Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Battling the Beasts (Revelation 13)

13Durer_a The hatred and anger that Satan must have towards God is impossible for me to comprehend. As I read Revelation 12 and 13, I am struck by the fact that Satan is fighting a battle that he knows he can’t win. His time is short (12:12). He knows that his doom is sure and still he strikes out repeatedly at Christ and His Church through attacking the people of God.

Day and night, Satan accuses them before God (12:10) but they repeatedly conquer him (12:11) by not clinging to life but by being prepared to give their lives for Him who, as the Lamb of God, gave His life for them. With such preparedness for suffering, death loses its terror.

But still the dragon continues his onslaught. In Chapter 13, he summons his emissaries, enemies of God’s people who arise seeking to undo God’s work of recreation and restoration through chaos and destruction. Through these two terrible beasts, the dragon attacks and oppresses God’s people in two ways.

The first beast (13: 1-10) represents the forces of violence and blasphemy. This is persecution at its extreme. We read in 13:7 that this beast is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. At first glance, this might seem to contract 12:11 where the saints are said to “conquer.” Are we to conclude from this that the beast wins some of the battles and the Christians others? Who are the real victors when God’s people suffer and die for their faith?

The answer, as Richard Bauckman rightly observes “depends on whether one sees things from the earthly perspective of those who worship the beast or from the heavenly perspective which John's visions open up for his readers.”

To the inhabitants of the earth (13:8) it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs. The political and military might of the beast, which seems to carry all before it and wins the admiration and the worship of the world, here seems triumphant even over the witnesses of Jesus. That it can put the Christian martyrs to death apparently with impunity seems the final proof of the invincible, godlike might of the beast. In the judicial contest as to who is the true God - the beast or the one to whom the martyrs witness - it seems the verdict is clear: the evidence of the martyrs has been refuted.

Even Christians must have been tempted to see it that way. They were a tiny minority of powerless people up against the overwhelming might of the state and the overwhelming pressure of pagan society. To refuse to compromise was to become even more helpless victims. What was the point of resisting the beast when he was proving irresistible? But John's message is that from the heavenly perspective things look quite different. The martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in witness to the true God even to the point of death is not to become a victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. But only in a vision of heaven (7:9-14; 15:2-3) or a voice from heaven (11:12; 14: 2) can the martyrs be recognized as victors. The perspective of heaven must break into the earthbound delusion of the beast's propaganda to enable a different assessment of the same empirical fact: the beast's apparent victory is the martyrs' - and therefore God's - real victory.[i]

Thank God that He provides us with a revelation of this heavenly perspective. How easy it would be to lose sight of this in the midst of the battle and to think that we are fighting a losing cause.

The same is true as the second beast (13:11-18) attacks God’s people through the more subtle means of deception and economic pressures. Perhaps more Christians have been tripped up not by open attacks on their life or assaults on their faith through violence or blasphemy but by an undermining of it through false teaching (cf. 19:20), deceptive miracles, and pressure to compromise their convictions in order to keep afloat financially. It is worth reminding ourselves that idolatry is not just a failure to obey God. It is a setting of one’s heart on something besides God. This second beast does not lure us to abandon religion but to assimilate into the culture, values, and beliefs of our beastly society that worships man and not God. This temptation looks benign, often attractive, inclusive and welcoming. Spirituality may even be appealed to. But its orientation will be self-centred.

The key to overcoming, John points out, is not only to refuse to submit to these beasts but to submit oneself fully to God and to faithfully witness to His truth in all aspects of one’s life. The pressure to compromise will be great but greater still is the grace of God to faithfully witness and persevere in the midst of the battle with the beasts.


[i] Richard Bauckman, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, 1993: 90-91.


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