As we continue our study in the book of Revelation we are shown the strange prophetic cartoon unfolding quickly before the astonished eyes of the beloved John. Like a sprouting plant breaking through the soil, a beast peacefully rises from the earth and two lamblike horns shoot out from his head. Then suddenly the animal turns and begins to exhibit a contrary nature—"And he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed" (Rev. 13:11, 12).
The freedom that had been purchased at such a price and which the founding fathers had so carefully sought to safeguard, gradually is stolen away and the tyranny of the past is restored.
The pattern of history is repeated. First by subtlety and stratagem, and then by coercion and force, the medieval power which had been mortally wounded is healed, and, incredibly, the persecutions of the past are re-enacted upon the stage of this enlightened, modern age. The law goes forth—"As many as would not worship. . . should be killed" (Rev. 13:15).
One of the agencies of deception that hastens such a state of affairs is great supernatural manifestations that deceive the multitudes into believing that they are witnessing the mighty power of God. "And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast" (Rev. 13:13, 14). Jesus warned of this development in His prophetic outline of events to transpire before His return to the earth the second time. "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matt. 24:24).
Satan, the highest of created beings, "full of wisdom" (Eze. 28:12), has been studying the properties of the human mind and the laboratory of science and nature during the millenniums since his fall, and he has come to know them well. In the last hours of earth's history he will so manipulate the laws of the mind and of nature that marvelou sights and sounds will appear before the gaze of the astonished multitudes. Unable to account for it on any natural grounds, millions of infidels, along with multitudes who have already been worshiping at a false shrine, will attribute it to the mighty power of the true God. Undeniable miracles, clever counterfeits of the wonderful works of Christ, will lead astray all but those who have fortified their minds with the truths of the Bible, and, having placed implicit confidence in its instructions, have obeyed its precepts.
Of this development Paul said: "Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:9-12).
Lulled by Fables
The multitudes are readily deceived, not because there has not been adequate warning and enlightenment exposing these designs of Satan, but because they did not love the truth. Unwilling to give up the natural inclinations of the sinful heart "they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:4). Having turned away from the Bible and closed their eyes to truth, pleasing fables lull them into a false security. They apostatize completely from God while professing to follow Him.
Through spiritistic phenomena, secular rulers follow Satan into the great final holocaust. Said John, "I saw three unclean spirits. . . . The spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:13, 14).
"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). Impersonating Christ, this fallen angel will manifest himself among men as a majestic being of dazzling brightness. As television screens pick up this being of glory, surpassing anything mortal eyes have yet beheld, the triumphant shout "Christ has come! Christ has come!" encircles the globe.
Notwithstanding Christ's specific warning, "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. . . . For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be," this well-nigh overmastering delusion deceives all but "the very elect' (Matt. 24:23-27)—those who have elected to study and believe the Word of God. Those who have conditioned themselves to depend upon their senses will not resist these singular machinations of the devil.
Historic Liberties Voted Away
The safeguards built into our national Government against the tyrannies of the past will be no defense against such a time. The deceived rulers of this republic say to the deceived people of our great democracy, "Make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live" (Rev. 13:14), and the people, responding in agreement, unwittingly vote away their historic liberties. "And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak" "like a dragon," "haughty and blasphemous words" (Rev. 13:15, 11, 5, as did "the first beast before him" (Rev. 13:12).
With an amended Constitution that permits the marriage of the state with a federated church of monolithic influence, religious tyranny again holds sway. Speaking as a dragon, this replica of a medieval instrument of persecution speaks "to cause those who will not worship the image of the beast to be slain" (Rev. 13:15, R.S.V.).
An inspired student of this prophecy wrote seventy-five years ago:
When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.—The Great Controversy, p. 445.
"And he causeth all ... to receive a mark, . . . that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark" (Rev. 13:16, 17). Obviously, there is here set forth a conflict between man's law and God's law. But the apostate Christian churches are so bent upon its enforcement that the most severe penalties are imposed upon those who choose to obey God.
A life and death struggle resolves over this issue. Notice how serious an offense to God is this counterfeit worship of the beast and the receiving of his counterfeit mark: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark . . . , the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured ... into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev. 14:9, 10).
Revelation 16 points out that this judgment poured out unmixed with mercy is the seven last plagues. The first plague is a "noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast" (verse 2). The angel said of the judgment upon those who have received the mark of the beast: "Thou art righteous, O Lord, . . . because thou hast judged thus... . For they are worthy" of this punishment (verses 5, 6).
Thus, the Lord would have us know how fearful the issue is to which the world has been called. Those who refuse the mark not only escape the seven last plagues but they are the ones from this generation that appear in heaven before God. "I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God" (Rev. 15:2).
Solemn words? Earnest words of warning and entreaty from the Omnipotent One. Words that are to be understood by all. Words that every government official, every citizen, as well as every clergyman are to heed. "This calls for wisdom," God says: "let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast" (Rev. 13:18, R.S.V.).
(To be continued)