Rev. 12:17 -13:10
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
13 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 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 to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And 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 And 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. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.[i]
In Revelation 12, we saw a vision describing the entire history of the world painted with very broad strokes with Old Testament colors. Satan, the great red dragon and disbarred prosecutor of heaven, is at war with Messiah the Promised Seed. Though the enemy can no longer prosecute God’s people in heaven, he still persecutes people on earth by lobbying them to pursue their own ungodly ideas of what’s “good” for them: their own plans for life, their own wants, their own demonically-inspired idols of self-generated happiness, their own self-salvation projects.
The visions of beasts here in chapter 13 are further explanations of how the devil works in the world to fight against God and God’s people. It’s a picture version of what John will later preach to his congregation in Ephesus in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”[ii] Satan and his demonic forces use governments, societies, false religions, and make-believers in attempts to overcome God’s advancing kingdom.
Revelation was written primarily to the suffering saints of 1st-century Roman Asia for their comfort and encouragement as well as for ours. It was not written to function as newspaper articles of future history where demonic locusts are Chinese attack helicopters and John F. Kennedy is the wounded head of the 7-headed sea beast that returns to life. (Seriously, I heard that one growing up in the 1960s!)
Revelation uses pictures and symbols to convey the simple idea that God, in and through Christ Jesus, has already won the battle for his saints. But our earthly victory is our faithful worship during suffering – NOT our taking over culture and ruling the world. These pictures and symbols, colors, numbers, images, and strange animals are to be interpreted by their use in the Old Testament. In Rev. 12:17, John saw the dragon standing on the seashore; the Old Testament reader would understand a dreadful evil was coming from the realm of the chaotic abyss.
What arises from the sea here in Revelation is far more real and dangerous than the giant radioactive octopus that attacks San Francisco in the 1955 science fiction monster film, It Came from Beneath the Sea. Dangerous sea creatures are part of humanity’s collective mythology because the sea has always represented the unknown and the untamable. Consider movies like Jaws, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, or the most-excellent Syfy Channel classics Sharktopus and Sharknado (1-5).
In both the Old Testament and in Revelation, the sea represents the chaos of unredeemed humanity (earth-dwellers). In Rev. 17:15, John receives this angelic interpretation, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” [iii] (see also: Isa. 17:12; Dan. 7:3; Jer. 51:13, 42, 55, 56; Ezek. 26:3).[iv] The beast imagery of Revelation 13 comes first from Job 40 and 41 where the land beast is called behemoth and the sea beast is called Leviathan. The land beast (θηρίον, 40:15–24) is to be slain by God with a “sword” (40:19; cf. Rev. 13:10, 14). The sea “dragon” (δράκων, Job 40:25) conducts a “war waged by his mouth” (40:32). “Burning torches” and “a flame” go “out of his mouth” (41:11, 13). “There is nothing on earth like him” (41:25). Both are thus given demonic attributes, and both are described as “made to be mocked by the angels” (40:19; 41:25 LXX).[v]
The next Old Testament color of this beastly painting comes from Daniel 7. Daniel’s four beasts represented successive empires that would rise to harm God’s people. Ultimately, the final beastly kingdom would be defeated by the Son of Man. Daniel wrote, “But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.” [vi]
To the people of Roman Asia in John’s day, whatever came to them by the sea was considered foreign. Whatever came to them from their land was native. The land beast and the sea beast represent the dragon’s power over the entire world, foreign and domestic. One of the initial representatives of the sea beast to John’s readers would have been the Roman Empire, whose governors came by sea to Ephesus. The land beast represented the native political, economic, and social authorities.[vii]
In his vision, John sees the sea beast rising slowly out of the false-baptismal waters and describes each part as it breaks the surface. He sees “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.”[viii] The parallels to Satan, the great red dragon, connect the sea beast to his master. The sea beast’s horns and crowns show the devil has foreign powers, rulers, thrones – all human authority – under his control. While the dragon rules over everything earthly, the sea beast is one of his means of controlling governmental authority. It symbolized the devil’s persecuting power embodied in all the governments of the world throughout all history.[ix]
The sea beast’s seven heads mimic the dragon’s seven heads. It speaks to his seeming indestructability and suggest the completeness or fullness of it power. John explains this in verse 2, “And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.”[x] The blasphemous names on its head point to the false claims of deity made by earthly rulers and governments. Roman emperors, like many rulers both ancient and modern, gave themselves titles like “lord,” “savior,” “son of God,” and “lord and god.” In John’s day, Emperor Domitian demanded sacrifices be offered to him and required the worship of his image throughout the empire.[xi]
The sea beast’s body is a composite of dangerous predatory animals. The description combines the different beasts of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7 into one: a leopard with bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth. Each of Daniel’s animals represent a succession of kingdoms to oppress Israel. John’s vision suggests the beast he sees is greater than any individual empire. It is a composite of all the empires, governments, and societies throughout history that have stood, or will stand, against God and his people. “Without exception the imagery of the sea monster is used throughout the OT to represent evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people.”[xii]
Is the sea beast the Antichrist? Yes, if we understand the term as John uses it in his sermon to the Ephesian church and in his letter, 2 John. John is the only one to use the term, so it’s reasonable to allow John to interpret the word for us. In 1 Jn. 2:18 he preaches:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.[xiii]
Many become Antichrists through their promotion of theological error and their immoral lives. In 1 John, John was referring to Cerinthus, one of his former church elders who combined gnostic doctrine with pseudo-Christian teachings and built a very large false church in Ephesus that led many of John’s congregation astray.
Cerinthus taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body because the physical body was an evil thing. Therefore, whatever we did with our bodies had no spiritual consequences. “Christians” were free to indulge the flesh any way they wanted. So, in 1 Jn. 4:2-3, John preached:
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. [xiv]
In 2 John 7, the apostle wrote:
Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. [xv]
But, is there a “THE Antichrist?” Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of the “man of lawlessness” to be revealed shortly before Jesus returns. So, yes. There is likely a “THE Antichrist.” He or it will be the last antichrist at work when Christ returns in judgment and blessing. Whether the last antichrist standing is more powerful or more dangerous than all previous antichrists is an open question; but there will be at least one antichrist active when the Last Judgment falls upon the world.
UNHOLY TRINITY (3-10)
Revelation 13 shows us the unholy trinity of the dragon and his two beasts as the devil’s twisted parody of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The enemy even parodies Messiah’s death and resurrection. Revelation 19:2 says Messiah wears many crowns. Here in chapters 12 and 13, we see the dragon and its sea beast wearing many crowns. Christ has a worthy name written on him (19:2); the sea beast sports blasphemous names on its heads (13:2). In Revelation 5:9, the elders sang of Christ that he had “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”[xvi] The beast claims authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (13:7).[xvii]
In Rev. 7:10, Messiah and the Father are worshipped. In 13:4, the beast and the dragon receive worship from the earth-dwellers. In chapters 1-3, Jesus has words of blessing and judgment for his churches. In 13:5-6, “the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words. … It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.”[xviii]
One of the devil’s counterfeits is visible in verse 3. John notices one head of the sea beast, according to the ESV, “seemed to have a mortal wound” that had been healed. Most English translations have some form of condition (as if, appeared to have, seemed to have) that is not present in the Greek text. It literally reads, “One of the head(s) as to slaughter to death.” It’s the very same description used of the Lion-Lamb in 5:6. The Lamb was slaughtered but still alive. The sea beast had a slaughtered head but was alive.
In verse 13 of this chapter, it is said the beast’s head was wounded by a sword. In Revelation, the only one wielding a sword is Jesus (1:16; 2:12, 16 (19:15, 21).[xix] So the beasts actual (not apparent) head would was dealt by Messiah’s death and resurrection (12:5, 10-12; 1:5; 5:9) as we saw last week in chapter 12. Because of Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension, Satan’s beast of earth-dwelling society and government was dealt a severe blow. The devil only wields his authority over the beastly world by temporary permission of the One True King, Jesus.
As God the Father is due worship in and through Christ Jesus, so the devil demands worship in and through his beasts of government, society, economy, and false religions. In Exodus 15:11 Moses sang, “Who is like you, O Lord.” In Rev. 13:4, the earth-dwellers sing, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” [xx] It is earth-dwellers, idol-worshippers, who look to human leaders, human governments, human societies, human economic systems to bring them blessing and solve their problems. They sing, “Praise the state, from whom all blessing flow.”[xxi] The beast’s call to idolatry is not subtle. It blasphemes God and Messiah and exercises authority to make war with God’s people.
America did not die for you to have life in Christ. Capitalism did not live a perfect life for you. Socialism did not rise from the grave for you. Democracy did not ascend to heaven to preserve and keep you and rule over. America is not Old Testament Israel. Our country has no covenant with YHWH. It’s not wrong to celebrate living in a land of relative personal and political freedom. But it IS wrong to worship your politics, your economic views, and the political leaders you agree with as if they are the source of your blessings that only Christ the King provides.
Your civil rights and liberties are provided through the beast who demands worship and persecutes the saints to one degree or another. The beast always has, and always shall, punish those who do not worship its idols. The One True God has always, and shall always, punish those who reject worshipping him to worship the idols Satan provides.
Earth-dwellers, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain,”[xxii] worship idols. Citizens of the New and True Jerusalem worship God in and through Messiah by means of the Holy Spirit. Thus, John’s repeated warning phrase: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear…”[xxiii] Following that phrase comes a quote from Isaiah and repeated by Jeremiah. It is God’s decree of punishment for the idol-worshippers who falsely believed themselves to be true Israel. Jeremiah was to deliver the message of God’s wrath against idol-worshippers, make believers, masquerading as true Israel:
Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! 2 And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
“‘Those destined for death, to death; /those for the sword, to the sword; /those for starvation, to starvation; /those for captivity, to captivity.’
3 “I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” declares the Lord, “the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy.[xxiv]
Where does your well-being come from this morning? Does it come from a politician? Does it come from capitalism or socialism, individualism or collectivism? Does it come from being free to follow your own heart, your own religion, your own way, your own rules? Does it come from seeking your own self-generated happiness? If that is so, you are worshipping the devil and his beasts – the antichrists that can only enslave and destroy. Are you a believer or a make believer? Where is your true citizenship – with the earth-dwellers or with the New Jerusalem? This “is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”
Would that you have ears to hear Pastor John, the preacher who painted this vision for you this morning. He preaches:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. [xxv]
[iv] Kistemaker and Hendriksen377.
[v] Beale, 682.
[vii] Beale, op. cit.
[ix] Phillips, 365.
[xii] Beale, 683.
[xix] Beale, 688.
[xxi] Phillips, 369.