READ: Revelation 11-13
BACKGROUND: As always, lots of crazy stuff. Feel free to ask questions.
THINK: Today – some background and thoughts on the meaning of the famous images described in these chapters (including some of the significance of the numbers that are so prevalent in Revelation):
The dragon of Revelation represents the devil and that is made pretty clear by language in this chapter. The woman giving birth to the son whom the dragon sought to destroy is the story of the birth of Jesus and Jesus’ victory over the devil. And her 12 stars represent all people – that Jesus birth, life, death, & resurrection had effect for ALL people.
Now, a couple of interesting things about the dragon here: In Revelation the numbers 7 and 10 are used to signify wholeness and completeness. There are numerical patterns used to describe God that are never used to describe Satan. And yet, here are 7 and 10 – 7 heads, 10 horns – used to describe the dragon. Why? The name of the dragon isn’t repeated in any pattern, but the description is to show complete wickedness and complete oppression and evil. And the description of the dragon sweeping a 1/3 of the stars from the sky is, once again, a sad reference to the killing of Christians for their faith.
But here, again, this passage offers great hope to believers and urges them to carry on and remain faithful despite the difficulties and the persecution they might fact in this life. Verses 8-12 describe the victory over the dragon/the devil that has already been won. Verse 11, especially highlights that anyone who has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and been faithful to God even in the midst of difficulty is already a part of the victory. Satan cannot accuse you anymore! The great accuser cannot call you guilty any longer because he has been defeated by the cross. So, don’t you dare let the devil tell you that you aren’t good enough or that you’re too messed up for God to love and forgive or that you’ll never truly be forgiven and loved. He has no power to accuse you of that. He is beaten! And even though it doesn’t always feel like it, even though the harsh realities of our human experience seem to indicate otherwise sometimes, the battle is over. But as God permits humans to exercise the free will to choose him or not, he has allowed the devil – for a short while – to tempt and try humanity.
And one of the tools the devil uses to do that is the beast…which is actually 2 beasts: beast 1 which comes up out of the sea in verse 1, and beast 2 which comes up out of the earth in verse 11. But the hierarchy here is clear. Beast 1 is a servant of the dragon (Satan) and beast 2 is a servant of beast 1. They all serve the purpose of persecuting Christians and trying to draw people away from God, but they represent different ways of doing so. The first beast is a politician. He represents nations or nationalities that wage war against what is good in the world. He is a smooth talker who sways people with his words and wins followers and great power with his promises, but ultimately he is evil and destructive in his actions and his purposes.
The beast is also known as the antichrist. So who is the beast, the antichrist? Was it Adolf Hitler because he certainly fit the bill? How about Joseph Stalin? Idi Amin? Napoleaon Bonaparte? Mao Tse Dong? Pol Pot? Margaret Sanger? Kim Jong-Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama bin Laden? Whom? Jerry Sandusky? [Pause 3] All of them. All of them were, or are, antichrists. Like we said in earlier devotions, this symbolic language of Revelation isn’t meant to correspond to a single historical event but rather to represent the realities of the world we live in. And all of those men are represented by the beast. And there isn’t necessarily 1 antichrist person who is coming that we must be on the lookout for – despite what Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote in the Left Behind series.
1 John 2:18 says “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” Anyone in a position of political authority who uses that power to oppress the poor and the needy and the helpless and to kill the innocent is, by the very nature of Jesus Christ, and antichrist. And as Christians, little Christs, this passage warns us that we must always be on guard to defend the defenseless, to look after the poor and the need and the oppressed and the downtrodden and we must be faithful to God even in the midst of persecution from this world.
And the second beast serves to recruit people to worship the first. The second beast seems to serve a religious function – to fool people into believing in the first beast and worshipping the power and mission of that beast. And the second beast can do amazing things to prove how great it is. And as Christians we shouldn’t be amazed by them or surprised. Jesus says in Matthew 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even my people.”
There are religious leaders who teach things that we know aren’t Biblical, aren’t true, aren’t in line with the life and teachings and mission of Jesus Christ. And usually they don’t teach the exact opposite. They don’t say, “Hey, get out there and rape, kill, and steal! That’s what you should do!” Cause that wouldn’t work. But they compromise truth. And they encourage us to compromise, for selfish gain and selfish reasons. Do not follow the beast. Do not be misled. Do not compromise your faith or your convictions because it’s convenient. Jesus warns us that people will call us to compromise and will even make compromise look appealing, but that we were designed and created for something better. For a faith without compromise.
Finally, “the mark of the beast.” Revelation says that everyone will have to bear that mark in order to buy or trade or sell or participate in the communal marketplace in any way and since the number of the beast is 666, many people assume that this number is the mark of the beast. Some argue that it will be a tattoo that people are forced to get on their hand or their forehead, others argue that it will be progressive – a barcode or a microchip implanted in the skin that must be scanned in order to make any transactions. What is highly likely, though, is again that this is a symbolic metaphor. In Roman times – the culture John was writing to – a slave was often tattooed on the hand or forehead to mark possession. Also, tattoos then, as now, were acquired by people as a sign of devotion. A mark was the reminder of possession and devotion.
And interestingly enough, even in Revelation the mark of the beast on the forehead is contrasted to faithful Christians have the Father’s name written on their foreheads. Rev 7:3, 9:4, 14:1 & 22:4 talk about this mark for Christians and it goes all the way back to Exodus where God says that his word should be a mark upon our foreheads. So, does this mean we all HAVE to get forehead tattoos at some point – either beast or God you choose? No! That’s ridiculous. The gates to Heaven are not gonna be lined with tattoo parlors so you can get “JESUS” written on there and qualify to get in. The mark is symbolic of allegiance. Again, it signifies possession and devotion. The mark of the beast is participation in an evil economic system. The mark of God is devotion to him and refusal to compromise. It is saying – in the midst of difficultly and trials and frustrations – I know that the battle is won and that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save me from my sins. And because I am washed by his blood I hold on to the glorious hope that one day I will live forever with God in a perfect world that has been made new! It is declaring boldly: I BELONG TO JESUS!
In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Can you say “I belong to Jesus!”?
PRAY: Thank God for what he’s done to defeat evil and make salvation and eternity available to anyone. Thank him for his great love. And then share it with somebody today – the consequences are serious.