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Commentary on The Book of Revelation 5

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Fourth Vision. The Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Beasts.

The Woman Clothed With the Sun and the Great Red Monster (Revelation 12.1-13.1a).

12.1 ‘And a great sign was seen in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.’

Now we are to have unveiled before us even more details of what has previously been described, going back in history and going forward to the end. These few verses are setting the scene for the battle between good and evil.

‘A great sign’. This is a symbol in a book of symbols, but the use of ‘great’ shows how important it is. In those days people were used to interpreting signs in the heavens. Thus it is seen as having great significance. It is one of three signs to be revealed in heaven, the second is the sign of the monster (12.3) and the third, the sign of the seven angels with the seven plagues (15.1). These cover all aspects of history, the history of salvation, the history of rebellion against God, and the history of the judgments of God.

‘A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.’ The only place in Scripture where we find this combination of sun, moon and stars applied to man is in Genesis 37.9, where it represents Jacob (Israel) the founding father of Israel, his wife, and his twelve children, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. The sun represents Jacob, the moon his wife and the twelve stars the sons of Jacob. John thus sees the woman as representative of the chosen people of God, the children of the promise, the true, the righteous Israel.

Her being ‘clothed’ with the sun also reveals her righteousness and glory in God’s eyes, ‘then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13.43). We may see also the expectancy of the coming of Christ, ‘the sun of righteousness with healing in his wings’ (Malachi 4.2).

The moon under her feet symbolises the fact that time itself will be put under her feet (Psalm 8.3 with 6). She is everlasting. The moon was seen as controller of times and seasons (Psalm 104.19). It determined the length of the month (Isaiah 66.23), signalled the commencement of the new year (Numbers 28.11), and the new moon was set apart as a holy day (1 Samuel 18.5, 20, 24; 2 Kings 4.23; 1 Chronicles 23.31; 2 Chronicles 2.4; Psalm 81.4; Isaiah 1.14 and often). It is a symbol of time itself (Psalm 72.7; 89.37).

The crown demonstrates that she is destined to rule. The twelve stars on the crown are in apposition to the seven heads and ten horns of the monster (12.3) and represent the twelve patriarchs and thus the twelve tribes of Israel, and also possibly, but secondarily, the twelve Apostles as successors, continuing their oversight of God’s people. They are God’s reply to the power and aims of the enemy.

The vision reminds us of the words of the psalmist, ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you visit him? You made him a little lower than the angels, and crown him with glory and honour, you made him to have dominion over the works of your hands, you have put all things under his feet’ (Psalm 8.3-6). So humble man (and in Revelation 12 the humble church), who is so insignificant compared with the heavens, is to be exalted, glorious like the heavens, crowned with glory and honour, with all things in submission to him. The psalm is quoted in Hebrews 2.6-8 where it is seen as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman.

In Isaiah 54.5 Israel is clearly depicted as a woman, and as God’s wife, a wife who is restored to full wifehood (v.6) so that she may receive great mercies. All her children will be taught of the Lord (v.11). But it is only as faithful Israel that she can be restored.

Hosea says the same thing when he describes God as alluring Israel, bringing her into the wilderness and speaking to her comfortable things, so that she will call Him ‘my husband’, and He will betroth her to Him for ever in righteousness and in justice, and in loving kindness and in mercies, and in faithfulness (2.14, 16, 19-20). And He will then say to them ‘you are My people’ (v.23). So the fruitful wife of the Lord is an Israel made faithful to Him. Ezekiel 16.12-13 confirms that Israel was seen as crowned, and of royal estate.

It is important to recognise that in the end God’s calling was not of the whole of Israel, but of faithful Israel, ‘the remnant’ (Romans 9.6). When God chose Abraham only one of his sons, Isaac, was the child of promise, and of Isaac’s children only Jacob was the child of promise (Romans 9.13). In the same way not all Jacob’s (Israel’s) descendants are the children of promise. It is only the elect who respond in faith who enjoy the promise (Romans 11.7).

In Elijah’s time this was the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 9.4). This doctrine of the holy remnant is accepted by the prophets (Isaiah 6.13 - where he speaks of ‘the holy seed’; see also Isaiah 1.9;10.20-22; 49.3 with 6; Ezekiel 14.22; 2 Kings 19.30-31), and Paul describes them as a remnant in accordance with God’s gracious choosing (Romans 9.5).

The so-called ‘children of Israel’ were in fact made up of people from many nations, commencing with the servants of the Patriarchs, continuing with ‘the mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12.38) and including others who were adopted into the tribes such as Uriah the Hittite (see 2 Samuel 11), and many others. While they called themselves ‘children of Israel’ the only real claim of the majority of them to the promises was by entering into and being faithful to the covenant. Indeed only those who were truly faithful to the covenant could be the true Israel

Thus the woman is clearly the holy remnant of Israel (Isaiah 6.13). That this woman can only be the truly faithful in Israel comes out in that she is clothed with the sun. As we have shown this includes reference to the idea behind our Lord’s words about the righteous shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Righteousness is equated with the shining forth as the sun. Being clothed with the sun is a similar idea to being clothed in white robes. It only applies to the truly faithful.

So while in the world of the nations the sun, moon and stars were to be worshipped (Jeremiah 8.2; Deuteronomy 4.19; 2 Kings 21.3; 2 Kings 23.5), in the history of salvation they represent His faithful people to whom the nations will come in final submission (Isaiah 60.14).

12.2 ‘And she was with child and cries out, travailing in birth and in pain to be delivered.’

This description of Israel in birth pains comes from Isaiah 66.8; Micah 4.9-10. God has destined his people to suffer in carrying forward the history of salvation. He has chosen them as His means of salvation, but it was to be through much tribulation and anguish that it would be accomplished. The seed of the woman will smite the Serpent’s head, but He will be born through the woman’s travail (Genesis 3.15-16).

She ‘cries out’ to God for His deliverance to be revealed. For the aspirations of Israel see Luke 1.46-55, 68-79; 2.29-32. Their longing is for deliverance and the ‘birth’ of themselves as a new nation and part of this longing is for the birth of the Messiah through whom the nation will achieve its calling. The idea of the birth pangs for the Messiah, based on these passages in Isaiah and Micah, was familiar in contemporary literature.

12.3 ‘And there was another sign in heaven, and behold, a great red monster having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.’

This is the second sign in heaven.

‘A great red monster’. In ancient myths monsters were often seen as fighting with gods in a way that was thought to influence the world. Such ideas were taken up in the Old Testament to depict the enemies of Israel. In Isaiah 27.1 the prophet describes ‘the Leviathan, the swift serpent, the Leviathan, the crooked serpent, and --- the monster that is in the sea’, speaking of the swift river Tigris, the winding river Euphrates and Egypt, in depicting the punishment coming on Assyria and Egypt (this picture is taken from the Baal myths which speak of ‘Lotan the writhing serpent -- the twisted serpent, the accursed one with seven heads’. The monster is thus a great serpent-like creature).

In Psalm 74.13 -14 the dividing of the Reed Sea at the Exodus is described as ‘breaking the heads of the dragons in the waters, breaking the heads of Leviathan in pieces’. The same event is described in Isaiah 51.9 as cutting Rahab in pieces and slaying the monster (compare Isaiah 30.7; Ezekiel 29.3; 32.2; Psalm 89.10). Thus Egypt is seen as Leviathan and Rahab, both legendary monsters. Babylon is similarly spoken of (Jeremiah 51.34). (The same terms can be used of the crocodile (Job 41.1 on) and the whale (Psalm 104.26)).

Thus the terms signify awesome enemies of the people of God and are here taken up by John to depict the greatest Enemy of all (Matthew 13.39; Luke 10.19).

The seven diadems are probably in contrast with the crown of the woman. The former were worn by kings of the nations, the latter is the crown of the victor. However He Who is the Word of God will have many diadems for He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19.12 with 16).

‘Red’ - a fiery red, used of the red horse which takes peace from the earth (6.4). Thus it speaks of the opposite of the Prince of peace. It is a creature of blood.

‘Seven heads and ten horns’- see Daniel 7.7 for ten horns where they represent ten kings (Daniel 7.24). The idea of the many headed monster comes from Psalm 74.13-14 (seven headed in Canaanite mythology, see above). In Revelation 17 the seven heads are ‘seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings’ (Revelation 17.9-10). Seven is the number of heavenly completeness and this therefore shows the monster to be the world ruler (John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11) whose power is behind those who rule on earth. Indeed the Lord did not dispute his claim to be able to give Him the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them (Matthew 4.8-9; Luke 4.5-6). He also has ten horns, but their rule is far in the future. All earthly rulership to be described in Revelation has its source in the monster.

Babylon was depicted as a ‘destroying mountain’ (Jeremiah 51.25). Compare the ‘mount of destruction’ in 2 Kings 23.13, and the mountain that represented the destruction of earthly kingdoms by the heavenly kingdom in Daniel 2.35 with 44. Thus mountains are symbolic of destructive power.

So the battle lines are drawn up, the woman, the faithful wife of the Lord, against the great monster; the patriarchs and the people of God against Satan (verse 9), and against those mighty ones, instruments of destruction, whom he empowers.

12.4a ‘And his tail draws the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.’

In Daniel 8.10 it was said of Antiochus Epiphanes, a ruler of Syria in 2nd century BC, that ‘some of the host of heaven and of the stars he cast down to the ground and trampled on them’ which represented ‘destroying the mighty ones’ (verse 24). This was a vivid way of describing his treatment of the religions of other nations and their god-kings.

But Satan is revealed as the great destroyer to an even greater extent (compare Revelation 9.11), and in his case the stars cast down are angels (12.9) who fell when he fell. A third part represents a large minority.

For other fallen angels see 2 Peter where Peter speaks of God not sparing ‘the angels who sinned’, casting them down to Tartarus ( a place of suffering) to be reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2.4), while Jude speaks of ‘the angels who did not keep their own sphere of activity, but left their proper habitation’. They are ‘kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day’ (Jude 1.6). But these were exceptionally the angels who had tried to muscle in physically on human affairs in the time of Noah, crossing the forbidden boundary between physical and spiritual.

Apart from this we know nothing reliable about why the angels fell, except that they chose to rebel against God’s authority. We must be careful here. The use by some of certain picturesque Old Testament passages, which speak of the boasting claims of great kings and their consequences (e.g. Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28), may have a superficial attraction, but ignores their stated meaning and reads into them what is not there as revelation. They may however suggest the awareness of the human race of the fact that sin is found in both earth and among heavenly beings.

12.4b ‘And the monster stood before the woman who was about to be delivered so that when she was delivered he might devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a male child who is to rule (act as shepherd to) all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was caught up to God and to his throne.’

This vivid picture of Satan waiting to devour the woman’s son, brings out his fear of the woman and her seed. Though great in power he is not permitted to destroy the woman. He must therefore destroy her seed.

The fact that the monster cannot devour the woman is another example of God’s preserving power. God says, ‘thus far you may go and no further’. We can compare the restrictions God put on Satan with regard to Job (Job 1.12), and how for three and a half years He preserved the two witnesses (chapter 11).

The picture that follows does not pretend to be a detailed explanation of the life of Jesus, but to illustrate the important fact of His triumph in as few words as possible so as not to divert attention away from the woman, and to centre attention on the battle in the heavens. (John knew his book would be read to people who would never have the chance to read it for themselves. In the reading he did not want their attention to be turned aside from the main point, the woman’s career).

‘That -- he might devour her child’. As soon as Jesus was born Satan did make his first attempt to ‘devour’ Him, for Herod sought the young child to kill Him (Matthew 2.16). But he failed. That attempt is looked on as summarising all Satan’s later activities, his constant attempts to destroy Jesus, which ended in the cross. There he thought he had finally succeeded, but his total failure is clearly summed up in the fact that Jesus was carried up to His Father’s throne, a proof of His triumph and of the fact that He now reigns in Heaven.

But who was the son, the male child of whom Israel cried to be delivered? (verse 2). There can only be one answer, the promised seed. The primary one who is to be born of faithful Israel is the Messiah, the seed of the woman who would break the serpent’s head (Genesis 3.15); the lion of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49.9-10); the star of Jacob and Sceptre of Israel (Numbers 24.17); the son (male child) born of a woman who will be called ‘God is with us’ (Isaiah 7.14); the male child to be born and the son to be ‘given’ on whose shoulders will rest governing power, who will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, whose kingdom would know no end (Isaiah 9.6-7); the shoot from the stock of Jesse who would be endued with the Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11.1); the one who will come forth from Bethlehem to be ruler of Israel whose going out has been from everlasting (Micah 5.2). He is the one who ‘will judge the nations with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 19.15; Psalm 2.9). Most of all he is the one who is caught up to God and to His throne, and no one shares the Father’s throne except the Son (Revelation 3.21).

Some have questioned this identification on the grounds that the description of the male child’s career is expressed too briefly and does not outline the facts of Jesus’ life and end. But the concentration at this point is not on the male child but on the woman’s fate. We are not dealing here with theological niceties but with vivid symbolism, dealt with as succintly as possible. The monster waiting to devour the man-child did finally fail in his purpose. He thought he would succeed, but he was wrong. At the very moment when he thought he had achieved his aim he was made aware of his mistake. The Son was taken up to the throne of His Father. So did Jesus in His manhood escape from his evil purposes to His final triumph.

Furthermore it is Jesus Christ who is depicted as the One ‘Who will break the nations with a rod of iron’. In Psalm 2 this idea is expressed of the Messiah and there in the context of ‘yet have I set my king on my holy hill of Zion’. This latter was fulfilled when Jesus was caught up into heaven and to His Father’s throne in the heavenly Jerusalem. Thus this is what John depicts. This last in itself confirms that He had defeated the power of evil and made a show of them, for His place on the throne demonstrated that He had taken authority and had begun to reign over all things. It also demonstrates that in the first analysis only He could be the male child.

But the early church and the epistles saw a further glorious truth. When Christ died, His people died with Him, when Christ rose, His people rose with Him, when Christ ascended into Heaven, His people ascended with Him. When Christ was seated on His throne far above all, His people sat with Him (Ephesians 1.19-2.7 compare Colossians 3.1; 2.12-13). This important teaching must not be overlooked. To the early church it was part of their experience and belief. (Compare on Revelation 20.3 onwards). So in this passage we see the triumph of the people of God already made certain in Christ. Because of this they are untouchable.

Thus the man child is also secondarily the people of God, for the overcomer is promised that he too will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 2.27). This compares with the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42; 45; 50; 53) who is primarily Christ, as Luke especially makes clear, but is secondarily also His church (Acts 13.47). Satan will seek to destroy the church as well (12.17), but he cannot for they are safe in Christ. The church too will later be caught up to God at the rapture when Christ comes. But that is simply the final fulfilment of God’s purposes in physical form. In a real sense this has already taken place for they were caught up when Christ was caught up. They were raised with Him far above all and share His triumph (Ephesians 2.6).

An attempt is sometimes made to relate the male child directly to the church and not to Christ at all. But no overcomer is to be borne up to God’s throne directly. Rather he shares Christ’s throne with Him and the difference in the two is made crystal clear elsewhere in Revelation (Revelation 3.21). The overcomer has this promise to ‘rule’ the nations precisely because he is in Christ and shares His throne, and not by any intrinsic right of his own. His authority is secondary. It is Jesus Christ who has the primary authority because He shares His Father’s throne. The promise in Revelation 2.27 is an assurance that the overcomer will be set above those who have previously persecuted him, but it does not make him the primary ruler of the nations. That is only true of Jesus Christ.

But why does John not fill out the picture a little more? Almost certainly, because he does not want to take the readers attention away from the woman. It is her career that is his interest at this point. Thus he puts as succintly as possible the triumph of Jesus. The atonement has already been sufficiently presented (5.6; 7.14). The Lamb and what He has accomplished has been clearly revealed there. He therefore limits his description to the final fact that the man-child, who will rule the nations with a rod of iron, has been raised to God’s throne for this very purpose. His readers automatically know that this One Who is borne up to God has been depicted as the slain Lamb.

The picture is very vivid. The monster waiting to devour the child, making his attempts knowing that all depends on it, and failing, for the child is taken from his empty grasp before his eyes and ascends to the throne, followed by his determination to destroy the woman and prevent the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Thwarted and defeated by the cross and the resurrection he determines to cause as much damage as possible.

‘Was caught up’. The verb can mean simply ‘borne away unresistingly’. Thus it is used in Acts 8.39 of Philip being taken away by the Spirit having spoken with the Ethiopian eunuch and in 2 Corinthians 12.2 of Paul being taken up to the third heaven. It carries no special significance of urgency. It simply describes what happens as being the action of God from the throne.

12.6 ‘And the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days.’

This verse is put in as a quick note to explain the final effect for the woman of what happens to her son. It is amplified in more detail in 12.13-17.

The fleeing into the wilderness is similar to the ‘flee into the mountains’ of Matthew 24.16; Mark 13.14; Luke 21.21, advice from Jesus of what those in Judea should do when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies (Luke 21.20) and the desolating abomination is set up (the image of the Emperor of Rome on the standards of the legions). John speaks with an awareness that at that time the people of God did flee over the Jordan into the wilderness country (by this time the Jewish remnant of old is recognised as being found in the churches of Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee).

According to Eusebius the Jerusalem church fled to Pella beyond the Jordan, and many Jewish Christians in Judea and Galilee no doubt fled into the surrounding wilderness for safety under persecution from the local would be ‘Messiahs’ who sprang up and demanded a following, as well as seeking safety in the light of the Roman response to those Messiahs.

But John is concerned also with the symbolism of the wilderness, namely that it signified a time of testing and purifying (1 Kings 19.4, 15; Mark 1.12-13; Matthew 4.1; Luke 4.1). The connection with Elijah is especially important as it explains the mention of the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, which is three and a half years, for the idea of three and a half years is closely linked with Elijah as a God-appointed period in which he sought a place of refuge from the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel in places prepared by God, commencing in the wilderness ( 1 Kings 17.1 with 18.1; 17.3, 9; compare Luke 4.25; James 5.17).

John has a habit of taking incidents in the life of Elijah and giving them new meaning Compare the seven thousand killed in the earthquake (11.13) in contrast with the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18). The false fire that comes down from Heaven (13.13) representing an imitation Elijah. The fact that the two witnesses can prevent rain from Heaven (11.6). So he sees a similarity between Elijah fleeing into the wilderness from the wrath of the king, and being sustained there by God, and the fleeing into the wilderness of the people of God where they too will be sustained. They are the new remnant.

Three and a half years is symbolic of a period of testing and trial. We must not assume that every mention of three and a half years refers to the same period of time. The lack of rain under Elijah was recognised as lasting for three and a half years. Thus this period became a symbol of a period of trial and tribulation.

12.7-8 ‘And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels going forth to war with the monster, and the monster warred, and his angels. And they did not prevail neither was their place found any more in heaven.’

This occurs before the flight into the wilderness (12.13). Michael is the angelic Prince of the people of God and it is his duty to intervene directly because the people of God are going to be under attack, an attack which will eventually result in their fleeing into the wilderness (Daniel 12.1). Michael and his angels are a comfort to the people of God, for they indicate that the supenatual powers that have previously been described do nto have it all their own way (compare Daniel 10). For the woman further travails will begin immediately on the taking away of the Son, resulting from renewed Satanic attack on God’s people. Behind the persecutions described in Acts and elsewhere are the activities of Satan seeking to destroy God’s remnant. So Michael goes into battle with him.

This battle commences even while Christ is on earth. Through the power of Christ, (we learn here with the able assistance of Michael and his angels), the strong man is bound and his house ransacked (Matthew 12.29; Mark 3.27), and Jesus can state ‘I saw Satan as lightning fall from Heaven’ (Luke 10.18) as He contemplates the power of the Spirit at work victoriously through His disciples. Through His presence on earth, and His death and resurrection and exaltation to the throne, the principalities and powers are disarmed and led in a show of victory (Colossians 2.15). And now that Christ has won the victory over sin for His people the Accuser has no place before God. He will, of course, carry on with his accusations but from a far weaker base. The whole picture is presenting powerful spiritual activity in human terms and we need not press the detail.

We can compare how Elisha appeared to be alone with his servant in carrying forward God’s purposes on earth, but he was aware of the angel forces surrounding him and assisting with the carrying out of God’s purpose (2 Kings 6.17).

This victory is of great importance for it prevents the direct access of Satan to God, which is a central thought in this passage. Because Michael triumphs through Christ’s strength (Jude 1.9), Satan no longer has direct entry to accuse God’s people as he did of old (verse 10; see Zechariah 3.1; Job 1 and 2). He will of course continue to accuse day and night, as he has always done, but he must do it indirectly. Along with that, of course, his final defeat is signalled, and his power is broken. There will be other battles but he is a defeated foe.

We must unquestionably link this victory of Michael with the fact that the woman’s son, the male child, has taken His place on the throne of God. Previously Michael himself has had to be wary in his dealings with Satan (Jude 1.9), saying “the Lord rebuke you”, but the presence of the Lord on earth, and His cross and resurrection, summed up in His sharing the throne of His Father in triumph, have broken Satan’s power. Incidentally, had He wanted them, these are some of the legions Jesus could have called on in His fatal hour (Matthew 26.53), but their intervention on earth would have prevented God’s plan being fulfilled. They may fight in Heaven but He must endure His suffering on earth, for sin had to be dealt with and Michael and his angels could do nothing about that.

12.9 ‘And the great monster was cast down, the old Serpent, he who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was cast down to the earth and his angels were cast down with him.’

As a result of the exaltation of the male child as the slain Lamb, the Devil and his angels have no further place in the heavens. Their activities there are no longer to be permitted. They are defeated. And while their presence on earth is not good news for the world, it is good news for Christians (v.10).

Now we know for certain who this great monster is, it is the Satanas (Satan) - ‘the Adversary’, it is Diabolos (the Devil) - ‘the Slanderer’, it is the old Serpent who beguiled man into sin (Genesis 3), it is the one who deceived the whole world. As Jesus said, he is the father of lies (John 8.44). But his forcible descent from the heavens means that, when the time is right, he, or one of his angels, will be allowed to receive the key of the Abyss (9.1). Meanwhile he will exercise his wrath on the woman and her seed.

12.10-11 ‘And I heard a great voice in Heaven saying, “Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingship of our God, and the authority of his Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life even unto death”.’

We have been looking at the whole panorama of saving history, and this is seen as one whole by the watchers in Heaven who recognise what it means, and what it will mean for the future.

They have seen the visions of the future that have preceded this one, of the brethren overcoming because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (6.9-11; 7.14), and this explains how it was achieved. Through the power of the cross and the defeat of Satan the Kingly Rule of God has been established, salvation has been achieved for men, the power of God has become available for man through the Spirit (Acts 1.8; Acts 2.33), and Christ has received all authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.33-36), and this is demonstrated to the full by the casting down of the accuser of the brethren who never ceases to point out man’s failure. His power is broken. He can no longer point out their failure for they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

‘And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony and they loved not their life even unto death’. In their heavenly wisdom the watchers recognise that what has been accomplished here explains the future victory of the overcomers. They see the picture as one. What Christ has done means that His people have already achieved their victory, even before they face their tribulation. As Paul tells us, when His blood was shed, our blood was shed, when He rose, we rose, when He ascended into the heavenly places we ascended with Him and sat with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2.5-6). Because of His death, and Satan’s casting out, our triumph is thus assured. So the one who speaks from Heaven can look forward and see the triumph of God’s people in the light of what he sees and of what he has seen. It has already been displayed in chapters 6 and 7, and on that basis also he can speak of it as accomplished.

Three things were required in order to be an overcomer, (1) the blood of the Lamb which cleanses from all sin and motivates their lives, (2) their witness to the truth of His word and to Him Who is the truth, as a result of being clothed in the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6.11), which is all based on His word, and (3) their readiness to die for Christ. This is the encouragement John gives in the face of coming persecution. (This use of the aorist, signifying something completed once for all, is similar to what some call the prophetic perfect, the using of a past tense to depict a future action because it is already certain).

12.12 ‘Therefore rejoice, Oh heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea, for the Devil has gone down to you having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time.’

The heavens and the Heaven dwellers can rejoice at the Devil’s defeat. These Heaven dwellers include those who have no permanent interest in earth but who look for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.10), prospective Heaven dwellers. These Heaven-dwellers are in contrast to the Earth-dwellers - ‘those who dwell on the earth’ - i.e. non-Christians, a constant refrain in Revelation. It is the earth who will suffer for his downfall, for the Devil will seek to take out his wrath on them. That is why Peter can describe him as going around ‘like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5.8).

‘Knowing that he has but a short time’. Like everyone else Satan was expecting the end of the age soon. The time when Christ would come was known to no one. Not understanding the longsuffering of God he could not believe it would be long delayed. Thus he measured his behaviour by that belief. And indeed his time was and is limited. In God’s ‘short time’ all will be over.

12.13 ‘And when the monster saw that he was cast down to the earth he persecuted the woman who brought forth the male child, and there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent.’

So persecution comes from the fact that Satan is defeated. This persecution by the serpent begins in Acts with the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7), and continues on through the history of the early church in Jerusalem. The fleeing into the wilderness to be nourished does, as we have seen, parallel the experience of Elijah, and the period, three and a half years, is the same, but here it is stated in days to demonstrate God’s daily concern for His people. Especially in mind is the flight from Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee, from the persecutions of false ‘Messiahs’ and equally vicious Romans, at the time of the final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

The idea of the wings of ‘the great eagle’ has in mind ‘the flying eagle’ in Revelation 4.7 which was one of the living creatures, referred to again in 8.13 as ‘a flying eagle’ with ‘a great voice’. This would suggest the participation of a living creature, one of the cherubim, in the protection of the woman, the faithful in Israel. The psalmist tells us of God that ‘he rode upon a cherub and did fly, yes, he flew on the wings of the wind’ (Psalm 18.10), and that is in mind here. The woman is privileged to ride, as it were, to safety on a cherub. In other words she has God’s special protection as she flees.

It is also connected with Exodus 19.4 where God says to Israel “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself”, i.e. to Mount Sinai in the wilderness, the place of God’s revelation of Himself and the making of the covenant. So her flight is seen as a precursor to later enjoyment of ‘the Promised Land’.

The description of the eagle as ‘a great eagle’ goes beyond just this, however, and suggests, as we have seen, the participation of the living creature. We can recognise from Exodus 19.4 that the woman was not borne away from God in her flight, but was borne to Him. It was not a loss but a gain.

Compare how God was borne to the people of Israel in exile on the wings of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1). There His people had been forcibly taken away, but when they reached their destination they found God was there with them. (The greatest eagle of all is found in Deuteronomy 32.11, where the eagle who bore Israel is God Himself, but that was from the wilderness, not to it. God will not leave His people in the wilderness permanently).

John clearly has in mind in this description (how could he not?) the fact that the woman’s flight parallels the previous flight by the people of Israel into the wilderness for safety from the threat of Pharaoh (Exodus 14.5), where they also were fed by God. Then it was Pharaoh who sent his armies after them to his own destruction.

In Jeremiah 46.8 these armies of Egypt are in fact likened to ‘waters like rivers’ that cover the earth. ‘Egypt rises up like the Nile, and his waters toss themselves like the rivers, and he says “I will rise up, I will cover the earth, I will destroy the city and its inhabitants”.’ So Egypt and its armies are visualised in terms of the Nile whose waters like rivers seek to destroy, like a great river sweeping over the land. This picture John now takes up.

12.14-15 ‘And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream, and the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the monster cast out of his mouth.’

The water like a river coming from the dragon’s mouth can, in the first place, be compared with the fire from the locust’s mouths (9.18). It is something spiritually destructive. An ironic contrast may be intended between believers from whose innermost being flow rivers of living water (John 7.38), and the Temple from which flowed the water of life (Ezekiel 47), and Satan from whose mouth flows a river of destructive waters. Thus it may refer to a flood of ‘false ideas’ seeking to turn God’s people from their faith, a flood which was somehow diverted ‘by God’.

At the time when large numbers of Jews were preparing to take up arms against the Romans tremendous pressure was being put on fellow Jews to participate in the insurrection. Christian Jews who had fled into the wilderness might indeed have been sought out to persuade them to participate, and John may even have known of a particularly nasty situation where this was prevented by some natural occurrence such as an earthquake, or by assistance from non-Christians giving them refuge. ‘The earth’, in contrast to Heaven, may represent such people - for in Revelation non-Christians are ‘those who dwell on earth’. (The methods used to gain support were sometimes particularly nasty for those who were obdurate. Men can easily lose control when patriotism and religious feeling go hand in hand).

Alternatively, in Isaiah 43.2 waters and rivers are pictures of tribulation and hardship that will come on the people of God, and there He promises, ‘I will be with you --- they shall not overflow you’ (compare Psalm 66.12). Thus this may refer to the waters of persecution which Satan tried to bring on those whom God was protecting. The earth is then seen as opening up to protect His people in fulfilment of His promise. Again there may be in mind non-Christian sympathetic assistance, ‘swallowing them up’ and enabling them to avoid pursuers.

Alternately it may have in mind a flood of soldiers as described in Jeremiah 46.8 above. The river of Satan being likened to ‘the river of Egypt’, and seeking to overwhelm the fleeing ‘Israel’ as at the Exodus. The earth opening up may then be referring to some natural phenomenon that diverted the soldiers from their grim duty, as the waters of the reed sea swallowed up Pharaoh’s host.

Indeed all three ideas may have been in John’s mind, the river depicting Satanic attack from all sources. Apocalyptic ideas are all embracing.

The idea of the earth or ground opening up to swallow something is found in Genesis 4.11; Numbers 16.30. They have no direct connection with this passage, but possibly the seed idea may have sprung from those passages. The emphasis is on the fact that the intervention was not a direct act of God but something natural, it was the earth and not directly Heaven that intervened. Although of course God was seen as behind the deliverance.

Whichever is in the mind of John the important fact is that Satan did his worst and God protected His people.

12.17-13.1a ‘And the monster waxed wroth with the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus, and he stood on the sand of the sea.’

The mention of ‘the commandments of God’ may be intended to connect this situation with the Exodus and Mount Sinai, although ‘commandments’ is in fact a favourite word of John having also in mind the commandments of Jesus (John 14.15, 21; 15.10;1 John 2.4; 3.22,24; 5.2, 3; 2 John 1.6; Revelation 14.12; 22.21).

The anger of the monster, unable to snatch his prey, is now turned against ‘the rest of her seed’, i.e. the remainder other than ‘the son, the male child’. This refers to those who have become part of the children of Israel by submission to Christ. They ‘keep the commandments of God’ thus demonstrating that they have been brought within the covenant of grace of Sinai.

We must remember that what we call the ten commandments was in fact a covenant of grace whereby Yahweh, having delivered His people, declared His overlordship and what He had done for them through grace, and outlined His requirements from them as His subject people. It is in the form of a typical suzerainty treaty of that time.

Combined with keeping His commandments these ‘children’ of the true Israel also ‘hold the testimony of Jesus’, declaring their loyalty to Him because of what He has done for them as well as obeying His commandments. As they are the seed of the woman they are ‘true’ children of Israel.

‘And he stood on the sand of the sea’. Now is to be outlined the monster’s activity against the people of God through those who dwell on earth. He has failed in the wilderness sands, which proved his enemy and swallowed up his wrath, for the wilderness is never his friend and, as the place of solitude and waiting on God, always protects the people of God. So now he will attack from another position. Now he stands on the sandy shore of the great sea to see emerge from there the instruments of his wrath. The basic idea comes from Daniel 7.3. The great sea is the Mediterranean which appeared as a great sea to Israel (Numbers 34.6 and often).

To Israel the sea was an enemy. It was always seeking to break its bounds and overwhelm them, although tightly controlled by God. But unlike in other ancient literature the sea is never depicted in the Bible as out of God’s control or battling with God. He always has overwhelming mastery of it (Job 38.8-11; Psalm 65.7). Its battle is with the world.

They remembered how the sea had swallowed up the Egyptian armies (Exodus 15.10; Joshua 24.7 and often), and how it was depicted as overwhelming Babylon (Jeremiah 51.42). The psalmist also likened the sea to a proud enemy whom God controlled, symbolic of the enemies of God, who were seen in the guise of a great sea monster, probably there representing Egypt (Psalm 89.9-10 compare Ezekiel 32.2). The sea roars, like the roaring of a lion and thus again symbolises the enemies of Israel (Isaiah 5.29-30 compare Jeremiah 31.35). Psalm 65.7 compares the roaring of the seas and the waves to ‘the tumult of the peoples’ (compare Isaiah 17.12; Ezekiel 26.3). Indeed ‘the wicked are like the troubled sea, for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt’ (Isaiah 57.20). So the sea symbolises destructive power, the powerful threatening of the people of God, and tumult and restlessness among peoples.

‘The sand of the sea’ is also an Old Testament phrase and signifies a number beyond counting (Genesis 32.12; 41.49; Psalm 78.27; Isaiah 10.22; Jeremiah 15.8; 33.22; Hosea 1.10 see also 1 Samuel 13.5; 2 Samuel 17.11;1 Kings 4.20). Here therefore it is intended to bring to mind the innumerable numbers of peoples who will be used by him to try to overwhelm the people of God.

‘He stood on the sand of the sea’ is in direct contrast with the strong angel who ‘was standing on the sea and on the earth’ in 10.5. The strong angel declares the total dominion of God, Satan’s is only partial.

The sand of the sea, however, is also the impregnable barrier that the sea cannot pass (Jeremiah 5.22). Possibly there is therefore here also the idea that the dragon is standing there with a view to breaking that barrier down.

So sand and sea together can be seen as representing the nations and peoples of the world in tumult and as threatening the people of God.

Chapter 13 The Beasts From the Sea and the Earth.

13.1b ‘And I saw a wild beast coming up out of the sea having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems and on his heads names of blasphemy.’

The wild beast is a clone of the red monster who is described similarly (12.3 compare also Daniel 7.7), and from whom he gains his authority (13.4). Thus the heads and the horns refer more specifically to Satan than to this beast. He bears them to demonstrate that he is Satan’s representative at this time. In this chapter we only have the application of the heads. But the wild beast is part of the overall activity of the monster.

The ten horns represent ‘ten kings’ who receive authority from the coming scarlet beast as contemporaries ‘for one hour’ (i.e. for short period when he has ‘his hour’) - (17.12), but they are in the future.

The seven heads have already been shown to be wearing seven diadems (12.3). Thus the seven will be crowned before the ten. Now we learn that the ten horns will also have diadems, and that the seven heads wear names of blasphemy. The seven heads represent seven mountains and also seven kings in some kind of sequence (17.9-10), the sixth of whom ‘is’ and therefore represents the current Roman Emperor. That being so the seven mountains are (or include) the seven mountains on which Rome is built and the seven kings are selected Roman Emperors in some kind of sequence, selected in order to make up the number seven (as with genealogies this does not exclude the possibility of gaps in the sequence). The blasphemous names on its heads refer to their claims (often half-hearted but sometimes virulent) to be divine. In 12.3 the seven horns had seven diadems.

Seven ‘kings’ are selected to represent the whole line of Emperors, for as the seven churches represented the whole church, so seven Emperors represent the whole line of Emperors. That is why the eighth is ‘of the seven’ meaning that he also relates to the Emperors or is of the same essential make-up. Caligula, who sought to erect his image in the Temple and fervently declared himself to be divine, and sought vigorously to propagate that fact, and Nero who viciously persecuted Christians in Rome, who also fervently claimed divinity, are certainly in mind in the seven.

Thus the wild beast itself may originally represent Augustus, who first accepted the title of ‘divine Emperor’ (although divinity had attached to previous Caesars), but as the head of the continuing Roman Empire which arose from the sea of peoples. The seven heads may represent the subsequent prominent Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian (or any other selection), but essentially they represent the Empirate, the whole line of Emperors.

As in Daniel wild beasts are both kings and kingdoms, and heads and horns arising represent kings resulting from or connected with the first king. It was under Tiberius that the male child was taken up to God’s throne, a suitable starting point for the seven. However an equally acceptable starting point would be Caligula whose divine claims were open and determined, and he is the one shown to be prominent in the chapter. This would make Domitian the sixth and the seventh an unknown yet to come. The specific identity of the seven is relatively unimportant (except as defining when Revelation was written), what is important is their significance as representing the Empirate.

The initial growth of the wild beast, which rises already equipped with horns and heads, does not necessarily follow chronologically the events in chapter 12. His growth has already taken place ‘in the sea’, i.e. among the nations (compare 17.15), being prepared for this time. We see him emerging from the sea.

So in this chapter the wild beast clearly signifies the Roman Empire and possibly Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome as such, the horns representing successors. (This is the wild beast from the sea in contrast with the wild beast from the abyss - 11.7; 17.8). When the monster stands on the sand of the sea it is in order to specifically utilise the services of this great beast, which he will empower and control, against the people of God. He stands there to call on it to destroy God’s people. This will result in the even more intensive persecution which John foresees in the future.

13.2 ‘And the wild beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion, and the monster gave him his power, and his throne and great authority.’

This description links the wild beast with those in Daniel chapter 7, with the idea that this wild beast combines in itself all the power, might and glory of those kingdoms. It is stressing his huge superiority. He represents all empires. This suggests he is parallel with the fourth beast, ‘terrible, powerful and exceedingly strong with great iron teeth’ (Daniel 7.7) which, at least initially, symbolises Rome, but in the end represents the mega-empire, summing up all empires of all ages. The source of his kingship is revealed by John to be Satanic (compare 2.13 see 1 Corinthians 10.20-21).

As chapter 17 will make clear there is another wild beast, a scarlet beast (known elsewhere as the beast of the abyss), which, while encompassing Rome, signifies more than Rome. It has a future after the destruction of Rome (see on chapter 17-19).

However, the seven heads representing ‘kings’ are Roman Emperors, for five are fallen, one is and one is coming. The seven heads are also the seven mountains on which Rome is established. But the ten kings and the beast are not limited to Rome. They are anti-Christ, as we shall see.

It was the great red monster of chapter twelve who initially had the seven heads and the ten horns. Satan is the one who controls the earthly kings and empires of the future following the resurrection and enthronement of Christ in Heaven. This wild beast in chapter 13 is also shown as having the seven heads and the ten horns. This links it specifically with the red monster. The wild beast is Satan’s tool. The wild beast from the abyss in chapter 17 has the same. Both beasts look back to the same source and there is a continuity in them based on their connection with Satan.

But the wild beast from the abyss is shown to have ceased, and to have begun again after being raised from the abyss, and it is then that the ten kings arise. So the wild beast primarily represents the bestial nature of earthly empire, summing up in itself all past empires. Significantly that earthly empire will know a cessation and a recommencement so that the final empire is not necessarily Rome although it was Rome in its commencement. Here then in chapter 13 we have the wild beast as Rome. In chapter 17 the wild beast is the empire and its ruler in the end times who experience more immediate Satanic possession.

13.3-4 ‘And I saw one of his heads which seemed as though it had been smitten unto death, and its death stroke was healed, and the whole earth wondered after the beast, and they worshipped the monster because he gave his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to make war with him?”.’

The mention of one of the heads demonstrates that in this chapter it is the heads which are prominent. This smitten head probably refers to the illness that brought Caligula near to death, but from which he recovered seemingly miraculously. The ‘as though it had been smitten to death’ may be seeing his illness as caused by the ‘two-edged sword’ of the Son of Man (1.16).

Through his seemingly mortal illness Christ is seen as reminding Caligula of his mortality but he ignores the warning. The Eastern part of the Empire, which only saw the Emperors at a distance and took their divinity seriously (it was this part of the Empire e.g. Pergamum (2.13), which most enthusiastically enforced Emperor worship), may well have amplified rumours about this event which Caligula no doubt used to further belief in his divinity. This, or some other well known event, had clearly given impetus to such Imperial claims. As the rumours circulated they would no doubt grow in intensity. The purpose of John in stating it is to show that Rome is anti-Christ (setting itself up as a rival of Christ), claiming divinity and mimicking the death and resurrection of Christ.

When the religion of Rome was enforced, twofold worship was in view, the worship of the Emperor and the worship of Roma (Rome) itself, both demanding sacrifices and thus seen by Christians as devil worship (1 Corinthians 10.20-21). And thus it continued from emperor to emperor. The question about who could ‘compare with the beast’ echoes the view taken by the people of the Empire of the all-conquering legions, ‘who is like Rome?’. ‘Who is like the beast’ also contrasts with the meaning of the name of the Archangel Michael, ‘who is like God?’.

13.5 ‘And a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies was given to him and he was given authority to continue for forty two months.’

This refers to the head that was smitten to death and was healed (v.3). ‘Was given to him’. Up to now this phrase has signified God’s permitting. Now it has a twofold meaning. Outwardly it is the Serpent who ‘gives’ his authority to him, but John recognises that behind this, as behind all things, is God (compare 1 Chronicles 21.1 with 2 Samuel 24.1).

The claim to Imperial divinity was first emphasised under Augustus (although earlier Caesars were accepted as divine by many), but it was Gaius Caligula who assiduously propagated such a belief in his own divinity throughout the Empire, and even sought to enforce it by force among the Roman aristocracy who naturally were most wary of his claims. While the Roman aristocracy were happy to see the common people worshipping the Emperor, they were the last to believe in the divinity of Emperors, for they knew them too well, and under Caligula some of them suffered for it.

He also included in his efforts the aim of setting up his image in the Jerusalem Temple, and images in other places, and he reacted against any attempts to deny him worship. Tiberius had laid little emphasis on the Imperial cult. Caligula brought it to the fore. This would naturally result in many conflicts with Christians who at various times would find themselves in a position where they had to deny his deity and refuse to offer sacrifices to ‘Rome and the Emperor’. (Historically he is not viewed as strictly a wholesale persecutor of Christians per se, for he persecuted everybody, but contemporary Christians who suffered and saw others suffering under his claims no doubt saw it differently).

His reign was the first in which emperor worship became a major issue and lasted for three years and ten months. John sees this is significant and dates from the early part of his reign, putting it in terms of prophetic terminology as ‘forty two months’ (between three and four years - note that the forty two months is not strictly said to be the length of his reign, thus a short period can be seen as excluded at the beginning before his persecutions really got under way).

As we have mentioned Tiberius had not been an enthusiastic propagator of his divinity, and the shock with which Caligula’s emphatic proclamation of divinity and demand for worship from all was received by Christians is clear from John’s reference to it here. It brought a new perspective to, and emphasis on, Emperor worship which boded ill for the future. But in the end it is not the specific activity of Caligula that is finally in mind but the continued activity of the wild beast.

13.6-8 ‘And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even those who tabernacle in Heaven (those who meet with Him there). And it was given to him to make war with God’s people and to overcome them, and authority was given to him over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the slain Lamb.’

‘And he -- .’ The wild beast, whichever ‘head’ was in power.

‘His tabernacle.’ The place where God dwells and is met with, in this case probably the heavenly equivalent of the tabernacle.

‘Even those who tabernacle in heaven.’ This probably includes the heavenly beings (note how the cherubim were also represented in the earthly Tabernacle) and also possibly the people of God. Compare Luke 16.9 which speaks of ‘the eternal tabernacles’ or dwelling places where the righteous dead dwell.

The horror of Imperial claims comes through here. Imperial worship blasphemes God’s name and his tabernacle, and even those who dwell in Heaven.

It is possible that the threat to the earthly Temple by Caligula could be in mind here, (it was probably still used by Jewish Christians as a place to meet and worship in as they did in Acts), but the Temple is never actually called the Tabernacle in the New Testament and had lost its significance for the majority of Christians, so that it seems unlikely.

Thus if the tabernacle referred to is to be seen as earthly at all it more probably represents Christians (Acts 15.16; 2 Corinthians 5.1, 4; 2 Peter 1.13, 14). However, it is almost certainly the heavenly Tabernacle that is in mind (Hebrews 8.2 and often; Revelation 15.5; 21.3)). It is God Himself, the heavenly Tabernacle and the spiritual beings in it, who are blasphemed by these Imperial claims.

But it is not just the one head but the whole wild beast with its blasphemous claims which is now in mind, and after Caligula’s death the claims and the persecutions go on even when not positively sought by the Emperors, reaching a high point of intensity in Rome with Nero, and later in short bursts with Domitian, and even later in wholesale and widespread persecution. Caligula’s importance lay not in the intensity of his persecutions nor in the effectiveness of his actions, but in the new positive enforcement of divinity which he symbolised.

This description parallels Paul’s in 2 Thessalonians 2.4. The day of the Lord will not be ‘except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called divine or that is worshipped, so that he sits in the sanctuary as God (or ‘as a god’ or ‘of God’) setting himself forth as the supreme deity.’

We translate the first ‘theon’ as divine as that is clearly its meaning here. ‘All that is called God’ refers to anything that is called divine. He is thus claiming to be the supreme deity. Worship of Rome and the Emperor superseded all other religions which were only tolerated as ‘superstitions’ as long as Rome was given its due worship.

We consider ‘the sanctuary as God (or ‘a god’)’ to be the better reading as it is the harder reading in later ears and therefore more likely to be correct (later Christians would not like comparing the emperor to God), but either way the message is the same. Here is one who claims divinity, and sets up his image in divine temples, possibly to be seen as declaring them to be ‘the sanctuary of God’, exalting himself above all that is called divine. This is what certain emperors actually enforced themselves, at other times it was done by others as flattery. But to Rome the worship of Roma and the Emperor had always to be central.

Even if we read as ‘the sanctuary of God’ we must remember that Paul considers that the Jerusalem Temple has been replaced by the new Temple of God, His people (2 Corinthians 6.16; Ephesians 2.21). John’s thinking does not centre on the Jerusalem Temple, which he sees as replaced by the people of God, and he is thus unlikely to be speaking of that particular temple. He nowhere elsewhere speaks of it or points to it, and he knows that Jesus has predicted its destruction within a generation. In his eyes it has become irrelevant to the Christian church. So ‘the sanctuary of God’ here would refer to the claim made by the Emperors that their temples were ‘the sanctuary of God’.

‘It was given to him to make war with God’s people (the saints) and to overcome them’ The Imperial claims necessarily bring them into conflict with God’s people in different parts of the Empire and persecution results. Christians are dragged before tribunals and must either submit to the worship of Rome or face terrible punishment. For a large part of the time persecution will depend on local officials and the attitudes of local people, but the wild beast will not relax his grip.

We note here a parallel to chapter 12 where the woman is persecuted for forty two months followed by war on the remainder of her children. In 11.7 the war on the saints also follows a three and a half year period, although in that case only brief. Three and a half years is clearly looked on as a symbolic period of persecution, which results in further persecution. Once again the overcomers are seemingly overcome.

‘Every tribe and people and tongue and nation’. These words are taken from Daniel 3.29 where they denote disparate peoples in a large empire, but it is not necessarily universal. The Roman Empire was composed of such people.

‘All that dwell on earth shall worship him’. This was what Rome officially demanded, having the Roman world in mind (Acts 11.28; 19.27; 24.5; Romans 1.8). And on the whole they would receive what they demanded. These demands necessarily brought the authorities into conflict with Christians. ‘Those who dwell on earth’ contrasts with those whose citizenship is in Heaven who are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Philippians 3.20; 1 Peter 2.11).

‘Everyone who name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the slain Lamb’. See on 3.5. Those who are Christians have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, where they have been written from before time began (see 17.8). Both book and Lamb are eternal, for He wrote in the book before the foundation of the world. This is intended to strengthen living Christians against the persecutions ahead as well as to assure them of the safety of those who have previously been martyred. They can be content because their names are written in Heaven from the foundation of the world, written there by the slain Lamb, Who is also therefore there before the foundation of the world. They have true immortality.

13.9 ‘If anyone has an ear let him hear.’

This phrase was at the end of the letters to the seven churches, and connects with them. The message is still to them and the worldwide church. Only those whose ears are opened will understand what he is referring to, and they will demonstrate it by their response.

13.10a ‘If anyone is for captivity, to captivity he goes, if anyone is to be killed with the sword with the sword he is killed.’

The Greek text is very uncertain but Jeremiah 15.2 gives us the sense, ‘such as are for death, to death, such as are for the sword, to the sword, and such as are for famine, to the famine, and such as are for captivity to captivity’. There it referred to unbelieving Israel, here it applies to believers. God will not intervene to prevent persecution, for it is a part of His purposes and results in the fulfilling of His will. Thus His people will accept their destiny knowing that not a hair of their heads can perish (Luke 21.18)

13.10b ‘Here is the patient endurance and faith of God’s people (the saints).’

God’s people rest in the will of God and trust Him through adversity recognising that He is over all, whatever happens. They know that their fate is in the hands of the God Who will one day raise them from the dead and give them rich rewards.

Note. The Continuing Nature Of This Vision.

As we have demonstrated the first reference of this chapter is to the blasphemous claims of Imperial Rome and its idolatrous religion. However, the genius of apocalyptic lies in its ability to convey intrinsic ideas and that is nowhere more true than here. John’s eyes were naturally on Rome but the wild beast will in its essential nature go on through the ages, for anti-Christ will ever arise and it thus represents anti-Christ and his empires wherever such are found (chapter 17). The essential wild beast did not die with the Roman Empire.

It must, however, be granted that this empire as an ‘idea’ has in fact itself reared its head a number of times through the ages. Charlemagne, the grand dukes of Moscow (16th century) and Mussolini (20th century) have all seen themselves as reviving it, and the Roman church has until fairly recently perpetuated the idea and still utilises the title Pontifex Maximus used by the Roman emperors.

Wherever religions and philosophies set themselves up against Christ, seeking to set up something to replace Him and enforcing themselves by political persuasion, there we have the wild beast, there we have anti-Christ (that which stands over against Christ) represented by the wild beast. Whether it be the rise of Islam, the degenerate kings and worldly popes of the Middle Ages, Russian and Chinese communism, the modern rise of Islam, or whatever else, each simply carries on the role of the wild beast. They depict man as he really is.

We therefore do not need to doubt that if Christ delays His coming yet other anti-Christs will arise as the end approaches, possibly, but not necessarily, even connected with Rome in a revived ‘Roman Empire’. There is the wild beast who was and is not (17.8), and will yet ‘be’, to come again. And when he does come we will be able to apply these chapters to him because the monster’s method and approach do not change.

In chapter 13 the Roman Empire is primarily in John’s mind, but only because Rome was the bestial empire of that time. That the idea stretches further chapter 17 makes clear. The message of Revelation applied to the idea of ‘anti-Christ’ and did not fade out or cease to be meaningful at the fall of ancient Rome. Its essential teaching applies throughout history, and will apply until the end. In the end anti-Christ, whatever its form, will be destroyed by the manifestation of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2.8).

End of note.

13.11 ‘And I saw another wild beast coming up out of the earth and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke like a monster.’

In contrast with the Lamb Who came from Heaven, this wild beast with two horns like a lamb comes from the earth. Whatever his pretensions he has no heavenly connection. The two horns like a lamb contrast with the two witnesses of chapter 11, and represent false testimony in contrast with the true testimony of the two witnesses, while the likeness to the Lamb reveal him also to be anti-Christ (over against Christ) in motive and behaviour.

‘He spoke like a monster’. Although he appeared to be a lamb his words were Satanic, guileful and deceitful (compare Genesis 3.1; 2 Corinthians 11.3, 14). He is the Roman equivalent of ‘the False Prophet’ (16.13; 19.20; 20.10), but he is not given that name for the False Prophet is the Prophet of Satanism, a religion that supersedes that of Rome.

That the second wild beast represents more than one person is demonstrated by the two horns which must represent two who arise from the one. So we have here another combined figure, and in view of its ‘ministry’ it must represent those who encourage and enforce the worship of Roma and the emperor.

The two wild beasts therefore represent the false messiahs and false prophets of whom Jesus warned, (including the Emperors), who would, if it were possible, even lead the chosen of God astray (Matthew 24.5, 11, 24; Mark 13.22). Together with Satan, the monster, they represent an anti-Trinity. It is clear that the second wild beast, with its twofold spokesmen, represents in the first place the Roman priesthood and its seers, and all who officially seek to enforce the worship of the first wild beast, but intrinsically it represents the principle of false teaching.

Possibly by the two horns John originally had two known protagonists of Caligula’s claims in mind, but the fact that there is a separate wild beast, and not just a horn, shows that there is a continuity and that a continuing group is in mind (compare how wild beasts represent individual kings and their empires in Daniel, and the son of man represents the Messiah and the people of the most High). The contrast with the two godly witnesses of chapter 11 is stressed in that this wild beast with its two spokesmen also behaves like Elijah (13.13 compare 11.6), in this case bringing fire down from heaven (see 1 Kings 18.38; 2 Kings 1.10, 12).

13.12 ‘And he exercises all the authority of the first wild beast in his sight. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first wild beast whose death stroke was healed.’

Initially the false prophet exalts Caligula. But the second wild beast continues to exalt the Roman beast as emperor replaces emperor, and has the authority of Rome behind him. ‘He’ is the proclaimer of the Emperor’s divinity and the religious enforcer of his worship. Later Domitian will demand to be called ‘dominus et deus noster’, ‘our Lord and God’, and the second beast, the officials, priests and seers in charge of Emperor worship, will enforce it.

13.13 ‘And he performs great signs that he should even make fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the wild beast, telling those who dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast who has the stroke of the sword and lived, and it was given to him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should speak, and he will cause that as many as will not worship the image of the beast should be killed.’

The reference to fire coming down from heaven specifically points to Elijah (1 Kings 18.38). Thus he will be the anti-Elijah. These words parallel Paul’s in 2 Thessalonians 2.9-10, ‘he whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all powers and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for those who are perishing’.

The bringing of fire down ‘from heaven’ may be through the manipulation of natural phenomena (claiming lightning strikes as his work) or may be achieved through trickery, as may other wonders (compare the Egyptian magicians with Moses (Exodus 7.11; 2 Timothy 3.8)). Clever priests of many religions have been able to achieve such things through the ages, and some men love putting on such performances. We need not doubt that some of Caligula’s sycophantic followers made such attempts.

The same applies to the speaking image (compare the oracle at Delphi which was also portrayed as speaking). The whole point is that ‘he’ (the second beast representing initially the priesthood at various Temples for Emperor worship, combined with local authorities) is a deceiver. But his authority is such that he has the power to condemn to death those who refuse to worship the Emperor’s image.

‘Telling those who dwell on earth that they should make an image to the wild beast.’ Caligula especially sought to promote the erection of images to his honour and divinity, even demanding that one be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. Previously Jewish susceptibilities had been catered for by Emperors but Caligula thrust them aside. It was only his timely death that prevented it happening.

‘The wild beast who has the stroke of the sword and lived’. This refers to the two-edged sword of Christ which ‘smote’ him so that he nearly died, but he recovered and did not heed the warning. It is quite probable that Caligula’s ‘miraculous’ recovery was cited against Christians when they proclaimed the resurrection of Christ.

‘To give breath to’ the image of the beast. As suggested above this and its speech can be accomplished by manipulation. History is full of such pious frauds.

13.16-17 ‘And he causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and that no man should be able to buy or to sell except the one who has the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.’

The mark on the right hand or on the forehead can be compared to the phylacteries (small leather boxes holding a portion of the Law) worn by the Pharisees (applying literally Deuteronomy 6.8) signifying their submission to God and His Law. This mark of the beast too is a sign of submission, to Rome and the Emperor, and to Roman law .

It parodies the mark given to the people of God and the marking with His name (Revelation 7.3; 14.1; 3.12). By this those who receive it acknowledge the Emperor and Rome as having total rights over them. Slaves were commonly marked on their foreheads as a sign of ownership and religious devotees would often deliberately receive some kind of mark to demonstrate their loyalty to their god, so the idea was not uncommon.

There is no reason to assume that this mark is any more physical than the seal on believers, it rather represents submission to the beast and his claims. To bear the mark of the beast was, to the early church, to have sacrificed to Roma and the emperor. To them this bore a stigma that went beyond any other.

But later, under Roman rule, all men would require a certificate that they had sacrificed to the Emperor’s image, and it is quite possible that the idea, or some other device, was first used under these early Emperors. Those who had no certificate could (as indeed could those who refused to sacrifice to the emperor) be excluded from normal life by zealous officials or personal enemies, and even denounced by those of other religions (compare on 2.9), and it would affect their abilities to trade through the guilds which themselves had religious connotations. These certificates themselves were a ‘mark of the beast’ and had to carry the official ‘brand’. But such exclusion was quite possible simply for being recognised as a proscribed Christian, a situation applying officially at least from the time of Trajan.

But through the ages this has always been a way by which despots could control people, by utilising control of the means of trade and sources of sustenance. The beast continually reveals his beastliness. And when Christians find themselves suffering as a result of such activity they can take comfort in the thought that it is confirmation that they do not bear the ‘mark of the beast’. That any future anti-Christ would apply similar methods goes without saying. There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1.9).

13.17c-18 ‘Or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He who has understanding let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man (or ‘of a man’) and his number is six hundred and sixty six (in some manuscripts 616).’

Attempts to relate this number to emperors are unnecessary for the wild beast represents all Emperors and their Empires. Indeed by a certain level of manipulation and selection it can be made to mean almost anybody (including Caligula, Nero and Domitian).

But the number itself is significant. Six is one short of seven, the number of divine perfection, it thus represents shortfall from perfection. And six hundred and sixty six is six intensified.

There are also three sixes in a row indicating a trinity that comes short of God’s perfection, and remarkably it is the sum of all the numbers that make up the square of six. In other words it hugely stresses that which comes short of God.

Furthermore in Greek letters it represents chi (six hundred) and xi (sixty) and digamma, the latter in numerical use is very similar to the sigma ending (six). Chi and final sigma represent a shortening (first and last letter) of Christos and xi bears the shape of a serpent. It may thus pictorially represent anti-Christ, a devil indwelt messiah.

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