Paul is getting personal here with the Galatians. He knows they are struggling in their faith walk because of the agitators trying to confuse them and cause them to feel unworthy. Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? What do you do? Perhaps you’ve tried to do something to get people to like you, accept you, allow you into the “in-crowd.” Paul is not only acting as their pastor but as their friend.
When we get off track, we often need someone to pull us back up. Paul is doing that by taking them back to the beginning. “Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News.” Paul doesn’t need to go into the details of his illness, because that statement alone will take the believers in Galatia back to their first encounter with Paul. We may be curious as to what was afflicting him, but it doesn’t matter. Paul reconnects with them by having them remember.
Who better to teach on the law than Paul? After all, he was so zealous in upholding it and enforcing it prior to his conversion experience. There is also the promise of God to Abraham we can’t overlook. The promise came first, and the law didn’t abolish it or change it. “For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.” We read yesterday about how that promise of God now extends to us because of Jesus.
Paul asks a question we are probably all asking, “Why, then, was the law given?” We could probably all give our answer to this question, and scholars across the ages have wrestled with it, too. Simply put, God knew we needed it. I love how Paul gives us the picture of the law being our guardian as we waited for Jesus. As a guardian, the law gave us a measuring stick of our sinfulness. It protected us by giving us rules to live by. It also allowed the mediators and judges to have a basis to rule on “legal” matters. God knew his people would need to have these boundaries to keep them safe from their sinful tendencies and from being weak in the face of temptation.
The dragon now has another agent to help with his corruption of the world. It’s a little creepy how we see the formation of a demonic trinity here. Did you notice the attempts to “appear” similar to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Look closely. But these creatures truly represent false prophets because true prophets will lead people to God the Father, not a dragon or beast set on destruction.
It was in today’s passage that the “famous” mark of the beast is revealed. I say famous because it seems like most people associate the number 666 with the book of Revelation. Many times, that’s all people really know about the book. Yet they don’t truly understand what it means. And did you notice in the footnotes that some manuscripts record it as 616 instead of 666?
I’m pretty sure that everyone who reads Revelation is waiting to meet the beast. Not really “meet” as in a face to face encounter, but it’s who we’ve been expecting to see. There is a lot of attention given to the beast, so let’s figure out what we can about him.
We know that as Chapter 12 came to an end, the dragon was waiting for him. The text in 12:18 read, “Then he stood waiting on the shore of the sea.” We didn’t know then what the dragon was waiting for. But the fact that John’s vision included that gave me pause to wonder “waiting for what?” People often wait for “their ship to come in,” an idiom for the anticipation of success or wealth. Surely after his defeat in heaven, the dragon (Satan) was waiting for success.
I love the picture here of God giving the people what they asked for. They wanted to hear from God, but they didn’t want to hear his message directly again. It had really scared them in the wilderness. They thought they were going to die. Moses had become that spokesperson, but he wasn’t making the trek into the promised land with them. God would raise up another prophet or many others.
How would they know if it was a true prophet or just a false imposter? This is the answer. “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message.” Depending on the prophecy, it might take days, months, or years to know if a prophecy was from God. That could seem like a lifetime to be following the wrong message.