Revelation, is a highly imaginative book, full of symbolic language and Revelation 13 is one of the richest examples of John’s symbolic imagery.
· The dragon standing on the shore of the sea…who gave the beast his power
o I agree with Reddish here that the dragon is representative of Satan, the representative of the reign of all that is opposed to God’s rule.
· The beast coming out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads and on each horn he had a blasphemous name, resembling a leopard, bear and lion…this same beast was given a mouth to utter blasphemies against God…for a time of 42 months and given power over the people of God.
o John is drawing upon the Leviathan (sea monster myth) that was a prevalent cultural myth. Leviathan represented the forces of chaos that was opposed to good God.
o Ten horns and seven reads, as in other places represent rulers or nations
o On each horn he had a blasphemous name
§ I think this refers to claim of the Caesars’s and the emperor cult in general that claimed divinity for the emperor.
§ 42 months or 3.5 years is the allotted time by God for evil to triumph
· One of the heads of the beast appeared to have a fatal wound
o John drawing from a wide body of apocalyptic material, OT allusions, and other socio-cultural images and ideas employs the Nero redividus myth. It was rumored or feared that Nero didn’t really die and fled to the Parthians where he would one day return, riding in the front of a massive army on a full out assault of Rome.
· Another beast came up out of the earth, with two horns like a lamb, but speaking like a lion. Exercised authority of the first beast, lead the people astray in the worship of the first beast, able to perform miraculous deeds, gave the followers of the first beast a mark so that no one could buy or sell, unless they had the mark
o John again draws upon a well-known myth of Behemoth, the land counterpart to Leviathan. “In Jewish legend, Leviathan and Behemoth were primordial monsters who would be killed in the end time when the messiah comes.” (Reddish, 257).
o With the reference to two horns like a lamb, John is saying that what we are observing is a parody of Christ. But the voice of the fake Christ reveals his true nature, he is really from the dragon.
o John also labels this second beast as a false prophet able to deceive the people by his trickery which promotes the worship of the first beast, or the imperial cult.
o Reddish provides a great summary of both beasts, “if the first beast represents the empire and particularly the emperors,…the second beast…represents everyone, who encourages and fosters emperor worship (local magistrates, imperial priests, provincial councils)” (Reddish, 258).
o Reddish quoting, Boring, would go on to say of the second beast that, “all who support and promote the cultural religion, in or out of the church, however Lamb-like they may appear, are agents of the beast. All propaganda that entices humanity to idolize human empire is an expression of this beastly power that wants to appear Lamb-like” (Reddish, 258
· The mark of the beast = 666 (the number of a man)
o As the scene in chapter 7 describes the sealing of God’s people, a sign of protection and a claim of divine ownership, here in chapter 13 the antithesis to God, the beast marks his own followers as well. The mark of the beast is seen by one’s loyalties. What we do, is more important that what we claim we believe.
- also, it must be pointed out that Hebrew and Greek letters had numeric value, Gematria, and as such each name also has a numeric value. Nero works out to be 666 or some scholars see this also as 616 (reference to Caesar Neron).
Reddish 265, “Revelations 13 is a reminder that no person or institution deserves our ultimate allegiance,” with American nationalism is by saying that there has been a tendency in our country to drape the flag around the cross. In other words, I see a blending of two very distinct loyalties. As a Christian and as an American I confess my own sin in this regard where at times in my past my highest allegiance has been the nation instead of God. There is danger for all of us when we blindly assume that our loyalty to our nation = our loyalty to God. This seems to be the inherent struggle that John is writing about (how urban Christians living in the great cities in Asia Minor can be Christians and Romans). John’s answer is that there can be no middle ground. There is only one loyalty, that to be divided is to have chosen a lord, and it isn’t Christ. And yet, Christians that become aware of the intoxicating passion of nationalism packaged as the only version of faithful Christianity are furthering the lie and promoting the worship of the beast.
Secondly, I would communicate this sentiment to my congregation in a time of war, by trying to focus on the images here in chapter 13, also talking about the kingdom of God and asking and teaching about priorities and loyalties. Also, I would try to help my congregation here afresh the struggle of the first century Christians as they struggled to live out their faith in an environment that put nation first, and allowed only one loyalty and that of Caesar. I would invite the congregation to think through this text, to think through their commitments, to think through what it means to be a Christian and an American. I would try to remind them of Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven. I would remind them that this world is not our home. I think the bottom line here is that all Christians need to agree that we cannot get to cozy in this world. To become so comfortable here that we blend in to the prevailing culture is a victory for the forces of evil that are opposed to God. If Christians lose our distinctiveness from this world, we are just like the world.
I am of the opinion at least now in this point in my studies and my understanding of the text that the two judgment scenes in Revelation 14:14-20 depicts judgment against the wicked and an ingathering of the righteous. I thought Reddish’s reminder (281) about the polyvalent nature of images is important. That these images can have more than one meaning is important, and I think it helps us to be able to continue to apply Revelation throughout time. The scene in Rev. 14:20 is one of judgment and Reddish points out, “as a symbol for God’s judgment, this harvesting may connote both negative and positive meanings. The judgment of God will be a time of ingathering for the faithful, while at the same moment a time of punishment for wicked (cf. Matt 13:41-43). John is borrowing images from Joel and has been the case in other places, John is a master of reworking images and metaphors in new ways to make his point.