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Institutions as Instruments (Revelation 13:1-18)

May 10, 2015 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 13:1–13:18

Happy Ever After

Institutions as Instruments
Revelation 13:1-18
(One Truth: In All Things)
May 10th, 2015

 

I. Introduction

As we've done before, I think it's important to come back regularly to the opening verses of the book of Revelation and remind ourselves of number five of our “five firm footholds”. Those are our principles for effectively working our way through this book. Foothold #5 is based on the blessing we find in the third verse of Revelation chapter 1:

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

So not surprisingly, Foothold #5 reminds us Revelation is Meant to be Kept. That's not a concept we think about a lot, is it? We might think about keeping the Ten Commandments, or keeping the teachings of Jesus, but keeping Revelation? Keep that 'keeping' in mind as we turn this morning to Revelation 13.

 

II. The Passage: “And I Saw a Beast” (13:1-18)

Like so many of the chapters in this book, Revelation 13 is a section of Scripture that could keep us busy with questions for a very long time. So what I'd like to do this morning is read through the entire chapter, and then point out six key features that I believe will give us a basic sense of this chapter, especially in light of what we've already learned. So look with me at Revelation 13:1. John tells us...

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. [2] And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. [3] One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. [4] And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” [5] And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. [6] It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. [7] Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, [8] and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. [9] If anyone has an ear, let him hear:[10] If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. [11] Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. [12] It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. [13] It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, [14] and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. [15] And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. [16] Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, [17] so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. [18] This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

So in light of the rest of the book, and the rest of the Bible, I think we can safely say...

 

1. The First Beast is a World Power (13:1-4)

How do we know that? Well, very clearly we read in verse 3 about how “the whole earth marveled” at the beast. We also read in verse 7 that authority was given [the beast] over every tribe and people and language and nation. We also have clear references to the world in verses 8, 12, and 14.

This idea is confirmed by the fact that the opening verses of chapter 13 almost certainly point us back to Daniel 7 and his vision of the “beasts”, the lion, bear, leopard, and ten-horned creature that also come up out of the sea and that represented a succession of world superpowers over the course of many centuries.

But did you see how and why this beast is a world power? Look again at the end verse 2: And to it [to the beast] the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. Did you see how the dragon and beast both have seven heads and ten horns? This takes us to our last study in which we talked about how the NT calls Satan (the dragon) the “god of this age” and the “ruler of this world”. You may remember how the devil tempted Jesus in Luke 4:5-7:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, [6] and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. [7] If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

As we just read, Satan is able to give “his power and his throne and great authority” to whomever he chooses. And in this vision, he has chosen the beast. But thinking about our previous study also points us to another feature of this chapter. We learn that...

 

2. This World Power Will Persecute God's People (13:7-10)

Verses 7 and 10 bring this out very clearly. Look back at those for just a second. We read...
[The beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. What will that mean exactly? Verse 10: it may mean “captivity”, or it may mean “the sword”.

But when we take chapters 12 and 13 together (remember, chapters 12-14 are a kind of parenthesis between the seven trumpets and seven bowls of God's wrath...when we take 12 and 13 together) we understand how the frustrated and furious dragon, who failed to destroy the woman and her son, the dragon who turned his attention to the woman's other offspring, we understand how this dragon is going to “make war” (12:17) on her other children. He is using the beast to “make war” (13:7).

And if, as we talked about last time, the woman is the Jewish remnant of the early church, the group out of which Jesus came, the group through which Jesus was proclaimed to the Gentiles, the group which in one sense 'birthed' the believers of the seven churches to whom Revelation is addressed, then that means, when we think about the dragon's war in light of what we've already learned about the beast, the identity of the beast is clear: the beast is the Roman Empire. Daniel's vision (Daniel 7) of the fourth, ten-horned beast was in all likelihood, given the succession of empires he was shown, that beast was this ten-horned beast: Rome.

I think the rest of the chapter and the rest of the book will go on to confirm this, but let me give you another confirmation of this. Remember how the devil tempted Jesus back in Luke 4? When he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world”, the Greek word there is not kosmos (“world”) or ge (“earth”). It is oikoumene, which means “the inhabited world”. And that's the same word used two chapters earlier in Luke when we read that “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” What world is that? The Roman world. And oikoumene is the same word used in Revelation 12:9 when it speaks about “Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”.

So don't let the language throw you off here. The first readers of Revelation, those who lived under the awesome power and the vast dominion of Rome, would not have had any problem identifying this beast from the sea. In fact, as we talked about last time, the letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 make it clear that Satan was already hard at work attacking these churches. I believe John's main vision of (4:1) “what must take place after this” was given to prepare the churches for things to get worse in terms of pressure and persecution.

[BTW, I believe we first met this beast back in chapter 11, where verse 7 tells us this about the two witnesses who symbolize the witnessing church: And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them...] But did you notice here in Revelation 13 that...

 

3. This World Power Came Close to Death (13:3, 12, 14)

Three times in this chapter (vs. 3, 12, 14) there is a reference to how the beast was critically wounded, but made an astonishing recovery. Verse 14 gives us a little more information by telling us this wound was caused by, not “a sword”, but “the sword”. If the first readers would have recognized this beast as the Roman Empire, how would they have understood this talk of injury and recovery? Well, only two decades earlier, the reign of the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome came to an end with Nero. This was the only line of emperors the people had known. And what ensued after Nero's suicide was “the sword”, that is, civil war.

In one year, the Empire had four different emperors. Only with the fourth of these emperors, Vespasian, was stability regained. With his sons Titus and Domitian succeeding him, Vespasian began what is called the Flavian dynasty of emperors. Listen to what the Roman historian Suetonius (writing ca. 119 AD) says about this perilous period:

The empire, which for a long time had been unsettled and, as it were, drifting, through the usurpation and violent death of three emperors, was at last taken in hand and given stability by the Flavian family. (Suetonius)

But in addition to its astounding resilience, look at what else we find here about the beast. We learn from several verses here that...

 

4. This “Beast” Opposes True Worship (13:1b, 5, 6)

This is made explicit in verses 5 and 6: And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. [6] It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

The opening verse of the chapter reveals the beast is tattooed with blasphemous names. What might these names be? They must have been all the titles the Roman Emperors used for themselves: kurios (“lord”), soter (“savior”), divi filius (“son of god”), sebastos (“one to be revered”) and even divus, deus, and theos, which all mean “god”.

While most emperors were only deified upon death, we learn from Suetonius that Domitian, the Emperor who was most likely reigning when John wrote down the Revelation, went even further:

With no less arrogance he began as follows in issuing a circular letter in the name of his procurators, “Our Master and our God bids this be done.” And so the custom arose henceforth of addressing him in no other way even in writing or conversation. (Suetonius)

Therefore, it isn't surprising when we discover in this chapter that...

 

5. The Second Beast Secures False Worship (13:11-17)

As we see in verse 11, there is a second beast that arises in John's vision, this time out of the earth. And clearly this creature plays a supporting role. Like a ram (since “lambs” don't have horns), this beast only has two horns, which confirms he has less authority (since horns typically symbolize power in these kinds of biblical visions). He seems to have one and only one objective: to do whatever it takes to get the Roman world to worship the first beast. And if the first beast is the Empire, then this beast must represent what is called the Imperial Cult.

The Imperial Cult was a system of temples that promoted the adoration of the Roman gods and the Roman emperors. And this would have been especially clear to the first readers of the Revelation. Listen to what one scholar tells us about the western province of Asia where the seven churches were located:

Domitian approved an unprecedented third provincial cult for Asia in the 80s of the first century, very near the time of the production of the book of Revelation. No other province can be shown to have had even two such cults at the time when Asia received this third one, and several provinces had no provincial cults for the emperors. (Steven J. Friesen)

Did you notice the spiritual trickery going on in verses 13-15? These examples either mimic true miracles from the OT, or counter what God said in the OT about mute and dumb idols. We also discover that just as the servants of God were sealed on their foreheads by an angel from heaven (7:3), the second beast also marks the foreheads (or right hands) of those who worship the beast? What does this mean? It means that through either mystical deception or economic pressure, the civic and cult leaders, all of whom were deeply entangled in these societies, worked hard (or were going to be working hard) to maintain allegiance to Rome and her emperors. And one way that happened was by adoring “the image of the beast”, which was a representation of the Emperor, who represented and embodied the Empire.

And as we know from before, the strategy was clear in terms of Christians who tried to avoid such entanglements or disentangled themselves from this Imperial web: the response was “war”. But as a final warning and a final encouragement, notice this: notice...

 

6. The Beast is Fully and Forever Flawed (13:18)

This idea comes from the very last verse of the chapter, verse 18...This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man [or the number of man], and his number is 666.

Now what in the world does this mean? Well I want you to notice at the end of verse 17 that this number is called “the number of its name” and is the same as “the name of the beast” (that is, the first beast).

Moreover, this name is “the mark” placed on the foreheads or right hands of those allowed to be involved in the marketplace. So if we look at the Roman world of the First Century, was there some kind of tattoo of the emperor's name that was used to mark the faithful? No, there wasn't.

But remember, Revelation was conveyed through symbolic numbers and images (Foothold #3). Just as we Christians don't literally have the seal of God on our foreheads, this mark of the beast is also not a literal mark. It is a way of representing spiritual identification with and ownership of. So if the mark, and thus the name, are symbols, the number in verse 18 must also be a symbol. And what do these numbers symbolize?

Well, if the number seven represents perfection or fullness, then three sevens may be a way of representing something like the praise “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (the very praise lifted to God in 4:8). If that's true, three sixes represents “the number of man”, who was made on the sixth day and who has fallen short of God's perfection through sin. Thus “666” may represent something like “Unholy! Unholy! Unholy!”, three being the number of full confirmation.

What we have then is a very clear warning from John. He is telling the readers, “Please be convinced that this beast is fully and forever flawed. Stand firm. Don't be deceived.”


III. A Call for Endurance and Faith

“Okay,” you might ask, “what does any of this have to do with me?” Well, I think there are three very powerful encouragements that God wants us to take from this chapter, encouragements that teach us about what it means to “keep” Revelation. Ready?

 

1. We Must Remember that Institutions are Often Instruments of the Devil

It's one thing to come out of chapter 12 and believe there is a personal devil at work in this world to tempt us and ultimately destroy us. But sometimes that idea can remain abstract and overly personal. Sometimes we can miss what this chapter makes plain: Satan has authority over this world and he uses its institutions to achieve his goals, be they political, economic, academic, civic, charitable, media, or religious institutions.

And if you think this is confined to the First Century and the Roman Empire, think for a minute about the fact that the beast from the sea is not only similar to the fourth beast foretold in Daniel 7, but he also appears to be a kind of combination of all four beasts described in Daniel 7. What does that mean? It means he also represents something more than just the Roman Empire; something which was present in all those ancient Empires. I believe the beast also represent the world system that dominates this present age.

Believer, we must be balanced. I Peter 2:13 does tell us to “be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution.” But we also must be wary; we must be skeptical; we must be vigilant in terms of putting too much trust in human institutions. We must be on our guard, knowing that we are always surrounded by the Enemy's mechanisms. And you better believe he will use all of them to deceive us and distract us and deflate our faith. But there's more...

 

2. We are Called to Endurance and Faith in God's Plan

Did you notice the return of a familiar phrase? 13:9...If anyone has an ear, let him hear. Every one of the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 & 3 included that call. This is yet another reminder of how John is appealing to those first readers. He needed them to know that (verse 10), if “captivity” or “the sword” came for them because of their faith in Jesus, then they should submit to that destiny with the same faith in Jesus. Or as John makes clear, this is “a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”

God is issuing that same call to you this morning. Endure. Believe. Even when financial hurt and family heartache and failing health and feelings of helplessness pierce your heart or try to take you captive, endure...believe. Endure in faith knowing that God has a plan. Remember verse 7. The beast was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. God knows what he's doing, even when the institutions of the world try to sell us on the idea He doesn't. Just like those first readers, God's encouragement to you this morning is “Don't give in. Don't give up.” We can hear that and heed in light of a final encouragement.

 

3. We Should be Strengthened in Light of the Lamb's List

Did you see how the seal of God that is on us protects us from the work of Satan and the institutions he often uses to scare us and seduce us? If we are marked with God's seal, then ultimately, we will not kneel; we will not defect; we will not sell our souls. Why? Because, before the world was even created, we were chosen by God. Verse 8...

...and all who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

This is one of the most beautiful and reassuring reminders of the gospel we will ever read. The Lamb, of course, is Jesus. And He was slain on that Roman cross. But what He did there was part of a plan that was instituted “before the foundation of the world”. You see, we can hold on knowing God will never let go of us. We can keep going knowing He will never stop. We can stand firm knowing the firmness of our foundation. As Paul confirmed in Phil. 1:6...

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Are you on the Lamb's list of life? The only way you can know is by believing that the world system, with all its lies, is fully and forever flawed, AND, that Jesus Christ is your only hope because of His death and resurrection. And if that kind of faith is real, it will endure. That doesn't mean we don't fight to endure. It simply encourages us to fight knowing the victory is already ours. The beast's time is limited (42 months = 3.5 years)(13:5), but God endures forever.

On that note, let me close us this morning with words that were written only twenty years after the Revelation was recorded. This is Pliny, a Roman magistrate writing to the Emperor Trajan in the year 112AD. Listen to what he, a pagan, tells us about Christians and their faith

But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and [they] even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge [some of those who were charged].

Brothers and sisters, let it be said and let it be shown that we are those Pliny once heard about; that we “are really Christians”.

 

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