Revelation Bible Study #10 : The Woman, the Child, the Dragon, and the Two Beasts, the Mark of the Beast “666” – chap 12–13
sermon Revelation 13 : Pierre Constant, 2022_10_09, AB Lausanne church
title : Revelation Bible Study #10 : The Woman, the Child, the Dragon, and the Two Beasts, the Mark of the Beast “666” – chap 12–13
A. The woman, the child and the dragon (Revelation 12)
When trying to analyze certain events and determine their causes, several answers are possible. What are the difficulties the Church has to face due to: her own sins, economic, other causes sucsh as political, cultural, sociological causes?
What were the difficulties of the first-century Church due to?
Roman persecution, worship of the emperor, fall of Jerusalem, loss of privileges associated with Judaism, madness of emperors (including that of Nero), hatred of non-Christians, rumors of atheism and cannibalism among Christians, from the citizens of the Roman Empire? In a way, all of these answers can provide some explanation. But are they complete? Do they take into account the totality of reality, including all spiritual dimensions?
Revelation presents realities to us at this point, from the heavenly perspective, again using symbolic language, but symbolic language sufficiently explained for us to understand the meaning.
It is especially important in the case of Revelation 12 to read the entire chapter before answering certain questions.
The woman “in heaven” about to give birth (Revelation 12:1-2)
The identity of this woman is debated, partly depending on whether one interprets the text literally or metaphorically.
Some see it as a reference to Mary giving birth to the Messiah.
Her flight into the desert (v. 6) where she is nourished for 1,260 days, or the two wings which are given to her afterwards (12.13-14) to flee into the desert, are sometimes used to justify the assumption of Mary. , his rapture to heaven. This interpretation comes up against, among other difficulties, that of interpreting certain elements in a literal way, and others in a symbolic way (wings, desert, 1,260 days, “time-of-times-half of a time”). If so, how are we to understand his posterity (v. 17): his own children, his posterity in the spiritual sense? Whatever the case, some elements must be interpreted symbolically; the question is whether the woman herself is not also to be understood symbolically.
Others see it as a reference to the Church.
This interpretation is difficult; it is not the Church that gives birth to the Messiah, any more than the Church gives birth to posterity (cf. v. 17; it is a safe bet that this posterity is to be interpreted as being itself the Church, the people of God).
It is quite clear that the male child she gives birth to is the Messiah himself:
She bears a son, a male, who is said to “rule all nations with a rod of iron,” an expression clearly associated with the Messiah (in Ps 2.9 and Rev 19.15); it is also used of the overcomer in Rev 2.27 to describe a reign alongside the Messiah.
Birth pains are similar to “messianic pains,” a common phrase in intertestamental literature to refer to the difficult times before the coming of the Messiah.
Is it then Zion or the totality of the people of God?
Remember the vision recorded in 4 Ezra 9.38–10.59 (the mourning woman, none other than Zion, Jerusalem).
The fact that she is clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, testifies to her importance.
The twelve stars on his head have often been compared to the 12 tribes of Israel.
In all likelihood, it is the people of God. In the OT the city of Zion/Jerusalem often refers to all of God’s people (eg, Isaiah 54, Ps 2.6, 9.11, 14).
The dragon wanting to devour the unborn child (12.3-6)
We are again in full apocalyptic language:
Fire-red dragon, having 7 heads and ten horns (speak of its power); his identity is given in vv. 9. Here we find an echo of Ps 74.14 (where it is a question of the “heads of Leviathan”).
In apocalyptic literature, we often see a great monster (Leviathan, fleeing and tortuous serpent – Isa 27.1, or Isa 14.29, symbol of Assyria), symbol of all that opposes God. In Rev 20.2, this dragon is identified as “the old serpent, the devil and Satan.” »
Its tail drags a third (not necessarily to be understood in the literal sense) of the stars (fallen angels?) and throws them to earth.
His desire: to devour the unborn child.
The child comes into the world and is taken up to heaven (no details about his life, death or resurrection, the main point is not about the child, but about the dragon and the woman). The death of Jesus has already been presented earlier (Rev. 1.5b, 5.6, 9-10), while the emphasis here is with what happens once the son ascends to heaven.
The woman flees into the desert (v. 14 gives further details, repeating the vision), she is fed there for 1260 days (42 months of 30 days, or 3 and a half years, a limited period).
The desert in the OT is both a place of testing (we think of the 40 years that the exodus lasted, or Ps 95.8) or of special protection (Hosea 2.14).
Battle and victory in heaven, woe on earth (12:7-12)
These verses do not necessarily follow vv. 3-6 chronologically. The visions present different perspectives, not one continuous story.
The dragon is expelled from heaven (a reminder that the devil is not all-powerful), and hurled down to earth. If he had previously had access to heaven, this access is now impossible for him. Here we find an echo of Luke 10.18.
It is the echo in heaven of what happened on earth when Jesus died on the cross (cf. Col 2:15).
The victory in heaven is declared to be a victory for “our brethren”:
The basis of this victory: the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (two closely related themes in this book).
The way they conquered it: not by escaping suffering, but by accepting death!
Double effect of this victory in heaven: joy in heaven and misfortune on earth.
The fury of the dragon against the seed of the woman (12.13-18)
He pursues the woman (again, the exact chronology is not followed; John picks up elements from vv. 3-6). As she escapes him and he tries to swallow her up (v. 15), the woman is miraculously rescued. Does this mean that she will not suffer?
The desert in the OT is both a place of rest but also a place of trial. The people of God are both protected and tested.
The dragon will wage war against the rest of his offspring (the Church, the people of God), identified here as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
The dragon is furious, knowing that his time is running out (v. 12) and that the woman is slipping away from him (v. 17). One thinks of the similar reactions of madness when the vanquished see their defeat coming – such as those of Saddam Hussein setting fire to numerous oil wells in Kuwait before withdrawing.
John therefore presents in this vision the fact that the dragon, the devil, makes war on the descendants of the woman. Behind all the enemies of the Church, the real enemy is the devil himself. But this enemy is a defeated enemy, expelled from heaven, but now enraged against the Church.
The victory has already been won by the death of Jesus, “the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11); the responsibility of God’s children now is to persevere, to “hold the testimony of Jesus,” to persevere even to the point of losing their own lives if necessary (cf. Mark 8:38). The way the Lamb preserves his own is not to save them from death, but to sustain them even if they must die!
Our victory does not depend on our political or social progress (although we have a role to play in our society). Our victory is due to the victory of Jesus Christ over death. Thus, our fight is not social, cultural, linguistic or ecological but spiritual. Victory is certain, but the fight continues.
B. The two beasts (Revelation 13)
This chapter teaches us first that Satan does not work alone. He has allies, he has had them throughout human history, just as he still has them today.
We are still and always in apocalyptic literature. Monstrous beasts are not uncommon (one thinks of Leviathan and Behemoth in 1 Enoch). John presents two of them to us.
The beast that rises from the sea (13.1-10)
Like the dragon (12.3), this beast also has 7 heads and 10 horns but it has names of blasphemies.
It comes out of the sea. Our personal appreciation of the sea depends on our experience of the sea:
For those who have seen the various episodes of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, the sea is a source of adventure, freedom, danger, of course, but also conquests, smiles!
For the Jews, who were not a seafaring people, the sea is synonymous with danger, the unknown, chaos, incessant movement, a source of fear and threats.
His description reminds us of the language of the OT, especially that of Daniel 7, where we see 4 huge beasts coming out of the sea:
lion with eagle wings, bear with ribs in its mouth, leopard with four heads and four wings, and finally a monstrous beast with ten horns and an eleventh in the middle of them which had the eyes of a man and which spoke with arrogance (respectively four kings – Dan 7.17). [The fourth beast makes war on the saints and triumphs over them, and then gives way to ten other kings who arise from this kingdom and then another who will oppress the saints for a time, times and half a time (v. 25). The four beasts refer respectively to Babylon, Media, the Persians, and then to the Greeks. The next 10 kings are most likely the kings of Syria (the Seleucids) and the eleventh is, in all likelihood, Antioch IV (known as Epiphanes) who oppressed the Jews extremely violently for 3 and a half years.]
In Rev 13.2, this beast combines elements of the four beasts of Daniel 7.
This beast appears again in Rev. 17:7-10, where it is described as “it was, it is not, and it will be again.” This expression is in fact a parody of God, presented earlier as “he who is, who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1.4, 8, 4.8).
The dragon gives him great power and his throne (13.2).
One of his heads is struck dead, but his mortal wound heals (13.3). She was believed to be really dead, but against all odds, she is still alive, which arouses a lot of admiration (lit., of wonder, the meaning can be positive or negative) (vv. 3b, 12)!
Is it someone in particular? In Rev 17.7-10, the seven heads of the beast are seven mountains (Rome, without a shadow of a doubt!), but also seven kings: seven emperors? All the emperors? The archetype of all that will oppose God? The beast itself is also an eighth king, who is one of the seven, and is going to perdition. This seems to refer to a long list of kings who will oppose the Lamb (17:12-14).
In a sense, the dragon, expelled from heaven, defeated on the cross, full of rage, has always had allies in history: Epiphanius, but also the emperors who blaspheme God by receiving (some in their lifetime!) the title of God (especially Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Domitian). Throughout history, the devil will always have his figureheads, his tyrants who will oppose God and his people.
Rather than trying to identify the beast, let’s look at his works (13:5-8):
She utters arrogant words and blasphemies against God, his name (= his person), his tabernacle, that is to say (no “and” in the Greek) those who dwell in him in heaven (= the people of God).
She makes war on the saints and manages to defeat them (new mention of the death of the children of God).
She receives power over everything that exists: tribe, people, language, nation! Again, a parody of God (cf. 5.9, the same four elements, albeit in a slightly different order).
Note again a division of humanity, not into several groups, but basically into two groups. Excluded from this worship are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Faced with such a beast, two possible reactions:
Who is like the beast and who can fight it? (v.4)
The perseverance and faith of the saints (v. 10), not to escape persecution, but to stand firm! Overcoming in this context means persevering within suffering and not escaping from suffering!
For millennia, political regimes (of which Rome is only one manifestation, serving as a paradigm for all the others) have always wanted, sooner or later, to rise up and replace God. Nowadays, in several parts of the world, Christians must resist regimes wishing to impose their omnipotence. In our world, this can take on a different color: pluralistic but equally totalitarian philosophies (excluding any divergence of opinion, taxing these divergences with religious intolerance, bigotry, obscurantism, fundamentalism, and so on), demanding philosophical and religious pluralism. We are not dealing with anything totally different from the cult of the first century emperor. The name of the emperor may have changed but his totalitarianism remains. . .
The cruelty of the beast does not act alone, however. She has another ally. . .
The beast that rises from the earth (13:11-18)
A second beast appears, this time coming out of the ground. Apocalyptic literature often has two monstrous beasts (Leviathan and Behemoth; cf. 1 Enoch 60.7-10, 4 Ezra 6.49-52).
It comes out of the ground, a much more stable, safe, secure place.
Two horns similar to those of a lamb: far from being terrifying like the first beast, this one seems much more docile.
His threat does not come from his cruelty but from his ability to seduce.
If the devil roars against the people of God and treats them in all his cruelty, he also has other weapons: false prophets. This beast coming out of the earth is taken up later in Revelation, called the false prophet (Rev. 16.13, 19.20, 20.10).
She is a second beast, different from the first, at the service of the first. If the first beast exercised its authority by force and cruelty, this one acts by trickery, deception, lies, but the result is the same: it causes “the earth and its inhabitants” to bow down before the first beast.
She acts with power parodying that of Elijah in the OT, who called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1)
She seduces the “dwellers of the earth” (v. 14) with signs; all that is miraculous is not necessarily divine. Our society has lost all discernment in this regard and it is not certain that the contemporary Church necessarily possesses more of it. . . There is no shortage of miracle-working charlatans; the truth of their ministry should not be measured by the measure of their so-called miracles but by the measure of their doctrine, their teaching, the place they give to the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Lamb, a theology of suffering and perseverance (cf. v. 11).
His influence follows that of the first beast (compare v. 7 with v. 16-17).
The Mark of the Beast, the number “666”
The mark of this beast is again a parody of the mark of God on his servants. The people of God were sealed with the seal of God in Rev 7.3-4, thus protecting them from the judgment of God (and which is recalled in Rev 14.2); now the beast imposes its own seal on the forehead or on the right hand of all the inhabitants of the earth.
Parodying the Father-Son-Spirit Trinity, we have another trinity: dragon – beast that comes out of the sea – beast that comes out of the earth.
Its “number” is given: 666. This number must have referred to someone or something in particular to the ears of the first listeners of this book (each name could be “converted” into a number, but the same number in total could refer to more than one name, hence the problem). The name of this individual, or the idea to which it refers, is now lost to us. There have been many hypotheses over the centuries, but none has prevailed.
Just as the dragon could see the first beast being slain but returning time after time, the second beast can also refer to a whole string of false prophets in human history. No need to identify one in particular. The focus here is the power of deception and seduction of this second beast.
The devil, the dragon, is furious. Already defeated at the cross of Jesus, he pursues the posterity of women, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. He has allies: political and military cruelty, the seduction of false prophets.
John calls his readers to persevere, to discern, to keep the faith, to think wisely. God keeps his own, even if they are the object of the attacks of the devil, of the cruelty of the beast which rises from the sea, of the seduction of the beast which rises from the earth.
1. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
2. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
6. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
7. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8. And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
13. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
14. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
15. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
16. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
17. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
1. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
2. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
3. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
4. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
5. And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
7. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
9. If any man have an ear, let him hear.
10. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
11. And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
12. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
13. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
14. And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
15. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
16. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Related Links / Notes
Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by Pierre Constant who has been Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Toronto Baptist Seminary since 2003. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video. The notes provided here follow that form, but are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of revelation.
All services as well as some of the bible studies are streamed on YouTube église AB Renens-Lausanne. Also visit the You Tube channel of the Swiss Action Biblique Youth Groups (JAB Suisse Romande)/ Facebook. In addition to the KJV Bible , other versions of the Bible are also available on our website (ASV, Basic English and Darby as well as the Webster version and Young’s Bible on the Action Biblique Suisse website.
Bible verses in the study link to the KJV bible which is provided in audio format as a podcast available on various platforms using the links below.