Revelation 13:1-8

Sermon preached on May 4, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was growing up and first learned about the 10 commandments, I was not at all worried about the one having to do with idolatry. At the time I thought idols were objects that someone made that you fell down before to worship. I thought as long as you didn't have a physical idol, like a block of wood or a gold figure, you were not able to commit idolatry.

But of course I was wrong. You don't need a gold figure to bow down before to commit idolatry. Money can be an idol. Pleasure, sex or women can be idols. Work can be an idol. Political correctness can also be idolatry. Wanting to be well thought of can be an idol. Eugene Peterson says that excessive self-focus is idolatry. Even your family can be an idol. G.K. Beale defines an idol as, (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (p. 286).

"as anything that the heart clings to for ultimate security."

Colossians 3:5 tells us that greed is idolatry. It says,

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your
earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust,
evil desires and greed, which is idolatry."

Examples of idolatry are everywhere in our society. One of the things that our text shows us is that one of Satan's main goals is to get people to indulge in idolatry. He hates them and wants to destroy them. He especially hates Christians. At the end of chapter 12 we saw that Satan went off to make war against the offspring of the woman—the church. He hates the church. He hates people worshiping God. One of his great strategies in his fight against God and His church is idolatry. He wants people to worship him or other things instead of God. He wants to rob God of glory, honor and praise. His goal is idolatry. If God's people refuse to commit idolatry he gets the people of the world to persecute and kill them.

Our text focuses on the beast out of the sea. This is a picture of the Antichrist. Some see him as the Roman Emperor Nero, others as the Roman Empire, still others of successive empires that arise and persecute the church. There is a bit of truth in all these views. In 1 John 2:18 and 1 John 4:3 we are told that the antichrist is coming and yet is,

"already in the world".

The spirit of the antichrist is already at work in the world, through governments and other institutions that deny that Jesus came in the flesh. (2 John 7) Yet the Bible also tells us that the Antichrist will come just before the end of time. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 he is called the 'man of lawlessness' and will set himself up in God's temple,

"proclaiming himself to be God."

Paul tells us there that the Day of the Lord won't come until this man is revealed. Idolatry is present in the world now and it's going to get a lot worse.

The main lesson for Christians here is that

you need to make sure we don't get caught up in it.

This chapter is all about idolatry, about false worship, about Satan leading the world away from the worship of the true God. Indeed, at the heart of our text is a counterfeit trinity. John Frame tells us that our text shows, (Systematic Theology, p. 442)

"a satanic counterfeit of the Trinity: (1) a dragon, (2) a beast (healed of a fatal wound) who receives great power and authority from the dragon (vv. 2–3), and (3) a second beast (vv. 11–18) who makes everyone worship the first beast, and who works miraculous signs."

Verse 3 tells us that the whole world will follow the beast and that men will worship the dragon because he gave authority to the beast, and that they will also worship the beast and ask,

"Who is like the beast?"

Verse 14 also tells us that the beast from the earth will deceive the inhabitants of the earth and set up an image in honor of the first beast and order people to worship it.

What's really interesting in our text is the number of things that show that this false trinity is trying to imitate God. In verse 1 we are told that he has 10 horns and seven heads, with 10 crowns on his horns. In Revelation 5:6 we see that the Lamb at the center of the throne had seven horns, which symbolized power. Here the beast has horns.
Both numbers used of the beast here, 7 and 10, often symbolize completeness in the Bible. We see this in the number seven very early in the Bible from the seven days of creation. They refer to things that have universal or worldwide scope. In Revelation there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls which are numbered in order to underscore the completeness of God's worldwide judgment. (Beale, Revelation, p. 59) G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation: NIGTC, p. 59)

"seven… also figuratively convey the notion of God's ordering of the world and his sovereignty over it."

For the beast here to have 7 heads shows that it's imitating God—that completeness and sovereignty over the world is found in him.

In verse 2 we also see that the beast has a mouth like that of a lion. In Revelation Jesus is described as the lion of the tribe of Judah. Again, there is a parallel.

We are also told in verse 2 that,

"The dragon gave the beast his power
and his throne and great authority."

Again this imitates the Trinity. In the book of Revelation it is usually God who gives authority to others. (See especially chapter 6) Not only that, but while He was here on earth Jesus acted on the authority of the Father. (John 10:18) He came to do the Father's will. (John 4:34) The Father appointed Him and gave Him author. So the dragon is trying to be like God the Father in giving authority to the beast from the sea. This beast imitates Christ. Grant R. Osborne writes, (Revelation, BECNT; p. 490)

"This begins another parody or great imitation: While the dragon usurps the role of God, the beast from the sea usurps the role of Christ (with the second beast or "false prophet," the three become the false trinity in 16:13)."

We see another indication of this imitation of God in verse 3. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have a fatal wound, but the fatal wound was healed. It doesn't come through in most of the English translations but the idea here is that his head had 'been slain' in such a way that it was a fatal wound. The same Greek verb is used three times in Revelation 5 to refer to the Lamb on the throne—how He was slain. One example is in Revelation 5:6. John wrote,

"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,
standing in the center of the throne,"

By using the same word here John is clearly referring us back to Revelation 5. This is another imitation of Jesus, the true Christ.

Fourthly, verse 14 says that the beast out of the earth ordered people to set up an image in honor of the beast out of the sea,

"who was wounded by
the sword and yet lived."

The Greek word that is translated 'lived' is the exact term that is used for Jesus' resurrection in Revelation 2:8. Jesus is described there as,

"the First and the Last,
who died and came to life again."

Fifthly, in verses 13-14 we read that the beast will perform,

"great and miraculous signs,
even causing fire to come down
from heaven to earth in full view of men."

Again, this imitates the work of God, the work of Christ. God is the One who rules and has power to perform great and miraculous signs. But the evil ones will imitate this in order to deceive people. The apostle Paul spoke about this in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. He wrote,

"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with
the work of Satan displayed in all kinds
of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,"

There are other parallels as well. Both Christ and the beast, (Beale)

1. have swords2. have followers who have their names written on their foreheads (13:16–14:1),3. have authority over 'every tribe, tongue, people, and nation' (5:9; 7:9; 13:7; 17:12, 15), 4. receive universal worship (cf. 5:8–14; 13:4, 8).

All these things show that what we have in Revelation 13 is idolatry of the worst sort. Satan, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth are putting themselves up as God, as a counterfeit trinity. They are trying to be like God. In their pride and hatred they are trying to put themselves in the place of God.

But they don't succeed. Their imitation is false and grotesque. Verse 2 tells us that each head of the beast out of the sea bears a 'blasphemous name'. They want to be worshiped. They are going to try to deceive the whole earth. People will worship the beast and the dragon.

What does this mean for us?

It means you have to guard against idolatry.

You are to know what it is and you are to avoid it. The first two commandments are: (Exodus 20:4–5)

"You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself
an idol in the form of anything
in heaven above or on the earth
beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them
or worship them;
for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,"

The nature of idolatry is to worship a created thing as if it were God. (John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 36) How we have to beware of idolatry. The very last thing the apostle John told us in his first epistle was, (1 John 5:21)

"Dear children,
keep yourselves from idols."

John Calvin tells us that in our fallen nature we are all prone to idolatry, that,

"We all invent idols in infinite number."

Bruce Waltke put this thought of Calvin in different words and said, (An Old Testament Theology, p. 416)

"the human heart is a perpetual idol factory."

Waltke continues, (p. 417)

"The depraved nature of humanity craves a god we can see."

This is what Satan and the two beasts provide. They want us to worship them. We must resist.

We must love God. Martin Luther writes,

"Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may—wealth or self, pleasure or renown."

We must not be like the earth dwellers here in Revelation 13. The saints in Revelation 13 are always distinguished from the 'inhabitants of the earth'—those who do not follow God. You Christians belong above. You've been raised with Christ. This present earth is not your home.

In this chapter we see that the false trinity uses power, force, wonders, and money to try to force people to worship them. You Christians must resist. You must not love the things of this world. We must not be like Lot's wife. You must not love your life so much as to forsake Christ.

Do you know the Word of God enough that you can carefully evaluate all powers, all teachers, all authorities to tell if they're of the antichrist?

There are such good reasons we should resist idolatry.

Only God is worthy of worship.

In verse 4 men worship the dragon and beast and say,

"Who is like the beast?"

G. K. Beale writes, (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (p. 257).

"This is an intensely blasphemous expression, since this phraseology is repeatedly attributed only to God in the Old Testament, and its first occurrences appear in the early chapters of the book of Exodus itself (Ex 8:10; 15:11; cf. Ex 9:14)."

The beast is a fraud. He's nothing compared to Jesus. What does this beast do? On each of his heads he has a blasphemous name. He leads people to blaspheme the real God. He leads people to worship the dragon. He is leading people to death, to destruction.

One of the heads of the beast has a fatal would that has been healed. People are astonished at that. But appearances are deceiving. That also is a fraud. Grant R. Osborne writes, (Revelation, BECNT; p. 496)

"there is an allusion to Gen. 3:15, where the serpent is told: 'He will crush your head.' There the defeat of the serpent/dragon is prophesied, but here the beast pretends to revive from that disaster. As we know, that pretense is short-lived indeed…"

Satan and his forces were decisively defeated when Jesus died and rose again. Yes, the forces of evil appear to have great power—the first beast makes war against the saints and conquers them. The second beast calls down fire from heaven and no one can buy or sell without his mark.

But this power is temporary. It's just like the power of Satan that we saw in chapter 12. Verse 12 there told us that the devil is filled with fury,

"because he knows that his time is short."

In Revelation 19:20 we learn about the fate of the two beasts.

"But the beast was captured,
and with him the false prophet
who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.
With these signs he had deluded
those who had received the mark of
the beast and worshiped his image.
The two of them were thrown alive
into the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

And in Revelation 20:10 we learn about the fate of the dragon.

"And the devil, who deceived them,
was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,
where the beast and the false prophet
had been thrown. They will be tormented
day and night for ever and ever."

In contrast to the dragon and the beasts,

God is going to usher us into an eternal kingdom.

God's kingdom is forever. He rules forever and ever. His reign is not temporary. We will reign with Him forever. Revelation 22:3–5 tells us about God's eternal kingdom and our part in it. It says,

"The throne of God and of the Lamb
will be in the city,
and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face, and
his name will be on their foreheads.
There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp
or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light.
And they will reign for ever and ever."

The false trinity's power is temporary. It's a façade.

In contrast to the beasts—God is so wonderful.

He's not out to destroy us—He loves us and is saving us. Jesus came to die in our place. He died for our sins. He came to save, not destroy. And at what cost to us.

The beast out of the earth deceives the inhabitants of the earth. He's a deceiver. He does not have the best interests of the people in view. He is out to destroy them, to lead them to hell.

Jesus, on the other hand, came to save us, to show us the Father and bring us to Him. Through His work we have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit keeps us from being deceived. The Spirit leads us in all truth. (John 16:13) The Spirit glorifies Christ.

The Spirit is also transforming us, from glory to glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says,

"And we, who with unveiled faces
all reflect the Lord's glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

How wonderful God is to us. What a gift God is giving us. For those in Jesus—we are being renewed in the image of God—being able to reflect God's glory to all around us. There's nothing greater than that and that's what Jesus restores in us.

Now I ask you—

are you an idolater?

You who think you're Christians—do you live for your own glory or God's glory? The things that you do, do you do them for your glory or the glory of God?

Do you really love God more than your own life? Do you love God more than the treasures of this earth? Do you love God enough to suffer the loss of all things? In your life are you reflecting God and His glory or are you reflecting something else? G. K. Beale writes, (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry)

"God has made all people to reflect, to be imaging beings. People will always reflect something, whether it be God's character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, know that you who are being deceived by the beasts. You need to wake up. Verse 9 says,

"He who has an ear, let him hear."

Wake up and hear the Word of God. You have two choices—to continue following the beasts who hate you, who at best will give you good things for a short while to deceive you and to eventually lead you to the lake of fire—or to realize the glory of God in the face of Jesus. The Father sent the Son to save you. Jesus came with such love—to die for you. The Spirit is here to open your eyes and ears to the good news. Such love. Such a work Jesus did. Repent, go to Jesus. Find eternal life in Him.