Updated: Jan 11
I overheard my co-workers talking, “He stinks so bad I don’t think he’s bathed in months!”
Me? I wondered.
“I know! He’s so fat he makes noises when he breathes.”
They exploded in giggles.
I looked down at my belly. Do I? I thought to myself.
They went on. “He’s like so ugly he’s cute. You know what I mean?”
“Yes! Too bad he doesn’t make up for it in brains!”
They cried tears of laughter.
Without hearing this conversation’s context one could assume it was about them or a coworker instead of a pet.
Our Brains Fill in the Blind Spots
Everyone has blind spots in their vision (click here to find them), but we don’t see them because our brains fill in the gaps with images by guessing what’s there, then making us see it.
If you look at a green wall, your brain will fill in the blind spots with green. You won’t even notice.
We do the same thing when we hear a conversation out of context. Our brains fill in the gaps based on statistics from our experiences and perspectives.
In the fictitious example, I misunderstood my co-workers because I didn’t have the proper context.
Based on the context of this blog (which triggered your perspectives by the words and themes that were used) you can probably see where I’m going.
If we don’t know the Bible’s context we will fill in the gaps with our own our context.
And we won’t. Even. Realize it.
That’s why a thousand people can produce a thousand different interpretations of the same verse.
Revelation’s Multi-Dimensional Context
We learn the context of a verse in Revelation on many levels:
The flow of the passage
The Biblical story
The national culture: Hellenized Judaism in Rome
The geographical culture: Asia Minor
The linguistic culture (how they used words)
If we aren’t aware of the unique perspectives in each of these contexts, we’ll fill in the blanks with our own context, making this a my-perspective-centered interpretation.
That’s not good.
But this is: we can know the meaning because God has given us access to the multi-dimensional context of the Bible.
We just have to look.
Who is the Beast?
John sees one of the world’s most infamous beasts in Revelation 13.
Here’s what he says about it:
It comes out of the sea
Has ten horns
Like a leopard
Feet like a bear
Mouth like a lion
Empowered by a dragon
Has a head killed that comes alive
Has authority over the earth
Has authority for 42 months
Institutes a commerce-controlling mark
The world follows it
The world worships it
First let me say that I’m aware there are people who are smarter than me, older than me, more educated than me, and more like Jesus than me who interpret this passage differently than I do. And that’s okay with me.
I just want to educate and edify, not bring disunity and discord.
Here's the Biblical context, starting with Revelation.
From the flow of Revelation, we know that the Dragon (Satan) already tried to destroy the Messiah, but failed (12:3-5). Now he tries to destroy Christians, who are those who “hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (12:17).
The dragon raises up beasts to dominate the world then demand full allegiance with the threat of losing one’s job, property, or being executed (Rev. 13:17).
Jesus eventually defeats the dragon and the beast.
That’s Revelation’s context.
What does the Old Testament context say about the beast?
The imagery of beasts in Revelation 13 is borrowed from Daniel who saw an identical vision.
Here’s what John repeats from Daniel 7:1-8:
Rising out of the sea
Like a lion
Like a leopard
Like a bear
Mind of a man
A mouth speaking “great things” (like blasphemy)
John and his readers would have easily detected these details and linked them to their Old Testament passage.
But for us 21st-century readers, we need to dig that ancient perspective up.
We need to look at the:
Passage of the image
Circumstances of the passage
Flow of the thought
Purpose of the book
We also need to look at how this looks in the context of Jesus.
Then we can plug this into Revelation’s image to see what John’s first audience would have seen.
That’s the passage, now here's the circumstance: Daniel writes during the exile under Babylonian rule when God’s people were asking him to save them from foreign rulers.
God answered in a series of visions given to Daniel, one of which is about four beasts who represent four kingdoms (Dan. 7:17). Each kingdom conquers the previous one until the fourth kingdom is conquered by God’s kingdom, which is ruled by God’s king, the “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:9-14).
One day God will right all wrongs.
That means the Son of Man would arise during the reign of the fourth kingdom.
Who is this fourth beast?
Many Jews in Jesus’ day recognized that Rome was the fourth kingdom. History also verifies this fact: Daniel was in the Babylonian empire which was conquered by Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans.
God’s chosen king would come during the Roman kingdom.
And he did.
Jesus claimed to be this “Son of Man” (Matt. 9:6).
Jesus claimed that “the kingdom of God is arriving” (Matt. 4:17).
Jesus fulfills this prophecy in surprising ways.
Let’s Plug This into Revelation
The beast of Revelation would have very likely been seen as the Roman empire.
The Roman empire was like John’s beast because it was:
The final beast of Daniel
The empire of Jesus and John’s day
Ruled by seven prior emperors (like the seven heads)
Ruling the “earth”
Note: “Earth", "world", and "all creation” sometimes refer to the Middle East: see Col. 1:23 where the gospel was already preached to “all creation”, or Acts 11:28 where a famine that affected only part of the Middle East was “over all the world”. Also Acts 17:6, 19:27, 24:5, and Rom. 1:8.
And the Roman emperor did what the beast does:
Claims to be God (the Son of God, and the Lord)
Clearly speaks blasphemies
Demands worship as a god
Claims to rule the whole world
Kills all who refuse to worship him (especially Christians)
Prevents Christians from being able to openly buy, sell, or trade
The Beast Today
Since John’s beast is a hybrid of all four of Daniel’s beasts with some features clearly linked to Rome, and based on the nature of apocalyptic literature, there is good reason to link all world systems and empires with the beast of Revelation 13.
The Bible claims this very thing by saying that Satan:
Is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
Is the force behind all wicked choices (Eph. 6:12)
Works through all unbelievers (Eph. 2:2, Acts 26:18)
Works through rulers (Dan. 10:13, Jn. 8:44)
Worked through rulers already (2 Th. 2:4-7)
Worked through antichrists already (1 Jn. 2:18, 2 Jn. 7)
The beast is every system not under Christ
The beast lives today and will fight the saints until Jesus’ return
We can identify with the saints persecuted by John's beast, Rome
Our only allegiance is king Jesus
Invisible armies, not people, are our enemies
Our weapons are patience, forgiveness, sacrifice, and enemy-love
We endure by eagerly waiting for our king’s return
We're steadfast by believing God will right all wrongs
One day, we will be free of Satan, lies, sin, corruption, and death
One day the “saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (Dan 7:18).
One day we’ll rule with Christ as God designed (Gen. 1:28).
John says his message is to give Christians “endurance and faith” (Rev 13:10).
This is that encouraging message:
Keep trusting God
Keep waiting for him
Keep adoring him
Keep reminding yourself of his goodness
Keep reminding yourself of this gospel
Keep striving to replicate this goodness
Keep testifying to the power of Jesus’ resurrection love.
There are still questions about this we’ll look at next time, but until then: much love fellow saints of the Most High!