It is also vitally important that we recognize certain key characters within the book of Revelation. These characters recur, and unless observed carefully, may escape our attention, and we will quickly lose our way toward an understanding of the general import of the book. It is not necessary to know ALL the characters, nor to point them out. Besides the obvious references to Jesus Christ, and some that are not so obvious, it is sufficient that these following be kept in mind:
1. The Dragon (Satan, the Devil) - Rev. 12:3-4, 7-9
"And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born."
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
The "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars" is identified as representing those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:17). She represents all who have been faithful to God, whether before the Law of Moses, under the Law of Moses, or in the body of Christ. From these God brought forth His Son, the "Man Child" as it is translated in the KJV. This is obviously Jesus the Christ who is taken up into heaven before the great events described in the Revelation. Once the Man Child is brought forth and taken up into heaven, the remainder of the seed of the Woman are left on the earth to await the coming events.
But then John identifies the true enemy of the children of God as the Devil himself. Chapter 12 introduces him as the great manipulator of all the opposition against the saints. Though he fails to destroy the Man Child, he is to be let loose on the earth for a while to fight against the woman and her seed. Although the woman is to be protected, there will still be casualties (Rev. 2:10) "...Indeed the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
The Dragon is allowed to make havoc of the church using his "puppets" on the earth in the form of the "Beast" and the "false prophet." He is allowed this freedom until his puppets suffer defeat and judgment in Rev. 19:20. Then, for the "thousand years" he is bound, only to be released for another short time to deceive the earth again.
He is finally dealt with in the great judgment scene
of Rev. 20, when he, too, is cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and
the False Prophet have already been cast in Rev. 19:20.
2. The Beast (the first beast, the sea beast) - Rev. 13:1-8
"l Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.
2 Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.
3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.
4 So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?"
5 And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.
6 Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.
7 It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.
8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
This beast exercises his power because it is given to him by the Dragon, Satan. He is the earthly power being manipulated by, and serving the purposes of, the Dragon.
He is the same beast whose number was the same as a man's, and it could be calculated at 666 (Rev. 13:18). Much has been made of the fact the letters making up Nero's name can be calculated to equal 666. But the same is true of several other Caesars. The idea here is that the Beast is NOT just one man; it is a CLASS of man, the Caesars of Rome, and the Roman power which they wielded..
He is also the same beast as the one upon which the "great harlot" of Rev. 17 rides.
Rev. 17:3 "So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns."
Since the "great harlot" is identified as Rome (Rev. 17:18), then the beast must be that which supports her, the Roman empire with all the pagan power that had been given to it. This vast power had brought under its wings the "gods" and religions of all the conquered earth. It was the protector of all idolatry, and actively promoted "Emperor worship." This power was directly controlled by Satan himself through the emperors. This, too, should not be surprising, since the Devil once tempted the Lord by offering to give Him all the dominions of the earth if He would bow down and worship him (Matt. 4:9).
The Beast is finally taken care of in Rev. 19:20:
"Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone."
This event marks the end of the "things which must shortly come to pass."
But with the Beast, there is also...
3. The False Prophet (the second beast, the land beast) - Rev. 13:11-17
"11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.
12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.
14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.
15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,
17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name."
This lesser beast is given power by the first Beast,
already identified as the Roman Imperial power. The second beast is
identified as the "false prophet" in Rev. 19:20, when he and the
Beast are captured and cast into the lake of fire. Again, his
capture terminates those parts of the Revelation included in the
"things which must shortly come to pass."
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