Battling the Beasts II
 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.  Also it 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. (ESV)
Big Idea: We must be wise, because…
- God’s Word Provides Tests for Prophets (vv. 11-15)
Jesus warned us that the devil will cause deceivers to arise within our community. So we cannot rely on our church walls, membership, or even ordination to protect us from deception. For the sake of the community, we must each take responsibility to be on guard against deceivers.
- Parodies: The devil is a master of forgery. Detecting “abnormal” thoughts, words and deeds requires a trained eye and a finely tuned mind. That is achievable for every disciple of Christ who faithfully uses the means of grace God provides.
- Looks: The devil’s deceiver looks as meek and mild as the Messiah. Lamblike, his presence is not threatening.
- Speaks: Their speech eventually becomes authoritative, commanding respect from the gullible. They speak like the dragon, who is that “old serpent” (12:7). Remember how he spoke to Eve? His words were smooth and subtle. He merely planted a thought through a simple question, “Did God really say you may not eat of any tree in the garden?”
- Acts: Then, to make those subtly deceptive words even more appealing, the devil accompanies them with convincing signs. When Moses commanded Pharaoh to let his people go, magicians were able to imitate most of his signs by their illusions (Ex. 4:17, 30; 10:2; 11:10; cf. 7:11; Da. 4:37). Deceivers can produce impressive results through relational manipulation, mind games, or accounting schemes.
- Profile: God so loved us that he ensured the Church would always know which books belonged in the Bible, and those were only books written or sponsored by the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles. The Mosaic profile for every true author of Scripture involved four non-negotiable standards. These remain useful for discerning between true and false teaching/teachers:
- Rejection: The true prophet never tells God’s people to follow other gods besides the Lord (Dt. 13:1-11).
- Prescription: True prophets also tells God’s people to “walk after” the Lord (Dt. 13:4).
- Consistent: True prophets only teach what is consistent with what has already been revealed (Dt. 18:17-20).
- Prediction: Every author of Scripture was verified by the performance of a miraculous sign usually conducted in a public setting and widely attested to by eyewitnesses (Dt. 18:21-22).
Consider/Discuss: What is a prevalent teaching or belief that fails this test that you have noticed recently? How might it fool people by being a parody? How does this profile of true teaching expose it as a lie? If you are confident that you have the truth revealed in Scripture, how might that enable you to engage in dialogue in a constructive way?
- God’s Word Provides Tenacity for His People (vv. 16-18)
There has been a great amount of conjecture about the number 666 in this passage. As is usually the case, the Bible interprets itself. John explains “it is the number of a man.” Any Jew would have understood, and by now we should as well, that 7 is the number most often used to refer to God’s perfection and the fullness of his grace. Though made in God’s image, just a little lower than the angels, man is not God, so a number just short of 7 understandably symbolizes man’s inferiority to God. We have also learn in Scripture that when anything is doubled or tripled it is for emphasis. Therefore, three sixes symbolize something that is intensely man-centered.
- Greatness: From Genesis to Revelation this is how God’s word defines true greatness: God is greatness (Dt. 10:17); no other god is (Ps. 77:13). Even unbelievers must begrudgingly admit his greatness (Mal. 1:11). Because he is greatness, his love, mercy, works of creation and redemption are greatly to be praised (Psalm 57:10; 69:13; 89:1; Psalm 111:2: 136:4). Great is his faithfulness (Lam. 3:23). His Son Jesus is the great Shepherd of his people as well as our great high priest (Micah 5:4; He. 13:20). Jesus, our Redeemer, is also the King of the greatest Kingdom with the greatest and most glorious laws—laws which make human beings flourish (Is. 9:7; Is. 42:21). Therefore no nation or individual can be great without acknowledging God as great, receiving salvation from Christ, and living in obedience to Christ.
- Riches: From Genesis to Revelation this is how God’s word defines riches: God is richness and has revealed himself in the greatest treasure of all, Jesus Christ (Ro. 2:4; Col 1:27; 2:2). His kindness, forbearance, patience, grace, and inheritance are the most valuable riches in the universe (Ep. 1:7; 1:18; 2:7; 3:8, 16). When one lives as if Christ is the greatest treasure, he will gain true riches: the riches of wisdom (Pr. 3:16; Ro. 11:33); humility, honor, life (Pr. 22:4); a good name (Ps. 22:1). And those riches will overflow into his home and to his children (Ps. 112:3).
- Freedom: From Genesis to Revelation this is how God’s word defines freedom: True freedom is only found in the presence of God (Ep. 3:12). And you can only live in God’s presence by accepting Christ as the true Savior (Jn. 8:32). Then, by his Spirit, he will come and dwell with you and liberate your will from sin’s domination (2 Co. 3:17; Ro. 6:18, 20, 22; Is. 61:1; Rev. 1:5). Only then is your will set free to walk in the freedom of obeying Christ (Ps. 119:45; Ga. 5:13; Ja. 1:25; 2:12; 1 Pt. 2:16; 2 Pt. 2:19; Ga. 2:4; 5:1; Jn. 8:36; Ro. 8:2). One who lives freely in Christ is liberated from the love of money (He. 13:5). He is free to live obediently under earthly authorities because he knows Christ is his greater king (Ro. 13:3). He freely serves others in the name of the gospel, because Christ served him first and continues to do so (1 Co. 9:1, 19). And he is free from the fear of death (He. 2:15), because Christ has deposited in his heart a testimony of the glorious freedom he will perfectly and eternally enjoy in heaven (Ro. 8:21). Simply put, freedom is to be captivated by the love of Jesus Christ.
Consider/Discuss: What competing definitions and displays of greatness, riches, and freedom do you find at work in our culture? How does God’s Word expose their fallacy? Practically speaking, how is believing false conceptions of these things detrimental in people's lives? In other words, what is the "fruit" of believing false ideas about greatness, riches, and freedom?