Satan And His Two Allies
Memory Text: “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and he went to wage war with the remnant of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17 (MEV).
Revelation 13 is an important chapter for Seventh-day Adventists. This section of the book (12-14) describes the war that began in heaven, and its impact on the earth. It is vital that the reader engages understandingly with the larger storyline. Beyond all religious or political powers, there is an unremitting foe who is attempting to subvert God’s rule in the universe. The narrative unfolds that truth, using a variety of characters and images. The quarterly ably unfolds the prophetic and historicist understanding of the symbols. There are complimentary truths that can be seen by a close reading of the chapter.
As the memory text indicates, the previous chapter ends with the dragon (Satan) enraged with the woman (the church) and then the dragon “went to wage war” against the woman’s offspring. The NASB accurately conveys the meaning with the translation the dragon “went off to make war.” The imagery is of Satan going in search of allies with which to wage this final conflict. His associates are found in chapter 13. Satan stands on the seashore, as if calling up his first helper in the battle. This imagery underscores Revelation’s theme, that behind any earthly religio-political reality, Satan is at work.
The chapter divides into two parts, there is a description of the sea-beast (13:1-10), and then a description of the second emissary, the land-beast (13:11-18). John indicates this division by using the expression, “I saw a beast coming up…” The union of the dragon, and his two associates form a counter-image to the One who sits on the throne, the slain Lamb, and the seven-fold Spirit. This correlation is drawn out in several ways.
First, within Revelation’s world, the throne of God (1:4; 4:2,3,5 etc.) is the opposite of Satan’s throne (2:13, 13:2). The throne is significant in the storyline. It is most frequently used to represent God’s rule and government. It underscores the major theme in Revelation -- who shall rule the universe. Second, the beast resembles the dragon in key ways. Both have seven heads and ten horns and are wearing diadems (12:3; 13:1). In the narrative only Satan, the sea-beast and Christ have diadems, indicating a kingly power. The location of diadems is important as well. The dragon bears the diadems upon his heads, while the sea-beast bears them on his horns. This demonstrates that the dragon is the ruling authority in the unholy triumvirate. In this way, the narrative depicts Satan as a counterpoint to God. Third, the dragon gives his throne to the sea-beast (13:2). One of the main points in the conflict is underscored when Satan claims his own throne and then transfers it to the beast. As Christ joins the Father on His throne (3:21), the beast joins the dragon in sharing the throne, stressing the nature of the counterfeit and the attempts at overthrowing the rule of God.
Additionally, the sea-beast has the spotlight thrown upon it because the dragon is now working through this power. Although out of sight, the dragon is still actively executing his satanic schemes. That the beast and the Lamb both receive a deadly wound is frequently noted as the most striking aspect of the counter-imaging that John employs (5:6; 13:3). The implication behind the imagery is that the Lamb has experienced a resurrection by the power of God. The sea-beast likewise experiences such a resurrection by the power of the dragon. This should not be misconstrued as denying the historic fulfillment that the lesson points out. Nevertheless, John using verbal threads to weave a tapestry, demonstrates that the sea-beast is an anti-Christ figure. Although this power is unquestionably evil, it’s claim to be godlike is persuasive and is accepted by many (13:4). As the Lamb has ransomed believers from “every tribe, and language, and people and nation” (5:9), so the beast has authority over the same group (13:7).
One of the most striking aspects of the attempts of the dragon to act as God, often goes unnoticed in a surface reading of this chapter. Throughout Revelation, John frequently uses the passive form of the word “give” (was given), to highlight God’s activity behind the scenes (6:2,11; 7:2; 8:2; 12:14; 19:8; 20:4). The same phrase is repeatedly used in (13:5 (2x), 7 (2x), 14, and 15.) It is common among interpreters to see this as another use of this “divine passive”, a circumlocution to speak of God’s work. However, the text pointedly moves the reader in a different direction. Twice John tells us that the dragon gives power, throne, and authority, to the sea-beast (13:2,4). This is followed by the passive voice in the following verses. The most natural reading of the passage is that now the dragon is the behind the scenes actor. John signals to us Satan’s role in giving the sea-beast and the land-beast their position in the controversy, as part of his attempt to gain jurisdiction over God’s kingdom.
Blending both the prophetic fulfillment, as well as the import of Revelation’s narrative, Ellen White knowingly comments:
“Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church…The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church...This compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in the development of the ‘man of sin' foretold in prophecy as opposing and exalting himself above God. That gigantic system of false religion is a masterpiece of Satan's power, a monument of his efforts to seat himself upon the throne to rule the earth according to his will.” Great Controversy 49, 50.
The land-beast is the third character in this unholy union. While it appears as the lamb, John’s favorite symbol for Christ, it is controlled by the dragon (13:11). This second creature is later called the ‘false prophet’ (16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and uses miraculous signs to accomplish its task. The main goal of this beast is to get people to worship the sea-beast (13:14), which in turn is to worship the dragon (13:4). The main characteristic of this power is its deceptive nature. It works to deceive the inhabitants of the earth, emulating the main traits of the dragon (13:14). While Elijah called fire from heaven as a demonstration of the power of the true God (1 Kings 18:38, 39), the false prophet does the same to promote false worship.
However, while these three powers unite to bring an almost overwhelming delusion upon the earth, there will be those who remain faithful to Jesus Christ. These are the ones whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life (3:5; 13; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27). The way to ensure that your name is written there, is to be clothed in white, depending fully on Jesus’s intercession (3:5).
“In the last great conflict of the controversy with Satan those who are loyal to God will see every earthly support cut off. Because they refuse to break His law in obedience to earthly powers, they will be forbidden to buy or sell. It will finally be decreed that they shall be put to death. See Revelation 13:11-17. But to the obedient is given the promise, "He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure." Isaiah 33:16. By this promise the children of God will live.” DA p. 121-122.
From an earthly point of view, the sea-beast looks amazing and the whole world follows after it. The deceptions of the land-beast are almost overwhelming. However, from a heavenly perspective, the sea-beast looks like a grotesque figure, an amalgamation of creatures. The land-beast is simply a voice for the dragon. May we learn to see behind the curtain as it were, and live with the heavenly point of view.