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Revelation 3 / Beasts and battles

Medieval Image of the dragon and beast, Revelation 13.

Sermon for St Edward’s / Sun 28 April Revelation 12-14

Readings: Revelation 12:1-18; Luke 10:17-20

So we are jumping ahead this morning and I do encourage you to go back and read the intervening chapters of Revelation. Last time we were in the throne room of God and we saw Christ as a slain lamb – an example to the persecuted, but also symbolic of the way God is not like the Roman empire.

In between then are chapters 6 – 11 which cover all the 7s. So we have a cycle of part of the vision – if you remember time is cyclical in Revelation, so these are part of the same vision happening at the same time, but we are seeing them one after the other. This includes the 7 seals on the scroll and as each one is opened, we see 7 angels with 7 trumpets, and as they blow, different things happen, with destruction on the earth as judgement begins.

Then we see 144,000 people sealed with God’s seal representing the faithful. And 2 key witnesses sharing their testimony, as examples of the martyrs.

So today we arrive at Ch 12 and these next 2 chapters are a bit of a flash back, taken together.

In chapter 12 as we heard, we see a woman giving birth, and a dragon waiting to devour the child. All rather disturbing. Thankfully the child is ‘snatched away’ before the beast can have his dinner, and is taken to the throne room of God. 

This bit has several interpretations, just to add to our confusion. One is obviously the birth of Christ, and his whisking away to the throne room gives us the answer to how did Christ/ or the lamb get to the throne room – as we saw in Ch 5 – that is why we are looking back here. It is also reminiscent of all boy babies being killed by Herod as we know happened when Jesus was born – remember the Christmas narrative.

The second is that it is symbolic of Christ’s death and resurrection, so he escaped death by being devoured by the dragon, and instead is resurrected – and seen at God’s right hand in the throne room.

There is also a spiritual interpretation which suggests the woman is the church, the birth is sacraments and evangelism (ie: the birth of the church), the male child is ‘spiritual fruit’, and the dragon is persecution of the church, trying to snatch away the good /fruit done by people of faith.

And then the passages goes on that there is a war against the dragon fought by Michael and the angels. The dragon and his angels are defeated and the dragon is thrown to earth. The symbolism is obvious here because John specifically tells us this is the devil, the dragon is Satan. So this again is symbolic of Christ’s victory over death – imagine this happening in the 3 days when he was technically dead.

But the dragon, now on earth, carries on his reign of terror, symbolic of the fact that the enemy can still influence humanity, for a time. Then through Ch 13 we see 2 beasts appear as if in response to the devil, who now stands on the seashore The first beast worships the devil/ dragon, and the 2nd encourages people to worship the first beast.

All very confusing. So let’s look at the symbolism.

Firstly, the devil stands on the sea shore (12:18) – the sea was often used as a symbol of chaos, evil and demonic powers. And in the Hebrew scriptures God is often praised for having slain sea monsters (eg: Ps 74:13-14, Isaiah 27:1 – On that day the Lord with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea).

There are also a lot of similarities here to Daniel 7 – remember OT parallels abound in Revelation.

The 1st beast also forms a parody for the relationship between God and Christ. Comparing the relationship between Rome (1st beast) and Satan (the dragon) – ie: if you worship Rome you worship Satan – quite a strong rebuke! 

The second beast is a false prophet. This beast encourages people to worship Rome / the emperor, paralleling the relationship between Christ and the HS. For example we see the beast performing signs like fire coming from heaven. But these are false signs, just as there were false prophets. It also points to the political systems of the day across Asia, that needed Rome to survive so they pointed to and accepted Roman rule. Just as the second beast points to the first. 

If all that is too much, in short dragon = Satan. Beast 1 – Rome/Emperor and Beast 2 = nations in thrall to Rome.

Paralleling the relationship between God, Christ, Holy Spirit.

Finally in Ch 13, we see people cannot buy and sell without the mark of the beast, this is a reference to the Imperial Cult which demanded people venerate the Roman emperor including in business dealings – which therefore excluded Christians. And we see the number of the beast, 666 – which I think I mentioned in week 1 – comes from a system of numbers for letters which are then added together – here 666 probably means Emperor Nero.

This mark also contrasts with the seal (Ch 7) or mark on the foreheads of the 144,000.

So a brief word on Ch 14 to finish:

The lamb is back, surrounded by 144,000 who were marked with God’s name. 

Now we do see throughout Revelation quite a lot of imagery that is problematic for women, I am not going to focus on that hugely (unlike me I know) because I think for us here and now it is a distraction. But we see these 144,000 being male virgins. Most likely this is a comment on either the men as soldiers, or as a contrast to the devotees of the beast. They are pure and undefiled, unlike the blasphemous beast. 

People have used this verse to say that only 144000 people will get into heaven but this is nonsense, the whole of Revelation is symbolic as we know. The 144,000 are probably representative the faithful as mentioned in Ch 7.

The rest of the chapter features another call to endure, holding fast to Christ 14v12, and the beginning of judgment with the reaping of the harvest – where the unfaithful are trodden in a giant human wine press. Their blood flowing for 200 miles. Lovely.

This unpleasantness continues for the next few chapters: tribulation, plagues and wrath of God, symbolising judgment and acting as a deterrent – a reminder you’ve got 2 choices here – the throne room with God and all its glory, or: pain, misery and tribulation. 

One final thing to note here is in Ch 16:16 that the place of all this is called Harmageddon – this was an actual place where battles happened in Israel. But of course from which we get the word Armaggedon indicating the end of the world or massive war.

Complicated ? yes. But essentially this is all simply yet another reminder that only God/ Christ are worthy of worship, but this time going even further suggesting that the Roman Empire is actually demonic. 

A question it would have posed for the reader is to ask themselves: where is Satan’s work being done in our world and through which besats? (IP) 

Perhaps a question for us to ponder too… and I will avoid speculating on that, but I leave you with it!

Books // 

Blount, B. (2009 ) Revelation: A Commentary Louisville: WJK

Middleton, Paul. (2020). ‘Revelation’ in J. Brian Tucker and Aaron Kuecker (eds.), T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament. London: T & T Clark, 585-620.

Paul, I. (2018) Revelation: an Introduction and Commentary London: IVP

Schüssler Fiorenza, E. (1991) Revelation: Vision of a Just World

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