The beast is toast
Hallelujah the first1 Then I heard a roar of voices in heaven. They said,
Salvation, it comes from God.
He’s honorable and powerful.
He punished the powerful prostitute
who trashed the earth with her filthy behavior.
He held her accountable
for killing his people."
Hallelujah the second3 Again the roar of voices cried out,
She went up in smoke.
She’ll smoke forever.”
Hallelujah the third4 Then the 24 leaders and the four living beings dropped to the floor and worshiped God as he sat on his throne. They said,
“Everyone who’s devoted to God
and everyone who respects him,
whether you’re famous or unknown,
give our God your thanks.”
Hallelujah the fourth6 Then I heard a single, powerful voice. It was like the voice of a crowd or the roar of a flash flood or the crash of thunder. It said,
The Lord reigns! God Almighty rules it all!
It’s time for the Lamb to get married.
The bride has prettied herself up, and she’s ready to go.
8 She gets to wear white,
in fine linen, clean and bright.
The linen stands for the good God’s people did.”
“Take a memo”9 Then the angel told me, “Write this: Guests should consider it a high honor when they’re invited to the meal celebrating the marriage of the Lamb. They should get happy about that.” The angel added this: “What I just told you are the actual words of God himself.” 10 Instantly, I dropped at his feet to worship him. But he stopped me by saying. “Hey! Don’t you be doing that! I serve God, just like you and your colleagues do when you speak up for Jesus. Worship God! Anyone who speaks up for Jesus is talking in the spirit of a prophet.”
White horse cavalry11 That’s when I saw heaven open right there in front of me. Look at that! A white horse! The rider is someone people can trust because he tells the truth. Whenever he goes into battle or passes judgment, he does what’s right.
12 His piercing eyes burn like fire. His head holds a crown—and not just any crown. It’s the crown above all crowns. He’s got a name, and it’s in writing. He’s the only one who knows what it is. 13 He’s wearing a robe stained with blood. He’s known as the Word of God. 14 Armies of heaven lined up in a massive cavalry behind him. They wore clean, white, fine linen. And they sat mounted on white horses. 15 A sharp sword extends out of the leader’s mouth, ready to defeat hostile nations. He’s going to rule with the strength of iron. And he’s going to march on the nations, unleashing God’s judgment like someone stomping grapes in a winepress. 16 His name is inscribed on his robe and written on his thigh: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Suppertime for vultures17 Then I saw an angel standing right on the sun. In a loud voice he called out to all the birds flying, “Come and get it! It’s suppertime. God’s the host.
18 Today’s special: fresh meat of kings, commanders, soldiers, and the horses they all ride. There’s fresh meat of free people and slaves. Or you can have the meat of the powerful or the powerless. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.”
19 Then I saw the beast and his allies—rulers from all over the world. They gathered their coalition army to launch a war against the rider on the white horse and his army.
20 The beast got captured. So did the false prophet. He’s the one who did miracles that tricked people into accepting the mark of the beast on their body and worshiping the beast’s statue. The beast and prophet were still alive when they got thrown into the lake of fire that fed on sulfur. 21 Everyone with them died by the sword. The rider on the horse killed them with the sword that came out of his mouth. Birds feasted on their corpses.
He’s Jesus, most Bible experts seem to agree. Some say that Jesus riding in on a white horse is a dramatic metaphor of what scholars call the Parousia (pa ROO see uh), the Second Coming, which is the final coming of Jesus before what the Bible seems to teach is the end of physical life as we know it. In Bible times, parousia, Greek for “coming” or “returning,” is the word people used to describe a visit by a high public official, such as a king or the emperor.
The dragon had seven crowns, one for each head (12:3). The beast had 10 crowns, one for each horn (13:1). Jesus is the King of all kings and wannabe kings.
God’s people also get secret names. Theirs are etched into white stones (2:17). And those people are the only ones who understand what their names mean.
This probably is not a reference to Jesus shedding his blood by dying on the cross, some scholars say. It’s more likely a reference to Jesus defeating his enemies. This is an idea reflected throughout the Bible. For example: Isaiah 26:21; 63:2-3; Zechariah 14.
“Word of God” is one of several titles John uses to describe this divine warrior. A more literal translation of the original Greek language identifies him as “Faithful and True” (19:11), “King of Kings,” and “Lord of Lords” (19:16.). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is “the living Word of God” (John 1:1), the message of God delivered in person.
The sword of the mouth, many say, refers to words spoken—not to some bizarre military accessory, like a stainless-steel tongue sharpened on both sides and dangerous to dentists. Yet, some students of the Bible say they read this and much of the other imagery in Revelation as literal.
Apparently a reference to Isaiah 63:2-3.
“King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” are only two of the titles John uses to describe this divine warrior. He is also called “Word of God” (19:13) and identified as “Faithful and True” (19:11). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is “the living Word of God” (John 1:1), the message of God delivered in person.
This is the beast from the sea, introduced in 13:1. Some students of the Bible identify this beast as the Antichrist. And they ID the beast from the land as the false prophet, both of whom, with Satan, form the Evil Trinity (see note for 13:5 about the Antichrist). Other scholars link the sea beast to the Roman Empire and the land beast to the emperor, beginning with Nero, the first to persecute Christians. The Evil Trinity is a counterpoint to the divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Daniel 7:3 describes a vision of four beasts coming up out of the sea. They, too, had 10 horns and seven heads. Jews may have considered the sea as the mysterious abyss. John’s beast is one that some Jews of his day may have associated with the scary Leviathan, a female creature that Jewish legend says God created on Day Five of Creation. It lived in the sea. Its counterpart, the Behemoth, lived on land. Monsters like these could represent invaders, like the Roman Empire, which occupied most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
Some scholars identify this false prophet as the beast from the land, introduced in 13:11.
The mark of the beast was a number the beast’s followers had to wear on their right hands or foreheads. Some ancient copies put the number at 616. Letters had number values. The name of Nero works with both numbers, 616 and 666. He ruled AD 37-68 and was the first emperor on record to persecute Christians. His name engraved onto coins in Latin, the official language of the Romans, is “Nero Caesar.” The six letters Jews used to translate that into their language of Hebrew add up to 616. But that same name and title in Greek, the international language of the day, is “Neron Caesar.” Jews used seven letters to translate that version of the name. Those seven letters add up to 666. Another contender is Emperor Domitian (ruled AD 81-96), another aggressive persecutor of Christians. His name and title occasionally show up abbreviated on Roman coins with Greek letters that add up to 666.
Talking statues was a trick of magicians. A Syrian writer named Lucian, who lived in the AD 100s, wrote about a Greek mystic, Alexander of Abonoteichus, who rigged the image of a snake god with a moving jaw and a hidden speaking tube.
“Lake of fire” is a place of eternal punishment. Some say it’s eternal because souls burn there in pain forever. Others say it’s eternal because they are burned up and annihilated, gone forever. Some students of the Bible say they see this as a literal place. Others say it’s a metaphor about people getting punished for sin. The Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, talks about the earth swallowing a group of sinners who rebelled against Moses (Numbers 16:32). But none of the Bible writers talks about a lake of fire until John. Some scholars say he borrowed the metaphor from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. That book was written at least by about 1800 BC, several hundred years before Moses. John also wrote about “the Second Death,” another idea that surfaced first in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Greek philosopher Plato (about 428-348 BC), wrote in Gorgias about a lake of fire where souls are tortured forever or until they get another chance and are reborn.
This doesn’t seem to support the popular idea of a Battle of Armageddon, with God’s people fighting the armies of the Antichrist (who’s not even mentioned in Revelation). Instead, it’s about heaven’s armies defeating earthly enemies by the sword of the mouth of the lead rider, presumably Jesus. So some students of the Bible say this sounds like the teachings of Jesus eventually overpowering evil, one way or another—peacefully perhaps. Rome, once hostile to Christianity, embraced it 300 years later as the empire’s preferred religion.
What do you think most folks would say about the four Hallelujah songs that celebrate God’s defeat of the Babylonian woman, who seems to represent the Roman Empire or some other oppressive government or religious group? Pick one of the following responses, or write your own.
- The songs sound like celebration at the end of a war. All this picture needs is a sailor kissing a civilian.
- The songs don’t sound very Christian: “She went up in smoke. She’ll smoke forever” (19:3).
- Those of us who faced life-threatening danger understand the joy of being rescued.
- When we finish Revelation, could we have a party? I’ll bring peanut butter cookies.
“It’s time for the Lamb to get married” (19:7). Okay, nobody’s marrying a lamb. That’s not kosher for Jews or Gentiles. It’s illegal in many countries and categorized as animal abuse. Many scholars say Revelation’s “Lamb” is Jesus, who sacrificed himself for humanity’s sins much like a lamb died in Bible times to pay for the sins of its owner. His bride is the church. Why this marriage metaphor? Why not say Jesus is a good friend who saved our life and now we’re going to hang out with him until hell freezes over (to use a metaphor)?
The angel tells John, “Anyone who speaks up for Jesus is talking in the spirit of a prophet” (19:10). Would we also be inspired by God in, perhaps, the way he inspired writers of the Bible and his disciples as they preached?
We can understand why Jesus rides “a white horse” (19:11). Even if he’s not actually riding a white horse, the symbol is one that says he’s the Good Guy. But why do you think he shows up with “piercing eyes” that “burn like fire” (19:12) and a “sharp sword” (19:15) that sticks out of his mouth “ready to defeat hostile nations”?
Take a look at the footnote for 19:20, which says some Bible scholars say John’s reference to the “lake of fire” is another way of describing hell, and that it’s a word picture borrowed from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was written several centuries before Moses. Do you think most Christians would be okay with John doing that? Or would they prefer that John’s description of his visions be one-of-a-kind?
LIFE APPLICATION. When we hear about a guy getting sentenced to life in prison or to execution because he killed a lot of people, how do you think most folks tend to feel about it?
- He got what he deserved.
- An eye for an eye. It’s in the Bible.
- No one should have to die or face life in prison. People should be salvageable.
- He lived longer than the people he killed.
- It’s sad. There’s no healing in the punishment. Not for families of the victim or families of the killer.