The End of the World: “Team Builder” – Revelation 13

The year was 1945. The place was central Europe. The last days of power in the Third Reich (Drittes Reich) that began in 1933 were now becoming clear. Though the forces led by Adolph Hitler were clearly facing defeat from Allied powers, the army was ordered to continue destroying without long term rationale or real cause. Though soon to be defeated, these were some of the bloodiest days of the war. Two thirds of European Jewry was already destroyed. Cities across the continent lay in piles of ruins. Priceless artwork was reduced to ash, and architecture of generations was now a blackened cinder hull of its once former glory… Why go on? It seemed like madness – but threatened power is the least rational kind of power.

 One particularly disturbing trend that can be observed if one looks carefully at the waning years of the Reich was this: some people were still joining the war. New recruits had slowed, but the fact that there were ANY is quite disturbing. Why would they do this? The answer may be simple: Many believed the deception of the propaganda they were fed. They didn’t KNOW the end was near, though careful observation should have indicated a problem. The age of recruits was unbelievably low. The weapons handed to them were old and in disrepair.

How did the Reich pull off such a deception? It took three things that revived in a unique way the ancient Roman pallet – SPECTACLE, TEAM WORK and PLANNING. There was a popular process, a political process, and there was a propoganda process. There were sports teams, camps for the young and long standing traditions were co-opted for political and ethical reconstruction. In the end, the team that formed around deception became very proficient at the mass deception game. The description of the end times in Revelation 13 is just like that moment all over again…

Pause… because that should help us understand how such a thing could easily become a reality again, even in our modern world.

To mold a generations values into one (in this case a deception), the long standing differences seeded by religious and ethical thinking must be systematically eroded into accept few (or ideally no) specific underlying fixed truths. The masses must be lulled into political submission by expediency while having their emotional needs met by unifying and satisfying spectacles. Pairing religious deception with political power will produce zealous followers. Believers need to be attuned to the way deception is fed through both channels as the end approaches. Regardless of your political persuasion, is it not now painfully obvious that:

  • We can be persuaded that a nation has harmful weaponry by intelligence reports that may or may not be accurate. In response, we can be persuaded to bankrupt our coffers and borrow extraordinary amounts of money to fight a war that is costly in both human and fiscal terms.
  • We can be led into battle by pundits that assure us there is no other alternative – and we will follow. Our most reliable people can be carted out on TV and change the policy and personality of the nation. It is not hard to imagine.

Don’t miss my point. This isn’t a commentary about mistakes in our recent national past – because I don’t claim to KNOW what the right thing to do is – and I am a community leader. I don’t know the facts well enough to judge – that is my honest admission. The point is that we can be moved extremely quickly to get behind an idea based on political punditry. I believe if you look clearly at our current day, you will see that we are in a world that is utterly prepared for the unfolding of the end time. Add to that the fact that our national religious life has become a soup of contradictions that seem hard to grasp just a generation ago – and the pot is on the stove set for boil.

Key Principle: The stage seems very well set for the last hours to come quickly but that isn’t a BAD THING. It is a challenge to the believer of today to work with the sound of a ticking watch in the background. Time is running out and we must pay attention.

Believers are being convinced, more and more, that the literal view of the end is not real. The deception has already eroded our resistance to changes that will bring it all about – even within the community of believers. God’s Word told us it would happen… and those who study it should see its work clearly. Let’s take a look.

When we open this passage, we step into a story already in progress. In our last time together we introduced two essential prophetic texts that appeared to be like small streams coming together, growing into a larger river – one from Daniel 11 and another from Revelation 12. The confluence of events mentioned show both Heaven and earth, as the world barrels toward its end. I want to tell the story of these events, but will tell them in a past tense – as completed – to insert us in the story in proper sequence…

First, the great dragon, Satan, was bested in Heaven and was tossed to the earth (Revelation 12:7-9). His long droning against the people of God was halted, and his access key to Heaven’s corridors was revoked – showing him that his time to deceive and destroy was coming to a close. In human terms, his appearance was seen by his startling empowering of a new political force – a rising star from among men that captivated the world with his political abilities. This new hero quickly pulled such powers to himself as to become a despot (Daniel 11:36). He reversed the direction of his fathers in terms of their historic gods of worship and even boldly magnified himself with a brazenness that was unusual – even for a politician.

Next, that newly empowered ruler offered bold peace initiatives, all the while stockpiling weaponry – buying and trading power and positions as a child would trade baseball cards on a sand lot (Daniel 11:39-40). Once again on earth, a rising confederation of earth’s powers formed an axis of evil that was a mere mask for the demonic underworld’s blood lust. The new leader’s egregious behaviors took him into the heart of the Near East and into Israel – with every action he exalted himself.

From Heaven, it appeared as though God stood back and allowed His estranged bride to be led to the slaughter, but purposed to step in at intervals to keep the dragon from crushing her. Great struggles were eased by only small releases from Heaven. Satan was doing what he does best… He was called a murderer by Jesus, a destroyer by the Apostle John, and blinder by the Apostle Paul. He is the crouching lion according to the Apostle Peter. He appears as light –  Paul told the Corinthians, but is actually the “Lord of the Flies” from the mouth of the Savior. His work was nearing its end – and the Word revealed that he knew it (Revelation 12:12). God made a promise. He told His people that His enemy would face defeat with powerful words like God will soon CRUSH him under your feet (Romans 16:20) – and the time of that delay in fulfillment was waning.

As Heaven was relieved at the loss of the adversary’s voice, they looked on with horror at the impact of the enemy’s thrashing of earth. The great enemy turned his attention first to crush Israel – the estranged wife of the Father in Heaven – but the Creator created a way of escape at each point of destruction. The enemy poured out a river on the dry land to sweep the woman away (Revelation 12:15) but God summoned the land to open and swallow the water. Even the long fallen world responded to its Creator when he summoned action. Frustrated, the great enemy contented himself with destroying earth’s other believers – not a part of the people of Israel around the earth.

We open Revelation 13 with the dragon thrashing against the earth’s followers of their Creator. It is a simple two part story – He has an earthly political structure (13:1-10), and drew in a religious structure as his spokesman as well (13:11-18). Both of these are wrapped in political theater of spectacle – something that will soothe the emotions of those who pass through the events:

The Political Leadership of the Tribulation (Revelation 13:1-10)

Revelation 13:1 seems to suggest that the dragon used a political system that was made of ten nations and ten leaders – seven of which had some elevated status over the others.

  • This confederation of rulers was obviously pagan in orientation – a fellowship of fists raised against the power and plan of God in every way. The dragon came from the abyss, and slid his powers into that pagan system like a hand in a puppet. Look at the description:

Revelation 13:1 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.

  • The confederation of nations appeared as ONE BEAST – there was a unity to these nations (Revelation 13:2a).

Revelation 13:2a “And the beast which I saw was…”

  • The confederation of nations was swift in moving people (a leopard) but its footprint in the lives of people was profound (a bear) and its ability to back up its judgments with fierce authority was unprecedented – all because of the empowering by Satan – the adversary of God.

Revelation 13:2 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. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.

By now, you may be asking yourself an incredibly logical question… How could this guy get so powerful so quickly? How could someone rise from obscurity to become such a political force… can something like this really happen in the day of modern media? Keep looking at the description. Something FANTASTIC and beyond explanation unfolds that makes him a “household wonder!

  • The RULER of this new confederation of nations was apparently mortally wounded  and then “miraculously” raised up. I do not wish to challenge the enemy above my place, but I simply must offer this observation: I respectfully submit that the plagiarized spectacle of a resurrection was the best the enemy could come up with after more than two thousand years of planning! Further reading will indicate that the ANTICHRIST was the very one wounded, and that it came as the wound of a sword – perhaps in battle (Revelation 13:14).

Revelation 13:3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 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?”

Before you read this as HOCUS POCUS in a bizarre way, think of it this way: What if this rising star came from a medical background? What if he had unlocked something in the human genome in a lab that had never been seen before? What if his company controlled the proprietary information that could stop a plague, heal a world wide pandemic, or heal resuscitate a popular leader? What if he controlled both the release of a pandemic and the cure? Can you hear the end of verse 4, as people quietly said in Washington, Brussels, Beijing and Tokyo: “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”

Take it another way. What if this ruler was cornered and his power was absolutely destroyed. What if the wound was political – and he was utterly disgraced in some way? What if he “came back from the dead” politically to be uncontested and stronger than ever? Wouldn’t this evoke the same awe?

The rest of verses five through ten offer an over-arching retrospective on the leader’s rise and the creation of the confederation:

  • The leader was boisterous, arrogant and blasphemous – because he had appeared to overcome “death”: Revelation 13:5 There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies…
  • The system developed quickly around the time the church was removed from the scene as a resistance point, and the first half of the Tribulation was characterized by the rising power and confederation agreements: Revelation 13:5b “…and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.
  • The ruler and his confederation were anti-God, and openly hostile to those who sought God – no matter what corner of the earth they were from. People seemed willing to submit to worship and veneration of the new power – except for the few that were reached with the Gospel and had God’s Word to guide them: Revelation 13:6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 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. 8 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.

You cannot escape the religious overtone to the words of the political machine we have been reading about. It may come because of a great military victory (some scholars believe the defeat of Near Eastern opponents from the north of Israel described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 may be the catalyst). It may come from a simple propaganda machine backed up by the spectacular resuscitation of the fallen leader. One thing is certain, the other passages that refer to this “man of sin” and his system confirm over and over again that he speaks POMPOUS WORDS (Daniel 7:8) and that he uses them in a RELIGIOUS TONE (2 Thess. 2:4).

Were the people of God forgotten? No, not at all. They were first introduced to God in Messiah through the protected witnesses of Revelation 7 and they had His Word to explain His temporary inaction for their defense. They trusted Him to come through in the way He said He would. He said:  Revelation 13:9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10 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.

Herein is the real cruelty of those who would teach the Bible’s prophecy is not to be understood literally. If the story is metaphoric, what comfort can come from its pages in the midst of the trouble. It is no mystery that those who take the Bible literally see a future for the Jewish people. It is also no mystery that most of the Jewish believers today take the Bible’s promises literally. In the midst of the Tribulation – it is the one hope believers will have – that God will do EXACTLY what He said He would do! Consider this:

  • When God promised a Messiah to be a man, born of a woman – He delivered literally.
  • When God promised Messiah would be born of a Jewess in Bethlehem of Judea – He delivered literally.
  • When God said that Messiah would come 173,880 days after the command to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 BCE (Daniel 9:26ff) – He delivered literally.
  • When God said that Messiah would be “cut off” and then the city of Jerusalem would fall – He delivered literally.
  • When God said that Messiah would suffer as a servant of His people and be nailed to a tree – God delivered literally.

What justifies in our minds making an allegory out of God’s re-gathering of Israel, His restoration and total salvation so completely described by Paul in Romans 11 as a FUTURE EVENT to the church age? The church that turns the future prophetic teaching into uncertainty flies in the face of the past and its literal fulfillment.

The Religious Leadership of the Tribulation (Revelation 13:11-18)

The dragon pulled in a second ally in the Tribulation – in addition to political partners. There is no zealot like a religious convert – and the dragon is good at religion building. He has worked at the craft since the Fall in the Garden.

This second beast is LIKE THE FIRST (as indicated by the use of allos as “another” of the same kind). She is empowered by the enemy, and she lives to make a mockery of the MARRIAGE of both the Father to Israel and the Son to His Church. She is a HARLOT (Revelation 17) and satisfies man’s need for relationship outside the God given boundaries of intimacy with HIM. Look at her description:

  • The religious character, cloak and symbolism is undeniable – it is pictured as a sacrificial lamb. I suspect the picture shows the public persona to be peace-loving and gentle – while the reality is the very opposite: Revelation 13:11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.
  • His operation is within the confines of the power of the political beast, causing honor and veneration to fall upon the political leadership. Revelation 13:12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.
  • His religious work is found in the performing of signs like that of Elijah – the control of lightning. With each passing year I marvel at how the church is setting up a generation of “sign crazed” people – who think you can tell what is right by what is popular and what appears powerful: Revelation 13:13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 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.
  • His work included the propaganda machine that gave BREATH to the message of the beast. Could this be a media giant? Revelation 13:15 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.
  • His work also includes BRANDING and positioning of the BRAND. This could be a citizen identification mark that allows people to operate within the financial system – that wouldn’t even be hard to imagine. The mark itself identifies one as BELONGING TO THE SYSTEM, just as the witnesses of Revelation 7 were sealed on their forehead or the believers of Revelation 14 have their Heavenly Father’s name on their heads. The great counterfeiter of the ages duplicates the identity mark to THE MAN who rules. People will take a side – belonging to HIM or following at great peril to themselves, the real King of the ages. Revelation 13:16 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, 17 and he provides that no one will 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. 18 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.

Pairing religious deception with political power will produce zealous followers. Believers need to be attuned to the way deception is fed through both channels as the end approaches. As an American, we see a change going on in front of our eyes, and it is much deeper than a simple political one… it is aimed at people of faith from all corners of our own government:

  • When in February of 2009 – the US government officially announced plans to revoke “conscience protection” for health workers who refused to participate in medical activities that go against their beliefs, (fully implemented later in the plan in February 2011) – and some Christians wondered aloud if this was directed at them – because of their open opposition to abortion.
  • Two months later, others were concerned to learn that the US administration officials in would only allow the President to speak at Georgetown University, if the monogram symbolizing Jesus’ name covered during his speech. When Christians cried out about historic foundations, “Reactionary!” cried the press about the Christians.
  • In April of 2010, the US Pentagon dis invited Rev. Franklin Graham from their National Day of Prayer event because of complaints from those who saw his overt evangelism as “offensive”.
  • Last year, the US government eliminated federal grants to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their extensive programs that aid victims of human trafficking because the Catholic Church is anti-abortion, according to the Washington Post.
  • Later, in one month, the Air Force Academy both rescinded support for Operation Christmas Child, that sends holiday gifts to impoverished children across the world, because the program is run by a Christian charity, and paid $80,000 to add a Stonehenge-like worship center for pagans, druids, witches and Wicca. (source: David Barton and Wallbuilders).

This slide began long before the current administration, but I think we can make the case that many who are running our country are coming out of the closet and believe that Jesus and His church are no longer a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps they are right in the political realm – but they are DEAD WRONG in the spiritual realm. The clouds may be coming… but we aren’t DONE YET.

  • Today, I have the freedom to talk to my next door neighbor about how much Jesus loves them, and why He died for them – and today I won’t go to jail… but will I do it or hope some else takes the call more seriously?
  • Today, I have the right to open, study and learn God’s Word without any fear of retaliation from the authorities – but will I avail myself of the opportunity or find more pressing personal issues to attend to?
  • Today, I have the privilege of praying for those who are in authority over me without the fear of Daniel’s lion’s den – but will I bow my knees or hope that someone else will bring them before the Lord?
  • Today, I can engage my public officials, and question policies that appear to shift away from America’s historic foundations of faith – but will I engage them or hope that some organization will do it for me?
  • Today, I can teach a child about the faithfulness of the Lord, and tell them what He can do in and through them if they will live for Him – but will I work at it or will I hope that they get that from a Sunday school teacher or friend?
  • Today, I can show my community how a godly man or woman should respond when their values and their Savior are attacked – but will I offer any positive response, or just quietly hope it goes away.

Believers need to be attuned to the way deception is fed through both channels as the end approaches. The stage seems very well set for the last hours to come quickly but that isn’t a BAD THING. It is a challenge to the believer of today to work with the sound of a ticking watch in the background. Time is running out and we must pay attention!