The image of the beast
The 18th of January, 2015 will go down as a historic day for the Papal church. Millions of people gathered to attend a massive outdoor mass in the Philippine capital, Manila. City officials estimated that six million people attended the ceremony or lined the Papal route to Rizal Park. An absolute record for any Papal event! This is all part of a six-day tour Pope Francis is making in Asia.
The popularity of the present Pope is overwhelming and spreads all across the globe. He has set himself up, not just as the shepherd of the Roman Church, but as the shepherd of the world. This last year has been one of the most significant years in the Catholic Church in centuries, marked by numerous religious leaders flocking to Rome to meet the new Pope and seek for a greater unity with the Church of Rome.
Besides meeting religious leaders, Pope Francis has been very eager to meet political leaders, seeking to extend the influence of the Papal church into the political arena of the world. In May of 2014, the Pope advised the United Nations on economics calling for “legitimate redistribution of wealth to the poor”. Though this may sound normative for a church leader to say, the significance of this is huge. The Pope made his speech to the leader of the United Nations, among others, while he was visiting the Vatican. Here a religious leader is addressing economic policies to some of the most influential political figures. In March of last year, Pope Francis was formally invited to address a joint session of congress in the United States, which will take place later this year. Here he will again be addressing some of the most powerful political leaders of the world. There seems to be no limits for the pontiff of Rome.
What baffles me most is that a large number of protestant Christians are cheering the Pope along in his rise to world dominion. Historically the word “protestant” was connected with a “protest”. During the Reformation the Reformers clearly identified the Church of Rome as the Antichrist of Scripture. The false teachings and corruptions within the Papal church, along with its long tyranny of persecution, met the clear prophetic fulfillment of Scripture in the books of Daniel and Revelation. A clear call went forth for men and women to return to the Bible, as the motto of the Reformation rang throughout the lands: “Sola Scriptura” – The Bible only! The traditions of Rome had corrupted the Church and buried sacred Scriptural truths, including the very simplicity of the gospel. Rites and rituals, placing the power of Salvation within the confines of the Roman Church, replaced simple faith in Christ. Confession to the priest took the place of confession to Christ. Praying to dead saints took the place of praying to Christ. And on we could go. A massive counterfeit had taken the Christian world by surprise and continues to do so. The Papal church itself claims not to have changed.
Bible Prophecy predicts that what marked the power of the Roman Church in the past will mark its power in the future. In the book of Revelation, chapter 13, we read about a beast that comes up out of the sea. A beast in prophecy is a symbol of a kingdom or power (Daniel 7:17). All the identification marks of this beast clearly reveal it to be none other than the Church of Rome. Again, this is nothing new as Bible students like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer, John Bunyan, Sir Isaac Newton, George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon identified the office of the Papacy as the Antichrist.
According to the prophecy of Revelation 13, this beast would be given power for 42 prophetic months (Revelation 13:5). Following the Biblical principle of a prophetic day equaling a literal year (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6), we are here looking at a period of 1260 years. Historically, this is the exact time that the Papacy yielded power over Europe during what was known as the Dark Ages. In AD 538 the Papacy assumed political power as the Church united with the state. This unholy unity of church and state plunged the continent of Europe into 1260 years of bloodshed and persecution on all the enemies of the Church. Not participating in mass, confessing your sins directly to Jesus instead of the Priest, or merely possessing a Bible, was enough to deem you an enemy. Millions lost their lives due to the “crime” of believing differently than the Church of Rome. All this was made possibly because the Church had military support and authority by its alliance with the kings of Europe. This came to an end in 1798, when Napoleon sent his army into Rome and abolished the Papacy, taking the Pontiff captive. The world seemed to move into a new era.
So why is this history so significant? Revelation Chapter 13 predicts that what has been will come again.
“He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, 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)
Interesting language – “The image of the beast”. An image is a resemblance of something. Like a son that is a split image of his father. In other words, he looks like his father, perhaps walks or talks like his father, though he is not the father. Or like the reflection you see in the mirror. The reflection looks exactly like you, though it is not you. The image or picture of the beast that we have in the past is something that is going to be strikingly similar to what we will see in the near future. What caused the persecution of the past is going to cause a persecution in the future. It is again the unholy unity of church and state, prohibiting the liberty of conscience. Again the Church of Rome will require worship and allegiance, enforced by the political powers of the world. Breath will be given to the image of the beast. This implies that the power of Rome is being resurrected to life. It is very interesting to see how this religious / political power is desperately trying to counterfeit the very acts of God.
Let’s just press the rewind button for a moment and go all the way back to Genesis. What is the first thing we learn about mankind?
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He crated them.” (Genesis 1:27)
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
Breath. Image. Life. Sounds familiar, right? You can see where the language in the book of Revelation is taken from. But here in Genesis we have the real deal, while Revelation describes a counterfeit power at work. God breathes His life into us and sustains us as our Creator. Furthermore, Jesus wants to breath on us the Holy Spirit as he did to His disciples.
“And when he had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
So the big question is: Who has our allegiance? Is it a manmade religious / political power, seeking for world dominance, or is it our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon Himself to set us free? The one leads us into bondage, while the other leads us out of bondage. The one promises the power of the world, while the other gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to live a new life.
Do you feel you need to be revitalized in your spiritual life? What a time to ask your heavenly Father to breath into you new power, which comes from above! At the very time when the world is wondering after the beast (Revelation 13:3), who is receiving breath from stately powers to rule the world once more, Jesus is looking for people who are praying for the Spirit to be breathed upon them. We are facing the climax of the ages! And it is only a breath away!
In Matthew, chapter 22, we read that Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees on the question whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar. His answer strikes at the very heart of how we should relate to worldly powers and the claims of God.
“Show me the tax money. So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, whose image and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar’s. And he said to them, render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:19-21)
The things of Caesar and the things of God were not to be mixed. History shows us the dark chapters when this simple principle was not followed. When politics and religion unite, the liberty of conscience is under attack.
But there is something more in this incredible answer of Jesus. He asked for a denarius that obviously showed the image of Caesar on it. There we have our key word again – Image. Give to Caesar what has his image, but give to God the things that are God’s. The question that lacks in this story, but just begs to be asked is: “What are the things of God?” That’s not a hard one to answer. If the coin that belongs to Caesar contains Caesars image, then the things that belong to God must contain Gods image. So what contains the image of God? Yes, that’s you and me!
And so we end were the story of Scripture begins. We were made in the image of God. Though this image has been marred by sin, God through the gospel is seeking to restore His image in mankind. As millions are wondering after the beast, will you turn to the only one who can restore His perfect image in you? It’s only a breath away!