In contrast to how John began Revelation chapter 12 with “a great sign appeared in heaven”, he begins chapter 13 with “I saw a beast rising out of the sea”, showing us a shift in what John was viewing. In Revelation 12, John’s vision mainly had Heaven in view. Now, in chapter 13, the scene shifted to the earth - specifically the sea. Why is this significant? Well, though we today think of the sea as a place of peace, calm, and tranquility, the Jewish people viewed it as the exact opposite. For them talk of the sea was a figure of evil and chaos, an untamed, frightening place. However, throughout scripture we see that, though Israel tended to view the sea as something that actively resisted God, we also find evidence all throughout scripture that this “resistance” was always unsuccessful.
Psalm 74:12-13 “For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.
Psalm 89:8-9 “Lord God of hosts, who is might like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule with ranging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.”
And now, we see, as described here in Revelation chapter 13, a beast rising out of the sea, the very place commonly identified with evil and chaos and resisting God.
The ancient Greek word translated beast here has the idea of a wild, dangerous animal. Notice that this creature is called a BEAST and not a DRAGON as we read about previously. Though are definitely similarities found between the two, this difference in names tells us that this creature represents someone else entirely, not Satan himself. Therefore, the beast referring to who is more commonly known as the Antichrist.
The scripture goes on to describe a few characteristics of the Antichrist, which actually reference back to prophecy given back in the Old Testament in Daniel chapter 7, where four animals (or beasts) are used to describe the course of human government from Daniel’s time until the ultimate reign of Jesus on this Earth.
This “beast” is a man who will be well liked amongst the people and even worshiped, as verse 4 tells us. And it is through this campaign of deceit that the beast decisively makes war against the saints.
Now, it is important to point out here that this portion of scripture takes place DURING the time known as the tribulation. That means that the Rapture of the church has already taken place. So who are these “saints” that the antichrist is warring against? Here the scripture is referencing those who come to Christ after the church has been raptured.
These believers, or saints, will have to endure many great struggles, trials, and tribulations. Many of which will mirror, in part, the struggles, trials, and tribulations faced by the early church. There were times in the early church when all residents in the empire were required to burn a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar and say “Caesar is Lord”. Christians refused to do this and were persecuted because of it. What the Romans saw as “political allegience” the Christians rightly saw as an act of religious worship - an act that was solely reserved for worship to the Lord.
Perhaps the most widely known battle these post tribulation Christians will face is standing against the taking of the “Mark of the Beast”. What is the significance and purpose of this “mark”? Without the mark, one will not be able to participate in the economy. Verse 17 says plainly “no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the best or the number of its name”.
If you’re anything like me, having read that scripture, a few questions immediately come to mind:
Who is the antichrist? What is its name? And what is the number of its name?
And though these are all valid questions, this line of thinking can lead us down an endless hole of speculation that will leave us wanting. Why? Because the schemes for unlocking the number of the beast are as confusing as they are endless and can distract us from the reality that no matter WHO the antichrist is his mission is clear - to place himself in a place of power, elevating himself to a place worthy of worship as a false God, using imitation and deceit to gather his followers.
We also must not forget that, again, this time of tribulation will take place AFTER the rapture of the church. That means that us as believers will not be enduring this scary and difficult time. Therefore, reading these passages should not incite fear of what is to come but rather incite passion deep within us to boldly share the hope of Christ with those around us that as many that are in our sphere of influence are raptured with us and they to will no longer need to fear those difficulties to come during the tribulation.
My prayer for all of us today is that we will step into our day, not fear filled but faith filled. Not hiding in the shadows waiting for the rapture of the church. But boldly declaring His goodness, His faithfulness, and the Hope found in Him with every single breath we have, until that glorious day comes.