“The Unholy Trinity: The False Prophet (Part II)” – Revelation 13:12b-14a

by Roger McCay
8 October 2023
Sermon Passage: Revelation 13:12b-14a
Link to Audio Version

“The greatest threat to orthodox Christianity is not other religions but false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed.”[1] Buck Parsons states this in his article “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” in Tabletalk magazine. He then gives this chilling description:

False teachers creep into the church not because they look like false teachers but because they look like angels. They disguise themselves just as their master Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. When false teachers attempt to creep into the church, they typically don’t look like wolves because they wear sheep costumes and use some of the same language that the sheep use. They regularly quote Scripture, and they are often able to quote more Scripture than the average Christian. False teachers are not always argumentative or divisive; often they are some of the nicest people we know. They usually creep in not with scowls on their faces but with big smiles. They don’t normally creep into churches and teach obvious heresies and falsehoods; they usually subtly question the truth and teach partial truths, and they are not always identified by what they actually teach but by what they leave out of their teaching. They often speak of Jesus, salvation, the gospel, and faith, but they twist the words and concepts of Scripture to fit their own versions of the truth, which is no truth at all.[2]

Last week we identified the second beast of Rev. 13, as “the high priestly aristocracy” of the Jews—essentially the religious leaders of the Jews with the high priest at their head (contemporary to NT times). And we touched on why John, later in Revelation, refers to this beast as the False Prophet (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; and 20:10). We also considered how Satan used the False Prophet as a tool against God’s Kingdom: murdering the Christ; actively suppressed the teaching of the gospel, so to keep the Jewish people in the dark and away from the living and true God; persecuting those who came into the light of Christ; and actively seeking to destroy the church, the true heirs of the covenant of grace in Christ. The Gospels and Acts are full of stories of their evil ways, and Jesus did not mince words concerning them, saying they were, “of their father, the devil,” and even referring to their synagogues as “synagogues of Satan.”

Centered at the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priestly aristocracy was destroyed in AD 70, with the destruction of the Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Jewish nation. Those of whom it consisted (refusing to repent and turn to Christ Jesus in faith) now suffer in the lake of fire and sulfur with the beast (according to Rev. 19:20 and 20:10). Then history tells us that the Jews in the Roman provinces (centered around the synagogues) continued on for some time carrying out the False Prophet’s Satanic mission, leading people away from the Messiah, and persecuting Christians.

Even today, the fallout of the False Prophet echoes in Judaism, as its leaders continue to lead the Jews away from the Lord, his grace, forgiveness, and salvation in Christ. So let us remember the Jewish people in our prayers.

As for Christians (whether Jew or Gentile), there is also a contemporary equivalent of the False Prophet. Within Christian religious contexts (churches; para-church ministries; other movements that are labeled as “Christian; also in books; videos; television, and all sorts of sites on the internet), in person and in media, false teachers (like the False Prophet) act according to Satan’s will against Christ and his Kingdom. When we don’t recognize Satan’s influence in Christian religious contexts (in the form of false teachers), tragedy can result. False teachers distort the truth of Christ and his Word: misleading people into believing a lie rather than the true gospel; bringing division into the church with their falsehoods; leading churches and denominations into apostasy and moral and ethical corruption; working to undermine the church, even the Kingdom of God.

Yet, we are not without the means to recognize and resist false teachers. As, Parsons observes:

[False teachers] typically don’t attempt to creep into churches where the Word of God is preached boldly and passionately, in season and out of season, and where the people are eager for the sound preaching of Scripture and are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, they usually target those churches where the people are indifferent to doctrine and apathetic about the preaching of the Word of God.[3]

So, let’s consider the symbolic imagery John uses to describe the way the False Prophet deceived the people of Israel. Verse 12 says, the False Prophet “makes the Land and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” Last week, we briefly considered how denying Christ is to deny God himself (1 Jn. 2:23; 2 Jn. 1:9). So, when the Jewish high priestly aristocracy turned their backs on the Lord, they turned to another god. Thus they lead the people of the Land astray, speaking according to the voice of Satan, corrupting their teaching of the people and worship at the Temple.

This reality is very important for us to understand. In Christ Jesus, the Old Covenant was fulfilled and made obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Rejecting Christ, Judaism, led by the high priest and the Jewish religious leaders, was invalidated, becoming apostate. They withdrew themselves from the Lord’s Covenant of Grace completely by rejecting the fulfillment of his Covenant. They did not like the way God fulfilled his promise to his people, in Christ, so they became God-deniers. Like Paul and Barnabas told the Jews who rejected the gospel (at the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia), since they “thrust” the Word of God “aside,” they judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). So, Judaism rejecting Christ, became apostate, abandoning the worship of the God in whom eternal life is found.

True worship of the living and true God of the Bible who identified himself as YHWH, the “I AM,” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:14-15; 20:2) is to worship God as he’s revealed himself. And God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom eternal life is found. To deny Jesus is to deny God in his totality, and numerous Scriptures testify to this fact. [4]

So, John tells us that the Jewish religious leaders made “the Land and its inhabitants worship the first beast.” Remember, this is symbolic language. The Jews, as far as we know, did not actually fall down before the first beast and worship him. Rather, this speaks to the spiritual reality of idolatry. Since they were not worshipping the true God, they were idolators. Thus, the Jewish religious leaders lead the people of the Land of Israel, the Jews, in idolatrous worship.[5] And as we saw when we studied the first beast, to worship the first beast was, in actuality, to worship Satan, who was the power behind the first beast (The Roman Empire and its emperor, symbolized by the 7 heads of the (Rev. 17:10), with the 6th head being Nero).

But how was their worship idolatrous, even worship of the first beast? Well, to answer this, it helps to consider the larger biblical context of worship in the Temple, the nature of the Temple and activities in the temple in John’s time, and the spiritual implications of sin.

Consider the Temple itself. You may know that the Temple, which stood during the time of Christ and his apostles, destroyed in AD 70, was built by Herod the Great. Construction began in 20 BC, finished in AD 63. Josephus describes Herod’s motivations for building the Temple, in his book Antiquities of the Jews:

To “make [the Temple] larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection, and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him.”[6]

“The most glorious of all his actions” and “an everlasting memorial of him.” Herod was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, whose tribe had been forcefully converted to Judaism a few generations before. He was a murderous tyrant, appointed by Rome over the Jews and a servant of the Roman Empire. Herod sought to make a name for himself (like those who built the tower of Babel – Gen 11:4), with numerous building projects, and especially with the Temple. So, he tore down the second Temple, which the returning exiles had built, saying it was too small. Yet, dedicated in 515 BC, Zerubbabel’s AKA Ezra’s Temple was built at the command of the Lord so that he might be properly worshipped and glorified (Haggai 1:7-8; Ezra 1:2; 6:16-18). Even so, working with the Jews (who did the labor), with no command from the Lord, Herod tore down the Temple ordained by God and built another temple, building it for his own glory.

So, considering the circumstances of its construction, “Was it really a legitimate Temple of God?” This is fruit for a hearty debate. But Rabbi Chaim Clorfeme, in an article for The Jewish Magazine, makes this startling statement:

Herod removed Ezra’s Temple, stone by stone, right down to the ground, and then removed the foundations and built an entirely new Temple of his own. Herod enlarged the Azora (Inner Courtyard) which was forbidden by Halacha without a Sanhedrin of 71 judges, a Jewish King, and the Urim and Tumim (the oracle of the High Priests Breastplate). Herod, who was not Jewish, had murdered all the members of the Sanhedrin; the Urim and Tumim had not existed since the destruction of the First Temple. In effect, the Second Temple described in the Mishna and the Rambam was an illegal structure, doomed to destruction from the very day it was built. [7]

Now, Josephus records that at least one person on the Sanhedrin (he mentions two) was not murdered by Herod (instead of all of them),[8] but Clorfeme makes a point worth considering. At the very least, I think we can reasonably say that the legitimacy of Herod’s Temple is in serious doubt, if not just flat out illegitimate.

Even so, true worship is from the heart centered on God and not a building (Isa. 29:13-14; John 4:23-24).

Further, have you ever considered how unimpressed Jesus was by the Temple, which was praised as one of the great wonders of the world?[9] For example, Jesus and his disciples, having just left the Temple, had this conversation in Mark 13:1-2,

13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Then there were Jesus’ accusers at his trial before the high priest and Sanhedrin, testifying that Jesus had said, “‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’ (Mark 14:58).” Kenneth Gentry points out, “Now they lied when they said he would destroy the temple by himself. But the fact is that he spoke against the temple, and the phraseology here is “made with hands.”[10] Stephen, who was accused of speaking against the Temple, also used this phrase, “made with hands,” in Acts 7:48, before the high priest and Sanhedrin. The phrase was a term of accusation against the Jewish leaders, consistent with the term “work of human hands,” that spoke of idolatry, in the OT. In the OT, the term or concept was in many cases used to speak of idols. Deut. 4:8, for example, prophesying that the people, in exile, would “serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands.” Also Ps. 115:4, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands,” among other passages. [11] Paul likewise was accused of using the term for this purpose in Acts 19:26, where “Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis,” accused him of saying “gods made with hands are not gods.” Like the term angered the Jewish leaders, it also angered the pagans who profited off of idolatry.

Jesus also, in Matt. 21:13 (concerning the Temple), accused the Jewish leaders of turning what was supposed to be a house of prayer into “a den of robbers.” And when Jesus departed from the Temple, after pronouncing the woes on the scribes and Pharisees (including essentially calling these Jewish religious leaders “children of hell” – Matt. 23:15) … after the seven woes, Jesus said, “your [meaning Jerusalem’s] house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:38) Notice, he didn’t say “God’s house.” He said “your house.”

Gentry comments on the significance of all this:

John’s imagery denounces the temple as an idol. This is something that we need to recognize … that the Jews so clung to their temple, they so loved that structure, and the high priest loved the income that it brought them, they so loved the structure of their temple that when they heard their Messiah was speaking out against the temple, that they condemned the Messiah in order to protect the temple, for the temple therefore became for them, an idol.[12]

So, v. 13: “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people.”

Now, the word “signs” here, speaks to something that points to something else. So, what is that something? Well, the fire coming down from “heaven” is specifically given, serving as a reference, pointing to past signs that God provided to show his approval of worship. In the OT, God brings fire from heaven down onto altars four times. Once with David and another with Elijah.[13] Then, perhaps more relevant to Rev. 13:13, there were two incidences of God bringing down fire in order to consecrate and ordain sacrificial worship: first on the altar in Tabernacle (Lev. 9:24); and later on the altar in the Temple of Solomon (2 Chron. 7:1). In the context of Rev. 13:13, the sign of the fire coming down from heaven thus hearkens to the supernatural nature of the worship of God, in the Temple, as he ordained and approved it. Gentry explains:

These dramatic OT miracles powerfully affirm that the fire of the worship altar is God’s fire, a fire from heaven. This “fire from heaven = God’s fire” is true even in the non-miraculous, God-ordained altar fires that follow. These would be continuations of the fire that God himself started. In fact, in Rev itself we see that fire coming down from above derives from the altar — in heaven itself (8:3-5; 14:18).[14]

But, in the context of the false worship of the beast, in Rev. 13:12, John’s imagery serves as a symbolic statement that the priesthood’s claim that their current temple worship continues to be ordained and approved by God is utterly false.[15]  As Gentry puts it,

“The high priesthood is now thoroughly corrupt. They’re merely claiming the status they once had. The priesthood is mimicking the original glory of temple worship, where God himself started the fires that ignited the first of the sacrifices.[16]

So, the sign of fire coming down from heaven, was the priesthood’s operating “as if their worship is from heaven itself from whence the first fire of God fell.” [17] But it was all a lie.

Verse 14: and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on [the Land], telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.”

The temple worship the high priesthood continued to engage in, with its sacrifices and so forth, were signs they used to deceive “those who dwell on the Land.” In the ongoing Temple worship, the people of the Land were assured that all was well, when all was not well. John is saying that in their heart, the religious leadership was not truly worshipping the Lord, but were rather worshipping the beast (to whom they owed their authority, power, religious prestige, and even their own temple).

This is consistent with Biblical precedents. For example, in Isa. 66:3, the Lord (through the prophet) condemns Levitical Temple worship as being idolatry due to the orientation of their hearts:

He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.

The prophet Samuel equivocates rebellion and presumption (i.e. rejecting the Lord) with idolatry (1 Sam. 15:23). Jesus equivocates hatred with murder and lust with adultery (Matt. 5). And Paul equates greed with idolatry (Col. 3:5). So, as Gentry explains, “For John, the high priest’s role in securing Christ’s death and persecuting the Christians, for him is worship of the beast.” And this idolatry thus carried forward into their Temple worship.

The high-priestly aristocracy was sold out to Rome, with the high priest appointed by Rome, worshipping in a Temple built to the glory of a king appointed by Rome. Their allegiance was to Caesar, not to the Lord, as they cried, “We have no king but Caesar.” Thus, v. 12 describes the False Prophet as exercising its authority “in the presence of the beast,” which speaks to its subordination and subservience to the Beast. Further, as Gentry suggests, “The high priests actions are not overtly to get the people to worship Rome. But, because of the deception, not letting the people know they depend upon Rome for their own power, they promote the worship of the beast indirectly.” Essentially, their corrupted teaching and example deceived the people of the Land, leading them astray from the truth, their own Messiah, and the Kingdom of God, with the Beast at the head of the train.

And wasn’t this deception right in line with Jesus’ critique of the religious leadership? Time and again Jesus accused them of falsehood with their big shows of righteousness, when inside they were, as he says to the scribes and Pharisees, “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27-28)—appearing “outwardly beautiful,” but “full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Expressly, by appearing “righteous to others, but within … full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” They were spiritually dead inside, putting on a show for people to make them think they were righteous, as self-promotion. Jesus slammed these hypocrites for, as Gentry sums up,

“religiously but hypocritically, … loudly praying on street corners (Mt 6:5), engaging in showy religious fasts (Mt 6:16), doing various religious works, and wearing extravagant religious attire (Mt 23:5). They do this so as to be “noticed by men” and so that they could receive “honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Mt 23:5).”[18]

Furthermore, with their rejection of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the great “I Am,” who was the fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system, their worship was all a lie because it excluded the Messiah and his work. Jesus’ death on the cross brought an end to the sacrificial requirements of the Law of God (Matt. 5:17-18; Romans 10:4). Any sacrifices they made on the altar after his death were void and a denial of the Christ. Jesus made the sacrifices obsolete (Heb. 8:13). As John Piper puts it, Jesus “was the final unrepeatable sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 9:11-12).[19] In that vein, Jesus likewise fulfilled the priesthood, rendering “the priesthood that stood between worshiper and God”[20] as obsolete (Heb. 7:23-24). And the torn curtain in the Temple was a sign from God of this truth (Mark 15:38; Heb. 10:19-20). Yet, the Jewish religious leaders kept on putting on a show, but the show was a lie put on by whitewashed tombs.

And, Lord willing, we’ll pick up with the rest of Rev. 13:14, next week.

Now, for us today, false teachers in Christian organizations, such as the church, and other contexts labeled “Christian” … false teachers are likewise whitewashed tombs, deceiving people away from the truth of the Lord, serving the purposes of Satan. And like the False Prophet, the heart motivations, the idols of false teachers infect those whom they lead.

We see false teachers in various so-called “Christian” cults that pop up. We see them in some progressive movements in the church, twisting the truth in order to incorporate the values of the culture into the church. We see them bending theology to harmonize with politically correct movements and political agendas for the left and the right. We see them put forward supposedly “new” ideas about Jesus (which are really just re-packaged heresies, counter to orthodoxy).

False teachers can be so persuasive, with magnetic personalities that draw you in, making you want to trust them and follow them. We must be wise to their evil!  And the Lord has enabled us to be so. As Buck Parsons assures:

The surest way … to prevent and stop the spread of false teaching is for Christian leaders and laypeople, pastors and parishioners, teachers and learners, to be committed to the sound preaching of God’s Word and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Only then will false teachers be recognized for who they are and the sheep of Christ be protected from error.”[21]

My friends, you and I need to be in the Word of God, not only reading it, but soaking in it, taking it into our very soul. With the Spirit of God within us and armed with his Word, he enables us to ferret out false teachers and their teaching. So let us be diligent in our study of God’s Word, where we find confidence in the truth of Christ Jesus.

Because only the Lord God is “I AM,” his people should be confident in his Word.


[1] Buck Parsons, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” Tabletalk, vol. 42, no. 4 (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministires, April 2018), 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cf. John 1:1-5; 8:58; 10:30; Heb. 1:2-3; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 1:9; and so forth.

[5] Attempts to worship God outside a right relationship with God (in rebellion against him) is unacceptable to God, even when done in the forms given in his law. He despises and refuses such worship (cf. Amos 5:21-23; Isa. 1:11-15; Jer. 6:19-20). After the coming of the Messiah (the Christ), denial of him is to deny God (in rebellion against him), and one cannot be in a right relationship with God outside of Christ (John 14:6). A person or people who attempt to worship God only as that person or people prefer him to be (and not as he actually is) are, in fact, worshipping a god of their own making—an idol. In such a case, the reality behind the rejection of God has become an idol in place of the true God.

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 423. Antiquities of the Jews, 15.380.

[7] Chaim Clorfene, The Third Temple: Israel’s Missing Link, The Jewish Magazine, Feb. 2007, accessed 6 Oct. 2023, http://www.jewishmag.com/111mag/temple/temple.htm.

[8] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.175; 15.2-3

[9] The Lord would not let King David build His temple because he had shed too much blood (1 Chron. 22:8), so it seems strange that anyone would have thought that the Lord might be pleased with Herod tearing down the temple to build one for his own glory.

[10] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 3, lesson 16.

[11] Cf. 2 Kgs. 19:18; Isa. 37:19, Isa. 44:10-20; and Jer. 10:3-5.

[12] Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, lesson 16.

[13] 1 Chron. 21:26 and 1 Kgs 18:38.

[14] Kenneth Gentry, “The Land Beast & Great Signs (1),” PostmillenialWorldview.com, accessed 6 Oct. 2023, https://postmillennialworldview.com/2022/09/27/the-land-beast-and-heavenly-fire/.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, lesson 16.

[17] Gentry, “The Land Beast & Great Signs (1).”

[18] Kenneth Gentry, “The Land Beast & Great Signs (2),” PostmillenialWorldview.com, accessed 6 Oct. 2023, https://postmillennialworldview.com/2022/09/30/the-land-beast-and-heavenly-fire-2/.

[19] John Piper, “How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime” desiringGod.org, accessed 6 Oct. 2023, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-christ-fulfilled-and-ended-the-old-testament-regime.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Parsons, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” 2.