Prof. Engelsma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Of what-does the Antichrist actually consist? How will the anti- Christian power be realized at the end? What concretely must the church expect and what will she be confronted with, in Antichrist, in the future?
For the answer to these questions, we turn to Revelation 13:1-10. Because space is limited and because I will be quoting parts of the passage as I go along, I will not quote the passage here. The reader is asked to read the entire 13th chapter of Revelation carefully, as well as the closely related 12th chapter.
The 13th chapter of Revelation must be viewed in the light of chapter 12. Chapter 12 tells of a great red dragon, identified in verse 9 as “the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” According to verses 4, 5, the dragon desired to devour the man child of a certain woman. The woman is the Old Testament people of God, regarded as the church in the old dispensation, and her man child is Jesus the Christ. This describes the Devil’s purpose and activity throughout the old dispensation.
When that child ascends to God (v. 5), the Devil is cast out of heaven into the earth (vv. 7-9); He is enraged because of the victory of the child (v., 12). He knows that he has only a short time before the child’s victory is perfected and before he is totally destroyed. In his great wrath, he persecutes the woman, the church, and makes war with the remnant of her seed, “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vv. 13-17). That is, he hates and tries to destroy the church and the saints.
In this connection, chapter 13 records the appearance of a beast rising up out of the sea. This beast is the product of the dragon of chapter 12, the culmination of the dragon’s wrathful campaign against the church, the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Out of the sea arises a beast, a wild animal. Its appearance is that of a leopard, or panther, with the exception that its feet are those of a bear, and its mouth, the mouth of a lion. The beast, therefore, is a fearful monster, savage and threatening in the extreme. It combines the cunning and agility of the leopard with the tearing, powerful paws of the bear and the devouring mouth and fangs of the lion.
The beast has seven heads and ten horns. Immediately, this reminds us of the red dragon himself, who in chapter 12, verse 3, appears as having seven heads and ten horns. This is the Devil’s creature! The heads of the beast are full of names of blasphemy. One of the heads is peculiar in that it shows that it was once dealt a death-blow, which, however, has been healed.
Having risen, the beast is worshiped by the whole world. It utters blasphemies against God, and it makes war with the saints and overcomes them.
The same beast is referred to also in Revelation 17. There it is described as scarlet in color and as carrying a woman who is called the great whore. Verse 8 says that the origin of the beast is the abyss and that theend of it is perdition, i.e., it comes out of hell and goes into hell.
John’s vision of the beast is similar to the vision of the prophet Daniel in Daniel 7. The apostle’s vision inRevelation 13 is based on the prophet’s vision. Both of them concern the same truth of the Antichrist in the last days. In Daniel 7, the prophet saw four beasts arising from the sea, one after the other. The first was like a lion; the second was like a bear; the third was like a panther; and the fourth was so terrible and dreadful that no known animal could represent it. It becomes clear that the beast of Johns vision is a composite of the four beasts of Daniel, i.e., the beast of John is nothing other than all four beasts of Daniel rolled into one.
Especially the fourth beast receives attention in Daniel 7. It is most terrible, strong, and destructive. It has ten horns. Among the ten horns, there grows up an eleventh horn. This little horn has a man’s eyes and a mouth speaking great, boastful things. After it grows up, the little horn makes war with the saints and prevails; speaks against God; and exalts itself to such an extent that it attempts to dethrone God, endeavoring to change times and laws.
There are definite, unmistakable similarities between the fourth beast of Daniel 7, especially as it expresses itself in the little horn, and John’s beast out of the sea. Both have ten horns. Both fight against and overcome the saints and blaspheme God. There is even distinct similarity as regards the time during which they make war with the saints. Daniel 7:25 says that the saints are given into the hand of the little horn “until a time and times and the dividing of time,” i.e., one time, two times, and one half of one time. Revelation 13:5 states that power was given (to the beast) to continue 42 months. Forty-two months is three and a half years, i.e., as to the idea, not necessarily the actual time, one year, two years, and a half a year, corresponding to the time, times, and half a time of Daniel.
But what does that little horn of the fourth beast represent? What is the beast out of the sea?
It is Antichrist. In Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, God reveals that Antichrist will be a political entity, a world-government. The origin of the beast is the sea. In Scripture, the tossing, restless sea represents the nations of the world, always in turmoil. In the end, the result of centuries of global tensions and conflicts will be a world-government. That the beast is a political reality, a kingdom, is evident in his appearance. He has horns and crowns. Horns in Scripture represent ruling power, and crowns are tokens of authority, of kingship. The ten horns and crowns indicate a fullness of political power. In addition Revelation 13:2 expressly says that the beast has power and a throne and great authority. In fact, verse 7 states that he has power over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. He exercises this power also, for the last part of the chapter informs us that the beast controls everything—trade and labor; art, religion, and education; the life and death of every man. If any question remains, the fact that Daniel 7 calls the four beasts four kings and the fact that Revelation 17identifies the beast from the sea as a king settle it. The beast is a great kingdom under a mighty king.
It is an absolutely universal world-power. All the world wondered after the beast, we read in verse 3. It has power over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations, according to verse 7. Verse 8 says that all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, i.e., all those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life. Every nation is under the sway of the beast. The dream of many of a one-world government is going to be realized in the future.
A striking feature of the beast is that it does not subjugate the nations of the world by sheer force, but that the peoples of the world willingly submit to it and ally themselves with it. It differs in this respect from other world-powers that have preceded it in history. There have been other nations that dominated almost all the world and established world-empires, e.g., the Greco-Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great and the Roman empire, but they advanced by conquest. It is different with the beast from the sea. It is true that it possesses and shows tremendous power, for all the world asks, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” But apart from this power, military power, if you will, he manifests a certain innate authority, a wonderful charisma, which is freely acknowledged by all nations. All the world wonders at the beast, stands in awe of it. All the world worships the beast. Because of the marvelous intrinsic authority of the beast, all the nations willingly align themselves with the beast and submit to it.
Revelation speaks of this more fully. It teaches that, in the end, a mighty nation with a powerful leader will arise. Then, ten other kingdoms, represented inRevelation 13 by the ten horns on the beast’s head, will with one mind give their power and strength to the beast, so that the beast will stand astride the earth like a colossus.
Another significant aspect of this coming world-power is that it embodies the other great world-powers that have preceded it in history. This is brought out in two ways. First, the beast of Revelation 13 has the characteristics’ of a leopard, a bear, and a lion, i.e., as we noted before, although the beast of Revelation 13 is the final development of the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision, it somehow also incorporates the other three beasts ofDaniel 7. The four beasts of Daniel 7 are four great world-kingdoms: in order, the Babylonian empire (headed by Nebuchadnezzar), the kingdom of the Medes and Persians (of which Cyrus was the outstanding ruler), the kingdom of the Greeks and Macedonians (under Alexander the Great), and the Roman empire, the fourth beast. The beast of Revelation 13 is the final development of the old Roman empire yet in the future, but it definitely takes up into itself the other great kingdoms.
This is also the meaning of the seven heads of the beast. Revelation 17 explains these heads as seven kings, i.e., kingdoms, five of which had already fallen at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation (about A.D. 95), one of which was then existing, and the last of which has still to come. The great kingdom that existed at the time of the writing of Revelation was the Roman empire. It was this kingdom, in fact, which was persecuting the church at the time and which had exiled the apostle John to the island of Patmos. The kingdom that was yet to come, the seventh head of the beast, was the kingdom of Antichrist itself. The five kingdoms that had already fallen by the time of the apostles were, going back in order from the time of the apostles the kingdom of the Greeks and Macedonians; the kingdom of the Medes and Persians; the Babylonian kingdom; the Assyrian kingdom; and the kingdom of Babel, headed by Nimrod at the time of the building of the tower of Babel. All these were great kingdoms that attempted world-dominion and that were more or less successful. They are all heads of the beast. The Spirit teaches us by this that the great kingdom of Antichrist, when it comes, stands related to all these former empires, that it is the goal that they all strove for, that it is the fruition of their efforts, and that, in it, the essence of them all is still to be found. Always through history, the kingdom of Antichrist has been coming (see “The Coming of Antichrist,” in the February 1 issue of the SB).
It is in this connection that we must consider the statement in Revelation 13:3 that one of the heads of the beast was “wounded to death,” but “his deadly wound was healed.” If each head is taken as a manifestation of the beast in history, as an attempt to establish the kingdom of Antichrist, it is not difficult to understand this. The healed death wound must refer to the division of peoples by God at Babel, as recorded in Genesis 11. Soon after the flood, under the mighty Nimrod, there was an attempt at a world-kingdom. But God frustrated the effort by confounding their language. At that time, God divided the human race into the different nations by giving the different groups their own peculiar language and, no doubt, their own color and other racial, national characteristics. Thus God scattered the peoples and separated them. Down through history, that tremendous blow to man’s aspiration for a one-world government has stymied all efforts to realize the kingdom of Antichrist. But at the end, the deathblow will be healed. The nations will again be able to communicate with each other, will seek each other, and will actually unite under the headship of Antichrist.
We are seeing this take place today. The nations are talking to each other, and they are talking peace. The sea of the nations of the world is swept by winds of economic interdependence, mutual fear of war, and, not least, a common hatred for God and His Christ and a common love of man.
Out of it will come the beast. And it will be a beast! Not, of course, in the opinion of the ungodly world which will acclaim it as utopia, as heaven on earth, but in the judgment of the people of God, who see it as it really is. For it will have the spiritual character of the dragon. It is the dragon that gives it its power and throne and authority, according to verse 2. It is a beast in its relation to God. It is full of pride and full of hatred for God. It demands to be worshiped as God. It hates God and raves against him. Verse 1 tells us that it has names of blasphemy on its heads. These names show what the beast essentially is: nothing but a monstrous blasphemy. As it is, so does it behave: it blasphemes God, His Name (i.e., Jesus Christ), and His tabernacle (v. 6). It is, therefore, also a beast in its relation to thechurch. It makes war with the saints and overcomes them. As we will see later, the antichristian world-power inaugurates the great tribulation.
The beast is the kingdom of Satan in the world. Satan is its builder and maker, its power, and its spiritual head. Throughout history, Satan has worked at this: against the kingdom of God, to rear up his kingdom. Time and again, he failed. In the end, he will be successful. There will be an empire that manifests Satan’s life and principles, that redounds to Satan’s praise, and that fulfills his lust for an absolute reign over mankind and over God’s creation. For a little while Satan will crow, “I am God; I rule all; mine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” Indeed, for a time, times, and half a time, it seems so, also to the people of God.
This is the earthly future. Terrible times are ahead for those who bow their knee to the living God and pray, “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Since the kingdom of the beast is essentially spiritual, the Devil’s “No” to the kingdom of God, we citizens of God’s kingdom must oppose it in a spiritual manner. We do not try to prevent it or overthrow it by political shenanigans or by force of arms. We resist it, as the saints have ever done, by faith in the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Out of this faith comes patience, patience to endure the fearful things that are seen, while we look at the things which are not seen.
Nor are we afraid. Our names are written in the book of life (Rev. 13:8). The saints will do valiantly (Dan. 11:32). The martyrs at once live and reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4, 6). To suffer for Christ is a precious gift to us (Phil. 1:29). And the beast is ordained to defeat and destruction: he must be killed and shall go into everlasting captivity (Rev. 13:10).
The Ancient of Days has given the kingdom to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is Lord.