Teaching series from Revelation

The Beast

Revelation 13:1-18

Teaching t09180


For the last couple of weeks, we have been studying this longest section of Revelation (6-16) which describes what Jesus called the Great Tribulation—the period of unparalleled evil and suffering that he will interrupt through his Second Coming. Last week, we studied the vision of chapter 12, which revealed the Dragon (Satan), the spiritual being ultimately responsible for the Great Tribulation. This morning we will study the vision of chapter 13, which reveals the key human instrument of Satan during this time—the beast (a.k.a. Antichrist, man of lawlessness, prince who is to come, little horn).

I want to stay away from the Hollywood speculation about this figure and focus only on what the Bible actually says about him. Revelation 13 gives us more information about the beast than any other biblical passage, but we will also be drawing upon other biblical passages about him, which also use different names for him (“the little horn” in Daniel 7:8, 24-25; “the prince/ruler who is to come” in Daniel 9:26; “the king” in Daniel 11:36-45; “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3; “Antichrist” in 1 John 2:18) to compile a profile of the beast. Let's start by simply reading the passage (read). We can summarize the contents of this chapter into five key components . . . 

Profile of the Beast

The first thing this passage tells us about the beast is that he emerges from a revived form of the Roman Empire. In fact, this beast is both this empire and the person who rules and personifies it. Why do I say this?

John's description of this beast (13:1,2a) may sound strange to you and me—but it would have been instantly recognizable to most of his audience because it is virtually identical to a beast that Daniel described in a vision recorded in Daniel 7. In that vision, Daniel saw four beasts coming up out of the sea—which prefigured successive world empires. The first, resembling a lion, symbolized the Babylonian Empire. The second, resembling a bear, symbolized the Media-Persian Empire. The third, resembling a leopard, symbolized the Greek Empire. The fourth beast evidently gathered together all the strength of the first three beasts and was more powerful and terrifying than any of them (Daniel 7:7). This beast symbolized the Roman Empire, which dominated the world in a way that surpassed all previous empires. As Daniel looked at the ten horns of this beast, he saw another horn emerge (Daniel 7:8). This “little horn” is a person who will arise at the end of the age and oppose God for 3.5 years, after which God's kingdom will destroy his rule and be established on earth forever (7:24-27). This “little horn” is the Antichrist.

The beast in Revelation 13, therefore, signifies both the latter form of the fourth (Roman) empire and its leader. This does not mean that Latin and togas and chariots will make a comeback! It simply means that a great geo-political power will emerge at the end of the age that has its roots (Law? Ethnic? Culture? Geography?) in the old Roman Empire, and that the man the Bible calls the beast will emerge from it and rule over it.

He will be raised up and energized by Satan. 13:1 describes the Dragon (evidently) calling the beast up out of the sea, and 13:2b specifically states this. The demonic power that energized evil rulers like Hitler and Stalin will be nothing compared to this person, who will be essentially Satan-incarnate. And he will wield this demonic power to do what other rulers only dreamed of . . . 

The third thing we learn about the beast is that he will achieve for a short time (3.5 years) what all past tyrants have wanted but could not achieve—world-wide dominion (13:3b, 5b, 7b). Revelation 13 names three reasons why he is able to pull this off.

His authority will be “validated” by amazing miracles. Paul says his “coming is accordance with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). He will evidently be miraculously restored from the brink of death (read 13:3; see also 13:12,14)—which convinces the world to follow him. He is also attended by a religious cohort (later called the “false prophet”) who wields supernatural power to draw people to the beast (13:13-14a).

He will possess unsurpassed military power (read 13:4). Daniel 11:38,39 tells us that he will pour vast financial resources in to military weaponry. He will skillfully use this military power to intimidate many of his rivals into submission, while he will use his weaponry to annihilate others (resulting in the devastations described in many of the seal and trumpet judgments).

He will gain control over every person's purchasing power, and use this power to compel people to swear allegiance to him (read 13:16-18).

He will blaspheme the God of the Bible. This is a constant emphasis throughout the chapter (13:1b,5a,6). The main way he does this is evidently not through a frontal assault on God, but by demanding that people worship him (13:4,8,12,15).

I doubt that he will forbid people to worship other gods—as long as they swear ultimate allegiance to the state which he personifies. Roman emperors encouraged the worship of other gods, as long as people took an oath of worship that “Caesar is Lord.” Other evil rulers like Hitler, Stalin and Mao have done essentially the same thing.

His blasphemy will reach its zenith in what Daniel and Jesus call “the abomination of desolation.”

This term was originally used to describe something a Greek ruler (Antiochus IV) did in 167 BC, when he erected a statue of Zeus in the Jewish temple and offered swine blood to the idol. This blasphemy resulted in the Maccabbean Revolt, which Jews celebrate today as Hanukkah.

This terrible event foreshadowed an even more terrible future blasphemy by the beast, predicted by Daniel and Jesus and described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 (read). This event evidently represents the pinnacle of the beast's power—but it also brings God's judgment on his kingdom (Daniel 9:27b; see also 16:2-10).

This blasphemous ruler will obviously pose a big problem for the followers of Jesus and the God of the Bible, who declares himself to be the only God and therefore demands our exclusive worship. This is why the beast will implement an unparalleled persecution of Christians (13:7a, 8-10 NIV). As is always the case when the state is deified, Christians will be vilified as traitors. The beast will kill possibly millions of Christians—but God will preserve many and use the martyrdom of the rest to bring others to Christ.

The most important thing about the beast is that he will be completely defeated by Jesus Christ when he returns to earth. Though not mentioned in chapter 13, John sees a vision of this event in 19:19,20 (read). For a short time, God will give Satan and rebellious humanity what they want. But God will work through their rebellion to expose the folly of this rebellion, to spiritually polarize humanity, and to bring many people to Christ. And then he will intervene through Jesus to rescue the world from destruction and establish his kingdom forever. We will learn more about this event in a few weeks. But let's spend our remaining time considering how we should react to this material . . . 

3 wrong reactions to this material

“This could never happen.” This is the skeptical reaction—which is the way I reacted initially. “It has never happened before, therefore it can't happen in the future.” But there are several reasons why this scenario is very plausible.

First, history is full of tyrant who aspired to this goal. The lust for world domination has been around as long as fallen humanity. Empire after empire has sought to attain this goal. The reason why no one has every ruled the whole world is not because people don't try, but because they haven't had the means to do so . . . 

But today, key pieces of this scenario are now in place for the first time.

As we saw a few weeks ago, the Bible describes the beast's military devastation of nature and people that is so horrible that Jesus intervenes to prevent us from completely annihilating ourselves. Only in the last 50 years has this become a possibility—and now it is a threat that concerns every country.

As we saw today, the Bible describes the beast's power to control every individual's economic activity. Only in the last decade has the technology been developed (CASHLESS ECONOMY & CHIP IMPLANTS) to make this scenario possible.

As we saw today, the Bible describes the beast's blasphemy in Israel's temple. This implies what other passages explicitly state—that Israel would be re-constituted as a state before the end of the age. Only in the last 52 years has Israel re-emerged as a nation, only since 1967 has Israel gained control over Jerusalem, and only very recently have Israeli's sentiment for rebuilding the Temple grown significantly.

Lastly, I wouldn't bet against biblical prophecy, because it has an outstanding track record. This fascinating subject goes beyond our study this morning. The point is that there are hundreds of biblical predictions that have already been fulfilled, and that provides a rational and compelling basis for believing that its future predictions will also be fulfilled. If you're interested in studying the accuracy of biblical prophecy, check out Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense.

So yes, these events could happen. And, in fact, they could happen in our lifetimes.

“I'll bet the Antichrist is Nero, Hitler, Kennedy, etc.” This is the opposite of the first reaction. This reaction believes that these events are real, will take place—but gets obsessed with foolish speculation about the identity of the beast.

This is what I have called the “National Inquirer” approach to Revelation. When I was a new Christian, thousands of American Christians were convinced that JFK was the beast (mortal head wound) and that he was hidden on one of Onassis' Greek islands! Or maybe it's Gorbachev because of the birthmark on his forehead! And on and on it goes. Many Christians love to speculate about this—and the result is that Jesus' reputation gets dragged through mud when these foolish speculations don't come true. I also think that this kind of speculation is appealing to many Christians because it provides an excuse to ignore our main calling—to be lights of Jesus' love and truth to a broken humanity that he loves.

At any rate, Paul warns the Thessalonians (and us) against this in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 (read). There is no need to speculate about when the beast will emerge; we will know when he is here because the abomination of desolation will be unmistakable to Christians (see also Matthew 24:15ff.). This may happen in our lifetimes, or it may not. Until then, we should guard against unfounded dogmatism.

“I am terrified because the world is out of control!” I know Christians who have become so terrified by this that they won't use credit cards, or even move to the wilderness in order to protect themselves from the influence of the beast.

This reaction is ironic as well as unfortunate, because (as we noted when began this study of Revelation) John wrote this book to provide us with hope and confidence by showing that God is sovereign over human history. Remember 1:8 (read)? The world is not spinning out of control, history is not headed into total chaos—because God is the beginning and the end, he was and is and is to come, he is the almighty Ruler of the universe. The very fact that God predicts these events in advance demonstrates his sovereignty over them.

This is why Jesus said John 16:33 to his followers (read). Yes, there is real evil in the world, so we will have tribulation here. But he has overcome the world, and we can have peace if we know and trust him. He has overcome the world through his death by paying for our sins so we can be forgiven by God and be guaranteed of spending eternity with him. And through his indwelling Spirit, we can have peace and stability and hope in the midst of great chaos and suffering and tribulation.

Therefore, the main issue is not whether you can control your world, but whether you know Jesus Christ. The truth is that we can control very little in our lives. Our culture tells us that we can control things, it gives us the illusion that we can control things—but we really can't. The main thing we can control is who we will trust. Have you put your personal trust in Jesus to make you a child of God?

Copyright 2002 Gary DeLashmutt