Revelation 3: The beasts of the land and the sea
We continue our series through Revelation tonight; as we have read this passage gives us two terrible images and then one of the most controversial images ever given in scripture; the mark of the beast!
Again, we have to understand this passage from the context of when it was written and the particular language that it was written in.
It was written to real churches, in the Roman Provence of Asia Minor, where modern day Turkey is. It was a church going through a great persecution and a church that was suffering heavily under the large and impending Roman government.
The letter written to these churches was a circular letter written in a Language (or a style) called Apocalyptic literature. This was a style of writing that leant heavily on symbol and images to communicate God’s picture of History to His people so that they might endure.
So with this in mind let’s dive into the images that John uses in this section.
1.Understanding the beast of the sea
We, are thrown back, by John, to Daniel 7 and his beasts. Who come out of the sea. Now, in the Jewish mind the sea always signified chaos and where the beasts lived.
So, in Daniel we see these four beasts come up out of the sea one by one, the first is a winged lion, the second is The second is a bear with three tusks in its mouth. The third is a leopard with four wings and four heads. Then comes the fourth beast, greater and more terrible, with iron teeth and bronze claws. It has ten horns, with a further little horn growing up beside them. The interpretation is quite clear. These monsters represent four kingdoms, the fourth of which in particular will become a great and brutal world empire.
Unlike Daniel, John ensures that we get the picture clearly he blends the animals into one terrifying beast, who has representations of all the beasts? To the reader and to John the beast must be Rome!
Rome had become the archetypal beastly nation that we have seen pictures of Since Babel right after the flood. Nations who raise themselves up against God who do their own things and then result in horrific destruction of mankind.
John is saying to the church and to us, look beyond the might of the empire, their impressive regalia, and their cities, look beyond the human cruelty and the their corrupt abuses; see that behind all this is the dragon.
Church see that in all it's impressive realities it is all false! It is empowered by a defeated foe.
Now John, goes into description about the one horn who is slain and who is alive again. What could this mean? We see this repeated in the section of the beast from the land.
Surely this must mean a future evil anti-Christ figure? Well, in John’s writings specifically in 1 John 4:3 he says that the Spirit of Anti-Christ is which you have heard is coming, and is already in the world at this time.
John, had a sense that this idea was with the church already. And it was. If we go back to the historical reality of when John wrote this letter we will see something very interesting come to light.
Firstly, Rome had moved into imperial worship; in other words the emperor wasn’t seen as simply the Ruler of Rome he was god; or specifically the ‘son of god’.
You see the ancient Roman republic had become an ‘empire’ under Augustus, a hundred years or so before, after the murder of his adopted father Julius Caesar (44 BC) and the ensuing civil wars.
But with the reign, and then the death, of Nero one might have thought that this top-heavy empire would come crashing down under its own weight. Certainly the year after Nero’s death (AD 69) must have looked like a mortal wound to the whole monstrous system, with four would-be emperors in quick succession marching on Rome, killing their enemies, claiming the crown, and then – except for the last one – being killed in turn by the next army to arrive.
Galba, Otho and Vitellius came and went; Vespasian came, and stayed. Within months his son and heir, Titus, completed the military task on which Vespasian had been engaged before his troops encouraged him to go for the big prize. Titus’s legions destroyed Jerusalem, burning the Temple to the ground. To many observers, it must have seemed like the end of the world.
Meanwhile, rumours went around that Nero hadn’t died after all – or that he had indeed died, but had then come back to life. Several would-be ‘Nero-alive-again’ leaders emerged, and, though none lasted long, the rumour persisted. He was, is not, but is to come, they said (17.8). – (Wright)
Rome had become a militarily powerful, corrupt domineering, blasphemous beast. And John writes to this situation and says in 13:9-10;
9He who has an ear, let him hear. 10“If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he will go; If anyone is to die by the sword, by the sword he must be killed.” Here is a call for the perseverance and faith of the saints.
Not very encouraging, but the theme of these chapters (and indeed the whole book); you might die, you might be captured; keep the faith! Keep on!
Let’s now look at;
2.Understanding the Beast of the land
John declares that this is a beast from the land; in other words, it comes from among us; it is the local provincial propaganda machines that give glory to the beast (that is Rome) and so through this they are worshiping the beast.
Now what is interesting is that that John makes it clear that they are a parody of Christ. It had two horns like the Lamb but in fact spoke like the dragon.
Satan always parodies God’s work; he cannot help but do that; as evil always has to twist what is good; it cannot create within itself.
In this passage, there is a parody to the trinity; a parody to the Lamb, a parody to the death of Christ! A parody of miracles and power.
N.T. Wright writes and says;
Rome had recovered from the apparent death-blow. The Christians, of course, heralded Jesus as the true lamb, and his actual death and resurrection was the basis of their allegiance to him, their belief that he had defeated the dragon himself. But the parody was powerful. There were several tricks commonly employed to enable the statues of various gods to move about, to breathe, weep and even speak. Sophisticated pagan writers of the time mention many such devices, pouring scorn on their trickery. But people were taken in, and more and more people, through the work of the local ‘monsters’, came to worship the first monster itself. And, through that means, the dragon itself. What’s more, worshipping or nor worshipping was quickly becoming the dividing line between people who were acceptable in the community and people who weren’t. Not long after this time, some local officials introduced a formal requirement that unless you had offered the required sacrifices you weren’t allowed in the market.
Now, there is an important lesson to see here; when man presses his own agenda, there are always ultimatums, you are in or you are out! Your one of us or you are the enemy!
And what we forget in history, is that it has always been like that; until the concepts of grace and a ‘Christianising’ of a country happens. We think inclusivity is a secular concept; however, these realities find their core in Christian doctrines of the image of God in man, the freedom of Conscience etc.
This is the irony of the love-wins movements and the liberal left; is they are calling for inclusivity; however, are demanding that you accept their world view; and if you don’t they will run you out of business they will exclude you socially and demand that you change.
Mankind will create systems, and in them they will parody the hope of God, they parody justice and love. However, because they are detached from the source of hope and goodness and love they will become beasts! And therefore, the demands of unwavering allegiance will come!
In John’s day, this had become quite acute in economic and social exclusion; and John warns the church not to compromise.
Which leads us to the next thing;
This infamous symbol; the ultimate sign of the end, is not so much a microchip in our hand; or technology it is far more insidious that than and has reared its ugly head again and again in the life of the Church.
So, what is it?
Well John is making a clear reference to the Deuteronomy statement of the “Shema” found in Deuteronomy 6:4-8
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
It was a declaration of absolute allegiance to God in thought and deed.
Now in John’s day this absolute allegiance had created awkward situations for Christians; and due to the fact that they would refuse to engage in the emperor worship of Rome, they were being economically side-lined and discriminated against.
It was the beastly nations Anti-Shema; fall in line, do business and life like us or be shunned and excluded.
And recognise this wasn’t some chip or mark it was more subtle and insidious as it always is and always will be.
Christians of the day would be asking is it allegiance to emperor worship if I use a Roman coin as it has Cesar the Son of God etched on it? Or can I trade in the Emperor worship parade? Etc, etc.
The call has been and always will be, are you willing to compromise your allegiance to God and His truth for economy and inclusion?
We found this in one of our friends who was told flatly and directly that unless he fudge the number and essentially lie to a client that he would never make another promotion again (in a big and reputable company).
Right there is the Anti-shema? It’s only a little compromise, everyone is doing it! It’s how the game is played. He said, my Allegiance to Christ is more important!
This is the thing Church; we would love a blatant take the mark or die; but it more insidious; it is more be like everyone else! Can we stand that! And that is the real question.
Now quickly what does 666 stand for? Well most scholars agree that it is Nero Cesar. As this fits with the language that John uses in its phrasing and it fits in what John is trying to communicate in this passage.
You see John and most of his readers would have been Hebrew as a native language or had been at least trained in Hebrew. Now in Hebrew each Letter correlates to a number so
1= Aleph - א
2=Beth - ב
ג – Gimel=3
Now if you take Nero Cesar and Beast in the Hebrew they both add up to 666.
John is trying to show the Church Cesar and all he stands for is the what we need to be resisted.
Again this cryptogram of 666 is another parody; as 777 was common for God or Christ. Therefore, again it is the stark reality, church, who are you aligned to? Where does your alliance lie?
Does your hope and allegiance fall onto the things and rulers of this world? Or are you taking the Shema of God?
My allegiance and my hope is in Christ; the Lamb, the true Son of God?
So, let me finish quickly with the application;
4.Understanding all this for today
Firstly; the world its systems and powers will always parody God in their expressions of Hope in their expressions of power and their expressions of allegiance. But they are a beastly copy.
The question you need to ask yourself tonight and as you go into a world that is beastly; as you head out into modern day Rome/Babylon, is where is my Shema? Where is my allegiance? Am I truly the Lambs? Or is my hope and my future and my allegiance actually to a modern-day Babylon?
That you will have to answer for yourself.
Next week we see the hope of being one of God’s who in Babylon declare her fall through the eternal gospel!
So where is your allegiance? The beastly nations, their way of doing things? Well then prepare to be involved in her undoing. If your allegiance is in the land and his eternal Gospel then prepare to receive his eternal reward.
Let us pray…