#19 Revelation 13 (The Dragon's Beasts)Series: Revelation Class (Worship, Witness, Follow)
Empowered by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the offspring of the woman have conquered the dragon. The chief battle has been won and the dragon’s time is short; however, the war is not over. This frustration of the dragon’s powers has left the dragon enraged and ready to make war with those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
In Scripture, the sea is imaged as the dark source of chaos and evil. Daniel had seen four beasts rising from the sea to dominate the earth (Dan. 7). The fourth was particularly terrifying as it trampled the earth and made war on the saints. But judgment was issued against the fourth beast and the kingdom was given to the son of man and to the saints of God.
The dragon’s first means of waging war is a seven-headed, ten-horned beast that rises from the sea. This sea-beast acts similarly to the fourth beast in Daniel 7: uttering haughty words (Dan. 7:8, 20), speaking blasphemies (Dan. 7:25), making war against the saints (Dan. 7:21, 25), and dominating the earth with seemingly unstoppable [dragon] power (Dan. 7:7, 19, 23). In John’s day, this was an accurate description of the Roman Empire. However, John sees what appears to be an amalgam of all four beasts of Daniel 7 — part lion (Daniel’s 1st), part bear (2nd), part leopard (3rd), with ten horns (4th; dragon), and seven heads (like the dragon). John could have identified this beast as the fourth beast in Daniel (cf. 2 Esdras 11:39-40; 12:11), but the fact that he doesn’t may be a clue that John sees something more than only a symbolic representation of the Roman empire: he sees a symbolic representation of all oppressive empires that draw others to pledge worship to it. The empire that fits chapter 13’s glove must wear it. However, the Christians in the first century would have certainly though of the Roman empire (and appropriately so).
The empire is depicted as beastly because it conquers the saints and exercises dominating military, political, and religious powers. In this, Satan and his beasts offer cheap imitations of God and the Lamb and their kingdom.
- As the Lamb was slain and yet lives, the beast has a mortal wound that was healed (13:3, 12, 14). This forms the basis for worship of the beast’s military and political power. The beast can “die” and “rise” for its people like the Lamb can.
- As the four living creatures declared God to be holy and every creature praised God and the Lamb, the whole earth marvels at the beast, worships it, and declares its utter uniqueness (cf. ch. 4-5; Ex. 15:11; Isa. 44:7). “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?”
- Jesus has ransomed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation and they follow him wherever he goes (5:9; 14:4), while the beast is given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation (13:7) — many of whom follow him (13:3).
Why would anyone worship the beastly military and political might of the first beast? The softer exterior of the dragon’s second means of waging war explains. This beast rises from the earth and has horns like a lamb, but it’s just a front for the dragon. It is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The earth-beast directly subverts worship of God through false signs and imitation of God — calling down fire from heaven (as with Elijah in 1 Kings 18:36-39; 2 Kings 1:10, 12) and marking those who are safe from its punishments (7:3; Ezek. 9:4-6). God inflicts punishment on those who worship idols and God’s people declare that worshipping idols is vain — idols can’t walk or talk and those who worship idols become like them (9:20; Ps. 115:2-8). In a complete turn on this, the earth beast gives breath to the image made for the first beast and actually causes those who don’t worship the image or receive the mark of the beast to suffer socio-economic struggles and even to be slain. Idol-worshippers don’t suffer in the beast-run world — they thrive.
Those marked by the beast are marked with the its name or the number of its name: 666. Since we are told to calculate the number of its name, some have translated “Nero Caesar” from Greek into Hebrew and used gematria (the practice of assigning numerical value to letters) to 666. It is possible this is what is happening; however, this would require that John’s readers knew Hebrew. Furthermore, this may veil meaning when Revelation is intended to unveil. With six being one less than seven, ‘666’ is more likely intended to demonstrate the complete humanity of the beast’s name in contrast with the divinity of God’s name written on his servants (3:12).
Together, the dragon, sea-beast, and earth-beast form an unholy trinity. The dragon is like the one on the throne — the main source of power and authority. The sea-beast is like the lamb — being wounded and rising and receiving worship of all the earth. The earth-beast is like the Spirit of God in the witnessing churches — the propaganda and public relations power pointing everyone to the beast and the dragon. And yet, as terrifying as these powers are, the number of the name of the beast is the number of man, not God.