Tag Archives: Revelation Thirteen

Q and A on Revelation 13 (Thirteen 8)

How can we be faithful to what prophecy says about church history and yet, at the same time, be kind and cautious as we present these truths to others?

The ultimate challenge with distorted religion has to do with the picture of God that is portrayed. What kind of God tortures and burns people for eternity? What kind of God plays fast and loose with the very rules He has made? What kind of God is portrayed by a church that burns people at the stake over doctrinal differences? Distorted religion comes to the place where it thinks that in coercing and torturing others it is doing God service (John 16:2). Prophecy is one way that distorted religion is exposed for what it really is.

In confronting distorted religion, however, it is very important that we not fall into the trap of portraying a God who is angry, judgmental and severe. We are told that when Jesus confronted the Pharisees there were “tears in His voice.” With the help of the Holy Spirit we can gently invite people to consider the picture of God their religion portrays, making clear that we ourselves are capable of misrepresenting God every day. People in such faiths need to know that God is on their side, that He does not need to be bought or persuaded by ritual acts. In other words, religious criticism is only appropriate when it comes from a heart of love that can see the value God sees in other people.

As we await the end, what should be our attitude towards Christians in other denominations?

It is helpful to recognize that many Catholics, Muslims and others love God deeply and seek to please Him in every way possible. We need to approach such people with the understanding that the line between good and evil is NOT between “us” and “them,” it runs right down the middle of all of our hearts (1 Tim. 1:15). When we take on an attitude of moral superiority, we may unwittingly convince the very people we are trying to persuade that God is not with us. On the other hand, people are drawn to those who are authentically aware of their own failings and shortcomings. It is from a position of love and humility that confrontation can most often succeed in winning another.

The Identity of the Land Beast (Thirteen 6)

In the past, Adventists have consistently identified the land beast as the United States of America, which rose up as a benevolent power, emphasizing religious liberty, but would in the end-time speak like a dragon. Some suggest this America-centered reading is no longer appropriate when more than 90% of the Adventist Church is outside of North America. Let’s, therefore, review the textual evidence regarding the land beast.

First, the history of the land beast in the text (Rev. 13:11) is much shorter than the history of the sea beast (13:1-7), suggesting a relatively new arrival on the scene of history. 2) Coming out of the earth (13:11) recalls the positive actions of the “earth” in 12:16. Something related to the earth provided shelter to God’s oppressed people during the period of the 1260 days. 3) The land beast appears in the context of the captivity of the sea beast (13:10), which Adventists understand to have occurred in 1798 AD. The USA’s rise to world-power status began in that context, its lamb-like period. 4) Unlike the sea beast, whose pedigree recalls the empires of Daniel 7, the land beast’s pedigree has no ancient roots. There is no earlier prophetic power alluded to in the brief description of Revelation 13:11.

5) The land beast arises from a different part of the world than the sea beast (Eurasian landmass). The sea is often associated with the most civilized and populated parts of the earth. 6) In ancient non-biblical mythology, the land beast (behemoth) lives in an arid, desert space far from people. Certainly the New World was relatively unpopulated and uncivilized in comparison to the Old World. 7) The land beast wears no crowns, suggesting it has no king and no pope. Its government is of a different kind than those well-known in the biblical world. As a result, the United States was a place featuring political and religious liberty.

8) The land beast speaks like a lamb, at first, it wields a gentler, more Christ-like authority at first. But that gentleness does not last. In the end it operates in a similar way as the dragon and the sea beast. 9) The land beast eventually becomes dragon like, tyrannical like the power that attempted to kill the baby Jesus (Rev. 12:5). 10) The land beast is described more in religious terms than political ones (13:13-15). If the United States is in view in this text, it is the religious side of the USA that may be more in focus than the political side. For at least a century now, North America has been the center of gravity of world Christianity, replacing Europe.

While the reference to the United States in this prophecy is not airtight, it is hard to see what other power in history so completely fulfills the specifications of this prophecy.

The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth” (Thirteen 5)

While the concept of “sea” is always negative in the book of Revelation, the concept of “earth” is more ambiguous (1:5; 5:6; 6:4; 11:6, 18; 13:12; 14:15-19; 18:1-3; 19:2). In Revelation 12:16 it is the “earth” that helps the woman by swallowing up the flood of water the serpent/dragon spews out of its mouth after her. In Revelation 11:4 it speaks about the “Lord of the earth.” In these contexts “earth” functions in a positive way. When contrasted with “sea” earth is a positive concept. On the other hand, when contrasted with heaven, it is almost always negative (9:1; 14:3, except 21:1 of course). “Those who live in heaven” are always positive in Revelation (13:6; 19:1, 14), whereas “those who live on earth” refer to opponents of God and His people (6:10; 8:13; 13:8; 17:8). So the meaning of “earth,” whether positive or negative from the perspective of Revelation’s author, needs to be determined from the context.

When earth is contrasted with sea or flooding waters, then, the earth is positive rather than negative as a symbol. The earth helps the woman, who represents the faithful people of God (Rev. 12:16). The beast from the land or earth is contrasted with the beast from the sea. Compared to the sea beast’s history (Rev. 13:1-7), the history of the beast from the earth is relatively positive (Rev 13:11). So 12:16 and perhaps 11:4 provide a positive setting for the reference to earth in 13:11. In the next blog, I will spin off from these observations to consider the historical identity of the land beast.

The Sea Beast as a Counterfeit of Christ (Thirteen 4)

The sea beast is the second member of a satanic trinity made up of the dragon, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. The sea beast is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the text of Revelation 13. First of all, the sea beast looks just like the dragon. Both beasts have seven heads and ten horns, which would be an unusual species if one located them in the wild. Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Likewise, if you have seen the sea beast, you have seen the dragon. The parallel between the sea beast and the dragon recalls Jesus’ statement in the Upper Room just before the cross.

Second, the sea beast receives its power, throne and great authority from the dragon. It does not operate on its own. Likewise Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Just as the Father delegated Jesus’ role on earth, so the dragon has delegated the role of the sea beast in history. Third, the sea beast experiences a “wound unto death” in Revelation 13:3. The Greek word for “wound” (esphagmenên) is the same word used for the death of Christ in verse 8 (esphagmenou). When a wound that kills is healed we call that resurrection. In other words, the beast from the sea has a death and resurrection like that of Christ (Rev. 13:3, compare 13:8 and 13:14). That a counterfeit of Christ is intended in this passage could not be clearer.

Fourth, the cry, “Who is like the beast,” recalls to the Hebrew mind the name of Christ in the previous chapter, Michael. The name Michael is actually a question in the Hebrew, “who is like God?” (Rev. 12:7). When the inhabitants of the earth ask the question, “Who is like the beast?” they are echoing language that appropriately applies only to Christ in the book of Revelation. So this question is further support for a counterfeit Christ motif in the first part of chapter thirteen.

Finally, the beast’s operation before it rises out of the sea for the final conflict lasts 42 prophetic months (Rev. 13:5). This period is, of course, the same as three and a half years. echoes the three and a half years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. While the length of Jesus’ ministry is not spelled out anywhere in the New Testament, the time indicators in the Gospel of John are compatible with a ministry of three and a half years. So the duration of the beast’s history is built prophetically on the ministry of Jesus Christ. This, combined with the evidences listed above, indicate that the beast from the sea is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This in no way contradicts the traditional Adventist understanding that the medieval church is particularly in view in the activities and history of the sea beast.

Grounds for a Historical Reading of Revelation 13 (Thirteen 3)

In traditional Adventist reading of Revelation, the primary focus of Revelation 13 is on the Middle Ages (and the role of the Papacy at that time) and beyond (the rise of the USA to world power). But biblically Revelation 13 is an extension of the end-time war of Rev. 12:17. The dragon goes away to make war, calling up allies from the sea and from the land to assist him. Can the two different perspectives be reconciled or does one have to choose one or the other?

It is true that the actual focus of Revelation 13 is on the final battle of earth’s history; with its fiery deceptions, image of the beast, death decree and mark of the beast (Rev. 13:13-17). But few have noticed the verb tenses in the chapter and their implications for its meaning. The main sentences of Revelation 13:1-7, 11 are all in past tenses, mostly aorist indicative in the Greek. On the other hand, the main sentences of Revelation 13:10, 12-18 are all present or future tenses. So the chapter itself clearly contains evidence for sequences of history. Each of the two new beasts acts in the context of the end-time (Rev. 12:17), but has an introduction in past tenses which includes a visual description followed by a summary of its previous history (sea beast: 13:1-7, land beast: 13:11). So the description of the final battle in this chapter (13:12-18) is preceded by the previous history of the two main characters in that battle.

Revelation 13, then, covers two of the historical periods listed in Revelation 12. The introductory, past-tense sections of Revelation 13 (verses 1-7, 11) parallel the middle period of Revelation 12 (12:13-16). The present and future-tense sections of Revelation 13 (verses 8-10, 12-18) parallel the final period of Revelation 12:17. So Revelation 12:17 sets the time of Revelation 13 as a whole, but Revelation 13 includes historical introductions which fit the traditional Adventist perspective. Everything that Uriah Smith and others put into the Middle Ages is in past tense in Revelation 13. Everything that they put into the future is in present or future tenses. To the grammar of the Greek in Revelation 13 supports a historicist reading of the chapter.

The Connection Between Chapters 12 and 13 (Thirteen 2)

The thirteenth chapter of Revelation introduces two new characters into the story of Revelation 12, a beast from the sea (13:1-7) and a beast from the earth (13:11). After their introductions, both beasts play a major role in the final crisis of earth’s history. Together with the dragon, the opponents of God and His people number three. The number three is associated with the godhead in chapter one and with Babylon in chapter 16 (verse 19). So this grouping of three functions as a “counterfeit trinity” in chapter 13.

The relationship between chapters 12 and 13 is clarified when one takes the time to look at a textual issue at the intersection between the chapters. The King James Version opens the chapter with John standing on the sands of the sea (Greek: estathên—“I stood”), while most newer versions tell us that the dragon, the subject of Rev, 12:17, stood (Greek: estathê—“he stood”: ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV, NRSV) there. The Greek manuscripts of Revelation are divided on this reading, but the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and the early translations read “he stood,” referring to the dragon.

This reading better connects Rev. 12:17 with the story of Rev. 13, where the dragon calls up allies from the sea and the land to assist him in the final conflict. That means that the calling up of the two beasts in chapter 13 is the way that the dragon wages war against the remnant of 12:17. Chapter 14, then, elaborates on the remnant’s response to the dragon’s attacks. Read in this way, Revelation 12:17 offers the final battle in a summary nutshell, followed by elaboration on the two key characters in the nutshell summary, the dragon (elaborated in chapter 13) and the remnant (elaborated in chapter 14). The final battle is further elaborated in chapters 15-19.

Satan and His Two Allies (Thirteen 1)

Revelation thirteen elaborates on the dragon’s side of the war with the remnant that was announced in Rev. 12:17. In chapter thirteen, the dragon gains two allies for the final conflict; a beast that comes up out of the sea (Rev. 13:1-10) and a beast that comes up out of the earth (Rev. 13:11-18). The dragon, sea beast and earth beast together form a counterfeit of the true godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Both beasts are described and given a historical introduction (Rev. 13:1-7, 11) before their actions in the end-time are portrayed (Rev. 13:8-10, 12-18).

Careful exegetical study of this chapter introduces the following themes:

1. A Textual Issue in Rev. 13:1. I posted on this in the series of blogs on chapter twelve. A careful look at the manuscript tradition helps to underline the connection of the story of Revelation 13 with 12:17.
2. Grounds for a Historical Reading of Revelation 13. This section explores the relationship of the two beasts in this chapter with the historical timeline of Revelation 12.
3. The Sea Beast as a Counterfeit of Christ.
4. The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth.” “Earth” is an ambiguous symbol in Revelation, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
5. The Identity of the Land Beast. Evidence that the land beast represents the United States of America in the final conflict.
6. Rev. 13:14-18 and Dan. 3.

The next six blogs will go more deeply into each of these issues.

Studies in this chapter also lead me to reflect on 1) the root issue behind all forms of distorted religion and 2) how believers should relate to those who believe and practice unbiblical forms of religion.