20 July 2021

Ancient Beast

The “beast from the sea” is the latest incarnation of an ancient creature that has stalked the “seed of the woman” since the fall of Adam

Serpent - Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash
In broad terms, history repeats itself. Its landscape is littered with attempts by tyrants to dominate large populations and even the entire planet. They may have experienced success for a time, but so far, every presumed world ruler has floundered in the end. The empires of Nebuchadnezzar, Augustus, Hitler, etc, all have been confined to history’s dustbin - [
Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash].

This raises the fundamental question - Why? Does this dismal pattern repeat because men never learn? That is certainly the cynic’s explanation. Is it the product of collective human stupidity? Or are there nefarious groups of conspirators working behind the scenes to impose a New World Order?

The book of Revelation suggests another answer. In it, Satan is the “Dragon,” the “ancient serpent” who has been slithering behind the scenes since time immemorial as he seeks to defy the Creator of all things. He is an opportunistic predator. His tactics may vary, but the end goal remains the same.

But the Devil cannot defeat an omnipotent deity. Instead, his strategy is to destroy God’s greatest creation, mankind. And so, he attacks the people of God, and especially the King that He has appointed to reign over the earth and redeem men and women from every nation - (Revelation 5:6-14).

And in Revelation, we first find this “ancient serpent” poised to wage “war” against the “seed of the woman,” standing on the seashore while summoning his own “seed” to execute his “war” - the “beast from the sea” and the “beast from the earth.”

But this is the culmination of an ancient feud. The image in John’s vision echoes the story of the seduction of Adam and Eve by the “serpent” in the Garden. The present conflict is as old as humanity itself:
  • (Genesis 3:14-15, Revelation 12:1-17, 13:1-3 – “And the Dragon was enraged with the woman and departed to make war with the rest of her seed, those who have the testimony of Jesus”).
But John is NOT retelling the story of Eden. He is illustrating the ongoing cosmic conflict that manifests itself in the daily struggles of the “churches.” History “repeats” because the same malevolent creature has been conspiring against the people of God since Adam’s fall. But above all, this “war” is being waged in the lives of believers by the same “serpent” who has warred against the “seed of the woman” since man’s expulsion from Eden.

In Revelation, the “woman” represents either Israel or the faithful remnant of Yahweh within her that produced the “Son.” The application of the messianic prophecy from the second Psalm to her “Son” leaves no doubt about his identity - Jesus. The attempt to destroy him failed because God raised him from the dead and elevated him to His Throne – (“She gave birth to a son, a man who is going to rule and shepherd every nation with an iron scepter, and her son was caught up to God and to his throne”).

In this way, Satan “bruised” this son’s “heel” in death, but, in turn, his victory over death “bruised” the head of the “serpent.” Having failed to destroy both the “son” and the “woman,” the “serpent” redirected his “war” against her “seed,” that is, the overcoming saints who “have the testimony of Jesus” – (“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” - Genesis 3:15, Revelation 12:17).

The “beast from the sea” parallels Daniel’s vision of the “four beasts ascending” from the sea. And in Revelation, “ascending” translates the Greek participle in the present tense (anabainon), a progressive present that stresses action in progress, an ongoing process of ascent. John saw the “beast” in the very process of ascending out of the sea – (Daniel 7:1-4, Revelation 13:1-3).

In his vision, Daniel saw four “beasts” ascending from the sea. They represented four consecutive kingdoms “diverse one from another.” In contrast, John saw a single beast with the same animal characteristics as all four of Daniel’s beasts - the lion, bear, leopard, and the unnatural monster with “ten horns.”

Strikingly, Revelation lists these animals in reverse order. The monster with ten horns, the leopard, the bear, and the lion, as if John was looking backward through time from his first-century perspective.

The single “beast” in Revelation is an amalgam of all “four beasts” from the book of Daniel. It is related to those four earlier “beasts,” but it is also something beyond them, and presumably, far worse. It is related but not identical to the “four beasts” of Daniel.

The combination of these “four beasts” into a single creature suggests the “beast” is a trans-historical reality, a thing that has existed since the fall of humanity and appears periodically in history, though each time in a different guise. And there are scriptural precedents for this understanding.

For example, in his interpretation of the “great image” dreamed by Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel explained that four kingdoms would arise on the earth in succession, beginning with Babylon. This “great image” consisted of four distinct sections; nevertheless, it was ONE image.

In the end, the kingdom of God destroyed all four kingdoms represented by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when the “stone cut from a mountain” struck that ONEgreat image” on its feet, shattering the entire edifice - (Daniel 2:44).

In his later vision, Daniel saw the “fourth beast” destroyed and “burned with fire.” But the lives of the “rest of the beasts” were “prolonged for a season and a time.” In the interpretation, the “kingdom,” singular, was given to the “saints of the Most-High.”

In other words, the “lives” of the preceding “beasts” continued in the “life” of the “fourth beast,” the one with the “little horn speaking great things” - (Daniel 7:11-12, 7:27).

Likewise, in Revelation, when the “seventh trumpet” sounded a voice proclaimed that the “kingdom of the world,” singular, had become the “kingdom of our Lord and his Christ” - (Revelation 11:15).

Dinosaur Toy - Photo by Hannah Pemberton on Unsplash
Photo by Hannah Pemberton on Unsplash

This understanding becomes clear in the interpretation of the “
Great Whore” that John saw riding the “beast from the sea”:
  • (Revelation 17:8-11) “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to ascend from the abyss, and goes into destruction… The inhabitants of the earth saw the beast, how he was, and is not, and will come. Here is the mind that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits. And they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he is going into destruction.
The “seven heads” represent seven kingdoms, and that means the “beast” is something more than a single human ruler.  It “was, is not, and will come.” It has appeared in history more than once, and it will appear again.  Of the “seven heads,” five “are fallen,” one “is,” and another is yet to come. That is, by John’s time, five kingdoms had already come and gone, one existed, and another would yet appear on the earth.

In that historical context, the “fifth beast” could only be the Roman Empire, and that is why many commentators believe the final “beast” will be a revived Rome in some form. Whether that proves to be true, the final “beast” is “of the seven” but is also “an eighth.”

Its final incarnation will be of the same nature as its predecessors, but it will also be something beyond them. And it will wage “war on the saints” as part of Satan’s final attempt to destroy the people of God.

This reading of the “beast” is not allegorical. The prediction of a coming final “beast” that will attempt to annihilate the church is quite definite. But Revelation wants us to understand that this is an ancient battle that continues daily in the trials and tribulations of the church.

The final battle will occur in the “short season” allotted to the Devil at the end of the age when he will gather the nations of the earth for one final last attempt to destroy the “seed of the woman.” That effort will be thwarted at the last minute when God intervenes directly to destroy Satan and his forces, judge the nations, and usher in the “new heavens and the new earth” – (Revelation 20:7-9).

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