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The Unholy Trinity and the Counterfeit Kingdom

Jim Thompson - 6/23/2024

Scripture: Revelation 12-14


In the scope of Revelation, chapters 12-14 give us the clearest picture of God’s enemy, and this enemy is an Unholy Trinity of sorts. It is seen as three different beasts in John’s vision: a dragon, a sea beast, and a land beast. And together these three are seeking to advance a counterfeit kingdom. Of course, these realities are cheap imitations and poor parodies of ultimate reality, namely, that the True Triune God has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth in his Son Jesus and in the power of his Spirit. But here’s the scary part: 

  • One of the main ways that the enemy tries to advance his counterfeit kingdom is through earthly politics.

Now, some people balk at this. But this is not to say that all earthly politics are demonic. That’s not the Bible’s claim. But Revelation 12-14 suggests that one of the dominant tactics of the enemy is to get people to care way too much about politics, to the point that they’re consumed. The enemy wants your ultimate source of identity to be who you vote for. He wants you to get angry with and dehumanize people who vote differently than you that you’ve never met. He wants you to get your sense of earthly security from any earthly idealism. Think about the narrative that large-scale politics sells you. It’s a fear narrative that the other people are going to rob you of what you hold dear, that the other people are uneducated and don’t really know the truth, that if the other person is elected, you’ll be forced to say and do certain things that you don’t want to say and do. 

These things don’t mean you can’t be grateful for our country. These things don’t mean you shouldn’t participate in humble civic engagement for the greater good. But the implication for us as Christians in America is direct. Revelation is exhorting us: “Don’t hold fast to Christ with one hand and hold fast to America with the other. Or any earthly empire.” It’s framed like that to us because it was framed like that to the seven churches of Revelation. To them, John pastorally warns them: “Don’t cling to Jesus with one hand and hold on to Rome with the other so that you can dodge some persecution or get a tax break. Jesus is more worthy than that!” 

So what do we do? If that’s true, how should we respond? This is so annoying. This is way easier said than done. This is so fragile and nuanced. But what should it look like to follow Jesus against the backdrop of earthly politics that are often animated by the enemy? If the devil is the Puppet Master, and Empire is one of his favorite puppets, how do we live wisely knowing this reality? Yes, we are citizens of earthly kingdoms, and we should be faithful citizens. Yes, Romans 13 says we should submit to governing authorities. But Revelation 13 says that sometimes they’re being used deceptively to distract us from Christ. How do we juggle that? How do we stay faithful to Jesus and not get sucked in by the political schemes of the evil one? 


  • How do we remain loyal to Jesus by resisting the counterfeit kingdom of the enemy?

Enter Revelation 12-14. The political nature of these chapters is undeniable, especially around the sea-beast and the land-beast of chapter 13. First of all, in the Bible, beasts aren’t made in God’s image, but humans are. And when humans don’t live according to God’s standards, they become beast-like. This happened to King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. All the Egyptian pharaohs were snakely, even on their hat crowns. In the book of Daniel, the oppressive nations of Assyria, Persia, and Greece are seen as a lion, a bear, and a leopard. And the beastliness of Revelation 13 is the Roman Empire. Even today, our politics are characterized as between a donkey and an elephant. 

Beyond this, using Old Testament imagery, the ten horns and ten crowns are claims to full royalty and strength (13.1). The seven heads are likely seven different emperors of Rome (13.1). And this Imposter Trinity tries so hard to be the True Trinity that it even tries a fake gospel for the sake of its imposter kingdom (13.3). The first beast even obnoxiously runs his mouth (13.5-6), which is still seen in unhealthy politics. And when John finishes describing the first beast, he pauses to remind his friends that this is all about loyalty to Jesus and resisting the Enemy’s counterfeit kingdom. He says, “This is a call for the perseverance and faithfulness of the saints” (13.10). Meaning, don’t yield. Don’t bow. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Take both hands and cling to Christ. Do not put one hand on Christ and one hand on Empire.

But there’s another beast. This second beast is trying to get everybody on earth to worship the first beast (13.12), and you can tell by the language used it shares a kind of authority with the dragon and the sea beast. Furthermore, there is a kind of religiosity to this second beast. It’s trying to stir up false worship. This is the enemy’s strategy to marry Religious Worship to Empire Politics. But the second beast is also trying to mess with money (13.16-18). And to us, money doesn’t feel innately spiritual or political even. However, you can tell what you worship by how you spend your money. And what you prioritize, you idolize. This is the game plan of the second beast, to force people into total allegiance to the Unholy Trinity and his Counterfeit Kingdom. This is the actual meaning of “the mark of the beast” in 13.16-17, that people are marked by unshaken allegiance to beastly politics.

And with Revelation 13 in view, Revelation 14 finalizes an answer to our question. After the beasts, John looks and sees “the Lamb and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on the foreheads” (14.1). What’s this? This is God’s people with total allegiance to God alone. Not divided allegiance. Not one fist clenched to Christ and one clenched to Empire. This is “the mark of the Lamb,” and nobody talks about this. But the implications of it are strong: If people can describe you and your life without talking about Jesus, are you living in total allegiance to him? If people keep tabs on how you spend your time, words, and money, would they encounter a crucified and risen Christ? If people can watch your life and not be forced to think about Jesus, is your life completely incomplete?

And those with the mark of Lamb are known for their singing (14.3), for not sexually defiling themselves (14.4), for not lying and saying obnoxious stuff like beastly politics (14.5). But the most concise definition of these people is “that they follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (14.4). This is the great rejection of the beast when people choose to follow Jesus the Lamb wherever he goes. Why do we follow him wherever he goes? Because he has already been through death and out the other side. And this is the great downfall of the devil when we don’t take the bait, but rather, we swear total allegiance to Jesus. We have the mark of the Meek and Lowly Beast, the Slain Lamb. He is our unimpeachable king. And self-giving love is the currency of his Kingdom. Sacrificial love is how his economy works. He exercises his reign with grace and truth. And when we live like that’s true, we spite the devil and smother his plans. Succinctly, 

  • We resist the counterfeit kingdom of the Enemy by following the Lamb wherever he goes.

Yes, the enemy wants to lure us in. Yes, he wants us to get our identity and security from earthly politics. And also, yes, we are called to live wisely and humbly and gratefully wherever God has placed us. We are absolutely called to be faithful citizens. But the way we do this is by pledging supreme allegiance and loyalty to Jesus above everything else. And even though there may be earthly offers of identity and security from dragons and bears and lions and leopards and donkeys and elephants, there is only one source of unshakeable identity and eternal salvation, and that is the Lamb. He alone wins in the end.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.