Life in a time of peace is very different from life in a time of war, there is a whole different mindset and approach to life. Relative peace is all that most of us have known (for which we can be grateful), yet we can forget that spiritually this is wartime. The Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. Some of the people John was writing to in this book were all too aware of that, they had the casualties to prove it; but many were (like us perhaps) oblivious to the battle, and the book is meant as a wake up call – a call to see things as they really are.
In these central chapters John is unmasking the enemy. We saw last time that we are now caught up in a cosmic conflict between the Dragon and Christ. In ch.13 we are introduced to his two henchmen. These two beasts – one from the sea, one from the land – correspond to the two satanic beasts in Job 40,41. The imagery is bizarre (to us) and we are not helped by the baggage we bring from watching horror movies. John’s readers of course had never watched The Omen, but they had read their Old Testament, and that is the crucial background we need.
This beast seems to be a composite of the four beasts in Daniel 7, each of which represented a political empire, so this beast would seem to represent the State, or totalitarian rule. The crowns, which are said to rest on its horns, imply that it rules by might; the blasphemous names suggest contempt for the things of God and an arrogation of God’s right to worship. It will demand an allegiance due only to God. Its wounded head seems in part to parody Christ, who was slain yet now lives, but may also point to the headcrushing work of Christ on the cross (cf.Gen.3:15) – yet even after the cross evil seems for a time to hold sway and continue unaffected.
Verses 5-7 remind us that its power is “given” (implication – “by God”), and only for a limited time (42 months). In that period (ie the Last Days) God’s People will get it in the neck for their refusal to give unqualified obedience. We are warned of possible captivity or death, and the need of patient endurance and faithfulness. And we are encouraged that God is still sovereign, and our suffering, like Christ’s, is part of God’s eternal purposes, and our eternal security is guaranteed by God’s election.
To John’s readers, the Beast might be easily recognised as Rome, but a Christian in Stalinist Russia or Maoist China would have little difficulty identifying its more recent manifestations. It will be worth giving thought to whether we can discern its presence in the ideologies that govern our political life, not least the pluralism which seems increasingly Beastlike.
The second beast looks harmless but is betrayed by its words. John later identifies it as the False Prophet (16:13, 19:20). It seems to stand for false religion, so often used to legitimise the power of the State. This was exactly the situation faced by John’s readers, where the Imperial Cult, in which the Emperor was worshipped as a god, pervaded much of everyday life. Refusal to participate might well exclude you from the economic and social life of the city. The letters in chs.2,3 make it clear that this Beast is able to threaten the church from within and therefore it calls for particular wisdom and discernment – so v.18. The number is symbolic, like all the other numbers in Revelation. Six would seem to suggest a falling short of perfection.
To read these verses is like switching on the lights after watching a horror movie. It is a glimpse ahead to heaven, where all God’s people who had been sealed back in ch.7, are seen to have been kept safe. None is missing, despite the Dragon and the 2 Beasts. Joy is now theirs. Notice especially the description of them in vv.4,5. They are said to be virgins because they have been faithful to Christ, their betrothed. They follow him, even in taking up the cross. They are consecrated to God, and true witnesses.