Previously: The rider on a white horse – Revelation 19:11-16
Rev. 19:17 – Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying in mid-heaven, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.”
19 Then I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and against His army. 20 But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with him the false prophet, who had performed signs on his authority, by which he deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (HCSB)
The beast and his armies defeated
Next, John sees an angel standing on – or some translations say in – the sun. He cries out in a loud voice to the birds, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great” (vv. 17-18).
We should note a stark contrast between this supper, in which the fowls of the air are summoned to feast on the corpses of the wicked (and their horses), and the marriage supper of the Lamb, in which believers enjoy intimate fellowship with the Bridegroom. As in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son, those who are not dressed appropriately for a marriage feast are cast into outer darkness, while those who respond positively to the king’s invitation, and willingly wear the white linen robes the king provides for all guests, enjoy the comforts of the royal court (see Matt. 22:1-14).
Rev. 17:9 – Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. 10 There are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction. 12 The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (HCSB)
The seven heads
The angel now explains the meaning of the beast’s seven heads: “Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction” (vv. 9-11).
The seven mountains probably symbolize Rome, built on seven hills. In John’s day, the Roman Empire is living in luxury, exporting false religion, corrupting its conquered people with idolatry, and persecuting the church. But the angel says the seven heads also symbolize seven kings or kingdoms, five of them past, one present, and one to come. The identity of the kings is highly disputed. Some interpreters say this refers to seven successive Roman emperors, but more hold that it refers to seven consecutive world empires.
If kingdoms are meant, then from John’s perspective the five past kingdoms are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. The present kingdom is Rome, and the future kingdom is that of the beast. If kings are meant, the five Roman rulers who have fallen are Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Domitian is the one that is (assuming Revelation is written in the 90s), and the one yet to come is the king of the revived Roman Empire. For those who say Revelation is written prior to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, Vespasian is “the one who is” and Titus is the one who will come for a little while to lead the destruction of Jerusalem. Or, the one to come is Nero, referencing the legendary expectation that he would return from the grave.
Rev. 13:15 – He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (HCSB)
He was permitted to give a spirit to the image
In verse 15 John writes of the false prophet, “He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
Note first that the false prophet is permitted to give life to the image of the beast. His power comes from Satan; his permission comes from God. Thusly armed, he gives a “spirit” to the image. The Greek word pneuma is used more than 300 times in scripture and may be translated “spirit,” “breath” or “breeze.” It also may refer to the human spirit or rational soul; an angel, demon, or the Holy Spirit; or even a ghost. Here it appears to be best translated “breath” or “life,” for the image speaks and acts.
This is a stunning miracle, for it convinces many to worship the first beast. It’s quite possible that the false prophet uses sleight-of-hand tricks to make it appear the image is speaking. However, it could be that demonic forces are at work. In confronting the Corinthians with the truth about hand-carved idols, Paul pulls back the veil to expose the truth that those who offer sacrifices to idols – which cannot speak or act – are in fact sacrificing to demons, which the idols represent (1 Cor. 10:20). But in Revelation, John depicts the idol as being alive – or apparently so. Whether animated by demons or creative illusions, the image of the beast inspires both wonder and terror in the hearts of people, for he pronounces death sentences on those who hold fast their allegiance to Christ.
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.”
Rev. 11:7 – When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. 8Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which is called, prophetically, Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9And representatives from the people, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb. 10Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who live on the earth. (HCSB)
The beast will conquer them and kill them
But the witnesses’ time is limited. John notes that when they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them (v. 7). The two witnesses – these two lampstands and olive trees – do not speak the word of the Lord or perform miracles indefinitely. The Lord ordains a time for them to speak and a time to suffer.
It is always this way with God’s witnesses. They are sent for a time, and until that time is fulfilled, no one can shut their mouths or do them harm. Noah preaches for 120 years and God protects him from the wicked, who no doubt mock and threaten him. Elijah prophesies against Ahab and Jezebel, and they cannot silence him until they are dead and the Lord calls His prophet into heaven. Stephen preaches a profound message of judgment and hope, and not even the ambitious young Pharisee Saul can close his mouth until the last word is spoken.