Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #15)
The Holy Trinity is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. In the tribulation period, the unholy trinity will be Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet. Satan will play the role of God the Father as the grand planner. The Antichrist will play the role of Jesus as the one who carries out the plan upon the earth. The False Prophet will play the role of the Holy Spirit as the one who points the world to the one who carries out the plan. Since I haven’t really said much about the False Prophet in this series, I’d like to devote this entire post to him before we launch forth next time into the record of the third and last wave of tribulation-period judgments.
In the symbolic language of The Revelation, the False Prophet is similar to the Antichrist in that he too is described as a “beast.” However, whereas the Antichrist is depicted as having seven heads with a blasphemous name upon each head and ten horns with a crown upon each horn (Revelation 13:1), the False Prophet is depicted as having “two horns like a lamb” (Revelation 13:11). Whatever else might be said about the differences in these two descriptions, we can at least understand that the Antichrist will be more powerful than the False Prophet. In Bible prophecy, horns indicate power, and ten horns beats two horns any day. Even more than that, ten horns with crowns definitely outdo two horns with no crowns. What all this means is that even though the False Prophet will be granted enough power to do the things he needs to do, he will exist to serve the Antichrist.
But you don’t have to be an expert in sheep to know that a lamb doesn’t have horns. What’s the significance, then, of the False Prophet’s imagery including “two horns like a lamb”? Since The Revelation also portrays Jesus as a lamb (Revelation 5:6-8), the implication is that the False Prophet will specialize in spiritual matters and religion. He is called, after all, the False Prophet (Revelation 16:13, 19:20). Also, a lamb seems to be a harmless, innocent, even pleasant thing. No one would expect a lamb to do any damage. I take this to mean that people will underestimate the deviousness of the False Prophet until they have been caught in his snare.
Like most effective prophets, the False Prophet will be an excellent orator. John says that he will speak “like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11). We’ve only met one dragon in The Revelation, and that was Satan (Revelation 12:3-4). So, like the Antichrist (Revelation 13:4), the False Prophet will be energized by Satan. When he speaks, Satan’s words will flow from his lips. Just imagine a religious, “beastly” man who has the character traits and abilities of not only a lamb but also a dragon. That’s a dangerous man!
In John’s account, he sees the False Prophet “coming up out of the earth” (Revelation 13:11). Perhaps you’ll remember from a previous post that John’s imagery has the Antichrist coming up “out of the sea” (Revelation 13:1). Based upon Revelation 17:15, various commentators submit that “out of the sea” means that the Antichrist will emerge from the Gentile nations of the world. If this interpretation is correct, what does it mean that the False Prophet comes up from the earth rather than the sea? Many believe “the earth” (or “the land”) refers to Israel and that the False Prophet will be a Jew. I tend to agree with this assessment, but I won’t present it as irrefutable fact. I do feel pretty strongly that one man arising from the sea and the other one arising from the earth most likely indicates a stark ethnic difference between the two.
As a part of playing his role of pointing the world to the Antichrist, the False Prophet will erect an image to the Antichrist in the Jewish temple and have anyone killed who refuses to worship the image (Revelation 13:14-15). This reminds us of that great image of gold that Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar once had built on the plain of Dura in Babylon (Daniel 3:1-30). That image was approximately 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide, and anyone who wouldn’t fall down and worship it was thrown into the fiery furnace. We aren’t given the specifications of the image the False Prophet will erect to the Antichrist, but it will surely be an impressive site there in Jerusalem’s temple.
And where precisely will the image be located in the temple? The most blasphemous place would be inside the Holy of Holies. That’s the small room where the Jews once kept the Ark of the Covenant. However, it would take a relatively small image to fit inside a room that size. If the False Prophet chooses to go for a much larger image and a more open space that will allow for larger crowds to worship the image simultaneously, it could be located in the outer portion of the temple complex, perhaps in the area of the sacrificial altar.
The False Prophet will also institute a system of buying and selling that requires each individual to bear a specific mark in the right hand or the forehead (Revelation 13:16-17). This “mark of the beast” will be associated with the Antichrist’s name or the number of his name (Revelation 13:17-18). That number is 666, and John calls it “the number of a man.”
Some students of prophecy point out that in Biblical numerology “6” is the number of man because Adam was created on the 6th day of the creation week. Likewise, “3” is the number of God because God is a Trinity. Perhaps, then, the number 666 is simply the Bible’s way of saying that the Antichrist will be a man masquerading as God.
Others, however, start with the fact that in the languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, letters had numerical equivalents. From there, these people devise incredibly elaborate systems by which the names of Antichrist candidates are produced. I confess that I’m not intelligent enough in either linguistics or mathematics to follow the reasoning behind these systems, but over the centuries this process has produced such names as Caesar Nero, Gaius Caesar (Caligula), Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, and basically any United States President the people doing the ciphering didn’t like. Truth be told, this whole approach to interpreting the meaning of “666” has been so laughably wrong so many times that I find it impossible to take the area of study seriously.
As for our understanding of how the mark will actually be implemented on the right hand or in the forehead, that too is constantly evolving. Clarence Larkin was a prominent Baptist preacher and teacher of prophecy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His books on prophecy became so popular that he had to quit the pastorate to devote his time to writing. In his commentary on The Revelation, he states quite emphatically that the mark of the beast will be either branded on or burnt on.
That, of course, was a perfectly reasonable interpretation in Larkin’s day, but he’d never checked out at Walmart or his local grocery store and had them scan his items by using barcode technology. He’d also couldn’t have envisioned a world in which everyone’s information and wealth is stored on computers. So, in our day and age, the latest take on how the mark of the beast will be implemented involves computer chips implanted in the right hand or forehead. The idea is that these chips will do away with the need for cash as the process of buying and selling is whittled down to a scanner passing across your right hand or forehead and money being either deducted from or added to your computerized account. Boy, that sure sounds like a logical interpretation, doesn’t it? Sure it does, right now. But twenty years from now it might sound as outdated as being branded or burnt.
One thing that we need to come to grips with about the False Prophet is that he will be granted a certain level of supernatural power. He will “exercise all the authority” of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:12). He will perform “great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Revelation 13:13). He will use these signs to deceive those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 13:14). He will be granted “power to give breath to the image of the beast (the Antichrist), that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Revelation 13:15).
How do we explain all this? We can’t fully. The best we can do is acknowledge that Satan does have power, real power, and he is perfectly capable of imparting it to those who do his bidding. This power is contained and governed somewhat now, but in the tribulation period, especially the last half, it will be allowed to run free and virtually unencumbered.
I’ve heard a few guesses as to how the False Prophet will be able to make the Antichrist’s image breathe and talk. Perhaps it will be some sort of state-of-the-art robot or artificial intelligence machine. Perhaps it will be a sophisticated computer. Perhaps it will be the latest and greatest invention of that future day.
While I don’t completely rule out any of these possibilities, it’s hard for me to dismiss the element of supernatural power John attributes to the thing. He says the False Prophet was granted power to give breath to the image. The Holman Christian Standard translation renders it: “He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast…” Notice also that it’s the image itself, even more than the False Prophet, who causes whoever won’t worship it to be killed. Also, it’s no small detail that the Greek word that John uses for the “signs” the False Prophet is able to perform is semeion. That’s the same Greek word John frequently uses in his gospel to describe the miracles that Jesus performed.
So, to sum up, the False Prophet will be the Antichrist’s vice-president, chief promoter, public relations director, advertising campaign manager, and biggest fan. He will make people feel like fools for not coming into lockstep with the Antichrist and pledging their undying allegiance to him. He will be a religious charlatan, a Satanic voice, and a truly evil man. Omitting him from the unholy trinity would be like omitting God the Holy Spirit from the Holy Trinity. That’s how important his role is in the story of the Antichrist, and that’s why I needed to devote this entire post to him.