As students of the Bible, we often come across certain words or phrases that appear to be absolutes. For instance, in several places, Scripture prophesies that the Beast's empire will subjugate "the whole earth." While this sounds as if the Beast will rule over the entire globe, David Grabbe reveals from Scripture that this phrase and others like it can describe a more limited area.
Who is the Woman of Revelation 17 and 18? John Ritenbaugh explains that this fallen Woman displays no religious characteristics but instead acts as a city or nation involved in the politics, economics, and culture of its time. What nation fits the symbolism?
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the second beast of Revelation 13:11-18, offers his speculative interpretation. Both beasts appear to be end-time entities (having a brief but horrifying 3 1/2-year tenure), serving as counterfeits of the Two Witnesses. Both beasts derive their power from Satan the Devil. The first beast rises out of volatile, ever-changing political turmoil, while the second rises out of an entrenched, worldwide religious system, totally opposed to God's laws. The second beast will be able to perform lying wonders, have capital authority over the lives of "heretics," and cause an identifying "mark" on the forehead (representing thoughts or attitudes) and right hand (representing physical activities) of those who voluntarily take it. The number 666 seems to represent the number of ultimate human imperfection (humanism) apart from God—as opposed to the number of ultimate godly perfection.
Ron Sellers, a religious trend watcher, sees great instability in world religion, and it is mirrored in God's church. Richard Ritenbaugh shows how this dovetails with Bible prophecy of the end time.
John Ritenbaugh warns that, as the calamitous events of the end times intensify, we need to be able to determine what is important and what is marginal, devoting our energies to what Christ is most concerned: overcoming human nature and developing faith in God's ability to provide. Will we trust God in the basic areas of life—food, clothing, and water—or compromise, accepting the mark of the beast to save our physical lives (Revelation 13:11-17)? Doing this would indicate our acceptance of the beliefs of the great false religious system and brand us an enemy of God. The mark on the forehead and hand signifies submission of mind and deed to this foul system (contrasted to Deuteronomy 6:8), willfully disobeying God's commandments (particularly the Sabbath - Exodus 31:13) and denying Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
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