The third symbolic history revolves around the beast from the sea, and is found in Revelation 13:1-10. This beast had the characteristics of a lion, a bear, and a leopard, similar to the beasts in Daniel chapter 7 that represented idolatrous kingdoms. This suggests that the beast from the sea symbolizes all the political powers that oppose the kingdom of Jesus Christ. John also wrote that the beast had a horrible scar from a prior wound that should have been fatal.
The dragon gave the beast from the sea power and authority over all the kingdoms of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the earth worshiped the beast. He was even given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. John’s readers probably would have associated this beast with the Roman emperor or Empire, as well as with emperor worship. They would have seen the need to resist the beast, and to remain faithful to Christ.
The fourth symbolic history centers on a second beast — one that rises from the earth. This history is found in Revelation 13:11-18. The beast from the earth had two horns like a lamb, but spoke like a dragon. It served the beast from the sea, and performed miraculous signs in order to make the world worship that other beast. It also forced people to receive the sign of the beast on their right hand or forehead. Together, both beasts attempted to conquer the entire world.
John’s readers would likely have connected this second beast with the Roman civic cult that coerced emperor worship, threatening to kill those who refused to worship the emperor. Like the history of the beast from the sea, this one would have exhorted them to resist idolatry and to be faithful to Jesus.
The fifth symbolic history deals with 144,000 believers that belong to God, and appears in Revelation 14:1-5. Based on the fact that God’s name is sealed on their foreheads, they appear to be the same group mentioned in Revelation 7:1-8. The seal of God’s name on their foreheads contrasts with the mark the beast on the foreheads of those that obey the beast of the earth. In John’s vision, these 144,000 believers stood with the Lamb on Mount Zion praising God.
The symbolic history that appears in Revelation 14:1-5 assured John’s readers that true believers will ultimately escape the dragon and the beasts and receive God’s blessing. Despite intense persecution, faithful believers will be found pure and blameless.
The sixth symbolic history is a vision of three angelic messengers, found in Revelation 14:6-11. In John’s vision, the first angel proclaimed the eternal gospel, calling all people to fear God and worship him. The second angel announced the fall of Babylon the Great, the capital city of those who oppose the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And the third angel declared the final judgment of everyone that followed and worshiped the beast. These messengers communicated that Christ’s gospel will triumph over every opposing kingdom, and that when Jesus returns his enemies will be eternally condemned.
John’s description of these angelic messengers in Revelation 14:6-11 should have encouraged his readers that, even though it sometimes looks like the church is being defeated, Christ’s kingdom will eventually conquer his adversaries. And if any of John’s readers were considering worshiping the emperor in order to avoid persecution, this history would have warned them to resist that temptation.
The last symbolic history describes one “like a son of man,” who sits on a white cloud and comes to reap his harvest. His history is found in Revelation 14:14-20. The phrase “like a son of man” is also used in Revelation 1:13, where it specifically refers to Jesus. And it’s clear from the actions and context of Revelation chapter 14 that this son of man is also Christ. The imagery in this history is drawn from Daniel 7:13, where one “like a son of man” comes on the clouds in order to enter God’s heavenly court.
In the first history of this series, the history of the woman, Jesus was pictured as a child that was taken up into heaven. But at the culmination of these histories, Jesus was pictured as the Son of Man reaping his harvest of faithful followers as one would harvest grain. Then a second reaper — this one an angel — harvested the remaining inhabitants of the world and crushed out their blood in the winepress of God’s wrath. This vision declared the ultimate future victory of Jesus. It showed that history is moving toward a grand climax, where those who are faithful to Jesus will be vindicated, but those who aren’t will be destroyed.
John’s original readers should have found this encouraging. They would have recognized that their suffering wasn’t worth comparing to the wrath God would pour out on his enemies. And they would have drawn hope and confidence from the fact that they would eventually be vindicated and blessed.
Bible Reading: Revelation 13:1-18, 14:1-20