The Beast of Revelation
The Beast of Revelation is a political empire that will be present throughout the first half of the new covenant age.
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months (Rev 13:5).
Forty-two months is three and half of years (3½ years = time, times and a half). Three and half is half of seven. Seven represents the fullness or perfection of the church and kingdom. This implies that forty-two months represents the first half of the New Testament age, which is the Times of the Gentiles. The beast will be around doing its stuff through this entire period. This political empire that will dominate this season will take different forms.
The Beast appears first as the Roman Empire. John describes its emergence in Revelation 13:1-5. He saw a beast rising from the sea.
And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea (Rev 13:1).
This beast was in existence in John's time (Rev 17:10), so it has to be the Roman Empire.
This Beast is not something new. It was just one more in a long line of human empires that extended through Egypt and Babylon.
The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion (Rev 13:2).
The resemblance to the leopard, the bear and the lion provides a link to the earlier empires described in Daniel's vision (Dan 7:4-6. These empires arise in different places and times, but their essence was the same. The devil established each of these human empires to gain control in opposition to God.
The Roman Empire was amazing. It controlled a huge part of the world for the best part of five centuries.
The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him" (Rev 13:3,4)?
Rome held sway throughout the world and all men acknowledged its power and authority. No nation dared to make war against it. Everyone was amazed by what it achieved.
Roman combined all the ferociousness and vastness of the previous three empires, but the real source of its power was the spiritual forces of evil.
The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority (Rev 13:2,4).
The Roman Empire held power because the devil gave it power to rule.
The Roman Empire persecuted the fledgling church. In the previous chapter, John had described the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. Having been unable to destroy Jesus, Satan tried to destroy the people of his nation (Rev 12:13-14). Having used the Roman Empire to successfully destroy Jerusalem, he then tried to use it to destroy the church.
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring-those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17).
Revelation 13:5-10 describes this persecution.
Rome was a centre of idol worship that culminated in the worship of the emperors themselves. All this religious activity was blasphemous and insulting to Jesus, so Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. They could not give the allegiance that the empire demanded, so they faced persecution.
He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation (Rev 13:7).
Rome had a number of very cruel emperors. Under their leadership the early Christians experienced savage persecution. John called the Christians to follow their Lord with perseverance.
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints (Rev 13:10).
Collapse of Rome
John noticed a fatal wound on the beast.
One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed (Rev 13:3).
When Jesus died on the cross, the authority of all human governments was defeated and destroyed.
Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15).
The cross should have meant the end of Rome, but most of its citizens did not understand what had happened. They carried on submitting to the beast of Rome, to obtain the benefits of empire life. From the perspective of heaven, the Roman Empire was dead, but the people of the empire allowed it to live on. Despite the cross, the Roman Empire managed to grow in power.
Rome had a fatal wound, but lived on for a long time. However, despite defying death, the days of Rome were numbered. During the fourth and fifth centuries it collapsed into moral decay and was invaded by external invaders
The False Prophet
That collapse of Rome did not mean the end of the Beast. It simply continued on in a different form. After describing the Roman Empire, John saw a another a beast that operated in a totally different way, but carried on the devil's work.
Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed (Rev 13:11-13).
This beast had "two horns like a lamb". The two horns signify enormous worldly power, but there is an interesting twist. In Revelation, the lamb is Jesus, but here is a lamb-like animals doing the devil's work. This second beast will carry on in the role of the Roman Empire, but it will seem to represent Jesus. The beast with horns like a lamb represents a Christian structure that exercises control over much of the world in a similar way to the Roman Empire. John was seeing the emergence of Christendom as a unifying force in the world.
When the Rome Empire collapsed, the world broke up into numerous principalities, kingdom and feudal fiefdoms that each did their own thing. However, another worldwide organisation emerged in the place of Rome. While under Roman protection, the church had morphed into a huge and powerful organisation. When the empire fell away, the church quickly stepped into the gap and began using force and coercion to maintain order on earth.
This was a strange role for the church, because Jesus had refused to use force and coercion to establish his Kingdom. For the first few hundred years, his people followed his example, and many paid the price with their lives. However, when persecution ended and the church became part of the power system, it moved quickly from service and suffering to reliance on power and control. The emergence of the church at the centre of power puts a different spin on the statement that the "beast whose fatal wound had been healed". The Roman Empire collapsed and died, but the work of the beast was carried on by the power of Christendom.
The spiritual and political authority of the pope was eventually recognised throughout much of the empire, so it is correct to say that his organisation "exercised all of the authority of the first beast". For the next ten centuries, the church was the most powerful and most pervasive organisation in the world.
At the peak of Christendom, the church held enormous powers. The pope could appoint and depose kings and princes. Life in many parts of the world was shaped by church law and church courts. The church could set prices and control economic behaviour.
And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men (Rev 13:11-13).
A great deal of good was accomplished by the church system, but this beast is described as a "false prophet" in Revelation 19:20, because it led God's people in the wrong direction. Christendom replaced the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit, with the structure and control of human organisation and bureaucracy. Acceptance of power culminated in the inquisition torturing people to make them accept the truth. Confidence in military power inspired crusaders to invade the Middle East and kill Moslems and Jews in order to advance the Kingdom of God.
Image of the Beast
The second beast eventually lost its place of authority. The emergence of humanism weakened the influence of Christendom and the Reformation clipped the wings of the Papal system. Yet the beast did not die. The collapse of Christendom opened the way the beast to emerge in a new form.
He ordered them to set up an image in honour of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed (Rev 13:14,15).
The false prophet sets up an image of a beast. This not a real beast, but it does look like the beast. The collapse of Christendom leads to the emergence of a new empire, just like the first beast, but is radically different. It will eventually be greater than the Roman Empire and its power will extend far beyond any previous empire.
The source of this beast's power will be totally different from those that went before. The Roman Empire was a military empire, sustained by the ruthless force of the Roman legions. Anyone who opposed the empire would be forced to submit with ruthless violence. The new empire will get its power in a different way. Instead of being conquered by force, the people of the world will freely surrender to this new empire.
He deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. (Rev 13:14).
The people of the world will be deceived into serving the image of the beast. They will freely submit to a new empire, because it offers all of the benefits of previous empires.
Democracy is the Beast that Died
The key to understanding how this virtual empire gains power is that it seems to have died, but then comes Back to life again. When it comes Back to life, the entire world follows the Beast.
One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast (Rev 13:3).
One heads of the beast had been killed, but it came Back to life, creating great amazement through the world.
This image of the beast is form of human government that existed before John's time, but came to such a violent end, that it seemed impossible that it would rise again. John saw a form of human government that seemed to be finished forever, coming into existence again. This is confirmed in a later vision.
The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come (Rev 17:8).
The Beast once existed, in John's time it did not exist, but in the future it will come back into existence. People will be amazed when this type of government returns, because it seemed to have been obliterated.
John records the time when this government came to an end.
They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction (Rev 17:9,10).
Rome had a number of different types of government. John is referring to a form of government that did not exit during his lifetime, but existed previously. It is different from the sixth king, which exists at the time when John received the vision.
Rome was the ultimate empire. It controlled a large part of the ancient world. The sixth king is easy to identify, because the Roman Empire dominated the world throughout John's life time. The Roman Empire is the sixth king. The key to identifying the terrible beast is to identify a different form of human government that came to a violent end prior to the time of the Roman Empire.
The most significant form of government prior to the Roman Empire was the Roman republic. The Roman Republic began in 500 BC and lasted for nearly five centuries. It was led by consuls elected for a year. An elected Senate was responsible for passing laws and appointing government officials. Not everyone had the right to vote, but the Roman Republic was based on the principle of democracy.
Democracy in Rome came to a violent end about thirty years before Jesus was born. Julius Caesar and then his successor Caesar Augustus turned the Roman armies against Rome and destroyed the Republic. By the time Jesus was born, the Empire was fully entrenched in power. This was an interesting period of history. Not only did Christianity begin, but democracy died.
Democracy had been an important form of government for several centuries, but when Caesar August took control of Rome, it was fatally wounded. It had begun in Greece, but had died there much earlier. By the time that John received his vision, democracy appeared to be gone forever, having been dealt a fatal blow by the Roman emperors.
"The beast that once was, now is not" is the democratic form of Government. The beast with the "fatal wound had been healed' and the "beast who was wounded by the sword and lived" is democratic government. Democracy is the fifth king that died at about the same time as the Kingdom of God began. The Image of the Beast represents Restored Democracy.
John warmed that the beast that died would come Back to life and become an eighth king. Democracy did not come Back to life until ten centuries later, but the leaders of democratic movements in England and the United States looked Back to the example of the Greek and Roman Republics. Modern legal systems are based on Roman law.
The humanism that dominates our culture at the present time has its roots in Greece and Rome. Modern humanism is just as hostile to Christianity, as was the Roman Empire. It tolerates Christianity at times, but when it shows its true colours, it is very antagonistic.
Government by the People
The idea that the beast of Revelation represents restored democracy is confirmed in several ways. Firstly, the beast comes out of the sea (Rev 13:1). Throughout Revelation, the sea represents the people of the world.
Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw. are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages" (Rev 17:15).
Most empires come into being when a few men seize control. The democratic beast is different; it emerges as the people of the world begin to govern themselves. The only way a great multitude of people can govern themselves is through democracy.
There is not much mystery about the number of the beast: 666.
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666 (Rev 13:8).
The number does not represent a particular man but mankind in general. The number is "man's number". Six represents humanness. Three represents God, so three lots of six represent man trying to be God. In the context of Revelation, this means man governing himself without God. That can only happen in a democracy, as in other forms of human government, people are governed by other men.
Men worshipped this new Beast and said, "Who is like the Beast?" (Rev 13:4). This is already happening. People of the modern world have enormous faith in the democratic state. Most people have more faith in the state than Christians have in God. They say that democracy is the best form of government, so very few people are interested in being governed by God. Democracy is the ultimate rebellion, because it consists of an entire society refusing to accept God's government.
The statue in Nebuchadnezzar's vision had feet and toes that were a mixture of iron and clay (Dan 2:43). Iron represents strength, so it describes strong government. Clay represents humanity, as we were created from the earth (Gen 2:7). The clay represents human government. A mixture of iron and clay represents a powerful democratic state that comes into being when everyone in society rejects the government of God.
Democracy first emerged in England in the thirteenth century when the nobles formed a parliament to resist the power of the king. However, real democracy got going in the nineteenth century when the vote was extended to the common people. It emerged in the United States about the same time. The First World War ended the reign of kings throughout Europe. Democracy became the normal form of government. Following the Second World War, democracy spread throughout the rst of the world as the colonial power withdrew from their empires. Democracy is now accepted throughout the world as the only valid form of Government.
Francis Fukuyama wrote a famous article called "The End of History". He was not talking about the end of the world, but saying that with the collapse of communism, liberal democracy had triumphed over all alternative forms of government.
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Fukuyama claimed that liberal democracy has proven to be superior to all other forms of human government. Democracy started off the twentieth century as one amongst many possible systems of government. Now all contenders, including monarchy, communism, fascism have failed, so he cannot envisage a future where liberal democracy is not the dominant form of government. Fukuyama believes that liberal democracy is the best form of government, so it cannot be superseded by a better or "higher" form. He was really saying "Who is like the Beast?"
Daniel received a vision of four beasts that rose out the sea, one after the other. The first was like a lion, the second like a bear, and the third was like a bear (Dan 7:4-6). An angel explained the meaning of the vision.
I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: "Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth" (Dan 16-17).
The angel explained that each beast is a king, but king is probably too weak a word. Each beast represents a powerful empire.
The empires of Old Testament times were political/military entities. A strong military leader would rise to power and crushed all opposition. The power and authority of the emperor extended as far as his military power could stretch. Babylon was the archetype empire. Strongmen like Nebuchadnezzar used their military strength to create vast empires. The Assyrian, Medo-Persian, and Greek empires were based on military power too.
The fourth beast is the worst of all.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast-terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left (Dan 7:7).
The angel explained the meaning of this terrible beast.
The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it (Dan 7:23).
The terrible beast is a powerful empire that will appear on earth at a later time. It is a continuation of the line of empires that began with Nebuchadnezzar, but will take human government and state power to a new level. This is the Beast of Revelation.
Wild Goose Chases
Many Christians refer to the beast of Daniel and Revelation as
the Antichrist, but this is a mistake that blinds them to the
truth. The word
antichrist is not used in Daniel or Revelation.
The only biblical reference to an antichrist is in
John's first letter where the word is used to describe people
who deny either the humanity or deity of Jesus.
John says there are many antichrists and they were already
in existence in his time (1 Jn 2:18-22).
Calling the beast of Revelation the antichrist is incorrect
and misleading. The
Beast is a nation like Rome or Egypt, not a person.
A political empire is totally different Christian
heretic, so we should not confuse the terms.
The future empire will not be controlled by controlled by a single dictator, as in previous tyrannies. In the information age, communication technologies like Facebook and Twitter will prevent dictators from gaining the power to impose tyranny. The internet makes it almost impossible for charismatic heroes to gain power as national leaders. When past failings are exposed, they are quickly taken down a peg. Any politician with messianic dreams will soon have their bubbles popped errors recorded on video. Potential dictators will be quickly exposed and brought down to earth, while democracy gives enormous powers to political leaders with no charisma or personality. The terrible beast that Daniel prophesied will be a democratic empire.
Most biblical commentators believe this prophecy will be fulfilled when the European Union transforms into a super-state, like a restored Roman empire. There are real problems with this view. Disagreement between the EU members means that they will be unlikely to hand over full sovereignty to the European parliament. Europe is economically weak and its population is declining. European military forces are very limited and the anti-war sentiments of the population would make a military build-up difficult. Expecting this prophecy to be fulfilled in Europe is a mistake.
Christians have been busy searching for a charismatic leader in Europe who will become the Antichrist, but they are looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. They end up on a wild goose chase that leads nowhere, so despite much effort, they have found nothing. The Beast that was seen by Daniel and John has arrived and no one has noticed.
Ironically, the Terrible Beast will most likely find its ultimate fulfilment in the nation where most of the goose chasing is done. If America continues on it current path, the final manifestation of the Terrible Beast will be the American Beast.