Signs of the Times - Week Seven: Dragons, Beasts and Babylon
Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started several weeks ago entitled Signs of the Times--Rediscovering Revelation. And yes, we have been studying one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mysterious books of the Bible, the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the Apocalypse of John.
Interestingly, the word Apocalypse comes from the Greek word Apokalypsis which means "to be revealed."
Revelation is full of word pictures, fantastic images, visions of cosmic battles between good and evil, and so much more... but it is not a prophetic book. It's not a book of codes that need to be cracked in order to figure out what God is up to and when.
Revelation is a mystery to be experienced, and it is filled with spiritual lessons, visions of hope, and a not-so-veiled political statement about the problems of the Empire. John the Revelator wanted his readers to find the courage to resist assimilation into Roman culture, and also to provide hope for those who encountered persecution and tribulation because of their faith.
Today we're going to take a look at some of the most vivid characters in the book of Revelation as we seek to understand the nature and future of evil...
Because John used such vivid word pictures, and because they are hard for our 21st-century imaginations to understand in the same way that people in the 1st century did, let me engage in a little exercise.
Let's see how quickly you can recognize these classic villains by using only sound..
Jack Torrance - Wicked Witch - Darth Vader - Thanos - Voldemort
You probably pictured each of these in your head as you heard the line, didn't you? All of these things speak volumes. We recognize them and they bring something to mind.
In the same way, the characters in Revelation all carry deep meaning based on their descriptions. We're going to dig deeper as we learn more about these four characters that John the Revelator introduces:
The Dragon and the Woman. The Beast from the Sea. The Beast from the Land. Babylon the Harlot.
John used stories and images from popular culture to shape a new narrative where Evil is unmasked and also defeated.
Here's what I want us to hang on to today as we dive into several chapters of Revelation. And don't worry, we're only going to read a few verses from each.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EVIL IS THAT IT DOESN'T GET TO WIN
I am actually going to begin where Pastor Britta left off last week in Revelation chapter 11 verse 18:
"The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small— and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
This is a key point for John. He envisions a time when judgment will come for those who are "the destroyers of the earth..." And then he goes on to describe what these destroyers look like:
The Dragon - Revelation 12
"A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born."
The Dragon here stands for Satan, the Accuser, who after this scene is cast out of the Divine court of God by Michael the Archangel and his army of angels. The Dragon is flung to earth, and then in a rage begins pursuing the woman bent on killing the child she gave birth to but is eventually thwarted by Creation itself which intervenes on her behalf.
The readers of this fantastic tale would have known what John was doing right away. The Dragon has seven heads, which has a connection to the Roman Empire---seven hills of Rome, etc. There was also a story in Greek mythology that was familiar: Leda, Zeus, Python, Apollo/Artemis...
Augustus was often depicted as Apollo. Nero actually encouraged it. His sycophants called him "Our Apollo."
The Beast From The Sea - Revelation 13
The dragon[a] stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. 4 People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
Here John has Evil take tangible, political form. The Dragon gives authority to the Beast to conquer and wage war against "God's holy people." The Beast dominates and conquers but is also worshipped and feared. The Beast even is healed from a fatal wound.
666 - gematria - points to Nero who had a PR problem after the fire in Rome. Persecuted Christians horribly. People thought that Nero didn't really die and that he would return one day to wreak havoc. Napoleon, Hitler, etc.
The Beast from the Land - Revelation 14
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people.
John shows how evil can become propagated through religion especially when religion becomes conflated with the triumphalism of Roman politics. People listen to this Beast as it spins what is evidently evil into something good. They value a leader who can conquer, subjugate, etc. The exact opposite of Jesus.
Babylon the Harlot - Revelation 17
3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery:
Babylon the great
the mother of prostitutes
and of the abominations of the earth.
6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
Seven kings, seven hills, John goes on and on to tell the reader that this is Rome that he's talking about in pretty derogatory terms. Babylon the Harlot is a vision of opulence, materialism, conspicuous consumption, oppression, and exploitation.
What happens to all of these characters?
They Rise and Fall:
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.