The Dragon does not give up making war on the woman’s offspring (chapter 12) but calls out of the sea or abyss (Uncreation – see Genesis 1:1) a monster in his own image. The powers that still shape our world; economic strength, military might, political ideology are represented, at their worst, as savage beasts set against the purposes of people of God. How do we overcome these? [Audio | Notes]
The Dragon does not give up making war on the woman’s offspring (chapter 12) but calls out of the sea or abyss (Uncreation – see Genesis 1:1) a monster in his own image.
Read Daniel 7. How do the beasts in Daniel 7 help us to interpret the Beast of the Sea in Revelation 13? It is helpful to compare this amalgam of beasts with Revelation 11:8 for a clue as to how this book interweaves historical empires to expose their theological likeness.
Q: What does the beast of the sea represent in our world? Is it one empire or the potential evil in all government?
Q: The beast has many heads and the beast is mortally wounded and yet returns to life. How does political and military evil die and revive in our world?
Q: Jesus said that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:15-22). What are legitimately the things of Caesar and the things of God?
Q: Give examples of when the State claims the prerogatives of God.
Q: The beast of the earth is later called the false prophet – he is the spin doctor of evil which justifies the force of the beast of the sea and the economic exploitation that comes from the misuse of power. What ideas have been used to justify the use of force, economic exploitation and slavery in the last few hundred years?
Q: The beast marks people. Products and Cattle are marked; slaves and prisoners of war are marked; political dissidents and those destined to be killed are marked but people are named (eg. Revelation 3:12, 13:8, 14:1). How do we make people into commodities today? Where has it been difficult for Christians to earn a living or receive an education or even be allowed to live?
The name of the beast is likely to be a Gematria – where a numerical value is assigned to each letter. For some ancient Christians, the numbers represented Caesar Nero (in Hebrew with some fudging on the spelling) but in this book of symbols 6 implies incompletion, where 7 is the symbol of completion. And we have just learnt of the Dragon, the Beast of the Sea and the Beast of the Earth who are, together, a parody of the Trinity. God gives life and the Dragon takes it; Christ brings sacrifice, reconciliation, peace and personhood; the Beast of the Sea beings violence, economic and physical oppression, exploitation and injustice – it turns human beings into commodities; the Spirit of God brings truth, the false prophet brings the ideology of lies to persuade us to worship the creature rather than the creator.
Q: Make a list of situations in our world that belong to the beasts and situations that belong to the Trinity.
Q: Some take these, and other passages in the New Testament to mean that Christians should not be involved in politics, the military or economic trade. Is that a true application of this chapter? Can you think of better approaches for politicians, soldiers and traders who are Christians?
Aside: Time, Times and Half a Time.
There is one period of time which is marked in three ways in Revelation. 42 months (12:16, 13:5) = 1260 days (11:2,3. With 30-day months) = time (1 year), times (2 years) and half a time (6 months – see 12:14).
This is a reference to the prophecy in Daniel (Dan 7:25; 12:7) which prefigured the rise of the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who, for three years plus (168-165 BC) stopped sacrifices in the temple, burnt copies of the law, murdered Jewish priests and anyone who kept the Sabbath or circumcised their children. He made Jewish practice illegal and insisted that God’s people adopt Hellenic practice and philosophy. He set up ‘the abomination that desolates’ – a statue of Zeus – in the holy place of the temple after sacrificing pigs there.
The battle against him (the first recorded instance of guerrilla warfare) is found in 2 Maccabees (from the Biblical Apocrypha). His defeat and eventual death are still celebrated today in the Jewish feast of Hanukah (which takes place around our Christmas time).
This desolation of God’s people became a symbol of unrestrained evil and opposition that was frequently referred to in the first century (Matthew 24:15-26, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21). The mention of the times indicates that the triumph of evil over God’s people is only ever temporary (Revelation 11:7-12), the mention of the times in three different ways indicates that the limit on the triumph of evil is certain – which is still good news for the majority of Christ’s church today.