What does the book of Revelation say? (part 10)

Ted Grimsrud

10. How do we fight the Beast—Revelation 13:1–14:5

[This is the tenth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

One of the most famous characters in Revelation is the Beast that rises out of the sea. There is something important to remember as we think about this character. Not everyone would see it as beastly. There would have been people in the book’s audience with a quite positive view of what John is calling the Beast. John’s agenda, in part, is to challenge his readers to recognize the Beast here as a beast.

A vision of the Beast’s power

The vision in Revelation 13 that introduces the Beast gives an overwhelming sense of the its power. John had in mind the Roman Empire which had conquered most of John’s known world, executed Jesus and many other prophets, destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and demanded of its subjects reverence and loyalty crossing the line into religious worship.

The Empire brooked no opposition. The Beast is set to wreak havoc for 42 months. These 42 months, a number often used in Revelation, are the time in the present where we live. If John’s vision had ended with chapter 13, it would indeed be a vision of despair. No wonder people in John’s churches would also have wanted to give the Empire their homage and grant it the loyalty it demanded. Resistance was futile—it seems.

But we need to go on to chapter 14—and ultimately to the end of the book. John’s agenda is not to counsel despair nor to give comfort to those in his audience who don’t think the Beast is so beastly. John’s agenda is to empower his audience to resist, to bear witness, even (remarkably) to celebrate in the present.

Celebration as resistance

In stories of resistance to various historical Beasts, celebration played an important role in undermining the domination system. In Denmark during World War II, people gathered for public hymn sings that served to undermine the attempts by the Nazi occupiers to define their reality. The black church in the American south during the Civil Rights movement provided a place to praise and celebrate and find solidarity and to be reminded that the white so-called Christians did not have the power to define God’s will for them.

The celebrations scattered throughout Revelation play a similar role. And John promises before the book is over that the witness will be fruitful and the celebrations will not be simply whistling in the dark. They will in fact help lead to the healing of creation, healing of the nations, healing even of the kings of the earth (the human beings most enslaved to the Beast). Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 10)”