mouthpiece, speaking his words. But he will not echo the blasphemous tirades against God that will pour from the lips of Antichrist (Dan. 11:36). Instead, he will speak winsome, deceiving words of praise about the Antichrist, luring the world to worship that vile, satanic dictator.
False prophets often appear meek, mild, and harmless. They offer hope and solutions to the problems troubling men and women. Yet they are ever the voices of hell, and when they open their mouths, Satan speaks. So it will be amid the unspeakable horrors of the Tribulation. The false prophet will come like a lamb, speaking false, deceptive words of comfort. He will promise the suffering, tormented people of the world that all will be well if only they will worship Antichrist. But those who fall for his subtle lies will face the terrifying judgment of God (cf. 14:9–11; 16:2).
C. (:12) Cooperation with the Antichrist
- Partners with the Antichrist in Exercising Authority
“And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence.”
John MacArthur: What is being said here is that the false prophet will exercise the same kind of demonic power and authority as the Antichrist does, since both are empowered by the same hellish source. That he exercises his authority in Antichrist’s presence implies that Antichrist will have delegated that authority to him. The false prophet’s mission will be to use all the means available to him from the Antichrist to cause the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast. He will lead the worldwide cult of Antichrist worship.
- Promotes the 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.”
Daniel Akin: Two affirmations are made about the false prophet in verse 12. First, “He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf.” Second, he “compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.” The false prophet is empowered by Satan and loyal to the antichrist. With delegated authority, he is the representative of the beast. He is his witness and advocate. Further, he is the promoter of gross idolatry. He causes earth dwellers to worship the first beast who parodied our Lord’s sufferings, death, and resurrection. As Kistemaker says, “These two anti-Christian forces are united in their effort to overthrow the rule of Christ” (Exposition, 389).
Robert Mounce: By economic boycott and the threat of death he intends to make everyone worship the image of the beast. This priestly role identifies the second beast as a religious power.
David Thompson: We clearly see here that the false trinity operates in a similar way as the Divine Trinity:
1) The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to point people to Jesus Christ (John 16:13-14).
2) The purpose of the false prophet is to point people to the Antichrist.
II. (:13-15) MIRACULOUS DECEPTIVE SIGNS (DEMONIC ACTIVITY EMPLOYED BY DIVINE PERMISSION) TO PROMOTE WORSHIP OF THE ANTICHRIST
A. (:13-14a) Deceives People to Encourage the Worship and Dominion of the Antichrist
- (:13) Performs Impressive Sign Miracles (e.g. Calling Fire down from Heaven)
“And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.”
Grant Osborne: A major focus of his “work” (the third ποιεῖ in the passage) is to perform σημεῖα μεγάλα (sēmeia megala, great signs), the counterfeit miracles that mirror those of Elijah and Christ as well as the two witnesses of 11:5–6. Moses was described as a prophet who performed such miraculous signs (Exod. 4:17; 7:9–10; 10:1–2), and Elijah and Elisha were justly famed for the spectacular miracles God produced through them. Of course, Jesus was the archetypal messianic prophet, and John’s Gospel is built around his “sign” miracles (σημεῖον) which provided a theological pointer to the significance of Jesus as the Christ. Here it points to the pretension of the false trinity that the beast is the Christ. Deuteronomy 13:1–4 and 2 Thess. 2:9 speak of the “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” that typify false teachers and prophets throughout history but especially the work of this paragon of evil at the end of history. This type of counterfeit miracles that deceive was part of Jewish apocalyptic tradition (Sib. Or. 2.165–69; 3.63–70; Asc. Isa. 4.4–10; Apoc. Dan. 13.1–13) as well as frequent in the NT (Matt. 7:15; 24:5–6, 23–24; 2 Thess. 2:9; 2 Pet. 2:3). In particular, the false prophet parodies Elijah, who called down fire from heaven both at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:36–39) and with the soldiers sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10–14). In Revelation this miracle is performed both by the two witnesses (11:5) and by God himself at the destruction of Satan’s army (20:9). However, the false prophet calls down fire from heaven ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων (enōpion tōn anthrōpōn, in front of the people), which the NIV rightly translates “in full view of men.” It is not a religious act but a public-relations performance intended to enhance the worship of the false trinity. One of the tests of a false prophet is to use prophetic power for self-aggrandizement, to be seen and worshiped by the people (e.g., Jer. 23:9–14; Ezek. 13:1–23).
These counterfeit sign-miracles in Rev. 13:14 are first of all under divine control (the repetition of the divine passive ἐδόθη, edothē, was given, from 13:5–8 anchors the action in God’s control of the situation) and second have as their entire purpose to “deceive” the earth-dwellers. Satan is the great cosmic “deceiver,” the “ancient serpent” (12:9), and the “deceiver of the nations” (20:3, 8, 10). God “gives” the false prophet his power to “delude” the nations with counterfeit miracles (13:14; 19:20). In Rom. 1:24, 26 we are told that due to their absolute depravity, “God gave [the Gentiles] over to their shameful lusts.” This is the same principle. Everything the beast and the false prophet do is under God’s control and only by God’s permission. Since the earth-dwellers have rejected God’s offer of salvation and refused to repent (9:20–21), God is “giving them over” to the very “deception” they have already preferred. They have chosen to worship the same demonic powers who tortured and killed them (9:1–19), so God is now allowing them to experience their delusion in all its terrible force. In a sense, God is “delivering them to Satan” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). On the basis of the “great apostasy” noted above from Matthew and 2 Thessalonians, however, this deception probably also includes many from within the church who join the earth-dwellers.
As a result of the “deceptive” powers of this beast from the earth, the “inhabitants of the earth” obey his “orders”.
- (:14a) Promotes the Worship and Dominion of the Antichrist
“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,”
Buist Fanning: The second beast will exploit to the full this potential of the miraculous to mislead gullible humanity (v. 14a): “he deceives” (cf. 12:9; 19:20) the mass of humanity, who are hostile to God anyway. God will allow him to perform miracles “in the beast’s presence” (v. 14b), apparently referring to demonstrations of power with the beast himself on hand, as a way of convincing people of his power and authority.
Charles Swindoll: Blinded by unbelief and sin, the world will easily fall prey to the second beast’s deceptive message and methods. Intellectually attracted to him, emotionally drawn by his appealing style, and convinced by his amazing signs, they will volitionally submit and obey.
J. Hampton Keathley, III: This should be a warning to all of us. Miraculous signs are not in themselves a proof that whatever is going on is from God. There are other issues that must be discerned with the Word of God as the final index and authority, never just our experience. However, we are living in an esoteric, mystic oriented age where reality is too often reduced to a personal experience or some kind of enlightenment. Just note the rise of the psychic “hotlines” and the emphasis in TV shows on the paranormal or on psychic phenomena. Even within the body of Christ, the emphasis has moved away from the Word of God as our authority to an emphasis on phenomena and subjective experiences, the kind promoted in many charismatic circles today.
B. (:14b-15) Designs an Idol Image to Intimidate People to Worship the Antichrist
- (:14b) Generates an Idol Image to 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.”
John MacArthur: As the power of Antichrist and the persuasiveness of the false prophet grow, Satan will escalate the false world religion of Antichrist worship. Humanity will eventually come to be so completely under the influence of the false prophet that people will obey his command to make an image to the beast. The world will engage in the most shocking, blatant idolatry ever seen. Like Nebuchadnezzar before him (Dan. 3), but on a global scale, Antichrist, aided by the false prophet, will set up a statue of himself as a symbol of his deity and worldwide worship. This blasphemous image will probably be set up on the temple grounds in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4) and will be connected with the abomination of desolation (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15). It will be a tribute to the awesome power of Antichrist, who had the wound of the sword and has come to life (cf. vv. 3, 12), to seemingly conquer death.
David Thompson: This false prophet will actually be able to bring an idol to life. He will have constructed an image of the Antichrist and he will have the power through Satan to bring the image to life. This will be an amazing deception. First, the Antichrist himself who was dead has come back to life. Now an idolatrous image of the Antichrist comes to life. It will be able to speak.
- (:15a) Gives Life to the Idol Image
“And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast,”
Buist Fanning: Another deceptive—and destructive—miracle that God permits the second beast to perform is to animate the first beast’s image so that it can pronounce a demand for worship on penalty of death. This is an intensification of the pattern of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue of gold in Daniel 3; there the statue remains lifeless and mute, while the king’s herald shouts the royal command to bow down or face death (Dan 3:4–6). Here the statue itself is given “breath” to pronounce the demand for all to worship the beast (v. 15b). In the Greco-Roman world, people commonly understood images of the gods to be inhabited by the deities themselves rather than as simply inanimate statues, and sometimes it was claimed that they pronounced oracles. So here the beast’s ability to “speak” is focused on the proclamation that “all who would not worship” would suffer execution (v. 15c).
- (:15b) Gives Speech to the Idol Image
“that the image of the beast might even speak”
- (:15c) Galvanizes Worship of the Idol Image via Intimidation
“and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
Robert Mounce: This shows plainly enough the terrible insolence of false religion: what began as following the beast inevitably led to worshiping the beast; in turn this led to killing those who rejected the beast.
John MacArthur: But though the death sentence may be decreed on all, not all believers will be killed. Some will survive until Christ returns and will enter His millennial kingdom as living people (cf. Isa. 65:20–23; Matt. 25:31–40). Nor will Antichrist and his henchmen kill all the Jews (cf. 12:6–7, 14); two-thirds of them will perish, but the rest will be protected (Zech. 13:8–9).
III. (:16-18) MARK OF THE BEAST IDENTIFIES LOYALTY TO THE ANTICHRIST
A. (:16-17) Significance of the Mark of the Beast
- (:16) Universal Identifying Mark
a. Leveling Function of the Mark
“And he causes all,
the small and the great,
and the rich and the poor,
and the free men and the slaves,”
Robert Mounce: The coupling of opposites (small, great; rich, poor; free, slave) is a rhetorical way of stressing the totality of human society (cf. 11:18; 19:5, 18; 20:12). No one who would carry on the normal pursuits of everyday life (v. 17) is exempt.
b. Location of the Mark
“to be given a mark on their right hand,
or on their forehead,”
Buist Fanning: A more insidious exercise of the authority of the first beast and of Satan himself (vv. 2, 4, 12) is the “mark” that the second beast is able to compel people to accept before they can engage in the commercial life of their communities. No one is exempt from this requirement, as John emphasizes with the word “all” in v. 16a (also “no one” in v. 17a) and his recitation of all parts of society that must comply, privileged or unprivileged, without exception. They are all forced to accept a “mark” or identifying sign (perhaps on the pattern of the first-century branding of slaves or animals) that certifies their loyalty to the beast. This mark of the beast is mentioned five additional times in Revelation and is always cited together with “worship” of him on the part of those who receive the mark (14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). This sinister “mark” contrasts with the divine “seal” that the one hundred and forty-four thousand receive on their “foreheads” as a sign of God’s protection (7:2–3; 9:4; 14:1; cf. Ezek 9:1–11). Its location on the hand or forehead may simply reflect the most obvious places for an identifying mark, but it could parody the reminders of God’s faithfulness or of his law worn by Israelites “on the hand” or “between the eyes” (Exod 13:9, 16; Deut 6:8; 11:18).
Robert Mounce: Whatever the background of the word, its significance in the present passage is to parody the sealing of the servants of God in chapter 7. As the elect are sealed upon their foreheads to escape the destruction about to fall upon the earth, so the followers of the beast are to escape his wrath against the church by bearing his mark. In the apocalyptic vision of John the mark is obviously visible. It symbolizes unqualified allegiance to the demands of the imperial cult. In the final days of Antichrist it will represent the ultimate test of religious loyalty. Only those who would rather die than compromise their faith will resist the mark of Antichrist.
- (:17) Universal Authorization for Commerce
“and he provides that no one should be able to buy or to sell,
except the one who has the mark,
either the name of the beast or the number of his name.”
B. (:18) Secret of the Number of the Beast
- Requires Wisdom
“Here is wisdom.”
Buist Fanning: The other godly virtues John calls for in this chapter are wisdom and understanding (v. 18). Such discernment is needed not only to decipher the number of the beast from the sea but to grasp his true character amid all that John’s vision has revealed about his role in the world. He is Satan’s savage point man, assisted by the beast from the earth in attacking humans both by frontal assault and by deceptive enticement to false worship. Satan and his agents have always used duplicity and coercion to subvert God’s work and hoodwink God’s people. Some of his tricks on display here are wiles that Christians at all times need to be on guard against. We must not assume that outward power and success are signs of what is good and right or that the majority must be right. We cannot blithely follow the dominant cultural influences and ideologies of our day no matter who vouches for them. We need to examine even seemingly miraculous events with godly wisdom and spiritual discernment. Even in the religious sphere large crowds and adoring followers are not always signs of a godly, doctrinally sound ministry. We should be prepared if necessary to resist the power of the crowd, the tyranny of the majority. When faced with direct coercion, we must discern the most winsome strategy possible, being “as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). Perhaps a gentle appeal will work better than belligerence. Even if gentleness and patience fail, faithful witness for Christ should be the goal rather than cowardly evasion or angry retaliation.
Richard Phillips: John says that understanding that we are opposed by a deadly triad of Satan, together with the tyrants and false prophets who serve him, calls for wisdom among Christians. The wisdom is not how to strike back at the beast with his own weapons but how to boldly declare the gospel message of Christ. The wisdom is not how to evade the beast’s tyranny but how to persevere in Christian courage and commitment. Having the beast’s number, knowing his limitations and his certain defeat, we can live without fear of his assault. Even his hammer blows can do nothing but send us into the loving arms of the victorious Christ. Knowing Jesus, calculating the infinite value of his cross, and trusting his perfection in glory and salvation, we are made bold to tell others about him. John’s intent is that what the angel said of the victorious believers in chapter 12 would be said of us as we triumph in faith: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
- Relates to the Number 666
“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.”
Daniel Akin: I think the number is more of a description than an identification. Six is the number of man. He was created on the sixth day. He is to work six days. In contrast, the number of perfection is seven, and the superlative of seven is 777.
The beast is the greatest man but still a man. He is a six, not a seven. He, along with Satan and the false prophet, is a 666, a trinity of imperfection. Not now or ever will they be a 777! He is the best man can produce, but he is still just a man! He is “the completeness of sinful incompleteness,” the ultimate in “coming up short.” He is good enough to deceive many, but he is nowhere close to good enough to displace Jesus (Beale, “Number of the Beast”).
William Barclay: We might well, therefore, act on the assumption that the number has something to do with Nero. Many ancient manuscripts give the number as 616. If we take Nero in Latin and give it its numerical equivalent, we get:
N = 50
E = 6
R = 500
O = 60
N = 50
The total is 666; and the name can equally well be spelled without the final N, which would give the number 616. In Hebrew, the letters of Nero Caesar also add up to 666.
There is little doubt that the number of the beast stands for Nero and that John is forecasting the coming of the antichrist in the form of Nero, the incarnation of all evil, returning to this world.
Grant Osborne: In short, the best option is “Nero Caesar,” but it is no more than a tantalizing possibility. It is important to note that if the identification with Nero were to be adopted, this does not mean John believed the Nero redivivus legend and expected Nero to return shortly. Rather, the coming Antichrist would be a Nerolike figure who would be the antitype of that evil anti-Christian. In this sense, the use of 666 as the threefold counterpart (with 666 used similarly to “holy, holy, holy” in Rev. 4:8) to the completeness of seven and the absolute perfection of “Jesus” as 888 could well also be intended (so Rowland 1999: 355). He is “incomplete incomplete incomplete” compared to the ultimately perfect “Jesus” (888). In the final analysis, we must remain uncertain regarding the actual meaning of 666. The above discussion is as far as we can go; only first-century readers knew, though it is hard to say how much they knew.
Robert Mounce: The solution most commonly accepted today is that 666 is the numerical equivalent of Nero Caesar. It is held to be supported by the variant reading 616, which also yields the name of Nero when the Latinized spelling is followed. What is not generally stressed is that this solution asks us to calculate a Hebrew transliteration of the Greek form of a Latin name, and that with a defective spelling. A shift to Hebrew letters is unlikely in that Revelation is written in Greek and there is no indication that the riddle is to be solved by transposing it into another language. Further, the name of Nero was apparently never suggested by the ancient commentators even though his persecuting zeal made him a model of the Antichrist.
Sola Scriptura: Of all the verses in the Revelation, this is the most difficult to understand. The wild speculative articles written over the centuries can easily document that this is the case. There is no agreement among scholars concerning the meaning of this verse. I am content to leave it as it is. However, I am more convinced by this verse that Satan will pull off his greatest deception in connection with the eschatological beast/king.