Summary: The power promised by Satan never lasts. Satan betrays even his most dedicated followers.
How many of you like jigsaw puzzles? I love them... even though I haven’t put one together in years. I don’t dare. They’re addictive, and I already have too many bad habits. But those of you who indulge - how do you start? Do you do all the edge pieces first, or do you sort them by color? Are you a purist, not even looking at the picture on the box, or do you take every advantage you can to figure out what you’re doing?
There are as many ways to put together a jigsaw puzzle as there are ways to interpret John’s Revelation. Especially the deliberately mystifying passages like this one.
Remember that John received this Revelation when he was on exile on the island of Patmos, off the coast of what is now Turkey, probably during the time of the Emperor Domitian, somewhere in the 90's. Domitian’s reign was one of the worst for persecution of Christians, who were accused from everything from disturbing the peace to gross immorality, from atheism - since they didn’t worship the local gods - to treason, since they wouldn’t sacrifice to the emperor. So when John wrote down this letter, which was going to be circulated widely around the empire, he had to be really careful about what he said. Or at least how he
Remember a few weeks ago I gave you the Cliff’s notes version of Revelation? Point 1: God is in charge, Point 2, we live on a battlefield, and point 3, Jesus wins in the end. There are some other things to remember as we work our way toward the end of this most mysterious and most easily misunderstood book of the Bible. First, this was written primarily to encourage Christians to stand fast. Yeah, there are scary bits in it, but it’s intended to scare non-Christians, or maybe some fence- sitters. The message for the rest of John’s audience, was to sit tight, keep watch, and stay faithful, because the cavalry would show up in time and
the bad guys would get theirs.
So there are a lot of things in this passage which are clearer than they look. because the bad guys in those days were the Romans.
Last week we talked about Babylon as being the generic title for cities founded and run in defiance of God. Using Babylon as a code word for Rome, John could then be just as blunt and graphic as he liked about the evil of the empire and its eventual destruction without giving the authorities grounds to put believers to death for spreading anti-government propaganda or inciting riots.
Well, this week John gets even more explicit. Now, last week’s passage ended with Babylon (that is, Rome) getting drunk on the blood of the prophets. John was astonished, because although Christians were having a rough time of it, they weren’t actually getting killed yet at anywhere near the rate they had been under Nero. And maybe he started wondering if maybe he’d read the signs wrong. But the angel interprets the vision for him, and he obediently writes it down and sends it out. And at this point the symbolism becomes so clear than even non-Christians
reading it would immediately recognize John and his followers as enemies
of the state
Let’s refresh our memories, shall we. John sees “the woman, and ... the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her... "This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings." [v. 7,9] The seven mountains are a clear signal that the woman - that is the false religion - is at least nominally in charge of Rome, because Rome was built on seven hills. So the seven mountains are obvious.
The seven kings are less so. Some see in this an allusion to Daniel, but as scholar G. B. Caird writes, seven is one of John’s symbolic numbers, and the kings would remain at seven no matter how long the actual list happened to be. Remember that seven is the number of completion. And so one thing the beast with seven heads is telling us is that whenever you see false religion allied with a godless king, they both really belong to the beast, who represents Satan, the enemy of God..
Look again at this. The woman is seated on the beast - this suggests that she thinks she is in control. But just you wait. That won’t last. And the heads are kings, and so of course as all kings do, they think they are in charge, too. After all, isn’t the head always in charge of the body? But look and see what really happens. When one is lopped off, another one takes over. They are pretty much interchangeable, and the beast just continues to do his thing. And besides, there are ten horns, which are also kings of a sort, which are just waiting in the wings for their turn. This tells us that all these illusions of power which the enemies of God imagine they possess are just that - illusions. Remember Shelley’s famous poem Ozymandias?