Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who was and is and is to come. Amen.
Well if last week was a little scary with the four horsemen of the apocalypse, this week is just down right strange. As we make our way into the second half of the book of Revelation we jump into chapter 13 and we’re confronted by these two nasty and incredibly odd-looking beasts, one from the land and who from the sea. Oh, and there’s a dragon.
If you were following along as we make our way through this chapter today/tonight, chances are that if you made it to the end you probably said to yourself, “huh?”
You might be thinking it’s not entirely clear what’s going on here, except that a lot of people are getting killed. You might be wondering if you’re supposed to be scared, or are you supposed to laugh? Both?
Further, what could this possibly have to do with us, today?
All right, buckle up. This is going to be fun. I promise.
In a book filled with rich and wild imagery, chapter 13 takes things to a whole other level. You have this beast with 7 heads, wearing 10 crowns, with a leopards body and bears claws and a lions mouth. It’s like a super beast or a franken-beast. It’s the kind of thing an 8-year-old boy would draw if you asked him to come up with the scariest monster he could imagine. You’d laugh at it if it weren’t so unsettling.
Which I think is exactly what the author of Revelation, John, had in mind. It’s like the people say in verse 4, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it.”
You have this comedically terrifying figure who has been given the power to rule over the earth, and the people are kind of like, yeah, have at it franken-beast, we got nothing to stop you.
So franken-beast picks a fight with God. He starts blaspheming, the first century equivalent to trash-talking, God and the saints and the heavenly realm. Are you getting the picture?
There are two sides here. And they’re pretty starkly divided. There’s the dragon, bizzaro beast from the sea, and his henchman the beast from land. By all appearances, this unholy trinity is unstoppable. One of them, the beast from the sea, has been dealt a death blow to one of its heads and yet somehow it’s healed. They claim what isn’t theirs by force and violence, and rule by fear and deception. The team of darkness and destruction work together to subjugate, oppress and dominate the earth.
But their time is fleeting.
In chapter 12, God has already thrown the dragon from the heavenly realm. Satan, the devil, the dragon, John’s Revelation uses the imagery pretty interchangeably, has suffered a significant defeat. The dragon’s sphere of influence in now limited only to earth. Evil has been limited, it’s been boxed in, and it’s not happy about it. It lashes out. But where the demonic trinity seeks to strengthen its hold by violence. John invites his readers to remember that God and the Lamb who was slaughtered have suffered so as to free people from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?
God and the Lamb have fought and have won. Evil has been hemmed in. Death no longer has the last word, life and the lamb do. But now we live in that in between time where the effects of that victory are still coming to fruition and fulfillment. What this bizarre and disturbing imagery from Revelation does is it invites the reader to see in very plain and unvarnished terms that there is no neutral ground. You are either aligned with the lamb and God who is seated on the throne, or your allegiance is to the Dragon and the beasts of the sea and the air.
Evil might not have 7 heads and 10 crowns, it might not call down fire from heaven, but it’s here and it manifests itself in all kinds of ways in this world. In every time and place, God’s people have been called to stand against those that have beastly tendencies. To persevere in the face of those that oppose God and God’s work in the world. But it’s no easy task, especially when the division between good and evil is seldom as clear as this passage would suggest.
But nonetheless, the call to endurance and faith stands.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve made this confession before, but I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I read and listen to the books in a constant and never-ending rotation. Book 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and when I finish listening to the Deathly Hallows, I return to the Sorcerer’s Stone and start all over again. My wife finds my obsession a little strange, and it probably is. But I’m counting down the days until I can start reading them with my kids.
In the Harry Potter universe, there’s a magical creature known as a Boggart. Nobody knows exactly what a boggart actually looks like. It’s a shape shifter. It takes on the form of whatever it is that you fear most. So in that regard, it’s a truly terrifying creature. Except that, in reality, it’s not the thing it’s pretending to be. It looks like it’s the thing you’re most afraid of that it’s not it. It’s a pretender, a usurper, it’s power is fleeting.
The boggart is overcome with a simple spell that causes its appearance to become comical, ridiculous, unbelievable. So the person whom the boggart is trying to attack begins to laugh, and the boggart is defeated.
There is something deeply comical about this passage, because, in spite of the awesome power the beasts wield, the readers know, and you and I know that their time is over. The powers of this world pretend to rule, pretend to exercise their authority but the God of heaven and earth has already secured his victory through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lamb.
This promise gives us the courage to stand in the face of those that claim authority over our lives and this world. We are called to faithful endurance and active engagement over an against those that use their influence and strength to subjugate and oppress rather than free and empower.
Faith gives you and I power to see the beasts of our day for what they are, pretenders whose time has already past. The road ahead is difficult, but we know how this story ends.