This world is a crazy place. But this is nothing new. While it is tempting to think no one has experienced what we’re experiencing recently (think since 2020 or so), the fact is that Satan has long targeted the world–trying to keep people from trusting God. We must be aware of his strategies so we can avoid falling for his lies. His lies are deadly–eternally.
In our passage today, John continues to describe Satan’s stratagems:
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; he had two horns like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived. He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he requires everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666.Revelation 13:11-18
There are a handful of things to note in this passage. But first, we must remember that this continues the same theme as last time: Satan’s preferred method of warfare against the Church. In these verses, we see three more of his strategies, which are clearly related to the three strategies last time.
First, Satan tries to deceive people by mimicking God. I wrote more in-depth on this concept here, and we also looked at it last time, but John spends the majority of his time in this text describing Satan’s mimicry of true religion. When we remember that John had this described to him by Jesus Himself (cf. Revelation 1:1), we realize that it is worth describing again.
We note the deception right off the bat. The beast here looks like a lamb, but sounds like a dragon (13:11). If we remember back to last time, the first beast was a physical, visible manifestation of the dragon (Satan). This time, the beast speaks on behalf of the dragon, even though he looks like a lamb (like Jesus). This beast comes forth from the first beast, as the first beast came from the sea onto the land, and this beast comes from the land.
In other words, this beast is pretending to be the Holy Spirit. This beast would want to imitate Jesus because of Jesus’ words in John 16:7-14.
“It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.”
How can someone or something be better than Jesus?
In Satan’s demented thinking, the only thing that could be better than Jesus is something else that looks like Jesus. However, when this beast speaks, he calls all to worship the first beast–the one that represents Jesus–thus proving that he actually is neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit.
It is worth noting here that this is why many Christian “discernment” bloggers out there want to nitpick people’s teaching so that they can declare them false teachers by proving that the false teachers are ultimately speaking on behalf of the first beast and thus Satan as well. False teachers might look good on the outside, but their words give them away for what they really are. This is a valid way to look at the situation.
However, deception is not Satan’s only method.
Satan’s next strategem is difficulty. “If I can’t trick people into following a lie, then I can strongarm them into it.”
We see it in verses 16-17. And it is parallel to the strategem of violence we looked at last time in verses 7-10. John explains,
And he requires everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name.
When life gets difficult, the temptation is to capitulate and do whatever it takes to survive and thrive in the world. Satan doesn’t want us to persevere in this Christian life (cf. 13:10). These are his strategems to help us fail. We must know them so we can avoid them, but we must also be even more aware of the truth, so we can spot the counterfeits when we see them.
And this is one place where “discernment” bloggers are failing. They’re really good about teaching us about the things that are wrong, the things we should not be listening to, but they often fail to emphasize the truth of the Gospel, and thus often play right into this strategem of Satan. However, worse still is when they insist on a million doctrines that must be believed in order to be a true Christian—again, missing the Gospel.
When all we want to focus on is making sure that we know the right doctrines, aren’t listening to the wrong people, know the correct definitions of biblical/theological terms, and think it a badge of honor to vilify those who are “less correct,” we are helping to make Christianity more difficult than it needs to be and playing directly into Satan’s game plan.
Don’t get me wrong. I love theology. I love the Scriptures. I want to be biblical, and I long to be right. But so did the Pharisees. And in the end, the Pharisees were spit out for their lack of love (cf. Matthew 23). And if we want to look at Paul and John, Irenaeus and Athanasius, Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, and Owen and Spurgeon, and say, “This proves that Christians have historically been theologically fluent and all Christians should also be,” I’d be forced to disagree. These men were the theological lights in their times; the common people were not expected to be at their level. They led their people through life, and the heavy theological writings they wrote that theologians love today were not the sermons they preached. The content of their sermons was very different from the content of their theological treatises. Their sermons met their people where they were at. They didn’t preach to their people with the expectation that the people would get on board with it or leave–and then punish them for leaving. They lowered their theological acumen lovingly and met the people closer to where they were.
When churches and bloggers overemphasize theology and fail to love rightly, they are playing directly into Satan’s strategem by making Christianity too difficult for people.
Obviously, there is a balance, and the men listed above didn’t jettison all doctrine to appease their people, but expecting everyone in your church to dot all theological i’s and cross all theological t’s as you do is flirting with this one of Satan’s strategems against the Church. How can Christianity ever display unity to the world if you pridefully insist that your way is the only right way?
Jesus’ way is the only right way, and He didn’t give us a doctrinal checklist that we have to make sure we get right in order to enter heaven.
Christianity is simple: Believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.
But this makes Christianity inherently difficult because the world doesn’t want to hear that. Christians must stop unwittingly making Christianity even more difficult by painting their views on doctrines as the only right way to view those things.
When Christianity is made into an intellectual exercise, it only makes sense that people would turn their backs on it and pursue something easier. Again, the intellectual side is critical, but it’s not the end-all-be-all.
And finally, anonymity is one of Satan’s strategems. This is where we find the so-called “mark of the beast.”
And I’m sorry to be that guy, but there is no hint in this passage that will help us determine his identity. Instead, the fact that the beast could be just about anyone is a huge part of Satan’s strategy.
Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666 (13:18).
The first thing to note is that Greek doesn’t have indefinite articles (a, an), so it more accurately concludes: “it is the number of mankind. Its number is 666.” The word behind “man” is not the gender-focused word, but the human-race-focused word. This tells us that the beast is a human–but that’s all we can know. Even the pronoun before “number” is technically not gender-specific (it’s written in the neuter). So the beast could be a man or a woman. Can we get more specific about the number?
There have been hundreds of ideas throughout the course of church history as to what 666 can refer to. I’d like to put forward a new option. As we’ve already seen in this passage, there is an unholy trinity parodying the Trinity (Satan playacts as the Father; the first beast playacts as the Son; the second beast playacts as the Holy Spirit). We admit that theologically, Christians are “in Christ.” Therefore, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that non-Christians are in Satan (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:7-10).
But what about 666?
This also refers directly to another of John’s writings. In fact, none of the verse references were put there originally. Rather, a man put them in. And there is only one passage in the Bible with reference number 6:66 (though Psalm 66:6 and Isaiah 66:6 do also exist). John 6:66 says,
From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him.
Interestingly enough, according to 1 John 2:18-19 further explains,
Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, ‘Antichrist is coming,’ even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.
In other words, the identity of the beast can be no more specific than a human who turned his/her back on Christianity. Anyone who has turned away from biblical Christianity is guilty of being an antichrist–thus anonymity–but the ultimate villain has yet to be revealed. Satan plays the anonymous long game.
This is why I believe that the greatest threat to the church today is deconversion. Exvangelicals are theologically dangerous to the church. However, our goal should never be to vilify them but to extend love and grace to them and call them to repent and believe anew.
These are Satan’s strategies–mimicry and deception, violence and difficulty, and longevity and anonymity. We must be aware of his tactics so we can protect those we love, not unwittingly promote his tactics ourselves, and promote the simple, beautiful truth: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
You don’t need to get everything right in order to be saved, but you do need to admit that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave on the third day, and that He is God. You need to commit to going where He goes, and striving to help make the world a better place through both the spread of the Gospel and His life-changing influence on your life.
I beg you to believe, re-believe, or renew your faltering faith today.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.