At the end of chapter 12 we left Satan standing on the seashore.
He has been cast out of heaven. He knows himself unable to destroy the true church. But filled with rage, he is determined “to make war” on “the seed of the woman. And in order to carry this out, he needs helpers on earth. These he will use to arouse, if possible, the entire world, individually and collectively, to attack all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. As in the Garden of Eden, he will employ “seduction,” tempting people of low and high degree with lies and lying wonders.
This was the method which he also used when tempting our Savior-King in the wilderness. We do well to reflect on this for a moment.
As “the prince of this world” (our Lord called him this too), he offered to Christ all the kingdoms of the earth for the price of a moment of worship. And that temptation was real, felt by Jesus, as perfect man, much more deeply and intensely than we experience in our temptations. Salvation was at stake, for Jesus was tempted in His God-ordained position as the second Adam. He was the Messiah without whose perfect obedience to the Father, any hope of redemption and reconciliation would be irretrievably lost. Without arguing with the devil, our Savior dispels and dismisses him by the power of God’s Word (Deut. 6:13). Only by using that same weapon in faith can “the seed of the woman” stand in the conflict of the ages.
And this will be severe. Knowing that “his time is short,” Satan will, by God’s permission, marshal every person, agency and power possible to corrupt the world, to attack believers and so defame the honor of our God. With those efforts much of the rest ofthis book concerns itself. His first confederate on earth is this “beast out of the sea.’ Let no one who names the name of the Lord Jesus take the beast lightly even for a moment.
The description, vss. 1–4
In a vision John “saw” a strange apparition. It is a “beast,” (therion, as a wild and untamable animal). He (or “it”) is seen “rising” to indicate that a process is involved. This beast does not appear in full strength at once as it comes “out of the sea.” In Holy Scripture the “sea” often describes peoples and nations in great agitation (Ps. 18:16,17; 98:7; Isa. 57:20; Jude vs. 4).
Now the beast is described in detail. It has “ten horns,” reminding the reader of its power; also “seven heads” representing its intelligence and cunning. The devil who seeks to control this beast acts, as Luther said, like “God’s ape.” These horns are not specific nations or Roman emperors who will somehow be revived toward the end of the ages. Rather, the beast represents all the nations under their many-sided leadership gaining control over the attitudes, the ambitions and the activities of mankind. Here then, is no mythological figure borrowed from a heathen world of ideas. This is the earthly reality which the devil seeks to use in his war against the saints of the Lord. John sees it as real in his day. But its rise antedates his time and will continue—on this Revelation is clear—until the end of time. But remember that it is always essentially “one.”
On its head is “a blasphemous name,” reminding us that it arrogates power and position to itself which belongs rightly only to God. But in man’s sight it is “crowned” to suggest absolute rule. This kind of rule, Nero, and especially Domitian, exercised officially while demanding a kind of worship. Its appearance is impressive like that of the kingdoms described in Daniel 7. But this one is far more horrible as it combines all the features of those earlier empires. It has the swiftness of the leopard; the strength of the bear; the appetite of the lion which devours its prey. The secret of this ambitious, all-consuming and deadly strength is also mentioned. Satan gives his “power” and “throne,” as the prince of this world to the beast. How cunningly and stealthily he operates with his lies, so that those under his sway seldom realize that they are being used by him. Such is the power of the lie which he has employed since the days of Adam and Eve.
But a strange marvel is added to the picture. One of its “heads” suffers a “deadly wound.” Yet it does not die. And consequently “the whole world followed the beast with wonder.” Appealing to 1 John 2:18 which speaks of “antichrist,” and especially 2 Thessalonians 2:3 where Paul writes about “the man of lawlessness,” many have identified the beast as the personal “antichrist.” And that is not without warrant. But John does “see” it already in his day. In a sense this beast has been rising” with increased strength through the ages. The Bible speaks of Nimrod as the first empire-builder even before the confusion of language at Babel (Gen. 10:8–12). Daniel’s beasts, too, often showed themselves under satanic control. Nor should we forget that Christ’s victory in the resurrection and ascension filled Satan with frustration. This was without question the decisive act of that “wounding” as the “war in heaven” indicated. But the “deadly wound” need not apply solely to that event. Throughout the centuries empires have sprung up, faded away for a season, only to be revived again. Some of this can be recognized in France under Napoleon, Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, and others. The beast always seems to be “rising.” But this does not complete the picture. We believe firmly that toward the end of this dispensation, a personal Antichrist will arise to dominate all the peoples of the earth with world leaders under him directly or indirectly. Everything will be under state-control. At that time “the two witnesses” of chapter 11 will be slain, leaving only the elect of God without any official structure or manifestation. How such world-wide sway is possible in those dark days will be further explained in the coming of the second beast.
This is not intended to frighten us. The Lord Jesus gave this “vision” to alert us and our children who still enjoy much freedom. But every decade in our time represents more Christians tortured, imprisoned and even killed for their loyalty to the Savior-King, than in all the Roman persecutions or in the period of the Inquisition. We need only remind ourselves of what has occurred in Mexico, Colombia, Russia, Germany, China and the southern Sudan to drive the faithful church underground. All of that was still occasional and sporadic. One day it will be world-wide. To this our children and grandchildren must be alerted lest we find they fall asleep.
The activities, vs. 7a
The beast in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ,employs the “word.” All his words, however, are lies which are “haughty and blasphemous.” From his throne on earth, he defies the living God, to act as one in supreme control. Here he imitates the devil. But his authority lasts only “for forty-two months.”
Immediately our mind goes back to chapter 6. There the rider on the white horse with a bow “went forth conquering and to conquer.” Here demonic character of such imperialism is exposed. Everything that belongs to God and heaven is “blasphemed.” With this he wages an endless war against God’s people. They will experience trial and temptation during this period allotted to the beast by God, who remains in control. Often he will seem to be successful as the masses including many Christians in name are seduced by the lies. But John reminds his readers and therefore also us that everyone faithful to the Lord Christ will be “preserved” even as they are commanded to “persevere.”
Here, then, we have the “state” or world government in its manifold appearances but, especially toward the end of this age, united in open defiance of the Almighty.
This interpretation faces us with questions which demand discussion. God Himself instituted civil authority among mankind immediately after the flood (Gen. 9:4). Jesus also told His followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:2). In Romans 13 Paul speaks of governments, including the one under which he lived, as God’s gift to preserve order by punishing evil-doers and rewarding the good. But this is no contradiction of what John now sees and records. What was provided for man’s welfare, sinful mankind, succumbing to the devil’s lies, soon turns the state, throughout history and especially toward the end, into a powerful agency for injustice, corruption, dictatorship, terror and persecution of those who walk in the Lord’s ways. Let believers in every age be alert, seeking, where possible, to restrict political lust for power while respecting the authorities as long as they do not demand the honor and obedience which is to be given only to God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The influence, vs. 7b–10
As God’s grace throughout the ages spreads across the earth, to make life sweeter and even safer for believers, sin develops and spreads as a reverse tide. Like cancer, it gnaws away at the vitals of individuals and entire societies. From the beast rather than from the Lord of heaven and earth, they expect all good. Hence they “worship” it in its stations. This is the subtle idolatry which in many lands is increasingly evident. In the days of the personal Antichrist, such false worship will prevail everywhere to fill the cup of the world’s sin to overflowing. And then suddenly, after all John’s prophecies are fulfilled, the Day of days will dawn. Therefore, closing words are added.
First, the command to the readers to listen well. Then an announcement that those going into captivity, whom we believe are the suffering saints, should be prepared for this. Thereupon an encouragement follows. For all who, under the beast’s orders, use the sword, will be slain by it. Finally the exhortation. Such circumstances call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Look up with confidence, the apostle is saying, for as the days grow darker and more dreary, the day of your full deliverance is also nearer than when you first believed!
Questions for discussion
1 . Compare and contrast our Lord’s temptations with ours. What comfort does it provide that He too, was tempted?
2. Why did Jesus call Satan “the prince of this world”?
3. Where do you see Satan’s influences in the governments today?
4. Who and what are Satan worshipers? Why does this captivate people? Mention some of their beliefs and practices.
5. What is “blasphemy”? How can governments also engage in this?
6. Discuss how civil authority was established after the flood; also its power and purpose.
7. Why and how does the “lie” exercise such a seductive influence in its lust for power?
8. How do we explain “the deadly wound”? Only as a single event still to come?
9. What is the church’s duty toward the civil authorities? Why may it never, in its official capacity, seek to exercise political clout? Should believers as citizens organize for this purpose? If so, how?
10. How should we, in homes and at schools, prepare ourselves and the next generation to meet the increasing deterioration and corruption of political life?