The Beasts of Rev. 13 in Context & History

The original catalyst for writing this had been a Sunday School class years ago that, however good it was on other counts, poignantly reminded me of how absolutely one particular interpretation of eschatology has so thoroughly crowded out other viewpoints, including what used to be (until the mid 1800s) the majority orthodox view.

Like a vigorous young cuckoo, having been  laid in an alien nest, it has pushed and pushed many legitimate interpretations clean out of view entirely.

It used to be commonly held (by Reformers, but also Methodists like John Wesley and Adam Clarke, and other denominations)  that the Man on the white horse of Rev. 6:2 was Christ, or at least the Gospel of Christ.

What bothers me most about this situation is not that a view which I believe is foreign to the very spirit of Revelation has usurped center stage (May I be blunt?), but that the other view has been poofed almost out of existence. I remember when I first heard of this view (the one this article espouses)  I thought, “Why have I never heard of this?” And, sure enough, when you go to most Christian bookstores, and head for the sizable eschatology section, you find very little representation of this view. You find a variety of writers: Hal Lindsey, Tim Lahaye, John Hagee, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Grant Jeffrey, Jack Van Impe, and many more.

But the variety is mainly in the names; the message of these authors – on this topic, at least –  is essentially the same Darbyite teaching that first sprang up in in America in the 1830s. These teachings of John Darby, after being further refined (especially by C. I. Scofield and Charles Ryrie) has now spread to most churches and schools on every continent. And this view of the future has hidden its own past, giving many the impression that (as I have been told) “Christians have always believed this”

One thing I need to clarify before I get to Rev. 13 is that there is still a wide spectrum of beliefs in what I called the old view. The unifying theme of the old view is that most (and I would say all) of the events in Revelation had fulfillments in what is now history. For instance, the Man on the White Horse went out during the time of the spread of the Gospel in the Roman Empire, the other horsemen following bringing the inexorable consequence of the spiritual conflict that followed.

Revelation 13 can be divided into two parts: The vision of the Beast that rises out of the sea (1- 10) and the vision of the Beast that rises out of the earth (11- 18). There is a certain parallelism in these two sections, which is why, I believe, they should be studied together. Both “rise out of” their respective element. Both have great power and authority, doing great things. Both persecute the saints of God to a great degree. Both sections end with a “Here is” promise of encouragement for the beleaguered Christians:

“Here is the  patience and faith of the saints.” (v. 10)
“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast”, etc. (v. 19 – But that subject would require a different article in itself.).

Just a few general comments on this chapter: The Beast from the sea has animal features which remind us of both Daniel 7:1-7 and Hosea 13:8. The Daniel passage matches the animal-kingdoms fairly closely, the last kingdom not being a specific animal (Compare that “fourth beast” of Dan. 7:7-8 with Rev. 13:1-3), but different from and worse than the previous beasts. The animals of Daniel were, respectively, the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Characteristics of each of these kingdoms is reflected in Rev. 13:2 but the emphasis is on that last terrible kingdom of Rome.

This is, of course, the kingdom still very much in power in John’s time, the ones who banished him to Patmos. At the time of Revelation Nero’s persecution was raging. It makes very good sense, then, that this book would encourage the saints concerning this tribulation. In our rush to make this whole book be about future events for us we overlook the original readership, those early Christians who were being hounded from their homes and employments by a harshly imposing paganism that was demanding allegiance and worship. If we could ask these first century Christians they would give us a quite different slant on Rev. 13:17.

Application: Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?
Hosea 13:7-8 also recapitulates, in different order, the same named beasts of Daniel and Revelation. (Other themes of Revelation, by the way, are found throughout Hosea 13). In verse 6-8 God warns those who have forgotten Him that He will judge them “like a lion”…”like a leopard”…”like a bear” and, finally, like a “wild beast”. I see here a parallelism with the same kingdoms. In other words the calamities had a purpose. They were punishing rods in the hands of a correcting God (Isaiah 10:5). Although Israel was God’s people – and contained God’s true people, though many were false – they were punished and purified by pagan nations. The same is true in Revelation. Though the Christians in the time of Revelation are a “nation of priests” and they “follow the Lamb wherever He goes”, yet they also have in their midst dross needing to be purged and purified. Then – as now – there were many who talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk.

This is the necessary background for this 13th chapter. The Beast who rises from the sea (as well as the later one from the earth), that blaspheming, persecuting monster, is as much an instrument of God as Assyria was. And we know that “all things work together for good” for true Christians. The beastly caesars – most of them – tried their best to rid their empire of this new sect, but God used their very measures against them.

About asterisktom

I breathe, therefore I blog.
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