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Living in the Age of Signs

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It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it is also a form of deception. Satan's fall from heaven was fueled by his desire to be like God (Isaiah 14:13–14). Since then he has counterfeited God's power in order to deceive mankind. As the Battle of Armageddon draws near, Satan's trickery will include imitation of God's signs and prophecies. The Old Testament prophet Elijah will return, but there will also be an impostor.

We need to understand some details of Elijah's past ministry and future return to distinguish the end–times impostor from the authentic prophet of God.

Elijah's Historical Ministry

After ancient Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom quickly slid into immorality and practiced idolatry. Scripture tells us this moral decline was led by the nation's kings. The seventh king of the north, Ahab, violated every principle God had ever given him—he institutionalized pagan worship and allowed his pagan wife to slaughter God's prophets. During Ahab's reign, God called Elijah out of obscurity to lead the nation out of depravity. Elijah performed miracles, proclaimed God's truth, prompted repentance, and is even prophesied to return.

Elijah used fire from heaven to rekindle Israel's faith by praying in front of all the people and asking God to send fire. When the fire of the Lord fell from heaven, the Israelites fell on their faces and worshiped God. During the Tribulation, Satan will emulate Elijah's miracle of fire and anticipated return to trick people into worshiping the Antichrist.

First Kings 18:36–38 describes Elijah's miracle:

Elijah the prophet came near and said, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again."

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.

Malachi 4:5–6 foretells Elijah's return:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The False Prophet's Counterfeit Ministry

The False Prophet described in Revelation 13:11–18 will deceive people into believing he is Elijah by counterfeiting Elijah's miracle. Verse 13 says, "[The False Prophet] performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men." Anyone familiar with Malachi's prophecy, particularly Jews, will immediately draw a connection to Elijah when they see the False Prophet's supernatural fire. However, he will receive his power from Satan rather than God.

This points to an important truth: Miraculous signs are not necessarily from God. That is why 1 John 4:1 tells us, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Elijah's miracle caused people to worship Almighty God, but the False Prophet's signs will cause people to worship the Antichrist. In Matthew 7:16–20, Jesus instructs us to evaluate the fruit of a prophet's ministry—to consider the results. James describes desirable, godly fruit this way: "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17–18). The Antichrist will be none of these. After promising peace, he will make war with the saints and blaspheme God (Revelation 13:5–7). Elijah led Israel out of idolatry; the False Prophet will lead people into it.

Elijah's Future Ministry

The False Prophet will not be Elijah reincarnated, but Elijah will return according to Malachi's prophecy. Revelation 11 describes two witnesses who will preach to the world after the Rapture. After the Church is taken away, God will raise up 144,000 new believers and appoint the two witnesses to preach the Gospel and God's judgment to everyone who is left to hear it. Through these witnesses, God will continue to provide opportunities for people to place their faith in Him right up until the end of the world.

Most scholars believe one of the two witnesses will be Elijah. Consider these similarities:

  • The witnesses will ascend to heaven while they are alive (2 Kings 2:11; Revelation 11:12).

  • The witnesses will prevent rain from falling (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:6).

  • The witnesses will employ fire in their ministry (2 Kings 1:10; Revelation 11:5).

  • The witnesses will minister for three years and six months, which mirrors the length of Elijah's drought (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:3).

These two witnesses are symbolized as olive trees and lampstands (Revelation 11:4), which mirrors a description found in the book of Zechariah:

There is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left (4:2–3).

The lampstand symbolizes the seven–branched lampstand that stood in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31–40). Its bowl held enough oil to keep the seven lamps burning. The nearby olive trees continuously dripped olive oil into the bowl to keep the lamps lit. Olive oil represents the Holy Spirit, who has always been the power behind God's ministry to mankind. In the dark days of the Tribulation, the two witnesses will shine the light of their testimony through the power of the Holy Spirit.

From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of God's love for humanity. It weaves threads throughout the annals of history that testify to His unchanging nature, His unfailing love, His unfathomable grace, and His unescapable judgment. Elijah's ministry is one of these threads. The same God who rained down fire on Mount Carmel will ignite the ministry of His two end–times witnesses as they offer a final olive branch to the world before its King returns in judgment.

Today's Audio Devotion: Creation Care

Marine litter is a huge ecological problem. Many countries’ coastlines are littered with plastic and debris, and there is an “island” of plastic more than the twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean where currents have accumulated the debris. Fish become entangled in discarded fishing nets and lines, with bellies full of plastic debris they have swallowed.

Such images are in stark contrast to the pristine beauty and glory of Eden as presented in Genesis. Though mankind was given the mandate to “have dominion over” (that is, to care for) all of creation, we have not done a good job. When God’s mandates go unfulfilled on earth, God’s glory is diminished. And that mandate extends to our personal life as well. Paul writes that we belong to God and we are to glorify Him with our care and use of our body.

When you see opportunities to care for creation—nature or your own body—do so as a way of glorifying the Creator.

The creation is both a monument of God’s power, and a looking-glass in which we may see his wisdom.
Thomas Watson

Every prophetic event casts its shadow. While the event itself happens in a moment of time, there are visible shadows of that event prior to its occurrence. For example, the seven–year period known as the Tribulation will begin in a single moment with the Rapture of the Church. While the Church will not be on earth to experience the difficult days of the Tribulation, the storm clouds of that period will gather long before it begins. The discerning believer will be aware of and watching for the shadows of future prophetic events.

The events surrounding the Antichrist's False Prophet are found in Revelation 13 and occur around the mid–point of the seven–year Tribulation period. If the Rapture occurred tomorrow, the events of Revelation 13 would happen three to four years later. Given the short time frame, it is likely that the Church will witness shadows leading up to the actual events of Revelation 13. In fact, there are signs of shadows forming now.

The Description of the Prophet (Revelation 13:11–13)

Like the Antichrist, the False Prophet is described as a beast. In Revelation 13:11 we are told he looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. Satan will cause his False Prophet to appear meek and when he really has the heart of a destroyer. Jesus said to beware of false prophets who "come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). This False Prophet will be the epitome of every false prophet who has ever lived.

The Antichrist and the False Prophet are paired significantly: The former's focus is politics while the latter's emphasis is religion. In the Tribulation, with the absence of true religion, a false religion will be necessary to solidify the political power of the Antichrist. Wherever there is a vacuum of true religion, political power will marry itself to false religion to give itself a mark of acceptability. Even Communism has a religion called atheism or materialism. It grieves me when I hear someone say, "One religion is as good as another," because I know that person does not understand the Bible.

The beastly prophet will be a religious leader, pointing people toward the Antichrist, just as the Holy Spirit points people toward Jesus Christ. He will be like many false prophets of our own day—dispensing what people want to hear instead of the truth they need to hear. And he will attract large crowds as false prophets usually do. But in a day of trouble like the Great Tribulation, this seemingly peaceful preacher will suddenly metamorphosize into a monster.

During the Great Tribulation, Satan will use the religion of the False Prophet to unite the world under the leadership of the Antichrist.

The Deeds of the Prophet (Revelation 13:13)

The False Prophet will have the power to counterfeit some of God's miracles, including calling down fire from heaven. Not only is this power associated with God in the Old Testament, it evokes a strong connection with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 2:11). Whatever God does, Satan is the master counterfeiter. Since God often revealed Himself by fire, the False Prophet will use fire to validate his own works.

The Deception of the Prophet (Revelation 13:14–15)

The False Prophet will deceive the people into building an image which can be used as a focal point for worship of the Antichrist. I believe this image will be set up in the city of Jerusalem as a counterfeit to the temple of God. We aren't told what the image will be, but I believe it will be a large structure, not just an effigy on a coin or some similar symbol. I believe it will become a gathering place for those coming to worship the Beast.

The False Prophet's powers will be impressive—he will make the image speak. Satan cannot give life, so the image will not come alive. It will only appear to be alive because of its speech. Some say it is ventriloquism; others say it will be a computer chip that speaks much as our cars and computers talk to us today. Through whatever means, the False Prophet will make the image seem to be alive. I can imagine people gathering at this location every day to hear what the image has to say. The media will carry the image's speeches each day in the news; it will become a focal point of every person's day. I believe this image is the "abomination of desolation" Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:15. When this image is set up in Jerusalem, the disciples of Jesus will know that the Great Tribulation is about to begin. At this time, Jesus said His people should flee Jerusalem because things will become much worse than they ever have been before. The image of the Beast is a signal for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

The Demand of the Prophet (Revelation 13:16–18)

In addition to his religious agenda, the False Prophet will direct the Antichrist's sweeping economic program. A keystone of this program will be the requirement for everyone to receive a mark on their hand or forehead. This mark is yet another attempt at counterfeiting God's power. During the Tribulation, the Lord will preserve His people who carry an identifying mark on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3; 14:1). What God does, Satan imitates.

The word used for "mark" in the original text (Greek charagma) refers to the Roman use of a seal or mark connected with the emperor which conveyed official sanction. So the Beast will use a charagma to identify those who are loyal to him. Anyone without the mark will be deemed a traitor and boycotted by the commercial system the Beast controls. Unable to purchase what they need, those without the mark will die from exposure or starvation or illness. During World War II money wasn't enough to buy certain item, so the government issued rations. Ration cards were required for purchasing scarce items. That rationing was a temporary means to support our country's war effort, but under the Beast's reign it will be permanent. All the money in the world won't be enough to buy bread if you don't have the mark of the Beast.

What is portrayed is a tremendous union in which capital and labor are both subject to the control and direction of one man. Anyone who is outside that vast combination will be ruthlessly boycotted; no one will work for him or employ him; no one will purchase his produce or sell goods to him; trade and commerce will close their doors to him. Bankruptcy and starvation face such a man.
—Fred A. Talford

The Decision Demanded by the Mark

We often think that only those without the mark will suffer, but those with the mark will suffer as well (see Revelation 14:9–11). People will face a choice: Reject the mark and suffer at the hands of the Beast; accept the mark and suffer at the hands of God. Each person on earth will have to choose which is worse—to suffer the temporary wrath of the Beast but receive the eternal favor of God, or receive the temporary favor of the Beast but suffer the eternal wrath of God.

The Distinction of the Mark

The most complex issue regarding the Beast and his mark is found in verse 18 where we are told that the number of the Beast is 666. Many fanciful observations have been made about this number. For instance, it first appears in the Bible in verse "18" which is 6+6+6. Goliath was six cubits tall, his spear's head weighed six shekels, and he had six pieces of armor. Nebuchadnezzar's statue in Daniel was 60 cubits tall, six cubits wide, and six musical instruments summoned the worshipers. These and similar observations are just that—observations. They tell us nothing about the meaning of the number of the Beast. No one knows exactly what 666 means.

The Deficiency of the Mark

Numbers in the Bible do have significance. The number "seven" is associated with the completion or perfection of God's acts, so the number "six" is associated with man (created on the sixth day, must work for six out of seven days, etc.). To triple that number (666) could simply be a way to indicate the Beast is the ultimate in human ingenuity—the best man can be apart from God. It is interesting that six will always fall short of seven. Man will always, even at his best, fall short of the perfection of God. Whatever the number 666 means, and however the mark of the Beast will be configured and applied to humans during the Great Tribulation, it will encompass this: The evidence of man's attempts to glorify, even deify himself, as a final act of rebellion against God. Man's kingdom, instead of God's kingdom, will dominate the Great Tribulation.

I read a story once about Johann Sebastian Bach, the great German composer. Apparently he was a very sound sleeper who was difficult to wake up. His children discovered that the best way to waken him was to go to the piano and play a few measures of some composition but leave off the very last note or chord. Their father would instantly arise and go to the piano to strike the final chord. The one thing he could not tolerate was the incompleteness of a piece of music. It had to be brought to its proper conclusion. The great preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, from whom I heard that story, said he tried it in his own home. Playing "Silent Night" on the piano, he stopped just shy of the final note—then listened. Upstairs he heard his son trying to find that last note on his harmonica. Another of his children was singing the last line and adding the final note. Someone else called out, "Did you do that on purpose?"

"Six," especially "666," reminds us that something is missing—the end of the story has not yet been told. A man whose mark is "666" will arise on the world stage for a few short moments in the future and then be judged. Like a song without a final note, the Antichrist will not bring history to its final closure. Only the true God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, can do that. He is a "Perfect Seven," as are all who find refuge in Him for eternity.

Application

  1. With lines, match the members of the divine Trinity with the members of the unholy, Satanic trinity that tries to counterfeit the work of God:

    Divine TrinitySatanic Trinity
    God the FatherThe False Prophet
    God the SonSatan
    God the Holy SpiritThe Antichrist
  2. How is the Antichrist coming back to life after being mortally wounded a counterfeit miracle similar to a divine miracle? (Revelation 13:3)

  3. Read Daniel 3:1–30.

    • What did Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon set up in "the plain of Dura"? (verse 1)

    • What became the law in Babylon concerning the image? (Verses 4–6)

    • How did the people of Babylon respond to the law? (Verse 7)

    • How did the three Hebrew young men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–Nego respond to the law? (Verse 12)

    • How does this story so far parallel that of Revelation 13:11–14?

    • With what punishment did Nebuchadnezzar threaten the three, and how did they respond? (Verses 15–18)

    • What was the result of their punishment? (Verses 25–27)

    • How will believers during the Tribulation likely face a similar option as did the three in Babylon? (Revelation 13:15–17)

    • What have you already learned in this study about believers during the Tribulation? Does God rescue them as He did the three in Babylon? (Revelation 6:9)

    • How do you respond to the idea of being threatened for your faith? What would it take for you to resist submission to an ungodly edict?

  4. What did Paul do on a regular basis in his ministry? (2 Corinthians 12:12)

    • What does the phrase "of an apostle" mean? What were the signs supposed to validate?

    • How successful had some false apostles been at gaining authority among the churches? (2 Corinthians 11:13–15) Who was behind their false authority?

    • Why is it not impossible to find people in awe of the False Prophet's power during the Tribulation? (Revelation 13:13)

    • How does James 1:16 serve as a timeless warning when it comes to displays of power?

Did You Know?

The idea that a government could assign a "mark" to the world's population should not come as a surprise. For decades, Americans have not been able to make large purchases or investments without a Social Security number. A newer development, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), is used to monitor the flow of goods and services, track farm animals, track passports, and monitor cars on toll roads. The technology consists of a tiny silicon chip that can be attached or implanted that responds to radio frequencies. They are so tiny that they have been attached to ants to study their movement. RFID chips are gaining increasing use in modern cultures for tracking commerce and allowing or disallowing activities.

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

The Beast From the Earth

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

No one should doubt the power of religion in human life. Throughout history is has been used to inspire and unite populations. And so it will be during Tribulation when the Antichrist's spiritual assistant will use his satanic power to promote the worship of the world leader.

Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.
Revelation 13:11–12, NIV

This beast is the False Prophet, the right–hand man of the Antichrist. As Satan continues his malicious masquerade, he will complete an unholy trinity. Just as God is a trinity, so will Satan be. His program will counterfeit God's program. Satan's answer to the Son of God will be the Antichrist.

The Holy Spirit's counterfeit is the second beast, or the False Prophet. The Holy Spirit has one main objective, and that is to glorify Jesus Christ. The False Prophet has one objective, and that is to cause people to worship the first beast.

It may seem strange to consider a religious leader as a key player during the Tribulation, but this has been a pattern throughout history.

We were created to worship God. The longing in our hearts to worship, to devote ourselves to something, is universal; even atheism and materialism are religions. Those who choose not to worship God will worship something else.

In the last days, the False Prophet will use all types of religious props to deceive people. Already we see the satanic influence of counterfeit Christianity enticing people into its web. A friend told me about a conversation with a woman who said she speaks with the apostle John on a regular basis. This woman said she was listening to the radio one night around midnight, and the apostle John was talking. She was instructed to call a certain phone number, which she did. After that, John spoke to her through a channeled "very intelligent professional gentleman in his middle forties," whose message was one of pure love.

I wonder what that woman would think about John's message in the book of Revelation?

Religion without Jesus is the tool of Satan to draw people into his realm. During the Tribulation, religiosity will be intense and the False Prophet will use every counterfeit tool in his arsenal.

Satanic Sign Language

The False Prophet will have the power to perform great miracles, "even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people" (Revelation 13:13).

Imagine the astonishment of everyone on earth as great streaks of fire blaze across the sky. Perhaps it will be a part of a gigantic celebration for the Antichrist. This spectacular show may be intended to center attention on Jerusalem, where the image of the beast will be exhibited. The flaming display will mimic God's miraculous work: He called down fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and He empowered Elijah to call down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel. Revelation 11 warns that if anyone tries to harm the two witnesses, fire will come from their mouths and destroy their enemies.

God has often revealed Himself by fire, and the deceptive False Prophet will do the same.

The Talking Statue

The False Prophet will plan a special building project to erect a statue of the Antichrist in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple. There will be no need for an all–member canvass or pledges from the faithful. When the Antichrist recovers from his fatal wound and becomes the proclaimed world leader, his followers will worship him.

No sculptor in any age of man has formed a statue like this one. The image of the Antichrist will speak and issue a decree that anyone who refuses to fall down and worship it will be killed.

We don't know how this evil magic will be performed, but it is another evidence of the pervasive power of demons in those days.

Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. Revelation 13:14–15, NIV

The setting up of the image of the beast is evidently what Jesus had in mind when He said in His Olivet Discourse: "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matthew 24:15–16, NIV).

The View from Heaven

If we could pull the door of heaven open a crack and see what is happening on earth, we would see the followers of the Antichrist prostrating themselves before the altar of his statue, while we are worshiping Christ in all His glory at heaven's altar.

We might see the lines forming for the seal to be placed on each person's right hand or forehead as everyone files past the False Prophet and his appointed ministers to have 666 stamped on his skin.

God also has sealed ones—remember the seal on the foreheads of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists? Again, Satan will counterfeit God's work.

Branded by the Beast

During World War II it was necessary to have stamps or a card to buy certain food. Gasoline was scarce, and many other goods were in short supply. In America the hardships were minor, for the winning of the war was a national effort, but rationing was a way of life. During the Tribulation, there will be no surge of patriotism. It will be moment–by–moment survival. The law of the beast will be "Worship me or starve."

Why 666?

Why is the mark of the beast 666? Superstitions about this number and its meaning could fill volumes. Here are some interesting facts about it: Goliath was six cubits in height, his spear's head weighed six shekels and he had six pieces of armor. Nebuchadnezzar's image was sixty cubits in height, and six cubits wide.

Man was created on the sixth day. He has to work six of seven days. A Hebrew slave could not be a slave more than six years. The fields of the Jews could not be sown for more than six years running.

The most logical explanation for the mark is that the number six in the Bible is the number of man. The beast represents the ultimate in human ingenuity and cleverness.

Something is Missing

The children of the great composer, Bach, found that the easiest way to awaken their father was to play a few lines of music and leave off the last note. Bach would get up immediately, go to the piano, and strike the final chord.

Donald Grey Barnhouse told how he awoke one morning during the Christmas season, went to the piano and played "Silent Night," purposely stopping before striking the last note. He walked into the hallway and listened to the sounds from the children's rooms upstairs. His eight–year–old son had stopped reading and was trying to find the final note on his harmonica. Another one of the children was singing the last note with great volume. His wife called, "Donald, did you do that on purpose?"

Human nature demands the completion of the last note. The number 666 reminds us that something is missing. That missing something is Someone. He is a seven, and that is the complete number.

God has His seven–headed Lamb of God, the second person of the Trinity. He has His seven spirits of God, the third person of the Trinity. And He has His saints singing the sevenfold doxology.

Satan has his six … but God is seven. The old counterfeiter will never be able to fool all of the people all of the time, only some. …

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