The context of the image of the beast passage (Rev 13:14-15) is a counterfeit trinity, made up of the dragon (beginning with Rev 12:4), the beast from the sea (beginning with 13:1), and the beast from the earth (beginning with 13:11). The dragon is a parody of God the Father. The sea beast is a parody of Jesus Christ, who looks like the dragon (Rev 13:1; John 14:9), receives authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2; Matt 28:18), has a “ministry” that lasts for 42 months (Rev 13:5), and undergoes a death and resurrection like that of Jesus (Rev 13:3, 8). The beast from the earth is a parody of the Holy Spirit, who speaks not about himself (John 16:13), brings fire down from heaven (Acts 2), and brings life to the image of the beast. In the context of Revelation 13, this counterfeit trinity has set itself up as an alternative to the God of Revelation in the end-time battle between the dragon and the remnant (Rev 12:17). The formation of the image of the beast is the crucial development in the counterfeit trinity’s war with the saints and the God they worship (Rev 13:5-7).
Within chapter 13 itself, there are three themes that come together in the image of the beast. One major theme of the chapter is that of beasts, the chapter begins with a beast (13:1) and ends with a beast (13:18), making an envelope structure surrounding the rise of the two beasts from the sea and the earth. The concept of sea and land monsters has a long background in the OT and early Jewish literature, particularly Daniel 7, which is clearly alluded to in the rise of the sea beast. Another theme of chapter thirteen is worship; five times the inhabitants of the world are urged to worship the dragon, the sea beast or the image of the beast (13:4, 8, 12, 15). That call to worship becomes the decisive event of the conflict. Another theme in chapter 13, already explored, is image-making. The Bible starts (Gen 1:26-27) and ends (Rev 13:14-15) with the making of an image. The ideas of beast, worship and image-making all come together in the image of the beast figure.
When one explores the allusions to biblical texts in Revelation 13:14-15, the allusion to Genesis 1 has already been mentioned. But to that one needs to add Genesis 2. Giving breath to the image of the beast (13:15) recalls the creation of Adam in the Garden (Gen 2:7). The allusion is particularly strong in the Aramaic translation of Genesis 2:7, where the breath of life becomes in Adam a spirit capable of speech. Another allusion in Revelation 13:14-15 is to Isaiah 40:18-20. That passage extols the uniqueness of God in contrast with the nothingness of idols. The beasts parody that claim, but the author of Revelation suggests that because of the beasts unlikeness to God, the image of the beast project is doomed to fail from the start. A third powerful allusion is to Daniel 3. The demand for worship of the image of the beast is modeled on Nebuchadnezzar’s call to worship his image, on pain of death. Finally, the language of Revelation 13:14-15 parallels that of Acts 2:2-6. The bestowing of breath (spirit) on the image of the beast recalls the outpouring of the spirit (fire from heaven—13:14) on the disciples at Pentecost. A counterfeit spiritual revival falls on those who worship the image of the beast.
This coming together of images from the entire Bible paints a picture of the image of the beast as an end-time attempt to undermine God’s plan to reverse the consequences of the Fall by restoring the image of God in human beings. God’s plan is not only resisted by the beasts, they offer a counterfeit image and a counterfeit Pentecost to deceive the world into thinking they are the true God and the true objects of worship. What is not obvious, on the basis of the Bible alone, is how big a role the theme of idol-making played in the ancient world. The next part of Rebekah Liu’s third chapter turns to the evidence for idol-making in the ancient Mediterranean world.
When Rebekah Liu of China was in the New Testament doctoral program at Andrews University, she came to me one day to talk about the topic of her dissertation. She suggested exploring the image of the beast of Revelation 13:14-15. She noted that the topic had not been widely explored by scholars and that it would be of great interest to Seventh-day Adventists around the world, two good reasons for the choice. I noted that “image of the beast” is introduced in chapter thirteen, but is not described. While the phrase occurs several times more, it is not directly identified with any later beast or symbol in Revelation. For me, the best candidate was the beast of Revelation 17, which looks like the beast of Revelation 13, hence could be termed the “image of the (sea) beast”. In any case, I was delighted to work with her on that topic and she commenced work almost immediately. What I am sharing here is a summary of key points in her dissertation, with particular focus on the implications of the topic for Revelation 17. I do not imply that this is the best summary or even the best I could do with more time. I am sharing this summary for the sake of those followers who have requested such a summary. With Rebekah’s permission, I may one day add it as an excursis to my commentary on Revelation 17.
After an Introduction and a chapter exploring the literature on previous attempts to interpret the image of the beast, chapter 3 reports on Rebekah’s exegesis of Revelation 13:14-15. She begins with a word study of “image” (Greek: eikôn) and “beast” (Greek: thȇrion) in the Bible and the ancient world. Since both words occur in the creation story of Genesis, creation seems to be one of the primary sources of Revelation 13:15. The main meaning of eikôn is as a similitude of another figure, basically an idol. In a metaphorical and positive sense human beings are portrayed as idol-images of God. To be in the image of God means to bear enough resemblance to God to be God’s representative to the creation. In Second Temple Judaism (the period between the Testaments) and the pagan Greco-Roman world, the meaning of eikôn is similar. It can mean a likeness or portrait, a copy of something else, the cult statue of a god, or the same form as something else. In the New Testament, “image” also means a likeness/portait and a living image, like the original Adam or like Jesus Christ, who is the visible image of God. In summary, eikôn seems to have three primary meanings in the ancient world; 1) the image or likeness of a prototype (like the idol image of a god), 2) it can refer to outward forms and appearances, or 3) it can be a living representation of someone or something else.
When human beings were created in the image of God, it meant God’s image lies in human beings and nowhere else (therefore the second commandment). Because of the Fall, the image of God was damaged or marred in human beings, requiring a restoration of God’s image in humanity, beginning with Jesus Christ. That future restoration implies an eschatological meaning for “image”. While the “image of God” is never mentioned in Revelation, the “image of the beast” is an obverse allusion to the original image and the problem of sin. In Revelation, the beasts of Revelation are setting in motion a counterfeit of the image of God. People who have lost the image of God are recreated into the image of the beast. In the end, human beings become like the gods they worship. They will either embrace the restoration of God’s image and character in their lives or become more and more like the dragon (Satan). The image of the beast is more than just an identifying mark, it represents a change of character in the assembly of the unfaithful. The image of the beast is a composite of all who end up serving Satan in the final era of earth’s history.
The primary meaning of “beast” (Greek: thȇrion) in the Bible and the Greco-Roman world is “wild animal,” especially the kind of wild animal that is hostile to human beings. Metaphorically, it can represent people who are cruel. As part of creation, the wild animals were placed under the dominion of human beings which were created in the image of God. It was after the Fall that the beasts became hostile to human beings. So the dominion over the animals proved to be conditional on human obedience to God. King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 represented how far from the image of God human beings could fall. In Revelation 13 the beasts are hostile to God and appear as allies of the dragon/Satan. Given the background, the image of the beast recalls the king of Babylon’s fall and represents a counter-attack against God’s end-time plan to restore His image in the human race.
How shall we understand the “mark of the beast” in the context of Revelation 13? The most obvious parallel to the mark is the seal of God. The seal is placed on the foreheads of God’s servants (the 144,000) to protect them from Satan’s destructive efforts when the four winds of the earth are released (Rev 7:1-3). An evident parallel to the seal of God is the 144,000 having the Lamb’s name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. In the Hebrew context names are associated with a person’s character. So the seal of God seems to have something to do with the character of those being sealed.
This is supported by the wider use of sealing in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1:13, sealing by the Holy Spirit is the consequence of a faith response to the gospel. It represents the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. This sealing is a lifelong experience of the Spirit after conversion (Eph 4:30). It is the evidence that a person truly is known by God and belongs to Him (2 Tim 2:19). In the Second Christian Century, sealing was associated with baptism. So the seal of God has to do with the character transformation that happens as a consequence of a genuine relationship with God.
Revelation 7 and 14 place this sealing in an end-time context, as does Ellen White: ““(The seal of God) is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved.” SDABC, vol. 4, 1161, Last-Day Events, 219-220. Ellen White understands the last-day sealing to be deepening of commitment and a completion of Christian maturity. Those who have to pass through the trials of the end-time cannot be the kind of believers Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14, “Tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. . . .” Likewise, at the End, Satan is forming his image into those committed to his side of the conflict. That makes the mark of the beast the mirror counterpart of the seal of God. The three angels (Rev 14:6-12) and the three frogs (Rev 16:13-14) both go out to the nations of the world. The end result is three types of people, as mentioned earlier. Those fully committed to God (the sealed), those fully committed in opposition to God (marked on the forehead), and those who go along with the beast and its image in order to preserve their lives and economic opportunities. Just as the seal of God provides protection to God’s people at the End (Rev 7:1-3, cf. Ezek 9:1-7), so the mark of the beast provides “protection” against the death decree and economic boycott of Revelation 13:15-17.
There is one further element to the mark of the beast. It is part of the beast’s counterfeit of the first four commandments of the Decalogue. The forehead and the hand echoes Moses’ call for Israel’s complete commitment to the commandments of God (Deut 6:4-8). In contrast, the beast and his image violate the first four commandments. The first commandment says to have no other gods before Yahweh. The dragon and the beast seek to be worshiped as gods (Rev 13:4, 8). The second commandment forbids the worship of images, the beast sets up an image to be worshiped (Rev 13:15). The third commandment forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain, the beast is full of blasphemy (Rev 13:1, 5-6). The mark of the beast is in defiance of the Sabbath, which is brought in on God’s side in Rev 14:7 (cf. Exod 20:11). If the law of God is a transcript of His character, you can see what is happening here, a rejection of God’s character and an affirmation of Satan’s. Satan’s character, in contrast with God’s, will be fully revealed in the final conflict.
The previous paragraph underlines that the Sabbath is a crucial issue in the final conflict. It also suggests that some counterfeit of the Sabbath will be central to the beast’s actions in the same conflict. What is less clear in the text is exactly what form that counterfeit will take. I can think of four options: 1) Another day (as in Sunday), 2) no day is a Sabbath (abolished), 3) every day is a Sabbath (not much different than two), and 4) force work or forbid worship on Sabbath. When dealing with Revelation 13 Ellen White normally works from number 1) above, but on at least one occasion mentions number 4). In the blogs that follow we will look at the evidence of Ellen White herself in the context of American religious history.
The text of Revelation 13 continues with verse 16: “And he [the land beast] controls everyone . . . so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” In the biblical world the forehead represents the mind, the will, the personality. The hand is representative of action. So these symbols represent two kinds of response to the call to worship the image of the beast. There are those who are fully committed to the agenda of Satan and his allies and there are others who don’t really care, but they go along in order to preserve their jobs and their lives (Rev 13:16-17).
The central theme of Revelation, chapters 13 and 14, is worship. Revelation 13:14 alludes to the showdown over worship at Mount Carmel. This portion of the book makes reference to worship of the dragon (Rev 13:4), the beast from the sea (Rev 13:4, 8, 12; 14:9, 11) and the image of the beast (Rev 13:15; 14:9, 11). In all, there are exactly seven occurrences of the word “worship” in the central part of Revelation. In contrast is the single call to worship “Him who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.” Rev 14:7. The call to worship the image of the beast is a universal one, it goes out to the full range of social classes. “And he [the land beast] controls everyone; the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the slave; so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” Rev 13:17.
Along with a willingness to worship the image of the beast, a new element is introduced. A mark is placed on all who are willing to worship the image of the beast. The mark is defined as the name of the beast or the number of his name. These likely correspond to the forehead and the hand. Names in the Hebrew context represent character. Some are marked because of their heart and soul commitment to Satan’s agenda to mold human beings in his own image (name on forehead). Others are marked because they are willing to go along with that agenda to preserve their own lives and prosperity in this world (hand and number).
These texts reflect a sharp polarization in the world as we approach the End-time. Revelation projects three types of people in the world at the end. One group is the saints who are called by many names (the remnant, the 144,000, the great multitude, the kings of the east, the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb). The second group is a worldwide alliance of religion, called Babylon, the Great City, the Great Prostitute, the woman who rides the beast, and is represented by the unholy trinity; the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (Rev 16:13). The third group are whose without a heart and soul commitment to either camp. These are the secular, political and military powers of the world, also named by many names and symbols (Euphrates River, kings of the world, many waters, kings of the earth, the beast of Rev 17, the ten horns, the cities of the nations, seven mountains and seven kings). When these secular powers agree to enforce the death decree of Revelation 13:15, they make a “hand” commitment to the beast and his image. Satan desires worship from all, but he is willing to settle for a forced worship, a self-centered worship. The contrast between his character and God’s could not be more stark. This contrast is further underlined as we explore the meaning of the mark of the beast in Revelation.
The deception of Revelation 13:13-14 results in the formation of an image to and of the beast, presumably the first beast of Revelation 13 that came up out of the sea. “And he [the land beast] was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast, in order that the image of the beast might speak and might cause whoever does not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Rev 13:15. Typical of Jewish apocalyptic literature, the book of Revelation never quotes the Old Testament, but it alludes to it very frequently, using key words, phrases, ideas and structures to signal the reading to incorporate OT knowledge into the interpretation of a passage. We saw such allusions to the OT in 13:13-14: the experience of Elijah on Mount Carmel (fire from heaven) and the deceptive miracles of Pharaoh’s magicians.
The combination of image and breath is an unmistakable allusion to the early chapters of Genesis. God created male and female in His own image (Gen 1:26-27), using His breath to install the software of life into Adam’s earthy body. More than just oxygen, God was installing the life principle, with its unique personality and traits and that life principle included the “image of God.” That phrase is not used for the creation of animals. So there was something very godlike about Adam and Eve. They reflected God’s character in their own.
The beast from the sea is in the image of the dragon (Rev 13:1, cf. 12:4), which is also defined as the ancient serpent, Satan (Rev 12:9). So the phrase “image of the beast” implies a similar relationship to Satan as Adam originally had to God. Revelation 13:15 is telling us that at the end of time Satan will seek to implant his image into the human race in contrast to the image and character of God. Just as God’s breath installed His design into the human race, Satan at the End will seek to install his own design into the human race. The contrast could not be more stark, as noted in the previous blog in this series. Satan’s character prized lies and unreality (deception—Rev 13:13-14), intimidation and force (Rev 13:12, 15-17). Both qualities are summed up by Jesus in John 8:44. In contrast, God always speaks the truth (Rev 3:14; 15:3) and prizes human freedom (Rev 22:17). God never forces anyone. So the two sides in the final conflict grow increasingly apart as they model more and more the character of the God they worship.
The ultimate outcome of the formation of an image to the beast is to exhibit the murderous character of Satan (John 8:44) in a death decree. When the image of the beast comes to life it will “cause whoever does not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Rev 13:15. This is a clear allusion to the Plain of Dura event in Daniel 3. There an image was set up for worship. All who would not worship Nebuchanezzar’s image would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Likewise, at the end of time, a decree goes forth that all who would not worship the image of the beast, all who will not conform to the beast’s (Satan’s) character, will be killed. Two other OT death decrees may also be in mind here, the lion’s den incident of Daniel 6, and the genocidal decree of Haman in the book of Esther (3:6, 13). The final era of earth’s history will include a replay of earlier attempts to destroy God’s people. But that is not all that Satan has in mind for the End-time.
Here is my (Ranko) original manuscript of the Sabbath School Lesson 9 (February 23-March 1)
The Sabbath Afternoon lesson has not undergone some significant changes except some editorial improvements.
The Sunday lesson has some interesting alterations. The sentence in the first paragraph: “The sea symbolizes the stormy social and political conditions that followed the downfall of the Roman Empire (see Dan. 7:2-3, 23-24), is changed into: “The sea sym-bolizes the largely populated area of Europe out of which the sea beast rises to power after the downfall of the Roman Empire (see Rev. 17:15).”
The sentence: “The beast has seven heads and ten horns, the same as the dragon in Revelation 12:3 showing the connection between the two” has been amended with: “showing its close connection with pagan Rome.”
Then, the sentence: “The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority” was amended with: “The dragon (the pagan Roman Empire empowered by Satan . . .”
The last paragraph has been significantly enlarged to again show the validity of the 538-1798.
In the Monday lesson, I do not like the changes, but they do not cause some concerns. So also about the Tuesday lesson.
The Wednesday lesson (February 27) has undergone a complete alteration. The whole day original lesson has been replaced by a long quotation from The Great Controversy, pp. 442-445, thus depriving the members with the exegetical evidence for our SDA understanding of Rev 13:12-17.
In the Thursday lesson, some alterations were made in the second part, including the addition of the last paragraph about 666 (which is not mine).
Lesson 9 * February 23-March 1
Satan and His Two Allies
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 13:1-18; Daniel 7:19-26; 2 Thess. 2:1-12.
Memory Text: “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17, NKJV).
Revelation 12 concludes with a picture of an angry Satan going away to prepare for the battle against those who have remained faithful to Christ. Chapter 13 portrays him as preparing for the final battle with the help of his two allies portrayed in terms of two savage beasts. These three form an unholy triad as the antithesis to the Trinity of the Godhead (see Rev. 1:4-6). Throughout the rest of the book, the members of this satanic triumvirate are inseparably united in opposing God’s salvific activities in the world and in trying to win the allegiance of the people of the world.
At this point, a word of caution is necessary. So far, we have dealt with prophecies that were already fulfilled in the past. However, from this point on we are dealing with prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Through them, God shows us what will happen at the time of the end so that we will not be surprised.
We must remember, however, that while these prophecies tell us what will happen at the time of the end, they do not tell us when and exactly how the final events will take place. Their full explication will ultimately be possible only at the time of their fulfillment, not before. We must, therefore, be careful not to speculate beyond what prophecy tells us. Let us not forget that the prophecies of Revelation have practical purposes: to teach us how to live today and be prepared for the future.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 1.
Sunday February 24
The Beast from the Sea
John watches as the dragon stands on the seashore calling out of the sea a monstrous beast. While a beast represents a political power, the description of the sea beast points to a power that is both religious and political. The sea symbolizes the stormy social and political conditions that followed the downfall of the Roman Empire (see Dan. 7:2-3, 23-24).
Read Revelation 13:1-2. In your words, describe the characteristics of the sea beast?
John describes the beast as it emerges from the water. The beast has seven heads and ten horns, the same as the dragon in Revelation 12:3 showing the connection between the two. Upon the heads of the beast is a blasphemous name and upon the horns are royal crowns. The heads of the beast are the powers that Satan used to persecute God’s people throughout history (see Rev. 17:9-11). The blasphemous name points to the divine title the beast claims. The ten horns point to Daniel 7:24 symbolizing the nations that sprung out of the Roman Empire after its demise.
As the beast steps out of the water, its parts resemble a leopard, a bear, and a lion. In such a way, the beast combines the characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel 7:2-7 representing world kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (Dan. 7:17). However, John lists them in reverse order showing that the sea beast is related to the fourth beast of Daniel 7 and is the successor to the kingdoms that preceded it.
The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. Just as the Father has given His throne and authority to Christ (Rev. 2:27), so the dragon invests the beast as his coregent and representative on earth. This affirms the fact that the sea beast is the second member of the satanic trinity endeavoring to take the place of Jesus Christ in the minds and hearts of the people.
Read Revelation 13:3-4 and 8 along with 17:8. What are the three phases of the beast’s existence? What idea does the statement, “Who is like the beast” engender?
Revelation 13:5 states that the period of the beast’s activities is the prophetic forty-two months, which adds to 1,260 days, meaning years. This phase ends when one of the beast’s heads is mortally wounded causing the death of the beast. With the healing of the wound, the beast comes back to life. This causes an admiration of the world, and they worship both the dragon and the beast.
Monday February 25
The Activities of the Sea Beast
Having described the sea beast in general terms, John now turns to describe its activities.
Read Revelation 13:5-8. What is the time period of the beast’s activities?
The forty-two months of the beast’s activities is the same time period as the 1,260 days of the persecution of the woman/church in Revelation 12:14. Prophetic days stand as a symbol for years. The year AD 538 marks appropriately the beginning of this prophetic period as the church, with the pope as its head, established itself as an ecclesiastical power and dominated the western world throughout medieval times. The events of the French Revolution inflicted upon the beast the deadly wound in AD 1798, thus bringing the church’s oppressive rule and the state-instituted religion to its end.
Compare Revelation 13:5-8 with Daniel 7:24-25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12. In what way do the activities of the sea beast mirror the descriptions of the little horn and the man of lawlessness?
The beast’s activities during the prophetic 1,260-days period are stated in terms of blasphemies. In the New Testament, blasphemy denotes a claim of equality with God (John 10:33; Matt. 26:63-65) and of the prerogatives of God (Mark 2:7). The sea beast’s blasphemies are directed “against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Rev. 13:6, NKJV). The dwelling of God is the sanctuary in heaven where Christ ministers on behalf of our salvation. The sea beast negates Christ’s mediatory work by substituting it with a human system that administers salvation and forgiveness of sins.
The second aspect of the activities of the sea beast is described in terms of making war with the saints with the purpose of totally defeating them.
Revelation 13 points to a time of major apostasy in the Christian Church, which was fulfilled when the state church of Western Europe claimed the position and prerogatives of God for the pope as its head. The atoning ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary was replaced by of the church’s priesthood to forgive sins. Those who insisted on living by the teachings of the Bible experienced persecution and martyrdom. History testifies to more than fifty million Christians who paid with their lives for their faithfulness to the Bible. Although today such statements are viewed as harsh and unfair, the present cannot erase history.
Read once again 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12. How does an understanding of the prophecies fulfilled in the past give you confidence in prophecies yet to be fulfilled in the future?
Tuesday February 26
The Beast Arising out of the Earth
The first half of Revelation 13 describes the medieval ecclesiastical power active during the prophetic period of 1,260 days/years. With the events of the French Revolution, this religio-political system received a deadly wound causing the death of the beast. However, the mortal wound will eventually be healed, restoring this system to life. The second half of the chapter describes how this healing of the beast’s deadly wound will actually happen.
Read Revelation 13:11. What are the characteristics of the second beast? In light of Revelation 12:14-16, what is the significance of the fact that this beast emerges out of the earth?
John observes another beast arising out from the earth. The primary meaning of the Gr. word allos is “another of the same kind” (unlike heteros meaning “another of a different kind”). This points to the second beast as a power of the same kind as the previous one. However, in contrast to the first beast, which had a terrifying appearance, the earth beast has a harmless appearance. It has “two horns like a lamb.” The lamb in Revelation is an exclusive symbol for Christ. Thus, this end-time power has a Christ-like appearance.
This power, represented by the lamblike beast as friendly to the church, arises in territory that protected the woman/church from the dragon’s flooding waters at the conclusion of the prophetic 1,260 days (Rev. 12:14-16). This political power appears in territory friendly to the church. It is obviously a new player on the scene: it rises to world power after the sea beast received the deadly wound during the events of the French Revolution. Thus, the earth beast functions as an exclusively end-time power.
The text shows, however, that this lamblike power eventually will begin to display a satanic spirit as it starts speaking like the dragon. The dragon-like speech is a reference to the deceptive and seductive words of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-5). This end-time power will be instrumental in inducing the whole world to worship the first beast that received the deadly wound. This shows that the territory that in the post-medieval period provided protection and a safe haven for the church will play a key role in the last-day events.
Read once again the description of the lamblike beast in Revelation 13:11. In your view, what world power best fits the description of the lamblike beast? Support your answer with factual evidence.
Wednesday February 27
The Image of the Beast
Having described the lamblike beast, John goes on to describe its activities at the time of the end.
Read Revelation 13:12-13. How does 1 Kings 18:38 and Acts 2:3 help us understand the nature of the beast’s deceptive activities—the greatest of which is bringing fire down from heaven?
At the end-time, the lamblike beast begins to exercise the authority of the first beast, thus acting in the manner of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit exercises the authority of Christ, pointing people to Him (John 15:26), this earthly power exercises all the authority of the sea beast, pointing people to it.
In the rest of the book, the lamblike beast is called the false prophet acting on behalf of the sea beast (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The true prophet represents and speaks on behalf of God. What does this indicate about the relationship between the two beasts?
Subservient to the first beast, the lamblike beast causes the people on earth to worship the first beast. The text shows that this correlates with the healing of the deadly wound of the beast. How will the lamblike beast cause the world to worship the sea beast? Initially, by using miraculous signs as a means of persuasion (Rev. 13:13-14), and, in the final stage, coercion (13:15-17).
Read Revelation 13:14-15. How does the language drawn from Genesis 2:7 explain the giving of breath to the image of the beast enabling it to function?
The healing of the deadly wound of the sea beast refers to the restoration of the medieval religious system. By means of miracles, the lamblike beast is able to persuade the inhabitants of the earth to make an image to the beast that received the deadly wound.
An image is a replica of some reality. The world will be led to create a religious system that will replicate that of the Middle Ages. The people will accept those deceptive miracles as the manifestation of divine power due to the beast’s lamblike appearance. When civil and political powers join the leading religious organizations to impose religion upon people, then an image to the beast will be formed.
However, images lack life (Ps. 135:15-17). By using the language of Genesis 2:7, the prophecy tells us that the lamblike beast will make the image of the beast function by using the same process that God used to vivify and create man. By means of coercive persuasion, the people of the world will be seduced to acknowledge and accept the authority of the first beast.
Thursday February 28
The Mark of the Beast
Revelation 13 indicates that the lamblike beast will have the leading role in the final crisis. This world power will establish a worldwide system that will mirror medieval Christianity for the purpose of controlling the beliefs of people. The impact of the lamblike beast will be worldwide.
Read Revelation 13:16-17 along with Deuteronomy 6:4-8. What does putting the mark on the forehead and the right hand has to do with the commandments of God?
People of all social classes will be pressured to receive the mark of the beast on their right hand or their foreheads. To receive this mark means to side with the beast. Just as the seal identifies those who belong to God (Rev. 14:1), so the mark of the beast identifies the worshippers of the beast.
The mark of the beast is not a visible sign of any kind. Its placement on the right hand or forehead is based on the instruction Moses gave to the Israelites to bind God’s law as a sign upon their hand or their forehead (Deut. 6:8). This suggests that the mark on the forehead and the right hand has to do with impressing God’s law upon the minds and behaviour of His people.
The central issues in the final crisis will be worship and obedience to God in keeping His commandments (Rev. 14:12). The Sabbath commandment in particular will be the test of faithfulness and obedience to God. As the Sabbath is the distinctive sign of obedience of God’s faithful people (Ezek. 20:12), so the mark of the beast is the sign of obedience to the beast.
The mark of the beast is a direct attack on the 4th commandment. It functions as the substitution of human commandments for God’s commandments. The greatest evidence of this is the humanly established institution of Sunday as the day of worship instead of the seventh-day Sabbath.
Compare the scenario in Revelation 13:14-18 with Daniel 3:1-7. How will the story of Daniel 3 be repeated on a worldwide scale at the end-time?
Revelation does not explain the mark of the beast. Ellen G. White cautions regarding the mark: “Not all in regard to this matter is yet understood nor will it be understood until the unrolling of the scroll.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 17. As with any unfulfilled prophecy, the full understanding of the mark of the beast will be revealed when it happens.
Friday March 1
Further Thought: Revelation shows that the Sabbath will be a sign of obedience at the end of history. We have to remember, however, that the observance of Sunday does not itself mean having the mark of the beast. Sunday-keeping will become “the mark of the beast” only when people, having clearly understood the issues involved in choosing a day of worship, knowingly and willingly make their choice either for or against God. However, that time still lies in the future.
“No one has yet received the mark of the beast. The testing time has not yet come. There are true Christians in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion. None are condemned until they have had the light and have seen the obligation of the fourth commandment. But when the decree shall go forth enforcing the counterfeit sabbath, and the loud cry of the third angel shall warn men against the worship of the beast and his image, the line will be clearly drawn between the false and the true. Then those who still continue in transgression will receive the mark of the beast”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 234.
Let us remember that Sunday observance today does not make any person lost as much as Sabbath observance does not make a person a genuine Christian. The time is coming, however, when “the mark of the beast” will become the central issue and when choosing a day of worship will be the test of faithfulness. Revelation appeals to God’s people to take the Bible and, with a heart-searching spirit, study the prophetic word for themselves and make every effort to reach those who are today unreached for Christ with the gospel.
As you observe the situation in the world today, do you feel that the events in both the religious and political spheres are leading towards the fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation 13?
As we await the end, what should be our attitude towards Christians in other denominations? Think of the following counsel: “Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 78.
In our attitude towards Christians in other denominations, how can we avoid manifesting Antichrist’s spirit? How are we to show respect for them and their personal faith, without compromising our beliefs?
Basic theme: Revelation 13
The changes to the Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) for January to March 2019 were more frequent and significant than average this week. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.
It seems to me that the changes in this lesson are made to preserve a strong parallel between the historical portions of Rev 13 (13:1-7, 11) and the historical portions of Rev 12 (Rev 12:6, 13-16). I agree that these parts are parallel but traditional Adventism has assumed the parallel (largely on the basis of the 1260/42 months parallel) more than grounded it in the text of Rev 12 and 13. I have expanded our understanding by pointing out that 12:17 sets the time of Rev 13 (final battle of earth’s history) and that past tense portions of Rev 13 locate them at an earlier stage (parallel to Rev 12:13-16). This grounds the SDA position in exegesis of the text. But to the editors locating Rev 13 as an end-time passage seemed to deviate from traditional Adventism and they removed it. This is based in a misunderstanding of the text rather than a real danger to SDA theology. I believe that we are trending away from our biblical foundations to simply assert that which the church has earlier concluded. This is an understandable trend in a generation that is less biblically literate. But it is not likely to end well. I feel we need to increase our engagement with the text if we are to keep a younger generation engaged. Assertions tend to have a negative effect with them. The changes reflected in the above are largely found in the Overview: Study Focus and Introduction and the Main Themes I of the Commentary section. The changes were small in quantity and don’t change the outcome, but are significant in how one reads Rev 12 and 13.
In Main Themes I, as has occurred elsewhere in the series of lessons, my language of “historical reading” is changed to “historicist interpretation.” Also, where I say the “focus” of Rev 13 is on the final battle of earth’s history, the editors change “focus” to “climax.” I don’t disagree, but that undermines the exegetical consistency of Rev 12:17 and Rev 13, which weakens the basis for our position, in my opinion. Most, of course, would not be troubled either way. At the end of Main Themes I the following sentence, “So Rev 12:17 sets the time of Rev 13, but Rev 13 includes historical introductions, which fit very well the Adventist perspective,” is replaced with “(this grammatical analysis fits).” It does, but without the connection with the time of Rev 12:17, the exegetical path is less clear.
In Main Themes II my reference to a “satanic trinity” (drawn from the work of the Daniel and Revelation Committee in the late 1980s) is removed again and the word “Catholic” is added to the last sentence. I am not afraid to “name the beast” but obsession with that can distract from the deeper spiritual issues involved. As a pastor, I have been concerned with how our prophetic interpretations can become a distraction from deep spiritual engagement with our personal issues. I have sought to do both in my work through the years. As Martin Luther once said, “the pope I fear the most is Pope Self.” And that is the most important message readers should take away from Revelation (Rev 1:3).
I am delighted that Main Themes III-V were completely untouched. You can disagree with me if you want, but those are my words not someone else’s.
There was a small but perhaps significant alteration in Life Application 2. I wrote that the line between good and evil is not between “us” and “them;” rather , it runs right down the middle of each of our hearts.” This was changed to “the middle of our experience,” leaving the rest of the sentence intact. I don’t have a problem with that language, but it softens what I think is the key point: The battle between good and evil takes place within us not outside of us. That means that the battle of Rev 13 may be seen in the political and historical context of world events, but ultimately what matters for me is how I respond to that information in my own choices and actions. I’d hate for people to miss that point.
Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. My original pre-edited Teacher’s Edition manuscript for this week is provided in the previous blog. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.
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.