A Beastly Image

“And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
Revelation‬ ‭13:14-18‬ ‭NLT

The second beast, which we are assuming is the devil himself, is performing miracles. But let’s pause for a minute. Firstly, the devil is not omnipresent. He can only be in one place at a time. Only God is omnipresent. Secondly, we can be assured that he is not a figure with a tail and horns, wearing a red suit and carrying a pitchfork, as is the case in popular imagery. He will probably manifest himself as a charismatic, plausible and acceptable man who has captivated people by what he says and what he does to support his words. Global travel capabilities and media exposure will be sufficient to ensure that all on earth know about him. Note that we assume that the devil is male, because that is what the Scriptures imply, but we don’t know for sure what gender he is, if one at all. Some people think that angels are genderless, at least in the way we humans understand gender.

But back to the devil’s deceptive miracles. These will be sufficiently spectacular to convince people of his assumed authenticity, but they will be a hollow counterfeit of the Godly miracles we know our wonderful Creator God can perform. In John’s vision the devil’s fame and influence continue to grow until he manages to convince “the people” to make a statue. Who are these people? And what will this statue look like?

The people who make up society fall into several socio-political groups. There are those on the extremes of opinion, promoting their more radical ideologies. Lobby groups emerge from time to time, and vociferously try and change the ways society thinks. This spawns the emergence of groups who just as vocally oppose them. All within the law of course. But the majority of people may have an opinion but are not that bothered and want to get on with their lives unfettered by such extremism. These radical groups, however, are not all bad and can change society. As an example, think of the way slavery was abolished in the 19th Century. Individuals such as William Wilberforce and his supporters lobbied hard to get rid of slavery and finally succeeded. However, we can be assured that the global population, in the main, will be taken in by the devil’s lies, as they work out through the influences of the beasts. The “father of lies” will not be interested in good ideologies.

John’s vision continues. The devil “ordered the people to make a great statue” so that there was a focal point for global worship. By this time he would have brought about a radical change in the way people think. There will perhaps be the vociferous minority doing the statue building and the rest of the people going with the flow. But what will the statue look like? In John’s vision we are told that the devil brought it to life and enabled it to speak. To have any relevance for worship, the statue probably has to be humanoid. In our Western societies, such a statue would not have much impact, but think about totalitarian regimes such as North Korea, China, Russia and so on, where worship of the leaders is commonplace. In some countries, the totalitarian leaders are even deified, and emperor worship is not an unknown phenomenon. So we can expect the global leader to be much the same, though with one significant twist – his effigy will be granted life and the ability to speak by the devil’s trickery. This would have been miraculous in the Apostle John’s times, but in today’s technological world, such an animated object is not far away from reality. Think about holograms, for example.

The people are now put in a very difficult position. They are required to worship this idolatrous, animated image of the beast. And if they don’t then they will be murdered. This will be a particularly hard time for Christians, God’s holy people. I’m reminded of the Jewish exiles, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the story recorded in Daniel 3. The king at that time, Nebuchadnezzar, had a statue erected and the population were ordered to worship this idol when music was played by the live bands at the time. But the three Jewish men refused. Some astrologers decided to make mischief and saw an opportunity to eliminate God’s influence in their society, as exemplified by the Jews. So they informed Nebuchadnezzar about the Jewish refusal to worship the statue. Their response to an angry king was classic. Nebuchadnezzar said, as we read in Daniel 3:15-18, “I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” We see from the rest of the story that God saved them from death in the furnace. In these last days, God’s holy people, if and when faced with having to worship the image of the beast, will have to make similar decisions.

As Christian pilgrims, we must be prepared. There are times coming, in fact, in some respects, they are already here, when Christians, God’s holy people, will be increasingly marginalised. We can learn from the story of Noah and his faith. He built an ark on dry land – imagine the ridicule? But he had been warned about what was to come. In Hebrews 11:7 we read, “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith“. We pilgrims also know what is coming so we need to build an “ark”, not a physical structure of course, but a way of life. We need to prepare our minds for what is to come by being prepared. Of course, we hope that these end times, as described in John’s vision, don’t happen on our lifetimes, but just in case …

Dear God. We look to You for all we need and pray that we will stand firm in our faith, regardless of the circumstances we encounter. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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