I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 24 – March 2) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are related to the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
SATAN AND HIS TWO ALLIES
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 12:17.
Study Focus: Revelation thirteen elaborates on the dragon’s side of the war with the remnant that was announced in Rev. 12:17.
Introduction: In Revelation 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). These three 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).
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:
1. Grounds for a Historical Reading of Rev. 13. This section explores the relationship of the two beasts in this chapter with the historical timeline of Rev. 12.
2. The Sea Beast as a Counterfeit of Christ. A number of features of the sea beast recall qualities and actions of Jesus.
3. The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth.” “Earth” is an ambiguous symbol in Rev., sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
4. The Identity of the Land Beast. Evidence that the land beast represents the United States of America in the final conflict.
5. Rev. 13:14-18 and Dan. 3. Summarizes evidence for a clear allusion.
Life Application. The Life Application section explores 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.
Part II. Commentary
The thirteenth chapter of Revelation introduces two new characters into the story of Rev. 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 war that is introduced in 12:17.
Main Themes of Lesson 9 Elaborated:
1. Grounds for a Historical Reading of Rev. 13. In traditional Adventist reading of Revelation, the focus of Rev. 13 is on the Middle Ages (Papacy) and beyond (rise of the USA). But biblically Rev. 13 is an extension of the end-time war of Rev. 12:17. How to reconcile the two perspectives?
It is true that the focus of Rev. 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 throughout the chapter. The main sentences of Rev. 13:1-7 and 11 are all in past tenses. The main sentences of Rev. 13:8-10 and 12-18 are all present or future tenses. So the chapter itself contains evidence for sequences of history. Each of the two new beasts has an introduction, including a visual description followed by a summary of its previous history in past tenses (sea beast: 13:1-7, land beast: 13:11). See Lesson 8, Theme 1, for the literary principle behind this. So the description of the final battle (13:12-18) is preceded by the previous history of the two main characters in that battle.
Rev. 13, then, covers the last two of the historical periods listed in Rev. 12. The introductory, past-tense sections of Rev. 13 (verses 1-7, 11) parallel the middle period of Rev. 12 (12:13-16). The present and future-tense sections of Rev. 13 (verses 8-10, 12-18) parallel the final period of Rev. 12:17. So Rev. 12:17 sets the time of Rev. 13, but Rev. 13 includes historical introductions which fit the traditional Adventist perspective.
2. The Sea Beast as a Counterfeit of Christ. Sunday’s lesson suggests that the sea beast is the second member of the satanic trinity, a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the text of Rev. 13. 1) The sea beast looks like the dragon (seven heads and ten horns). Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). 2) The sea beast receives its authority from the dragon. Jesus said, “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). 3) The sea beast experiences a death and resurrection like that of Christ (Rev 13:3, compare 13:8). 4) The cry, “Who is like the beast,” recalls to the Hebrew mind the name of Christ in the previous chapter; Michael (Rev 12:7—means “who is like God?” in the Hebrew). 5) The 42 prophetic months (Rev. 13:5) echo the three and a half years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The beast from the sea is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This was fulfilled in multiple ways by the medieval church.
3. The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth.” In Rev. 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 the book of Revelation “earth” is a somewhat ambiguous concept (1:5; 5:6; 6:4; 11:6, 18; 13:12; 14:15-19; 18:1-3; 19:2). When contrasted with heaven, it is 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).
On the other hand, when earth is contrasted with sea or flooding waters, the earth is a positive symbol rather than a negative one (13:11; 21:1), and that is the case here. The earth helps the woman, who represents the faithful people of God. The relatively positive history of the beast from the earth (Rev 13:11) may lie in its contrast with the beast from the sea (13:1-7). So 12:16 and perhaps 11:4 provide a positive setting for the reference to earth in 13:11.
4. The Identity of the Land Beast. In the past, Adventists have consistently identified the land beast as the United States of America. It 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. 3) The land beast appears in the context of the captivity of the sea beast (13:10), which Adventist understand occurred in 1798 AD. 4) Unlike the sea beast, whose pedigree recalls the empires of Daniel 7, the land beast’s pedigree has no ancient roots. 5) The land beast arises from a different part of the world than the sea beast. 6) In ancient non-biblical mythology, the land beast (behemoth) lives in an arid, desert space far from people. 7) The land beast wears no crowns, suggesting it has no king and no pope, it offers political and religious liberty. 8) It speaks like a lamb, at first, wielding a gentler, more Christ-like authority. But that gentleness does not last. 9) The land beast eventually becomes dragon-like, like the power that attempted to kill the baby Jesus (Rev. 12:3-5). 10) The land beast is described more in religious terms than political ones (13:13-15). If the United States is in view, it is the religious side of the USA that is more in focus than the political side.
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.
5. Rev. 13:14-18 and Dan. 3. This part of Rev. 13 contains one of the clearest allusions to the OT in Rev. There are multiple parallels to the story of the three Hebrew worthies and Nebuchadnezzar’s worship test on the plain of Dura. 1) People from all over the world are compelled to worship. 2) There is a death decree attached to the command to worship. 3) Both events are associated with the number six (dimensions of the image in Dan. 3 and the number 666 in Rev. 13). Rev. 13 indicates that in the final crisis of earth’s history, the scenario of the plain of Dura will be repeated. The experience of Dan. 3 will be visited upon earth’s final generation.
Part III: Life Application
1. The lesson on Monday asks: How can we stay faithful to prophecy about church history and yet, at the same time, be kind and cautious as we present these truths to others? The ultimate challenge with religious distortions is in the picture of God that they portray. 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?
In confronting distorted religion 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.” 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. 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 as well. They need to know that God is already inclined in their favor, He does not need to be bought or persuaded by ritual acts.
2. Similarly, in Friday’s lesson it asks: As we await the end, what should be our attitude towards Christians in other denominations? It helps 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 each of our hearts (1 Tim. 1:15). When we take on an attitude of moral superiority, we may unwittingly convince them 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.