And I stood on the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns…
There are few chapters in the Bible which have been entirely passed over by. Christian preachers as containing nothing that would edify and instruct men living m circumstances like our own. But this chapter seems to have been so dealt with. We have searched the lists of thousands of printed sermons, and not one, or rather but one, have we found which seeks to show that this portion of God's Word has anything to do with us today. The vast majority of Protestant commentators have rolled it up, as they have the Apocalypse generally, into as hard a missile as they could manufacture, and then have hurled it with all their might against unhappy Romanists and the Church to which they belong. And no doubt there has been reciprocity. But this chapter has a meaning, and a momentous one, for the men of today, although, as we think, for the men of St. John's day it pointed to that awful persecuting power, summed up in the monster Nero, then Emperor of Rome, and who, like the foul, fierce beast that he was, had been making dire havoc in the Church of Christ. This man, or monster rather, was the dragon's, that is the devil's, chief agent, and had to aid and abet him the second beast, lamb like in look, but fierce in heart, of which we read in ver. 11. By this second beast was meant, we think, that whole system of heathen imposture and manifold superstition which ever played into the hands of the mere brute force wielded by the state. Simon Magus, and vast numbers more such as he, were its ministers. (For detailed proof, see Farrar, in loc.) And this entire chapter was to the persecuted Church of that day a solemn announcement of suffering appointed for them which they could not hope to escape (vers. 9, 10),. which demanded patience and faith, but which, however (Revelation 17:14), should issue in glorious victory through the might of their Lord, whose "called and chosen and faithful" they were. Such then were the preparations for martyrdom with which the Church was supplied in those awful days of testing and of trial. How do the poor petty persecutions - scarce worthy of the name - which now and again some of us have to put up with, dwindle into insignificance by side of the fiery trials appointed for them for whom St. John wrote! And how should we be ashamed to shrink from ours when we know they never shrank from theirs, but endured and overcame, and wore the martyr's crown! But Rome and pagan persecutions have passed away. They answered to these symbols of the beasts then: what answer to them now? And we reply -
I. THE ANTICHRISTIAN WORLD answers to the first of the wild beasts of which we here read. See the resemblance. Rome and Nero's were not more exact.
1. It has assumed successive forms. "Seven heads" we read of, and they denote the multiplication and succession of hostile powers arrayed against the Church of God. Egypt and Assyria, Babylon and Persia, Greece and Rome, and by and by the final antichrist, - these may be the seven heads. But they are all but successive forms of the same God-defying world.
2. And it has ever had immense strength. "Ten horns," and these encircled with diadems, telling how the world spirit has ever made use of the princes and potentates of earth to work its will.
3. And it has ever raged against the Church as a wild beast. Under all its forms it has hated the people of God. From Pharaoh even to the last of the persecutors it has been the same. And in modern days, though in different ways, it has continued unchanged in spirit and aim. Voltaire's wild cry, "Ecrasez l'infame!" and the hatred with which he and his fellow atheists toiled to overthrow the Christian Church, were but modern manifestations of the same mind. And if it be difficult, as it is - and we are thankful that it is - to point in out-day to any one party or person in whom this God-defying antichristian spirit is specially embodied, none the less does it exist. "The prince of this world" - he who inspired the whole succession of these monsters - he still "worketh in the children of disobedience." Experience and observation alike attest this. What relentless opposition to God we often see and feel! How good is crushed and trampled on, and every attempt to assert Christ's wilt is ruthlessly put down!
4. And its deadly wounds heal. (Ver. 3.) Whether the death and supposed return of Nero, or the overthrow of paganism by the conversion of Constantine, and the revival of its worst features afterwards, be St. John's meaning, there can be no doubt that the world's seemingly deadly wounds do heal. If its dominion be overthrown in a given locality, or in your heart and mine, do we not know how the evil spirit, who has left for a while, comes back; and unless he be driven forth again, he will come back stronger than before, and the last state of that place, that heart, that character, be worse than the first?
5. It is popular. It has the vox populi "All the world wondered after" and "worshipped." Openly and avowedly in St. John's day, but as really, though more reverently, now.
6. And it blasphemes still. It claims Divine power. "All these things will I give thee, if," etc. - this still it says, and the most of men believe it.
7. And it wages war and wins. (Ver. 7.) Let families, Churches, congregations, tell how this war has been waged in their midst, and how some, often many, of their most hopeful members have fallen. What decimating of the ranks of the Church goes on continually through the might of this great adversary!
8. And none but those who are really Christ's withstand. (Ver. 6.) Yes, we are sent forth as sheep amid wolves. It seems as strange as it is sad. But so it is. For our comfort remember that it is the sheep who have ever made short work with the wolves. We should surely have thought it would have been the other way. See, literally, in lands where wolves once ran wild, as in our own, the pastures are covered over with flocks; but the wolves, where are they? As the anvil, though smitten hard, and year in and year out, yet it wears out many a hammer (Spurgeon); so the smitten Church wears out the persecutor's hammer. But let us not go ransacking ancient history for the lessons of this chapter; our own times, our own circumstances, and very likely our own hearts' experience, will supply them in plentiful way.
II. THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD answers to the second "beast." St. James tells us that "this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." This monster (ver. 11) is seen to ascend from "the earth," as St. James tells. In Revelation 19:20 it is called "the false prophet."
1. It is said to have "deceived." True type of the wisdom of this world, that godless, antichristian wisdom which encounters us today just as it did them of old. It deceives:
(1) By its innocent appearance, its lamb like look. True, it had ten horns, but they meant nothing, so small, so slight, so incapable of injury. So this wisdom. No one would ever suspect it of being a fierce beast. It is known as modern thought, science, philosophy, liberal culture - lamb like words whom none would suspect to harbour ill.
(2) By its words, so subtle and serpentine. "He spake as a dragon," that is, as a serpent, as did the "old serpent," the devil, who over persuaded and beguiled our first mother. So this wisdom of the world is plausible, popular, prevalent. It seems so untrammelled in its researches, so broad in its conclusions, so courageous, so unprejudiced, so candid, so fair. But it further deceives
(3) by its "lying wonders" (ver. 14). The juggleries and tricks of heathenism, its magic and sorcery, explain St. John's words. But for us they point to the glamour and witchery which the wisdom of this world casts over us when it points to the marvellous results it has achieved. Have not most eminent names, most wonderful discoveries, most famous reputations, been amongst the rewards it has given? And thus speculation and scepticism, doubt and denial, the rejection of old faith and the discontinuance of old habit, have been permitted and invited, and we come to believe in nothing but ourselves and this wonderful century in which we live. But:
2. Its falsity may be detected. There is an Ithuriel spear which shall compel it to self-revelation. By its fruits it shall be known. See, then:
(1) It is in alliance with the God-defying world. (Cf. vers. 12-15.) Mere brute force could not get on without the tricks and frauds which this lamb like, lying thing concocts and displays. The first beast would be powerless without the cunning of the second. And here is a test for us. Do we find that any set of opinions, any new beliefs and maxims we may have adopted, are such as the godless and the antichristian world choose and cherish as of great advantage to them? Can they claim them as on their side? If so, that is a very suspicious fact.
(2) It transforms you into the world's likeness. (See ver. 16.) On the forehead or on the right hand the mark of this beast was to be. That is to say, the stamp of the world was to be visibly and confessedly on us. All the transactions of life would reveal this. We could do nothing that did not betray it. The wisdom of this world will thus claim for the world those whom it has first beguiled. Thus by the effect of it may we know its real character. Does the stamp of the God-despising world become visible in our daily conduct, bearing, and words? Do these things show the "mark of the beast '? If so, what loud call comes to us to have done with all such so called wisdom, and to give heed to our Saviour's words, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly," etc.! - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.