Looking At Beasts

In our study of the Book of Revelation we have discussed the idea that this book is a particular kind of writing or literature known as “apocalyptic” writing.  The word “apocalypse” is from the Greek and its literal translation is something like “unveiling.”  That is to say that an apocalyptic writer is engaged in an effort to pull back the veil of surface appearances and show us what is actually going on beneath the masks.

Apocalyptic writing has definite characteristics.  It often employs symbols and may be cryptic to outsiders – that is, to people outside of its intended audience.  In fact, Greg Carey, in his book Ultimate Things: An Introduction to Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Literature, recommends that we interpret apocalyptic texts as creative literary and religious responses designed to influence communal beliefs and behaviors.

That recommendation is very easily applied to the Book of Revelation, for the book itself is quite clear about the communities to which it is addressed.  It is written to seven churches in separate cities in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and unmistakably intended to influence the “beliefs and behaviors” of that audience.

We have suggested that John’s original, intended audience would have been steeped in the Old Testament scriptures.  They would have known them intimately, as they would have been a part of the culture of the early church.  We have discussed the idea that John may have employed symbolism from the Old Testament as he wrote this book.  He would have known that these churches would have gotten his references – would have understood their import and meaning – while an outsider, such as some official of the Roman government, might have no idea of what was being said.

The two commentators we’ve been using throughout this study – Eugene Peterson and Vern Poythress – both say that the people to whom the book was originally written would have understood this patchwork monster that comes out of the sea in Chapter 13  as representing the Roman government.  Poythress points to the idea that the beast of Revelation 13 is a pieced-together amalgamation of the several beasts in one of the Prophet Daniel’s visions.

Let’s compare the vision recorded in Daniel chapter seven with the sea beast in Revelation chapter 13.

The beasts in Daniel’s vision all come out of the sea, just like the beast in Revelation 13.  The first of Daniel’s beasts is “like a lion,” the second is like a bear, the third like a leopard.  A fourth beast in Daniel’s vision has ten horns. (Daniel 7: 1-8)

The beast in John’s apocalypse also has ten horns and “was like a leopard,” and had feet like a bear and the mouth of a lion.

After describing the beasts, Daniel goes on to tell his readers that the all four of them represent kingdoms. (Daniel 7: 17)


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