(Authored by Roger Kirby) Part 144 - Revelation 13:1-18 The opposition
What a chapter this is! It would seem there is nothing in it to find any sort of comfort from with its two beasts from the sea and the land representing the way mankind finds itself governed, the mark of the beast and the number of the beast, 666. But if you look deeply and carefully there are some comforting lessons to be learnt from it.
The first is the fact that there had to be three symbols of evil, one was not enough, it couldn’t get anywhere by itself. The dragon of chapter 12 thought he could catch and deal with the woman who represented the people of God but he couldn’t. First she was given wings and flew away from him. Then when he hoped to catch her in a flooded river she was saved by the earth swallowing the river. The dragon could not defeat the people of God because the Lord was protecting them, even in their difficulties.
So he called forth a beast from the sea (the sea in Jewish thought in those days was the realm of evil - they didn’t trust it!) and set it to work. In a shortened version of the account of the 4 beasts of Daniel 7 he gets quickly to the fourth, the Roman Empire that had conquered the whole world (that they knew), controlled it, taxed it and boasted of the peace it brought. But even that was only going to last for forty-two months, three and a half years again. So its sway was not going to be forever but only a comparatively short time. And the beast had to be given all the things that it had: authority, power to wage war against the Lord’s people and power to imprison whoever it wished. (The regimes in some countries are seeking just those three things today). But all those did not give it the ability to do what it wanted so another beast came from the earth to help.
That beast, third member of the trinity of evil, had power and authority over all communications. It did not just put a spin on the news it produced fake news! That has rather a contemporary ring to it as I write this. Our world is up to its ears in a gross mud of false information. Everyone thought the power to send communications round the world in no time at all would be a good thing but we are discovering that fake news, porn, commercial interests and personal slander have taken over the Internet. Like the first beast this second one can only proceed when it is ‘given power’.
There is only one God. Many things that happen on earth are much easier to explain if you have two gods, a good god and an evil god. Then if something bad happens you can say the evil god is winning at that moment. But we cannot do that. There is only one God and when evil happens the Bible usually introduces intermediate agents like these here. That is not easy to understand but it seems to be the way things are. This chapter is emphasising that in the end only God has power and authority. Some of the things he does, or rather allows to happen, are very puzzling but that is the way it is.
This book of Revelation is very realistic in the way it deals with the things that happen on earth. We all live in nations that have governments that do not always act the way we would like. Furthermore they always seem to attract undesirable characters to them. The people in government always seem to take a delight in telling other people what to do and in getting as much out of it for themselves as they can. Very few governments can avoid the accusation of corruption. Even as I write more than one ex-president of a country is in court accused of corruption. All that is reflected in the remarkable images in these chapters.
Next to nothing in these chapters is to be taken literally. John did not expect his readers to think that there were real beasts, one with ten horns and seven heads (which heads were the horns on!) and one with two horns like a lamb. These are picture characters to express truths about evil.
The ‘mark’ that people were to receive (13:16, 17) is another picture. People have got all excited about things like credit cards, thinking the numbers on them might have something to do with the mark. John is talking about the way in which Christians were being excluded from some possibilities in the markets of the Empire because they were Christians. And the same goes for that these days wherever Christians are being excluded from some activities because of their faith.
Finally we come to the famous number 666 (13:18). It was widely recognized that this was the number of a man and if you added up the numeric values that letters had in some languages of those days (Greek, Hebrew) you got Nero Caesar. Much more important is the fact that the number is not 777! If it were it would be saying this was complete, consistent, perfect. But it isn’t. 666 is saying all this is incomplete, inconsistent and imperfect because the Lord God reigns. His son defeated all imperfections when he died on the cross. These chapters deal with some pretty awful things that happen on this earth of ours but the Lord God still reigns, our Saviour Jesus is at his right hand. They have the victory and are still in control whatever the appearances.