Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 4 – The Conquest of Evil
by Gerald R. Thompson
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Satan wants to be like God so much – actually, he just wants to be God – that he will create his own unholy trinity of personalities in his bid to oust Jesus from the throne and take over the world. Joining Satan in this trio will be the Antichrist and the False Prophet. I will discuss the Antichrist in great detail, so he will be examined separately in the next section. Here, we will consider the other two members.
We have already mentioned Satan in connection with the end times on numerous occasions. He is a pretty familiar character.
For instance, we know that he started this epic battle between himself and Jesus way back at the time of creation in Gen. 3. We know that Satan goes by many names and descriptions, including Lucifer, serpent, devil, fallen angel, a roaring lion, dragon, father of lies, god of this world, prince of the power of the air, angel of light, son of the dawn, morning star, Gog, Beelzebul or Beelzebub (“Lord of the Flies”), Baal, Belial, Abaddon, Apollyon and King of Babylon, among others.
And we know that Satan is into kingdom building, since the battle of good and evil is a war between kingdoms. Satan has certain powers, and innumerable followers, but the one thing he wants that he doesn’t have is sovereignty – the right to rule heaven and earth – and he desperately wants it. I have already referenced the scripture that says Satan has a throne. Rev. 2:13. Satan simply wants to rule.
Isa. 14:12-27 - We see this kingdom desire clearly expressed in Isa. 14, which provides us both with some back story on Satan, and a prediction about him. Verses 12-14 recount how Satan, “O Day Star, son of Dawn” was cast out of heaven for committing five sins of pride:
“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God;
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But then comes the prediction: “But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms?'”
Note that for this prediction to come true, Satan will have to become a man. How/when will this happen? It is a reference to the Antichrist, the human embodiment of Satan, which is to say, the Antichrist will be possessed by him. This is confirmed in vv. 24-27, which the ESV calls “An Oracle Concerning Assyria,” but what is actually a prophecy against the Antichrist (the Assyrian).
“I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder. This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. It refers to Armageddon, as it relates to a battle concerning the whole earth and all nations, where God defeats an army on the mountains of Israel (“my land”).
Rev. 12:1-17 – This text gives us further insight regarding Satan. The chapter starts out describing a pregnant woman in heaven, “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This should immediately call to mind Joseph’s dream in which the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. Gen. 37:9. Joseph, of course, is a twelfth star – the woman in Rev. 12 is therefore unmistakably symbolic Israel.
A great red dragon appears, with seven heads, ten horns, and a crown on each head. The dragon is Satan, but the description intertwines Satan personally (dragon) and the beast kingdom (seven heads and ten horns). In a story that should also sound familiar, the woman gives birth to a son who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron – the child is Jesus. The dragon pursues the woman, but she is given refuge in the wilderness for 1260 days. Satan pours water out of his mouth to drown Israel in a flood (i.e., with Gentile armies), but Israel escapes. This makes Satan furious, so he makes war against the saints of Jesus. Jesus, meanwhile, is caught up to God and His throne.
Let’s flesh out the rest of the vision. The flood intended to drown Israel is a future invasion of Israel. Israel escapes, meaning the nation of Israel will survive the invasion. Israel seeks refuge for 1260 days, most likely a reference to Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles for 42 months. Rev. 11:2. During this time, Satan will persecute the people of God, and Jesus will not be physically present when this happens.
In the middle of this vision we are told that Satan is cast down to earth, and that he takes a third of the stars in heaven (i.e., angels) with him. Satan and his demons engage in angelic warfare against the heavenly host led by Michael. “Therefore, rejoice O heavens and those who dwell in them,” referring to martyred saints. But, woe to the earth and sea (peoples of the earth), “for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Rev. 12:12.
There are a number of significant indications that this prophecy is yet future. The main characters, Israel, Jesus and Satan, are all referred to in historical terms – but this just tells us who they are for identification purposes (since symbolic language is being used). It does not mean that the events happened in the past.
Thus, we start out identifying Satan with the beast kingdom – which does not exist yet. The son will rule the nations with a rod of iron – which hasn’t happened yet. Israel will seek refuge in the wilderness for 1260 days – future, not past. Satan will wage war with Israel – a future war. Jesus is caught up to heaven – meaning, he will not be present when these things occur, i.e., during the Tribulation. And the devil knows his time is short – when has that happened in the past?
The logical conclusion of which is: when Satan and a third of the angels are cast down to earth, this is a future event. But aren’t Satan and the demons already cast out of heaven? Here we get into the concept of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd heavens, as referenced in 2Co. 12:2. First heaven = the atmosphere; second heaven = outer space; and third heaven = spiritual realm.
In Isaiah, referring to a past event, Satan was most likely cast out of the third heaven, down to the second or first heaven. Isa 14:19. My guess is first heaven – I don’t have any reason to think fallen angels can space travel. I assume fallen angels are not zooming around the universe – there is no one to tempt, torment or possess out there, and God is not going to let them simply roam freely and escape His justice. They may have some ability to fly, as it were, but if God is letting them travel through outer space, I can’t imagine why.
But whether Satan was originally cast down to first or second heaven, Satan will in the future be cast further down to the earth itself, “woe to the earth and sea.”
When this happens, Satan will be furious, and he will begin in earnest to stir up trouble among the nations. Thus, we have to put together the last verse of Rev. 12 with the first verse of Rev. 13. “And he [Satan] stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast [the Antichrist] rising out of the sea.” So Satan is going to be cast down to earth, and he is immediately going to get to work.
Final note: It is an interesting “coincidence” that a third of the angels were and/or will be cast out of heaven with Satan, and many of God’s judgments are also dispensed in thirds. Thus, the first four trumpets all dispense judgments on a third of the people, a third of the land, and third of the waters, etc. A third of mankind is killed in the sixth trumpet. Is there a correlation? In other words, will God dispense His judgments in this proportion because of the proportion of angels that fell? I can’t say for sure, but it seems too coincidental to be random.
Rev. 13:11-15 – Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
Unlike the Antichrist, who is referred to by many names throughout the Bible, the False Prophet is mentioned only three times in Revelation, and is described only here in Rev. 13:11-18. It doesn’t help that this text in Rev. 13 makes no mention of the False Prophet by name, simply referring to “another beast.” But it is clear in Rev. 16:3 (dragon, beast and false prophet) and Rev. 20:10 (devil, beast and false prophet) that these are three distinct persons or entities.
The False Prophet arises from the earth, whereas the Antichrist arises from the sea. Rev. 13:1. Satan, at the end of Rev. 12, is standing on the sand of the sea. I get the picture that Satan is standing with one foot in the water, and another on the sand. So the first image we should get from this is that Satan is the origin of both beasts – both the Antichrist and the False Prophet.
The fact the False Prophet is from the earth means he is a man, not an angel. Beyond that, I don’t know what else. There is no obvious implication that “the earth” refers to any specific geographic region. It is not a direct reference to the Holy Land. There is no reason to think he will be a Jew.
The False Prophet is said to have two horns like a lamb – not that this beast looks like a lamb in general. We are not told what the second beast looks like in general – just that it has two horns. The fact he speaks like a dragon is a pretty direct statement that he will speak on behalf of Satan. “Like a lamb” probably signifies a religious role, which is supported by the next few verses.
Horns usually refer to kings or leaders, but here it is uncertain why there are two horns instead of one. The two horns may mean nothing other than the False Prophet is a pretend religious prophet who will have a leadership role in Satan’s anti-Jehovah religion.
Alternatively, if the False Prophet is a leader of Islam, the two horns may represent its major factions, Shiite and Sunni. In that case, the False Prophet would do what no one else in history has ever done – unite the two factions of Islam and lead them both. Thus, the two horns are part of the same beast, and the False Prophet wields them together. Although, we know from prior references to iron and clay and not getting along together (referring to the final beast kingdom and the factions of Islam), that this alliance will likely be very fragile and not last very long.
We are then told what kinds of things the False Prophet will be able to do, to deceive the nations. He will make everyone worship the beast whose mortal wound was healed. This is more likely a reference to the beast kingdom having a wound (i.e., being defeated) which was healed (i.e., reviving its empire) than it is to the Antichrist as a person. That’s because the person of the Antichrist will not have multiple heads, one of which will be healed.
This is an allegorical passage, so the reference is probably to be understood metaphorically. Nonetheless, given Rev. 13:8 (everyone will worship the first beast, the Antichrist) and what we will see shortly concerning the image of the beast, it may well refer to the Antichrist personally, or it could have a double application to both.
The False Prophet will exercise the authority of the Antichrist in his presence, perform great signs, and make fire come down from heaven. It is reminiscent of the priests of Pharaoh, who were able to duplicate some of the ten plagues of Egypt, in order to convince people not to believe Moses (and by implication, Jehovah God). Similarly, the False Prophet will use these techniques to deceive the nations. Just because someone performs signs and wonders doesn’t mean they are from God.
The False Prophet will cause an image to be made of the beast that was wounded, give it breath, make it speak, and cause it to kill people who refuse to worship the beast. I don’t know that it matters here whether the worship of the beast is directed to the Antichrist personally, or to the kingdom which he leads. The kingdom is the kingdom of Satan, and the Antichrist will be possessed by Satan, so it amounts to the same thing.
But we should note that the image is made in order that it can speak. When we compare this with the breath of Jesus (a word of command), we see that one breathes to speak lies and deceit, the other breathes to speak truth and judgment.
Here again we have a key indication that this in fact the kingdom of Satan. People will be killed solely for unbelief, that is, the refusal to worship. It is reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar, who killed people in a fiery furnace for refusing to worship his statue/idol of gold in ancient Babylon. Dan. 3. It’s amazing how consistent Satan is. He has a motif, and he sticks with it. Belief in the anti-Jehovah religion will be coerced – people will not be given a choice.
Much speculation has been made of what the image of the beast will actually be like. Will it be a statue? Some suggest this refers to the black stone in the Kaabah at Mecca. Since the image is said to have breath and to speak, I tend towards a statue – it’s hard to attribute those things to the black stone. Plus, Satan will likely stick to his motif (set by Nebuchadnezzar).
It has been common for biblical commentators to label the False Prophet as a leader of apostate Christianity. It is hardly to be imagined. Even on their worst day, would an apostate Christian do the things the False Prophet will do? Make an image (i.e., idol), kill people who refuse to worship it, and all the while pretend to be a Christian? What would be the point of pretending to be Christian?
Why would Satan ever want to use Christianity – any form of Christianity, no matter how apostate – to further his kingdom objectives? Wouldn’t Satan want to use a religious vehicle that was the exact opposite of Christianity in every way possible? To promote a religion that stands for everything Christianity opposes, and to oppose everything Christianity stands for? How could apostate Christianity ever serve that purpose? I just don’t see how apostate Christianity can be in view here.
The universal motif of Satan is to deny Christ – why would he want his agent (the False Prophet) to pretend to promote Christ? At this point in time the charade will be unmasked, and there will be no need to hide what he is doing. The kid gloves are going to come off. Satan and his followers will simply come out and oppose Christ in every way possible.
Now let’s look at the relationship between the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Although both persons are intimately connected with both the beast kingdom and Satan’s false religion, it seems that we have a division of labor between them. The Antichrist is generally portrayed as more of a political and/or military leader – the king who rises up to lead the beast kingdom into battle, whereas the False Prophet is portrayed more as a religious leader. They are two, but they act as one (the False Prophet exercises the authority of the Antichrist). In this relationship is another clue.
What entity in the world today, of all the entities in the world, is both a political machine bent on world domination and a religious faith devoted to accomplishing that political purpose? What world entity has both political leaders and religious leaders making laws? What world entity has suicide bombers motivated by religious devotion to accomplish political ends? What world entity has religious leaders who can issue death sentences? How many world religions have the main purpose of establishing a worldwide theocracy (i.e., government)? Is there more than one?
Rev. 13:16-18 – Also [the False Prophet] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
Rev. 14:9-11 – And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
The Bible doesn’t directly say the mark of the beast is the mark of the Antichrist – it is something to be inferred from the clues. The Bible says it is the mark of the beast, in the textual section talking about the second beast, not the first. However, the word for beast here is non-specific, so it could be the mark of the Antichrist, the mark of the False Prophet, or the mark of the beast kingdom. But it occurs in the context of the False Prophet. Does it matter? What are the clues?
A key purpose of the mark of the beast is to lock up commerce. “No one can buy or sell unless he has the mark.” Rev. 13:17. So the mark will exclude people from the marketplace. Initially, this will likely be just large or international transactions, but as the beast kingdom expands its power, its grip will clench tighter and tighter until even local economies will be affected. There is going to be a strong peer pressure thing going on – people will know who does and does not have the mark and as time goes by, fewer and fewer people will not have the mark, so they will be easy to spot. As politicians like to say, a consensus will grow.
The question is: Who is likely to impose a commercial restriction – the political leader, or the religious leader? Probably the political leader. That’s what they do.
But the mark will also be the mark of a man. Rev. 13:18. So the mark will probably not be a mark solely of the beast kingdom. Which leaves two choices – a mark of the Antichrist, or a mark of the False Prophet. It will probably be the mark of whoever’s likeness is imitated in the statue that the False Prophet will commission to have built. So, whose likeness will it be?
All indications are that the False Prophet is a second-fiddle to the Antichrist. He will be able to exercise the authority of the Antichrist in his presence, but not away from it. So the False Prophet needs the Antichrist to exercise power, but the Antichrist doesn’t need the False Prophet to do the same. Which portrays the False Prophet as the chief cheerleader for the Antichrist. So, as between the two, whose image is most likely to be exalted? The Antichrist.
The overall inference is that the mark of the beast will be the mark of the Antichrist.
The mark of the beast will “be marked on the right hand or the forehead.” Will this be a microchip imbedded under the skin? A UPC scanner bar code printed on the skin? Hardly. First of all, the mark of the beast is intended to be visible, not concealed. (That rules out a microchip.) Secondly, although the mark will have an obvious commercial impact, it probably won’t be a symbol of commerce, i.e., a bar code.
The mark of the beast, as I see it, is an outward indication that the person who has it worships the beast and his image. It will therefore be a symbol of religious and personal devotion and loyalty. Its primary meaning and significance will be religious, not commercial. It will tell the world if you have submitted to the beast, or if you are an infidel. That’s what it is for. It will have a commercial impact, but commerce won’t drive the configuration of the mark itself.
The mark of the beast will be a badge of honor to the devotees of the beast kingdom. But what about others? Will the mark be something that the police will come around forcing on people? One day there will be a knock on the door, the police will force you on your knees, and then give you the choice of accepting the mark or being immediately executed? That is certainly a possibility.
Rev. 13:16 says the False Prophet will “cause” everyone to receive the mark, but does that necessarily mean people will be coerced into receiving it? Probably. The pattern we’ve seen in Satan’s kingdom is that he is not content merely to have you either accept the mark or become an outcast. Not having the mark will prove you are an unbeliever, and Satan’s motif is that unbelievers are killed. Satan doesn’t believe in choices – he’s not in this game to give people options.
What is the mark of the beast? The mark of the beast is the name of the beast or the number of its name. Rev. 13:17. Verse 18 also says, “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast.” So clearly, a number is connected with the mark of the beast. Traditionally, this has been understood as the number 666.
What is actually in the text of Rev. 13:18 in Greek, as far as we know, are the letters Chi Xi Sigma. I say “as far as we know,” because no one has the actual original manuscript written by John – all we have are copies dating hundreds of years later. But let’s assume, for the moment, that these are the letters in the verse.
What is odd is that the text does not have numerals, or numbers, which are different from the letters. Nor are the number spelled out (i.e., six hundred sixty-six). Rather, Greek uses letters as numbers, similar to Roman numerals, and you just add up the values. Thus, in ancient Greek, Chi = 600, Xi = 60, and Sigma = 6, producing a total number of 666.
This has led to many years of endless speculation about who the Antichrist will be. Commentators taking someone’s name, rendering it in Greek, then treating the letters as numbers and adding them up. I guess everyone wants to be someone who “has wisdom,” Rev. 13:18. Using this system, people have labeled Hitler, Emperor Nero, and every imaginable villain of the moment as the Antichrist.
But is this really what God wants us to do? To engage in the practice of gematria? [Gematria is the system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase.] Isn’t the message of Rev. 13:18 for the people who are alive at the time, and not everyone before the Tribulation gets here?
Some commentators have advanced the theory that what John actually wrote were not Greek letters at all, but Arabic characters forming the Basmalah (Name of Allah). According to this theory, Islam has no identification number, as such, but it does have a descriptive name – the creed of Islam. And since the mark is a name, and a name in the Bible is often a description (or creed), the Basmalah could well be the mark of the beast.
Here is a table showing, for comparison purposes, standard Greek letters, the Codex Vaticanus copy of Revelation, and the Basmalah (with the crossed swords of Islam added):
|Standard Greek letters: Chi Xi Sigma||The text in the Codex Vaticanus||The Arabic Basmalah with crossed swords of Islam|
To advance this theory, we must assume that copyists of the scripture did not recognize the characters in the original manuscript (and perhaps John himself did not know what he was writing), so they used the closest Greek letters they could find instead.
I am not convinced this reasoning is correct, because it assumes too much. For his part, John did not write in Arabic script, because it was not invented until several hundred years after his death. I don’t know why God would have revealed something to John he could not accurately understand or write down in his own language. Does God ever communicate with people that way?
Then you also have to assume the crossed swords of Islam would be added to the mark, even though they are not words or letters. It is just a non-alphanumeric symbol. What is that doing in there? And then to jump from a number to a name to a creed logically – it’s just too much. How many layers of symbology do we have to cut through at one time, just to get the meaning of the text?
My conclusion is this: the mark of the beast is an identification mark of a man who has not been revealed yet. We cannot possibly know the meaning of the mark in advance. We’ll just have to wait for him to be revealed, and then the mark will be obvious. What difference would it make knowing the mark in advance anyway? Does anyone really think God intends for us to figure out who the Antichrist will be before he comes on the scene and is revealed?