The Victory on Earth Begins

Chapter 13 of the Apocalypse raises a number of literary questions. Is it a vision, a revelation, or is it deliberately conceived and researched narrative of John to keep his congregations on high alert? John calls for alertness and endurance, verses 9-10, and for wisdom and understanding in verse 18. He has again used a variety of models of myth in his narrative. This chapter reaches back to chapter five in order to present a contrary perspective. The adversary of the divine imitates the victorious Lamb. It is instructive to compare vs. 13:2 with 5:12; vs. 13:7 with 5:9; vs. 13:4 with 5:12; vs 13:3 with 5:6. Earlier in 12: 9 we had encountered the dragon as the ancient serpent, Satan, the Devil, all defined as “the deceiver of the whole world.” In chapter 13 the deception reaches a new level. The beast is now presenting itself as the Lamb. The Empire and the Emperor are compared to the Lamb and the Church. The dragon, whom we last saw standing on the beach, gives his power to the beast. The idea is that Satan is empowering the Empire and the Emperor. Just as the Lamb was wounded for the sins of the world, so now the emperor is wounded. Just as people worshiped God and the Lamb, now they are encouraged to worship the empire and the emperor. Those who were not in the book of life, that is, those not yet baptized in the name of the Lamb would worship the dragon. The beast from the sea, that is, the one who represents chaos, pretends to look like the Lamb, the one who represents order and harmony. Once again there seems to be a deeply veiled allusion to two groups in conflict within the church, groups with very different ideas of theology and beliefs. Against this background of conflict and deception, the faithful are encouraged to endure, to remain alert, to be wise and understanding. That is, John is asking his churches to read this message and interpret the myth which they must have already known, to remain in the orthodox theology, so to speak. Within the empire the citizens are now given a mark that allows them to trade, the mark is the number 666, which is interpreted as the name of the emperor, Nero. In the midst of divided allegiance, the churches are called upon to remain faithful, and to persevere, for the victory of the Lamb is already accomplished.

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