Only God can create life, yet the image of “the beast” in Rev. 13 is said to have breath. What is the nature of the image of the beast? Is it (the image) a robot controlled by a super computer? Something else?

This is one of nine prophetic questions asked by a brother I met. Most are opinion questions. They show that the one asking them has an excellent working knowledge of the end-time events as they are recorded in scripture. He understood that his questions could not be answered with a specific, “Thus says the Lord,” and appended a note saying that they were food for thought. I am not especially attempting to answer the questions here since much of what I would write would be speculation. Rather, I want to use the questions as an occasion for commenting on the whole of prophetic study.

Prophecy speaks of any message from God delivered by His prophets. Not all prophecy has to do with future events. (1) The prophets often spoke of conditions that existed in the very day when they spoke, and they delivered messages expressing God’s will concerning those conditions. (2) Some of what they spoke had to do with the very near future, and their credentials as a prophet of God were established by the certain fulfillment of what they spoke. (3) Some of the messages of the prophets had to do with events several hundred years beyond their time, but those events have now taken place and their words have been fulfilled. Examples of this latter are the prophecies of the first coming of the Lord Jesus. Finally, some of prophecy has to do with things yet future to our own day, especially the events of the second coming of Christ. In this article we are using “prophecy” to speak primarily of those future things relating to the second coming. It is often the portion of prophecy people have in mind when they speak of prophetic things.

There is a sizeable segment of Christian people who “have no use for prophecy.” These regard it as being so difficult to understand that “nobody knows what it means” and believe it only brings trouble. They believe, as some have expressed it, in living right in the present and doing the work of a Christian now and leaving all those future things to God. They can make their position sound reasonable to those who are not aware of the Bible emphasis on prophecy. They tend to dismiss all efforts at understanding the prophetic scriptures as “speculation” and regard prophecy as being a non-essential, an unnecessary portion of God’s word.

Any fair-minded person must admit that there have been abuses, wild claims, and serious misuse of prophecy (as has been the case with most Biblical themes). This misuse must not drive us from the proper use, however. Prophecy is a part of the whole of scripture which is inspired of God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter likens it to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Pet 1: 19). It is intended as a light for our pathway even here and now. A specific blessing is given in the book of Revelation to those who read, hear and keep it (Rev. 1:3). Jesus instructed His hearers, “Let the reader understand,” as he spoke of a certain prophetic matter (Matt. 24:15), and He called His disciples friends because of His desire to reveal to them things to come (John 15:15). More could be cited to show that our Lord meant for Christians to study and understand prophecy as certainly as anything else in the Bible. It is not a commendable attitude which dismisses this portion of God’s word as being unworthy of our attention, and it is a serious offense when Christians treat with suspicion or rebuke those who seek to understand what God has spoken.

There are some prophetic matters which receive so much attention in the scriptures that there is really very little basis for any lack of agreement concerning them, at least in general outline. Those who believe them certainly cannot be fairly accused of speculation. One would almost have to have help in believing anything else.

Then there are those areas of prophecy that begin to open up to the student of the Bible as he becomes aware of the entire scriptures, fitting the various passages into their proper place, trying to believe in “all that the prophets have spoken” (cf. Luke 24:25). These things may require some measure of Christian growth and some chewing on the “meat” of the word, but they are also part of the revelation of scripture. What may seem fantastic or speculative to the babe in Christ is recognized as blessed truth. In this area it will be necessary for the more mature Christian to exercise patience and forbearance with the less mature, and the less mature should at least recognize their limitations and withhold judgment concerning the other. Personal limitations, laziness in study, or a learned bias should not somehow become an excuse for depriving others of blessing.

As we begin to flesh out the outline of prophetic events we sometimes find ourselves in an area where God has not given a specific answer, where the scripture could be fulfilled in several different ways, or the answers are somewhat vague for some reason. This gray area needs to be treated with care since it may be our dullness that keeps us from understanding. I am persuaded that God may have told us a lot of things we have not had the spiritual discernment to see. One of the great surprises of eternity may be in discovering how much this was the case. Even so, there are things God has not revealed, either by choice, in consideration of our present limitations, or for some other reason. There are matters that even the most spiritually developed persons recognize as being vague. I do not believe it is wrong for us to speculate on some of these things so long as we realize and clearly keep in mind that we are speculating. Such a process may cause us to search the scriptures for answers and may lead us to discoveries of what has been revealed.

Of course there is a danger that some will mistake their opinions for fact. One does not have to deal with prophecy to become guilty of wresting the scriptures. If the attitude is wrong, that can happen with any theme or portion of scripture we may choose ( cf. 2 Pet3:16). It is not an unknown thing for speculators to bind their views on others. There is no intention of defending a wrong use of speculation. We do need to apply scripture to our age and needs, however, and the question, “Could the Lord have been speaking of this or that in our day?” is often helpful. We do not always have to have an answer that is clearly black or white before we can reap a benefit.

In this light, let us look at the question given at the first of this article. It is my opinion that the image will receive life from the agent of Satan. I am aware that only God has life and immortality, but God sometimes grants His power to other beings when it suits His purpose. Satan is a supernatural being and it is not inconceivable that God has allowed him supernatural power to give life in a limited way. However, in view of Satan’s deceptive ways and the developments we have seen in our day, the proposal that the image is a robot controlled by a super computer is not some kind of nutty idea. While God is never limited to the inventions and developments of man for carrying out His purposes, He has often used them (The ark, for example, was a material object built by man, not a supernatural gift from heaven). We live in a day that allows for some fairly simple fulfillment to things that once seemed utterly impossible except for the power of God.

So, what is the benefit of this speculation if I cannot know that God will use computers, nuclear destruction, etc., in the fulfillment of the judgments of Revelation? My concern for the possibilities could make me more watchful: could make it easier to believe in the literal fulfillment of the prophecies; and could make me more in awe of the power of God, seeing He has allowed such developments to man. Unless we make application of the truths of God to the events and needs of life we may miss a great deal that God means to tell us.