The Beast From the Sea - Page 2 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
Since few had witnessed Nero’s death and burial, it was widely believed that he had not really died, but had joined the dreaded Parthians on the eastern border of the empire, from which he would return at the head of an enormous army. By John’s time an alternate myth had developed; Nero had indeed died, but would return from the underworld to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This myth of Nero (“Nero back from the dead”) was widespread in John’s time. Since Domitian was behaving like Nero—claiming divine honors and persecuting those who resisted his claim—he could be pictured as a second Nero, or Nero returned. Just as a modern racist dictator might be described as “Hitler,” so the image of Nero is applied to Domitian. John’s first readers did not need such an explanation—the imagery was powerfully clear to them.
What is the meaning of the fatal wound that is healed? Two possibilities seem to fit this description. One commentator, for instance, sees the deadly wound as the destruction of “the Roman pagan Empire” by the Christian Roman Empire,” thus making it a matter of history rather than prophecy. The revival of the Roman Empire would then be its miraculous healing. Another plausible explanation is that the final world ruler receives a wound which normally would be fatal but is miraculously healed by Satan. While the resurrection of a dead person seems to be beyond Satan’s power, the healing of a wound would be possible for Satan, and this may be the explanation. The important point is that the final world ruler comes into power obviously supported by a supernatural and miraculous deliverance by Satan himself.
“And all the world wondered after the beast.” It is with much disdain that John writes that the people of the whole earth are completely enamored of the beast. They worshipped the beast, saying that there is no other like it and no one can stand against it, and they worshipped the dragon (i.e., Satan), from whom the beast gets its authority. But all this is so much foolishness! God is the one they should worship. And the Lamb, who gets its authority from God, is the one against whom no one can stand!
It is almost unbelievable that “all the world” will worship both “the dragon” and “the beast.” There will be a lot of religion on earth but it will be godless and blasphemous.
4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
“And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast.” The supernatural character of the beast makes him the object of worship along with Satan, the source of his power. It has always been Satan’s purpose to receive the worship due to God alone, as stated in Isaiah 14:14: “I will make myself like the Most High.” This is Satan’s final form of counterfeit religion in which he assumes the place of God the Father, and the beast or the world ruler assumes the role of King of kings as a substitute for Christ. This situation is probably introduced at the beginning of the last three and one-half years when the Great Tribulation begins.
Some within the church argued that since Christians know there is only one God, there is no harm in participating in the pagan ceremonies (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:14-33). But what was not clear to all the members of John’s churches was that participation in the emperor cult was really worship of Satan. The emperor cult obligated its people to offering sacrifices to the emperor in order to ensure the empires prosperity. Christians who refused to participate were considered a threat to the empire. However, John reminds his readers that Rome has no power except what was given it by God. Likewise it is “the dragon which gave power unto the beast” and “power to wage war against the holy ones” (13:7), “and power was given him over all kindreds (tribes), and tongues (people), and nations (13:7). Thus John is asserting that God is sovereign over everyone and everything, even as the Roman Empire reigned over the whole world and God’s holy ones are being killed by its emperor.
“And they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” Recognizing the supernatural character of Satan and the ruler, the question is raised, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” (13:4). This apparently explains how the beast could become world ruler without a war. His blasphemous assumption of the role of God continues for 42 months, during which time he blasphemies God as well as heaven and those who live in heaven.
The praise here offered to the “beast” mimics a praise often offered to God; compare this verse with Exodus 15:11:
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
5 And there was given
unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
“And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies.” The phrase “was given” is used repeatedly as an indirect reference to God. Although the dragon and his agents suppose they are free and independent agents, John’s revelation reveals that ultimately all things rest in one hand and that which was given came through the permission of God. He uses a
dualistic imagery but is no dualist (see on 1:18; 4:11).
“And power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.” Roman harassment and persecution will last only a short time, “forty and two months” (three and one half years; half of 7 the number of fullness); it was literally true that Rome’s days were numbered.
They should also be consoled by the fact that the names of the ones who worshipped the beast will not be found in the Lambs book of life (13:8), while their names most surely will be, as long as they remain faithful.
6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
This first beast (Antichrist) is “against God” (13:5, 6); he is satanically energized (13:2); he is militarily supreme (13:4); he possesses world-wide power (13:7); and he persecutes the saints of God (13:7). Who would deny that the stage of world history is rapidly being set by tendencies that will ultimately lead to the rule and adoration of such a monster? All who do not belong to the Lamb of God will worship the beast.
7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
“And it was b
given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” The empire’s conquest of God’s people will not be final, but John offers no encouragement to his readers that if they are faithful God will deliver them from the Roman persecution (see 6
2:10; see also Daniel 3:18). Faithfulness to God is not motivated by the promise that those who are faithful will be spared; he is utterly realistic on this point—with a realism that affirms even beyond death that God is as faithful and able to deliver now, as he was with Jesus.
“And power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” The beast becomes a world-wide ruler, for his authority extends over every tribe, people, language, and nation. As predicted in Daniel 7:23, he does “devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.”
8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
In addition to achieving political domination all over the entire world, he also abolishes all other religions and demands that everyone worship him: “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4). “And all that dwell upon the earth” will worship “the beast” except for those whose names are recorded “in the book of life.” In the expression “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” the words “from the foundation of the world” seem to relate to the time in eternity past when the names were “written in the book of life,” rather than to Christ’s crucifixion, since He was not crucified when the world was created. As Paul wrote, those who were saved were foreordained to salvation before Creation: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).
Some believe that “the book of life” originally contained the names of every living person to be born in the world, and that the names of the unsaved get blotted out when they die. This interpretation stems from Revelation 3:5, where Christ promised the believers in Sardis that their names would not be erased from the “book of life,” and from 22:19, where a person who rejects the message in the Book of Revelation is warned that “God will take away from him his share in the tree of life” (see “tree of life” in 2:7 and 22:2, 14 and “book of life” in 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). However, 13:8 probably means simply that those who are saved had their names written in “the book of life” in eternity past in anticipation of the death of Christ on the cross for them and that they will never be erased.
Taken together, verses seven and eight indicate the universal extent of the beast’s political government as well as the final form of satanic religion in the Great Tribulation. Only those who come to Christ will be delivered from the condemnation that is involved.