- Daniel 7:1-14;
- Revelation 13:1-10
My dear friends in Christ,
It was without fail that, before we set off in our old Chrysler—this was long before the days of seatbelts—that Mom, ever-caring for her little brood of children—would look back over the rest of the front seat and asked, “Have you locked the doors?” And in one chorus we would reply, “Why?” Mom’s trump card was, “Because the devil can just open the doors!”
In my little mind I wondered if pressing down the door lock the can really keep the devil from us; wouldn’t he be able to unlock and open the door!
Mom’s warning helped us to understand that the devil is an ever-present pest, and he doesn’t mean any good for us. But we can sometimes be more aware of the destructive intent of the evil one than we are aware of the authority of Christ over Satan.
So, when we approach Revelation 13 let’s not be overcome by the dread of his destructive persecution of the church of Christ; instead, let us persistently fix our eyes on our Saviour. Let the words of Revelation 12:10-11guide us:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down… (Revelation 12:10, ESV)
The title of this short series us therefore not something like “Persecution by the Beast out of the Sea.” No, for Christians it is always about Christ. It is not about the power of Satan, it is about how Christians should respond to him in the light of the victory of Jesus Christ.
Persecution always has, and will always be part of the Christian life
The Book of Revelation is not only about what will happen sometime just before the return of Christ. It writes about the events that have always been part of the Church of Christ—and surely tells about how all of history will come to an end before the last and final judgement. It is indeed within the bounds of the understanding of the Scriptures to believe that the attack on the Church will become intensified, accelerated and global towards the end of time. Dr Stephen Nichols uses words like systemic and rapid change which leads to confusion. Isolated and localised past attacks against the Church are becoming global, orchestrated, and intense. We live in this world. But are we the first? No, surely not.
The churches in the time of John received his letters when Roman emperors began to require worship of their person as divine beings. Christians in Rome were required to recognise Nero’s deity. Persecution emerged because Christians refused to worship the ungodly king. This already happened in the time of Daniel when the whole world was ordered to bow and worship before the massive statue of the king.
In John’s time, the only escape was to deny being a Christian, bow and conform to the demands of the Emperor. By the end of the first century A.D., all of the seven cities addressed in Revelation’s letters had temples dedicated to the deity of Caesar.
Something else happened simultaneously. There were different trade guilds which held control over certain trades with the effect that only people who belonged to them could buy or sell their goods. (Trade and labour unions can quickly become something similar). These guilds were influential and generally vied for recognition of the Emperor. In some ways, these two powers, the political and economic forces, promoted a worldview opposite to the Bible. After all, the patron gods of the guilds together with the imperial god of Rome were made out to be responsible for the social and economic blessings that the culture enjoyed. Refusal to show gratefulness to these gods was undesired citizenship.
There was another problem for Christians. According to Roman law, religions were considered illegal outside their country, with Judaism enjoying some exemption of Emperor worship. Initially, Christians were viewed as an arm of Judaism and had the same privilege, but in about 70 A.D. the Jews dissociated itself from Christianity, at least partly because Christians claimed that Jerusalem’s destruction was punishment for the Jews’ crucifixion of Jesus. After this, Christians were exposed to full political, social and economic persecution.
Some Christians, however, compromised their faith in Christ with the idea that they can still be counted as Jews, or publicly attend Emperor worship, or join the trade guilds, while they privately worshipped Christ.
Others understood true undivided loyalty to Christ as their King in both private and public worship; they were heavily persecuted, and some even died because of their service to Christ alone.
Revelation 13 gives us insight into what is happening behind the curtains. If we don’t understand this, we are bound to fall prey to the attacks of Satan. And there is more at stake than this life; we may forfeit our eternal life.
Revelation 13:1 talks about the dragon on the shore of the sea. What does this mean? Well, the dragon is Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent who leads the world astray (12:9). The sea represents the spiritual storehouse of evil, where wicked spirits are confined under God’s sovereignty. Little wonder then that 21:1 refers to the new and earth without the sea.
The beast out of the sea is governed by the dragon. He is the second entity of the anti-Trinity. The second beast (verses 11-18) is the third entity; he is the false prophet and anti-Christ (more about him next week).
The Beast out of the Sea and his “ten horns” are based on Daniel’s vision. This Beast is the ultimate evil force behind the earthly kingdoms of the world. The number of seven heads and ten horns emphasises the completeness of oppressive power and its global effect. The dragon, Satan, has crowns on his heads, as we read in 12:3, but now the beast has them on his horns, which means that the dragon executes his plan through the beast.
In all of this Satan puts himself forward as if he has the authority and dominion like Christ. He and his undertakers are a fake trinity. Both Christ and the beast (1) have swords, (2) have followers who have their names written on their foreheads, (3) have horns, (4) are slain, (5) rise to new life and are given new authority, (6) have jurisdiction over “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation”, and (6) receive universal worship.
In Daniel 7:3–8 the lion, bear, leopard, and terrifying beast represent four successive world empires, but here in Revelation 13:1–2 these four images are combined in one beast, highlighting the extreme fierceness of this beast.
Early Christians might have understood this beast to be the political power of Rome, and they would not be wrong. But for the Church through the ages, it represented every oppressive form of political power. Today we have godless regimes across the world, even by the United Nations with its program of world dominion. It can surely point to global political oppression, with godless governments banding together with a unified program of political dominance. We have already seen the push for the demolishing of national boundaries, the abolition of passports, and the call for a global government, with the so-called aim of preventing individual nations from causing unrest driven by patriotism, or even the drive for war against global warming.
Satanic evil historically expressed itself through the kingdoms of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Sodom, and Rome. This evil will continue to display itself in future political regimes of the world and can manifest itself as well in global economic, social, and religious structures on earth. It seems the time will come that even migration will gain one nothing.
We learn from John about the anti-Christ.
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18, ESV)
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3, ESV)
Our confidence living in a world where the antichrist is already at work is that he received a fatal wound. Our Lord, who came to earth to rescue us
“… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV)
Therefore, whenever believers withstand persecution, deception and compromise, the devil and his agents are defeated. Though Satan and the beasts are repeatedly mentioned as having “authority” in Revelation 13, they have no authority over the saints and no authority but what God gives them. The power he has to make war against God’s people was “given to him” (Revelation 13:7). He has a limited time, forty-two months. Only God, not the devil, sets times and seasons. If left to himself, the devil would never want to limit his work against God’s kingdom to a mere “three and a half years”, which is symbolically a short time measured against God’s power to control all times.
The dragon is so convincing in camouflaging his defeat as an apparent victory that “the whole earth marvelled after the beast.” Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life and not protected by God’s seal (7:1–4) fall for the beast’s claims and give him allegiance.
And 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?” (Revelation 13:4, ESV)
World leaders have, and will, try to magnify themselves above God. They will promise peace and prosperity to all who give in to their schemes. Just think about it: pay your taxes, don’t question the expense, and what you receive is a clean environment with fresh air and clean water free of all pesticides, a good health system, an education system which will bring freedom to millions, equality between all people and peoples including the sexes, a good retirement plan and even more rain as they will fix global warming. The beast carries out the dragon’s will to “flood” the church with deception.
All along he blasphemes God’s name, speaking out and mocking God through self-deification. They mock Christians and bring accusations against those who have God’s name written on them.
My dear friend, do you understand that there is a war going on? It’s aimed God, Christ, his church, and at every individual Christian. How will be able to stand?
It brings me back to the devil who presumably had the power to open the car door. Are we going to trust God protect us through the journey, or are our eyes going to be fixed on the door, and in the process live in fear?
There is a way. It is not a way around persecution for the sake of Christ; it might be through terrible persecution. It surely is not the way of compromise—please, keep your faith pure and serve Christ with undivided loyalty. What is that way through all of this? The victory of Jesus Christ, our King. If your name is written in the Book of Life in the blood of the Lamb, Christ will take care of you, whatever comes your way. Verse 10 gives us a picture of the worst case scenario.
If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he must; 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 13:10, ESV)
Whatever the case, never forfeit your divine rights by bowing to the wishes of the world and him who desires your defeat. May Christ help us. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 March 2019