The Revelation: Of Dragons, Beasts, and Other Monsters, Part 1

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaIn the last post, we saw how John the Seer received a vision of the Trinity. The pages of Revelation are filled with images of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

But in the Revelation, the members of the Trinity have enemies. We need to identify and study them.

The cosmic, apocalyptic drama portrayed in Revelation has as its protagonist the triune God and as its antagonist a somewhat parallel unholy trinity of Satan and two beasts, a parody of God-Christ-Spirit.[12]

[12] The parallels are rather stunning. In each trinity, the first member (God the Father; Satan) is the source of the power and rule of the second (the Lamb/Son; the beast from the sea); both the first and the second are worshiped; both the first and the second resemble figures in Daniel 7; and the third (the Spirit; the beast from the land) promotes and speaks for the second.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 2966-2968; 3305-3307). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition (the “[12]” indicates a footnote. Not sure why Gorman hid this cool bit of information in the footnotes.)

These characters are developed in some detail in Revelation 12 and 13. Chapter 12 presents the central conflict narrative in cosmic perspective, chapter 13 in political perspective. Chapter 13 “reveals Rome’s political-economic-religious system to represent the devil’s rule, to be antithetical to God’s purposes, and to be an enslaving system,” one that deceptively demands inappropriate allegiance. In chapters 17–18 the system is further depicted as a harlot, or whore, doomed for destruction.

(Kindle Locations 2968-2973).

That is, rather than a description of the future history of the Western world, these chapters criticize the unholy trinity from different perspectives.

But if that’s so, then does that make the teachings irrelevant to the modern church? Gorman insists that it makes the teachings more relevant. Rather than being a history lesson taught in allegory, the Revelation warns us against all monsters that have the characteristics of the Roman beasts —

Satan, the Dragon

The dragon and his two minions are two of the most vivid characters in the apocalyptic drama. The dragon is explicitly identified as “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). He is red, symbolizing his dealing in death, and has seven heads with diadems and ten horns, symbols of power (12:3). He is not only the deceiver but also the ultimate persecutor of God’s people, including the Messiah (12:3–4, 13–17), though his persecution can also be executed by humans who think they are doing God’s will (2:9; 3:9). Satan is the source of the deified, idol-ized human political power depicted in chapter 13; this has already been vividly foreshadowed in the description of Pergamum as the site of Satan’s throne (2:13).

(Kindle Locations 2975-2981).

The Beast from the Sea

The beast from the sea is a kind of incarnation of this Satanic power of persecution, deception, and idolatry, also having seven heads and ten horns (13:1), which are later identified as hills, rulers, and client kings (17:9, 12). It makes blasphemous public claims (“names” and “words,” like lord, god, son of God, savior, etc.) about its royal power (13:1, 5; cf. 17:3), but the actual source of its power is the dragon (13:2, 4). In response to the beast’s resurrection-like recovery from a mortal wound (probably an allusion to stories about the return of Nero), people worshipped both it and the dragon (13:3–4)—an obvious parody of the resurrection of Jesus and the resulting worship of God and the Lamb. Though the beast’s reign is short (13:5), it commands international worship and engages in persecution of the church (13:7–9), as one would expect of the offspring of Satan. Its special number is 666 (see discussion below), and it has been called the “antichrist,” though the term itself, as we have noted, is absent from Revelation.

(Kindle Locations 2981-2989).

The beast from the sea is Rome and its emperor. It’s Rome seen as a military and political power that claims the place of god. It’s not that all government is evil and bestial. Rather, government becomes a pawn of Satan when it claims loyalty that belongs to God Almighty.

Now, what would be signs that our government is claiming powers that belong only to God? Well, what if we were to pledge allegiance to the government as part of a church service? What if we displayed our government’s flag above the communion table?

If these sorts of things seem innocent, imagine a church in China that displays the Chinese flag in its worship. Would we question the message being conveyed? Why? I mean, the reason the Apocalypse so condemns the Roman government is not that it’s bad to be a good citizen of Rome (Paul was a citizen), but because the government insisted on competing with God for the loyalty of its subjects. Rather than merely providing good government, the government insisted that its citizens subordinate their loyalty to God to their loyalty to Rome. Rome had to be first. But not only is God unwilling for Rome to be first, God won’t share his throne with Rome at all.

(Acts 5:29 ESV)  29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

This is well explained by Peterson —

Christians should generally submit themselves to governing authorities, showing proper respect and co-operation, recognizing that political leaders and institutions have been established by God for the good order of society (cf. Ro. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). At the same time, they cannot deny their fundamental calling as ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession’, to declare the praises of the one who called them ‘out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet. 2:9). When that opportunity is denied or thwarted by governments, a terrible clash of loyalties arises. Imprisonment and death are sometimes the lot of those who, in imitation of the apostles, cannot keep silent about God and the gospel.

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 219-220.

Commenting on Paul’s theology, N. T. Wright explains,

[F]or Paul what ultimately mattered were the ‘powers’ which operated in and through all kinds of organizations and systems. I agree that he saw them as a defeated rabble, led in the Messiah’s triumphal procession. I agree that when he saw Roman temples, statues and coins he did not simply see Rome, but rather the powers, of whatever sort (but particularly ‘death’) that were at work through Rome.

But I contend that he nevertheless saw these powers coming together and doing their worst precisely in and through Rome itself. I believe that he (like Josephus, at the very point where he, too, cleverly conceals this meaning) almost certainly saw Rome as the final great empire prophesied by Daniel. I submit that the way Paul lines up his arguments in several key passages indicates that he saw in the claims of Rome, and particularly of its emperor, an extraordinary parallel to, and parody of, the claims of Jesus. In no previous empire, after all, had ‘gospel’, ‘son of god’ and so on come together at the climax of a centuries-long narrative which now claimed world rulership and the possession of, and distribution rights over, freedom, justice and peace.

Paul undoubtedly believed that ‘the powers’, however we describe them, were at work in Rome, providing the real energy and identity behind statues and soldiers, armies and temples, and even Caesar himself. But that simply shows just how significant Rome itself, uniquely and shockingly, really was for Paul. To use the language of Revelation, when Paul looked at the Roman empire he glimpsed the face of the Monster.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:1311 (paragraph modified for web reading).

This all brings us to an essential point: true freedom, true justice, and true peace are found only in Jesus. Period. Therefore, when a nation claims to bring freedom, justice, and peace to other nations (or even its own people) without also bringing Jesus, well, it’s just not going to work, no matter how nobly intended. Nation-building is not the work of the US military (or police). It’s the work of missionaries (and preachers). It’s only in the gospel that these virtues are truly found — which is why the US is becoming less free, less just, and less peaceable as we leave behind our Christian roots. And it’s why our efforts to bring these blessings to predominately un-Christian nations will inevitably fail.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to The Revelation: Of Dragons, Beasts, and Other Monsters, Part 1

  1. laymond says:

    Commenting on Paul’s theology, N. T. Wright explains,
    I am confused as to why Jay continues to use N.T.Wright as reference, in his own writings, when Wright disagrees with what Jay says on so many things.

    Here Wright plainly tells us Paul’s theology, and his writings were of his own volition, his own understanding, and opinions.
    Jay believes (in my opinion, and understanding) Paul wrote from inspiration of God, not necessarily having his own theology, Just repeating what the Holy Spirit told him to write.

    That is not close to what Wright wrote.
    Paul undoubtedly believed that ‘the powers’, however we describe them, were at work in Rome, providing the real energy and identity behind statues and soldiers, armies and temples, and even Caesar himself. But that simply shows just how significant Rome itself, uniquely and shockingly, really was for Paul. To use the language of Revelation, when Paul looked at the Roman empire he glimpsed the face of the Monster.

    I must admit , I agree with Wright.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    Jay, you say the book of Revelation is filled with images of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The only place I see the Spirit mentioned is in the final verses. I see Jesus everywhere, doing mighty things. Where else is the Holy Spirit mentioned than in chapter 22?

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ray,

    I covered the Spirit in yesterday’s post. It’s the last two captioned sections.

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