The Lamb Will Overcome the Beast (vv. 7-14)
The Beast from the Pit, Destined for Destruction
It was hard to stomach such deep betrayal as Jerusalem killing the prophets God sent to them and then joining with the Romans to crucify the Son of God. Around many Christian tables early believers discussed how the Jewish leaders chose Caesar over Christ, their traditions over God’s word, all the while joining with the hated Romans because they hated the living God more. If this were not bad enough, they lied about the resurrection and then killed and persecuted James, Stephen, and Paul. It was all Israel’s old apostasies and idolatries reviving and uniting to make war against the church. This is bitter and maddening: when God’s professing friends join his enemies to persecute his true people. Israel the harlot wife of the Lord joined Rome the beast of Satan to persecute the church, but it was a doomed alliance. The beast rose from the same pit as the dragon: hell. The beast, likely more specifically Nero in this context, will be thrown into the pit. It is a jarring and necessary reminder that our Savior’s most violent and vocal enemies, so strong and daring now, unless they repent, will forever perish. This is especially true of notable enemies of our Lord and secular states that are Babel rebuilt. All their power will fail. They have their “heaven” but for a few minutes now. There is no future in rebellion against God and his Christ, only misery and destruction.
The Beast’s Kingdom Turbulent, Destined for Destruction
So that we do not miss the identification of the beast as first-century Rome, the famous seven hills upon which the city sat are mentioned (v. 9; Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Quirinal, Esquiline, Viminal). The date of Revelation is clear from the reference to “seven kings” (v. 10), with five already having ruled, the sixth then in power when the book was written, and then the seven who is coming, whose rule will be very short. Most lists of the Roman kings begin with Julius Caesar. Nero was the sixth in that line. The three following emperors, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, ruled turbulently for 18 months. This upheaval in the empire led some to believe that its dominance was broken. The Jews in Jerusalem thought they would escape the tightening noose of Roman rule, and it was during those 18 months that Jewish resistance in Jerusalem stiffened. Despite this turbulence, there will be ten more kings (vv. 11-12) – this is a symbolic way of saying that the Roman Empire will continue after the upheaval surrounding Nero’s death. Nevertheless, the future rulers of Rome are also destined for destruction. They give their allegiance to the beast, who is inspired by the dragon. They will make war with the Lamb and his church. As a point of historical correspondence to these words, ten waves of imperial persecution followed after the events of the first century.
The Lamb Will Overcome the Beast
Because the Roman Empire did not speak of its rule in terms of making war against Jesus Christ and being inspired by the devil, Christians might forget the true origin, nature, and participants in this war. The Lord began this war in Eden (Gen. 3:15). He declared war upon Satan and his seed, those who will not bow the knee to the Lord and attempt to build the city of man in which man’s word and desires reign supreme. All attempts to build this city reflect Satan’s desire to dethrone the living God. The city of man’s hostility to Christians is prompted ultimately by Satan. He has been cast out of heaven and now makes war upon the church (Rev. 12:17). Defeated, he hates Jesus Christ, the Son of God enthroned at the Father’s right hand. He hates Christians, because they have had their eyes opened to see and love God’s truth; they follow the Lamb wherever he leads. We must remember that behind all the turmoil we see in the world, Satan is agitating, plotting, stirring up tumult against us because he cannot touch Jesus Christ. This is now our Savior’s war (Rev. 19:11-15). The beast and his kings are making war against the Lamb. They will not have him to rule over them. But he will overcome them. To encourage them to be faithful, the Lord reveals his glory to them. The Lamb is now exalted to the Father’s right hand, ruling over all things for our sake (Eph. 1:19-21). Part of his overcoming is subduing us – humbling our pride, bringing us to feel our need of him, and opening our souls to seek him in prayer as if our next breath depends upon his help. It does.
It is important for us to be persuaded that only the Lamb will overcome the beast. We should not expect this to be done by clashing swords and vying political parties. Too much worldliness has crept into the church on this point. We should never equate Christ’s banner with the banner of those with whom we agree politically. Or what is worse, we think of his kingdom and warfare like the apostate Jews did – an army to meet the Roman army on the battlefield. Our Lord did not save the world like this. He did not call down legions of angels. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death. He fights for us, and we win by humbling ourselves as he did. We do this, first, by seeking from him the same lowliness of mind and obedience to his Father’s will by which he overcame the assaults and insults of Satan. Second, we overcome in the Lamb one soul at a time, one act of personal obedience at a time. If we complain about societal breakdown, are we obeying God’s law? Are we sharing the gospel, fervently and regularly, constantly praying for the salvation of sinners? Are we discipling in terms of the whole counsel of God? Third, we must understand and trust our superior weapons. They are not tank versus tank, but man’s tanks versus the Spirit’s sword, until the Lord himself burns the tanks in the fire, grounds the bombing planes, and defuses the nuclear arsenals by the sword coming out of his mouth. We must place all confidence in the overcoming Lamb and his weapons, and none in proud men, man’s weapons, and man’s movements. It is not men who overcame the beast, not even Christian men. It was the Lamb. The Father will not allow the glory of his beloved Son to be shared with anyone.
The Beast Will Devour the Harlot (vv. 15-18)
Having Rejected the Lamb, Jerusalem Sits on Chaos
What about the Lord’s unfaithful wife, the harlot, who is riding upon the beast? It was an awkward position for Israel and their leaders. They hated Jesus Christ more than they hated the Romans. They were forced to use the Romans, and the alliance would prove deadly. In sitting upon the beast, the harlot sat upon the chaotic waters and unbelieving peoples that made up the Roman Empire. The deluge from which our Lord protected his young church is the flood that drowned the harlot wife. The kings of Rome will turn on the harlot and tear her to shreds. It might have seemed that the death of Nero would bring relief, but the Roman Empire recovered from its deadly wound and made war upon the harlot, stripped her naked, and burned her with fire. Rome was the instrument of judgment against the harlot. The harlot had trusted in the beast. The church was delivered from the dragon, the beast, and the harlot. The harlot would be consumed by the beast.
The Lord Will Use Rome to Devour Jerusalem
It is one of the saddest ironies in Israel’s history that the Jewish leaders thought that by rejecting Jesus Christ they would save their nation and place (John 11:48). When they handed him over to Pilate and said, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matt. 27:25), they were signing their own death warrant. It is always sinful to put trust in princes, to depend upon man’s wisdom, and to trust one’s own heart and its many winding schemes. It is particularly evil for those who profess to be part of God’s church to use the power of a secular state to persecute the true followers of the Lamb, as Roman Catholicism did for centuries. And yet, to the end, when Jerusalem was encircled by the catapults and legions, they vainly hoped for deliverance from the returning Messiah – but they had rejected him. They would not have Jesus Christ to rule over them, and so he came on the clouds to judge them. Let us not trust in anyone but the Lamb of God to deliver us from men. Whatever we see with our eyes, the only safe course is to walk in plain obedience to God’s word – not man’s wisdom and schemes, but humble obedience and following the Lamb will save us. Jerusalem was the great city – she ruled over all the kings of the earth, for God’s temple and throne were graciously there. But the city became a harlot – she fornicated with the world and rejected the Lord’s Christ. Let us hold fast to him every day. When the temptation comes to embrace self or Christ, to confess him or to deny him before men, we must remember what happened to the Jews. They did not save their skins by siding with the world and using the Romans. They lost everything. By faith in Jesus Christ, we may lose all earthly goods, but we gain everything eternal, everything worth having, God himself as our portion, and the Lamb as our salvation.
The Church’s Victory in the Lamb (vv. 8,14)
We Are Written in the Lamb’s Book
How was a believer to cope with the swirling events of the first century? How are we to cope in our day? With work and family responsibilities, personal and national sins, and economic pressures, how can we possibly have a weaned soul before the Lord – quiet, calm, and trusting (Ps. 131:1-2)? Surely it will quiet us to remember that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (v. 8). The rest of the world was amazed at events that were happening in the beast’s empire – not true Christians. They know that “all other ground is sinking sand.” They may have no respect from men, be utterly forgotten or maliciously persecuted, lose their property and their peace, but they are citizens of heaven. This is not spiritual opium. Was our Lord Jesus a fool for speaking of paradise to the thief crucified next to him? In all our earthly troubles, to be encouraged to hold fast, and even to treat our enemies better than they treat us, we must remember our true home. It is not here, but heaven. This is the reason our affections are set there – upon the heavenly life with Jesus Christ forever (Col. 3:1). A simple test – are you angrier at current events than you are joyful at the hope of departing to be forever with the Lord?
We Are Called and Chosen by God
In addition to the great hope of everlasting life, we are also called of God – called into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9), called unto “his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14), called out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9), and called into the grace of Christ (Gal. 1:6; 2 Pet. 1:9). Every child of God has a glorious, gracious, quickening calling upon his life – from the Lord’s own voice, to be his, to know the Father’s love and fellowship, to serve the Lord Jesus where he has placed you, and to be with him forever. The children of this world have no such calling. They may be citizens of great nations, enrolled in prestigious institutions, and possessors of kingdoms, office, and wealth. Everyone may call them blessed, but without God’s calling unto grace and glory, their calling is a calling to hell. Hear God’s gospel voice this morning and come to Jesus Christ. For his calling is mediated through Jesus Christ. We are also chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:3-5). Before we were born or had done any good or evil, the Lord God our Father set his love upon us, determined to save us by his Son, who agreed to become our surety and Savior, and by his Spirit to make us new and seal us for heaven. We are marked out by God’s sovereign grace not because we are better than others but because the holy God is full of mercy and grace. Grace is that he has called even one to be his child. Amazing grace is that he has chosen so many to be heirs of salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:13). The world hates us, but we are chosen by God and precious, like our Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:28; 1 Pet. 2:4).
We Are Faithful to God
What is our response to the Lord’s effectual calling and choosing of us in Christ? Certainly not laziness or passivity, for God’s sovereign grace is not a spiritual tranquilizer but a mighty energizer. How should we live since our names are written in the book of Jesus Christ? Since God has called us out of darkness into his gracious light and fellowship? Since we are chosen to be God’s children – when he might justly have left us in our sin and to suffer everlasting ruin? Faithful. This is our whole response to our Father’s love and grace. Faithful. Faithful to him, faithful to his word, faithful to hold fast to Jesus Christ, faithful to bear the cross, faithful to depend upon his strength. In our choice of friends, music, loves, work, we seek faithfulness. Our Father has chosen us in Christ, and it is our high privilege and reasonable service to devote ourselves to pleasing him (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 1:10). If we do not feel the urge to be faithful to him, we have not tasted deeply enough of the wonders of being written in Jesus’ book, called by the Father to be children, and chosen to have Christ for our Head rather than Satan. The more we understand, cherish, and love what the Lord has done for us, the more we will devote ourselves to serving him – work, relations, time, thoughts – faithful. Faithful means we need not fear the future, for we have tasted the Father’s grace, and having tasted, we are satisfied with Jesus Christ. We have already won the victory, for we desire Christ, not man, heaven, not earth, fellowship with our Redeemer rather than peace with the world.