False religion is a powerful motivator in human events. Many who have aspired to places of authority have used it to seduce the masses. Ultimately, it is the tool of Satan to unite humanity in rebellion against the kingdom of heaven. In the last days of this present world, false religion will play a key role in the devil’s elevation of a godless world ruler. This man of sin will ascend to power by God’s sovereign permission, but he and his kingdom will be utterly destroyed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
True religion is in no way affected by the sinner’s idolatrous worship of everything but the Creator (Rom. 1:18-23). As James writes: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27). In other words, that which pleases the true and living God is to do His will out of sincere love for Him and our fellow man (cf. Matt. 22:36-40). That is true worship (Jn. 4:4).
Unlike false religion in its many forms, true religion is not merely a self-serving effort to give meaning to life and alleviate a guilty conscience. Rather, it is God’s redeeming work in the heart producing repentance and faith in Christ leading to good works (Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13) — a testimony to the undefiled nature of eternal life in God’s kingdom (1 Pet. 1:3-5). For this reason, those who practice true religion are despised and persecuted by the rebellious world.
In his quest to be like the Most High God, the devil has many times attempted to assault heaven’s kingdom by utilizing man’s religious compulsion. Several godless world empires have risen and fallen in this effort, but none have fully expressed the treachery of the rebellion on a truly global scale. This will change at the end of the present age just prior to the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As historic judgments from God pave the way for Christ’s appearing, Satan will frantically attempt to once more form a coalition of resistance using false religion. Persecution of the saints will reach an all-time high during the worst time of tribulation the world has ever seen.
In the last days, God will allow the culmination of false religion — a syncretism of all idolatrous forms of worship into a one-world system. It will be the aim of Satan and his Antichrist to elevate, seduce and then destroy the system. This will pave the way for temporary world dominance and worship of Satan, who foolishly believes he can prevent Christ’s reign on the earth. However, our Lord will come in great power and glory to completely judge His enemies and establish His everlasting, righteous throne.
In this study, we will continue to examine the end of false religion. Specifically, we are focusing on its seduction as it pertains to the ascension of Antichrist on the world scene.
The End of False Religion – Part III
Its Seduction (17:7-14)
The Antichrist’s Ascension (vv. 9-14)
In John’s vision, this final manifestation of false religion is represented by a lavishly adorned harlot. As we know from the first six verses of the chapter, the symbolism represents the defilement, the allure, and the wealthy influence of the system. She drinks from a cup full of all that is detestable to God (v. 4) — her love of evil driving her hatred of true religion, which she persecutes to the death (v. 6). The name given to her identifies this as the culmination of all false religion, which began at the ancient tower of Babel and sees itself as the glory of the rebellion (“Babylon the Great” v. 5). The details of the final system are not fully revealed (“mystery”), but it bears all the marks of the satanic rebellion.
The harlot is seen sitting on a scarlet, blasphemous, seven-headed beast (v. 3). We know this to be the satanically inspired Antichrist who views himself as a god (Rev. 13). Thus, the unified religious system has some initial influence over or partnership with Antichrist as it does with other world leaders and their nations. That is to say, the desire for false religion initially unifies them (v. 2). What John does not understand is just how the false religious system gives rise to Antichrist. This “mystery” (v. 7) is revealed in the remainder of the chapter.
We first noted in our study of verses seven and eight that Antichrist’s aim is to manipulate false religion. Until this point, he has, at the very least, feigned loyalty to the system. His satanic scheme involves staging an assassination and resurrection with the help of the False Prophet (Rev. 13:11-18). With this, the ungodly world will believe he has achieved god-like status. That is, he will appear to have reached the ultimate goal of the rebellion. He is the beast “that was, and is not, and yet is” (v. 8), and he will seduce everyone but God’s elect people. This, of course, is the height of Satan’s deceptive lie: God’s creatures can be like the Creator and set their own moral standards (Gen. 3:4-5). Since that is not possible, deception is necessary. So, to win the allegiance of unrepentant sinners, Satan appeals to man’s rebellious nature and his religious bent. Antichrist’s supposed success as a god is fabricated and then supported by supernatural, demonic activity (cf. v. 8; Rev. 13:3-4; 13-18).
The angel begins to explain the mysterious rise of Antichrist in verse nine by saying, “Here is the mind which has wisdom.” A similar statement was used in 13:18 when the number of the beast was given. As with that passage, the point is that only true believers can understand God’s revelation by the wisdom given them from above (Jas. 1:5). Proverbs 9:10 tells us: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
True believers can understand what God has revealed in Scripture including enigmatic passages such as this. And we must understand it in order to realize how Antichrist will be able to ascend to such a powerful position. How can such a man deceive the entire world and amass that much power? It seems impossible, but this passage explains what our infinitely wise God will providentially orchestrate to bring about the end of this present age to His satisfaction. It links the religious and political aspects of this final manifestation of the rebellion that catapult Antichrist to an exalted position — a scenario which has always been imminent (2 Thess. 2:3-12). Satan has always been pushing toward this end, but God will not allow it until He has redeemed all of His elect (2 Pet. 3:1-13). Thus Christ’s return is always imminent.
First, we must understand what the “seven heads” of the beast symbolize. We have addressed this several times in past studies, but this is a definitive passage regarding the meaning. They are “seven mountains on which the woman sits.” Some say this refers to the city of Rome situated on seven prominent hills. They obviously point out that the influence and wealth of Roman Catholicism could be a key player in the final religious system. That may well be the case, but this is speaking of the rise of the beast not the religious system. In context, this refers to seven world empires and their representatives referred to as “seven kings.” In fact, the kingdom of God is often called a mountain that will fill the whole earth (Is. 2:2-3; Dan. 2:35; Micah 4:1), and Christ will be its Great King.
We have identified these kingdoms on other occasions (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the kingdom of Antichrist known as Babylon the Great). Referring to the kings of these world empires, verse ten explains: “Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come.” At the time John received this vision, Rome was in power under the leadership of its successive emperors. Antichrist’s kingdom was and is yet to manifest itself.
Others empires have risen, but the first six were the most notable attempts by Satan to assault God’s kingdom. All of their leaders were openly against the true God and His Christ (i.e. “antichrist”). Yet the Lord will only permit Satan to drive the rebellion to its height via the final “Antichrist” when redemptive history comes to a close. And only then will the Lord Jesus Christ appear in glory to crush all that opposes His righteous kingdom.
Secondly, the Antichrist of the apocalypse “must continue a short time.” That is, his rise to power and his reign, although powerful, will only be for the seven years of the Tribulation (a distinct and limited time; cf. Matt. 24:22). At the mid-point of that period will come the deception of his false death and resurrection. By this, he will ascend to power over the rebellion in order to be destroyed by the true Christ in the end. As verse 11 describes it: “The beast that was and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going into perdition (i.e “destruction”; cf. Rev. 19:20).”
Thirdly, the beginning of the final Babylon is a coalition of nations, Antichrist ascends from that union to obtain total authority. Therefore, his absolute reign establishes him as an eighth distinct king. That is where “the ten horns” come into play in John’s vision of the beast. They are, as verse 12 notes, “ten kings” who will not come on the world scene until the time of Antichrist. They have not “received a kingdom as of yet,” but they will “receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast” who will subdue three of the ten in his ascension (cf. Dan. 7:8; 24). That is, they will have equal power for a brief time (“one hour” – i.e. the first half of the Tribulation) until they unanimously agree to “give their power and authority to the beast” (v. 13).
The prophet Daniel’s vision foresaw this seventh kingdom as an extension of the Roman Empire, which merely disintegrated into smaller kingdoms in Europe. It will, in some fashion, be a part of the 10 nation confederacy that gives rise to Antichrist (Dan. 7:7-8). Daniel also spoke of Antichrist’s declaration of war against God’s kingdom and persecution of the saints of the Most High. But his vision also includes God’s destruction of Antichrist’s dominion and the triumph of the kingdom of heaven (Dan. 7:21-27).
This is precisely what John is told in verse 14. Throughout the Tribulation, the confederacy and Antichrist will “make war with the Lamb [i.e. Christ], and the Lamb will overcome them” (v. 14a). The rebellion’s final stand is an audacious declaration of war against Christ and His kingdom (cf. Ps. 2). The relentless persecution of the saints during that time will be the greatest expression of its hostility toward God. But in the end, when Christ finally appears in glory as “Lord of lords and King of kings,” He will utterly crush all who dare to defy Him. And “those who are with Him” at His glorious appearing will be His elect saints — the “called, chosen and faithful” (cf. Dan. 7:27; Rev. 19:14; 20:4-6).
False religion is indeed a powerful influence over those who rebel against Christ; it is a deceptive tool in the hand of the devil used to resist God’s kingdom. But destruction is all that awaits those who follow the devil’s lie. No matter how much they may persecute God’s saints, God’s kingdom prevails. The Lord has chosen His saints for eternal life in His kingdom. He has called them to that life through the Gospel of Christ, and He is at work in them to ensure that they are faithful. For, in the kingdom of heaven, there is only true religion through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Is your religion true or false?
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