There’s nothing worse than getting caught by a FAKE or a COUNTERFEIT. There’s nothing WORSE then buying something you think is the GENUINE ARTICLE but then finding it’s a COUNTERFEIT/ or NOT THE REAL THING.
You don’t mind BUYING A FAKE when you KNOW IT IS A FAKE. You can go to Parklea Markets after church today, and buy all sorts of things you KNOW are .
Bolle sunglasses for $5. Rusty jumpers for $15. Christian Dior handbags for $20. They LOOK like the real thing. At least for a few months, until they start to FALL APART.
You’re not surprised/ because you could see through the counterfeit.
Other counterfeits aren’t quite so harmless.
Apparently, the security of my bank account has been compromised. So said an email that arrived during the week.
All I needed to do was reply with my account details and PIN number, and they could fix the problem.
The problem was/ the email said it was from the CHASE AMP bank. And I’ve never HEARD of the Chase AMP bank, let alone held an ACCOUNT with them. REAL banks NEVER send emails. And they NEVER initiate a request for your account details.
These emails are the latest scam. A counterfeit. A trap for some unsuspecting, trusting person. Who’ll reply with their account details. Only to find that when they DO check their bank balance. There really HAS been a security compromise. And they’ve been cleaned out.
Separating REALITY from COUNTERFEIT. Truth from lies. And if you can’t tell the difference, there can be TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES.
Well what stands at the heart of this passage today is the idea of COUNTERFEIT. And as we will see it is a COUNTERFEIT that the WORLD seems ALL TOO WILLING TO BUY.
And while, on the SURFACE, it might look like it’s a mistake that doesn’t do too much damage. Like buying a pair of $5 Bolle Sunnies from Parklea markets. Revelation shows us the REALITY.
Falling for the counterfeit rather than the truth, when it comes to God, has LY consequences.
The setting of today’s passage is that the scroll is finally ready to be revealed. The seals have been opened. The trumpets have sounded. The Lamb has passed to scroll on to his angel, whose given it to John. And now John’s about to reveal what he sees.
And just like the seals and the trumpets, we’re going to see a similar pattern. Although it’s not quite as obvious. There’ll be a short introduction, then a series of six, then an interlude. Then the seventh vision.
And while the seals and the trumpets have focussed on how the future will impact God’s people, These visions take a step back, and a step OUT. And show us what’s going on at a UNIVERSAL or HEAVENLY level. It’s the BIG PICTURE STUFF.
So let’s begin.
And as usual, it’s important to remember to look at the BIG PICTURE. And not to focus too much on the detail. The try to picture what’s going on in your minds, rather than concentrate on the words themselves.
Pre-history/ introduction – A Woman, a child and a dragon (12:1-6)
Ch 12 begins with an introductory vision. It’s like getting the listeners UP TO SPEED. A quick recap of history. In typical Revelation-style.
Picture it with me.
John sees a woman. She’s clothed with the Sun, she’s got the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. And she’s pregnant, and she’s about to give birth. Now just imagine it.
And she’s crying out in pain, when suddenly this huge -red dragon comes into view. A horrible looking scaly thing with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads, and this huge dragon is flailing around with its tail and knocking the stars out of the sky. Special effects you wouldn’t even see in any Sci-Fi movie.
And it says in verse 4 the dragon’s only got ONE THING IN MIND. And that’s to wait for the woman to give birth, and to grab this newborn baby and eat it up.
And the woman gives birth. And we know why the dragon wants to kill the baby, because this is a baby born to be a real king. King of Kings. It’s a boy, says verse 5; a male child born to rule the nations with an iron sceptre.
And suddenly, in this vision, just as the horrible seven headed dragon’s going to eat up the one who’s born to be king, verse 5 says the child is ed up to God and to his throne.
And then the woman runs off and hides in the desert, because God’s already prepared a place; and she’s taken care of for three and a half years – 1260 days.
The woman represents Israel – God’s people. The Messiah comes from her. The dragon represents Satan. Who wants to destroy the baby. Kill or be killed. If he lets the child get away, Satan suspects his time will be over.
But God was victorious. Jesus returned home to the throne. After his and resurrection. And left the woman. Alone. In the desert.
Remember, she represents God’s people. Which, in a way, is John and his hearers. And us too. Taken care of for 3 ½ years. Which you might remember from last week/ is the whole time period between Christ’s ascension and his return.
More on her in a moment.
But what about the Dragon? He’s missed out on destroying the child.
- The Dragon’s Defeat in Heaven (12:7-12)
And the FIRST history describes what a tragic miss that was. From v7. Picture THIS vision. It’s the dragon’s defeat in heaven.
There’s a great war in heaven between the Archangel Michael and HIS angels/ and the dragon and HIS angels. But the contest is over before it starts. And the dragon and his angels are HURLED TO EARTH.
And listen to the commentary that goes with the picture. V10.
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been HURLED DOWN. 11 They overcame him BY THE OF THE LAMB and BY THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from .
Satan’s been defeated IN HEAVEN. That happened in Christ’s and resurrection. That’s what’s symbolised by the war between the angels of Satan and Michael.
And so all Satan has left is to try to win a few battles on earth. Mild skirmishes mopping up. Now that the WAR is over.
And they’re the events played out in the history between Christ’s return to HEAVEN/ and his return to JUDGE.
But before we move on to the second history. Let me make two points. The first is about the dragon’s weapons. Look there in v9. Satan LEADS THE WHOLE WORLD ASTRAY. He’s a deceiver.
When you’ve already been defeated. When the strength of the opposition is WAY beyond yours. That’s all you’ve got. To DECEIVE. To make it appear you’re holding some cards worth having. When you’re holding NOTHING.
Like the British Royal Airforce during the WW2. They made CARDBOARD planes. They didn’t have enough of their own. And they deceived the German reconnosance. And made it appear they were stronger than they really were.
And it’s the same with SATAN. He DECEIVES. It’s the way he’s always worked. Right even back in the Garden of Eden.
Can you REALLY trust God’s promises. Can you really trust the cross? Or do you have to add your own good works – just to make sure.
Does he REALLY want what’s best for you? Is obedience REALLY the best way to life abundant life? Is marital faithfulness the best way to a great life? Is generous giving to the work of the gospel the best way to a life of blessing? Will God really provide your needs is you don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear?
All sorts of ways Satan deceives us.
And when he’s SUCCEEDED. And we’ve fallen for his lies. He’s the expert at ACCUSING us. Crown Prosecutor. Presenting the evidence. Playing the hidden video footage.
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
And yet for all his wiles, we forget that he’s LOST! And you can see WHY when you look at the weapons of the saints.
Yes, Satan does accuse. And yes, the evidence is damning. But the verdict from the Judge has come back NOT GUILTY. The saints are victorious. Why? Look there in v11.
Rev 12:11: 11 They overcame him by the of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; NIV
God’s people recognise their guilt. But they stand firm, trusting in the of the lamb. Trusting that God has counted as acceptable punishment Jesus’ on the cross on our behalf. And so he declares the guilty , the sinners forgiven, the enemies friends. And the accuser has lost.
And as we proclaim the good news of that victory to OTHERS, then we BUILD that victory. Satan suffers ANOTHER blow.
We play a part in the victory over Satan as we trust the work of Jesus, and as we proclaim his message. That’s the reality, even when things look far different.
- The Dragon’s Pursuit on Earth (12:13-17)
On to the second history. The story of the dragon and the woman continues. It’s a typical Revelation summary of the war on earth between Satan and God’s people. Picture it with me.
The dragon pursues the woman. Who’s given wings to escape. She’s protected for three and a half times. There’s that number again. Half the complete period of seven. A time of persecution shortened because God’s merciful.
And the dragon tries to catch her with a torrent of water from his mouth, but once again it’s no good. The dragon is enraged, defeated yet again. And stomps off in search of the woman’s children. Christians.
- The Dragon and the beast (13:1-10)
Which brings us straight to the NEXT history. Because the dragon calls in reinforcements. The beast. He’s standing on the shore of the sea. And out of the sea comes a beast. An awful, fearsome, powerful creature.
He had a wound that SEEMED to be , but it had been healed. A pretend miracle.
And the dragon gave the beast his power and throne and authority.
This is where COUNTERFEITS come in. Because the dragon and the beast are described in terms of a counterfeit God the Father and God the Son.
Because God the Father has begotten the Son. HE’s given him authority and power and a throne. And the Son really HAS been killed and resurrected.
But the dragon and the beast just LOOK like it.
But even so, it’s pretty convincing. Look from v3
Rev 13:3-4: The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. 4 Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” NIV
The beast is the Roman Empire – or its Emperors. And when people look at the power of HUMAN kingdoms or kings. And BOW before them. They settle for a COUNTERFEIT. A fake. A pretender.
Someone who PROMISES MUCH, but can’t deliver. Because it’s nothing more than a servant of THE DRAGON.
And that’s just as true whether it’s the ROMAN empire and its Caesars. Or the empires of materialism, and consumerism, or humanism, or environmentalism, or technology, or modern medicine, or new age spirituality, or even a new emphasis on family and getting the balance right.
Bowing the knee to THOSE things/ in contrast to bowing the knee to the REAL God/ is nothing more than swallowing the lie of the deceiver, that ancient serpent, the devil, Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
- The other beast / false prophet (13:11-18)
But the beast isn’t his ONLY deception. Look onto the NEXT history. Number four. It’s ANOTHER beast. Or as he’s described in the next few chapters – the false prophet. He’s the mouthpiece – the publicity officer for the beast.
He SPOKE like a dragon. He exercised authority on behalf of the beast. He made people worship the beast. He performed miraculous signs which deceived people. He even made an image of the beast SPEAK, to con people into worshipping it. And those who didn’t he caused to be killed.
And he forced all those who didn’t belong to God to receive a MARK. A seal. A sign of the dragon’s ownership. The number of the beast. 666.
This beast represents the counterfeit Holy Spirit. Notice how he mimics what the Holy Spirit does? He points to the beast, like the Holy Spirit points to Jesus. He performs miracles. Like the Holy Spirit does through the apostles. He speaks and acts – the same way God speaks and acts through his Holy Spirit.
And he puts a mark on those who belong to the dragon. In just the same way/ the Holy Spirit HIMSELF is the mark on those who belong to God. The Holy Spirit is the seal of ownership, the downpayment from God guaranteeing our inheritance to come.
And if you don’t have this mark, you can’t buy or sell. You won’t fit in. Which descirbes pretty well how Christians sometimes feel in the world.
This month’s Australian Presbyterian carries the story of 18 month old Azerbaijani Luka Eyvazov who has been refused a birth certificate because his Christian parents have given him a Christian name. Without one, Luka cannot go to kindergarden or school, get treatment at a hospital or travel abroad.
Luka’s father was encouraged, instead, to choose the name of a famous Azerbaijani poet or writer. He replied “Children are from God. Luke, as one of the gospel-writers, will still be famous when all the poets and writers are long forgotten.”
Life will be difficult for little Luka because of the name he carries. Which is nothing more than God promised here in Revelation.
And it’s nothing more than what WE can expect. We won’t fit in when we refuse to pay cash to avoid tax. When we won’t shoplift with our mates, or get drunk at parties. When we won’t take the promotion because it means weekends and late nights working rather than doing things for God.
Let’s get practical. Who does this false prophet represent? If the FIRST beast represents institutions who attract our worship, then the false prophet is those things which highlight or point to, or advertise these things. The false prophet might be education, or the internet. It might be advertising or TV.
The false prophet is seductive. And we need to watch for his arguments and seductions.
- The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)
History 5 describes those who DON’T have the mark of THE BEAST. Instead the carry ANOTHER mark. Look at Ch 14 v1.
Rev 14:1-2: 14:1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. NIV
They belong to the Lamb and his father. And while they miss out on buying and selling, they’ve got exclusive rights on SOMETHING FAR GREATER. A new song to God and the Lamb. V3
Rev 14:3-5: 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. NIV
They’re distinctive. Holy, Pure. They’ve been purchased for God, Payed for by the of the Lamb. Redeemed.
And they’re standing on Mt Zion. Standing with their Saviour – with the Lamb. And they’re singing a song before the throne.
- The three angels (14:6-11)
And then, into history 6, an angel comes along. With a message for the world. A message which God’s people have already taken to heart. The eternal gospel. V7. Fear God and give him glory
Rev 14:7: Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” NIV
And then another angel gives the flip-side. V9.
Rev 14:9-11: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. NIV
A dreadful picture. And one that should make us weep. If we really catch the significance of the words.
Interlude: Comfort for the Saints (14:12-13)
And just like the seals and the trumpets. After a series of six, we get a break. An interlude. A chance to catch our breath. You can see it there in v12. What this all means for us.
Rev 14:11-13: ” 12 This calls for PATIENT ENDURANCE on the part of the saints who OBEY GOD’S COMMANDMENTS and REMAIN FAITHFUL to Jesus. : 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: BLESSED are the who die in the Lord from now on.” NIV
- Judgment Day (14:14-20)
And, while the picture of judgment continues into the seventh history. Another description on judgment day. This is the message for John’s hearers. And for us.
In the midst of counterfeits. Of things which LOOK powerful. Or permanent. Or effective. Or which promise happiness, or success.
They’re only pointing us to judgment. And desctruciton. And punishment.
And so, we need to patiently endure. Keep our eyes fixed on the REAL Lord. The REAL Saviour. Keep obeying. Keep faithful. Keep trusting HIS promises. That TRUE blessing is only found in him.