Organised opposition

In chapter 12 we saw something of the great struggle between God and the forces of evil. There was war in heaven and Michael and his angels prevailed over Satan. Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven to the earth. We learned that the dragon (Satan) was intent on destroying ‘the woman’ who represents Israel, but God protected.

In this 13th chapter we will meet the evil one’s companions and will see something of Satan’s activities on the earth after his ejection from heaven.

  1. The beast of the sea.

You will remember that John’s method is to describe what he sees. He is careful to tell us at the beginning of chapter 12 that he now observes a ‘sign’ it seems that hitherto John was observing depictions of real events, but now he would see signs; representations of real events. This requires careful interpretation on our part. The first sign John sees is a woman who represents Israel. John also described the sign of Satan and saw him depicted as an enormous red dragon with 7 heads, 10 horns and 7 crowns. Now in chapter 13 John sees a beast arising from the sea. This beast has features in common with the dragon but is distinct. Both the dragon and the beast have 7 heads, both have 10 horns, but the dragon has 7 crowns and the beast has 10 crowns. Each head of the beast described in chapter 13 has a blasphemous name. It is further described as having resemblance to that of a leopard, with feet like that of a bear and a mouth like a lion. What an extraordinary beast! Who or what can be?  We need to go back to Daniel as this beast has already been observed by him.

In Daniel chapter 7 we read of a vision in which Daniel sees 4 separate beasts emerge from out of the sea. The first is like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard.  The fourth beast is different: there before me was a fourth beast terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. (Daniel 7:7).  Daniel is given an explanation of this beast: The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. The beast seems to have two dimensions, it represents both a dominating kingdom as well as an individual person. We need to return to Daniel, but this time to chapter 2. Four empires were described to Daniel in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar: the Babylonian king you will remember had a dream and with God’s help Daniel was not only able to tell Nebuchadnezzar what his dream was he gave an interpretation. The dream was of a huge statue with a head of gold, arms and chest of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet and 10 toes of iron mixed with clay. The great statue was struck on the feet by a rock and completely collapsed until not a part of it remained, in contrast the rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel interpreted the dream by stating that each metal component represented a kingdom, beginning with the gold head which represented Nebuchadnezzar. The successive kingdoms would become more base until the final divided kingdom of iron and clay. The rock represented God’s kingdom which would never end and would crush the kingdoms, bringing them to an end. We can correlate this vision with the vision Daniel had of the strange beasts he later described in Daniel 7. The golden kingdom (Babylon) correlates with the lion, the silver kingdom (Media-Persia) correlates with the bear, the bronze kingdom (Greece) correlates with the leopard and finally the iron kingdom correlates with the composite and final beast. All of this information allows us firstly to conclude that the beast described in Revelation 13 is closely associated with Satan (represented by the dragon of chapter 12), and is representative of a final kingdom which God will replace with his eternal kingdom. We now need to ask what the 7 heads could represent and what the 10 horns could mean. This is not straightforward, but we have some clues in Revelation chapter 17 (v 9/10): The seven heads are….also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. It seems that these 7 heads represent successive kings probably representing the major kingdoms throughout history, each who has opposed God’s representatives on earth (Israel). The successive kingdoms are most likely Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome and this final kingdom: the heads seem to represent particular kings associated with these kingdoms. John says that each head has a blasphemous name: these entities are opposed to God. As for the horns, here’s Revelation 17: 12. The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. The horns seem to be kings contemporary to this final beast who will empower and support the beast.

John’s account in chapter 13 gives us another dimension to this beast: it represents a person. John describes one of the heads as having a seemingly fatal wound which is healed, and this enhances the beast’s reputation such that ‘the whole world is filled with wonder and follow the beast.’ John records that people worshipped the dragon (Satan) and the beast, saying ‘who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?’ This is both surprising as well as tragic, but it seems the seeds of this deception are already sown in our world, men and women have rejected the notion of God as a creator, they have rejected the truth of right and wrong and having done this are ready and willing to believe a lie.

The beast has a mouth! And he uses it to utter proud words and blasphemies. I was in a meeting yesterday at work, a video conference of ‘senior leaders’ telling us their plans. They each introduced themselves somewhat proudly and with not a little arrogance, ‘I’m the global head of this and that and I’m very important etc.’ I thought about the characteristics that mark Spirit filled believers: gentleness and meekness! There was little meekness on show at my meeting and such attitudes will characterise this beast, he will be proud and blasphemous. But his time will be limited: 42 months. It may not look it but God is in ultimate control. It seems that these events take place in the last half of this 70th week as we learned about from the book of Daniel. The beast will use his opportunity to blaspheme God, to slander his name and his dwelling place (from which he has been ejected) and all who have aligned themselves with truth. In the midst of this horror I find it somewhat encouraging that the scope in which the beast and the dragon operate is limited by God, they can only operate within God’s boundaries. But even with these restrictions, the beast will wage war against God’s holy people: this is Israel and we have seen that in chapter 12 the dragon will pursue God’s people but God will provide a measure of protection.

The beast also has authority over ‘every tribe, people, language and nation’: pretty much all of the inhabitants of the earth. But wonderfully there will be a few who remain true, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life! I understand that the literal translation of this verse goes something like this: the names do not stand or remain written in the book of life. This is consistent with Revelation 3: 5, He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. (see for example also Psalm 69:28, and Exodus 32:32). I think there is a case to be made that God’s book contains all names, but if we refuse to believe and submit to him our names are blotted out. For God’s people during this time the situation is far from ideal, they cannot resist or fight but must rather endure and remain faithful. As we have seen previously the church will be preserved from this period of tribulation but God’s people will be preserved in it.

  • The beast of the earth

John now sees a second beast. So we now have a dragon and two beasts. It seems as though this is a counterfeit trinity. This second beast looks innocuous – it’s like a lamb, but it speaks like a dragon. God’s people must be alert to the wiles of the devil, Jesus himself offered this warning: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

This beast exercises the authority of the first beast and forces worship of the first beast. This second beast is not without public demonstrations of power: John sees it cause fire to come down from heaven to earth in ‘full view of the people.’ This reminds us of the time of Moses when he went to Pharaoh with his brother Aaron and demonstrated God’s power. Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake, but Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate the miracle. Interestingly Aaron’s staff swallowed up those of the magicians but in spite of this Pharaoh ‘would not listen’ and his heart was hard. In the times of this beast men and women will see and hear the evidence of God’s two witnesses but they will harden their hearts and follow the miracles of the beast. John says the inhabitants of the earth will be deceived. Jesus warned of this very thing in Matthew 24:24: false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive…

Back in Daniel, during the exile of the Jews to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar built an image of gold and ordered everyone to worship it. Daniel’s three compatriots, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused and were thrown into the blazing furnace. This beast will do something similar. He too will set up an image, an image in honour of the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns and features of a leopard, a bear and a lion. In some supernatural way this image will speak and breath, failure to worship will be punished by death. It’s notable that in Daniel’s day God rescued, but in these coming days there will be no immediate rescue, just a call to endure and be faithful.

If we look back to chapter 7 and the 144,000 servants of God. They were protected from harm by receiving a seal on their foreheads. In contrast the beast will use his power of government to restrict economic activities to those who have his approval in the form of a mark on their foreheads and right hands. This will force everyone to decide: are they aligned with what is right and true or will they align with the forces of darkness and deception. Everyone will be involved, great and small, rich and poor, slave and free. This permanent mark will indicate ownership by the beast. John leaves us with something of a riddle. The mark is a number and it is somehow open to calculation for those with God’s wisdom. The number is 666. It seems that that for those who remain true to God that they will be able to discern this number as they go through these difficult days. The prospect of this period when Satan’s rule on earth is allowed its full expression is truly terrifying. If you are not a believer make your peace with God today, don’t delay another moment. If you are already a believer let’s invest or time and talents in God’s eternal kingdom.