Who or what is the beast and what is the mark of the beast? And in the midst of the challenges of Babylon, what hope do we have?
Remember, the symbols of Revelation show us the truth, important things we wouldn’t see otherwise. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings.
Sin is bad and serious. That truth, however, often falls on deaf ears. But if I tell you the story of Sméagol who turns into Gollum and ends in lava that picture is more poignant and communicates at a different level. Revelation paints powerful pictures, which vividly show us the truth.
In Revelation, we see that it says the time is near a lot of times (Rev. 1:1, 7; 22:6, 7; 22:10, 12, 20). That was like 2000 years ago. I believe the time is now for some of what it talks about in Revelation. I believe it’s happening. I believe some of it happened, is happening, and will continue to happen until the end. That’s partly how Revelation as a letter was relevant to John’s original audience and continues to be relevant to us today.
Let’s look at what I mean. First, let’s look at Revelation 12 and the…
1. The woman (Rev. 12:1-6)
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Rev. 12:1-6).
Who is the woman here? The woman is God’s people throughout the history of redemption. The woman in the garden was promised one that would crush the head of the serpent/dragon (Gen. 3:15). The woman Mary was part of the “woman” Israel from whom the Messiah, the Promised One came (was “birthed”). And it is through Jesus the Messiah, the one with the “rod of iron,” that the Bride, the Church, is wooed and won.
Satan, the dragon of old, has been trying to destroy this woman all along. He tempted Eve in the garden, Jesus in the desert, and we daily face temptation. Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.
The woman, the Church, however, is and will be protected. The gates of hell will not prevail. The 1,260 days refers to the limited time she, God’s people, be in the “wilderness” (c.f. Ex. 16:13-18; 1 Kings 17:6; 19:5-8). We also see in Revelation 12:14 that she is given “the two wings of the great eagle” which reminds us of how God protected His people in the time of the exodus (see Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:10-12).
So, we see the church is buffeted but the battle will end and the victory is sure. The reference to “a time, and times, and half a time” in Revelation 12:14 is a half-sabbatical period which comes from Daniel 7:25. It “signifies the brevity of the saints’ suffering” because it is half of a complete period (which is signified by the number seven).
Therefore, we see that “the woman’s stay in the desert is characterized both by trials and favors from God, just as the journey of the Israelites was” and just as the history of the Church has been and will be.
After we see the woman and the dragon, in Revelation 13 we see…
2. The beast(s) (Rev. 13)
John sees a hideous beast rise out of the sea. The imagery alludes to Daniel 7. In the vision in Daniel 7 we see that the beast “made war with the saints… until” Jesus comes with judgment and the saints once and for all possess the Kingdom (Dan. 7:21-22). That Kingdom shall be an everlasting Kingdom (v. 27).
It’s interesting and I believe important to note that the context of Daniel and the context of John’s Revelation is exile and apparent defeat. It looks as if the evil scary beast is going to be victorious. It looks like God’s people are going to get gobbled up.
As we look at the situation it doesn’t look good. The dragon gave his power to the beast (Rev. 13:2). And the beast imitates the Lord in some ways. Notice v. 3 says it “seemed to have a mortal wound” and v. 11 says it was “like a lamb” although it “spoke like a dragon.” The beast has things that look impressive and even resemble the Lamb. But, the beast is a sham and leads to shame.
People believe the beast will rescue them. And so, they follow the beast (v. 3) and worship the dragon (v. 4). Notice, however, that doesn’t mean that they knew that’s what they we’re doing. These people are not all Satanists. Remember, Satan is the father of lies and the greater deceiver. And so, a lot of people who worship the dragon don’t know they’re worshiping the dragon. As v. 14 says, the beast deceives those who dwell on the earth.
The beast is scary for a lot of reasons. The beast causes those who don’t worship the beast to be slain (v. 15 cf. Deut. 13:5). “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Rev. 13:16-18 cf. 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).
What or who is the beast?
First, it should be understood that numbers in the book of Revelation have a lot of significance. The number 7 is the number for completion and perfection. Whereas 6 is a number that represents missing the mark, it is a number for deficiency. So, the number 666 represents defect. It’s contrasted with the number 7, which, as we said, is the symbol for divine completeness.
Thus, 666 is a symbol and not a code to be cracked. It shows us that the best the beast can do is mimic. This shows us that the beast, though a convincing imitation to some, is actually completely incomplete.
This, however, is not the full significance of the number 666 because Revelation 13:18 says, “the number of the beast… is the number of a man.” Who is this man?
This form of numbering was actually at least somewhat common. There is a poem of sorts on one of the walls of Pompeii that says, “I love her whose number is 545.” Let me briefly explain how this works…
Interestingly, as the ESV Study Bible points out, “Both ‘beast’ and ‘Nero Caesar,’ written in Hebrew characters, add up to 666.”
I believe that 666 referred to Nero at that time. I believe, however, that there have been other similar beasts and other beasts will come. Just as there are many antichrists (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7). What, then, does it mean to be a beast in this way?
Other historical figures have been compared to beasts. Nebuchadnezzar even became actually beastly (Dan. 4) and Nero acted as if he were a beast. And so beast and 666 in reference to him is fitting. There are, however, others who have and who will in the future act in a beastly way. They too are also a beast and all who follow such a person have the mark of the beast. They have been bitten, as it were, with the fangs of the deathly red serpent.
The Bible talks about people behaving like “irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Pet. 2:12). It says that these people have their bellies as their god; that is, they instinctively pursue what they crave and their thoughts rise no higher than the earth (Phil. 3:19). Actually, since the fall, that is our default position (Eph. 2:1-3).
How do we keep from accidentally following the beast? Or being like a beast ourselves?
We follow hard after Christ the King. Jesus, “the Son of Man” (Dan. 7), shows us what it means to be fully human. He exercises the dominion that Adam and Eve were commissioned to. It is as we love and follow Christ that we’re more like Christ and less and less beastly.
What is the mark of the beast?
Is the mark of the beast an implant? After all, Revelation 13:17 says, no one can buy or sell unless they have the mark. Perhaps the mark of the beast is a form of electronic currency?
The mark is mentioned in various places (Rev. 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20) and is contrasted with the seal of God’s faithful. It’s interesting to note that the word for “mark” here is the Greek word charagama which is used in Acts 17:29. It means “imprinted mark.” Charagama can also be used to refer to the scar or abrasion of a serpent’s bite.
There’s historical precedence for a “mark” or “branding” being enforced by a godless ruler. Pharaoh Ptolemy IV (who from 221–204 BC) “proposed to inflict public disgrace on the Jewish community, and he set up a stone on the tower in the courtyard with this inscription: ‘None of those who do not sacrifice shall enter their sanctuaries, and all Jews shall be subjected to a registration involving poll tax and to the status of slaves. Those who object to this are to be taken by force and put to death; those who are registered are also to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus’” (3 Maccabees).
Dionysus was known as the god of wine and ecstasy. So, the “mark” here is the mark of idolatry. This happened in the past and no doubt a similar thing will happen again.
It’s interesting that in the book of Daniel, Daniel and his friends were given new names and taken in by a pagan king, a beast. Yet they didn’t have the mark of the beast. What then is the mark of the beast if it isn’t a new name?! The mark of the beast is the mark of wicked idolatry. It is the bite of the serpent that bends people to foolish lies.
So, I think what’s being said here is that there is historical precedence for a beast ruler acting this way, and it’ll happen again. The question then is, will you be willing to suffer instead of taking the idolatrous mark?
Revelation “is a call not to be identified with the beast or with Babylon and to share their doom, but to bear couragesly and faithfully the testimony of Jesus to the point of death.”
Satan, however, is often more subtle. As the ESV Study Bible says, “Neither the beast’s mark nor the seal of God on believers’ foreheads (cf. Rev. 7:3; 14:1; cf. also Ex. 28:36–38; Ezek. 9:4) have to be understood as physical features, though they may be that. Both symbolize the spiritual control of heart allegiance and behavior, either by the beast or by the Lamb.”
The beast(s), however, are not the only foes of God’s people. We also see…
3. Babylon the harlot (Rev. 17-18)
We tend to marvel at Revelation 17-18. There’s so much mysterious imagery. Yet, we are told, “the mystery” (Rev. 17:3). Revelation tells us what’s going to happen. Remember, that’s what revelation means. It means revealing. And that’s just what the book of Revelation does. It reveals the truth. And that’s what it does here as it talks about Babylon.
The city Babylon allures us with its temptations and beauty (v. 4) but we know her end. Her end is destruction along with the beast. That’s what’s going to happen.
We may see the allurements in Babylon, we may marvel greatly (. 6), but we must remember what has been revealed about the “mystery of the woman, and of the beast” (v. 7). “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come” (Rev. 17:8).
Babylon is any type of kingdom or empire founded on any king except Christ the King. Babylon rides on and is propped up by Satan and his beast (cf. Rev. 13:1 with 17:3).
We also see that there are many leaders aligned with Satan. They are part of the beast and promote the idolatry of Babylon. As Darrell W. Johnson has said,
“John is opening up for us a sobering unseen reality of the present: governments which step out from under the rule of God do not become more divine. They become demonic. Governments that exalt humanity as the measure of all things do not become more humane; they become more bestial.”
They’re literally in a pact with the devil even if they don’t really realize it. They “are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:13-14). Matt Chandler has said, “The objective of the beast is capturing the loyalties of men and women and diverting their worship from the praise of God to the praise of the state.”
Yet, that’s not the end of the story. The kings of earth seem so powerful and unbeatable. It seems like they will be able to crush Christians. It seems like Babylon will stand forever. But, that is not the case.
Their time, however, will be short, only “one hour” it says (v. 12). And then, “the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (v. 14).
That’s what’s going to happen. That’s the life-changing reality we need to see. The one who beats will be beaten, the one who crushes will be crushed. The Lamb that was slain, will slay the wicked oppressors.
Look with me at Revelation 18:1-2, John says, “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,
‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.’”
The harlot and her people will get full payment for their wicked ways (18:6). For their exploitive abuse of “human souls” (18:13). And it will happen swiftly. “Her plagues will come in a single day” (v. 8), “in a single hour” (v.10, 17, 19). The build up and apparent power of Babylon and the beast are contrasted with their utter obliteration in a mere 60 minutes.
This is making an important point for us. Things are not as they appear. What looks mighty and attractive is not always what it appears.
People may live for wealth, but in a single hour, all wealth will be laid waste (v. 17). Revelation 18:14 says,
“All your delicacies and your splendors
are lost to you,
never to be found again!”
All the sinful entanglements, all the things you look to and love, that you think will fulfill and make your life happy, gone. They were poisoned pills, 3/4s but not whole. They were contaminated puddles that cut you off from living streams. They were the shadow that made you miss the substance.
Listen! You who live for all that is found here: Babylon, the great city, will be thrown down with violence and will be found no more (v. 21). Don’t be seduced by her promises or deceived by her sorcery (v. 23).
The city and all she represents may be tempting but heed this warning:
“Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (v. 16-17). The great city will be like a huge stone thrown into the sea (v. 21).
So, how do we respond to that revealing? What should we do?!
We know the end of the enemy and we know the sweet eternal victory of those who conquer by continuing to trust and follow Christ the King.
So, we rejoice (v. 20). Of course, we don’t rejoice at the destruction for destruction’s sake. We rejoice because of…
4. The wedding (Rev. 19)
I have a friend who is engaged to be married. He’s super stoked. He loves his fiancé and has pursued and wooed her, and bought a ring.
Jesus the Bible tells us, loves us, pursued and wooed us, and bought us by dying on the cross for our sins. The Bible says that the Church is the Bride of Jesus. It says that there will be a wedding.
We’ve not had the wedding yet. The Church is Christ’s; He bought her, loves her, and protects her. But Christ and the Church are not in perfect wedded bless yet. But, that day is coming soon.
I know the picture of the Church being Christ’s Bride is kind of weird in ways but it is also profoundly beautiful and fitting.
In Revelation 13-19 we see various attacks of the enemy. We see Satan’s beast with intimidating violence, we see the false prophet with deceptive heresy, and we see the city Babylon, the prostitute, with her beguiling seduction. Revelation reminds us of the threat we face. And it encourages us to remain resolved and trusting.
Look with me at Revelation 19:1-2: “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for His judgments are true and just;
for He has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’”
Look with me also at verses 6b-8a:
Then in verse 9, it says that the angel said to John: “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
The beast’s roar will be forever silenced by the overwhelming power of the Lamb. Babylon the great will be forever shattered in a moment and the New Jerusalem will forever stand in her place. The woman that looked defeated will arise to be the forever-glorious Bride.
What city are you in?
Who are you following?
Are you with the lion who is the lamb? Or, are you with the beast and the dragon?
Will you rejoice at the end, or weep and howl?
 It is of note that the color of the dragon in Revelation 12:3 is “red like the Babylonian snake and the Egyptian typhon. The Leviathan… is the monster that comes out of the sea. He also has many heads and Yahweh is said to smash them (Ps 74:13-14) and piece ‘the fleeing serpent’ (Job 26:13, AB)… The monster is the embodiment of chaos, the antithesis of Yahweh who is the source of all order in the world.” It is also interesting that “’diadem’ occurs only in Revelation (12:3, 13:1; 19:12); in all instances it is used of royal power. Our dragon is king (and possibly priest) of chaos” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 199).
 “The verb ‘support,’ Gr. trephein, is employed in Deut 32:18…” and recalls God “providing quails and manna to feed the Israelites in the desert” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary [New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975], 192).
 “In Revelation ‘woman’ or ‘women’ occurs nineteen times: 12:1, 4, 6, 14, 15, 16, 17; 17:3, 4, 6, 7, 9f., 18 and elsewhere in 9:8, 14:4, 19:7, 21:9. It might be said therefore, that the woman symbol is almost as important as the Lamb. This woman and the new Jerusalem are the antithesis of the harlot” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 188).
 “Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure, like the two witnesses. In the OT the image of a woman is a classical symbol for Zion whose husband is Yahweh (Isa 54:1, 5, 6, Jer 3:20, Ezek 16:8-14, Hosea 2:19-20)” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 195).
 In Revelation we see various names given to the evil one: Dragon (Rev. 12:3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 16, 17; 13:1, 2, 4; 16:13; 20:2), Devil (12:9, 12; 20:2, 10), Serpent (Rev. 12:9, 14, 15; 20:2), and Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:9; 20:2, 7).
 The number 7 in revelation is the number of perfection and completeness whereas 3 ½ is half the number for completeness (3 ½ year = 42 months = 1,260 days). So, even here we see a subtle reminder that God’s people will not forever be pursued by the dragon, will not forever be in the wilderness. The time is short. So, we can and must endure. See Revelation 11:2-3; 12:4, 14; 13:5 for other references to limited time.
 The ESV Study Bible.
 J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 202.
 In direct contradiction to what God’s word says (Ex. 20:34; cf. Ex. 32), the beast makes an image of a beast (Rev. 13:14) And it says, the beast is “allowed to give breath to the image of the beast” (Rev. 13:15).
 See Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, 15.
 Richard Bauckham explains that one can calculate the Beast’s number based upon the Greek word for “beast” (thērion). If one takes the Greek letters of thērion and transliterates them into Hebrew, the numerical value of the Hebrew word is 666 (see Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, 389).
 It’s also interesting to note that Nimrod’s name adds up to 666 using cryptogram, and Nimrod seems to be the main founder of the tower of Babel (see Gen. 10:8-12). “Babel is also the name used in the OT for the city of Babylon. As a city, Babylon symbolizes humanity’s ambition to dethrone God and make the earth its own” (ESV Study Bible on Genesis 11:9).
 As the ESV Study Bible says, “many interpreters expect a future, greater fulfillment in a world ruler who is violently opposed to God and his people.”
 “Babylon is compared to a devouring dragon in Jer 51:34; Pharaoh to one (perhaps a crocodile) who lives in the Nile in Ezek 29:3; 32:2; Pompey is probably alluded to as a dragon in Psalms of Solomon 2:29” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 199).
 “When a human ruler fails to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and gives way to hubris he becomes subhuman. He becomes like a beast of the field. So, in [Daniel] chapter 7 the human superpowers, all of which to some extent give way to hubris, are depicted as beasts” (“Daniel” in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 234).
 Thomas R. Schreiner has pointed out that “The number 777 represents perfection, but John says 666 is the number of a man. The number 666, then, represents what is anti-god and antichrist, all that is in opposition to the one true God. If 777 represents holiness and perfect goodness, then 666 signifies the enormity and totality of evil. Hence, John does not intend to point to any particular individual here. Rather, the kingdom of the beast is a human kingdom, an evil kingdom, instead of a divine one. The nature of humanity apart from God is demonic. The kingdom of the beast promises life and prosperity but brings death, misery, and devastation” (Thomas R. Schreiner “What Is the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13)”).
 In fact, it’s been said that only One who was fully alive, fully human, could be an adequate substitutionary atonement for fallen humans.
 I think it’s significant that Revelation doesn’t say make sure you decipher what the mark of the beast is so that you’ll be sure to not receive it. And it doesn’t say if you can decipher the code you’ll be protected from suffering. Nope. It says, “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.” So, how does Revelation 13:10 have us respond? It says, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Christians are called to preserver not to keep the time of persecution from coming. It will come. We can’t keep that from happening. What we must do, however, is endure and be faithful to Christ in the midst of it.
 “Such branding of a deity was not uncommon in ancient times” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha commenting on 3 Maccabees 2:28).
 “Nebuchadnezzar sought to assimilate the exiles into Babylonian culture by obliterating their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon the royal court. For this reason, the exiles were given names linked with Babylonian deities in place of Israelite names linked with their God. Daniel (“God is my Judge”), Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”), and Azariah (“Yahweh is a helper”) became names that invoked the help of the Babylonian gods Marduk, Bel, and Nebo: Belteshazzar (“O Lady [wife of the god Bel], protect the king!”), Shadrach (“I am very fearful [of God]” or “command of Aku [the moon god]”), Meshach (“I am of little account” or “Who is like Aku?”), and Abednego (“servant of the shining one [Nebo]”). They were schooled in the language and mythological literature of the Babylonians, and their food was assigned from the king’s table, reminding them constantly of the source of their daily bread” (ESV Study Bible).
 Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 103.
 The “mark” also recalls phylacteries, which are black leather cube-shaped cases containing Torah texts written on parchment (see Deut. 6:8 cf. 11:18; Ex. 13:9, 16). They served as reminders of God and His Law and marked off people as God’s people.
 Parallels and contrasts between Jerusalem and Babylon:
- The chaste bride (21:2, 9) vs. the harlot (17:2)
- The city that provides light to walk by (21:24) vs. Babylon the city of deception (17:2; 18:3, 23; 19:2)
- Uncleanness will not enter the new Jerusalem (21:27) vs. Babylon is a city of uncleanness (17:4, 5; 18:23)
- Jerusalem provides the water of life and the tree of life (21:6; 22:1-2) vs. Babylon makes the nations drunk on wine (14:8; 17:2; 18:3)
- Jerusalem is a place of life and healing (22:1-2) vs. Babylon is a place of blood and slaughter
- God’s people are called to enter the New Jerusalem (22:14) vs. God’s people are called to come out of Babylon (18:4)
 Evil always implodes in on itself. It’s interesting to note that the “ten horns… the beast” will “hate the prostitute” which is the great city (cf. v. 18). “They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire” (v. 16). They will do that because God has hardened their heart (v. 17 because of their idolatry cf. Rom. 1 & Pharaoh). And so, the kings destroy their own precious cities, and all the good, peace, and harmony they’re supposed to bring, because the beast and the dragon influence them. And the dragon has been a lying destroyer from the beginning. “The ancient mythic ideal” of a city was for it to be a “place where human community lives in security and prosperity with the divine in its midst. Babylon represents the perversion of this ideal, what it comes to when, instead of the true God, humanity’s self-deification is the heart of the city” (Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 130).
 “Any society which absolutizes its own economic prosperity at the expense of others comes under Babylon’s condemnation” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 156).
 The Great harlot in the OT is a picture of idolatry.
 “The fall of Babylon, which occupies so much of Revelation, is what human opposition to God must come to, but it is not celebrated for its own sake. Babylon must fall so that the New Jerusalem may replace her. Her satanic parody of the ideal of the city must give way to the divine reality” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 130).
 “There are clearly only two options: to conquer and inherit the eschatological promises, or to suffer the second death in the lake of fire (21:8)” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 92).
Why Read Revelation?
Reading and heeding Revelation brings blessing: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (1:3).
So, why read? Why care?
Because it is what is. And it tells us how to live. It tells us what to value and why.
We, essentially, are walking through life with wool over our eyes. The reality is we can’t see. We don’t always know what’s what. Satan is a great deceiver and he’s the god of this world.
Revelation is a jolt. It’s is a wake-up call. Revelation is a blind person seeing for the first time.
Revelation reveals the truth that on every forehead there is a name. We are all either aligned and carry the allegiance of Satan or Jesus our savior. We’re all ultimately marching to Satan or the Savior’s beat. We don’t always see it as it is, but Revelation says it as it is. Again, Revelation is an unveiling.
That’s what the book of Revelation is. But, what does the book of Revelation do?
What does the Book of Revelation do?
Wrestling with the book of Revelation…
1) wakes us up to the wonder & makes the unseen, seen
Have you ever said, “I’ve never seen it like that before?” That’s what the book of Revelation does.
Revelation gives us a picture of reality. A new perspective by which to see the world. John tells about all he “saw.” Revelation offers “a divine perspective on what is true, valuable and lasting.”
And when we see things from the perspective of heaven it breaks the earthbound delusion of the beast’s propaganda. We need to see what John saw. We need the book of Revelation to open our eyes to the unseen realities.
C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.” If Christians are to “resist the powerful allurements of Babylon, they [need] an alternative and greater attraction.”
Revelation, as Brian Tabb has said, “reorients believers’ view of their present situation and challenges them to live by faith in the light of God’s sovereign rule over all things, which is more real and lasting than the reality they see with their eyes.”
The revelation of Jesus is showing us something (v. 1). It’s showing us something we didn’t see before and we don’t see it without Jesus’ revelation. The book of Revelation is like smelling salts.
Its pictures are powerful painted to show us the point. Sin is bad but we don’t always see it as it is. I can tell you that sin is bad. I can tell you that it takes you longer, deeper, and destroys more than you’d expect and that’s true.
Sin is bad and serious. That truth, however, often fall on deaf ears. But if I tell you the story of Sméagol who turns into Gollum and ends in lava that picture is more poignant and communicates at a different level. Revelation paints a powerful picture of the awful reality of sin.
Revelation was given to John and he passed on to the churches and to us. They needed it then and we need it now. We need to see the true picture of reality.
“Revelation provides a set of Christian prophetic counter-images which impress on its readers a different vision of the world… The visual power of the book effects a kind of purging of the Christian imagination, refurbishing it with alternative visions of how the world is and will be.”
We too need to see what John saw. We too need to be awakened to the wonder of it all.
Revelation helps us see that since the present world will be dissolved we should not live for this world but the next. And thus have morals shaped by the next Kingdom and not this evil one (2 Pet. 3:11; 1 Cor. 7:26, 29).
Revelation helps us see the unseen and Revelation…
2) reveals what will soon happen
Revelation tells “the things that must soon take place” (v. 1). Revelation and eschatology (the teaching on end times) are not mainly about charts and predictions. I agree with John Frame that “it is a pity that the church’s teaching on eschatology, the last days, has been concerned mostly with arguments about the order of events. In Scripture itself, the primary thrust of eschatology is ethical.” Of course, that should not be a cop-out for studying the book of Revelation or eschatology though.
It is wise to be well-informed as to the major views of Christ’s return. We, however, should not be dogmatic about how and when exactly it will happen. Jesus Himself seems to clearly indicate this (cf. e.g. Mk. 13:32).
We should be dogmatic though that it will happen and will be glorious. And that it should motivate us as we seek to live faithful lives as exiles waiting for our blessed hope. We also are to constantly remind ourselves of His nearing return and of the feast we shall share with Him (cf. Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:16; 1 Cor.11:26; Rev. 19:9).
The main point of the prophecy is that Jesus wins and all those who trust Him will dwell with God forevermore in perfect peace. The serpent that destroyed, in the beginning, will be destroyed in the end.
“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20).”
Thanos said, “I am inevitable.” We, however, know what’s actually inevitable. We know who wins.
Revelation shows us what will happen soon and Revelation…
3) helps us see the glory of the gospel
Revelation reveals the true identity of Jesus the Jewish carpenter (e.g. Rev. 1:5-8). He’s not just a lamb, He’s a lion. He roars and devours.
We need to remember, that the end of the story, and the main point of the Revelation, is to show that God through Jesus the Christ is victorious! This truth encouraged John who was exiled on Patmos and all the churches that were being persecuted to whom the letter went. If we read the letter, especially in that context, we will respond, not so much with a certain view of how everything will happen, but by saying, “Come Lord Jesus, come”! And that is the more powerful takeaway from the book.
“What is true in heaven now will be true on earth as well. God will reassert himself as ‘King of the nations’ and will execute judgments on the beast and all rival sovereigns who usurp his praise and oppress his people (15:3; 16:5–7). Therefore, readers must heed the angel’s repeated exhortation to John: ‘Worship God’ (19:10; 22:9).”
The correct response to Revelation’s “dramatic presentation of Jesus is joyous worship and steadfast loyalty fuelled by confident hope in his regal return.”
As The ESV Study Bible says,
“Revelation unveils the unseen spiritual war in which the church is engaged: the cosmic conflict between God and his Christ on the one hand, and Satan and his evil allies (both demonic and human) on the other. In this conflict, Jesus the Lamb has already won the decisive victory through his sacrificial death, but his church continues to be assaulted by the dragon, in its death-throes, through persecution, false teaching, and the allure of material affluence and cultural approval. By revealing the spiritual realities lying behind the church’s trials and temptations during the time between Christ’s first and second comings, and by dramatically affirming the certainty of Christ’s triumph in the new heaven and earth, the visions granted to John both warn the church and fortify it to endure suffering and to stay pure from the defiling enticements of the present world order.”
Revelation shows us that no one can ruin the One who reigns. No one can liquidate the Lord. No one can silence the Sovereign. No one can cancel the King.
And soon all will see!
I want us all to see the truth now, and live in light of it now.
 There are actually seven blessings, the number for completeness, listed in the book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14).
 Tabb, All Things New.
 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 91.
 C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.
 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 129. “One of the functions of revelation was to purge and to refurbish the Christian imagination… Revelation offers a different way of perceiving the world” (Ibid., 159).
 Brian Tabb, All Things New.
 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 17. “One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appears to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, 9).
 Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 13.
 “We are called to be a people of memory, who are shaped by a tradition that is millennia older than the last Billboard chart. And we are called also called to be a people of expectation, praying for and looking forward to a coming kingdom that will break in upon our present as a thief in the night” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 159).
 John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 277.
 Tabb, All Things New.
 Tabb, All Things New.
Here are ten quotes from Richard Bauckham’s book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, that especially stuck out to me. And if you’re interested in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) you can also see my post “Eschatology and Ethics.”
“Revelation provides a set of Christian prophetic counter-images which impress on its readers a different vision of the world… The visual power of the book effects a kind of purging of the Christian imagination, refurbishing it with alternative visions of how the world is and will be” (Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 17).
“Creation is not confined for ever to its own immanent possibilities. It is open to the fresh creative possibilities of its Creator” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 48).
“A God who is not the transcendent origin of all things… cannot be the ground of ultimate hope for the future of creation. It is the God who is the Alpha who will also be the Omega” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 51).
“The polemical significance of worship is clear in Revelation, which sees the root of the evil of the Roman Empire to lie in the idolatrous worship of merely human power, and therefore draws the lines of conflict between worshippers of the beast and the worshippers of the one true God” (p. 59).
“Who are the real victors? The answer depends on whether one sees things from the earthly perspective of those who worship the beast or from the heavenly perspective which John’s visions open for his readers” (p. 90).
“The perspective of heaven must break into the earthbound delusion of the beast’s propaganda” (p. 91).
“There are clearly only two options: to conquer and inherit the eschatological promises, or to suffer the second death in the lake of fire (21:8)” (p. 92).
If Christians are to “resist the powerful allurements of Babylon, they [need] an alternative and greater attraction” (p. 129).
“God’s service is perfect freedom (cf. 1 Pet. 2:16). Because God’s will is the moral truth of our own being as his creatures, we shall find our fulfillment only when, through our free obedience, his will becomes also the spontaneous desire of our hearts” (p. 142-43).
“Only a purified vision of the transcendence of God… can effectively resist the human tendency to idolatry which consists in absolutizing aspects of this world. The worship of the true God is the power of resistance to the deification of military and political power (the beast) and economic prosperity (Babylon)” (p. 160).
To answer the question will sin be possible in heaven, there are a number of passages we should look at.
“…the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect“ (Hebrews 12:23).
“…those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29).
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship Him” (Revelation 22:3).
“…nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God…” (Revelation 3:12).
“I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them…” (Amos 9:15).
Christians will be made “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). They will be “conformed into the image” of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It may be that Christians can sin, but won’t sin because they will not want to sin.
So, no. Ultimately, Christians will not be able to sin in heaven. But it won’t be from an external constraint but from internal renewal.
Christians will finally completely have their affections rightly aligned with reality. Christians will love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
In the book of Revelation the Church is not called to react to the End or the antichrist by moralistic, militaristic, or political means. The Church is called to return to Messiah Jesus, remembering that those who continue faithful to the End will receive the “crown of life.” The way of resistance of evil, is the way of Christ. That is, loving Christ Jesus, and loving others. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus and loving others, even when it hurts, is a sure sign that we don’t and won’t have the “mark of the beast.”
What if the clearest mark of the beast is the mark of hatred and hostility? Many have thought it stood for Nero (the numerical value of 666), and perhaps it did in a way. He was, as history showed, marked by the beast. He was, as history showed, like his father the devil. He was proud and unloving, destructive and devilish.
Is not the mark of the Messiah, the mark of beatific love?1 Do not His followers, follow Him? If Jesus is love, should not His followers be loving?!2
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (Corinthians 13:4-7).
And would it not make sense that the converse also follows? If the mark of the Messiah is true sacrificial love, is not the mark of the antichrist hatred? And what if the serpent of old, the father of lies, the great deceiver, is adept at what he does? And what if he wants to destroy and divide even what Messiah Jesus died to bring together? And what if he even uses the means of media and the marketplace and various views on certain medical opinions regarding COVID-19? What if?…
And what if the worst thing that can happen to Christians is not that they’d lose earthly freedom(s), but that they’d lose heavenly crowns? not that their earthly country would be divided, but that their heavenly one would be? not that they’d have to wear a mask, but that they’d have a mask put over their eyes? What if Satan’s not primarily trying to destroy a country, but what if he desires to destroy Christians and Christian witness? What if Satan doesn’t want the nation to descend into debauchery, but wants Christians to be desensitized to their hatred and fear?
Revelation also talks a lot about Babylon. Babylon was what a lot of people cared about and had their hopes fixed on. However, Christians, are marked by and are members of a different city. Christians have their hope wrapped up in a city, but it’s a different city, a city that comes down from heaven, a city that couldn’t be built here. It’s beyond and better than here.
Christians live, labor, and love in Babylon, but they’re waiting for something better. They’re waiting for Jerusalem to come down.
Christian brothers and sisters, are you showing the mark of your Savior? The characteristics of Christ? The mark of your true city? Or, are you too wrapped up here? Are you betting on Babylon3 or are you “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”?!
We, as Christians, are sojourners here in Babylon. Our time is short. Let’s be a blessing as Scripture exhorts us (Jeremiah 29:7). But, let’s remember, any castle we build with our hoarded cash, will soon wash away with the tide of time. Let’s not lay up hoards here or place our hope here. But in heaven.
1 Ephesians 1:13 tells us that all who are in Messiah Jesus have been sealed (or marked?!) with the promised Holy Spirit. Notice also that it is the Holy Spirit in Jesus followers who produces the fruits of the Spirit, one of those fruits being love.
2 God alone provides access to the Garden of Eden and the pathway there is through the Golgotha of sacrificial love.
3 If politics has you overly down, perhaps it’s because you placed your hope in a ship that must inevitably sink.
A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.
Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, has a lot of important and relevant things to teach us. Here are a few highlights from the introduction…
1. Revelation Is Given to Reveal.
2. Revelation Is a Book to Be Seen.
“One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appear to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (p. 9).
3. Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament.
“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (p, 13).
4. Numbers Count in Revelation.
For example, “The number seven symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and completeness” (p. 15).
5. Revelation Is for a Church under Attack.
“Our interpretation of Revelation must be driven by the difference God intends it to make in the life of his people. If we could explain every phrase, identify every allusion to Old Testament Scripture or Greco-Roman society, trace every interconnection, and illumine every mystery in this book and yet were silenced by the intimidation of public opinion, terrorized by the prospect of suffering, enticed by affluent Western culture’s promise of ‘security, comfort, and pleasure,’ then we would not have begun to understand the Book of Revelation as God wants us to… Always, in every age and place, the church is under attack. Our only safety lies in seeing the ugly hostility of the enemy clearly and clinging fast to our Champion and King, Jesus” (19).
6. Revelation Concerns “What Must Soon Take Place.”
7. The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ.
“Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme—despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers—is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him” (p. 23).
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Some times people paint with colors and at other times they paint with words. Isaiah here is painting with words and what a wonderful picture he paints.
He starts by saying that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad” (Is. 35:1). The groaning world, the world bent with the Fall, shall be made right. Even the earth shall be glad. The barren desert, filled with dust and sand, shall beautifully blossom. It shall “rejoice with joy and singing” (v. 2). The whole of the world will unfurl and be in a state of spring. Yes, the desert shall blossom like the crocus (v. 1).
The redeemed shall see the majesty and “the glory of the LORD” (v. 2). Our eyes as of now have a shutter over them, we see through a fog, or as through dirty glass dimly, but then we shall see. We shall see the full wonder of the LORD’s glory and beauty. We know the whisper but we shall hear the wondrous roar!
“If you sow to the flesh you will reap from the flesh, reap corruption. But if you sow to the Spirit you will reap from the Spirit, reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).
Sowing and reaping are not things most of us are really familiar with, let alone sewing and weeping. So, what does it mean to sow? To sow means to plant seeds.
What does it mean to reap? To reap means to gather, to harvest what was planted.
If a farmer plants corn what do they collect at the end? They gather corn. Whatever we plant we harvest. You can’t plant beans and expect wheat to grow. That’s not how things work.
In life it is the same way. What we plant we gather. Where we work is where we get paid. What we sow we reap.
In this verse, we see that in life there are only two types of seeds to plant. There are only two options of things that we can harvest at the end.
We can plant towards the flesh, that is, we can just care about and live for our physical and material life. What, however, is the end of all physical life? It is death and decay. It is corruption. It is decomposition. If we live merely for the flesh we don’t get a very good return on our work.
If we plant towards the Spirit the harvest is much different. At the end, there will be eternal life. And because this is the case, we have huge motivation to continue planting towards the Spirit. Because we will reap at the appointed time if we don’t give up (Gal. 5:9).
Some have claimed that all people will be finally saved, even after torment in hell. However, there are all sorts of inherent problems with that view. Here’s a brief list of problems to consider.
1. There Is No (Clear) Scripture That Teaches Universalism
The doctrine of universalism goes against the clear teaching of Scripture and finds no clear teaching supporting what it argues. Yes, I understand that there are a few passages that if you pull out of context and place into a certain system of thought, can seem to support the doctrine but it is not the texts natural meaning in context.