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It’s a Given


Revelation 13:5-10 September 6, 2020 Lord’s Day Worship Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 19:40 in the audio file.



Or, Why the Saints Will Endure the Beast

It is always instructive to see how God handles things. By that I don’t mean how He reacts, I mean how He has organized things in order to show off various aspects of His character, including His wisdom and His patience. If the virtue of endurance had its origin and essence in you, how would you communicate that to others so that they would know it at a deeper level than the two-dimensions of a printed page? You’d probably want to demonstrate it, and for that you’d need something to endure.

The starting point for this discussion is the sovereignty of God. It is not an academic specialty or a polemical fight, it is a pastoral encouragement for every believer’s fight for faith and endurance. The life of a disciple of Christ is costly; it will cost you your life, in one way or in thousands. God made it to be like this. Our need to endure is a given, at least if we want to worship God in His beautiful steadfastness as well as take on His image. James said that when steadfastness has its full effect in us, then we lack nothing.

In the final days, of which we are getting a taste of these days, the world will be driven by the dragon, his agent the beast, and a prophet who is also referred to as a beast. It’s more than interesting, it’s instructive how the Almighty and the Lamb, and their Spirit, deal with the unholy trinity.

No other being in the universe deserves praise like God, no other being in the universe knows when He’s not getting the praise He deserves, and no other being in the universe has the authority to judge the blasphemers. God Himself is the legislator, judge, and executor (not necessarily mapping to members of the Trinity). Why doesn’t He do something about the beast?

It’s not that He doesn’t have the forces. The dragon has been beaten at everything he tried in chapter 12. Having been thrown out of heaven and frustrated in his attempts to attack the woman, the dragon sets up his own messiah-like figure, the final embodiment of the antichrist, who poses as a king. In Revelation 13:1-4 we saw the parody, the numerous ways the beast plays at taking the Lamb’s place. But isn’t the Father’s aim to make much of His Son? How could the Father let this imposter go on? Again, why doesn’t He do something about the beast?

He does. He gives the beast everything he’s got.

The battle between good and evil is not a fair fight, and it’s not because evil cheats. It’s because evil has to steal ideas and borrow strength from the God of good just to fight the good. Evil isn’t autonomous. Evil can’t create or sustain itself. Evil needs good to pervert, and it needs approval to do its perverting. How humiliating.

In Revelation 13:1-4 the beast imitates the Lamb’s glory, and in verses 5-8, the beast receives glory, but the perspective reveals that its only because it’s been delegated to him by God, with limits. Four times John says “it was given” to the beast. Then in verses 9-10 we’ll see how the saints are called to respond, not just to the beast, but to this revelation.

Given to Blaspheme God (verses 5-6)

There’s not just a relationship between the beast and the dragon, Satan, the beast also has a relationship to the state. In the early verses of the chapter we see the many-headed, multi-horned view of of the beast, and in chapter 17 we’ll be told how the heads relate to a number of kings. One of the activities of those rebel rulers is blasphemy, they take names that don’t belong to them. In verse 5 the embodiment of the beast has a big mouth.

5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

Oratory and rhetoric have always been important, a valued skill. This beast does more than read off of a teleprompter; he’s more like Wither from the N.I.C.E. than Biden to the Socialists. The beast does not hold back. Out of his mouth comes “big” talking, what the ESV calls haughty, and blasphemous or irreverent speaking. It’s the theme of every press conference. The world won’t see it as blasphemy, they’ll call for encores after the daily two-minutes of hate.

The blasphemies are described further in verse 6, as the beast insults God and everything and everyone connected to God. He scoffs at God’s name. He puts down God’s dwelling, in particular, the heavenly tabernacle which is so identified with God’s people that it refers to those who dwell in heaven. Perhaps the beast is bitter that those who already died proved their faithfulness, or perhaps it includes Michael and his forces who defeated the dragon.

This is blasphemy in both exalting himself by claiming attributes of deity and in deriding true deity, and all those connected with Him. The beast lifts up and looks down.

We’ll connect the last half of verse 5 to the last half of verse 7 into 8, but before we move on, don’t miss how the beast got into this position: the beast was given. It’s true that the beast was given this mouth by the dragon, and the dragon did delegate authority in the previous paragraph. But here there is no doubt that God Himself gives the beast the mouth to blaspheme God.

Given to Conquer the Saints (verse 7a)

With the dragon’s authority and the people’s approval, the beast attacks believers.

7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.

As the ESV translates, the beast was allowed, it’s the same Greek verb as used throughout the paragraph. For consistency it could read, “it was given to the beast to make war and to win.”

There is not one thing—let this bolster your confidence, saints—there is not one thing that happens to the saints outside of God’s sovereignty. Our sufferings and our successes are His to give. Job told his wife, God gives and takes away, blessed be His name. Jonathan’s song: our pleasure and pain is God’s to ordain. When rulers write first amendment rights, when later rulers threaten those rights, we don’t think it happens apart from God.

During the 42 months the beast will take out the dragon’s anger on the saints, and he will conquer them, which means that they have their freedoms or even their lives taken (cf. Revelation 2:10; and 13:10). In this case the saints cannot compromise their heavenly citizenship. We already saw that when believers don’t give up their believing to death, that is conquering the dragon; he can’t win for winning.

> they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

How humiliating, and exhausting.

If you feel like this is too much to carry, remember that God both delivered Jesus from the hands of men until it was time to deliver Jesus into the hands of men who killed Him. Jesus was delivered up by the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23; 4:28). And without God’s sovereignty in sending His Son to be “conquered” on the cross, we would have no hope of conquering either.

Given to Control the Nations (verses 7b-8)

As Pilate had no authority except what God gave him (John 19:11), so with the beast. We pick up with what John said, it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months (verse 5), again it could be translated, “it was given authority to act.” The last part of verse 7 expands on that given.

And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

For as ugly and offensive as this part of the parody is, the emphasis is on the limitations of the beast.

He is limited to forty-two months. If it were up to the dragon’s decision there would be no time restraints. This is the three and a half years, the last half of the Great Tribulation; a lot has been revealed about this time previous in Revelation. The beast will hold office not a day beyond what is given to him.

While he holds office, however, it will seem that he is getting almost everything that he wants. Every tribe and people and language and nation are global references, not satisfied by any first century Roman emperor, even while acknowledging that the first-century Empire extended over many ethnicities and across many geographical boundaries. But this is the same description as those from whom the Lamb ransomed a people for God. It is world domination; everyone goes to his church.

The world will worship him, not “it” (NAS, contra ESV). “Beast” is a neuter noun, and so the pronoun throughout the paragraph has been neuter to match. But the object of worship in verse 8 is masculine, “him.” The beast includes the kingdoms, the anti-Lordship governments, but he is not exclusively corporate, meaning that he is not bureaucracy. He has a face. Likewise, all governments that have persecuted Christians have a similarity, they are precursors, perhaps we could even say that they are types of this beast.

The worship is limited, however, which must make he beast more angry. An entire group will refuse to follow him, everyone whose name has..been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

These are saints given by the Father to the Son (John 6:37). It is the doctrine of election, God’s sovereignty in salvation. The beast will try to deceive even the elect, but he won’t be successful because the Lamb has chosen to protect them from the deception.

Are the names written before the foundation of the world, or was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world? Based on the parallel statement in 17:8, it seems best to understand that the names were written before Genesis 1. But the names were written for what purpose? They were written for the Lamb’s atoning work, which means that the Lamb was also foreknown before the foundations of the world, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:18-19, and the Greek word order also suggests that emphasis here, as the KJV: “whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

Given to Suffer (verses 9-10a)

Using a similar call as in each of the letters to the seven churches, those who believe ought to attend to the truth.

9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.

The vision borrows language similar to Jeremiah 15:2 and 43:11. Three “if”s, based on Scripture’s revelation of God’s sovereignty.

The most important question is, who are those being taken captive or slain? It does not fit the context of the paragraph, where the beast is having his way and saints are conquered, nor does it fit with the call for those with ears to hear, who are saints, to say that we’ve switched to God’s judgment on unbelievers. These “if”s are not a threat of punishment, they are preparation for a time when darkness appears to dominate.

So the saints must be ready to suffer, knowing God is the author. In fact, just as the number of the martyrs must be filled (Revelation 6:9-11), so either punishment by imprisonment or by death is chosen by God for many. Though I believe this is futuristic, of course it applied in John’s day and every day since.

Given to Endure (verse 10b)

Some initially think that if God is sovereign, there is no need to pray. If He already knows what He’s going to do, then why appeal to Him? But it actually is a bigger problem the other way. If God is not sovereign, why would you pray? If He doesn’t have the authority or the power to change anything, why ask Him?

The fact that God gives the beast any prerogative, the fact that God knows our lot, is the reason to persevere.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

It is not a call to question, it is a call to courage. The beast is given his limits, and believers are given the knowledge of God’s plan, they are given the Spirit and promises, they are given endurance and faith.

Conclusion

“It was given,” found four times, emphasizes God’s command of the scene. Tyrants, who act as if they answer to no one above them, couldn’t lift a finger on their own. The sovereignty of God, in election to salvation and perseverance of the saints, shines in this story of the beast’s ironic victory that seals defeat for the dragon and the beast.

Part of the reason believers will be slandered, and even must be slandered, is because God has predestined us to be godly, to be like Him (Romans 8:29).

Likewise it is a given that the saints will endure, not because it’s easy, but because God has elected it to be so.


Charge

If you have an ear to hear, hear the Word. There are many spheres in life, and there is one that holds them all together: God’s Word. We have been gifted with inspired Scripture so that we might think rightly and work for good with endurance (2 Timothy 3:16). Be a people who inhabit the Logosphere, whose minds are inhabited by the Logos. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through and endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). To the Word!

Benediction:

> And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, ESV)