READ : Revelation 12 and 13
The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet are fierce enemies, but in Christ, God’s people overcome them.
Do you remember, in the letters to the seven churches, the wonderful promises made to
those who conquer, who overcome? The entire book anticipates and prepares God’s people for
a coming warfare and calls them to prevail.
Today mostly in chapters 12 and 13 of Revelation, we consider who these enemies are,
and how the people of God are to contend against them. The first enemy, most fearsome, the
dragon, is not a Roman political power or a religious hierarchy. He is Satan, the devil,
that old serpent, the age-old enemy of God, God’s purposes, and God’s people.
Let me pause a bit to speak of how New Testament writers view this enemy. Unlike the
outlook of some sophisticated moderns who dismiss the whole idea of a devil as only
primitive superstition, the whole New Testament views the existence and activity of the
devil with the utmost seriousness. New Testament Christians know that they are in a vast
spiritual conflict, and Satan is their great adversary. Listen to the apostle Peter: “Be
sober, be vigilant, your adversary, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion, seeking
someone to devour!” (Peter 5:8-9).
Or James: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Or the apostle
Paul, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God
that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11). The apostles
learned this, of course, from Jesus himself who encountered the tempter in the wilderness,
and stopped his attacks with the words of Scripture. Listen to Jesus’ words to some who
wanted to kill him: “You are of your father the devil, and you choose to do what he wants.
He is a murderer from the beginning; a liar and the father of lies.”
We can’t understand the New Testament if we ignore this sinister figure who is always
in the background. Dr. Bruce Metzger, a great New Testament professor at Princeton, had
this comment for those who scoff at all this: “The New Testament evidence for the
existence and activity of the devil is of the same character as that for the existence and
action of God.”
Satan is introduced here as a “great red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, seven
crowns on his head” — red to express danger, and violence — seven heads —
completeness of power; ten horns like the beast in Daniel’s vision.
But here’s the most striking feature of this passage about the dragon. He is shown to
be a defeated enemy! Remember how Jesus said on one occasion, “I saw Satan fall like
lightning from heaven”? Here we learn about a kind of war in heaven, in the spiritual
realm. Michael and his angels fight against the devil and his angels. And the devil with
all his associates is defeated and cast out.
This is the heavenly picture counterpart of what Jesus Christ accomplished in his death
and resurrection. The triumph of the Messiah is pictured here as a kind of holy war. This
victory of Jesus is a very common theme in the New Testament writings. Think about
Colossians chapter 2, how Jesus spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them
openly, triumphing over them in his cross. The letter to the Hebrews chapter 2: Through
death he destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. And then in 1 John
3:8 — “for this purpose the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works
of the devil.” The evil one thought he was destroying Jesus, but in the Lord’s self-giving
love, even to death, he conquered sin, death, and all the power of the devil.
But the evil one is not finished yet. The decisive battle has been fought and won, but
“mopping up operations,” as it were, continue. The devil keeps on fighting furiously
against the Lord’s people. His hostility to God, God’s cause, and God’s people continues
unabated. He is in great wrath, we read, because he knows that “his time is short.”
The First Beast
Now for the second enemy. The dragon crouches by the seashore, and John sees a great
beast rising from the sea. It resembles the dragon — ten horns, seven heads —
but its horns are crowns, and on it heads are blasphemous names. The dragon is the one who
gives the beast its power, its throne, and great authority. That is, the beast is an
instrument of the devil to carry out his murderous designs.
Most biblical interpreters see this first beast as representing the cruel, totalitarian
rule of Rome and other such powers. People are in awe of this great power. They worship
it, and in so doing actually worship the dragon, playing into the devil’s scheme and
power. Overwhelming political and military power seems to deceive fawning followers. They
sing the praises of the beast: “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?”
Here in a powerful way, John’s vision links the power of the devil with brutal
political regimes. The principalities and powers we read about in heavenly places show
themselves in human tyrants like these here. Think of how Germany in the 1930s stood in
awe of Adolph Hitler, believed his lies about a super-race, followed his murderous designs
against Jewish people and courageous Christians, and brought suffering on the whole world.
Lord Acton said it well: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When
rulers acknowledge no power higher than their own, they become the devil’s dupes and
instruments of his plans.
The Second Beast
Now another beast rises, this time out of the earth. It had two horns (like those of a
lamb) and when it spoke, the voice was that of a dragon. That is, it appeared lamb-like,
but brought a message that was false and destructive. Most interpreters see this beast as
Rome’s imperial priesthood, those who encouraged and advocated emperor-worship. Tyrannical
regimes tend to demand not only submission but also religious worship. They demand total
allegiance: body, mind, and spirit. That is the very problem to which Jesus spoke when he
said, “Render to Caesar (the emperor) the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things
that are God’s.”
This beast exercised the authority of the first beast (that is, state power). It
compelled the people to worship the first beast. And by amazing signs it deceives the
people (here in this deceit we see the beast’s alliance with the dragon.) Is there here a
kind of “trinity” of evil? This beast not only demands that the first beast (the power of
the state) be worshiped but actually enforces that requirement. Everyone is required to
worship the image of the beast. This reminds us of what happened in the time of Daniel.
Whoever refuses to worship the beast will be executed. And unless you have the mark of the
beast upon you, you will not be allowed to buy or sell anything.
In other words, political allegiance, religious worship, and even the means of
survival, all belong to the beast. Before John’s astonished eyes unfolds the vision of
what he and his fellow Christians will face in the days ahead. We can imagine how the
Christian confession of faith “Jesus is Lord” would be greeted under a regime like
How God’s People Conquer
Now we think of how God’s people conquer these powerful enemies! We also see moving
words in this passage about those who prevail in this warfare with the powers of evil.
Listen to these words from chapter 13: “The accuser of our brothers is cast down.” The
devil is seen here, remember, as the accuser of the brethren. But in the mighty
self-giving love of Christ, in dying for us and then conquering death, he has decisively
defeated the devil. So the first key to the saints’ conquering in the battle is this: They
overcame the devil by “the blood of the Lamb.” It is by faith in Christ and his saving
work on their behalf that they can resist the devil and see him flee. It’s by the name of
Jesus. Paul says,
Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
In ourselves, sinful and weak, we are no match for the Evil One. It’s when we put our
trust in Christ and call on his name and strength that we can overcome the devil —
and always by the blood of the Lamb, his marvelous atoning death for us.
But it’s also by the “word of our testimony.” Christians are called never to be ashamed
of Christ and his gospel, but are to confess him boldly before the world as their Lord and
Savior. Remember Polycarp who was the bishop of Smyrna? When he was 86 years old, he was
told that he had to renounce Christ or die, and he said, “Eighty and six years have I
served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I deny my king who saved me?”
And I know people — you know people — who have faced persecution and
possible death in that way. John himself was exiled to Patmos because of the Word of God
and the testimony of Jesus. He had boldly proclaimed that Jesus is Lord and was banished
for it. Believers remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever will confess me before men, him
will I confess before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). So we trust in Jesus for
forgiveness and strength and we bear our testimony.
But for these saints there was more. They did not cling to life, even in the face of
death. Not all would endure martyrdom but all would be ready to face it, if and when it
came. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone will come after me, let [that
person] deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”?(Matt. 16:34). Anyone of us who
follows Jesus isn’t necessarily going to be crucified, but we need to be ready to accept
all the risks of following Jesus even if that means death. Not many of us have had to face
that kind of threat, at least not yet. But hundreds of thousands of our brothers and
sisters face it each year. They know what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever wants to save
his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will find it
Hear finally this word in Revelation 13:10. Here is a call “for the endurance and faith
of the saints.” Here’s a call to “hang in there” no matter what comes, and to keep
trusting in our victorious Lord. Then we can be “more than conquerors through him that
loved us,” and all the promises made to overcomers will be ours. Amen.