**Disclaimer: Since the writing of this article (around 2016), I have shifted Eschatological views from Amillennial to Postmillennial. Thus, this article may not represent my current understanding but is left up for the purposes of archiving. I may write an update to this article at some point in the future.**
Revelation 13 sparks considerable disagreement between various expositors as to its significance. The influence of apocalyptic fictions such as the Left Behind series, which were based more on fanciful imagination than sound exegesis, has so affected evangelicalism that it is no wonder there is such wide-spread confusion and fear about Revelation. However, in the midst of all the bizarre imagery of multi-horned beasts and dragons there still remains a timeless message for the church today. As such, any interpretation worth its weight must be faithful to the intended meaning of the author to his audience, but also have timeless application to the Church throughout history.
In our first article, we worked through some of the insights and challenges noted from translating the Greek text. In this article, we consider some of the historical and literary context of the text before we finally move to interpreting and applying it to us today.
The Function of Prophecy
Jewish and early Christian prophecy was not merely about prediction but functioned more primarily as a declaration of what God is doing in the now with a purpose to stimulate faithful response in the present. Revelation is written as a letter, but also in the genre of an apocalypse. This genre of apocalypse is very strange—especially to modern Western readers—so we must do some study to understand the way it works for us to rightly understand it today.
An apocalypse frames everyday situations in the larger context of faith by which to interpret them. It allows its readers to examine their life in light of the transcendent, eschatological perspective. So then, more than needing to be interpreted, Revelation interprets the reality of its audience. Therefore, the challenge of Revelation is not to map out the fulfilment of its predictions of the future, but rather to discern the true nature of the society around us in the light of God, the Lamb and the ultimate consummation of all things.
Interpretive Keys to Revelation’s Visions
Thus, this gives us a vital interpretive key to approaching the book in general, and this chapter specifically. The book’s repeated patterns of numbers lend a sacred character to reality and indicates a God-ordered cosmos which is unfolding a divinely ordained plan. Though they may be able to be mashed together into some sort of coherent picture, its images do not have significance in and of themselves. Rather, it is their cumulative effect that creates the sense of mystery, awe and transcendence which John intends to convey. This was the purpose of an apocalyptic work. Rather than being about the literalistic interpretation of the imagery and language used, the symbolism of apocalyptic literature was more concerned with the emotional impression and overall ‘vision’ it evoked in its readers. This is why today’s popular literalistic interpretations miss the point of the genre.
Beneath all the fantastic visions, though, are several convictions:
- Firstly, that “in heaven,” the victory over evil and death has already been won by God.
- Secondly, the apparent dominance of evil and suffering on earth is itself a part of God’s triumphant plan—He is still in control.
- Thirdly, human history has an ultimate goal even on earth.
- Lastly, those who share in the witness of Christ even in the face of martyrdom will also share in his victory over death in heaven and the eternal state.
With this in mind we can begin to approach the question of the meaning of chapter 13 specifically to us, but first we must consider the structure of the book and its historical context.
The Structure of the Book
The structure of the book of Revelation consists of seven sections running parallel to each other—each one depicting the same interadvental time period in different ways. This is called progressive parallelism or recapitulation. They function like different camera angels looking at the same events from various points of view. This is why if one were to sit down and read the whole book in one sitting (as it probably was intended to be), it would seem to go in circles and events seem to overlap or repeat.
The casting down of Satan (12:7-11) and the binding of Satan (20:1-6) is an example of recapitulation where the same event is being explored from different angles. One of the major indicators of the structure of recapitulation happening in Revelation is the fact that the final End Time occurs several times in the book. Each of the sections, except the first one, ends with an indication that the end-time has come. So then, are there six endings? Probably not. It seems more reasonable to conclude that the events are being recapitulated or re-told in various manners, bringing out a new angle or significance each time.
In addition to recapitulation, several commentators have also seen the presence of a chiastic structure within Revelation. A chiasmus is a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form. There have been a few various chiastic structures proposed for the book by several commentators. Schüssler Fiorenza identified a chiastic structure in Revelation which is a reflection of the way it is theologically-thematically conceived—that is, its structure is theologically constructed rather than chronologically ordered. This chiastic structure works in tandem with the recapitulation throughout the book and I have found that it helps us to understand the text as a whole.
The structure of the book may be divided up as shown in the chart I have made below, which is a combination of Fiorenza’s, Michelle V. Lee’s and commentator, G.K. Beale’s works:
Chapter 13 as the Center Point of the Book
Michelle V. Lee sees chapter 13 as the centre of the chiasm, emphasizing the ‘moment of decision’ to worship the Beast and receive the mark or not. It is set in contrast to chapter 14 with the two Beasts and their followers parodying the Lamb and the 144,000 who are ‘marked’ with the name of God. She comments,
“The message is that through God’s sovereignty over the universe, Christ’s death and resurrection provide the model whereby the saints understand their deaths as the prerequisite to eternal life. The method is provided through a structure which allows the audience to participate in the revelatory experience and also compels them to choose sides in the battle between good and evil. The work culminates in chs. 13-14, where the believers must decide whether to serve the beast or Christ. This is a paradoxical decision in which saving one’s life in the present means eternal damnation, but losing one’s life willingly leads to eternal life.”
Both sections conclude with an exhortation to endure in 13:10 and 14:12, with an exhortation to discernment in 13:18. They are strategically placed as conclusions to the central subsections within the central section of the chiastic structure of the book. It is striking also because John breaks the third wall and exhorts his hearers directly to decide whom they serve—Christ or the Beast—a decision which will determine their ultimate fate. There is no neutral ground. Chapter 13 shows us the Beast and its worshippers, whereas chapter 14 shows us the Lamb and His worshippers.
The emphatic verbal aspects used in the Greek of verse 8, along with the positioning of chapter 13 and 14 side-by-side, call to our attention that ultimately people will worship one or the other. Chapter 13, at the centre of the chiasm, brings this conflict to stark emphasis—pointing to the purpose and function of the book as a whole. John intends to help Christians get to that ‘moment of decision’ and uncompromisingly follow Christ. Martyrdom leads to eternal reward and Revelation exhorts the saints to endure in the face of harsh persecution and dire temporal loss.
The Immediate Context of Chapter 13
It’s interesting to note that the seventh trumpet (11:15-19) precedes the vision with the Woman and the Dragon (12:1-6). The Woman represents the faithful community of God before and after Christ. It is another example of the church being equated with Israel’s twelve tribes. “The woman’s birth pangs represent the persecution of the covenant community and the messianic line during OT times and the intertestamental period leading up to Christ’s birth.” This shows the pattern of non-linear narrative in John’s apocalypse and continuing recapitulation. Here, he goes from the seventh trumpet which should signal the end, to the birth of Christ in the midst of the faithful OT and NT community of faith, then to Satan being thrown down from heaven to earth (12:7-17) and then the descriptions of the two Beasts of chapter 13.
It seems that, from this jumping between events past, present and future by John, that he views redemptive history as something atemporal—as if from the heavenly perspective—these all are as if they happened concurrently. That is, Christ’s coming, death, resurrection and Satan’s defeat, the formation of the covenant community and salvation accomplished was so sure from eternity past in the mind of God (even in the midst of the present distressing circumstances of his readers), that they could be spoken of in such an interwoven atemporal perspective. Perhaps this is what also causes much of the confusion about Revelation when some interpreters attempt to establish too strict of a timeline. By doing so, they miss this point.
The Structure of Chapter 13
Zooming in on chapter 13, its structure may be simplified as follows:
A. Dragon on the seashore (12:8) – False God
B. 1st Beast from the sea (13:1-8) – False Christ
- Given strength, throne and authority from Dragon
- Fatal wound healed
- All not written in the book of life worship it
- Utters blasphemies against God and the saints
- Makes war against and kills the saints
C. Emphasis: Disordered worship (v.8)
D. Exhortation to endurance (13:9-10)
B’. 2nd Beast from the land (13:11-17) – False Holy Spirit
- Exercises authority of first Beast
- Makes people worship the first Beast
- Performs miracles to deceive
- Gives life to the image of the Beast
- Puts to death those who don’t worship the first Beast
C’. Emphasis: Capitulation to the Beast—taking its Mark (v.16-17)
D’. Exhortation to discernment (13:18)
This structure within chapter 13 shows us the points in which this ‘unholy trinity’ parodies God, blaspheming all three Persons of the Trinity as well as His saints. Furthermore, we see in the structure of the Greek text two points of emphasis followed by exhortations. The first is an emphasis on the disordered worship of those not found in the Book of Life. All those not written therein end up succumbing to the Beast and are in fact part of his kingdom and system. Those who are the faithful, however, are given an exhortation to endurance and faith. Secondly, we see the capitulation of the world to the Beast, taking his mark and thereby being identified with him. This is followed by yet another exhortation, this time to discernment—to discern the number of the Beast, to recognize it so that the faithful will not succumb or submit to its antichrist agenda.
In first century world of the New Testament, the fear of a return to civil disorder or the invasion of hostile armies caused many to view Rome’s power as a source of security. Thus, the imperial cult became an expression of gratitude and loyalty to that sheltering power. Festivals were held and massive temples and statues erected to emperors like Domitian (51—96CE). The persecution of Christians under Domitian—though not yet widespread or state-sponsored—was quite intense especially throughout Asia Minor in the years immediately before John received his vision. Due to the Christians’ avoidance of all forms of idolatry, they would have been under immense societal pressures and risk of persecution for not participating in the imperial cult—which would be interpreted by the Romans as a sign of disloyalty.
A correspondence between governor Pliny (61—113CE) and emperor Trajan (53—117CE) show us the earliest evidence of legal prosecution of Christians under the pressure of the imperial cult. Pliny interrogated Christians that were turned over to him—forcing them to renounce their faith, curse Christ, and offer incense to the imperial cult or face death. However, even in the face of these already high tensions, John’s apocalypse looks to escalate them. The testimony of Jesus must be maintained at all costs! It is an unapologetic clash of loyalties, either to Christ or the beastly empire. If Christians compromised, their distinctive witness would be lost and they would no longer confront their neighbours with the reality of the one God to whom was due exclusive honour.
Is Nero the Beast?
The major figure under whom serious persecution of Christians began is Nero (37—68CE). He had put Peter and Paul to death, blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome beginning the period of ruthless persecution, and represented all forms of ungodliness and wickedness. Nero was referred to by early sources as a “beast”. At the end of his reign, Nero was censured by the Senate and took his own life by the sword. However, there quickly developed a widespread rumour that he had survived or come back from the dead. The Nero redivivus myth which was current in the first century can be traced back to the early Latin commentator Victorinus (died c.304CE) and may provide insightful background to John’s discussion of the Beast and its parody of Christ with the healed death wound. The myth also took some strange forms, such as that Nero would return from the abyss with a huge demonic army. Sulpitius Severus (363—425CE), writing later, confirms this connection of the Nero myth with the Beast of chapter 13. He wrote:
“It was accordingly believed that, even if he did put an end to himself with a sword, his wound was cured, and his life preserved, according to that which was written regarding him,—‘And his mortal wound was healed,’—to be sent forth again near the end of the world, in order that he may practice the mystery of iniquity.”
So, it is proposed that Nero is the head of the Beast which is wounded and the Beast itself is the Roman empire.
However, there are some objections with identifying Nero too closely with the wounded head of the Beast. The text later twice assigns the wound to the Beast itself (v. 12, 14). While Nero is in power, he may be said to represent the empire and the two might be used interchangeably. However, if the emperor is expelled from power—as Nero was—this would cease to be true and a wound inflicted on the former emperor is not necessarily inflicted on the empire itself. Furthermore, the healing of the wound enhances the Beast’s prestige and leads to greater wonder in the presence of the Beast. The people proclaim the invulnerability of the Beast (not the head) exclaiming, “Who can make war against it?” (v. 4) Also, it encourages the Beast to greater blasphemy, deception and war against the saints. However, there is little evidence that Nero’s death and resurrection myth had any such effects.
Some counter that after Nero’s death, the empire was thrown into violent convulsions of civil war and anarchy—with three emperors succeeding one another in a single year. The fact that the empire survived this time and stabilized under emperor Vespasian in 69—79CE is a marvel—thus showing that the Beast survived the mortal wound of one of its heads. Adding to this, the Beast was given authority to act for 42 months and make war against and overcome the saints (v. 5-7), and Nero’s persecution of the Church lasted a full 42 months. Though the use of the number 42 in prophetic language is symbolic for a time of trouble—this is still a significant connection to note.
The Identification of the Antichrist
A strictly preterist interpretation would limit the Beast to being exhaustively fulfilled in Nero, but this interpretation requires an early writing of Revelation before the destruction of the Temple in 70CE—which some think is unlikely (I’m still undecided on the dating of Revelation as a good case can be made both ways). A strictly futurist interpretation also is problematic as the Bible clearly speaks of antichrists and the Beast as present realities during the apostolic age as well as the interadvental period. Charles Hodge points out that some understand the term ‘antichrist’ as referring to any spirit, or power, or person. The passages he cites (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7; Matt. 24:24; 1 Tim. 4:1), refer to a marked characteristic of the period between the apostolic age and the second coming where there are to be many manifestations of malignant opposition to Christ and attempts to overthrow His Kingdom. For example, Ambrose (337—397CE), writing in the fourth century in his Exposition of the Christian Faith XV.135, saw the Arian heretics as Antichrist since they denied Jesus Christ and blasphemed His Name.
Looking at the text, the fact that the Beast represents a person can be seen in the identification of his number as being that of a human (v.18). Furthermore, the parallels between the Beast and the Lamb, and also the use of the masculine pronoun to refer to the neuter θηρίον show that it is in reference to a person. However, it also represents an empire, as seen in its appearance (v. 1-2)—which is a composite of the beasts in Daniel 7:1-7, which also came from the sea and resembled a lion, bear, leopard and ten-horned monster. In Daniel, they represent successive Gentile empires, and in Revelation, they are combined to represent all antichristian governmental powers.
I think it was likely that John was both possibly alluding to Nero (using him as a contemporary illustration), and the Beast more broadly represents any political power or civil government that persecutes the people of God and opposes God’s Kingdom. It was Egypt in Moses’ day, Assyria in Isaiah’s day, Babylon in Jeremiah’s day and Rome in John’s day. Continuing forward, the Beast can be seen in the tyranny of Bloody Mary or the Nazis in Germany and it continues to rise again and again throughout history. At John’s time, the Beast had resurrected in Domitian (51—96CE); who, though he was not a strong Caesar (his wars were mainly defensive), sought to save face through the imperial cult and gave authority to the priests of Rome to make images of him and compel “all, small and great, rich and poor, bond and free” to worship him (v.14-16).
Thus, it can be applied to Nero and/or Domitian (depending on how you date the book) in the first century, and continues to be applied to tyrants and totalitarian governments throughout history.
The False Prophet—the second Beast
The ‘false prophet’—the second Beast from the earth (v.11)—is the pagan religious system that directs worship to the Beast. Like other false religions, it appears to be harmless with its lamb-like appearance, but this only hides a more sinister character, with its dragon-like voice—perhaps alluding to the danger of what it speaks, that is false teaching. It is not by accident that the second Beast parodies or parallels the description of the slain Lamb earlier. It is a mockery of the true Lamb of God. This second Beast represents the propaganda machine that gives the first Beast its power and control over the masses. It was the emperor cult in Rome, and propaganda campaigns, false religions and brainwashing by media in totalitarian regimes today.
A Climactic Point—Disordered Worship and Election
Together, the antichristian political power and the false religions represent the active power of the Dragon, the Devil, here on earth which disorders worship away from God. This emphasis by John on disordered worship can be seen in his escalation of the verbal aspects used in the Greek text of chapter 13. Most of the chapter is mainly dominated by aorist and a few present tense verbs. However, in verse 8-9 there is a future, two perfects, a present and an aorist imperative. All of these culminating a literary emphasis in the Greek text—almost like raising your voice or stressing words to give prominence. The sharp use of the third person imperative in verse 9 leading into the saying of verse 10 confirms this emphasis.
Verse 8 is definitely emphatic, if not a climactic statement that, “all the ones dwelling upon the earth shall worship him, those whose name had not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb which had been slain.” Everyone whose names were not in the book of life WILL worship the Beast. This is a most sobering statement and puts into perspective both the finality of God’s saving work to preserve His own, and the enmity of humanity apart from God to follow after the Beast. It is noteworthy that these have been written ‘from the foundation of the world’—they had nothing to do with their own election, but it was rather from eternity past of the Father’s own good pleasure to elect to save them. This is the grounds upon which they are preserved from the global apostacy to worship the Beast. In the face of insurmountable hardships, God’s people can rest in His ability to sustain and preserve His own, for He loses none of them (John 6:39).
The Fatal Wound
The word translated as ‘wound’ (πληγὴ) in chapter 13 is used sixteen times in Revelation. In Louw-Nida, one of its semantic range of definitions is, “a widespread contagious disease, often associated with divine retribution—‘plague, pestilence.’” However, only in chapter 13 is it translated as ‘wound’ (13:3, 12, 14). All thirteen other uses in Revelation it is translated as ‘plague.’ In all these other contexts, the plague is a divinely-ordained and messianically-administered punishment for sin. “It is a drastic punishment that spells death in the prophet’s vocabulary; such a ‘wound’ is always mortal.” What then is meant by this ‘πληγὴ (plague) of the sword’ in verse 14?
Minear suggests that, “the sword is the symbol of God’s wrath; it is a God-inflicted plague which simultaneously destroys of head, beast and dragon. It is a wound from which the beast may recover only by using deception, by succeeding in his temptations, making absolute his illusory claims to ultimate power over human destiny.” He continues that, Christ alone has the right to the ‘sword’ of judgement—the plague. His authority to evict Satan from heaven is seen in chapter 12. This is then followed by renewed activity against the saints which is paralleled in chapter 13 by the wounding of the Beast which results in intensification of his war against the saints.
This death wound then is more than just the death of an emperor—it is the plague or judgment of God released through Christ in His death and resurrection upon the Beast. This is why the wound to the head is also an injury to the Beast and by extension the Dragon. Jesus had said that Satan received a deadly blow in (Luke 10:17-24; 11:14-22). And Paul says he disarmed the principalities and powers, triumphing over them in the Cross (Col. 2:15). The Beast, the reign of the Devil on earth has been dealt the definitive death blow, however, he has deceptively used it to enhance his power and ramped up his fury against God’s people in the present age until he is finally thrown into the lake of fire at the second coming.
The Mark of the Beast
The term χάραγμα (Rev. 13:16) normally implies an engraved mark or a seal impression, or inscription. Rome had issued previously these as proof of entitlement to grain under Augustus. So, there may already have been economic associations with the term. The location of the mark has some significance as the forehead symbolizes the mind, philosophy and thought life and the right hand indicates deeds, action, and trade. So, receiving the Beast’s mark in these places indicates one’s allegiance to the Beast in what one thinks and does.
It is also worthy to note that the ‘mark’ is a parody of the ‘seal’ in chapter 7 of God’s people—yet another thing which this ‘unholy trinity’ blasphemes in attempting to imitate and set itself up in place of God. The mark is tied to the state’s usurpation of divine prerogatives—thus, those who take the mark worship the Beast and deny faith in Jesus or confess that “Caesar is Lord.” It is another device which John utilizes to bring into stark focus the conflict believers find themselves in and just how high the stakes really are. “At the time John used this image, slaves were branded or tattooed by their owners. This indicates that anyone who ‘takes the mark’ is branded as a slave (or servant) of the beast and self-consciously renounces Christ to their eternal peril.”
Many today speculate what the Mark of the Beast might be – a microchip or vaccine. However, these speculations miss the point of the symbolism. Taking the Mark is rather simply allegiance to that anti-Christian worldy power that causes one to think and act in ways that oppose God. We see this today in many anti-Christian ideologies (such as Marxism, Postmodernism, LBGTQ ideologies, Wokeism & Critical Theories, other Radical Leftist ideologies, etc) being put forward by the cultural elites and secular governments. To fall prey to these ideologies is to worship the Beast rather than Christ – to confess that Caesar is Lord and to enslave oneself to this world’s powers.
The Number of the Name of the Beast
Various early writers tried to figure out whose name fit the number via gematria (the practice of assigning numbers to letters) with suggestions ranging from τειταν, βενεδικτος, αντεμος, λατεινος and most popularly Nero, to alleged titles of the Pope—Vicarius filii Dei. Irenaeus (130—202CE) in Against Heresies, XXX.3 also suggests some names, however, he warns that one should not try too hard to specifically figure it out but rather await the prophecy’s fulfillment as many names can be found to possess the number. He concludes that “if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision.”
There are also some significant variants in the manuscripts—the most interesting of which being the reading 616 instead of 666 which appears fairly early. Some think that both of these identify with Nero—depending on how one spells his name and title since his name in other languages add up to 616 instead. However, Irenaeus argued strongly against the 616 reading in favour of 666. Sanders argues that Irenaeus’ strong approval for 666 in opposition to 616 would sufficiently account for the latter’s disappearance even if it were original.
However, even if this is a cryptic reference to Nero or another person, it is far more important to understand what the number means. “It is not necessary to assume by the language used that the literal name or a literal cipher must be intended. Each digit in the number 666 (v. 18) falls short of the symbolic number of perfection: 7.” The Beast mimics Christ but always falls short and six represents fallen humanity, always laboring but never entering the Sabbath rest. Three 6s indicate the Beast(Antichrist), with the Dragon (Satan) and the Second Beast (False prophet), who form an unholy Trinity, and underscore the intrinsic evil bound up in them, but they fall short of completeness. Though it is stated in a way which may imply that a historical figure is in mind, it is more likely to be understood as a model to warn believers to be wary of the fallen world system and powers which go against God. These things which are ‘antichrist’ are what it takes wisdom to discern (v.18).
In conclusion, the thirteenth chapter of Revelation is one of much significance to the book as a whole as it is placed at the peak of the chiastic structure and serves to emphasize the point of the book—that the reader must choose whom they ultimately align themselves to, the Beast or the Lamb. Within the chapter, we see this confirmed and accentuated by the emphasis on worship (either to the Beast or Christ) through the Greek verbal aspectual cues and apposition. Though John may have well been using allusions to real persons, such as Nero and Domitian, as well as other cultural allusions of the political situation of his world, these metaphorical allusions serve a more timeless function to represent realities which perpetuate themselves throughout the ages.
The second Beast, representing false religion brings to our attention also that the deception can come from other religious or antichristian worldviews which ultimately serve the Beast or even from false teachers within the church. All of this brings into sharp focus the conflict between good and evil which is actually at work behind the reality of the world we live in. Set against the historical backdrop of the persecuted church John wrote to, one can see how it would serve as a clarion call for endurance to those under intense tribulation and distress which would likely only escalate given the present state of affairs.
What’s the Take-away?
However, within all of this there are distinct notes of real hope and encouragement. John’s pastoral concern is to expose the true nature of the realities they encounter and the real crisis they face by use of the apocalyptic genre as an ‘unveiling’ to open their eyes to the spiritual dimension. Satan has been fatally wounded though God’s judicial act against the powers of evil on the Cross. His activity in this age are those of a wounded Beast, thrashing around and seeking to take others with him toward his ultimate demise. Believers must be reminded of this in the face of what seems to be a bleak reality. They are called to endurance and faith knowing that these things have been divinely ordered and controlled (v.9-10).
Believers are not to ‘take the mark of the Beast’—which would be to capitulate to the antichrist world system in either thought or deed or to compromise for the sake of economic gain. Instead, they are to use wisdom to discern those things which are antichrist—against Christ and his Lordship here in this world. They are to take every thought captive and bring it under submission to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
The antichrist world system ultimately worships something, and that which lays behind it all is exceedingly insidious—yet its end is destruction (14:9-11). Therefore, endurance, faith, and discernment are necessary for believers even when the cost of resistance is high since in light of eternity, to die for the faith is gain. DeSilva puts it well,
“In a world where a Lamb conquers by dying and the dragon is defeated by believers who lay down their lives rather than collude with an idolatrous system, the path for resistance is clear. We are called to protest, to bear witness to what society could be if God were allowed to break in and reign, but we are not to defile ourselves with blood as God’s enemies have done.”
Charles Hodge points out that according to Luthardt, John’s writings in the NT—the Gospel, his epistles and Revelation—form a beautiful and harmonious whole as faith, hope and love mingle into one. “Faith is prominent in the Gospel, love in the Epistles, and hope in the Apocalypse.” Ultimately that is what Revelation offers to us today—hope. We must remain ever vigilant, keeping our focus on that which restrains the principle of lawlessness—the preaching of the Gospel. Instead of dreading the Antichrist or losing hair over the latest events in the Middle East or paranoidly trying to find 666 on household product IDs or vaccines, we should be longing for Christ’s return. The point of Revelation is not endless speculation about prognostication of the future but to put our hope in the ultimate and final victory of the Lamb which is sure. The surety of this fact is seen in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Christ has conquered. Christ is reigning. One day we will see that reign fully consummated before our eyes.
Until then, we must exercise a kind of eschatological patience, because the best exegesis of Revelation will ultimately be its fulfillment in God’s time. The making of all things right and new in the world depends not on gradual amelioration but on the final interposition of God. The Christian does not take vengeance into their own hands and in the midst of a hostile world, we remember that there are unseen spiritual forces behind what we experience. There is a bigger battle going on, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). In the midst of a world which is often harshly antichristian, we are not to meet sword with sword. We are to be patient, enduring hardship in hope, taking the true path to victory—the way of the Cross. At the same time, we fight on today from a position of victory knowing that the Lamb has conquered and that one day every knee will bow to him!
The temptation for us and Christians throughout the ages has always been to compromise with the world powers, to sell out to the system, to concede to sub-Christian patterns of thought and deed and to be marked by that which is beastly for the sake of temporal gain. These are the temptations we face daily, both for persecuted Christians and even for ones finding themselves in the more ‘peaceful’ Western world. They are brought on by the Beast and Dragon, that garden serpent of old—the Devil. However, the promise of Genesis is fulfilled in Christ, and the snake’s head has been crushed. Though we live in the already-but-not-yet period of redemptive history, one glorious day Christ shall come and with nothing more than a shout vanquish the Devil, death and Hades. Martin Luther said it rightly of our great enemy of our souls in his hymn A Mighty Fortress, “one little word shall fell him.”
Μαράνα θά! “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
Articles in this series:
- Revelation 13 | Translation – What does the original text reveal?
- Revelation 13 | An Examination of the Historical & Literary Context
- Revelation 13 | The Dragon, The Beast & the Mark – What does it mean?
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- Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
- Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Third Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010.
- Judge, Edwin A. “The Mark of the Beast, Revelation 13:16” Tyndale Bulletin 42, no. 1 (1991) 158-160. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, (accessed March 24, 2017).
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 See Gribben, 77-82. The influence of this series cannot be underestimated. Gribben points out the fact that some 32 million copies of the novels plus 18 million associated products had been sold by January 2002. He argues that the success of the Left Behind series is one which, due to its focus primarily on tribulation rather than millennial outlook, provides a barometer of evangelical cultural fear and paranoia which is reflective of the changing evangelical condition (Gribben, 92).  De Silva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 885-889.  Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 510.  Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 519.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 228. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 223. This essay assumes an Amillennial view and recapitulation.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 231.  Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 186 and 223—226.  Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom,” 167-168.  Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom,” 174-178.  Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom,” 164.  Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom,” 191.  Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom,” 192.  Beale, The Book of Revelation, 625-627.  Beale, The Book of Revelation, 629.  De Silva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 901.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 151–152. See Beale, Revelation, 4—27 for a discussion on the arguments for a late or early date. This paper assumes a late date (about 95CE).  Habermas, The Historical, 198. “Interestingly, Pliny reports that true believers could not be forced to worship the gods or the emperor.” (Habermas, 200)  De Silva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 901-906. Jews were exempted by Rome since they were deemed a legal religion—however, as Christianity broke off more distinctly from Judaism as not just another Jewish sect, so too did their protective shelter.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 151.  Minear, “The Wounded Beast,” 94-96.  Sulpicius Severus, “The Sacred History Of Sulpitius Severus,” 111.  Minear, “The Wounded Beast,” 96-97.  Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 280–283.  Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 286–290.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 152.  Hodge, Systematic Theology, 812-813.  Ambrose of Milan, “Exposition of the Christian Faith,” 241.  Wong, “The Beast from the Sea,” 339-340.  Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 279–281.  Baldinger, “A Beastly Coalition,” 446.  Baldinger, “A Beastly Coalition,” 447.  See Porter, Idioms, 22 and relevant sections of chapter 1 on Verbal Aspect.  Louw, Greek-English Lexicon, 270. Emphasis added.  Minear, “The Wounded Beast,” 98.  Minear, “The Wounded Beast,” 99.  Minear, “The Wounded Beast,” 99.  Judge, “The Mark of the Beast,” 159-160.  Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 303.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 153.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 153.  Sanders, “The Number of the Beast,” 95-96. See also Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 306.  Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 559–560.  Sanders, “The Number of the Beast,” 96—97.  Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 558—559.  Sanders, “The Number of the Beast,” 97. He also notes from the other variants—626, 690 and 642—that there may have been a tendency to seek numbers in the six hundreds due to the early use of 616 (99).  Gregg, Revelation, Four Views, 303.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 153; Patterson, Revelation, 282.  Bratcher, A Handbook, 205.  Beale, The Book of Revelation, 710. Some manuscripts and the majority text for verse 14 read, “and it leads astray those of mine dwelling on the earth…” which seems to represent and early interpretation that the focus of this deception is from within the church.  De Silva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 905.  DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 928  Hodge, Systematic Theology, 827.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 156.  Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 133–135.  Baldinger, “A Beastly Coalition,” 446-447.  Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 157.