Rev. 13:9 – If anyone has an ear, he should listen: 10If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints. (HCSB)
If anyone has an ear
This section concludes with a cautionary message: “If anyone has an ear, he should listen: If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints” (vv. 9-10). The beginning of this message echoes similar words Jesus used to underscore the importance of what’s being said. For example, He closes the Sermon on the Mount with, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine …” (Matt. 7:24). He concludes the parable of the sower with the words, “Anyone who has ears should listen” (Matt. 13:9). And He uses the same phrase after explaining the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:43). And, of course, Jesus ends each of his letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor with the words, “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”
It appears there are complementary lessons in these words. First, the Holy Spirit through John is encouraging persecuted saints to persevere, even to the point of death. They already have been assured that God ultimately will vindicate them and reward them in heaven (see, for example, Matt. 5:10-12; Rev. 2:10; 6:9-11). Second, the Lord is reminding the persecuted saints – and perhaps even their persecutors – that He will judge the wicked. The complaint that the wicked prosper and go unpunished is common throughout scripture; many Psalms of David are deep laments, for example. God, however, reminds us that evil is not forever and the wicked do not “get away with it.”
Matthew Henry writes: “Here is a demand of attention to what is here discovered of the great sufferings and troubles of the church, and an assurance given that when God has accomplished his work on mount Zion, his refining work, then he will turn his hand against the enemies of his people, and those who have killed with the sword shall themselves fall by the sword (v. 10), and those who led the people of God into captivity shall themselves be made captives. Here now is that which will be proper exercise for the patience and faith of the saints – patience under the prospect of such great sufferings, and faith in the prospect of so glorious a deliverance” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 13:1-10).
Four major views of the beast from the sea
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view this beast?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – argue that the beast from the sea is both an individual and a large entity, specifically the Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire. The beast, therefore, serves as the Devil’s contrived world power that persecutes the scattered saints of God. The mortal head wound is the death of Nero – or some say Julius Caesar – which threatens but does not prevent the survival of the empire. Finally, some preterists argue that the mortal head wound is the success of the gospel, which even members of Caesar’s household embrace (Phil. 4:22).
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – say the beast from the sea is the Roman Empire and is the same as the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7). The “seven heads” correlate to the well-known seven hills upon which Rome sits, and the 10 horns are subordinate kingdoms. The seven heads also represent seven forms of government under which Rome historically existed: kings, consuls, dictators, decemviri, military tribunes, the imperial form in John’s day, and Diocletian and his three colleagues. When Julian the Apostate, the last heathen emperor and part of this seventh form of government, falls, it should spell the end of the Roman Empire, but in fact the empire survives.
- Futurists – who say the events in Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – also see a connection between the beast from the sea and the fourth beast of Dan. 7. While the beast in John’s day is the Roman Empire as the persecutor of the church, it has always been and will be in the end the deification of secular authority. For many futurists, therefore, the beast is the revival of old, pagan, Imperial Rome, under a Roman dictator who exercises satanic power in the days just prior to Christ’s return. The 10 horns are 10 kingdoms within the revived Roman Empire. The seven heads symbolize the seven forms of government employed throughout its history. The deadly wound for many futurists is the actual death of the Antichrist, from which he is resurrected in a deceptive parody of Jesus’ resurrection. For others, however, the wounding of one of the seven heads simply refers to the fact that the Roman Empire seemingly died and is going to be revived.
- Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – say the beast out of the sea represents any government system that opposes the kingdom of God. Wherever governments persecute the church, there is the activity of Satan through a manifestation of the beast. The similarity between the seven heads and 10 horns of the dragon and the beast means that any persecuting governmental powers are thinly veiled satanic authorities. Idealists agree that the description of this beast is derived from the four beasts of Dan. 7:1-7. By combining the characteristics of the four beasts, we get a picture of all antichristian governments. The beast’s seven heads speak of the various manifestations of the beastly spirit in successive empires: Old Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The wounding of the seventh head likely refers to Rome and the death of Nero, which nearly spells the end of the empire.
Next: The beast from the earth – Revelation 13:11-18