REVIEW OF PREVIOUS POST: In the last post, I covered verses 19:17-19. In that discussion I emphasized the following topics:
The invitation by a mighty angel to the birds to come and feast on the bodies of those who are in the armies that are opposed to Christ.
A review of the career of the Beast, who is the leader of the armies.
A discussion to establish that the Great Battle of chapter 19 is the Battle of Armageddon.
PRESENT POST: In this present post, the following topics will be emphasized:
A discussion of the False Prophet and his function
A discussion of the Lake of Fire and Hades
A discussion of 20:21
VERSE 19:20: There may be details of the Great Battle, but almost none are mentioned except the outcome for the enemies of the rider on the white horse. First, the two leaders are disposed of: the Beast and the False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire. The narrative takes time to summarize the role of the False Prophet.
The term “False Prophet” is mentioned two other times in Revelation:
16:13: In the narrative concerning the sixth bowl of wrath, three unclean spirits--which look like frogs--come out of the mouths of three persons who are intertwined as initiators of evil in the last days. These three are the Dragon (Satan), the Beast, and the False Prophet.
20:10: The “Devil” (Satan) is thrown into the Lake of Fire, to join the Beast and the False Prophet.
The present verse (19:20) summarizes the activity of the False Prophet in such a way that it is obvious that this person is the same as the person who is described in 13:11-18. In that passage he is designated “another beast.” (13:11) There are two words that may be translated “another.” This instance uses “allos,” which generally emphasizes “another of the same type.” (One cannot over-stress this nuance.) So, this second beast has much in common with THE Beast of 13:1-10. In 19:20, the False Prophet is described as the one who did signs “in the presence of” the Beast. In a footnote in ESV, an alternative translation is given as “on behalf of.” The word literally means “before” or “in front of.” So, “in the presence of” seems to be an adequate translation. The meaning that is conveyed is that the False Prophet does these signs in full view of the Beast.
The signs were to deceive “those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image.” It is a minor point, but which came first--deception or capitulation to the Beast--is not clear to me. Did the False Prophet deceive people and this led them to receive the Mark and to worship the Beast, or did the False Prophet lead those who had capitulated into deception? If we follow the passage in 13:12ff, we find more details:
13:12: “It [the second beast or False Prophet)] exercises all the authority of the first beast [referred to, generally by me, as the “Beast”] in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” [The False Prophet uses its authority to COMPEL worship of the Beast.]
13:13: “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of the people,”
13:14: “and by the signs...it deceives those who dwell on the earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” [The outcome of the deception is to follow the directive of the False Prophet to make an image.]
13:15: “...and [the False Prophet was given authority so that he] might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”
13:16. “Also it causes all, both small and great,...to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,”
13:17. “So that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark…”
If we recapitulate these verses in chapter 13, we have the following:
13:12: The False Prophet compels people to worship the Beast.
13:13-14: He performs signs which deceive the people. In their deception, they construct the image of the Beast. This, we might observe, is a further step in Beast-worship. The idol is an image that people, in defiance of the Law of God, bow down to and worship; it is an outward and concrete expression of their inner Beast-worship. This comes about through the deception initiated by the False Prophet.
13:15: Although he has used persuasion through deception, he adds compulsion through the threat of death to enforce worship of the idol.
13:16-17: He also uses compulsion through economic sanctions to enforce another outward, concrete sign of loyalty to the Beast--the taking of the Mark of the Beast.
It seems to me that there is an interplay between compulsion and deception. People are compelled to worship the Beast. They are deceived into making an idol. They are compelled to worship the idol. They are compelled to receive the Mark of the Beast. We can see this kind of interplay in ordinary life. A person may feel pressure to “go along” with activities or attitudes that are disobedient to God’s will. But those activities are intermixed with deception. So, maybe the gang of business associates indulges in pornography. The newcomer feels the pressure--especially business pressure--to go along with the indulgence. At the same time, the pornography is regarded as really “good for you.” It releases tensions, helps you appreciate women, builds your masculinity. It may even be portrayed as “spiritual.” Eventually, the newcomer has “bought into” pornography as an essential part of his life. Somewhere down the road, he finally realizes that he is an addict who is serving what he thought was supposed to serve him, and he may see his marriage destroyed and his life a shambles. So, compulsion and deception have teamed up to pull the victim away from God into a destructive lifestyle.
As I consider the False Prophet, I ask: what is the function of the False Prophet? Why is it necessary to have a second person involved in this great deception of the world?
Before discussing that question, I should correct myself about the number of persons involved. In fact, Revelation makes clear that there are three persons involved: Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet. In 12:17 the Dragon, or Satan, is standing on the sand of the sea (I take that to mean on a beach.). Then, in 13:1, John sees a beast rising out of the sea. This is THE BEAST or Antichrist, whom Satan is welcoming. He is described in 13:1-10. The description makes clear that the Dragon is the one who motivates and empowers the Beast. 13:2b says “And to it [the Beast] the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” Moreover, the Beast brings glory to the Dragon. See 13:4: “And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast…” The False Prophet receives its authority from the Dragon indirectly through the Beast (see 13:12). Finally, notice how this unholy trinity is united in deceiving the nations. See 16:13-14: “And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits...who go abroad to the kings...to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.”
Back to the question of the function of the False Prophet: I think that he performs the role of a prophet, but on behalf of evil rather than righteousness. A prophet is a human who speaks on behalf of God. He or she has human frailty, but also has a connection to God through prayer. See James 5:16-18. It describes the power of prayer and uses Elijah as an example. James emphasizes that Elijah is human, yet he controlled the weather pattern (lack of rain and then rain) of a whole region. Of course he did not do this, God did so, but Elijah’s prayers were intimately involved. We know that, in connection with that whole episode, Elijah contested with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel and called fire down from heaven. Before he did so, he challenged the people of Israel: serve the true God. See I Kings 17-18. In his powerful contention with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal, Elijah was, as James says, only human. In fact his human frailty is illustrated in his fear of Jezebel and his fleeing to Sinai, as it is depicted in I Kings 19. But the significance of Elijah for the people was his very human persona. He is sold out to God, powerful in his proclamation of truth, effective in prayer--and all of this is coming from a human just like us. THAT GETS PEOPLE’S ATTENTION.
And so, here we have a man who is sold out to the Beast, powerful in his proclamation of lies, able to perform Elijah-like signs--and he is a human just like us. People are drawn into the web of deception that is centered in the Beast, who is inspired by the Dragon. They are drawn by this sold-out prophet, the False Prophet. So his role supplements the role of the Beast. And the Beast himself, though he will declare himself to be god (II Thessalonians 2:4), is really not the final resting place of the affections of the masses. Ultimately they are worshiping the Dragon (Revelation 13:4).
The punishment for the Beast and False Prophet is to be thrown alive “into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” The following are the mentions of this lake in Scripture (all in Revelation):
20:10: The devil (Satan--vss 20:7-8) is thrown into the same lake of fire.
20:14: Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. This probably a figurative way of saying that those persons who are spiritually dead and are in Hades are cast into the lake.
20:15: Anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake.
Most of us use the term “hell” to refer to this place of eternal punishment. There is another place--Hades--which is also referred to as “hell.” It is most vividly described in Luke 16:23ff, which is in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The following are uses of “Hades” in the New Testament:
Matthew 11.23: Capernaum will not be exalted but brought down to Hades
Matthew 16:18: Peter: on this rock Christ will build His church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it
Luke 10.15 see Matthew 11.23.
Luke 16.23: rich man in Hades in torment
Acts 2.27: You will not abandon my soul to Hades
Acts 2.31: Peter commenting on David’s Psalm, which is quoted in 2.27
Revelation 1.18 Jesus has the keys of Death and Hades
Revelation 6.8 Fourth seal: pale horse; rider was Death and Hades followed: given authority to kill with sword, famine, disease, and beasts
Revelation 20.13-14: sea, Death, and Hades all give up their dead...Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire = second death
It appears that Hades is a place where the unrighteous dead souls/spirits go and are held until the final judgment. Note the fourth seal in Revelation 6:8. Death is the rider of the horse, indicating it is the chief actor. But Hades comes along. It is as though Death deals its blows to kill people and Hades captures their souls to hold them. Note that this is depicting a particular time and is not necessarily a broad statement of all history. Nevertheless the close relationship between Death and Hades would apply to all history. Hades is not an eternal condition. Rather, its role ends at the “Great White Throne Judgment” of Revelation 20:11-15.
In the description of the Great White Throne Judgment, “books were opened.” (20:12) People are judged by “what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” (20:12) They also are judged by the Book of Life. (20:12, 15) Most evangelical Christians believe that one’s name is written in the Book of Life through faith in Jesus Christ. (People have some variations on that theme.) Those who are judged are said to be “the dead.” Yet, they are standing before the throne. (20:12) The inference that is drawn by many is that they have been resurrected. They have been resurrected and, if they are found deserving of eternal punishment--according to the “books” and the “Book of Life”--they are thrown into the Lake of Fire. The implication is that their bodies as well as their immaterial selves--soul and spirit--are thrown into this Lake of Fire.
I have dwelt on this only to make a contrast between these humans and the punishment of the Beast and False Prophet. Notice that they are cast into the Lake of Fire well before the Great White Throne Judgment. Notice that there does not appear to be a trial in which “books” are opened. Rather, they are summarily cast into the Lake. Obviously, the punishment is a just punishment. Moreover, just because “books” and a trial are not mentioned does not mean such a process will not occur. I think the narrative of the stark, rapid dispensing of punishment to these two men accentuates their evil.
Notice also that there is no death and resurrection for these men. They, as living humans, are brought up short. They have been having a good time deceiving the world and pretending that the Beast is god. It’s over in 30 seconds. Wherever the Lake of Fire is located, beyond the three dimensions that we live in, the Beast and False Prophet are transported there and, for an instant, they are staring into that horrific place and then find themselves hurtling down into eternal damnation.
VERSE 19:21: The final verse of chapter 19 ties up a loose end. “The rest” are the armies of the world and their leaders. The armies have been led by the kings to Armageddon, and now they must pay the price of following the Beast. They are slain by the sword that protrudes from the mouth of the One on the White Horse. This is Jesus Christ. I believe the sword represents His word. His word is life, but it is also death for those who will not receive His life. This death comes in this case in a violent defeat of these armies. What that will look like we have no idea. We are only told that the bodies will be food for the birds that were invited in 19:17.
This is the end of the Battle of Armageddon. It is, I believe the completion of the “appearance of his coming.” (II Thessalonians 2:8) This phrase is translated “brightness of His coming” in King James Version. The word “coming” translates “parousia,” which is a common term often used for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And so this Parousia of Jesus includes the Battle of Armageddon. Obviously, it involves a great deal more. I shall deal with some of that “great deal more” in the next post. In that post, I hope to make the case that this Battle of Armageddon is indeed a component of the Parousia.