Revelation 13 – The Beasts

Read Revelation 13

Multiple times in this chapter John writes, “this calls for wisdom.”  I believe it is important that we heed this call, not jumping to conclusions about things too quickly.  Much of what John sees here once again draws on images from the visions of Daniel chapter 7.

The first beast the John sees, which comes out of the sea, is the beast that we first met in chapter 11.  We have already talked about this beast as the “antichrist” figurehead in Revelation; a personal antichrist meaning a demonically empowered human.  Yet there have been other interpretations about this beast as well.  Some believe that this beast represents the Roman Empire which would have been easy to see at the time of John’s writing with the amount of persecution and hatred towards Christ and the Church at that time.  Still, others look at this beast and see a sort of “anti-Christian” political power that has arisen and/or will arise.  Rome would have been just one of a number of political powers that have arisen and will rise up to persecute the church in the “last days.”

If you read Daniel 7, and I highly suggest that you do, you’ll see some of these same images.  The ten horns with their crowns represent the comprehensive nature of the beast’s sphere of authority and power.  Each of these ten heads has a blasphemous name on it as well.  Especially during the Roman empire as well as in most of the empires prior, the rulers assumed titles of deity and were often worshiped as such.  Though this doesn’t happen by title today, at least not often, I wonder if we act as though the government, or particular leaders within it, is our “savior” and how we act and participate around such things is something akin to “worship.”  If this were the case, we might actually be looking at a sort of antichrist in our midst even now.

That the beast comes up out of the sea is an important point that could often be overlooked.  In Hebrew culture, the sea was feared as being chaotic and primal.  Genesis 1 talks about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters prior to creation.  Indeed, on day 2, God has to separate the waters before He can continue in the creative process.  On the sea, one was vulnerable to storms, waves, wind, and any number of sea creatures that dwelled within it.  The first beast comes out of the sea, out of the chaos indicating that it has some level of divine power, perhaps even creative power.  Nothing, however, that the beast can do is out of the realm of God’s control.

Others have seen the sea as being representative of humanity.  Human life is chaotic as well and, amid the vast sea of humanity, with all of its war and disasters, politics and oppression, apathy and idolatry, the beast could arise to offer some semblance of hope or direction for the human race.  Once again, though, it is important to understand that any power that this beast has, like that of the dragon or the other beast, is all granted by God, and is just as easily taken away as we will see.  In fact, Scripture reminds us multiple times in this chapter that the power and authority of the beast “was given” and therefore lies within the scope of God’s ultimate authority, power, and control.

John sees a second beast that comes out of the earth.  This beast has often been classified as the “false prophet” of the first beast.  For many, it represents a religious component to the secular/political control and conquest of the first beast.  We see that there is worship involved in a story similar to that of Daniel 3.  There is also a level of divine power that is exhibited through the second beast, calling down fire from heaven and doing other signs that would seemingly link him/her to the prophets of Scripture.  Once again, however, this beast’s power is limited, which was undoubtedly a comfort for Christians in that time who were facing death for not participating in Roman worship.  It can and is a comfort now as well, to those who face the prospect of death in places like the middle east.  No matter how hard the enemy tries, even death itself cannot separate us from God because we are in Christ.

Finally, we come to something that is quite familiar, even to those who are not necessarily familiar with the rest of the Bible: the mark of the beast.  There have been numerous attempts to decode what these numbers mean.  Many people believed that this was code for the name of the Roman emperor at that time, Nero.  Variations of that number show up in official Roman documents and seals from Cesar at that time.  Others have pointed to other possible meanings found in people throughout history.  Nero in particular, was a great persecutor of Christians, starting and sustaining one of the worst and most violent times of persecution against that Church that ever existed.

Another interpretation of this points to an “unholy trinity” that we have just witnessed.  The dragon and the two beasts represent the sum total of the divine (or divinely empowered) opposition to God.  Whereas the number that represents God is 7; we have seen it multiple times throughout Scripture and especially in the book of Revelation (lampstands, stars, trumpet judgments, seal judgments, bowl judgments, spirits of God, days of creation, etc.).  The number 6 then would be the number of imperfection.  God’s number would be 777, a holy number of completion and fullness.  Satan’s number, 666, is a number that represents evil and imperfection as each number falls short of the perfect number seven.

John reminds us again here that this calls for wisdom and indeed it does.  Christians have spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to figure out what the “mark of the beast” could possibly be in the modern world.  With the advent of implanted chip technology, something that may replace credit cards and be responsible for all identification and commercial transaction someday, Christians have been given new fodder for thoughts about the “mark” as well as who the “beast” is.

I can’t honestly say that I know whether or not these chips if mandated someday, would be a modern realization of the “mark of the beast.”  I don’t wish to speculate on that either as I said in the introduction of this book.  One of the main points that is being made at this point in Revelation is the contrast between those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and those who put their faith in worldly things.  Such things could easily be technology, government, economy, or specific leaders; all could qualify as a type of antichrist, asking and possibly even demanding that people place their hope in it rather than in Jesus.  Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.

For instance: Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.  In fact, the Apple symbol has defined a certain segment of people.  Neuroscientists say that thoughts of Apple products for some of its most loyal fans actually lights up the same portion of the brain as that of religion for those who are devoutly religious…  interesting right?  It is an interesting coincidence that Apple Pay (and its competitors like google) is becoming one of the leading ways to pay for things and do all forms of commerce.  I’m not saying that Apple Inc. is the beast and its

I’m not saying that Apple is the mark of the beast or that Steve Jobs is the antichrist (though there are some that believe that).  But I do think that it should cause us to pause for a moment and think about the priorities that we have in life.  Is the latest and greatest Apple product (or other technology) more important than our relationship with Christ?  Are there other things in life that we prioritize and emphasize over and above our faith?  Those things, no matter what they are, will always lead us to an incomplete, unfulfilled life that falls short of all that God calls us to.

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