The Beast and Our Call to Endurance
Topic: Perseverance of the Saints Passage: Revelation 13:1–10, Daniel 7:1–8
June 6, 1944. We call it D-Day. Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and dealt one of the greatest blows to Hitler. It began the downfall of Nazi Germany. But Hitler didn’t surrender. He was enraged and mounted a final attack at the Battle of the Bulge but without success.
Last Sunday, we read of a much greater victory over a much greater foe. In chapter 12, a cosmic war raged in heaven. But through his cross and enthronement, Jesus dealt the decisive blow to Satan. The great red Dragon was thrown down to the earth. Final defeat is certain. But Satan doesn’t surrender. He’s enraged. He knows his time is short. So, he mounts a final attack and wages war against the church.
Chapter 13 picks up that story and provides intelligence for you to endure Satan’s war. It reveals the Dragon’s personnel—the Beast, False Prophet, their followers. It reveals how they’ve done battle in the past—as we’ll see from Daniel’s prophecy. It reveals the Dragon’s tactics. But chapter 13 also reminds us of the certain hope we have in the Lamb. The Dragon is limited. Jesus has taken the throne. If you want to endure like a good soldier, listen to chapter 13. Let’s pick it up at the end of 12:17…
17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. 1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
The Beast’s Character
Four observations about the Beast; one exhortation about endurance. First, let’s get acquainted with the Beast’s character. Notice, he rises from the sea. That’s from Daniel 7:2. Daniel sees four beasts rise from the great sea. For many, the sea was a dark and threatening place. Dragons came from the sea. Leviathan dwelled in the sea (Isa 27:1). Ezekiel 32:2 likens Pharaoh to a dragon who stirs up trouble in the sea. Now this Dragon stirs up trouble from the sea. 17:15 likens the rebellious nations “many waters.” So, we could be looking at a sea of people. Either way, the Dragon brings forth a Beast from his dark abode, the place of his influence.[i]
This Beast also has seven heads and ten horns. In 12:3, the Dragon has seven heads and ten horns. The Dragon creates a Beast in his own image. Now, 17:9 and 12 explain what these seven heads and ten horns symbolize. They are earthly kings who hate Christ. They rise and fall over time. In other words, the Dragon fights the church through earthly enemies of Christ. Think about it. Verse 2 says the Dragon gives the Beast his throne. The last time we heard of Satan’s throne was 2:13. Earthly enemies killed Antipas for preaching the gospel. You can’t see Satan. But you can see the activity of his Beast. The Beast makes Satan’s rule visible on earth.
Also, don’t pass over the fact that the Beast is a beast. John borrows so much from Daniel’s prophecy. But one key moment is Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar walks on the roof of his royal palace. He looks out over Babylon and says, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power…for the glory of my majesty?” What does God do to him? Turns him into a beast. Pride turns image-bearers into beasts.
This Beast symbolizes arrogant kings and kingdoms. He has blasphemous names on his heads—verse 1. He robs God of worship—verse 4. Verse 5 says he is haughty. In other words, he takes after the dragon who also sought to exalt himself above God—we saw that last time from 12:4. So, the Beast represents arrogant, rebel kings and kingdoms that display Satan’s rule on earth.
The Beast’s History
Second, we need to consider this Beast’s history. Already we’ve seen that he has seven heads and ten horns. But look also at verse 2: “the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.”
Leopard, bear, lion—these are beasts from Daniel 7:2-8. God gives Daniel a dream. Four great beasts come up from the sea. The first is like a lion. The second is like a ferocious bear. The third is like a leopard with four heads. The fourth beast is just terrible with iron teeth and ten horns. But these beasts symbolize successive kingdoms.
The lion symbolized Babylon.[ii] The bear was Medo-Persia.[iii] The leopard was Greece.[iv] The dreadful beast was Rome. The four beasts symbolized multiple evil kingdoms that would rise and fall over time, and each of them oppressed God’s people. The kingdoms also got progressively worse, until the last kingdom would devour the earth, blaspheme the Most High, and wear out the saints.
What does John see? He sees a Beast that combines all of Daniel’s beasts. It has seven heads, which is the total number of heads when you combine Daniel’s beasts. It resembles all the evil kingdoms in Daniel’s prophecy. Daniel’s prophecy envisioned earthly kings who would conquer and oppress. But they all anticipated this greater Beast. This Beast stands for numerous arrogant kingdoms across time who boast of great power, conquer the earth, and smother God’s people. In that sense, he is antichrist.
Now, some will limit the Beast to a historical ruler in Rome—several parallels do exist. Others have limited the Beast to specific leaders in history—some of those we’ll discuss next week. Others will limit the Beast to an Antichrist figure during the last three and a half years of history. But what if these views get aspects of the Beast right while also being too narrow in the final identity?
Again, Revelation 17 associates the Beast’s seven heads and ten horns with multiple kings and kingdoms that rise and fall throughout the present age. We could say that the one Beast has many manifestations. Revelation 17 also indicates that the Beast’s final manifestation is the worst. In 11:7, he conquers the church and kills them. I find this consistent with what John writes in his letters: antichrist is coming, but the spirit of antichrist is in the world already (1 John 2:18; 4:3). Also, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 7, there is a man of lawlessness. But the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. The Beast represents arrogant kingdoms that persecute the church over time.
The Beast’s War
Third, let’s look at the Beast’s war. What are some of his tactics? One is that he blasphemes God and God’s people. In verse 1, the Beast has blasphemous names. In verse 5, it speaks blasphemous words. When John wrote this, Roman rulers often boasted divine titles for themselves—“son of god,” “savior,” “lord.” At other times, they spoke as if they alone controlled the earth’s bounty. They brought world-peace. Rulers would ascribe to themselves titles or qualities reserved for God alone.
In verse 6, the Beast also blasphemes “God’s dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” That could be angels, I suppose. More likely, it’s God’s people. In 11:1, the temple includes God’s people. To blaspheme them is to slander them. Satan did this using a Jewish synagogue in 2:9. The Beast slanders God’s people to imprison them.
Another tactic is that he counterfeits the Lamb. Look at verse 3: “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound (or better: like it was slain unto death), but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled…” This is challenging to understand. Remember 17:9—the heads represent earthly kings. So, some will relate this to the death of a Roman ruler, whose empire springs back to life. Most popular is a legend about Nero. It’s possible that John borrows from that legend to hold up Nero as the epitome of what the Beast is about.[v] Nero slandered and murdered Christians.
But John’s primary goal is to expose the Beast as a pretender.[vi] In 5:6, the Lamb was slain and now lives to rule on God’s throne. Here, the Beast was slain and yet lives to rule on Satan’s throne. It fits a larger pattern already developing: the Lamb has horns, the Beast has horns; the Lamb has diadems, the Beast has diadems; the Lamb receives worship, the Beast receives worship. The Beast pretends to look like a savior.
Jesus said, “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” He tricks people into thinking his kingdom is forever. But in truth, that belongs to Jesus alone.
Another tactic is that the Beast entices the world into false worship. Verse 3, “…the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast…?’” That sounds like Exodus 15:11—“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?” Yet here people sing of the Beast. He amazes them with his ability to keep rising back to power. “Who is like you?” They also say, “Who can fight against [the Beast]?” He has great military power. He seems invincible. When John was writing this, carved in stone all over town are pictures of Roman rulers holding up the trophies of their military conquests. Always before the people was this messaging that Rome is number 1. “We’re the greatest nation Mess with us and you’ll pay!” In verse 7, the whole world is amazed by his ability to conquer. It leads them to believe that he’s the ultimate king in charge. So, they worship him. They do what he says.
Not everybody, though. Verse 8 says, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”[vii] Some refuse to worship the Beast not because they’re so much better, but because God graciously chose them. Before the foundation of the world, God wrote their names in the book of life. They belong to the Lamb. The Lamb gave his life for them and made them his people. But those who don’t belong to the Lamb worship the Beast.
The Beast also destroys the saints. He hates those who belong to the Lamb. Verse 7, “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” In Revelation, that includes various forms of persecution: slander, threats, imprisonment, economic oppression, fear, death. The Beast’s war is ruthless.
The Beast’s Limitations and Future
But we are not left without hope. Let’s look next at the Beast’s limitations and future. Four times we hear what’s called a divine passive. Verse 5, “the Beast was given…it was allowed.” Verse 7, “it was allowed…authority was given.” The Beast doesn’t move an inch unless God gives permission.
Also, don’t forget Jesus’ angel of 10:2. Remember the mighty angel? He plants his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. To have something beneath your feet means you have dominion over it. We read that scene before we get to this one. In other words, Satan will do what he does. He will stir up trouble in the sea. But we know that Jesus has dominion over the sea. It’s not outside his control.
Also, look again at the end of verse 2—“and to it the Dragon gave his power and his throne and his great authority.” What Dragon? The one Jesus already ousted from heaven. The Dragon that Jesus already conquered at the cross. You get it? Sure, he has authority. He has a throne. But it’s nothing compared to Jesus. Next to the events of chapter 12, the Beast’s power is that of an inevitable loser.
God also limits his time. Verse 5, “he was allowed to exercise authority for 42 months.” We’ve seen this time frame before. In 11:2-3 and in 12:6, it’s called 1,260 days (42 times a 30-day month). In 12:14, it’s called “time, times, and half a time” (three and a half years). It comes from Daniel 7:25, “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” You expect time (singular), times (doubled), and then times (tripled), but instead of tripling, the last set is cut short. The Lord will cut short the days of the Beast.
I’ve told you before that I take these three and a half years to symbolize our present age. It begins with Jesus’ ascension and Satan ousted from heaven; it ends with Jesus’ return and Satan vanquished forever. Some will take that number literally. But the main point we can all agree on is this: the work of the Beast won’t continue forever. God will cut his plans short for the sake of his people.
The Beast has no power that is forever. The Beast has no kingdom that is forever. The Beast has no throne that is forever. God will sit in judgment. The Beast’s dominion will be consumed and destroyed. Then the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the Lamb. Jesus’ kingdom alone is the everlasting kingdom. The Beast is limited; his future is the Lake of Fire (Rev 19:20).
The Call to Endurance
At the same time, we must endure his war for a while. We’ve made four observations about the Beast. Consider now the exhortation to endure. Verse 9, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”
Revelation does not shy from telling us how bad it can get when you follow Jesus. When rulers and kingdoms and peoples hate Jesus, it will mean persecution for his people—captivity, sword. This require both endurance and faith. The same exhortation appears in 14:12, but John explains more: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Endurance has to do with a long-standing obedience in the face of trial. But it’s not just a white-knuckle, “I can do this” sort of obedience. It’s an obedience that comes by faith in Jesus. Jesus remains the object of our trust and the giver of our strength.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. But notice too how the Christian fights. When faced with the sword, he doesn’t take the sword and slay that enemy. No, it says “with the sword must he be slain.” Endurance doesn’t include violent assaults against the Beast. To do so is giving into the Beast’s ways.
Now, we could turn to other places in Scripture and discuss how some situations of reckless evil call for self-defense in service of our neighbor. We could even sort out what it means to participate in just war against tyranny, trusting God’s means of the state to protect the innocent. But when we are talking about the mission of the church; when we are talking about suffering for the gospel, we may not retaliate with violence.
When evildoers persecute us for belonging to Jesus, we may not revile or threaten in return. We are called to endure the persecution for Jesus’ sake. We are called to follow in the footsteps of the Lamb. He conquered by laying down his life on behalf of others. According to 12:11, that’s how we conquer as well. We conquer by our testimony to Jesus and not loving our lives even unto death.
Staying Faithful When the Beast Attacks
Alright, that’s four observations about the Beast and one exhortation about endurance. How should this impact you? How will this prophecy make you more faithful to Jesus? Let’s start where we ended. I think this call to endurance helps sever the idol of safety for greater faithfulness. Safety isn’t a bad thing, especially when set in the context of neighbor love, preserving image-bearers. But sometimes we forget the Christian life isn’t meant to be safe. Taking up your cross isn’t safe. In an article published by the International Mission Board, pastor Andy Johnson writes of the following experience…
The woman on the phone was gripped by that kind of fear that sounds like anger. I…was considering sending her adult son overseas for the summer. The place he hoped to go wasn’t a war-zone, exactly. But it was uncomfortably close to a war zone. And mama was not happy. I told her we were trying to be careful, wise, were seeking counsel, and how the risks seemed reasonable given the gospel opportunities. None of that helped. Finally, in frustration she said, “Okay, if you can personally guarantee he’ll be absolutely safe, I’ll be okay with him going.” I replied something like, “Ma’am, nobody can do that. I can’t even guarantee he wasn’t run over by a bus five minutes ago…” This was not the high mark for my pastoral sensitivity…[but] I stand by my point. Perfect safety is an illusion, everywhere.[viii]
A few years ago, we had a missionary speak at Redeemer. They serve in a war-zone in the horn of Africa. Americans will often ask, “How can you take your family to such an unsafe place?” He then likes to ask them, “Have you ever known a dead bolt to stop cancer? Is there a security system elaborate enough to prevent heart attacks? Does the comfort of family guarantee your children won’t be abused?” His questions get at the same truth the pastor pointed out: perfect safety is an illusion.
But that’s regularly the first question we ask, isn’t it? Will it be safe? Is the neighborhood safe? As another missionary to Equatorial Guinea put it, “our idol of safety…infests our decision to serve.”[ix] Following Jesus is not safe. Yes, we’re safe in the sense that God keeps us as his own. But we’re not safe in the sense that we won’t suffer. Chapter 13 promises the opposite—captivity, sword. Are you prepared for this? You need to be. Let this call to endurance prepare you for suffering.
John’s vision will also help us discern the Beast by his character, tactics, and goals. Brothers and sisters who suffer under strict Sharia Law know what the Beast is like—in Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia. Brothers and sisters suffering under Communist regimes know the face of the Beast—like those in China, Laos, or North Korea. But are we prepared to discern the Beast’s work? I’m not so sure. In America, there can be this tendency to think, “Never us. Never here. We’re not like them;” and those assumptions may blind us to discerning the Beast.
A passage like this gives us some good questions to ask. Do the leaders pretend to have qualities or an authority that belongs to God alone? Are they full of themselves? Do they portray themselves as a savior or lead people to depend on them as savior? Do they act like their government is the solution to all society’s ills, and that their policies alone are the way to world peace? Do they use political and/or military power to coerce conformity to their idolatry? Do they slander or oppose Christians when they accurately critique the abuse of power by those in office? Do they work to silence confessing Christians or threaten them when they uphold the Bible’s moral vision?
Have you seen these things in America? To some degree, I think we have to say yes. We’re not yet experiencing the imprisonment and bloodshed that Christians experience on a regular basis elsewhere. But consider how leaders often back their campaigns using religious language. Consider how some will use political power to force others to conform to the sexual revolution or else suffer the charges and the lawsuits. Consider how leaders play “God” with image bearers—whether that’s legalizing abortion or passing laws about pronouns. The spirit of antichrist is preparing a people to persecute the church. Are you alert to his schemes? Are you ready?
At the same time, chapter 13 emboldens us for the Beast’s attacks. Recall that we’re in the wilderness. The last thing you want in the wilderness is a Beast. Beasts are scarry. This Beast controls people with politics, power, money, people of influence, people who determine whether you go home to family or stay in jail. The Beast has a way of pressuring you to accept the claims of his empire. Craig Koester puts it this way: “…the whole earth was amazed and followed the Beast…If the vast majority of people think the current regime is impressive, others will find it hard to disagree.”[x]
With that kind of pressure, our confidence can start to fade. Perhaps we’re tempted to flatter those in power. Maybe we’re tempted to soften the teachings of Christianity. Maybe that’s when doubts start creeping in: Will this evil prevail? Has God lost control? Has he forgotten us? Are these powers greater than Jesus? Is this suffering going to last forever? Chapter 13 says No. Satan and the Beast are under God’s control. Their power is limited. Their defeat is inevitable. The days of evil will end.
So, when the pressure continues to mount, we can remember that the power of the Beast is nothing compared to the power of Christ. The throne of the Beast is nothing compared to the throne of Christ. The Beast is temporary; Jesus is forever. The Beast gets a wounded and rises again, but his wounds never save.[xi] Jesus’ wounds are the ones that heal. Jesus’ wounds are the ones that liberate from sin and death. Jesus’ wounds have already conquered the Dragon and the Beast; and therein lies our hope.
Therefore, stay faithful to Jesus. Don’t fear the Beast; fear Jesus. Be like the apostles in Acts 5:29—“We must obey God rather than men.” The Beast may kill us just like the evil rulers killed Jesus. But in and through that death, Jesus conquered the Dragon—who is the power behind the Beast. We too will conquer by following in Jesus’ steps. Jesus will raise us from the dead and end the Beast forever. Let’s remember his victory and his coming as turn now to the Lord’s Supper.
[i] 11:7 called him the Beast “that rises from the bottomless pit”—a realm of dark and demonic forces.
[ii] Cf. Dan 4:33; 7:4.
[iii] Cf. Dan 7:5; 8:3-4, 20.
[iv] Cf. Dan 7:6; 8:5-8, 21-22.
[v] For more discussion, see Koester, Revelation, 570-71, 580-82.
[vi] See esp. Hoskins, Revelation, 229-33.
[vii] A challenge is determining whether “before the foundation of the world” modifies “the Lamb who was slain” or “written.” The word order in Greek lends itself to modifying “the Lamb who was slain.” However, the same phrase appears in Rev 17:8 and unambiguously clarifies “written,” stressing God’s election.
[viii] Andy Johnson, “Should We Care about Safety on Short-term Mission Trips,” IMB.org (April 12, 2017); accessed January 25, 2018 at https://www.imb.org/2017/04/12/care-safety-short-term-mission-trips/.
[ix] Mike Petengill, “Missions: Not Safe but Good,” TheGospelCoalition.org (March 10, 2013); accessed January 25, 2018 at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/missions-not-safe-but-good/.
[x] Koester, Revelation, 581.
[xi] Cf. Hamilton, Revelation, 261.