August 30, 2009

When it comes to associating the symbols found in the Book of Revelation, two images stand out.  They are the "Beast coming up out of the sea" (Revelation 13:1) and the "Beast coming up out of the earth" (Revelation 13:11).  Both of these beasts are empowered by the Dragon (Revelation 13:2) who is identified as Satan (Revelation 12:9).  The first beast has been the subject of much speculation in the 20th century as it has been identified as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or Russia, Iraq and other nations or peoples.  The second beast has been identified as the Pope, or Roman Catholicism in general, Islam or Muslim nations, or even fundamentalist Christianity!!

In this brief article we will discuss the meaning of these two symbols and see that a particular person or individual country was not in the mind of John when he saw these visions, but rather a situation or class of people.

Even a cursory reading of the 13th century of Revelation reveals these three distinct foes of Christ.  The dragon stands on the shore of the sea.  The first beast from the sea, receives the dragon's power, throne and authority.  The second beast from the earth has a unique function.  He entices people to worship the first beast.  In Revelation 16:13 he is called "The False Prophet."  The identity of these three figures along with their overt blasphemy against the Most High God means that what is primarily in view is John's vision which depicts them as an unholy trinity.  The dragon, as Satan, is the antithesis of God in the Holy Trinity; the first beast, as the antichrist, is the antithesis of Christ; the second beast (False Prophet) whose duty is to arouse worship of the first beast, is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit.

What is recorded in Revelation 13 reflects the fact that a dramatic turning point in the history of redemption has already taken place with the coming of Jesus Christ.  Through our Lord's death and resurrection, the dragon has already been decisively defeated by the Messiah (Colossians 2:15).  Although our salvation has been secured through Christ's death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, the dragon is enraged by his defeat and wages war upon the saints (Revelation 13:7) because he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12).

The Book of Revelation, therefore, depicts an already defeated foe waging his last desperate efforts in a war he knows he has already lost.  In this final attempt to escape his inevitable fate, the dragon now enlists the aid of the two beast to do his bidding.  While the final outcome is never in doubt, the particular circumstance that bring us to the climactic end of history have long fascinated God's people.

The two beasts mentioned in Revelation 13 are a part of a larger section of John's Revelation which begins in the last verse of chapter 11 (11:19).  Starting here and concluding with chapter 15 and verse 4, we are introduced to what we find are seven visions of cosmic conflict.

This sections opens as John takes us behind the veil of the temple he sees in heaven.  We see God's covenant, or agreement, to rescue His people from their enemies. Then, in the first six verses of chapter 12 we are introduced to three main characters, the first two are called "signs" (12:1 & 2).  They are a woman, the great red dragon and then a male child to whom the woman gave birth.  The woman and the dragon are called "signs" which are symbolic figures with meanings beyond the superficial ones.  They represent not a literal woman and a literal dragon, but something more.  The child is not a "sign" in this sense, because he actually represents a human person.  We will identify them in our class on March 4th.  Let me note here that Revelation 12:1-4 describes all the centuries of time BC (before Christ), verse 5 the thirty-odd years of Jesus' earthly life, and verse 6 all the centuries AD.

Beginning with verse 7 of chapter 12 we find the plot of this vision: A battle which is always in progress, in other words, continues throughout the history of the church.  The dragon wages war in heaven and is cast down to earth (verses 7 to 9).  While on earth he pursues the woman and tries to sweep her away with a flood from his mouth (verse 15).  Keep in mind, John is not describing a sequence of events, or a story, but a war - it's always going on and continues throughout history.

Now we come to chapter 13.  Verses 1 through 10 give us John's first vision of the cosmic conflict.  It is of the first beast - the one which arises out of the sea.  We are shown a beast whose power is not that of wealth or of influence, but that of government (notice "diadems" and a "throne" are mentioned).  He combines all the powers of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel 7 which means that this beast has worldwide authority (Revelation 13:7).  We find in this beast the principle of power politics, in other words all the power of the state.  From John's view point, this would mean the power of the Roman Empire. It has different meanings throughout history, but this beast is Anti-Christian Government.  For those who lived during World War II this would be the equivalent of Nazi Germany.  For those who us who lived during the Cold War, it would be linked the communism and communistic governments like the Soviet Union.  Today, radical, fundamentalist Muslim governments come to mind as they harbor terrorists and thrive with the one purpose in mind: To eliminate Judeo-Christian influence in the world and they kill Christians wherever they are found.

In the last year, many evangelical Christians have come to equate the way the US government is heading as Anti-Christian and indeed there are some signs to that affect.  The more the US moves toward godless socialism the more it begins to manifest itself as an oppressor of religious people.

The second beast, which forms John's second vision of the cosmic conflict, arises from the earth and looks like a lamb - at first (Revelation 13:11).  But, it's voice is dragon-like.  He stands before the first beast waiting on his bidding and ready to act at his command and speak with his authority.  This beast is concerned with worship, the religious aspect of human life. It works miracles, like bringing fire down heaven (verse 13).  The coupling of Christ-like appearance (he looks like a Lamb, and Jesus was called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and again in Revelation 5:6-12), his Satanic message, the status of prophet, the concern for worship, and the appeal to the magical, all add up to one thing: Anti-Christian Religion

Again, many prophecy readers see in Barack Obama a sort of beast like figure and some have gone so far as to say that he is a false Messiah.  Given the fact that not a few people have come to see him as a "Rescuer," "a Deliverer" and "a Messiah" or sort and given the fact that he truly believes that government is the answer to all ills, it coincidently appears that Obama and the US government could dangerously fall into the categories we mention here - the two beasts. 

But I believe, and history bears the same conclusion, that BOTH beasts represent a system and not an individual par se.  It's not hard to imagine, then, that the first beast would be an anti-Christian, pro-socialist system (like many of the European countries today) and the second beast being an anti-Christian, pro-Muslim system, much like we see in Iran today.

Generally speaking, the first beast is Satan's perversion of society (regardless of what form of government or who is ruling it) and the second beast is his perversion of Christianity (regardless of whether it is a non-Christian religion like Islam, or a corrupt form of Christianity, such as a cult, or liberal theology).  This second beast is a religion in that he would encourage devotion to the state instead of God (Revelation 13:13).  His influence is by supernatural means (verse 14).

To review, then, the first beast (arising from the sea) is Anti-Christian Government - one that uses its influence to turn the people's attention away from the truth of God toward the power of the state (or Kingdom).  Satan uses Anti-Christian governments to advance his cause of threatening God's people with anything, including death, to turn away from the Living Lord.

The second beast is Anti-Christian Religion and urges, manipulates and even threatens people to worship the first beast (government) - to pay allegiance to the state.  To illustrate this for our current situation in America, think of the liberal-leaning church whose preachers and teachers encourage their members to rely on the government for its welfare.  The social-gospel of the 20th century is now a platform for the church advancing such things as "inclusivism."  Inclusivism involves accepting alternative life-styles such as homosexuality, abortion on demand, and genetic engineering to clone human beings and create a better race.  Inclusivism moves into the realm of politics where same-sex marriages should be allowed in society and ordained pastors should be forced to perform and solemnize such unions. 

Three years ago, a Baptist pastor in Suffolk, Virginia went on record as saying that he wanted the state's ban on same-sex marriage overturned and wants to be the first Baptist pastor to perform one.  He has already admitted two openly gay couples into the fellowship of his church.  His preaching is of the second beast!  About a year after saying this, he resigned (under pressure), and is now a state executive director for Cooperative Baptist Churches and has been invited to solemnize a gay marriage in - you guessed it - Massachusetts. 

So, just as we have a Holy Trinity (God, the Father; Christ, the Son and the Holy Spirit), Revelation 12 and 13 presents us with an "Unholy Trinity," (Satan, the Dragon; The First Beast and the Second Beast).  Throughout the history of God's people, Satan has used ungodly governments and kingdoms to persecute them.  In the Old Testament, there was Egypt, the Philistines, Assyria, Syria, and Babylon to name a few.  In the New Testament time it was Rome.  There have been numerous kingdoms and empires to arise and persecute God's people since that time.  They are empowered by the Dragon.

I am not going to present a commentary here on the Mark of the Beast or his number in these articles.  This will be saved for a future discussion.  There has been much ink spilt over this fascinating subject.  To ask what the number of the beast means is not the right question to advance.  The number does not stand for any particular person or institution.  The number simply stands for the beast!  When John says in Revelation 13:18 that the number is "a human number" he is not saying that the beast is a human being or that the mark is the number of a man (like his Social Security number)!  The phrase "human number" is simply opposed to it being a "divine number."  False religion, i.e. Anti-Christian religion is symbolized by a number = 666.

Notice also, John did not say "work out the meaning of the number."  He says "Work out the number."  The number is one that falls short of the divine or the number of perfection - "7"  And since we are talking about an Unholy Trinity or unholy 3, why not three 6's?

The next two articles will bring us to the question of the millennium.  In the first, I will present a survey of the four major views on the 1000-year reign of Christ.  The second will narrow in on one particular definition of the millennium and will present several factors in favor of a view which makes the most of Christ's current reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and will expose the problems of the current views which are prevalent today in the writings of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jack van Impe and others.

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