THE BEASTS Revelation 12–14
“Men worshiped . . . the beast, and asked, ’Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”’ (Rev. 13:4)Human beings are often deceived by those who appear to be powerful.
Symbols in Revelation 12–14. We are naturally curious as to who is represented by the figures that make such an overwhelming impression in these powerful chapters of Revelation. One figure, that of the dragon, is interpreted in the text. The great red dragon is Satan himself, “who leads the whole world astray.” While the woman of chapter 12 has been variously interpreted as humanity, the church, and Mary, it is best to understand her as representing Israel. This is the people from whom Christ came; the people whose tragic journey over the past 2,000 years indicates Satan’s continuing hostility. The “sea” in Scripture generally is a symbol of humanity. The “beast out of the sea” is the Antichrist, who is clearly linked by details in the text to the Antichrist of Daniel’s prophecies. The “beast out of the earth” is usually called the “false prophet.” Together the devil, the Antichrist, and false prophet compose an unholy trinity, a distorted reflection of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They achieve great power on earth, and win the allegiance of what remains of humanity. They seem to triumph over God’s saints. But the triumph is only apparent. After a final warning is conveyed to all on earth, a new, intensified level of judgment begins.
Signs in heaven review events: the hostility of Satan for God’s chosen people (12:1–3), the birth from Israel of the Saviour (vv. 4–5), and an attack on Israel inspired by Satan during the Tribulation period (vv. 6–9). Satan’s influence is now limited to earth (12:10–17), where he energizes the Antichrist (13:1–10) and false prophet (vv. 11–18) to rally mankind against God. The 144,000 witnesses of Revelation 7 remain faithful (14:1–8) as angels assist in warning humanity (vv. 6–13), and heaven itself joins in the destruction of sinful mankind (vv. 14–20).
Understanding the Text
“A male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” Rev. 12:1–5. The language of the text is messianic (cf. Ps. 2; Isa. 9:6–7). The woman is Israel, from whom the Christ was born. And the dragon is Satan. How fascinating it is to see Satan crouched, ready to pounce on the Child as He enters this world in weakness. And what a reminder. Satan failed to thwart God when Jesus walked here as a man. Despite Satan’s own considerable powers, how futile all his efforts are! He could not defeat a weakened Jesus. He is helpless against the Lamb, slain but now alive and powerful on God’s own throne! Don’t worry about Satan. For all his posturing, he is a defeated enemy. Lost mankind may one day be enraptured by his appearance of power. But you and I know that there is more power in Jesus’ appearance of weakness on the cross, than in all the armies Satan will be able to hurl against God. “To a place prepared for her by God” Rev. 12:6. Some have linked this with Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:20–21, and concluded that during the Tribulation God will shelter the Jewish remnant in Mount Seir. One group has even gone so far as to store New Testaments, printed in Hebrew, in Seir’s caves. Perhaps they were too precise in their preparations. But they did not go too far in their faith. One day soon all that John describes will come to pass. History will culminate in scorching judgments. And we are wise if we too prepare for that day. “He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” Rev. 12:7–12. The one thing that opposing generals dread is that the enemy may learn their plans, and find some way to counter them. How fascinating that, in prophecy, God not only tells us what lies ahead, but also makes the same information available to Satan! But how significant this is as well. Satan may know what lies ahead. But there is nothing he can do to change the outcome of his rebellion! His frantic efforts, his raging hostility toward God’s own, express frustration rather than confidence. He knows his time is short. And we know that Satan has been, and will be, overcome by the blood of the Lamb. “He pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” Rev. 12:13–17. There really must be a place in our understanding of prophecy for Israel. God chose the Jewish people, and loved them consistently from the days of Abraham to the birth of Christ. Paul assures us that God has not rejected this people whom He foreknew, but that a day is coming when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). God’s people still are precious to Him. When, at history’s end, the focus returns to Israel, and the prophet’s visions take solid form, Satan’s hatred of God will burn against the people that God so loves. Whatever else this may say to us, one thing is clear. Satan hates what God loves. Those who have antagonism toward the Jews are most surely on the wrong side. “Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast” Rev. 13:1–10. Note the number of times that “power” is mentioned or alluded to in these verses. It’s there in verses 2, 4, and 7. Isn’t it strange that “power to make war” is so attractive to humanity? We’ll follow anyone who has power, and who promises to make us powerful. No wonder the dictators of history were able to win the allegiance of their people so easily. “Power to make war” attracts us, and we want to be on the winning side. But note the word God has for His saints. As the Antichrist wins victory after victory, believers are told “this calls for patient endurance.” Some of us will go into captivity. Some to the sword. And to all around us we will appear the weakest of all. And yet, the weak win. And the powerful of the earth lose. May we learn to see the victory implicit in weakness, and the defeat inherent in power to make war, and live accordingly. “He deceived the inhabitants of the earth” Rev. 13:11–18. I can’t help being amused at those who take Uri Geller seriously. Bend nails by mind power? I’m sure! It’s a lot like the “Christian” couple who amazed Christian congregations by the messages the Spirit gave about details of people’s lives-until someone recorded the radio messages being transmitted to the speaker by his wife through a “hearing aid.” If we’re so gullible when tricksters are involved, think how easily deceived folks will be when real supernatural powers are openly exercised! The picture given of the future here contains a vital reminder. No matter what one claims to be able to do, don’t desert the Word of God. No matter what economic sanctions exist, locking believers out of opportunities to work, or even to buy food, don’t abandon the Word of God. Fix your confidence in Christ and His written Word, and do not be deceived. “They follow the Lamb wherever He goes” Rev. 14:1–5. We met the 144,000 in Revelation 7. They were identified there as Jews, sealed and sent out by God to witness about Him during the terrible times associated with history’s end. Here we see them, redeemed, standing before God’s throne and praising Him with a song that is uniquely their own. And here we hear God’s commendation. “They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” You and I are not numbered with the 144,000. But we can be among those of every age, of whom it can be said, “They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” “He had the eternal Gospel to proclaim” Rev. 14:6–13. Throughout the Christian era, sharing the Gospel has been the responsibility of human beings. But now, with humanity deceived by Satan, God demonstrates His grace in a unique way. Powerful angels call on mankind to worship God, and make the nature of the impending judgment absolutely clear. This last expression of grace is rejected, and the saints are encouraged to endure. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,” a voice from heaven says. “They will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” No matter how hard life here may be, or how unrewarding it seems to remain faithful to the Lord, remember. We are promised rest. And our deeds will not be forgotten, but will follow us to glory.
Battle Hymn(Rev. 14:6–20)
Our American Civil War was undoubtedly the bloodiest of that era. Some 600,000 young men perished, 300,000 of them from disease and exposure associated with their military service. As the terrible cost in lives became more and more clear, the imagery of Revelation 14 captured the imagination of Julia Ward Howe. How like a farmer harvesting a crop, gathering great armloads of grapes, and trampling on them till blood-red juices flow. How like John’s terrible vision, in which the blood pours from the winepress of God’s wrath, gushing down ravines surrounding the Holy City and spreading out for 180 miles! And so the great “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was born. God, Howe said, is “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.” Somehow, in that terrible, costly struggle, Julia Ward Howe sensed the triumph of God’s truth. And she was right. Decades before, when the Constitution was being hammered out, the founding fathers shied away from the issue of slavery. The South was too wedded to the institution, and all the colonies must unite in declaring independence. And so the evil was ignored. It festered deep in the body politic year after year, until finally it could no longer be ignored. By then it was so deeply entrenched that it could only be excised at the cost of blood. The grapes of wrath were trampled out, and 600,000 young men died. Every evil is like slavery. Undealt with, it festers in the soul. Christ purges those who turn to Him. But those who will not must be trampled, as God’s truth goes marching on.
The vision of judgment teaches us the momentous nature of our sins.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat, He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat; O be swift my soul to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on. In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, While God is marching on. Glory! glory, hallelujah! Glory! glory, hallelujah! Glory! glory, halleluhah! His truth is marching on. -Julia Ward Howe