He envisioned, molded and underwrote what was arguably the greatest political dynasty the United States has ever witnessed. Joseph Kennedy was determined that his sons would fulfill the political ambitions he was unable to fulfill himself. The most significant piece of advice that he gave them was to guard carefully the image they presented to the public. “You must remember,” he told them earnestly, “it’s not what you are that counts, but what people think you are.” That philosophy not only steered the careers of four generations of Kennedy politicians, but also has become one of the prevailing principles of image building for public figures of all kinds.
Such thinking is to be expected in a world system where everyone is out for Number One. What is of greater concern is how this philosophy has made its way into the Body of Christ. In today’s high-tech Church world, where thousands of ministries compete with each other for a piece of the evangelical pie (and all of the fame, prestige and money that goes with it), the image conveyed by mega-church pastors, best-selling authors and famous radio personalities is often carefully cultivated to ensure a positive public perception.
Before we discuss the image of the beast, we should probably look at what the Bible says about image building. For instance, the Pharisees would have fit right into the world of Kennedy politics—and Jesus gave them a sound rebuke for it too. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28) He had a few other choice things to say to them as well. The point the Lord was making was that the most important aspect of a person’s life is not his public persona but the reality of what is going on inside.
The apostle Paul made the same point from a positive perspective when he told true believers that they have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of” Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29) He also said that they “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…” (2 Corinthians 3:18) He obviously isn’t saying that we will come to look like Him physically, but that, as we mature spiritually, we will come to resemble Him inwardly.
Unredeemed earth dwellers—both pagans and apostate Christians—will one day “worship the beast and his image.” (Revelation 14:11) Now, I don’t want to press this too far, but I can’t help but think of Jack Kennedy when considering people worshipping someone’s image. To this day, he is the prototype of the perfect president in many people’s minds. I suppose he was a pretty good president, but I just can’t see that he accomplished that much for our country during his limited time in office. How then do we account for the fact that to this day multitudes of people absolutely idolize him? I would suggest that it isn’t the man who is so adored but the image that his political machine cultivated. If people really came to grips with his incessant cheating on his wife, the way he manipulated female interns into having sex with himself and his friends, the dirty politics he was involved in and so on, perhaps they wouldn’t hold him in such high regard.
I don’t know if the image of the beast referred to in Scripture is this kind of public persona or if it is some sort of spectacular laser imaging cast across the sky, but I am positive about one thing: the smiling, ingratiating politician who will one day gain the admiration of the world’s population will masterfully conceal his true satanically-possessed nature.
It is interesting to me that when Paul broached the subject of the Antichrist in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, that he coupled it with the Great Apostasy. “Let no one in any way deceive you, for [the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” (2:3) There are many defining statements about the Apostasy in Scripture—too many to mention here—but I can tell you that I am convinced that it is unfolding before our eyes right now.
The Apostasy is a term describing a spiritual phenomenon that is happening on a vast scale. The inward spiritual life and all that it represents (love, dependence and submission to God) will die off, while an outward semblance (image) of Christianity will be maintained. Paul said apostate Christians would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power…” (2 Timothy 3:4-5) That is one of the most concise definitions of apostasy found in Scripture. I could reword it thusly: “Apostate Christians will continue to present a pious image to others while, at the same time, giving their hearts to the things of the world and resisting the inward work of the Holy Spirit.”
By the time the Antichrist emerges on the scene, nominal Christians will not be able to resist his adorable personality and powerful persuasiveness because they have long since given their hearts over to the spirit of the world which animates him. These very same people are currently flocking after false teachers (wolves) with carefully cultivated images (sheep’s clothing). They are already worshipping the image of the media personalities who are teaching them the kind of self-centered Christianity their itching ears desire.
Paul’s words have never been more true: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
You see, if a Christian (I use that term loosely) has a track record of conveying a godly image to those around him, rather than fighting for a godly inward life, he will not have the discernment to recognize the false teachers of today or the Antichrist of tomorrow. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is putting himself in the same pride-based spirit that rules their lives.
Joseph Kennedy (along with ambitious leaders and false teachers) believed that image is more important than character: “…it’s not what you are that counts, but what people think you are.” No, Mr. Kennedy; in the end it is what you are that counts, not what people think you are, “for at the Bar of Christ we must all appear in our true characters, that each may reap the results of the life which he has lived… whether good or worthless.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 TCNT)