Revelation 12–13. Intermission II. On Knowing Your Enemy.
Key Notes:The Dragon fights the Woman. Emergence of two Beasts. Satan, rather than Antichrist is the primary enemy.
Christians have been looking for the end of the World since Jesus' prophecy in Matt.24 and they have been obsessed with identifying the Antichrist. Some of our thinking has been incorrect.
In Rev.12–13 John interrupts the flow of his narrative with a play within a play given during intermission. He introduces mystical, even bizarre figures and a cosmic sweep of history, which expands our scope beyond the rest of the book.
12:1–6 " A woman clothed with the sun" (godly Israel) is the target of Satan (12:9), the great dragon, also called the Devil ("Slanderer") and Satan ("Adversary"), the Deceiver of the whole world. Satan fails to kill Christ, the Man-child who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Psa.2:9
Note changed order. 12:13–17 Satan also fails to destroy the woman--Israel. She is to be protected in a desert place prepared by God for 3.5 years. Satan then goes off to war against the rest of her offspring--those who keep the commandments of God and bear witness to Jesus. But they overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.
12:7–12 Satan loses the battle with Michael and his angels. His tail sweeps down a third of the stars of Heaven. We understand that this means he is thrown out of Heaven and drags angels with him. This is good news for Heaven, but trouble to the earth because Satan is desperate for time and success.
Satan has ten horns, seven heads and seven crowns (12:3) which are seen in several other contexts. The Fourth Beast of Daniel had ten horns (Dan.7:7). The Beast rising out of the Sea has ten horns, seven heads and seven crowns (Rev.13:1). The Beast that carries the woman named Babylon has the same structure (Rev.17:3) and is surely the same Beast. The seven heads represent seven kings (Rev.17:10) that appear to be contemporary with John. The ten horns are future kings. Rev.17:12
13:1–10 A Beast comes out of the sea with the same configuration as Satan's--ten horns, seven heads and seven crowns. Rising out of the sea suggests coming out of a chaotic human environment. The Beast's appearance suggests a composite of the four beasts of Dan.7:
*like a leopard: Greece, Dan.7:6,
*feet like a bear: Medo-Persia, Dan.7:5,
*mouth like a lion: Babylon, Dan.7:4,
*with ten horns: Rome, Dan.7:7.
One of its heads (a king) is mortally wounded but revived miraculously. Therefore the Beast appears to be a political figure. Everywhere, people worship the Dragon (Satan) and the Beast (Antichrist) out of wonder and fear--unless their names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. The Beast blasphemes and attacks God's people for 3.5 years.
13:11 A second Beast rises out of the earth looking like a lamb (?like Christ) with two horns (two powerful people?) and does signs and wonders, compelling the formation of an image of the Beast that appears to speak. Coming out of the earth suggests coming out of an orderly environment, in contrast to the sea which is disorderly. It causes everyone to receive the mark of the Beast in order to be in commerce. The number is 666, representing consummate evil.
In summary, there has been a war through the ages between Satan and God, between Satan and the people of God on earth, starting with the woman in the Garden (Eve), Israel as the mother of the Messiah, Christ, and those others who follow God (Gentile believers).
The history of Satan as seen in Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture, is one of repeated defeats:
•failing to destroy Israel during exiles I (587BC) and II (70AD).
•failing to destroy Jesus, in spite of seducing Judas.
•losing the war in Heaven.
•cast out of Heaven with his angels.
•attacking the rest of the believers and losing again because of the power of Christ's blood and their testimony.
•bound for 1000 years during a reign of peace. Rev.20:2
•cast into the Lake of Fire. Rev.20:10
At the end of his career, however, Satan generates a human copy of himself (the Beast out of the Sea, also known as Antichrist) and a pseudo-Christ (the Lamb / Beast out of the Earth, also known as the False Prophet) in a last violent orgy of political, economic and spiritual destruction. God allows him 3.5 years before stopping him. God has His Two Witnesses working at the epicenter of the Great Tribulation in Jerusalem.
In order to fight a war, we must first determine who the enemy is. During WWII we did not fight Goehring the Field Marshall, nor Goebbels the Propagandist, nor Eichman the Executioner. Everyone understood that Hitler was the Evil Genius and therefore the target. Jesus knew that Pilate was not the problem, but merely a tool. Similarly, our enemy is not primarily the Beast, or the False Prophet, but Satan himself. Therefore, to be obsessed with naming the Antichrist (Nero, Domitian, Saladin, Napoleon, the Pope, Mussolini, Hitler, Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger, Sun Myung Moon, and Saddam Hussein are some of the suggestions) and figuring out what 666 means is to take our eyes off the enemy and onto his underlings.
What is the result of this misplaced targeting?
First, modern Christians are prone to doubt Satan's existence and therefore are vulnerable to attacks.
Second, Satan has been at work since the beginning whereas the Beasts are features of the Last Days. We should focus on what is, not what will be.
Third, preoccupation with the Antichrist is an invitation to group paranoia, which distorts present reality, stimulates irrational fears, and leads to disillusionment as one after another of these false antichrists is repudiated, to the amusement of the public press.
Know your enemy.
A footnote on God vs. Satan in control of political power.
Daniel records spiritual warfare between political leaders and God's angels. (Dan.10:13–21). It is clear that human leaders are able to resist God, at least up to a point.
"Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed...." (Psa.2:1–2)
In Revelation 13, Satan, through the Beast, for a period of time, appears to control everything in the world--political, religious, and economic.
Satan is called "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the children of disobedience". (Eph.2:2)
"...the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers...." (IICor.4:4)
On the other hand God is the final control over everything and commands us to be subject to government.
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment." (Rom.13:1–2)
The elaboration of this conflict between God's control and human effort is spelled out in the history of Israel. God instituted the monarchy for Israel and gave them Saul and David at the start. Then we see a succession of kings in a repetition of blind fumbling, self-will and disobedience, mixed with fear and faith working itself out. The kings are the focus, but prophets, peasants, courtiers, priests and soldiers have their part. They sound autonomous, but God has prophesied years in advance what Israel would do. Satan is rarely seen. (IChron.21). The downhill course is marked by God's disapproval of a disobedient people.
There appear to be four dimensions to the work of God in human governments.
1. God prepares the stage (time, geographic boundaries, and power) for governments to operate. (Acts 17:26) (God's sovereignty).
2. Normal human activity, which is often well-intentioned and effective and sometimes divinely inspired is the second dimension. (Common grace.)
3. Evil spiritual power corrupts leaders and ultimately their countries. In the Great Tribulation, Satan tries for total control. (Satan at work.)
4. God over-rules human activity and evil in His time and for His purposes. His is the final victory. (God's judgment.)