Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 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 the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. They worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’
The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also, it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
Let anyone who has an ear listen:
If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
The dragon (12:3-18), the beast from the sea (13:1-10) and the beast from the earth (13:11-18). They make quite an unholy trinity. Today’s verses portray the second figure of the three, a kind of shadow Christ, a denial and parody of Jesus and all that he stands for. For Jesus ‘was in the form of God’ (Philippians 2:6), and the beast comes in the image of the dragon, with its seven heads and ten horns. It even displays an old wound, a copy of the mark of the nails, a mimic and mockery of death and resurrection.
Revelation often echoes the Old Testament. Here are all four creatures from Daniel’s dream (Dan 7:1-8), blended into one dreadful monster. As the four once stood for rulers and kingdoms (Dan 7:17), so this beast depicts the ugliness and terror of power at its worst. The Roman Empire was surely in John’s mind. But other empires too have risen in history, tyrannical and totalitarian.
The beast carries authority among the peoples of earth – a devilish gift that Jesus had declined (Luke 4:5-8). Credulous and cringing citizens offer worship. But the empire’s words are false and its actions self-serving. ‘The saints’ – people of Jesus, who serve a different Lord – are a particular target. There are still places in the world where harsh regimes threaten the church, and Christians need great courage to hold the faith.
Eventually this beast will perish (Rev 19:20). But for the moment it stands for any human power that claims the kind of loyalty which only God deserves. Such regimes look solid and confident, yet they are hollow inside and terribly thin-skinned. Bad rule can be a monster, ravaging and wrecking the lives of others. Power can be, when people get addicted to it, a true anti-Christ.
For reflection and prayer
Remember people who hold power in the world, in governments and local communities, in work and church and family. Pray that they would be honest and humble as they fulfil their duties. Then think about any power you hold yourself. Ask that the wisdom and goodness of Jesus would shape and strengthen you for the task.
The Rev’d John Proctor is a retired minister and a member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge