They worshiped the dragon and the beast – Revelation 13:4

Previously: A fatal head wound – Revelation 13:3

The scripture

Rev. 13:4 – They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”

They worshiped the dragon and the beast

revelationWitnessing the spectacle of the beast’s miraculous recovery (or resurrection), the earth’s inhabitants “worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?’” (v. 4).

Verse 8 makes it clear that the world’s unbelievers – not Christians – worship and dragon and the beast: “All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.” This miraculous deception – a counterfeit of the resurrection of Jesus and an answer to the resurrection of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 – is enough to convince the world’s lost people that a savior has come.

How interesting it is to observe the selective belief of those who reject Jesus. In Rev. 11:9-10, people from every tribe, language and nation display the corpses of God’s two witnesses, rejoice over their deaths, and even exchange celebratory gifts. But when God raises the witnesses from the dead, they are terrified and give glory to the God of heaven. That is, they acknowledge a divine miracle but do not commit their lives to the One who performs it. When we get to Rev. 13, however, and the apparent healing / resurrection of the beast, the earth’s unbelievers do more than pay lip service to the one who performs the miracle – they worship the dragon and the beast.

The warnings of Jesus

This calls to mind the warnings of Jesus in several places. In the opening verses of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many” (Matt. 24:4b-5). He adds, “Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (v. 11). And, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (v. 24).

While Jesus performs miracles such as healing the sick and raising the dead to validate his Messianic claims and give us a foretaste of His kingdom when it comes in its fullness, He also warns us that miracles alone are not enough. To truly be our Savior, Jesus has to live a sinless life, die a substitutionary and sacrificial death, and rise from the dead. With that work now completed, He is today seated at the Father’s right hand as our Mediator and Intercessor.  Meanwhile, Satan will do his best to counterfeit the miracles of Christ and undermine the gospel of salvation by grace through faith.

Jesus also warns us that divine miracles alone will not convince the hard-hearted of their need for Christ. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man in hades pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to testify to his five brothers about the reality of judgment after death. But Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” (Luke 16:29). The rich man presses, “No, father Abraham … [b]ut if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” To which Abraham replies, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31). Not long after telling this parable, Jesus dies and comes back from the dead, yet this divine miracle fails to persuade many – perhaps not even the rich man’s brothers.

So, the world’s unbelievers – those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life – pay lip service to the God who raises His witnesses from the dead (Revelation 11) but worship the Devil who mocks the resurrection of Jesus with a counterfeit resurrection of the Antichrist.

Two questions

John records that the world’s unbelievers ask two rhetorical questions: “Who is like the beast?” And, “Who is able to wage war against him?” The implied answer is:  No one. This is the very language appropriated to God in Ex. 15:11: “Lord, who is like You among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?” We see it elsewhere:

  • Ps. 35:10 – “My very bones will say, ‘Lord, who is like you …?”
  • Ps. 71:19 – “Your righteousness reaches heaven, God, You who have done great things; God, who is like you?”
  • Ps. 113:5 – “Who is like Yahweh our God – the One enthroned on high?”
  • Micah 7:18 – “Who is a God like You, removing iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not hold on to His anger forever.”

Worship is one thing Satan has always wanted for himself (see Matt. 4:8-10) and he will finally receive it through the beast. In Revelation 5 the Lamb is declared worthy to take the scroll and to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. But in Revelation 13 it is the Antichrist – the one who takes the place of the Lamb and who opposes him – who is declared worthy of worship, along with the dragon who empowers him.

The two questions are revealing in another way. “Who is like the beast?” the people ask. Do they mean, who is able to rise from the dead? Who is able to speak so eloquently and convincingly? Who is able to rally people of every tongue and nation behind him and his teachings? Some might answer, Jesus, of course. He rose from the dead. He performed miracles. He spoke gracious words. He gathered followers wherever He went. He was the Son of God! But Jesus, the Lamb, is a distant memory – a fairy tale, a farce. The beast – he is a leader the whole world can rally behind. Who is like the beast?

Waging war

Then the people ask, “Who is able to wage war against him?” This is a most curious question. Are the people boasting of his power? Or are they paying homage to him in fear because they see his miraculous deeds and know that if they oppose him, they will be crushed? Is it the people’s worship that exalts the beast’s power, or the beast’s power that commands their worship?

Throughout history, people have followed charismatic figures out of fear. In the last century alone, we have seen brutal beasts such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il murder tens of millions of people, yet they never lacked for cheering throngs, ticker-tape parades and weeping mourners at their funerals. Some gain reverence by intimidation. In stark contrast, Jesus is worthy of worship because He is the Lamb who was slain. Take note, this Antichrist commands the world’s worship, but he is not worthy of it.

W.A. Criswell writes, “In all time and tide and history, there will never have appeared a human being with the glory, the personality, the intriguing, bewitching, ingratiating manner of this man, a veritable god of wisdom, insight, accomplishment and achievement. Satan gave him his power and his throne and his authority. This man accepts the gift that Jesus  spurned when Satan offered him all the glories of the kingdoms of this world; and the whole earth acclaims the man as the very incarnation of glory and wisdom and might and power and honor” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, vol. 4, pp.  106-07).

Next: A mouth was given him — Revelation 13:5-6