Revelation 12 & 13
- Chapter 11 ends with the seventh trumpet. The Kingdom has been established, God’s enemies are defeated, judgment has been pronounced and punishment dispensed and rewards given. But John is not ready to have the final curtain call. The next few chapters unfold in a different way the struggle between God and evil.
- The specific evil that is manifested here is the conflict between the church and the Roman Empire. For John and his readers, the Roman Empire, with its claims to divinity, have become the incarnation of evil.
- More than any other chapters in Revelation these are the most misinterpreted, misused and abused. Nowhere else in the whole book does John draw so heavily on Jewish as well as other pagan myths that dominated the political world of his day
THE GREAT DRAGON (12:1-18)
Roman Myth: Goddess Leto becomes pregnant by the god Zeus. Child to be born is Apollo. The great dragon, Python, learns that the soon-to-be-born child will one day kill him, and so he sought to kill Leto and the baby. Poseidon, the god of the sea, intervened and protected Leto by carrying her to safety at the island of Delos and hid Leto by sinking the island under the sea. Python gave up his search, Apollo was born who one day pursued Python and killed him.
- Roman emperors used this myth to perpetuate their own propaganda, presenting themselves as Apollo, the destroyer of evil.
- Recall that the Emperor Domitian, whom is believed to be the emperor in power when John is writing this, thought himself to be the incarnation of Apollo.
- John redresses this pagan myth with Christian imagery. Instead of Apollo being the one who defeats evil it is Jesus, the one who would “rule all the nations.”
- The woman has been interpreted through history to be Mary the mother of Jesus, the nation of Israel and the faithful Christians through all time. All of these can fit. Remember that Herod pursues Mary and baby Jesus when he is born, causing them to flee to Egypt. Israel is the nation from whom the Messiah is born and faithful Christians have long been subject to the “evil one,” even being martyred for their faith.
Satan – Evil
This chapter forces us to face squarely the reality of evil in our world. John uses imaginative language to describe evil which may be both good and bad for us today. Some possible dangers of the notion of Satan, at least as popularly held, carries some risks:
- Belief in a powerful, supernatural being of evil verges on denying the oneness of God. Biblical religion is monotheistic (the belief in one and only one God). Popular views of Satan produces an alternative god – an evil god that exists apart from the one true God. One of the major themes of Revelation is that there is no God but God alone and all other pretenders (nation, emperor, angels, etc) are to be rejected.
- Speaking of evil in terms of a Satan figure can easily lead to a failure to recognize our own responsibility for evil. We resort to excuses like, “The Devil made me do it.” Pointing the finger is as old as Adam and Eve. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. To blame another or even Satan is an indication of our own moral weakness and sinfulness.
- Another problem is that it may lead us to “satanize” any person or institution that seems to operate contrary to the ways of God. Once we label someone or some thing as in “league with Satan” it can become easy to rationalize our hatred of them and actions towards them. We can demonize our enemies and rather than love them and pray for them we see them as pawns and less than human.
- We can fail to recognize the human face of evil. Evil comes in human form – it is our refusal of God in our lives. Evil is the result of living an idolatrous life – putting something else or someone else before God. Evil has less to do with a literal Satan figure and more to do with the image I see in the mirror.
- The purpose John has for telling the church about this cosmic battle with evil is not only to make them aware that it is real but to remind them that they (and we!) have an important role to play in the ongoing struggle against it. There is a war on, a cosmic battle against evil, and we, the Church, are on the front lines. We are called to “be conquerers” (Rev. 2-3). We conquer, however, not by violence but by faithfulness to the testimony of Jesus, which means faithfulness to his sacrificial, self-giving lifestyle. We bow to the slaughtered Lamb.
CHAPTER 13: THE TWO BEASTS
INTRO: At it’s core, this chapter is about the struggle over authority and loyalty. Who is ultimately in charge of the world – Satan and his cohorts or God? To whom do we owe our allegiance?
The Beast of the Sea (13:1-10)
- As will become clear here and in chapter 17, the beast represents the Roman Empire and its emperors. “On its heads were blasphemous names” (13:1) is likely a reference to the divine titles emperors gave themselves such as “savior,” “lord,” “god,” or “son of god.”
- The Imperial Cult
- Temple priests facilitated emperor worship in all the cities of Revelation. They held festivals to honor the emperors and their families. To be part of the civic and social life of this day and age was to take part in these activities. The question that confronted the Christians of this day (and our day!) is “To what extent can we be involved in the imperial cult ceremonies and still be true to our Christian convictions?”
- Parodies – both beasts (from the sea and the earth) are parodies of Christ. John is showing how these beasts rely on Satan (evil) for their strength. Christ, however, the Lamb, speaks the words of God whereas the beasts speak “like a dragon” (Satan).
- The beasts represent anything and anyone who encourages and fosters emperor worship. Eugene Boring writes, “All who support and promote the cultural religion, in or out of church, however Lamb-like they may appear, are agents of the beast. All propaganda that entices humanity to idolize human empire is an expression of this beastly power that wants to appear Lamb-like.”
- The mark of the beast is a parody of the mark given to the faithful (7:1-8). The followers of the beast are marked indicating to whom their loyalties lie.
- Who is the one marked 666? John says it will take wisdom to discern this person. Presumably, then, it is a person the people in the churches he is writing to will know. Hebrew and Greek letters (like Arabic letters) have a numerical number assigned to them. This is called gematria, a practice widely used in the ancient world. 666, when transliterated using gematria, gives us the name Nero, the emperor that for Christians in the 1st century was the embodiment of evil. Nero is infamous for crucifying Christians around the palace, lighting them on fire to use as lighting during parties.
- In the cult of the emperor in John’s day, religion, politics and nationalism were all intermixed. When offering or incense or sacrifice were made to the emperor (or to the gods on behalf of the emperor), the participant was expressing loyalty to the emperor and empire, as well as trying to get favor from the gods.
- Modern example of rendering to Caesar that which rightfully belongs only to God alone can be found in abundance. Christians and churches gave allegiance to Hitler in his efforts to unify Germany, even at the expense of Jews and other “undesirables.” Anything for the Fatherland! they cried. In South Africa the Dutch Reform Church were supporters of government’s racist apartheid actions. In America, the church has often rallied around the nation in times of war, demonizing our enemies and portraying them as godless subhumans who must be destroyed.
- Rev. 13 reminds us that no person or institution, not even family, deserve our ultimate allegiance. God alone deserve our allegiance. Every individual or group that lays claim to our allegiance has the potential of becoming “the great beast” that demands to be worshipped and kills those who refuse.
Reflect: What things, groups or people might we give more allegiance to than we ought?
How might our church make it very clear that our allegiance is to God alone?