THE BOOK OF REVELATION
THE CHURCH'S TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST
Sermon #45 - Guidelines to Determine the Identity of the Beast - Revelation 13
INTRODUCTION - We are now beginning a study of the one chapter in Revelation which has generated an incredible amount of speculation and fanaticism from both the world and Christianity. This is the chapter which contains the subject of the Beast, his mark, and the infamous number 666. Both Hollywood and Christianity have cashed in on this theme as we are told about a dark and sinister man in the future who will be a great world ruler, putting his evil mark on all who will bow to him, and killing all those Christians who oppose him. This enthusiasm has motivated men throughout history, and especially in our own prophecy-glutted age, to try and figure out who this person is. If we are going to try and come to a sane, rational, and biblical understanding of the Beast of Revelation, we are going to have to set aside all the fanaticism of our day and endeavor to remain with the text of Scripture. This fanaticism has weakened the reputation of evangelical Christianity as supposed prophets have risen from our midst claiming to know the future through the book of Revelation. They are constantly taking the latest world event and plugging it into the book of Revelation. This had led to countless failed prophecies and assumptions, which has disgraced the Church of Jesus Christ. Instead, we are going to see from our study that the Beast is not some futuristic figure, but that the Beast has already come and gone. He was a first century figure, who lived and died during the time of the early church. This certainly takes all the fun out of our present day obsessions, but will hopefully bring the church back to her proper mandate of conquering the world in the name and Gospel of Jesus Christ. This morning we shall simply lay down some key principles taken directly from the text of Revelation which will help us determine the identity of the Beast.
1) THE BEAST MUST HAVE THE NAME OF A MAN - Revelation 13:18 - John tells us that he has a human being in mind as he writes. The beast is not a demon, nor does the beast represent a world philosophy or religion. He is an actual person in world history, so we must be looking for a definite individual.
2) THE BEAST MUST BE AN EVIL, IDOLATROUS, AND BLASPHEMOUS PERSON - Revelation 13:2, 4-7 - This man derives his power and authority from the devil himself, thus, his character is going to be extremely evil. He will be an enemy of the church and will blaspheme the name of God.
3) THE BEAST MUST POSSESS GREAT POWER AND AUTHORITY - Revelation 13:2,7 - He is a political figure, a world leader, having an incredible amount of power given to him by the devil. Every tribe, tongue and nation are ruled by him.
4) THE BEAST IS ACTUALLY PRESENTED TO US IN TWO DIFFERENT FORMS - Revelation 13:1; 17:9-11 - Though initially he is presented as a singular man, as one reads through Revelation, the identity of this man broadens into something greater. The beast will also come to represent the kingdom of this great ruler. Thus, the text will sometimes speak of him in the singular, and sometimes in the sense of his entire kingdom, both referring to the beast. Revelation 17 shows us the beast in this much broader interpretation. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, for we think of our President in the same way. He is a singular man who rules according to his character, and yet he is also the representative of the country. He is seen in both capacities. So, the beast of Revelation is both the man and the kingdom of that man.
Up to this point, most interpreters of Revelation will agree with these principles. He is an evil man in great authority over a world-wide kingdom. Yet with these principles he could end up being anybody! This is why there is so much speculation throughout history concerning the beast. Such general principles would produce an endless list of leaders. Yet John is informing us in Revelation 13:18 that the identity of the beast can be calculated and discovered. How do we do this with such general principles? We are going to add two more standards from the book of Revelation which will help us pinpoint the identity of this man.
5) THE BEAST MUST BE SOMEONE KNOWN BY THE EARLY CHURCH - We are in great error when we begin to read Revelation as a book dealing purely with futuristic events. If Revelation is to be interpreted the way it is understood today, we would have to say that the early church would never have come to understand it. It would have been a closed book to them. Yet, even we are not sure if we have the right interpretation, for, as we have seen so often through the decades, the meaning of Revelation has changed with the shifts in world history. The interpretations of the 1970's and 80's have been laid aside as new ones are being formed. We are all doomed to a life of continual misinterpretation if this is a book purely dealing with the future. Yet, if this is a first century book, for first century readers to interpret and clearly understand, filled with a message for the first century church, then, not only did they understand it, but we can be expected to understand it also. Is the book of Revelation a first century book which was clearly understood by the first century? In Revelation 1:4,11 we are told that the book was written to seven literal churches of that day. Do you honestly think that John would give them a book, telling that they will be blessed when they understood the message (Revelation 1:3), and yet this book would be impossible for them to interpret clearly? Do you think he would tell them that they could figure out who the beast was (Revelation 13:18), when in reality, the man's name would be impossible for them to decipher? Revelation's message was understood by the early church because it was written especially for that group of people. They knew exactly who the beast was for they were living under his domination and persecution. This is how we determine the name of the beast - he was a first century figure, well-known by the early church.
6) THE BEAST MUST BE REVEALED ON EARTH DURING THE DAYS OF THE WRITING OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION - When did John think the book of Revelation would be fulfilled? As we read the text, we find that John clearly believed the prophecies of Revelation would take place very close to its writing. He places key statements at the beginning and end of the book so that we will not be mistaken. The events of Revelation will "take place shortly, for the time is near" (Revelation 1:1,3; 22:6). The words which John uses to describe the fulfillment of Revelation literally mean "with speed, quickness, at once without delay, the events are right at hand, these things are about to happen." Christ speaks of delivering the church from a trial which (literally translated) "is about to come upon the whole world" (Revelation 3:10). John speaks to the early church in imminent terms. To try and say that he was speaking of events that would take place hundreds of years in the future would be a mockery to the early church, for there would be no comfort to them, no blessing or protection, no assurance for them as they underwent the great persecution of their day. John's message is particularly for the early church which was enduring through persecution and which was seeing the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New in Christ Jesus.
This is how we rationally and biblically ascertain the identity of the beast. The Scriptures tell us that he is a literal man, evil and blasphemous, the head and representative of a great empire which has great power, he is well known by the early church, and he appears during the first century of the church.