Ancient Serpent

The Beast from the sea is the latest incarnation of the ancient creature that has stalked the seed of the woman since the sin of Adam

Ancient Serpent - photo by Alyzah K on Unsplash
History repeats itself. Its landscape is littered with efforts by tyrants and empires to dominate large populations and even the entire planet. They may experience success for a time, but so far, every self-appointed world ruler has floundered in the end. The empires of Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, and Charlemagne have all been confined to history’s dustbin - [
Ancient Serpent - photo by Alyzah K on Unsplash].

This raises the question - Why? Does this pattern repeat because humanity never learns? That is certainly the cynic’s reply. Or are nefarious groups of conspirators working behind the scenes to impose a New World Order?

The book of Revelation provides another answer. Satan is the “Dragon,” the “Ancient Serpent” who has been slithering behind the scenes of human history since the beginning as he defies the Creator of all things by subjugating the crown of His creation, man.

As history demonstrates, the “Serpent” is an opportunistic predator. His tactics may vary over time and geography, but his goal remains the same. And Revelation presents us with information about his end game and final demise.

CHRIST’S VICTORY


The Devil cannot defeat an omnipotent deity. Instead, his strategy is to destroy mankind. And so, he attacks the people of God, beginning with the king appointed by Him to reign over the earth, the very one sent to redeem humanity.

At the pivotal moment, the “Great Red Dragon” is poised to “devour” the messianic “son” when the “woman clothed with the sun” gives birth. But the plot fails when the child is “caught up” to the throne of God - (Revelation 5:5-6).

It is through his death and resurrection that the “Lamb” has achieved victory over Satan and everlasting redemption. The “Serpent” may have bruised his “heel,” but he “crushed” his head when God raised him from the dead and exalted him to reign over the Cosmos - (Revelation 5:6-14, 12:1-6).

SEED OF THE WOMAN


Enraged by this defeat, the “Dragon” turns his wrath against the “woman” and “her seed,” those who have the “testimony of Jesus.” And to execute his war, he summons his own “seed” - the “Beast from the sea.”

All this is the culmination of an ancient feud. The image in John’s vision echoes the story of the seduction of Adam and Eve by the “Serpent” in Eden. The present conflict is as old as humanity itself:
  • (Genesis 3:14-15, Revelation 12:1-17, 13:1-3 – “And the Dragon was enraged with the woman and departed to make war with the rest of her seed, those who have the testimony of Jesus”).

In his vision, John is NOT retelling the story of Adam. He is illustrating the present cosmic conflict that manifests itself in the daily struggles of the “churches.”

History “repeats” because the same malevolent creature has been conspiring against the people of God since Adam’s fall. And today, this “war” is being waged on the disciples of Jesus by the same “Serpent” who has been attacking the “seed of the woman” since man’s expulsion from the Garden.

In Revelation, the “woman clothed with the sun” represents the covenant community that produces the “Son.” The application to him of the messianic prophecy from the second Psalm leaves no doubt as to his identity:
  • She gave birth to a son, a man who is going to rule and shepherd every nation with an iron scepter, and her son was caught up to God and to his throne… Now is come the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” – (Psalm 2:6-9, Revelation 12:5-10).

But having failed to destroy the “son,” the “Serpent” redirects his “war” against her “seed,” the followers of the “Lamb.”

SERPENT’S SEED


His first creature, the “Beast from the sea,” parallels Daniel’s vision of the “four beasts ascending” from the sea.

What is noteworthy in Revelation is that “ascending” translates the present tense Greek participle, anabainon, which stresses action in progress, namely, an ongoing process of ascent. John sees this “Beast” in the very process of ascending from the sea – (Daniel 7:1-4, Revelation 13:1-3).

In his vision, Daniel sees four “beasts,” also “ascending” from the sea. They represent four consecutive kingdoms that are “diverse one from another.” These regimes may vary in certain specifics, but they all originate from the same source; each one is of the same character and dedicated to the same mission – to destroy the people of God.

But in contrast to Daniel, John sees a single beast “ascending from the sea” with the same animalistic features as all four of Daniel’s beasts - the lion, bear, leopard, and the unnatural monster with “ten horns.”

Strikingly, however, Revelation lists the four creatures in reverse order. The monster with ten horns, the leopard, the bear, and the lion. It is as if John is looking backward in time from his first-century perspective.

Thus, John’s single “Beast from the sea” is an amalgamation of all four of the “beasts” found in Daniel. It is related to these earlier “beasts,” but it is also something beyond them, and presumably, far worse. It is related but not identical to them.

SINGLE BEAST


The merger of Daniel’s four “beasts” into a single creature means John’s “Beast from the sea” is a trans-historical reality, a monster that has existed since the beginning and appears periodically in history, though each time in a different guise. And there are scriptural precedents for this understanding.

For example, in his interpretation of the “great image” in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel explains that four kingdoms will arise on the earth in succession, beginning with Babylon. And the “great image” consists of four distinct sections; nevertheless, it is ONE image.

And this single “great image,” including all four of its segments, is destroyed when a “stone cut from a mountain” strikes it on the feet, at once, shattering the entire edifice. And that “stone” is none other than the “kingdom of God” - (Daniel 2:44).

In another vision, Daniel sees the “fourth beast” destroyed and “burned with fire.” But the lives of the rest of the four “beasts” are “prolonged for a season and a time.” All four creatures are parts of a single whole. And in the vision’s interpretation, their “kingdom,” singular, is given to the “saints of the Most-High.”

In other words, the “life” of the preceding three “beasts” continues in the “life” of the “fourth beast,” the one with the “little horn speaking great things” - (Daniel 7:11-12, 7:27).

Likewise, in Revelation, when the “seventh trumpet” sounds a voice proclaims that the “kingdom of the world,” singular, has become the “kingdom of our Lord and his Christ” - (Revelation 11:15).

SEVEN KINGDOMS


This understanding becomes clear in the interpretation of the “Great Whore” that John sees riding the “Beast from the sea”:
  • (Revelation 17:8-11) “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to ascend from the abyss, and goes into destruction… The inhabitants of the earth saw the beast, how he was, and is not, and will come. Here is the mind that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits. And they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he is going into destruction.

The “seven heads” represent seven kingdoms. This means the “Beast” is something more than a single human ruler. It represents an entire empire. And it “was, is not, and will come.” Thus, it has appeared in history more than once, and it will appear again.

Of the “seven heads,” five “are fallen,” one “is,” and another is yet to come. That is, by John’s time, five empires have already come and gone, one exists, and another and final beastly incarnation will appear on the earth before the end.

Roman Column - Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash
[Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash]


In this historical context, the “fifth beast” can only be the Roman Empire, and that is why many commentators believe the final “Beast” will be a revived Rome in some form. Whether that proves to be true, the final “Beast” is “of the seven” but is also “an eighth.”

In other words, its final form will be of the same nature as its predecessors, but it will also be something beyond them. And it will wage “war on the saints” in Satan’s final effort to destroy the people of God.

This reading of the “Beast from the sea” is not allegorical. The prediction of a coming final “Beast” that attempts to annihilate the church once and for all is quite specific. But Revelation wants us to understand that this is an ancient battle that plays out even now in the daily trials and tribulations of the church.

The final satanic battle will occur in the “short season” allotted to the Devil at the end of the age. At that time, he will gather the nations of the earth for one last ditch effort to crush the “seed of the woman.”

But his attack will be thwarted at the last minute when God intervenes to destroy Satan’s armies, casts him into the “lake of fire,” and ushers in the “new heavens and the new earth” in which sin, suffering, death, and the “Ancient Serpent” will be no more – (Revelation 20:7-9).



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