What are the overall details of the False Prophet in the Book of Revelation as summarized by scholars and what are your recommendations for scholarly materials on this topic? I think that too much attention has been given to the Beast/Antichrist. The False Prophet is of central importance as much as the Beast in the End Times World Order.
Thanks for your question! For almost every question about the Book of Revelation, there are lots of different answers. So I wouldn’t want to generalize and say that there is widespread agreement on the question of the False Prophet. However, there are two trends in the scholarship that I would point you toward. One sees this figure (who is introduced as “another beast” in 13:11 before later being referred to as the false prophet in 19:20) as a parallel to the Jewish monster, Behemoth. Behemoth was well known in Jewish circles of the time as a beast from the land (see 13:11), paired with the beast from the sea, Leviathan (the first beast of 13:1 comes from the sea). In this reading, the author of Revelation draws on mythical creatures that represent opposition to God and God’s designs and brings those ideas into the world of his first century readers.
A second prominent reading understands the false prophet as a reference to worship of the emperor, which was common in Roman territories, including the cities of Asia Minor. The indication that the second beast makes people worship the first beast points in this direction. Christ-believers living in Asia Minor would have been familiar with the imperial cult and may have had questions about the extent to which they should avoid it. John’s message is very clear that this should be avoided because it aligns people with these beastly forces.
Neither of these views understands the language of Revelation as predicting a specific, future individual who inaugurates the Day of the Lord. Although many interpreters have taken that approach to Revelation, most scholars do not. Instead, Revelation is similar to other prophetic books of the Bible, which, although they may speak about the future, are largely concerned with the present of the author and his hearers. The prophet calls the people to account for their sins and gives them a divine view of their situation. Similarly, Revelation speaks of the end time, but calls people to live in ways that are faithful to God. The false prophet represents those cultural forces that beckon the faithful away from the path God wants them to walk. Even if we do not worship an emperor today, Christians today might see parallels in the kinds of social and political forces that seek to take God’s place in our lives, or deceive people into caring more about them than we do about God’s teachings.
Here’s just a few good scholarly books on these topics:
-David Aune, Revelation 6–16 (vol 2; Word Biblical Commentary; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998, pp. 755-771.
-Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), chap. 11.
-Brian Blount, Revelation (New Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), pp. 256-263.