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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Revelation 13:13 states that the false prophet “works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth.”* What does that mean?
Fire is an interesting symbol in the book of Revelation. Most of the time it is a symbol of God’s judgment against the wicked (e.g., Rev. 8:5; 14:10), which at times preserves the servants of God (Rev. 11:5). It is often associated with the G odhead. For instance, John saw in the heavenly sanctuary “seven torches of fire,” identified as a symbol of the Spirit (Rev. 4:5). Fire is also related to Christ: “His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14; cf. Rev. 2:18; 19:12); “His legs [were] like pillars of fire” (Rev. 10:1).
Fire in the Bible is a theophanic (manifesting deity) element. Often when God manifests Himself to humans, His presence is compared to or is associated with fire. Possibly the most important example in the Old Testament is the experience of the Israelites at Mount Sinai: “And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (Ex. 19:18). His fiery appearance indicates His presence in a particular place while remaining distant and unapproachable because of His holiness.
The expression “fire came down from heaven” is also used in Revelation 20:9. In this case fire is an instrument of divine judgment against evil forces that attempt to take by force the Holy City. This usage is different from the one recorded in Revelation 13:13. The false prophet makes fire come from heaven in order to deceive the dwellers of the earth. The incident of Elijah on Mount Carmel provides the biblical background for this symbolism.
The Israelites had been worshiping Baal, and the prophet confronted them with a choice: the Lord or Baal. Elijah indicated that the true God would reveal Himself by making fire come down from heaven (1 Kings 18:20-39). Baal was unable to meet the requirement. Elijah prayed, the fire of the Lord fell from heaven, and the people shouted, “The Lord, he is God.” The miracle was a clear manifestation of the Lord’s presence and served to identify the true God over against a false one.
Revelation 13:13 describes an attempt to falsify the presence of God through miraculous activities in order to persuade the dwellers of the earth that in the cosmic conflict the evil powers represent the true God. As a result of this false theophany, many will worship the dragon and the beast (verses 4, 12).
The greatest genuine theophany ever witnessed by the human race is about to take place. Paul refers to it as “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior” Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). This unprecedented event will take place at the Lord’s second coming.
The symbolism of making fire come down from heaven indicates that the false prophet will try to validate or authenticate his pretended divine mission to the world through the performance of miracles. But I’ll venture, based on the previous paragraphs, a more specific interpretation.
In the descriptions of our Saviour’s return in the New Testament, fire plays an important theophanic function. The one who is coming back is our “God and Savior.” A good example is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:7: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” It appears to me that for the apostle, the symbol of fire coming down from heaven points to the glorious event of the second coming of Christ. Then it will be transparently clear to the human race and to the evil forces that Christ is indeed our true God and Saviour.
If this suggestion is accepted, we could conclude that Revelation 13:13 describes an attempt on the part of the evil powers to imitate Christ’s second coming in order to deceive the human race. “And no wonder,” Paul wrote, “for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14 ).
Let me remind you that the evil forces have no power over those who belong to the Lord. They were defeated by Him, and His victory is our victory. They will never be able to imitate perfectly the Lord’s coming. They “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev. 17:14).
*Scripture references are from the Revised Standard Version.