THE SERPENT AND THE SEED OF THE WOMAN (Rev 12:1-6)
1. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, 2. and she was with child and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. 3.And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red Dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth. And the Dragon stood before the Woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5. And she gave birth to a Son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was caught up to God and to His Throne. 6. And the Woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she might be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
In this chapter, we are taken back to the birth of Christ. This is a big jump away from the previous chapter and will confuse the novice. The reason we are taken back to the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry is that John wants us to change our thinking and take a new view of the events that are about to be described. The first 11 chapters describe the victory of Christ the King over His enemies as viewed from the throne (Rev 4:1). The last 11 chapters are spent describing the victory of the Church over her enemies, ending with the revelation of her true identity. She is the bride of Christ, the true temple, the New Jerusalem. Chapter 12 opens with Satan’s attempt to destroy Christ and this event gives meaning to the persecution of the Church that follows. The angel of the Abyss is now the great red dragon. The war goes on but our viewing seat is now on earth, ringside.
Firstly, we are introduced to a woman, which is a picture of God’s covenant-keeping people. The fact that she is seen clothed tells us that she is not Old Testament Israel, often pictured naked in sin (Eze 16, 23). She represents those within the twelve tribes (stars) of Israel that were true covenant-keepers, clothed with righteousness (Ro 13:14). It was faithful Israel that laboured to bring forth the Messiah, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Revelation 7:10-11 (which interfaces neatly with this passage), and it is faithful Israel that we read about here.
Another sign now appears in heaven: a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns. The dragon is Satan the Serpent, and dragon imagery is used here as an extension of its use in several Old Testament passages, notably Psalm 74:13-14 and Isaiah 51:9-10. The connection between the dragon/Beast and political institutions has been mentioned before. In this instance, the ruthless murder by Herod of all Bethlehem’s infants under the age of two was the political expression of the dragon’s efforts to devour the child of the woman.
There is a connection here with the beasts of Daniel 7 that needs to be mentioned. Although there were only four beasts mentioned by Daniel, the third (Da 7:6), had four heads, giving a total of seven for the group as a whole. The fourth beast had ten horns (Da 7:7). John now is telling us that the ancient empires represented by the beasts of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, were parts of the dragon’s plan to entrench himself as the ruler of the earth. The dragon, as the master puppeteer, is now plastered with all the attributes of his individual puppets.
The dragon’s tail now sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven and throws them to the earth. John has already associated stars with angels, so the imagery here is a description of the fall of one third of the angels of heaven who followed Satan in his rebellion. A quick reading ahead to verse 9 will spell the event out clearly.
Satan did indeed try to devour the child of the woman, Christ the babe, in Bethlehem all those years ago. But that event was actually the culmination of many attempts by Satan to devour the seed of the woman between Eden and Bethlehem. The attack on Abel, the attempted rape of Sarah, the murder of all Hebrew infants in Egypt, the merciless attacks by Saul on David, the destruction of the whole royal family of the house of Judah by Queen Athaliah, the all-out attack on the Jews by Haman, and the numberless babies sacrificed to Molech are all attempts to destroy the seed of the woman before the coming of Immanuel. Satan failed, of course, and he will continue to fail in all his plans for God’s world. In the instance mentioned here, Herod also failed. Satan, therefore, looked for another opportunity. It came 33 years later.
John now returns to Psalm 2 to collect some symbols that explain who this male child is. The event and its purpose are combined into one statement—Christ the male child will rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Next, John says her child was caught up to God and to His throne. John deliberately bypasses the ministry, death and atonement to emphasise Christ’s complete escape from Satan’s clutches and His ultimate purpose in coming to earth, to establish His kingdom authority over our planet and to rule it from his throne in heaven. The ascension was the goal of the Immaculate Conception.
The flight of the woman into the desert occurs after the child is caught up to God and to his throne. It is a picture of the historical flight of the early Church out of Israel during the Jewish wars. God prepared a place for His church away from the foaming anger of the dragon. As we have seen in Revelation 11:2, the 1260 days connect to the 42 months of war and deprivation poured out upon Israel. Before the killing began in earnest, the Christian believers had already fled to the mountains (Mt 24:16-19).
WAR IN HEAVEN (Rev 12:7-12)
7. And there was war in heaven, Michael and His angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war. 8. and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.9. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world, he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been cast down, who accuses them before our God day and night. 11. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony,and they did not love their life even to death. 12 “For this reason, rejoice. O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
The events described here fit correctly between verses five and six. They fill in the gap between Christ’s descent and ascent that was left unaddressed in the first part of this chapter. We are not looking at a sequel to the flight into the desert, but an explanation of why the woman had to flee into the desert. Once that is done, John returns to the theme of the woman in the desert (verse 13).
The battle that now rages in verses 7-12 was part of Christ’s ministry on earth. It is a battle between Christ and Satan, with Christ is no longer pictured as a child but as Michael the archangel. It should not be a strange thought to us that Christ be described as an angel, as it occurs often in the Old Testament also (Ex 23:20-23, Jos 5:13-15, Jdg 6:11-14).
In fact, there are good reasons to believe that Michael is an Old Testament undercover name for Christ. The word ‘Michael’ means ‘Who is like God?’, and occurs only in Daniel, Jude and Revelation. In Daniel, Michael is portrayed as a chief prince (Da 10:13) who comes to rescue Gabriel from demonic resistance and is dressed in the same high priestly garments as Christ wears in Revelation 1:12-16 (Da 10:5-6). The twelfth chapter of Daniel’s prophecy is equally significant. Michael is not only described as the great prince, but also as the protector of the covenant people of God, the Israelites. Daniel also informs us that Michael will return to Israel at the time of great distress (Da 12:1), times, time and half a time (Da 12:7), the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished (Da 12:11), the abomination that causes desolation (Da 12:11), and the time of the 1,290 days (Da 12:11). That statement by Daniel is telling us that Christ, as Michael, was to return at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and we see that return verified in Revelation 12:7.
Jude goes on to describe Michael as the ‘archangel’ (Jude 1.-9), a term that means ‘chief of the angels’ or ‘commander of the army of the Lord’, an Old Testament description of Christ (Jos 5:13-15). The word ‘archangel’ is used in only one other location in the scriptures, and that is lThessalonians4:16, where it is used to describe the shout of Christ at the second coming. So, it seems that here in Revelation 12:7 we are reading about Christ’s battle with Satan during Christ’s earthly ministry, when all heaven broke loose on earth in many confrontations between Christ and the demons. Christ fought them and they fought back.
Satan was not strong enough and was defeated in direct fulfillment of the Edenic prophecy (Ge 3:15, Mt 16:18, Heb 2:14-15, 1 Jn 3:8). The defeat is described as the throwing down to earth of Satan (which in Greek is the same word used in the gospels for the casting out of demons). Some interpreters put this event at the end of the earth at Christ’s return. However, Christ left us a record as to when the hurling down took place (Lk 10:17-19): “And the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.’ And He answered them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.’” Satan was hurled down as part of the cataclysmic battle for authority over the earth and its people (Jn 12:31). The battle was initiated by Christ, not Satan (Rev 12:7). It was won convincingly by Christ (Col 2:15), and has resulted in the progressive deliverance of the earth and its people ever since. Satan is no longer the one who deceives the whole world; it has been wrested from him.
With the hurling down of Satan during Christ’s ministry, there came about the establishment of four significant changes to the earth and our existence on it. Note that these four changes are not things that will occur at the end of history with the return of Christ, but changes that have already been cemented into history at the first advent. They further confirm the mid-history timeframe for the hurling down of Satan. Firstly, salvation has come to the earth (Lk 1:69, Ac 4:12, Heb 5:9). Secondly, the power of the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh (Ac 1:8, 2Co4:7, Eph 1:9). Thirdly, the kingdom of our God has re-established control over the earth (Mt 12:28, Lk 11:20). Fourthly, and most significantly, the authority of His Christ now pervades every realm of existence (Mt 28:18-20, Lk 10:18-19). Contrary to popular pre-millennial teaching, the greatest battle in history is not soon to come but has long finished!
Armed with a deep understanding of the infinite victory of Christ over the accuser, John declares that the saints can now overcome him too. Their weapons are the shed blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony of that fact to the world. So revolutionary is the revelation of Christ’s victory that even death itself has no sting to Christ’s soldiers.
Those who dwell in heaven are now told to rejoice in the victory of Christ and the definitive establishment of His kingdom and authority. However, the term ‘dwell’ is misleading, as it suggests that those told to rejoice are already bodily resurrected. A more accurate term is ‘tabernacle’ and this helps us understand that John is talking about the Church, as it is the saints who tabernacle in heavenly places (Eph 2:6, Rev 7:15, 13:6).
But with Christ’s amazing victory comes Satan’s frustrated rage. He has been defeated in all his attempts to devour the Child, to fight against Christ’s ministry, and to defeat the saints in their mission. He now sulks off to the earth and the sea in fury at the disaster that has befallen him, and he knows that his time is running out. From Revelation 13, we know that the sea is a symbol for the heathen nations as represented by Rome, while the land is a symbol of pagan Israel. God is warning his readers that both Rome and Israel will become tools of the demonic powers in Satan’s angry but fruitless struggle against the infant church in the short time it is still connected to old Israel.
THE DRAGON ATTACKS THE CHURCH (Rev 12:13-17)
13. And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14. And the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, in order that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15. And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. 17. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
John returns now to the theme he left in verse 6, that is, the woman’s flight from the dragon. Although the woman is in flight from Satan, it is important to understand that Satan is not in control. Like a wild drunk charging around a hotel, Satan is in total reaction to his absolutely humiliating defeat at the hands of Christ. It is this message of total Christian victory alongside massive satanic persecution that goes to the very heart of the message of the book of Revelation. Satan tries to defeat the church precisely because he was defeated by Christ. This message must have been insightful and comforting to John’s First Century readers.
God now promises deliverance to his struggling, persecuted First Century church on the two wings of the great eagle. This is imagery dating back to the Exodus, where God says He delivered His people on the wings of an eagle from beastly Egypt (Dt 32:10-11). Deliverance on the wings of the Lord then becomes a familiar image in the Psalms (Ps 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 91:4). It certainly must have seemed like being on eagles wings when, after having obeyed the prophecy of Matthew 24:15-18, the early Christians heard from their desert hideouts of the terrible destruction that had befallen those Jews who had stayed behind in the 70AD siege of Jerusalem. The use of the phrase ‘times, time and half a time’ is borrowed from Daniel and is used to reinforce the nature of the event. It is a half seven, a time of death, war and privation, as explained in the notes on Revelation 11:2.
The exodus imagery continues with John’s description of the deliverance of the Jewish believers in a way that resembles the deliverance of the Israelites through the Red Sea. Pharaoh thought the Red Sea would spell disaster for the Israelites, but it was split and proved to be the Israelites’ deliverance. John is telling his readers that Covenant Israel’s back is yet again against the wall and the enemy is coming in like a flood. However, God will raise up a standard against him. Soon the ultimate deliverance will come, when the apostate Jews of Israel will swallow up the attack that was intended to destroy the Church. Satan’s plan will be deflected toward God’s use. By the time Rome launches its final attack on Jerusalem, the ‘”woman” has long gone.
Thwarted in his attempt to destroy the Jewish believers, Satan marches off through the mists of history to attack the predominantly Gentile church throughout the Roman Empire. Later, other chapters of Revelation will show Satan completely thwarted in this attack also. After all, history is now simply a spiritual mopping-up operation.
Interestingly, John defines membership in this church the same way he does in his previous writings. He tells his readers that the true offspring of the woman are those who keep the commands of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (1 Jn 2:3-4, 5:3). Obedience and faith, you cannot separate them because they are the two sides of the one coin.
THE BEAST FROM THE SEA (Rev 13:1-10)
1. And he stood on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed, And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the Beast, 4. and they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying: “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” 5. And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to make war for forty-two months was given to him. 6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, those who dwell in heaven. 7. And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes, if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the- faith of the saints.
Firstly, it needs to be pointed out that, according to the Greek text it was John, and not the dragon, who stood on the shore of the sea. The Greek, transliterated into English, says: “And I stood on the sand of the sea.” John has now been transferred from the vantage point of the throne (Rev 4:1) down to the earth so that he can clearly view the events about to unfold.
We have already been introduced to the concept of the beast in previous chapters, so it should not surprise us to see the Roman Empire pictured here again as the beast. This time, additional information is given. The picture of the beast coming up out of the sea is an apt description of the power of Rome dominating the Mediterranean Sea. However, the term ‘sea’ does not just have a literal meaning, as the text tells us in Revelation 17:15 that the waters surrounding the beast from the sea are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The sea represents the swirling mass of humanity that made up the multicultural Roman Empire. This godless empire was the sum of its parts (Is 57:20).
An understanding of the dragon’s ten horns and seven heads has been given in the commentary on chapter 12:3. Here again, we see Satan transferring his power and authority to an earthly political entity in his quest to rule the earth in defiance of God. In chapter 17:12, the meaning of the ten horns is given, they represent the governors of the ten imperial provinces, while the seven heads represent the line of the Caesars (Rev 17:9-11).
Just as the Jewish high priest had a title on his forehead that said ‘Holy to the Lord’, so these seven Caesars have blasphemous names and titles. Each emperor was called Augustus, meaning ‘one to be worshipped’ (Ethelbert Stauffer, Ibid.) and the worship of the emperor was a deep-rooted sin throughout the empire. The later Caesars even took on the title ‘Theos’, meaning ‘God’.
The Roman Empire is now further symbolised as a leopard, a bear and a lion. These are the three animals used by Daniel to describe the empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece. The fourth beast, Rome, partakes of the swiftness, ferocity and appetite of the other three, but is much worse in its attack against the will of God (Da 7:7).
Just as the human race is identified under the term ‘Adam’, and that 19th-century England is called the ‘Victorian era’ in honour of Queen Victoria, so it is that Biblical images can flow between the group and the one who represents the group, the one who embodies all of the group’s characteristics. In this case, we will see in later chapters how Nero, as the filthy, murdering, homosexual, sadistic, perverted embodiment of the empire, is also, along with the empire itself, given the title ‘beast’.
John observes that one of the heads of the beast has had a mortal wound but that his fatal wound has healed. Knowing of the beast’s close link with the dragon, this image should remind us of the mortal head blow that God promised Satan back in the garden (Ge 3:15). Christ delivered this crushing blow and the church exploded across the empire to the point that even some from Caesar’s own household came into the faith (Php 4:22). In the early years of the Gospel, Caesar Tiberius officially requested that the Roman senate acknowledge the divinity of Christ. However, the request was rejected (Tertulian, “Apology” (“The Anti-Nicene Fathers”, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed, Eredmans, 1973), chapter 5). In later years, the Romans, often at the instigation of the Jews, would launch devastating attacks on the church, which resulted in a great falling away (2Ti 3:1-9, 12-13, 4:10-16, Tit 1:10-16).
So, the head wound inflicted by Christ seemed to recover and demand worship from all over the empire. In the imperial worship of the Caesars, Satan could laugh because he was the one receiving defacto worship instead of the one true God. This is why the text says that as the people of the earth wandered after the beast, they would be worshipping the dragon himself. The herd instinct of the spiritually blind crowd is as strong a magnet today as it was then. Today, it is the worship of self, back then it was the worship of the state as represented by its head (Jn 19:15).
The Roman persecution of the Christians is still remembered throughout the world some two thousand years after the events occurred. Perhaps, in the mind of God, this passage was a warning of the coming of these full-scale persecutions of Christians under Caesar Nero between the years 64ADand 68 AD. The legends of the throwing of believers to lions and other wild animals, the lighting of asphalt-covered Christians as torches to become the first ‘Roman candles’, and the flight of Christians to the catacombs all date from this time. It is important to note that Nero’s persecution lasted from November 64AD to June 68AD, corresponding exactly to the 42 months mentioned here by John. For 42 months, Nero opened his mouth to blaspheme against God, to make war against the saints and to overcome them.
John tells his readers that the beast will be worshipped by everyone whose name has not been written from the world’s foundation in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. The Bible speaks of worship in terms of both formal adoration and practical, everyday allegiance and obedience. It is the second form of worship that is described here. It is akin to the type of allegiance citizens of former communist countries were required to give to the state.
John now admonishes his readers to be prepared for a time of hardship, slavery and death under both Rome and Satan’s anger. Perseverance and the faith of the saints are called for in the face of death and slavery. John is telling his readers that victory is not the absence of persecution, but the inclusion of our names in God’s heavenly register. Victory for the Christian is not triumph over adversity, but faithfulness unto death through adversity (Ro 8:35-37, Rev 12:11). Ouch!
T H E B E A S T F R O M T H E L A N D ( R e v 1 3 : 1 1 – 1 8 )
11. And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. 12. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13. And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14. And he deceives those who dwell in the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell in the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. 15.And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead, 17. and he provides that no one should be able to buy or sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man, and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Another beast now appears to rise out of the land. We already know that beast refers to a political/social expression of Satan’s goal of thwarting God. John, by telling us that this beast rises out of the earth (Greek: ‘ge’, soil, land or country), is showing his readers that the emphasis has now shifted to the apostate nation of Israel. It will add to our understanding if we take note of the fact that the land beast is closely associated with the imagery of the false prophet that is introduced in later chapters (Rev 16:13, 19:20). Historically, false prophets appeared only in the land of Israel, not foreign lands. They arose only from within the prophetic community. Christ had already warned his Jewish listeners to be on guard against the Jewish false prophets that were soon to come (Mt 7:15, 24:5&11).
To add to the point being made, this beast has two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. Christ had already prepared John’s listeners for this description by warning his listeners (Mt 7:15, 24:5, 1) “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” The false prophets described by Christ had the look of a covenant-keeper but the heart of a covenant-hater. They were wolves, beasts!
This second beast is described as a mouthpiece of the first beast. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. This is a not-too flattering, but fitting, description of the Israelite leadership’s complete subservience to Rome. Israel was a spiritual sub-agent of corporate Rome, and the book of Acts is full of instances where the two beasts joined forces against the church (Ac 4:24-28, 12:1-3, 13:8, 14:5, 17:5-8, 18:12-13, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:2-3,9,24). However, the supreme example of the groveling, slithering attitude of Israel has to be the denunciation of Christ in favour of Caesar, made by the ordained priests of Israel before Pilate (Jn 19:15). In effect, they said: ‘We only accept the authority and worship of Caesar, and we expect the rest of this nation to worship Caesar as we do.’
The beast from the land is now described as having the ability to perform great signs, even to the point of being able to call fire down from heaven in full view of men, a parody of Elijah. Let the words of Christ concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple frame our understanding of this verse: “For false Christ’s and false prophets will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (Mt 24:24) Again, in Matthew 7:22-23, Christ warned that false prophets would cast out demons, prophesy and perform miracles but end up in hell. The book of Acts goes on to record specific instances of Jewish sorcerers coming up against the authority of the apostles (Ac 8:9-24), one was even in the service of the Roman Proconsul of Cyprus (Ac 13:6-11), which is a fitting example of the land beast performing miracles in the service of the sea beast.
The land beast now orders the people under its control to set up an image to the beast that had the wound of the sword and has come to life. There has been much speculation about the meaning of this verse, so laying some foundations will help in getting a grip on what John was telling his readers. In Jewish talk, an image is another name for an idol, and the making of one was expressly forbidden (Ex 20:4, Lev 26:1, Dt 5:8, Ro 2:21-22). An idol can be anything in creation that takes the place of the creator (Ex 20:3). It is in this context that we must read this passage. We know already that we are dealing with political/social institutions as beasts, so it is most probable that this image of a beast was also a social institution that the Jewish people had set up and which did the bidding of Rome, an institution that blocked out the will of God in favour of the Empire. As the Church is the image, or body, of Christ, so this institution was the image of the empire in Israel.
The land beast was able to give breath to the image of the beast so that it spoke. The message for us here is probably more subtle than that of clever machinery. Throughout this whole passage, there has been a train of thought that satanic ally mirrors the trinity and the church. Just as the son of God is the likeness of the Father, so the sea beast is the likeness of the dragon. On the next level, the Jewish land beast flows under the authority of the Roman sea beast, just as the Holy Spirit flows under the authority of Christ on earth. Finally, just as the church is built by Christ and the Godhead, so the synagogue had become the godless, idolatrous image built by the Jews. The synagogue was the teaching mouthpiece of Judaism and according to Christ it had become the synagogue of Satan (Rev 2:9, 3:9). Instead of being a means to glorify God, it had become an end in itself, an idol that was the religious vehicle of power for the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. The synagogue was also a puppet of Rome, and proved to be the spearhead of the Jewish attack on the Church (Ac 4:1-3, 15-18, 5:17-18, 27-33, 6:8-15, 7:51-60, 9:1-2,23,29, 13:44-50, 14:2-5, 17:5-8, 20:3, 21:27, 23:12, 24:27, 28:17-29). When the synagogue spoke against the Church, it was as if it was an idol that could speak and bring about the destruction of as many as did not worship the image of the beast.
We now come to one of the most emotional and controversial sections of the entire Bible. More nights of sleep have been lost over these next three verses than nearly all other Biblical passages combined. The perpetual questions are: ‘Will the church of the future be forced to receive a literal tattoo on their hand or head in order to buy or sell? Will the number 666 be forcefully stamped on each one of us?’ Some readers have probably turned straight to this section just to find out!
The meaning of this passage should have been made clear in the comments made on Revelation 7:3. The saints called out of Israel in the First Century were sealed by the Holy Spirit for preservation, now the apostate Jews are sealed by the image of the beast for destruction. The concept of sealing the righteous begins early in the Old Testament with the marking of the High Priest’s forehead in Exodus 28:36. Deuteronomy 6:6-8 describes the binding of the Law onto the foreheads of the Israelite children. In Ezekiel 9:4, the righteous who grieve for Jerusalem are again marked on the forehead by an angel. In Ephesians 4:30, Paul tells us that the saints are sealed with the Holy Spirit. There are also the three references in Revelation itself that speak of the sealing of the righteous on the forehead by the Spirit of God (Rev 3:12, 7:2-4, 14:1). In none of these references is there any suggestion that this sealing/marking is a literal tattoo visible to other people. Rather, the intent is that the hearts of the saints have been sealed by the Spirit of God as a sign of ownership by Him, like cattle, our hearts have been branded to show the identity of our owner. In the same way, the Jews who refused to acknowledge Christ during the years 33AD to 70AD were handed over to Satan’s ownership. The numbering process is a transfer of ownership. God is telling John and his readers that these Jews are no longer His covenant children. They have made a covenant with the beast’s image, so are now the children of the beast.
John at last provides his readers with an identification of the beast using the numerical code six hundred and sixty-six. We know from scripture that six is the number of man trying tobe like God. Man was created on day six (so were the beasts). Six days out of seven were for human labour. Goliath was 6 cubits high (1 Sam 17:4). Solomon received 666 talents of gold at the height of his human wealth and glory (1Ki 10:14). King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue was 60 cubits high and 6 across (Da 3:1). On the sixth hour of the sixth day of the week, the kingdom of darkness pierced the heel of Christ on the cross (Lk 23:44). Now we have another piece in the puzzle. John says this number is the number of a man, and that his number is six hundred and sixty-six. In ancient times, there was no separation between numbers and letters, so letters were used as numerals for counting and writing (e.g. the Roman numerals I(1),V(5), X(10), L(50), C(100), M(500)). The alert readers in the seven churches would have immediately started doing mathematical calculations to work out whose name fitted the puzzle. By simply adding up the value of the letters in the names of several prominent persons, these alert listeners could have worked out to whom John was referring. But there was a catch: “Here is wisdom,” says John. Any alert Roman official scanning Revelation for subversive material would have easily worked out that Nero’s name added up to six hundred and sixty-six, if the additions were supposed to be done in Greek, which was the language of the manuscript. John, however, has cleverly disguised his clue so that the calculations have to be done in Hebrew, a language foreign to almost all Romans. Nero’s name does indeed add up to six hundred and sixty-six, but only in Hebrew.
Did the early readers connect Nero with six hundred and sixty-six? Apparently all the early church writers, from Irenaes down to Beatus in the 8th Century, connect Nero or on e of the Caesars to six hundred and sixty-six. (F.W. Farrar “The Early Days of Christianity”, (Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke and Co, 1882), P541). So, it seems that the intent of the code was well understood. It is because we live such a long time after these events that we get confused as to their meaning.
Any Jews who were willing to burn incense to Caesar were in no danger of imperial wrath, and were free to go about their commerce as they wished. They were acknowledging Caesar’s lordship over their lives and were free to buy or to sell. Likewise, Jews who acknowledged the authority of the Sanhedrin and accepted its influence through the synagogues was free to maintain their Jewish religious rights and privileges. It was the Christians who refused to bow the knee to both the synagogue and Rome. Consequently, the Christians were not allowed the full economic and religious freedom of Rome or Israel. They did not have the mark of the beast because they wholeheartedly served the one true God of the universe and were owned by Him, not by the Romans, Jews or anyone else. This is the meaning of six hundred and sixty-six.
THE LAMB AND HIS ARMY OF 144,000 (14:1-5)
1. And I looked and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 2. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3. And they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5. And no lie was found in their mouth: they are blameless.
Just as Psalm 2 describes the snarling anger of the heathen being subdued by the King on Zion, so here we see the futility of the beast’s anger because Christ is ruling the nations from Mt. Zion. The parallel is deliberate, as John stops the prophecy in this chapter to encourage his alarmed readers. He wants to show them the might of the hosts of heaven and the ultimate victory of the saints over the two beasts and the dragon through the Holy Spirit. The Lamb standing on the mountain is a potent symbol of Christ’s victory over all His enemies. Eden was the original mountain of God’s presence (Eze 28:13-14) and so, all through scripture, mountains become a major source of divine presence, instruction and authority (Mt. Sinai, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Zion, Mt. Carmel, the Sermon on the Mount, the Mount of Transfiguration and the Mount of Olives). Mt. Zion is the location of the temple in Jerusalem on which the presence of God rested. John now declares the Lamb to be standing on Mt. Zion, the place of divine rule over Israel.
Positioned with Christ in His place of divine rule over Israel are the one hundred and forty-four thousand. John here is rem