TITLE: Revelation: Scene Four – Part Two: The Seven Visions
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 28 JULY 2013 – Sunday AM
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When most Christians see ‘666’ they think of the Illuminati or the Pope or some or other person secret organisation that this could be referring to. There are so many different characters who could fit the 666 bill, but we want to debunk all of that and bring in Biblical truth. The Illuminati don’t feature in Scripture but only in fiction and imagination.
The key issue of the book of Revelation is the interim period between the first coming of Jesus and His second coming. The first coming is all about Jesus, the Lamb of God, dying on the cross and becoming our sacrifice for sin. Through Him and in Him we are able to face the second coming without there being a punishment for our sin. For believers in Jesus, this second coming will be a time of reward. But if you have not received the sacrifice of the Lamb, you are going to have to endure the wrath of the Lamb at the second coming.
Revelation shows us, in real terms, the difficulties of life. We see this as we look at the context it was written in. The systems of this world bite us, chew us and spit us out. So how do we live in the present time before the second coming, which we are calling the Gospel Age? That’s the question this book is answering.
More commentary, fiction and invention on Revelation has been read by people than the scriptures themselves, particularly chapter 13. Volumes have been written about what the 666 number means! But there was a message God was giving to these seven churches we see in this book and that message is still applicable today.
The way the devil gets us to lose hope is to help us forget that there is a big picture future waiting for us. The end is good! There’s a great reward waiting for us! Those with no sense of future lose hope. The Lord encourages us to be a people of hope and faith in the scriptures we read here; we should be a people of hope no matter what the circumstances.
God’s appeal to us is never on the basis of scaring us into heaven. The point of this book is not to show us some scary, beastly things so that we will make a decision for God! Rather, the appeal of the Gospel is love.
The Gospel brings a sense of the future – a purpose beyond this in the Kingdom. It’s when yesterday is black and today is black that we project our experiences into the future, believing that it, too, will be black. And this is a modern day disease. It’s like in Jesus’ days, leprosy was the big disease – and yes, we could talk of AIDS today – but actually the most prevalent disease in so many people in our day is depression and mental illness. There are physical issues that cause these, yes, but when you take hope away you get to a place where there’s nothing to live for.
There’s a slow creep that takes place with depression and if we don’t allow scripture to encourage us, we’ll see no more hope. If you’re suffering from depression, in Christ there is always a future! It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost your job, you have not lost your salvation! God will not abandon you!
Some of us have come through extremely difficult circumstances. But have you watched a family member being tarred with oil and burned? Have you had a son put into a big dish and cooked because you wouldn’t say that Caesar is Lord? If we compare our problems to that, it doesn’t seem as severe, but in comparison it is. It’s now those hidden diseases that consume our hearts. We need to get hope back in our lives like never before. That’s why we cannot allow what’s written in the book of Revelation reduced to science fiction and confusion. We have an assurance as we read these scriptures.
17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood[b] on the sand of the sea.
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marvelled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.[b] And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 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. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 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. 15 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. 16 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, 17 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. 18 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.
Revelation is written in a genre that we call ‘apocalyptic literature’. Greeks and Romans were writing in this style and genre at the time. So when this letter gets to the church in Asia Minor, it made sense to them in that time.
The picture we’re seeing here is that Satan is standing on the beach and certain things are about to happen. A beast rises out of the sea with ten horns. Sounds like Hollywood already, doesn’t it? Verse 2 has so many different interpretations but actually, all we really need to know is that Satan is summoning some kind of system. The imagery tells us that this system is terrible – more terrible than anyone’s imagination or any movie. This is a great evil and we must understand that.
Verse 3 shows how the world marvelled at this beast and there were miraculous things happening. Now note verse 5 says that it ‘was allowed’ to do things. See, God is in control.
The forty-two months shows us that there are times in history when persecution is going to be more intense than others. Verse 7 shows us that not every saint who prays for protection is going to live. Many die because of their faith. Verse 10 highlights what was happening at the time – The Christians were being slaughtered by those who had taken them captive.
At the end of that verse it says, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Can you see what we’re called to do here? Are we called to find a hole and bury ourselves? No, we’re called to endure and have faith. Because the enemy is intent on destroying this message of the Gospel as it’s going to result in a great multitude of saved people at the second coming. Our job is to get behind this message no matter what the price. In today’s terms this means I give my life to mission, not to comfort. I’m here to see this message go out, no matter how bad things get.
The first beast
So what is the beast that rises from the sea? It’s pagan government – heads, thrones, terror. It lines up with what we can read in Daniel 7 where it talks of Babylon, Persia and other kingdoms. Here it puts all of these into one and is telling us that throughout history we’re going to have pagan governments that are used by Satan against God’s people.
Today we say the world and its systems are corrupt and its actually what’s going on behind the scenes that makes them so corrupt. Revelation 12 onwards gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what the enemy is doing, employing government to do its work.
There are places today that go beyond just an intolerance of the Gospel but will kill you for believing it. I’m not just speaking of China but South-East Asia. Here you can lose your life for the Gospel. Also North-Eastern Nigeria. Pagan government is against the Gospel and that’s one thing Satan employs to get his job done.
He uses three things, essentially – the beast from the sea, the beast from the earth and the harlot. We’ll look at the harlot in the future but at this time we’re looking at these two beasts.
The second beast
In verse 11 we see the second beast rising from the earth with two horns like a lamb. Why a lamb? Because it looks like Jesus. But it speaks like a dragon! This is false religion.
So these two beasts – pagan government and false religion – are being used by the enemy against God’s people. What’s the most deceptive false religion in the world today? A brand of Christianity that talks about how you’re going to benefit; that talks about how there’s nothing required on your part to live the Christian life; that talks about God being your waiter. It’s something that comes close to the truth but is actually error.
Verse 12 shows us how pagan government makes opportunities for false religion. In its original context, the Roman government began to institute Caesar worship, claiming that Caesar is God. It was about worshipping the government. Exactly what it meant then is what it means today. Pagan governments set up opportunities for false religion and call us to worship them.
When the Bible talks of 666 in verse 18 it says that, “this calls for wisdom.” Isn’t it true, however, that for the most part there’s only been stupidity about this number! And we suck it all in. It’s like God saw the future and saw how gullible we would be.
Where does this wisdom come from? Heaven. If you were to translate ‘number of the man’ as it states in the scripture into its original language it’s saying ‘the number of humanity’. Whenever something is mentioned three times in scripture it’s emphasising the point and speaking of the most extreme version of something. For example, in Isaiah 6 we see the angels singing to God and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy…”. God is extremely holy!
So why 666? Man was created on the sixth day. So 666 is talking of humanity in its most extreme fallen state. It’s not meant to be some mind-bending scripture! There are more candidates than we can imagine that fit 666. Most names if you manipulate them in some language and translate them to numerology could stand for 666. That’s how stupid we get. And history has had its fair share of insanely evil people and probably will still have more.
Back in the day of the Christians when this book was written, Nero’s name in Latin numerology was 666. And so this was a code they used to refer to him. It’s essentially a code for evil – evil government married to false religion. It’s a code for absolute evil that’s against the Kingdom of God and the church.
The passage goes on to talk about miracles and signs and wonders coming out of these systems. When pagan government and false religion pair, great evil takes place. Miracles are also not a sign of truth. Often miracles are used as a deception to draw people in.
In verse 17, it talks about how people couldn’t trade unless they worshipped the beast. In the time of those seven churches, if you were a metalworker you belonged to a metalworkers guild who would serve certain gods. If you weren’t a part of the guild you couldn’t trade. Their meetings would typically consist of dinner, orgies and worship to their gods. Christians obviously said they couldn’t be involved in that and as a result they couldn’t trade.
Today there are Muslim countries that have declared that they would like Hindus to wear a badge so they can discriminate against them. One of the Roman emperors at one stage instituted the need for you to carry a certificate that stated that you had visited the temple where Caesar worship had taken place and done your worship duty. If you didn’t have that certificate they could kill you. That’s what the mark of the beast is all about.
In our South African modern day history we’ve gone through a state religion that said there was a superiority to a certain group of people and covenants were made to secure that. Now that caused heartache. We’re thankfully emerging out of that. It’s another example of pagan government mixing with false religion as our government even put forth its own theology that campaigned for its prejudice.
There is only one kingdom worthy of being a government – the Kingdom of God. So what is this passage telling us? It’s saying that we’re going to suffer under pagan government and false religion until the end. There are times and seasons where governments will be good to us and the Gospel. There are times and seasons when they won’t.
Ultimately, verse 10 encourages us to endure and stay strong in the faith. It doesn’t matter what happens. We need to go into some of those hostile areas and preach the Gospel. Some will be taken into captivity and so you will go; some will die and so you will go. All so that this message, the Gospel, goes out.
Some of the remaining mission fields in the world are hostile towards the Gospel. You’ve got to go and preach undercover. One mistake sends you to jail. We need to muscle up and understand that endurance and faith is what God calls us to. Christianity is not about everything at my convenience. We’re not called to be fair-weather Christians.
Daniel 7 is another great picture of this. It shows us this statue made up of different pagan governments. But a rock comes and utterly destroys it. That rock is the Kingdom of God. Governments will come and go, but the Kingdom lasts forever.
Christ is a deliverer and we can push through. Those who were martyred in the early church were tied to poles and set alight, yet there are accounts of how they died with joy. In our circumstances here that’s probably not going to happen but we do fight against pagan governments and false religion and we need to stand for the sake of the Gospel.
Is there a willingness for us to understand this and do it? Be free of this fear of 666. In the days when computers first came out, the beast meant some computer made of wood somewhere. Who was going to be 666? That was the big question. Then 666 was about barcodes. Now it’s microchips. The tech is not the beast! In 15 years time there will be new technology and we’ll need to revise our teaching all over again. No, this is referring to a system – when pagan government and false religion mix, all hell explodes. Whenever humanity reaches its fallen extreme of wickedness, that’s 666. And we have no reason to fear anything like that.
We carry the mark of the Kingdom. We carry lives that have been stamped with the Kingdom through the blood of the Lamb. Let’s be encouraged because God’s Kingdom will be forever. Pagan government and false religion will die.