Revelation 13 (NRSV)
The First Beast
Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.
Having seen a terrifying dragon expelled from heaven, John now turns his attention to the two lower realms, where the forces of chaos and evil are still at work: first the sea and then the earth.
–Ian Boxall (and all following comments in blue)
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. 4 They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
5 The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.
However powerful the monster appears to be, and however much it threatens the Church, God is ultimately in control and granting permission for this temporary state of affairs to exist. Revelation ultimately rejects a cosmic dualism between two opposing gods or principles of good and evil. God may not actively will the activity of the monster, but God’s world is such that it is allowed to function . . . only for a limited time.
It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
This deeply meaningful title for Jesus reminds us that God’s plan of redemption was set in place before He even created the beings who would be redeemed. God wasn’t “surprised” by the fall of Adam or any other evidence of the fallen nature of man. God isn’t making it up as He goes along. It is all going according to plan.
- God the Son had a relationship of love and fellowship with God the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:24)
- The work of Jesus was ordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20)
- God chose His redeemed before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
- Names are written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8)
- The kingdom of heaven was prepared for the redeemed before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34)
9 Let anyone who has an ear listen:
Mark 4:9 (NLT)
Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Perhaps the exalted Christ is interrupting here, too —
10 If you are to be taken captive,
into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword,
with the sword you must be killed.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
This call for the faithful perseverance of the holy ones is a call that has resounded across the centuries. Against the backdrop of Nazi dominance in 1930s Germany, for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer urged the German churches to become a distinctive community which listened to the Apocalypse.
The Second Beast
11 Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.
John’s description of the second monster anticipates its ability to lead human beings astray. First, it has two horns like a lamb’s horns — a satanic parody of the slaughtered yet risen Lamb: its lamb-like appearance, without the assistance of insight, could easily lead to a case of mistaken identity, even amongst Christians. When it opens its mouth, however, it speaks like a dragon. Its ultimate dependence upon Satan, whose words it utters rather than the true words of God, becomes clear.
12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all;
–like Elijah did with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18
14 and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; 15 and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.
Those persuaded to worship the monster are forced to receive a branded mark on their right hand or on their forehead. It is probably an allusion to the branded mark or tattoo imposed on slaves or prisoners of war, often made on the forehead, which proclaimed that its recipient now belonged to another. The Jewish John would probably also detect a demonic parody of contemporary Jewish practice, whereby phylacteries containing words of the Shema were bound on the forehead and the left hand.
But whatever allusions underlie this description, the branded mark is not a physical mark but a symbolic one. It cannot be seen by the naked eye (any more than the sealing of God’s servants), but only in apocalyptic vision. It is the demonic counterpart to those who have the name or seal of God or the Lamb on their foreheads. It is a mark of ownership, a reminder that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21). It marks out those who belong to earth from those who belong to heaven.
Given the starkness of the choice — heaven or earth? the Lamb or the beast? free or slave? — it is utterly clear, and we joyfully choose God! HERE is Hillsong and “I Belong to You.”