The Mark of the Beast

January 28, 2024

O Lord, as we have been singing, we ask that You would help us, our rock and our redeemer, to listen, to think, to be discerning, to be wise, for there are many counterfeits in this world and we are too easily deceived and distracted. Train our eyes, train our ears, that we may see and hear. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

Please turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter 13. We come this morning to the second half of this chapter, verses 11 through 18. Let me orient you to the second half of this chapter. In the first half of chapter 13 we were introduced to a beast from the sea. Chapter 12 there was a dragon and in chapter 13 there is a beast from the sea who is given a power and authority from the dragon. The dragon is Satan, that ancient serpent, the devil. The beast is not the devil but is one of his instruments on the earth.

We saw that this first beast is broadly representative of the political sphere. The first beast represents the perversion, the corruption of the state. There in the first century it would have been the Roman Empire, but it’s true wherever there is a perverse, corrupt, diabolical infusion of power in the state.

In the second half now of chapter 13 we are introduced to the second beast; first beast from the sea, the second beast from the earth. This beast, as we’ll see, is broadly representative of the religious sphere.

So the first beast is the perversion of the state, the second beast is the perversion of true worship.

Again, not the devil himself but empowered and animated by the devil. His work, and here it’s written to a specific people in the first century, this letter would have gone to these seven cities in Asia Minor, but it’s also an expression of the way in which the devil works in every century and every age. Now he’s not reduced or constrained to these two, but as he wishes to lead a mass movement away from Christ, or distracted from following Christ, he often uses these two things, a perversion of the state and then a perversion of true worship.

So that’s the basic outline in chapter 13. What we’re going to do this morning is go through verse by verse, just a few comments on each verse to help us understand what this passage is talking about, and then we are going to spend most of our time on verse 18. So just flip there for a moment.

Verse 18 is a famous verse. “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,” here’s a number you’ve encountered before and it still has in our culture a representation of being a satanic number, “and his number is 666.”

So we’re going to spend some considerable time trying to understand what does the number 666 mean after walking through, verse by verse, spending some time on 666, we will end with that final exhortation. You see it there in verse 18 – this calls for wisdom.

Now immediately if you were here last week you should remember there is some very obvious parallelism. Because look at verse 10. So the first beast describes this perversion of the state and verse 10 says here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

So after explaining how the devil works through the corruption of the government, or the state, the singular call upon the Christian’s life there was one of patience, faithfulness, and endurance. Makes sense because that state given power and authority often persecutes and is antagonistic towards Christians and toward the Church and toward the truth.

Now look at verse 18. So the first beast ended with a call for faithfulness and endurance and patience. Verse 18, this calls now something a little different, for wisdom. Well, that makes sense. Because the first beast is strong and powerful and persecuting, the second beast who comes alongside and supports the first beast is a deceiver and a counterfeit. So to withstand the second beast calls for wisdom. That’s where we’re going to end.

So go back up to verse 11. Let’s work our way through these verses and try to understand what this is about. Verse 11.

“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.”

As we’ve seen with the other beast, this imagery comes from Daniel, here from Daniel 8, where Daniel sees a vision of a ram with two horns. That’s where the picture comes from. Here it is specifically looks like a lamb. Now that should be sending signals to your brain because we’ve seen a lamb already, chapter 5, a lamb looking as though he had been slain, who had received worship. This is a counterfeit lamb. This person, or really this principle at work in the world, is a counterfeit Christ. This beast looks like Christ so he looks like a lamb but notice what it says, his voice is like a dragon.

The same John who wrote this wrote the Gospel of John and there he says in chapter 10 of his gospel, the sheep will know His voice, the sheep know the voice of the shepherd who is also the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.

This counterfeit religion is always going to have something that draws people to him or to it. If it was obvious and it just looked and there was a spiky devil, you saw in the news not too long ago this satanic group wanting to put up, and they did, a satanic display in some public setting or school or courthouse. Well, yes, that’s bad, very bad, and yet it’s not likely to attract many followers. It’s doing it as just a way to see if they can get away with it. That sort of demonic presence is not going to attract the same sort of following as a counterfeit Christ.

So the first beast is a perversion of the state, the second beast is a perversion of true religion. We should not expect false religion to be immediately and obviously false. We should expect other movements, other ideologies, other religions, to talk about love or morality, God. Remember, again, this is a counterfeit trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being mimicked here by the dragon, the first beast, and the second beast. We should not be surprised when there are some superficial similarities. We should expect that there would be cults. We should expect similar religious language and religious themes, which is why this passage is going to end with a call for wisdom.

The beast may look like a lamb, which is why you need discerning ears to hear. Is he speaking the truth? Is this the voice of the Lamb or of the dragon? People are not always what you think they are.

I was at Five Guys earlier this week with one of my children. They are one of the few places you can get gluten-free stuff there. I went and I said I’ll have a burger and some fries and a drink and as I’m making the order, this tall young man from the back rushes to the front and he leans in and he says, “Sir, mister, hey, I think I know you. Do you have a YouTube channel?” Being perhaps somewhat vain, I’m thinking, well, there’s a few sermons out there. I just said, “I’m on, I mean, I have a few things on YouTube, I guess.” And he says, “Yeah, I think I know. You have that survival YouTube channel.” I said, “No, I don’t.” And he said, “No, you’re right. You’re right. I have you mistaken for somebody else.” [sound effect] I was ready to impress my son. See how church famous your dad is, but no. I don’t have, I’m not even sure what that is, a prepper YouTube channel.

People are not always the people you think that they are. So this second beast, as we’ll see, is a counterfeit.

Verse 11, looks like a lamb, speaks from the dragon.

Verse 12. Let’s continue.

“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.”

Here we see the relationship between the two beasts. The second beast is an accomplice to the first. Isn’t this how it often happens throughout history? That the most oppressive, tyrannical governments have at some place some religion. Now it may not look an official religion, it may be an anti-religion, as it was in the communist world, but there is an ideology. There is an ism. Marx said that religion is the opiate of the people, that Marxist Leninism was a kind of religious impulse. It was a way of looking at the world and giving purpose and meaning.

So the most tyrannical state will have coming alongside and underneath it this religious impulse. This was certainly true in the first century. There was a large imperial cult. There were priests, there were sacrifices, there were rituals, there were officials, there was a whole apparatus of Rome that supported the deification of the Emperor and all of his sometimes tyrannical, corrupt, and at times crazy undertakings.

So religion here, false religion, supporting the state. Sometimes making mandatory the worship of the state. Religion is at its worst when it does nothing but lend credence to and encourage the support of a corrupt and blasphemous state. So as religion and Christianity, true religion, wants to influence the state as we should, we must always be on the lookout for that danger that religion then becomes secondary to the state and becomes just a means of acquiescing and paying homage to and doing whatever the state or those officials want the religion to do or to say.

It is often the case human beings made in the image of God, we years for transcendence. Everyone, you want to be connected to something bigger than yourself. As Christianity declines in this country, as sadly it has been in the number of adherents, it’s not going to lead people to just be more into baseball and American pie, it’s going to leave a vacuum for other kinds of religious impulses. Because people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

So it may be that a political party supplants that religious affiliation. It may be that allegiance to a country, it may be an allegiance to a theory or to an ism, or even in a way that seems much more palatable, to a sports team. Something gives that sense of ultimate purpose and belonging, touching transcendence it feels like. It may be spirituality in music or entertainment or some kind of transcendence and if the devil can get you and me to find that ultimate purpose and meaning in something other than Christ, then he has done his work.

This second beast lives wherever the devil entices people to worship something that is manmade, to make an idolatrous image out of anything other than Christ.

Here in the first century in particular, it’s the collusion of the religious apparatus of Rome and the worship of the Emperor in Rome. But it takes different shapes in different places.

Verse 13.

“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 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.”

The second beast you can think of it as a false prophet. Three times Revelation makes reference to the beast and false prophet; 16:13, 19:20, 20:10. So another name for this second beast, whether he comes as a specific person or more often as a kind of principle or institution or entity, it/he is a false prophet.

As many of the commentaries put it, the second beast is like the minister of propaganda. He deceives people to follow the first beast. Verse 11 we saw the second beast as a false Christ, now we see him as a kind of imitation of Elijah. Elijah, you remember, called down fire from heaven to burn up the sacrifices in the presence of all of the priests of Baal, because they cut themselves and they cried out to heaven, hour upon hour, and their god who is no god could not answer them, and Elijah called down fire from heaven. They were idolaters, they worshiped a false god.

But here we see that they have the appearance. They do great signs. Now it’s not clear if it truly is a supernatural undertaking or it’s something that would have natural explanation that then appears to be miraculous, but it doesn’t even make much difference which it is. You may recall from the story of the Exodus that Pharaoh’s magicians could throw down their staff and could make a snake. Now their powers were only powers of destruction. They did not have power to heal. They didn’t have power of life. Just one of the ways to be discerning is to think, “Is this thing that I’m in to, that I’m giving my life to, that I’m spending all my time online, does it have any power to bring newness of life or is it only something that lives to pull down, to point out the errors of others, to destroy?” That’s a counterfeit.

So this beast has the ability to perform great signs, great accomplishments. So we cannot be impressed with mere signs unless they point us to the Son, S-o-n.

Verse 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.”

In other words, the second beast persuades the world that the image of the first beast is truly God. He’s the minister of propaganda, leading people to a position of reverential awe and homage to the state, or to the king, or to the prince, or to the President.

In the first century, this meant the religious establishment convinced people that they should worship statues and images of Caesar. The coins would even have these names, “The Son of God,” “The Lord,” sometimes even “The One Come Down From Heaven To Earth.” These blasphemous names. The beast gives breath to these things so that the Emperor would seem god-like. Even in our day, wherever there is this impulse to say you cannot be happy, you cannot be fulfilled, unless you bow the knee, unless your life revolves around that thing that is other than Christ. It’s the work of the beast.

Verse 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, 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.”

Now let’s think about this, because there’s lots of speculation and most of it is misguided. No one knows exactly where this imagery comes from or even if it’s meant to have a specific allusion in the first century. So before we start thinking of barcodes and UPC labels, your credit card, or a microchip that’s going to get implanted or some sort of mark or Social Security number, none of those things would have meant anything to these people in the first century. What might they have thought of with this mark of the beast?

Well, it could be an allusion to a slave’s branding, a slave would be branded as belonging to a master, or a soldier would receive a tattoo indicating the army or maybe the regiment he was a part of. Or it could be some practice of compulsory idol worship that developed in the first century, that you needed to be marked as having fulfilled your religious obligation. Any or all of these could be in the background, but the mark, even if it has that sort of real-life allusion, the mark here is almost certainly not meant to be a visible mark. What we’re talking about is an invisible, spiritual identification.

Now why do I say that? Well, there are several times in revelation that talk about the righteous, God’s people, having a mark. The righteous and the believing have the Father’s names, the Father’s name, singular, written on their foreheads. Now none of us think that that means Christians literally have to have Father on their forehead or you have to have a tattoo of the trinity somewhere, bad idea. No. We understand that that’s symbolic language, a name on your forehead means you are identified by this, that you belong to God. It’s an invisible spiritual mark and we understand that instinctively with Christians receiving a mark and it’s the same thing here with those who receive the mark of the beast.

In both cases, we are talking about an invisible stamp of approval. So those who belong to Christ an invisible stamp of approval, a kind of, think about baptism, baptism names you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It identifies you. In fact, there may even be hints of baptism when it speaks about the name of the Father on your forehead. You receive the triune name. So it’s a public act but it’s not some mark that remains on your forehead for all time and neither is this a physical marking of the beast. So it doesn’t have to do with barcodes or credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.

The point of these verses is much simpler. It’s telling us if you do not compromise with the worldly system, you will suffer. In the first century, this meant a refusal to worship Caesar, to be spiritually identified with the beast, and it meant often persecution, discrimination, alienation, and it can mean the same thing in our day. In other words, the world has a way of operating and we say, when push comes to shove, whatever it costs us, if it costs us the scholarship, if it costs us the promotion, if it costs us to get ahead in our sports league, if it costs us even our very lives, we will not give in to the system of the world. We must be prepared as Christians to face setbacks, strange looks, even shame and suffering, to say no, we will not do what everyone in this world thinks we ought to do, whether it has to do with how we treat our Sundays, or whether it has to do with what kind of flags we’re going to fly, or what sort of pronouns we’re going to put in our bio, we will not do these things. No matter the cost.

Now we come to verse 18.

“This calls for wisdom,” we’ll land there in a few minutes, more than a few, “Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man,” or it could be translated the number of man, there’s no indefinite articles in Greek, “the,” that’s a definite article, indefinite “a” or “an,” so it could be the number of a man or the number of man, “and his number is 666.”

This may be the most debated verse in Revelation. Certainly it is the verse that has produced the most fruitless debate. All sorts of numerical schemes have been concocted in various languages to decode what “666” means. Here’s a list of some that I’ve come across.

666 meant Caligula, Domitian, Caesar God, the word latinos, for the Roman Empire. It’s a symbol for beast. It means Antimos, Phoebus, ___, Balaam, Mohammed, Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, the Nicolaitans, the Titans (not the football team), the initials of the Roman Emperors from Julius Caesar to Vespasian, as long as you minus Otho and Vitelius, the triangular number of 36 (which is the triangular number of 8, which is significant because 8 is associated with gnosticism for some, because of the eighth king in Revelation 17), or it may mean the Latin kingdom, the Italian church, various popes, all the popes, the phrase “the vicar of the Son of God,” or Ronald Wilson Reagan because he had six letters in each of his names. Mind blown right there.

All of these solutions, so-called, are calculated by a process known as gematria, g-e-m-a-t-r-i-a. Gematria. In the ancient world every letter corresponded to a number. Now this may seem very far-fetched to us, but it was not uncommon in the ancient world, so it’s not completely ridiculous to think that 666 meant a name. Just like you might get, they probably still don’t do this because you don’t get good prizes in cereal boxes anymore, but if you got a decoder ring in the cereal box and it was A=1, B=2, C=3, and so on, that’s gematria. So Kevin would be 11, K is the 11th letter, + 5 + 22 + 9 + 14, those are the letters in my name, which would equal 61. At least it’s not this.

People did this in the ancient world. There are examples of gematria because that’s how the letters stood for numbers. So it’s not ridiculous to think.

Now the one, the one solution which has gotten the most traction and does have some plausibility is that 666 was a reference to Nero. If you take the Greek, Neron Caesar, and you transliterate it into Hebrew, you get 50 + 200 + 6 + 50, and then if you take Caesar and you transliterate that into Hebrew, you get 100 + 60 + 200, all of which together equals 666. So some people, ah, it’s Nero.

A possible corroboration for this view is found in the Latin version of his name. So that was taking the Greek Neron Caesar transliterating it into Hebrew, adding up the numbers. If you take the Greek and you transliterate it into Latin and add up the numbers, you get 616. You see at the end of verse 18 there’s a little footnote, “Some manuscripts 616.” Now I do not like that, that is the area code for Grand Rapids, Michigan. That was my area code my whole life, dialing 616. So I’d like to think that that’s not the case. But there are some manuscripts that give the number of the beast 616 and they say, ah, if you put Neron Caesar into Latin, you get 616, into Hebrew you get 666, so maybe this is Nero.

And Nero does fit with the storyline of Revelation better than other alternatives. Nero killed himself in A.D. 68 but it was rumored that he would come back to life, or he had faked his death. So the beast receives a fatal wound that was healed. And it would make sense the Christians might want to put Nero in the form of a riddle like this, it protected the Christians from charges of sedition or further persecution. Hey, I didn’t say Nero, I said the number of the beast.

So if we are meant to find a specific person as a referent to 666, surely the best solution is Nero. However, and good people would argue that, but I am not convinced that we are meant to see 666 as a reference to Nero. There are a number of problems with this calculation. Let me list some of them.

First, it is far from certain that most of John’s audience would have known Hebrew. Some were probably Jewish Christians who understood Hebrew, but most certainly, and many, were not. So relying on your readers to not only know gematria but to translate a name from Greek into another language that most of them didn’t know, seems like a poor way to get them to answer the puzzle. So that’s one reason I’m skeptical.

Second. To come up with 666 you have to spell Neron Caesar incorrectly in Hebrew. You have to leave out a little letter, a yod. Some people say, well, that was an acceptable spelling. It’s true, maybe it was, but it wasn’t the normal spelling. So you have to go with a not normal spelling of the name.

Third. None of the early Church fathers calculated Neron Caesar from 666. There is a fifth century document, 400 years later, that calculates Nero but it uses the word “antechristus” to get to 616.

A fourth reason I’m skeptical, look at verse 18. It does not call us to solve a riddle. When it says “let him calculate the number,” the solution is given in the next line, “let him calculate the number; it is the number of a man and his number is 666.” The answer is there. It does not say “let us solve the riddle of 666.” It says, “let us give the number of the beast and here is the number of the beast, it’s the number of man, or of a man, and it is 666.” More on that in a moment.

Fifth reason. If you think of what we’ve already encountered in Revelation, hopefully you got your Revelation sea legs about you, and it seems unusual, this is not how numbers work in Revelation. The imagery in Revelation everywhere else is much broader. It’s more impressionistic. It’s never this decoder ring. Numbers are really important. So the Church is symbolized 24 elders, 2 witnesses, a woman, a 144,000. The church age is symbolized by pictures, a measured temple, a trampled witness, a woman protected in the wilderness. Numbers 42 months, 1260 days, 3-1/2 years. False religion is symbolized by a picture, the beast, and a number 666.

In each case, the pictures and the numbers do mean something but they refer to general truths. They’ve not been specific reference that you’re supposed to discern in code what this means but rather a general impression like looking at a painting and you can understand as the symbolism hits you what you’re talking about.

Sixth. This is my last reason for being skeptical about Nero. If dozens of names can be calculated from 666, how effective is this means of communication?

One author puts it – it doesn’t tell us much that a certain key fits the lock if it’s a lock that works with almost any key.

I one time came across three tongue in cheek rules for determining the number of the beast. Rule number one – if the proper name doesn’t work, add a title. Number two – if Greek doesn’t work, try Hebrew or Latin. Three – if that doesn’t work, try a different spelling.

Well, if you do that, I could add titles, I can go from Greek, I’ll try Hebrew, I’ll try Latin, I’ll try an alternate spelling, then you can come up with dozens or hundreds of different answers.

So if 666 is not code for Nero, or for anyone else, what does it mean? Drum roll. Well, I do not think 666 is meant to be a riddle hiding the number of the beast. It is simply the name and number of the beast. Here’s what I’m saying. It is the number of a man, or again you could just as justifiably say it is the number of man. Think about it. What have we been seeing with this second beast? He is a counterfeit. He leads people into false religion. The beast is an expression of false religion. So knowing what you know about numbers in the book of Revelation, if you wanted to have a counterfeit number, something that is close to being a divine number but falls short, what might a divine number be? If you want to have a trinity, a numerical trinity? You might have 777, seven being the most important number in the book of Revelation.

So if you wanted a counterfeit religion, a religion of man, not God, you would have one that is close, almost equivalent to that real trinity, but falls devilishly short. So instead of 777, you would have the number 666. Seven is the number of perfection and holy completion in the book of Revelation; seven churches, seven lampstands, seven eyes, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, and on and on and on. If seven is the number of holy completion of God, it stands to reason that six would be a number of unholy imperfection. Seven is the number of God, six is the number of man. 666, therefore, is man’s counterfeit to the holy trinity of 777. It is a caricature, a counterfeit, never reaching the divine number. It is a threefold falling short.

You have the dragon. It’s as if he’s saying the dragon is six, the first beast is six, the second beast is six. Together, 666. So we will label this second beast who supports the first beast all of which is to lead to worship the dragon, we will give him the number 666. It is the number of a man, perhaps a literal antichrist at some point in history, but remember 1 John says there will be many antichrists, it’s not just a final cataclysmic figure. So it may be a specific figure who is a religious counterfeit, the number of a man, or just as validly you could translate it the number of man. It is the number of manmade counterfeit religion.

So let’s bring this to some conclusion and application.

The first beast, the one from the sea, is strong and powerful and oppressive. The call in verse 10 is for patient endurance and faithfulness. The second beast we’ve seen is false, deceptive, and idolatrous, which is why verse 18 says this calls for wisdom. When the state is persecuting you, oppressing you, now we have a republican, small R, republican system of government, so we have liberties and rights and have the ability to work for and try to effect change in elections and we ought to do those things, but there will be times when the power of the state is so oppressive no strategy, no scheme, there’s no plan that can thwart the devices of a tyrannical government. So the appeal in verse 10 was you must endure. You’re going to suffer. But you must not compromise.

Here, notice, it’s a little different. The call is for wisdom, for discernment. How then are we to be wise in facing this counterfeit faith?

For starters, realize that wisdom is necessary, that it will not always be immediately obvious when the person or the religious impulse is false. Think of what this second beast looks like. If you are meeting this beast in the wild, as it were, he bears some resemblance to Christ. He exercised great authority, just like Christ says all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. He does great signs, just like Christ performed great signs. And he attracts a large following. Well, this calls for wisdom and discernment lest you say, “Well, there’s some, but this person talks about love and Jesus talked about love. This person or this movement has a lot of success, lots of people are following it. They’re selling lots of books. There’s a great following. There’s large crowds. There’s lots of energy. You don’t want to be left behind.”

So first we need to realize wisdom is necessary.

Then let me suggest, in closing, three questions to ask yourself. It calls for wisdom. Here’s one question. As you try to discern, am I being led astray by something that is a false counterfeit religious impulse or experience, ask yourself, “Am I going along with an idea, a practice, or a behavior because I feel like I have to or I will lose my job, my reputation, my friends, or even my life?” Ask yourself, and I don’t know where this applies in your schooling, in your job, in your family. Am I going along with an idea, a practice, or a behavior, and you’re trying to convince yourself that it’s acceptable, because the pressure is so great mounting against you, you feel like I’m going to lose my job, my reputation, my friends, my health, maybe even my life. That is the impulse of this beast.

Now it’s not to say that peer pressure can’t sometimes be good peer pressure. What’s what a community of faith tries to do. But this sort of fearful, you’re convincing yourself to do something, to believe something, that you know is not what you have been taught, it’s not what you’ve ever seen before in the Bible, but you’ve almost convinced yourself to go along with it because the pressure feels too great. Calls for wisdom. That is the work often of the second beast to get to us to bow the knee to the first beast.

Here’s the second question. Ask yourself, “Does this experience or passion or religious fervor lead me ultimately to glory in man instead of God?” Does this experience, this passion, this religious fervor, lead me ultimately to glory in man instead of God?

Now here we must be careful. There are many ordered loves. God comes first, and you love your family and it’s good to love your country and it can be good to love your city, your sports team, your hobbies. There’s lots of other things we can love. So don’t hear that if you are into anything else other than being at church everyday you’re an idolater. That’s not the case.

Yet, and yet, if your passion is leading you ultimately to find purpose, meaning, satisfaction in a man or a woman, be it a politician, a sports hero, a movie star, a pop star, and that is your satisfaction, that is what is getting you up in the morning, giving you purpose, your new community is all around that, what holds you together with your best friends, is well, what example could I give to just step on as many… I don’t know. We’ll say Donald Trump or Taylor Swift. Have I gotten everybody? And that’s it. And it’s leading you to find your ultimate purpose and satisfaction and life’s aim and euphoria to glory in a man or a woman instead of God.

Here’s the third question. Does this spirituality or religious impulse or newfound purpose in life lead my head and my heart closer to Jesus?

Here’s what I mean, and again whenever you do application, it’s where the sermon gets really good and also gets dangerous.

It is the case that some strands of environmentalism, social justice, nationalism, critical theory. Christians are saying the same things, they haven’t jettisoned any of the statement of faith in their brain, but what animates them? What gives them purpose? What their life is about, what their community is now shaped by, one of these things, and these often have a kind of religious dimension to them.

Like a certain kind of environmentalism, it has a fall, there was a pristine world and now you are all the sinners and the polluters and it takes a lifetime of self-abasement and a lifetime of penance to try to rid ourselves of this, that we can somehow reach to some state of sinless perfection in our natural world.

Or critical theory does that. There is an original sin. There is a priestly class, there are certain texts which inform you, but whereas Christianity, here’s one of the ways to be discerning, Christianity cuts this way. There’s God and sinners. False ideologies cut this way and divide class against class, divide nationality against nationality, oppressor and oppressed. So the line is horizontally, people against people rather than ultimately we have a God whom we have sinned against and whose forgiveness we need.

Test everything in relationship to Jesus Christ. The beast can perform signs. So we can’t just say is it impressive? Are people going after it? The beast can have a large following. We cannot just ask is it successful? Is there energy behind it? We cannot just say does it seem to work?

We need to think. Is this animating principle in my life leading me to greater reverence and love and honor and worship for the Lord Jesus Christ with the fullness of His deity and the fullness of His humanity? To recognize Him as absolutely unique, not just a prophet or a teacher, but the unique Son of God, the only way by which we may have salvation. Is He the final and complete Revelation of the Father? Are His death and resurrection uppermost in your heart? Is He praised? Is the movement you want to give your life to leading you to praise Christ more and more as the curse-bearing, wrath-absorbing, hell-taking, penalty-suffering, guilt-expiating atoning sacrifice for sinners? Is He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Is it leading you to love Him for His lion-like power and His lamb-like suffering? Test everything. Because the beast is a counterfeit, 666. It is the religion of man and the devil doesn’t ultimately care what you worship so long as it is not Christ.

We know the Apostle John writes at the end of 1 John that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true and we are in Him who is true, even His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank You for Your Word, for the strong and sure salvation we have in Christ alone. Give us wisdom, give us discernment that we may grow in greater love and honor and worship and purpose and identity in Jesus and Him alone. In whose name we pray. Amen.