The Bible predicts the end-time figure known as “The Beast” or the Antichrist will make an image of himself. The image is described as having supernatural power and being deeply associated with the Antichrist. This image is a much bigger deal than we imagine (Revelation 13:14, 15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). It seems to be a key part of Satan’s end-time strategy, but God is going to answer Satan’s strategy by demonstrating His nature through His church.
The purpose of an image (idol) in the ancient world was to provide an expression for the deity represented. The image was not the fullness of the false god, but the image was a way of making contact with the god. It was a touchpoint—a physical expression where the god became embodied for the sake of worship and encounter with the otherwise invisible deity. The image of a god was only a touchpoint—a way to “channel” the god so to speak, not the actual god. If we confuse the image (idol) of a god with the actual god will miss what the image is.
This difference between a god and his image is why ancient Israel could destroy idols and end idol worship, but the eradication of idol worship never destroyed their false god. Often after destroying idols, another generation in Israel would restore the idols and again worship the image of false gods. The gods transcended their images. The images were not the god itself, but the touchpoint.
The image in the book of Revelation serves the same purpose. The image itself is not the dragon, but it is an idol whereby humanity can worship and encounter the dragon. Like an ancient idol, the image is the touchpoint between the invisible realm and the material realm. It is not the fullness of the dragon, but it will be a tangible way to encounter him. He will manifest himself through his image (not just one image but many images will be spread through the earth, just as there are many idols of a god). Therefore the book of Revelation predicts his image will speak and even kill people who decline to worship.
The image will be a tangible manifestation of the normally invisible dragon. Though he will fully express himself in the person we call the Antichrist, the image serves a very valuable purpose of filling the earth with physical manifestations of the dragon. The Antichrist—a dreadful physical incarnation of the dragon—will only be able to be in one place at a time. He can only receive worship in one place at a time. However the earth will be filled with images that can receive worship. These images will be for the purpose of material contact between people and the dragon. The image will receive worship and the dragon will in turn manifest himself through the image.
Both Satan and God will fill the earth with a physical manifestation of themselves during the end of the age. However, there is a profound difference in how they will be embodied:
Satan (“the dragon”) will embody himself in the Antichrist and in the image. Both will be a physical manifestation of who he is. Because the Antichrist can only be in one place at one time, the image will be the touchpoint that most people use to encounter and engage with him in a physical form. The image will be everywhere throughout the earth and will be the primary touchpoint with Satan for the vast majority of humans. Therefore, Revelation makes worship of the image equivalent to worship of the beast. It is the same to worship the beast (physically encounter the dragon in human form) orworship his image (the way the majority of humanity will encounter the dragon):
11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:11 ESV)
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4 ESV)
The church will overcome both the beast andhis image and this indicates the prevalence and power of the image. It will be the primary test for the vast majority of humanity and the primary way the dragon is embodied in the nations.
God will also embody Himself and fill the nations with a physical manifestation of who He is. Rather than embodying Himself in an idol, God will embody Himself in the end-time church. Before the appearing of Jesus, the church will become the primary physical manifestation of God in the earth. This of course does not mean in any way the church will be God nor does the church receive worship. However, the church will be a physical manifestation of what God is like and a physical touchpoint through whom the nations will encounter the presence of the living God.
God will be physically manifest through His end-time church in such a way that it draws worship and attention not to the church, but to the God who dwells in her midst and has so profoundly transformed a group of people into a “new creation”—a new humanity profoundly transformed by the presence of God in her midst.
Jesus described this reality to His disciples. Whenever we gather—He is in our midst. He manifests Himself through His church:
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20 ESV)
This is a profound difference between the Satan’s kingdom and the church at the end of the age. Satan manifests himself through an image. God manifests His presence through His people.
This will be the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20–21 ESV)
Jesus prayed that we would dwell in God in such a way that it would become an evidence to the earth that He was sent by God. Jesus’ logic was fairly straightforward. The mystery of His identity is that He is a man and yet God. He is not just a man sent byGod, He is sent fromGod in a unique way because He is God. The concept that God can fully express—manifest—Himself in a human being is impossible for us to grasp mentally. However, Jesus prayed for the Father to give the world physical evidence of Jesus identity as a human in whom the fullness of God dwells. The church is that evidence.
The answer to Jesus’ prayer is a church which dwells in God in such a substantial way it makes the idea the fullness of God can dwell in a human being completely reasonable. The end-time church will be a people who are a witness and an evidence to the nations the fullness of God is in a human—namely Jesus. That evidence will be the measure to which that people dwell in God. God will manifest Himself so profoundly though His people that the full manifestation of His nature in Jesus will be a realistic idea.
When people encounter the end-time church they will encounter God in the midst of His people. The church will become a physical touchpoint between God and the nations just as profound as the dragon’s image. Just as the image will speak for the dragon, the church will speak for God. Just as the image has the ability to kill on behalf of the dragon, the church will have the ability to offer life on behalf of God.
While Satan will require the earth to encounter him primarily through his image—God will require the earth to encounter Him through His people. The invisible dragon will become visible through his Antichrist and his image, and the invisible God will become visible through Jesus andthrough His people. The presence of God will be physically manifest on the earth through His people. Though the church will not receive worship like the dragon’s image, people will encounter God’s glory, nature, and physical presence when they are in the presence of the church.
Though God is only fully embodied in His Son, He will embody Himself in the earth in His people. Likewise, Satan will be fully embodied in the Antichrist and yet globally embodied in the image.
The difference in the way God and Satan choose to embody themselves at the end of the age gives tremendous insight into their nature and character. Satan does not share himself. He desires worship which only exalts himself. He refuses to share his “glory” with his people. He only wants abject obedience. He only wants to be celebrated, feared, and served.
God, on the other want, desire to share Himself. The worship of the true God goes more than exalt God—it also exalts His people. His people are not exalted in the sense of receiving worship, but exalted in the sense that God invites them into His family and transforms them into a new creation. God does not share His worship, but He does share His glory with His people. Jesus was made the “firstborn among many brethren” because God wanted a people He could share Himself with.
The nations will encounter Satan through cold, dead idols that demand worship and kills those who refuse. However, the nations will encounter the living God through His people. A people who will be tangible manifestations of the God who embodies them. They will be the ultimate evidence of His Son and the physical embodiment of God at the end of the age.
We need a fresh vision for this glory in the church. This is what we are called to and we need to grasp the stark difference between the way Satan and God will embody themselves at the end of the age.
The image of the beast will be a prominent end-time theme—much more prominent than most people are anticipating. However, the end-time church will also be much, much more glorious than the images of the beast.