Revelation (Part 30): The Battle Introduced
The three aspects of humankind’s distorted attempt to satisfy its desire for truth, goodness, and beauty lie in (1) the never-ending yearning for satisfaction in TGB apart from God, (2) the belief that satisfaction of TGB will come from our own essence—the materiality of creation itself, and (3) the distorted absolutes (imaginings) we develop from self that we come to believe are truth, goodness, and beauty. These three things have plagued humankind ever since the fall. They are the essence of what sin and evil mean. And these are the beasts (and image of the beast) that John presents to us in figurative form in Revelation 13. We do wrong to imagine the beast as some antichrist world leader who will lead armies apart from God. The beast is alive and well now in the hearts of all humanity who deny God and seek TGB in themselves and for themselves.
In chapter 13, verses 11 through 17, we read of the imagery of the second beast and of the image made. We read first that the beast arises from the earth, connecting it to the creation emphasis. Creation was intended by God to point his image bearers to himself—to his essence of truth, goodness, and beauty. But the distorted beast is the turning away from God, and seeking TGB in creation itself.
The beast is presented as a lamb with two horns. The image again reminds us of the ram of Daniel 7 with two horns. But here in Revelation, we understand in this beast the merging of the spiritual and physical, apart from God, intent on finding TGB within itself. The beast is said to sound like a dragon, showing the evil character in this link to Satan. This second beast is also given the same authority of the first, meaning it has the same Godless purpose, causing humankind to worship the first beast. In this we see the distorted purpose of creation, originally intended to turn people toward God, but now turning attention toward the first beast that seeks TGB in self.
The second beast performs and deceives with signs. These signs are those advancements of human industry that make people marvel at their own abilities—their own understanding—calling it good and beautiful. The signs seem to point to the rightness of finding TGB in ourselves. And so the beast urges people to make an image—decide on notions of TGB—determined from themselves. The result is calling murder good, calling refuse beauty, and calling the deceptions of sin truth.
A mark of the beast is given. The passage (13:16-18) connects the idea of mark, name, and number. All are symbolic references to identity and ownership. They indicate who you are, where your allegiance rests, and to whom you belong. The idea is not, as some people have imagined, a computer chip inserted under the skin of your hand. It is much more insidious. The idea is a conformity of mind and heart to the idea of the beast—of human accomplishment and arrogance in finding TGB apart from God. That number is 666. Six is the number of humankind. It is short of the perfection and completeness that the number 7 indicates. This incompleteness is given three times—666—to match with the three beasts (two beasts and the image) of chapter 13.
Against this grouping of evil that will engage this age stands God’s completed work through redemption. That is signified for us by the 144,000 on Mount Zion in the first few verses of chapter 14. These are the same 144,000 that were mentioned in conjunction with the 6th seal of Revelation 7. They represent the redeemed of OT Israel—those who have trusted in God for rescue and redemption through the period building toward and culminating in the Redeemer. We read that, rather than the mark and name of the beast, they have the name of God and Christ written on their foreheads. They are identified with him.
John hears from heaven the crashing sound of waters and thunder. These sounds depict anger and might. At the same time, he hears the sound of harpists—melodious tunes of soul satisfaction. The sound images conflict in a sense, but not to cause confusion. The sounds fit with the two contrasting pictures we’ve been given—the beastly human-focused and the redeemed God-focused.
These 144,000 sing a new song. In the Bible, a new song is always associated with praise of God (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1; Is 42:10). No one else can learn this song because it is unique to the redemption experience of those who trusted before the Redeemer had actually come to accomplish their redemption. It doesn’t put the group in a separate category of grace to be ever marked differently from the family of God. Rather it simply marks the unique experience for those of this age to look back to and gain encouragement from as we face the beasts of this age.
These 144,000 are those not defiled by women (14:4), meaning that, as the OT constantly depicted Israel as the wife of God, these faithful were not like the unfaithful adulterers that went whoring with the world. Sexual faithfulness is presented throughout the Bible in reference to faithfulness to God.
These 144,000 are called the firstfruits, giving further clarification as to their association with the faithful of OT Israel. As Paul said of the gospel, “first to the Jew, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). No lie is found in them. They are blameless. Their sin has been expunged by the sacrifice of Christ. They are redeemed.
The final portion (14:6–19:21) of this Human-Focused section (chapters 12–19) concentrates on the Battle of this Age. The mini-sections of this battle form a chiasmus that helps present the purpose. Note the following sections:
1. Angel Message 1: Eternal Gospel (14:6–7)
2. Angel Message 2: Babylon Fallen (14:8)
3. Angel Message 3: Beast Followers Drink Wrath (14:9–11)
4. Dead in Christ Blessed (14:12–13)
5. Gathering of Good and Bad (14:14–20)
6. Singing the Song of Moses (15:1–4)
7. Wrath of God (15:5–16:21)
8. Fall of Prostitute Babylon (17:1–18:24)
9. Christ, the Word, Rides Forth (19:1–21)
Notice that the three angel messages (points 1, 2, and 3) match well with the three large portions illustrating those messages (points 7, 8, and 9). Notice also the main point (the center point) of the chiasmus—the Gathering of Good and Bad. This is the main point of the whole battle section. We will discuss each of these mini-sections in detail.