Reading Revelation 13:2-18
Another chapter full of imagery and symbolism. However, if we hold to the view that Revelation is a drawing back of the curtain on events that have been happening ever since Jesus took the throne in heaven, this chapter becomes much easier to understand.
Much of the imagery of this chapter is taken from Daniel chapter seven, and the reoccurrence of the 42 months from Daniel (three and a half years) also appears again. In Daniel and here the Beast represents the ever changing empires and powers that hold sway over the World. Both physical empires such as the Greek, Roman or British Empires, and mind sets, ideologies and paradigms that hold sway over humanity such as Nationalism, Communism, Materialism, Capitalism and false religions, particularly those that deny both the manhood and divinity of Jesus. These are the power structures which find their source in Satan, who leads the whole world astray (12:9).
It was true for Daniel’s hearers, it was true for John’s readers and it’s still true for us – there is an unseen war going on around us all the time. Tony Benn correctly said “People will die for their faith, but kill for their dogma.” This is what John is seeing: the destruction, death and suffering caused by those who love power, money, and are happy to kill for their dogma. But Jesus shows John that every ‘dogma’ has its day and in the end the Lamb wins!
The Beast from the sea (2) and the Beast from the earth (11) together with the Dragon from chapter 12 form a sort of trinity of Evil. The Beast from the sea has similarities to the Dragon and the Beast from the earth with its lamb’s horns (12) has similarities to Jesus. It appears gentle and harmless but speaks with the voice of the Dragon and is anything but – it’s an ‘Anti-Christ’. Jesus warned his followers that there would be many who would come in his name, but instead of caring for the flock, the fake ‘Christs’ would only be out for themselves: more like ravenous wolves than lambs (Mark 7:15).
Much effort, Hollywood blockbusters, and many trees have suffered in trying to explain the mark of the Beast (18). Most obviously for the original hearers it was probably Nero. Many ancient languages did not have figures for numbers, so instead they used the letters of the alphabet. (Eg. A=1, B=2 and so on.) Interestingly, on the walls of Pompeii there is some graffiti which reads, ‘ I love her whose name is 545’. It was not uncommon to write names as numbers particularly if only those in the know were to be able to make sense of the number – so lady ‘545’ and her paramour knew, but no one else. The name of ‘Nero Caesar’ when transliterated from both the Hebrew and Greek yields the number 666. Nero began the empire-wide persecution of the church; for the original readers he represented all that was stacked up against them, one who required their devotion and who demanded their worship as a god. For us it is a suitable number for the power of the Anti-Christ as it represents a falling short in every way of the the perfections of God, represented by 7 or better still 777.
It would be easy for us if the mark of the beast was some kind of physical thing, a barcode or tattoo that we had to be aware of and simply not have – but that wouldn’t deal with our hearts. It’s actually symbolic. It is the polar opposite of the seal that God places on his children mentioned in chapter 7 -his Holy Spirit. When Jesus spoke to the seven Churches he warned them to not give in to the culture around them, not to compromise and to keep going even to the point of death. This is a continuation of those words; in a corrupt, seedy, broken and fallen world we are called to believe, love and live differently. Therefore, anytime we reject Jesus in order to get ahead we are bowing down to the image of anti-Christ. Anytime we tell a lie; or turn a blind eye to suffering or hatred; or anytime we compromise our faith in order to live more comfortably, we are taking this mark upon us. Jesus tells us we must put him ahead of everything. Absolutely everything! (Luke 14:26)
A friend of mine who lives and works in China told me recently that in order to apply for university in China, a prospective student needs to sign a declaration stating they do not believe in any God. He asked me what I would say to a young Christian who was faced with this choice. I said that in that situation all I could say is what I would do, that I could never deny my Lord, even if it meant not going to university, getting a good job and getting on. I hope, should the day ever come, I would stand my ground!
Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27 The Message)
“… This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints” (Revelation 13:10)
Father, today I know my brothers and sisters in parts of the world are being persecuted for their faith. In China, North Korea and Aleppo. Lord, teach me how I might be an encouragement to them. Lord, move me to action on their behalf. Lord, please tear down the power structures that mean so many people in our world live in poverty, hopelessness and despair. In my comfortable world I pray that you would make me unwilling to compromise in any part of my faith. Help me to serve like Jesus, love like Jesus and stand for him in every situation I find myself today. In Jesus name. Amen.
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