In chapter 12 we met the dragon, or Satan. Now, in chapter 13 we find out how the dragon influences the world and tries to turn it against God. He does this with the help of two beasts. The million dollar question in chapter 13 is the identity of these two beasts. There is much speculation on the internet about this question and in my humble opinion, most of it is wrong. In the last chapter I looked at the attributes of the woman on the moon to try to identify her. We must do the same thing here. It is tempting to go with popular theories, but we should always go to the text itself to decide what God meant. You can look throughout history and be amazed at all of the predictions of who some of these characters were. As you read the first couple of verses you will notice that the description of the beast is very similar to the description of the dragon. Here are the two descriptions next to each other.
|The Dragon – 12:3||The Beast – 13:1|
|“And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads”||“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads.”|
Doesn’t it look like John is describing the same thing, but perhaps at a different time, and with some wardrobe changes? It is the same description, but described in a different way. Here are the differences:
1) The beast and the dragon both have seven heads and ten horns. These are identical. However, for the beast the diadems have been moved from the heads to the horns. Horns represent power. The number ten always represents humanity. Therefore, the ten horns represent human power. Putting a crown on all of the horns seems to be John telling us that the beast is a human expression of the dragon. It is still the dragon, but the focus is on its human power.
2) Next, in the description of the dragon the heads are listed before the horns, but with the beast the ten horns are listed before the seven heads. Remember, there is a reason for every word of this book. John does everything with a purpose. He did not accidentally mention it this way. Apparently, he wanted to emphasize the humanity of the beast as opposed to the other-worldliness of the dragon.
3) Finally, the beast has a blasphemous name upon each of its heads. I think this shows that the beast represents many people and not just one.
So what does all of this mean? The beast is identical to the dragon, but the subtle differences in the way that it presents itself emphasizes its humanity. John is saying that the beast is a human incarnation of the dragon. Satan is a spiritual being. He does not walk around and talk to us in the world like people do. The beast is his instrument that he uses to incarnate himself into different places in the world. The dragon influences human beings until they become the beast, or human incarnations of Satan. Hitler was the beast. He wasn’t Satan himself, but he was most certainly an incarnation of Satan. Joseph Stalin was the beast. He wasn’t Satan himself, but he was an incarnation of Satan. Nero, the Roman emperor who killed Peter and Paul was the beast. Anytime someone uses human power to do Satan’s work on earth, they are the beast. It isn’t any one person. You or I could be the beast if we let Satan use us to do evil. Now, I know this is not nearly as interesting as showing how one certain person in the future will be the beast. I won’t sell many books with this theory, or get as many hits on my website, but I believe that this is what God meant through John’s writing. That is what the text says.
Basically, anyone who has the worldview of rejecting God is the beast. That’s the way that Satan’s rebellion becomes incarnate in human history. Our world has no room for God, it has room for idols, but it has no place for God to be God on God’s terms. The world seeks to make God who it wants him to be. So the beast is everywhere in the world today.
Moving on, In verse 2 John uses a prophecy from Daniel. Daniel spoke of four beasts which were to come in the future. John combines them into one beast. He does this to show that all of the beasts that Daniel spoke of are incarnations of Satan. They were all the beast for their particular period of time. They were all Satan incarnated into the world.
Verse 3 says, “and the whole world followed the beast with wonder.” Many of us refuse to follow God, but we will follow the beast with wonder. Notice how easy it is for the beast, or the incarnated Satan, to capture the imagination of the world. John paints this picture and we see it over and over again in history. Picture Nazi Germany. Almost the entire country of Germany followed the beast with wonder. Picture the Roman soldiers saluting Nero even though they knew that he was evil. Fallen humanity wants to follow the beast. Verse 3 also mentions the beast having a mortal wound that was healed. That is an oxymoron! It is impossible for a mortal wound to be healed. If it was healed it wouldn’t have been a mortal wound! So what is up with that? Was there ever someone who received a mortal wound, but kept on prancing around like nothing ever happened? Yes, remember that the beast is an incarnation of Satan in the world, and Satan received a mortal wound, but is still prancing around the world. This is more evidence that the beast is an incarnation of Satan. Satan’s mortal wound was received at the cross. Because of the cross, it is over for Satan, which means it is over for the beast, but they both keep on going because that’s all that is left to do. Satan goes on like nothing has happened. So he has a mortal wound, he is already dead, but he appears to be healed, and he keeps on going. Does that make sense?
Let me give you an analogy to help explain this. The purpose of a chess game is to put the king in a position where in the next move it will be captured and the opponent can’t do anything about it. Often there comes a point where one player makes a crucial move which looks to the other player like it is a mistake. Maybe it is a queen being put in harm’s way. It looks like a horrible move, so the opponent jumps in and takes the queen, but when that queen is taken, the game is over. After the queen is taken the player who took it realizes that in taking the queen he really lost the game because the move set himself up for checkmate. From that point on the game is over, even if there are a few more moves to make. Everyone knows the game is over. It is just a matter of time. The winning player sacrificed the queen to win the game. Well, THE CROSS IS GOD’S SACRIFICIAL MOVE. God put his most important piece in harm’s way. Jesus was God’s most important piece, and just like in chess, he put it out there in a vulnerable position, on earth, in human form. Satan saw this important piece sitting there vulnerable, he took the bait, jumped at the opportunity to take God’s most important player, and watched Jesus die. Only afterwards did Satan realize that by taking that important piece he was really setting himself up for checkmate. God gave up his best piece to put Satan in checkmate. And now the game has already been decided. There might be a few more pieces to move around, but everyone knows who is going to win. Some chess people will acknowledge defeat and resign. They will say, “ohh, I see what you made me do there. I took your queen and now you have me right where you want me. I quit,” but Satan is not like that. He keeps on going even though the board is set. He keeps on going, hoping that God will make some kind of mistake in the future. You see, he already has a mortal wound, he has already been defeated, but it is healed. You can’t see it right now, because he is still moving around the board acting like he still has a chance, acting like he doesn’t have that mortal wound.
Verse four says that men worshipped the dragon because they worshiped the beast! When you follow the bad guys you are following Satan. Then it says, ”Who is like the beast and can fight against it.” This is the worldview of fallen humanity. People look at the world around them with all of its falseness, which they label as reality, and they say that this is just the way things are. How can we go against the way things are? You can’t fight city hall. You can’t fight the way things are. So they say, “Who is like the beast. Who can fight against it? Why should we even try.” It is easier for fallen humanity to join the beast then it is to fight against him! It is easier to join the Roman empire than fight it! It is easier to march with the Nazis then to oppose them. AND MANY CHURCHES DID JUST THAT! You go to college and you have an atheist professor in philosophy. You notice that many half-hearted Christian students are going along with him. Why? Because it is easier to just join in. It is so much harder to fight for God.
In verse 11 a second beast is introduced. He is a little different. He does not have a big description. It just says that he has two horns. The meaning here is harder to decipher than the first beast. It could mean that he looks like the lamb. A lamb has two horns. Also, the fact that he comes out of the ground could be important as Jesus came out of the ground. This could imply that the second beast has Messianic looks. He looks like a good guy, BUT, he speaks like a dragon. Once again John ties this beast back to Satan.
This is complicated, but what is happening is Satan is incarnated by the first beast, who is incarnated by the second beast. The first beast is any PERSON who opposes God and the second beast is the SOCIAL STRUCTURE that keeps God away. The second beast influences the culture to become ungodlike. A social structure is being built by Satan and the beasts that falsely define humanity in a way that leaves God out of the picture. So the culture becomes the idol or the image. It makes the culture bigger than God. The second beast is the way that Satan gets to main street. Whereas the first beast gets Satan into positions of power and influence, the second beast gets Satan into the culture, the money, the banking, the music, the movies, everything, and anything that makes the world forget about God.
All of us have been sucked into these social myths where we find our identity in something other than God. That’s what this is talking about. For example, we all know people whose identity comes from what they do for a living. For example, a lawyer might see herself as a lawyer, the world sees her as a lawyer, and that is what makes her feel like she is special. But when you find your identity in what you do for a living where does your value lie? Your value lies in how good you do your job! Well, what if you don’t do it well? What if you get fired? What happens to you? You see, everyone has an identity, something that makes them the person that they are. Someone’s identity can be based on being a criminal, the way they look, their athletic ability, or their daughter’s beauty pageants. It could be anything. There are some people who base their whole identity on their looks. They get so used to guys or girls gawking at them that it becomes who they are. But if your identity is in the way you look, instead of God, what happens as you get older? What happens if your face is burned in a fire? For other people their identity comes from their athletic ability, but If your identity comes from the way that you play baseball instead of God, what happens as you get older? If your identity is not shaped by God, sooner or later, this second beast is going to get you. You are going to be depressed, broken, unhappy, and possibly suicidal. In today’s world, not many people’s identity is based on God. That is why preaching the Gospel is so important. A good sermon helps people realize that they are captive to this beast and they don’t have to be captive. In Christ they can be set free and become the redeemed that we have seen over and over in this book. People who are redeemed, who are living for God, don’t have to worry about all of this. Yeah, it might sting a little as you lose your looks, but it doesn’t change the way you define yourself, because you are defined as someone who loves God. It might sting a little if you get fired, but the way that you define yourself doesn’t change. It might stink if you get hurt and can’t play football anymore, but you will be fine because your identity comes from God, not football.
Now, if the rest of the world constantly finds their identities in places besides God what will they do to the church? They will persecute it. This is because people living for their looks, or money, or football, or their kid’s beauty pageants, or anything else, don’t want to be told that it is wrong. They want to keep doing it until it is taken away from them and they are left with nothing. They don’t want anyone to cause them to question that identity. That’s why a good sermon will cause people to make a decision. Do they leave mad and cling to that old identity, whatever it is, or do they start to follow God as their new identity. Do you see how that decision can be so dramatic? Fallen Babylon does not want to hear the Gospel, they do not want to hear that they should turn their identities over to God. Think about how hard the media is on Christianity, how they marginalize it, and make it look small when it’s not. You watch movies, the news, listen to music, etc. and you would think the church was just a little dot in the culture, but there is still a church on every street in my town. But if you were from another planet and you just looked at the media as you passed through, you would have no idea Christianity was so prevalent. Fallen Babylon, the world of the second beast, knows that the Christian value system pulls the rug out from under the whole social structure that the second beast has set up. That is what chapter 13 is all about. Chapter 13 is how the dragon of chapter 12 gets his message to the streets. It is about how he gets his message ingrained in the culture.
666 and the mark of the beast
At the end of this chapter we see the verse that everyone knows. Everyone has an opinion of who 666 is! Everyone has an opinion of what the mark of the beast is. This has been going on for centuries. At one time credit card numbers were the mark of the beast. Then, social security numbers were the mark of the beast. Then we hear of bar code scanners at supermarkets with the numbers 666! We hear that we will have a microchip implanted in our wrist that is the mark of the beast. It never stops. And every time it is wrong. When will people stop paying attention to these things? I know it is a good way to get internet traffic on websites and to sell books, but it is ridiculous.
First, let’s talk about this number. There have been rumors that so many people were six six six throughout history. The best one that I have heard was Ronald Wilson Reagan. You see, the letters of his name are exactly 666! So let’s figure out based on history, and the text itself, what this number really means. Ancient Hebrew had no number system. They didn’t have any numbers. So if they numbered something they had to use the alphabet. The first letter “oliph” would be one, “bait” would be two, “Gimal” would be three and so on. That meant that you could take the letters of a person’s name, add up the value of those letters, and that was the person’s number! A name could literally have a number attached to it. So when John said, “it is the number of a man,” that is what he was doing. That’s why he said that. His readers would have known, intuitively, that if this was the number of a person, then the person’s name in Hebrew letters would be this number. Then they could start looking around at society and asking themselves, whose number is 666? So we have this number of 666 that we know is the Hebrew number of a person, but here is something interesting. In later manuscripts the number was changed to 616. In the manuscripts that survived from the western part of Europe, John’s number had been changed to 616. Whereas, in the early copies of Revelation, from where John lived, the number was 666? There is a good reason for this. There are two times Revelation could have been written. It was either written in the 60′s of the first century or the 90′s of the first century. In the Roman world of the 60s the emperor of Rome was Nero. It just so happens that the name Nero in Hebrew has the number value of, you guessed it, six six six. Where John lived they spoke Greek, but in the western half of the empire they spoke Latin. In the west, they spelled Nero’s name a little bit differently. With that spelling it equaled 616. So where we find manuscripts written in the Latin part of the empire it says the number is 616, but in Greek speaking parts it says 666. This is one hundred percent proof that John was saying that the emperor was the beast. I do not know how you can even debate that. That is what the text says whether you like it or not. Now, this does not mean that John is saying that the emperor is the ONLY beast. Nero was simply the current example of the incarnation of Satan. Later, the Emperor Domition would be the beast. Hitler would be the beast. Anyone who is an incarnation of Satan in the world is the beast. There is no doubt that John wrote 666 in the original manuscript, because he wrote in Greek, but as the book made its way westward, to Latin speaking lands, the scribes started to change it, because the scribes didn’t want the people to miss the hidden meaning. If they hadn’t changed it the people might have missed what John was saying.
It is interesting that Nero just happened to have the name that meant pure evil. Remember that seven is holiness. It is perfection. The number six means there is something missing. It is imperfect. It is evil. So if six is evil, having three sixes is evil, times evil, times evil. It means you are really evil. You are not remorseful. You didn’t just do something evil in the heat of the moment and now you feel bad about it. You are pure evil. We don’t run across this much in our everyday life, but it is out there. Ride around with a cop for a while and you will eventually run across it. There are people out there who are so evil that they feel no remorse regardless of what they do. This is 666, pure evil. Nero would arrest Christians and have them killed in front of their kids. He would laugh at it. This was evil, times evil, times evil. And Nero just happened to have 666 as the Hebrew number for his name. From that point on, over history, many people are 666. I remember the story of a 13 year old girl who was shot in Pakistan because she advocated women’s rights. When she was in the hospital, the Taliban said that if she survived, they would shoot her again when she left the hospital. That is 666 . . .evil, times evil, times evil. This is Satan, incarnated in the beast, who is a person of pure evil, who is then incarnated in the second beast, which is the social structure and culture set up against God. Do you see how all of that works. The first beast is Satan incarnated in bad people. The second beast is Satan incarnated in the culture.
So what is the mark of the beast? Is it a microchip? Is it a cell phone number? Is it the new bar code scanner where three of the numbers just happen to be sixes? No, all of this is internet mumbo jumbo, and a way to sell books. You don’t have to worry about 666 being stamped on your right hand. Anyone whose worldview has no place for God already has the mark of the beast on their forehead. Anyone whose lifestyle does not incarnate God, instead incarnates the beast, and they already have the mark of the beast on their right hand. This is not one specific event in the future. This was for the readers of John’s day, and our day, and future days, because there are always people who have the mark of the beast. Basically, if you don’t have the mark of the lamb, you have the mark of the beast, because everyone gets their identity from somewhere. Everybody worships something.
Notice that nobody can buy or sell who doesn’t have this mark. What does that mean? Well, it was very literal at the time when John wrote it. In the early church people had a really hard economic time because nobody would sell to them. If you sold to a known believer it put you under the cloud of suspicion. So in many instances Christians could only buy from other Christians. So this had a practical implication in John’s world. Christians, literally, in the first century, could not buy from certain people unless they had the mark of the beast, unless they were not Christians. Do we still see this in today’s world? Not as obviously, but it does happen. Maybe you don’t get a modeling contract because you’re a Christian and you won’t pose certain ways. Maybe you don’t get the record deal because you won’t sell out and sing about sin. You have to have the mark of the beast to participate.
More than any other book of the Bible, Revelation draws a line in the sand. You are either with Jesus or with the world. You are either with Jesus or with the beast. You either have the mark of the Lamb or the mark of the beast. Period. You really can’t read Revelation and remain neutral. It forces you to pick a side. When I read this section I keep hearing Jesus give this quote. ” What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” That is what this chapter is all about. You can fall for the second beast. You can go along with culture. You can get your identity from other things in the world. You can rise to the top of whatever that identity is. You can enjoy everything that that identity provides for you. But at the end of it all, when that identity slowly fades away, whether you lose your money in a stock market crash, or you are an athlete who gets injured, or a professional who gets fired, at some point, you will be left hurting. And if you have the mark of the beast, if you don’t get your identity from Jesus, at some point, you will be broken. It will happen. It’s inevitable. Only Jesus, can fulfill you completely, in a way that can’t be taken away from you. That is the point of Revelation 13. Do you have the mark of the Lamb or the mark of the beast?