Revelation (Part 29): The Beasts
In John’s chapter 12 presentation of images of the woman, he speaks of one instance (verse 6) during which she is fed for 1260 days. Tying it to Daniel, the woman is fed for those 3.5 years following Christ’s ascension. And indeed, Israel the faithful was fed on the gospel message delivered by the apostles to the Jews during those 3.5 years before the apostles turned to the Gentiles. In the second instance of the woman being fed (verse 14), she is fed for time, times, and half a time. This corresponds to Daniel where we understand this time period as the end of Israel the nation in AD 67-70 as Israel the faithful continued in hope of the gospel rather than in hope of the nation.
These two instances are separated from each other in Revelation 12 in a victory scene discussion of the dragon being cast out of heaven. When did that occur? Of course, it occurred when the Redeemer won redemption through the cross, death, and resurrection. Up to that point, Satan (the dragon) had been accusing both humankind of being guilty of sin and God for doing wrong in having relationship with those stained in sin guiltiness. But the atonement changed everything. It proved that God was indeed right in what he did because he provided cleansing, and it proved God to be righteous (faithful to the covenant) in fulfilling his covenant promise to redeem. And of course, it removed those who had faith in God from Satan’s accusation because the guilt was expunged.
That victory scene is placed between the two instances of the woman being fed to separate the instances in the reader’s mind. They do signal different events—a difference the reader is intended to see by the designation of the 3.5 year period in days in the one instance and in the cryptic expression of times in the other.
The chapter finishes with a furious dragon who, although pouring out wrath on Jerusalem in AD 70, could not extinguish the gospel message that continues in Israel the faithful through her children. And we of the post-atonement age are indeed the children of Israel the faithful. We are children of God born from his plan revealed throughout the OT, culminating in the Redeemer’s work. The dragon, we are told, comes to wage war with us throughout this age.
The next statement is just a bit confusing as to meaning. And because it is confusing, its placement and translation varies among different English versions. The statement in Greek tells us that someone (he) stood on the sand of the sea, and someone (I) saw a beast arise from the sea. The actual pronouns he and I are not in the Greek because in Greek the verb indicates whether the third person or first person is intended. And so here we have a textual difference between the majority Byzantine family of manuscripts (producing the KJV) that has the first person I for who stood on the shore and the minority—but earlier (older)—manuscripts of the Alexandrian family (producing the rest of our modern versions) that have the third person he as the one who stood on the shore. While the argument could, then, be one of trustworthiness of the manuscript family, I think we can satisfy ourselves by the context. It is the dragon who seeks to make war with Israel the faithful. It therefore makes sense to understand in this imagery that the dragon stands on the shore, supporting and directing this rise of the evil beast from the sea. Yes, John is the one who sees it because he is the one recording the event, but the dragon is the one participating in the event.
Whether this statement is placed in 13:1, as the KJV has it, or in 12:17, as many other translations have it (ESV, NIV, NASB), or even creating a new verse 18 in chapter 12 as some have it (HCSB), the point is the same. Chapter and verse divisions were inserted for readability. They do not change context or meaning. So the dragon stands on the shore in support of the beast who, John witnesses, rises from the sea.
What is this sea out of which the beast arises? A couple of passages help us interpret this bit of imagery. Further on in Revelation (in a section to which we have not yet come), we have an interpretation of a sea. In that chapter 17 scene, we again have a picture of evil sitting on a sea. An angel explains to John in verse 15, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.” Therefore, the sea can be understood as the sea of humanity. Further, as we look back to the book of Daniel (which John is doing repeatedly, pulling most of his imagery in chapters 12 and 13 from Daniel), we find in Daniel 7:3, he says, “Four huge beasts came up from the sea.” Those four huge beasts in Daniel, we already discussed, represented kingdoms or empires of the earth. So there we have confirmation that the sea is intended to be humanity. This idea will figure in more with the interpretation as we go along.
The beast is said to have seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns. This is very close to the dragon’s description, which in 12:3 is said to have seven heads, ten horns, but seven crowns. Of course, the number seven means fullness and ten is more of governmental completion. The imagery is close because we are meant to understand the beast as evil just as the dragon is. The evil of the beast flows into its horns (kingdoms of the earth) and crowns (ruling authority).
As we struggle to interpret exactly who this beast is, John seems intent on giving us some solid clues. His clues continue to place in front of his readers something with which they are already familiar—the book of Daniel. John seems to be saying, “If you know the representation in Daniel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about with this beast here.” Daniel 7 showed us four beasts—a lion, bear, leopard, and a fourth that, through its horn imagery, was said to have a mouth that spoke arrogantly (Daniel 7:8), against God (7:25), and who would conquer the holy ones (7:25). As we move to Revelation 13, we find those exact same images presented with John’s beast. The beast, John says starting in verse 2, is like a leopard, with feet like a bear’s, and a mouth like a lion’s. Further, in verse 5 we learn that his mouth spoke boasts and blasphemies, and in verse 6, those blasphemies were against God. Another connection comes in the next verse where John’s beast is said to wage war against the saints and to conquer them.
The difference between Daniel and Revelation is that the beasts of Daniel are said to be different (Daniel 7:3), and we certainly understand that because Daniel’s four beasts represented four different kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Those were historical kingdoms related to the persecution of the era of Israel as a nation. The Revelation 13 image combines the four beasts into one. John’s meaning seems clear that he is therefore combining that which the four Daniel beasts had in common into this one beast he will use for his Revelation imagery of this age. What the beasts had in common was not their nationality but rather the fact that they held humanity-exalting, arrogant notions of satisfaction in themselves. That characteristic defined the kingdoms of Daniel, and they would define the attitude of the Godless of this age.
This Revelation 13 beast, we are told, receives a fatal wound to one of its heads (13:3). What should we understand that to be? Consider this—a blow against a being of evil would seem to be a good thing. Thus, a fatal blow to the head of the beast is an act of goodness and rightness in an attack against him. What act of goodness and rightness had just taken place in the passage leading up to this one? We had the birth of the Redeemer in chapter 12—the Atonement! And of course that was a blow to the evil of humankind. All humankind in its evil was destined for eternal separation from God. But the birth of the Redeemer (through death, burial, and resurrection) changed that. It struck a blow against human depravity.
But the fatal blow healed. This fact does not mean that Christ’s victory wasn’t permanent. It has to do rather with the corruptness of humanity. Although Christ’s redemption could have resulted in universal salvation if everyone would accept God’s gift, people didn’t. God revealed his truth, goodness, and beauty, but in arrogance and self-love, most rejected him. The wound was healed.
This beast—this dominating evil of humanity—would rule the world in this age. Verse 10 of chapter 13 emphasizes that those destined for captivity will go into captivity and those destined to be killed by the sword will die by the sword. This verse is a quote from Jeremiah 15:2 and 43:11—times when evil ruled in Israel and God brought judgment. But with Israel then and for John’s point now, the good will be among those who go into captivity and suffer in death. For that reason, verse 10 emphasizes that recognizing these principles gives perseverance to the saints who endure in faith. And that is precisely why John characterizes the rule of the beast as lasting for 42 months (13:5). Just as the principles were first presented in Elijah’s 3.5 year period (and confirmed in the half week of Daniel 9 and 12 and the time, times, and half a time of Daniel 7), John gives a new designation of the 3.5 years to characterize the evil of this age. The principles of the 3.5 years are that (1) evil dominates, (2) God will judge, (3) the good will suffer but endure through faith, and (4) God will care for his own.
Revelation 13:11 through 18 describes a second beast and an image created of the beast. The section is full of imagery and it would be beneficial to read through it several times to catch everything presented. The imagery, however, can be almost overwhelming, especially when we read this passage with the speculations and teaching that have tried to present these images in some concrete example of what might happen in the future. We need to remember that the people to whom this was first written—the people of Asia Minor in John’s day—would not understand computer chips implanted in the skin and television and satellite images projected around the world. But they would understand this imagery still. How? They’d understand by not trying so hard to stretch these images into 21st century technological ideas. These are images of the never-ending conflict of human arrogance against the essence of God. Get that!—they are images of the conflict itself, not images of people and how they take up the battle. The beast is no world leader named Antichrist; the beast is the heart of every person that has ever lived in sin.
For a moment, try to forget everything you have heard of the wild Antichrist, end-of-the-world stories told in comic book style in the last 50 to 100 years. Let’s consider the story of truth, goodness, and beauty in its biblical context.
The foundational purpose of everything, as we’ve said so often in this series, is that the purpose God created was for everlasting love relationship. To have everlasting love relationship with us, he had to make us in his image. If God IS truth, goodness, and beauty in his essence and we are to have a love relationship with him, we HAVE TO be able to understand him. Love relationship depends on knowing the one whom you love. So God had to make us image bearers, which means, first, capable of understanding his truth, goodness, and beauty; second, capable of holding that understanding in faith and hope; and third, capable of communicating that understanding to others in love. That is the essence of image bearing. In chart form, it looks like the following:
Apprehension—understanding God's truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB)
Conceptual Intelligence to understand truth
Conscious Morality to understand goodness
Critical Aesthetic to understand beauty
Approbation—accepting his TGB in belief and expectation
Concluding Faith to assert the TGB
Continuing Hope to be assured that TGB would reign
Articulation—expression of his TGB
Cooperative Love to relate to others in his TGB
Note that everything depends on God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. Recognizing it and operating in it is essential for love relationship. God made us in this image, and he made us desire truth, goodness, and beauty. With God’s TGB we are satisfied. Looking for it anywhere else results in us being unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and discontent.
The problem, then, is in the beginning as God set out to teach dependence on him for satisfaction in truth, goodness, and beauty, Satan slipped in to poison the mind of Eve. His attack wasn’t merely to get Eve to disobey a direct order. His intent was to get Eve to mistrust God. Satan presented that apple and said, “This is good. Isn’t it beautiful? It will make you wise and know truth!” In other words, he urged Eve to seek truth, goodness, and beauty, not from God’s essence, but rather from her own essence—in the materiality/physicality of creation. That was the sin (Adam’s too). And ever since, humankind has been looking to its own physicality/materiality—to self—to satisfy its God-given desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. But humanity can’t find it because people are not looking for it in the correct place—in God. They are blinded by sin; they can’t see that TGB is in God because that fact is spiritually discerned. Only with God’s revelation can they see. But seeing, they must believe. God gives revelation, as pointed out by Paul in Romans 1. But when rejection occurs, God withdraws, giving the rejectors over to their own lusts.
So then, we have God’s plan for us:
(1) Satisfaction comes from living in God’s TGB.
(2) Our essence—creation—is intended to point us toward God’s TGB (as David said, The heavens declare the glory of God” [Ps 19:1])
(3) Jesus is the only true image bearer because he was perfect in seeking TGB from God rather than from creation.
But of course, in our world’s sin environment, we have distorted those truths.
(1) Instead of being satisfied in TGB from God, we search for it apart from God, and lust for its satisfaction in self.
(2) We distortedly think our essence—creation—points to ourselves as the holders of TGB rather than pointing to God and his essence of TGB.
(3) We imagine (make images of) our own distorted, false ideas of what is true, good, and beautiful that we derive from ourselves.
This was the result of the fall. This was the sin environment throughout the whole OT period as God prepared the world for the coming of the Redeemer. And this is what evil humanity still lives by in this age. This is Revelation 13’s (1) beast from the sea, (2) beast from the earth, and (3) image of the beast.