Tribulation, Endurance, and Faith
A sermon on Revelation 13 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 7/3/2005
Last week we saw that Satan is dangerous. He is a deceiver and an accuser. When he fails to deceive God’s people, or to render them ineffective through guilt, he attacks them, and tries to overpower them. We fight him, we overcome him, by the blood of Jesus and the word of our testimony.
But what agents does Satan use to accomplish his purposes? How does he deceive? How does he attack God’s people?
In Revelation 13, we are introduced to two of Satan’s cohorts, two beasts. Satan and these two beasts form an unholy trinity, a mockery of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These cohorts do Satan’s work for him on earth. Understanding what they represent helps us to better fight Satan by guarding ourselves against his normal way of working.
Once again, this chapter highlights Satan’s success, as well as his limitations:
But as Jesus says, “In the world you have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” He calls on us to endure to the end, because He has already conquered Satan.
So let’s jump right into the passage, and explore further how Satan operates, so that we might be equipped to endure to the end against his wiles.
We’ll use a rewording of John 16:33 as our outline:
The first beast comes out of the sea and, like the dragon (Satan) in chapter 12, has 10 horns and seven heads. The beast is like a leopard, but has feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion’s. This beast seems to be an amalgamation of the four beasts in the vision recorded in Daniel 7. Let me read verses 3-7; try to note the parallels:
3And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, 'Arise, devour much flesh.' 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. Daniel 7:3-7
So the Revelation 13 beast is similar to Daniel’s vision, but is a combination of all four of Daniel’s beasts.
So what? Why point that out? Because throughout Revelation we’ve seen that the right interpretation of symbols requires an understanding of the Old Testament allusions. If we can understand what the beasts in Daniel 7 represent, we will be better able to understand what the beast in Revelation 13 represents.
As it turns out, an angel tells Daniel about the meaning of the beasts in his vision:
“These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth.” Daniel 7:17
Then verse 25 tells of one of the horns becoming another king who
“shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High.”
Many interpreters look at these four beasts in Daniel and see prophecies about the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. But whatever their specific interpretation, they are clearly powerful political entities that are dangerous for God’s people.
That’s the key to understanding the first beast in Revelation 13. .The first beast represents the oppressive state, the oppressive world system: Political or worldly power opposed to God’s people. State-sanctioned persecution.
See how this theme is developed further in Revelation 13. In verse 4, the people ask, “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?” This echoes Nebuchadnezzar’s question to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “What god will be able to rescue you out of my hands?” Nebuchadnezzar claims unassailable power. So does the beast.
In verse 6, the beast uses this power to blaspheme God. He also is said to blaspheme God’s dwelling or tabernacle, which John then identifies as “those who tabernacle in heaven.” This is the same phrase used in 12:12 to refer to God’s people, drawing a contrast between “those who dwell on earth”, God’s enemies, and “those who tabernacle in heaven”, God’s people.
What does “blaspheming God’s people” mean? We know what it means to blaspheme God – to dishonor Him, to say false things about Him. But how can you blaspheme people? The Greek word used here is the root of our English word “blasphemy.” In English, that word is used only in reference to God. But in ancient Greek, that word was used more generally of slandering, reviling, or defaming a person or a god. Thus, to say that the beast is blaspheming believers is to say that the beast (the state) is calling believers liars, fools, dupes, or subversives.
In verse 7, the beast makes war on God’s people and conquers them. He has authority over every tribe and tongue and people and nation. This mighty power leads to worship of the beast, and of Satan himself (verse 4). Some from every people group ally themselves with the beast, doing whatever he says. Who could even think of opposing such mighty power?
Do you see how this beast is like political government in general? Government sets itself up as unassailable, and threatens those who oppose it. Governments often oppose God’s people, blaspheming God, saying that it is the only true power. Consider governments throughout history:
Over the centuries, some Christian martyrs have been killed by mobs or private individuals, but the vast majority have been killed directly by the state, or with the state’s acquiescence. Furthermore, government has very often set itself up as the arbiter of truth, and persecuted and oppressed those who found truth in Jesus Christ.
“But Coty,” you might ask, “I thought the Bible told us we are to submit to our government.”
The Bible is very clear: government, even bad government, is better than anarchy. Even bad governments are instituted by God. We are to submit to our government – unless that government asks us to disobey God
But that doesn’t mean government is good! Every government tends toward oppression, and thus every government is inherently dangerous. As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time-to-time.”
Every government has its problems, and every government is tempted to exert more and more control over the minds and hearts of its citizens.Even today? Yes, even today. To see an example, look at virtually any news weekly any week. In this week’s World Magazine, you can read about the persecution of unregistered house churches in China.
And what about the US? I’m proud to be a citizen of this country. I’m honored that some of my relatives represented South Carolina in the Constitutional convention and signed that document. Praise God for the degree of religious freedom we have in our country.
But our faith and our hope are not in the enduring political fortunes of the United States of America. Our faith and our hope are not in the wisdom embodied in the US Constitution. Our faith and our hope rest on God!
Furthermore, Christians in this country face dangers with regard to their relationship to the government. On the one hand, Christians can be blasphemed, can be reviled by powerful people. Imagine what will happen if President Bush nominates a strong Christian believer to the Supreme Court. We will then see reviling of evangelical Christians as never before.
That’s one danger facing Christians here. But I think an even greater danger is invading right to the heart of our churches this very day.
Let me ask this: On this July 3, how many Christian congregations are reciting the US Pledge of Allegiance during their worship service? Pledging allegiance to a earthly government during a service that should be God-centered, that should be devoted to honoring Him? Performing an act of obedience to one country’s government during a service that should celebrate the unity of God’s people across ALL countries, across ALL tribes?
Christians should be loyal citizens of their country. In the right context, they should pledge allegiance to their different countries’ governments. But a service devoted to worshiping God is not that context! And if we face a very great danger if we confuse civil religion with the worship of Jesus Christ. We face the danger of worshiping the beast. We are thus greatly dishonoring Jesus Christ.
There is one more characteristic of first beast we need to mention before turning to the second beast. See verse 3: Like the Lamb that was slain, yet lives, the first beast was wounded to death, and yet lives. He looks like he has risen from the dead.
These verse is an echo of Genesis 3:15, where God curses the serpent, Satan, in the Garden: Speaking to Satan of the offspring of Eve, Jesus Himself, God says:
“He will bruise your head, and you will bruise His heel.”
So the beast, the stand-in for Satan on earth, has a mortally wounded head. He has been defeated. He has been overwhelmed. He is dead. And yet, mimicking Jesus, he lives. By mimicking Him, he is taking glory from Him.
But is the beast really like Jesus? No. Jesus, though dead, rises to live and reign forever and ever. This beast lives despite his mortal wound, but lives briefly only by God’s permission. Jesus rises with eternal power and authority. The beast wreaks havoc for a while, but then is destroyed.
We see this in oppressive states. They seem almighty, but they suddenly fall. Like the Babylonian empire under Belshazzar (Daniel 5), like the Soviet Union 15 years ago, mighty powers can fall quickly. True, another oppressive state often takes the place of the one that falls. And perhaps right before Jesus returns the worst of all will arise. But no matter how many oppressive states arise over how many years, their defeat is already accomplished. The beast is indeed mortally wounded.
So this is the first of Satan’s allies: The power of the state, of the world system, used against God’s people. State oppression has occurred throughout history. It continues today, and will continue until the end. Such oppression could well happen here if God’s people are not vigilant. We move in that direction when we confuse civil religion with Christianity.
The description of the second beast begins with verse 11. This beast comes out of the earth, and has two horns like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. Thus, he looks like the Lamb, Jesus Himself, but is really Satanic.
Verse 13 says that he performs miraculous signs, like bringing fire down from heaven, a la Elijah. Verse 14 shows that he works by deceit, not by raw power: he makes an image of the first beast and succeeds in deceiving “those who dwell on earth” that is, those who are not God’s people.
In verse 15, he even gives breath to the image of the beast; that living image then kills those who don’t worship it.
In verses 16 and 17: he marks the beast’s worshipers with the name and number of the beast; they can’t buy or sell unless they have that mark.
Do you see the difference between the first and second beast? They are allies, but they have different characteristics. The first works by power, forcing people to do its will, threatening those who don’t, and cowing all into obedience. The second works primarily by persuasion:
In effect, the first beast says, “Submit or be maligned, or even killed!” The second beast says, “You’ll really be better off joining us. It will be great!”
What does this second beast represent? Think, now: He is like the Lamb; he performs miracles; he works by persuasion.
The second beast represents false religion, particularly false religion that is allied to state power. Indeed, later in Revelation this beast is called the “false prophet.” Satan is glad to use false religion for his purposes.
What false religions are represented here? Most obviously animism, the direct worship of idols or demons. But any religion that doesn’t see Jesus as God, that doesn’t acknowledge Him as the greatest treasure, is included.
Furthermore, pseudo-Christian religion is represented by the second beast. This includes many so-called Christian churches in this country. These churches have the trappings of Christianity, and may even acquiescence in some way to Jesus being God. But they don’t submit to Jesus as Lord, and don’t acknowledge that He is of supreme value.
Finally, the second beast also represents the religion of secularism: faith in progress, in science, in humankind. This too is a false religion, and this is the religion most closely allied to our own government.
Thus the second beast represents any type of religion or philosophy that tries to persuade people for their own benefit to turn to someone other than the biblical God
These allies of Satan are frightening in symbolic form, and frightening in the world. That’s why so many follow them.
But this chapter does not leave us in fear. Instead, John provides us with three key lessons for overcoming the world in verses 8-10 and 18:
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 that 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. Revelation 13:8-10
In light of these beasts, John gives a call for endurance and faith. Let’s look at these in reverse order:
When these powerful beasts are oppressing some believers and enticing others away, why believe? Because even when all seems lost, God is in control: John shows us this truth in four different ways:
1) Divine passives. Remember your grammar? In the sentence, “John hit the ball”, the verb “hit” is in active voice; the subject of the sentence, John, performs the action. In the sentence, “The ball was hit”, the verb “was hit” is passive. The subject of the sentence, “ball” does not perform the action but is affected by the action. In this sentence, the actor is not named; we have to infer that from the context.
Divine passives are sentences with passive verbs where God is the unnamed actor. There are several such verbs in this chapter.
These divine passives show that God is in control, even over his worst enemies.
2) The beasts’ time is limited. Verse 5 tells us that the beasts have authority only for 42 months. While the number is surely symbolic – it seems these beasts have now had considerable power for 2000 years! – nevertheless, the message is that their time is limited.
3) God controls the origin of the beasts. Note where the beasts come from: the first comes from the sea while the second comes from the earth. Do you remember Revelation 10:1-2? A mighty, huge angel comes down from heaven and puts one foot on the land and the other on the sea. This displays God’s control of both the earth and the sea. Nothing comes out of them except by His permission.
4) A limited number of people worship the beast. Who worships the beast? Everyone? No. Look at verse 8:
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 that was slain.
Many will worship the beast. But God’s elect will never fall. Satan CANNOT ultimately harm God’s people. This was the confidence of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: They were confident that God was ABLE to save them. But even if He did not, they knew that while Nebuchadnezzar could kill them, he could do nothing else. They were to remain loyal to the God of all creation regardless.
So like them, we must remind ourselves of these truths. God is in control. Jesus has overcome the world! To compromise in order to save your life, or to save your job, or to save your reputation is to deny His power, His beauty, His sufficiency.
In 1543, Luther wrote these words in a letter to a friend who was worried about persecution by a king (the king is the “water bag” Luther refers to):
Why . . . do you fear and worry? Be of good courage! Let your heart be strengthened. Do not overestimate that water bag who does not know whether tomorrow he will be a king or a worm. We shall reign forever with Christ; they will burn in hell with the devil.
So have faith in God. He is in control. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
Verse 10 says, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints.” Why? For persecution is certain. The first part of the verse reads,
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.
As Jesus says in Mark 13:23, “I have told you all things beforehand.” He has warned us of trouble ahead, so we must not be surprised. As Revelation 13:9 says, “If anyone has an ear, he must hear.” As chapter 12 tells us, you can conquer Satan by the blood of the lamb and the word of your testimony. So have faith. Endure in that faith. Expect trials and difficulties. Don’t give in.
Indeed, Daniel’s vision on which this is based encourages the saints to endure. Daniel 7 speaks not only of the power of the beasts and the horns, but also of the triumph of the saints:
[The horn] shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.' Daniel 7:25-27
Thus, however dark the day, Revelation 11:15 is coming:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever”
So have faith! Endure! And finally:
Verse 16 tells us that all of those who dwell on earth are marked with the number of the first beast. John then writes verse 18. I’ll read from the NIV rather than the ESV, for I think that translation best captures the idea:
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number.
Remember, Revelation is meant to be read aloud. The reader thus is telling the people: “Think now. Be discerning. Have insight. What number is appropriate as a symbol of these Satanic cohorts? What number pictures man in all his supposed glory?”
The reader then pauses while the listeners think. The puzzle only lasts as long as the pause. Then he gives the number: “His number is 666.”
Why 666? Why is this appropriate for the beast?
Seven is the number for perfection. God is triply perfect. This unholy trinity of Satan, the first beast, and the second beast is triply falling short of perfection. Man on his own gives the appearance of power and authority, but he always falls short of the glory of God. Six falls short of seven. So a triple six is a good number for the beast.
Thus this number is not a secret code for some individual. Rather, as the NIV puts it, it is “man’s number”, the number representing man without God, enslaved to the unholy trinity, imperfect in every way, though appearing powerful.
So this is final exhortation:
Be discerning! Distinguish between 666 and 777!
For all its threats and murders, an oppressive state can only kill the body. It will only last a few decades, or a few hundred years at most. For all its miracles, false religion can only satisfy temporarily. But Jesus Christ reigns, even now, and He will reign forever and ever. His people will reign with Him. He will destroy all His enemies, and He will embrace His people forever.
In this world you have tribulation. No doubt. Many of you have personal experience. Many others will face serious tribulation in the years ahead.
So “here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Jesus has overcome the world! So Endure! Have faith! Discern! And thus live to the glory of God.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 7/3/05. The Luther quote is taken from the excellent compilation Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 310, edited by Theodore Tappert and published by Westminster Press in 1955. The letter was written to John Mathesius on August 19, 1543. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful, particularly with the Daniel allusions. My understanding of 666 was aided considerably by Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation (Intervarsity, 1975).
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, (send email), c/o Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.