Throughout history there has been constant conflict between the city of God and the city of man. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that God has placed those who serve in government in their position. Take a look at Romans 13:1 with me.
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)
Even though those who serve do so because of the call of Almighty God, many in government forget their responsibilities given by God and develop a “God complex” thinking that they are above the law and beyond accountability to anyone. Chuck Colson, who suffered from this delusion before his conversion to Christ following his arrest during the Nixon administration, once said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Let me give you one example of how the State can become an enemy of God. In the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine there is a story about Christians suffering in China. The article reads,
Chinese police broke up a peaceful demonstration on July 29 by several thousand Christians who watched them demolish an independent church’s building. According to eyewitnesses, police used electric stun batons to beat the Christians in Dangshan township, Xiaoshan, a Hangzhou suburb. After being forced from its previous location, Dangshan Church was nearly completely rebuilt on land owned by a local Christian couple. Sources in both the local government and the church confirmed to the U.S. based China Aid Association (CAA) that local authorities had repeatedly denied believers’ requests to rebuild the church, even though they had met all the registration requirements. It is the second time in three years that local authorities have destroyed the church, according to CAA. ‘In that district, almost 70 to 80 percent of the construction has no certification,’ one of the church’s legal advisers said. ‘The government doesn’t pay any attention to this illegal construction except in the case of churches. (Christianity Today, The Price of Protest, by Xu Mei, October 2006, Vol. 50, No. 10, p. 23)
The Gospel is spreading like wildfire in China even though the government is doing everything it can to keep the Church under its thumb. This is not a new story; this is the story of history.
Michael Cromartie tracks religious persecution around the world. In an interview with Christianity Today in July of this year, he was asked, “What do you see as the single greatest threat to religious freedom?” Mr. Cromartie responded,
There is an unfortunate authoritarian and totalitarian ethos in the minds of a lot of leaders around the world. Whether secular or religious, these regimes believe that the state is the final arbiter of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. (Christianity Today, Q & A: Michael Cromartie, July 2006, Vol. 50, No. 7, Page 59)
As it has been in times past, so it is today, and so it will be until the return of our Savior who will overthrow the powers that oppose the Kingdom of God. In our Scripture for today we are going to begin a two week study of Revelation 13. In Revelation 13 we will be introduced to the “unholy trinity.” Let’s read our Scripture for today found in Revelation 13:1-10 and get started.
1And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 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. 4Men 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?” 5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6 He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 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. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast– all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. 9 He who has an ear, let him hear. 10 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. (Revelation 13:1-10 NIV)
As we move into Revelation 13 we are introduced to two “beasts:” one rising up out of the sea (vs. 1-10) and one rising up from the earth (vs. 11-18). Each of the beasts derives their power from the dragon that we studied last week in Revelation 12. These two beasts have been labeled by many Bible teachers as the Antichrist and the False Prophet. In the time that we have together this morning let’s examine the first beast.
The first beast that we meet, the one coming out of the sea had “ten horns,” “seven heads” with “ten crowns on his horns,” and on each of his heads he had a “blasphemous name.” This isn’t all we learn about this beast. We also learn that he resembled a “leopard,” but had feet “like those of a bear,” and a mouth “like that of a lion.” This first beast is a composite if you will of the four beasts that Daniel sees in his dream in Daniel 7:1-7. Take a look with me.
1In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it. 5“And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ 6“After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. 7“After that, 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. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully. (Daniel 7:1-8 NIV)
Scripture tells us that the four beasts are representative of four different Kingdoms. Read along with me in Daniel 7:17.
17The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. (Daniel 7:17 NIV)
History has shown us that indeed these four beasts did arise. The first beast, the one which was like a lion, was representative of the Babylonian Kingdom. The second beast, the one which was like a bear, was representative of the Medo-Persian Empire. The third beast, the one which was like a leopard, was representative of the great Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great. The fourth beast, which was indescribable, was representative of the Roman Empire. (see also Daniel 7:17-27)
In John’s vision in Revelation 13 we see that the first beast is a combination of each of the four beasts of Daniel’s dream. The first beast of Revelation 13 is an envoy, a representative sent by the dragon, with the authority of the dragon to lead people astray. Who is the beast? Most Bible teachers see the beast as representative of the Roman Empire. Robert Mounce writes,
There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church…The beast is that spirit of imperial power which claims a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority. It is a ‘counterfeit power’ that is self-centered, behaves as if it were fully autonomous, and demands total allegiance and excessive praise. (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, p. 246)
Even though most Bible teachers understand the beast to be the Roman Empire, those who interpret Revelation through a Dispensationalist/Futurist lens see the beast as the final Antichrist. John MacArthur writes in his commentary that during the Tribulation period, after the Church has been raptured to heaven, the Antichrist will arise and will lead the whole world astray. He writes,
People will be desperately seeking a strong, charismatic, authoritative leader to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Those longings will be fulfilled. The powerful leader people desire will come and unify the world under his rule. He will appear at first to be everything people thought they were looking for. And for a brief time he will bring peace and prosperity. But he will turn out to be far more than the world bargained for. He will be a dictator more cruel and powerful than any other leader the world has ever known. This man, often called the Antichrist, will be the culmination of a long line of would-be world conquerors. What men like Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors in ancient times and Hitler and Stalin in modern times only dreamed of doing, the Antichrist actually will do—he will rule the entire world and receive its worship. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Revelation)
I believe that both viewpoints can be true. There can be no doubt that for John the Roman Empire is the beast that is exacting harsh persecution against the people of God, but at the same time history is drawing to a close and there will be other “beasts” who will arise. We don’t know when the final chapter of history will come, but we do know that there is an end to time as we know it. The same battles that have raged throughout human history will become intensified and reach their climax with God winning the final battle.
If we continue to read in Revelation 13 then can learn that the first beast had great power and authority as well as a throne—all of these were given to him by the dragon. One of the heads of the beast had a wound that seemed to be fatal, but the fatal wound had been healed. There has been much discussion about the seemingly fatal wound of one of the heads of the beast. Those who view this passage as strictly speaking about the end of time believe that the Antichrist will suffer this seemingly fatal wound, but for those in John’s day they had to have been reminded about a rumor that had circulated for years about Emperor Nero.
Nero was a madman. A cruel, evil emperor who murdered family members, kicked his pregnant wife to death, and launched a wide-spread persecution of Christians in 64 A.D. Ancient Christian Church Fathers like Tacitus and Pliny the Elder wrote about Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and Apollonius of Tyana even called Nero a “beast.” These facts would certainly support the idea that Nero could be one of the seven heads of the beast of Revelation 13, but they don’t really address “one of the heads that seemed to suffer a fatal would and yet recovered.” Not yet anyway.
Public opinion had turned against Nero in 68 A.D. and so instead of enduring the label of “Public Enemy #1,” Nero took his own life in June of 68 A.D. He was given a public funeral, but a rumor spread that he wasn’t really dead. Many people believed that he had gone to Parthia where he would stay in hiding until he reemerged at a later time to reclaim his Empire. During the next 20 years several pretenders came forward claiming to be Nero. We have to remember that it was one of the heads that was seemingly fatally wounded and not the beast himself. Revelation 13:3 tells us,
3 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. (Revelation 13:3 NIV)
If one of the heads of the beast was Nero then how did his death affect the Empire? Great question. At the news of Nero’s death the Empire was ecstatic, but the joy soon turned sour as chaos broke out in the Empire. Edicts were issued in Nero’s name as if he was still alive. In 69 A.D. one of Nero’s imposters led a revolt against Rome. As late as 88 A.D. one of Nero’s imposters nearly persuaded the Parthians to march against Rome. The revival of Nero’s persecution emerged under Domitian’s dominance of the Christians.
We read in verse 3 that the whole world was “astonished” and followed the beast. The Greek word for astonished is, “qauma,zw” (thaumazo) and the word means, “to wonder, marvel, or to admire.” The word is used 47 times in the Greek New Testament.
We can see that it was the astonishment of the world at the beast’s recovery that led to their going astray. We really need to heed the lesson from this verse. Today there are so many who are so easily duped by power, supposed miracles, and the like. Just because someone does something marvelous or miraculous doesn’t mean that we should follow them. We follow no one but the Savior!
I mentioned to you in the beginning of our study that we are seeing an unholy trinity emerge, a counterfeit trinity if you will. Let me give you an example from our study of the first beast. There are parallels between the first beast and the life of our Savior. I’ve gathered these from the footnotes of The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible.
1) The beast is an image of the dragon from Revelation 12:3. Both have seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns. Jesus is the exact representation of Almighty God as Hebrews 1:3 tells us.
3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)
2) The beast has ten crowns while Revelation 19:12 tells us that Jesus has many crowns.
3) The beast has blasphemous names written on him, while Revelation 19:12 tells us that Jesus has a worthy name, unknown to anyone else, written on Him.
4) The beast has a seemingly fatal wound that he overcomes. This is a counterfeit of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The beast’s healing is one of the principal features that attract his followers, just as the resurrection of Jesus is one of the principal points of the demonstration of Jesus’ divinity.
5) Worship is directed both towards the dragon and beasts, just as we worship both the Father and the Son. We read in John 5:22-23.
22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:22-23 NIV)
6) The beast attracts the worship of the whole world, just as Jesus is to be worshiped universally. Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi,
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
7) The beast utters blasphemies, while Jesus utters the praises of God (Hebrews 2:12).
8) The beast makes war against the saints, while Jesus makes war against the beast (Rev. 19:11-21).
If you will remember the vision that John had was based in Daniel 7 in Daniel’s dream of the four beasts. It is important for us to understand Daniel’s time and the situation that was taking place during his lifetime in exile, living in Babylon. In Daniel 3 we read about King Nebuchadnezzar.
1King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:1-6 NIV)
Most of you have heard about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and how they were thrown in the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to anyone but God. What you may not be aware of is that Daniel, serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration, spoke boldly to King Nebuchadnezzar about the judgment that awaited him if he didn’t repent of his god complex. Daniel didn’t try to bully Nebuchadnezzar, he simply waited until God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream that he couldn’t understand. Nebuchadnezzar called on Daniel to interpret the dream. In Daniel 4:24-27 you can read about Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel told the King to repent of his sin or judgment would come. Nebuchadnezzar listened to Daniel, but Daniel’s words went in one ear and out the other. Judgment came. In Daniel 4:33-37 we read about what happened.
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. 34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:33-37 NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar finally got it right. It took a huge slice of humble pie for him to learn it, but he finally got it right. “Those who walk in pride He is able to humble!” There is no God, but our God!
The beast, be it Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Hitler, some beast setting himself against God today, or the Antichrist to come, they have not and will not prevail. We read in our Scripture for today that the beast utters blasphemies against God, that he wears blasphemous names on his head. S. Lewis Johnson in his sermon on this section of Revelation says,
John wrote in a day in which there was a lot of blasphemy in the Roman Empire. For example Augustus Caesar was called ‘divus,’ or divine. The coins in the east had pictures of the Roman Emperor and on them was the word, ‘Theos,’ which means, ‘God.’ Nero had himself identified as the savior of the world. And finally, Domitian, who was Emperor in John’s day, wished to be addressed as ‘Dominus et Deus.’ And in fact whenever Domitian would make a proclamation he would say, ‘The Lord and God does so and so.’ In the Roman Empire this was common so you can understand why John, thinking about this, might even be thinking about the Roman Empire in his day as typical of the final form by which the names of blasphemy would be applied. (S. Lewis Johnson, Revelation)
The beast sets himself against God as a cheap imitation of the Savior and the world falls at his feet in worship. They cry out, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” (Revelation 13:4) I can answer that question quite easily. The beast, the dragon, and all of those who set themselves up against God are defeated. The only authority they have been given has been given by God, but as we read in Revelation 12, “…his time is short.” History has shown that every dictator, every leader, every person that sets themselves above the law, beyond accountability, and with no regard for the One who has given them their authority—they will be brought down and defeated. Pharaoh thought he could stand in God’s way, but we read in Exodus 15:9-11,
9 “The enemy boasted, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’ 10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. 11“Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:9-11 NIV)
There is no one like the Lord! Nobody on heaven can match His majesty and awesome power, no creature in all of the heavens can compare to His incomparable grace and Sovereignty, and there will never come one who can compare to our glorious God. Psalm 89:6-8 says,
6 For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? 7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. 8 O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psalm 89:6-8 NIV)
Throughout history there have been antagonist and agitators, harassers and hustlers, devilish dictators and diabolical destroyers, but they are gone now, they met their match and proved to be no match for our Lord and God. In every generation there will arise new agitators and persecutors of God’s people, but they will fail while our God will triumph once again. He’s sporting an undefeated record and there is no challenger to His throne. God spoke to the people of Isaiah’s day, a people who knew what it was to suffer and question if God was still on His throne and God said,
3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. 5 “To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? 6 Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. 7 They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles. 8 “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. 9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:3-9 NIV)
Listen my friends! Throughout the ages God has reminded His people, and He is reminding us today, we will go through trials, the enemy will continue to raise His ugly head, but we are to hold fast to the faith in our Savior! The victory is ours—not because we are able, but because He has conquered every foe and claimed the victory for you and me.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st