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The seven signs, the Church, and the kingdom of the beast


(Chs. 12-14)

The further one reads, the more precisely the Revelation to the Seer divides humanity into two opposing camps - the Church and the kingdom of the beast. The preceding chapters began to acquaint the reader with the Church, speaking about the marks, the temple of Jerusalem, and the two witnesses. The twelfth chapter shows the Church in all its Heavenly glory and simultaneously discloses its greatest foe, the dragon-devil. The vision of the Woman dressed in the sun and of the dragon makes it obvious that the war between good and evil goes beyond the borders of the material world and extends into the world of angels. The Apostle describes the existence of a cognizant evil being in the incorporeal world, who in desperation wages war against those who are committed to God, both angels and men. This war between good and evil, which seeps into the very essence of mankind, already began in the angelic world before the creation of the material one. As we have stated, the Seer describes this war in various parts of the Apocalypse, not in chronological sequence but in various bits and pieces.

The vision of the Woman reminds the reader of God's promise to Adam and Eve about the Messiah (the Seed of the Woman) Who will bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). It could have been assumed that the reference to the Woman in the twelfth chapter refers to the Virgin Mary. However, from further references in which the distant descendents of the Woman (Christians) are discussed, it is evident that here the Woman must be considered to be the Church. The radiance of the sun surrounding the Woman symbolizes the moral perfection of the saints and the blessed illumination of the Church through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The twelve stars symbolize the twelve tribes of the New Israel - that is, the unity of the Christian peoples. The agony of the Woman during labor symbolizes the exploits, deprivations, and suffering of the servants of God (the prophets, apostles, and their successors) borne by them during the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world and during the confirmation of Christian virtues among its spiritual children (those who were baptized). St. Paul called the Galatian Christians: "My children, for whom I painfully labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).

The First Born of the Woman "For Whom it was meant to rule all nations with a rod of iron" is the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalms 2:9, Rev. 12:5 and 19:15). He is the New Adam, having become the Head of the Church. The "rapture" of the child obviously points to the ascension of Christ into Heaven, where He took his place at the "right hand of God" and since which time He governs the fate of the world.

"The dragon with its tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth" (Rev. 12:4). Scholars understand the stars to be angels whom Daystar, the devil in his pride, incited to rebellion against God, as a result of which war erupted in Heaven. (This was the first revolution in the universe!) The Archangel Michael stepped forth as the head of the good angels. The angels revolting against God experienced losses and could not hold on to staying in Heaven. Having fallen away from God, they turned from good angels into demons. Their kingdom is the nether regions, known as the bottomless pit or hell, which became a place of darkness and suffering. In accordance with the opinion of the Holy Fathers, the war described by St. John occurred in the angelic world before the creation of the material world. This is introduced here to the reader in order to explain that the "dragon" that will persecute the Church in subsequent visions of the Apocalypse is the fallen "Daystar" ("Lucifer") - God's foe from time immemorial.

Thus, having suffered defeat in Heaven, the dragon with all its raging fury arms itself against the Woman (the Church). Its weapons are the various temptations which it directs at the Woman that resemble a wild river. However, she saves herself from temptation by fleeing to the desert; that is, by a voluntary refusal of life's benefits and comforts, which the dragon tries to use to charm her. The two wings of the Woman are prayer and fasting, with which Christians become spiritual and become immune to the entrapments of the dragon, who goes crawling about the world as a snake (Gen. 3:14; also see Mk. 9:29). It behooves us to recall that many zealous Christians from the first centuries onward had already literally migrated into the desert, leaving the noisy towns that were full of temptations. In remote caves, in hermitages and monasteries, they gave all their time to prayer and thoughts of God and were able to attain spiritual heights that modern Christians cannot fathom. Monasticism flourished in the East during the fourth through the seventh centuries, when in the desert regions of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor many hermitages and monasteries were formed, numbering some hundreds and thousands of monks and nuns. From the Near East, monasticism overflowed into Athos, and from there into Russia, where in pre-Revolutionary time there were many thousands of monasteries and hermitages.

Note: the expression "times, time and half a time" - 1260 days and 42 months (Rev. 12:6-15) - corresponds to three and a half years and symbolically means the period of persecutions. The public ministry of Christ continued for three and a half years. The persecutions took approximately the same length of time during the reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes and Emperors Nero and Domitian. Nevertheless, the dates of the Apocalypse must be understood allegorically (see above).

The beast who came from the sea and the beast who came out of the earth (Rev. chs. 13-14). The majority of the Holy Fathers understand "the beast from the sea" to be the antichrist and "the beast from the earth" to be the false prophet. The sea symbolizes the unbelieving mass of humanity, which is always restless and turbulent with passions. From further narrative about the beast and from a parallel narrative of the prophet Daniel (Dan. chs. 7-8), it follows that the beast is the whole godless empire of the antichrist. In their outer appearance the dragon-devil and the beast coming from the sea, to whom the dragon passed on its rule, resemble each other. Their external attributes denote their slyness, cruelty, and moral indecency. The heads and the horns of the beast symbolize the godless states that comprise the empire of antichrist, as well as their rulers (kings). The revelation of the mortal wounding of one of the heads of the beast and of its healing is enigmatic. In their time the events themselves will shed light on the meaning of these words. The historical basis for this allegory might be provided by the conviction of many contemporaries of St. John that the slain Nero came back to life and that he would soon return with the Parthian forces which were to be found beyond the Euphrates River (Rev. 9:14 and 16:12) in order to take revenge upon his enemies. It could be that here is an indication of the partial defeat of godless paganism by the Christian faith and an indication of the rebirth of paganism during the period of general apostasy from Christianity. (Refer to details about this in our booklet "End of the World and Eternal Life").

Note: there are common traits between the beast of the Apocalypse and the four beasts of the prophet Daniel that personified the four ancient pagan empires (Daniel ch. 7). The fourth beast referred to the Roman Empire, and the tenth horn of the last beast symbolized the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes - as a prototype of the forthcoming antichrist, whom the Archangel Gabriel called the "contemptible one" (Dan. 11:21). The characteristics and the deeds of the apocalyptic beast have much in common with the prophet Daniel's tenth horn (Dan. 7:8-12, 20-25, 8:10-26, 11:21-45). The first two books of the Maccabees serve as a vivid illustration of the times before the end of the world.

Subsequently, the Seer describes the beast that had come from the earth and that he later calls the false prophet. Here, the earth symbolizes the total absence of spirituality in the teachings of the false prophet, which are completely permeated with materialism and the gratification of pleasure-loving flesh. The false prophet seduces people with false miracles and forces them to bow down to the first beast. "He had two horns like a lamb, and spoke like a dragon," (Rev. 13:11); that is, he appeared to be meek and peaceful but his speeches were filled with flattery and lies.

As in the eleventh chapter, the two witnesses symbolize all the servants of Christ. It is evident that the two beasts in the thirteenth chapter symbolize the union of all who hated Christianity. The beast from the sea symbolizes the civilian godless authorities and the beast from the earth means the union of the false prophets and all the deviant Church authorities.

As during the time of the Savior's life on earth, both of these powers - the civil and the religious, in the persons of Pilate and the Jewish high priests - united in sentencing Christ to be crucified, so throughout all of the history of mankind, these two powers often unite in their fight against faith and in the persecution of believers. Examples are the prophet Balaam and the Moabite king, Queen Jezebel and her priests, the false prophets and princes before the destruction of Israel and later Judea, "apostates of the Holy Covenant," king Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 8:23, 1 Macc. and 2 Macc. ch. 9), and finally the followers of the law of Moses and the Roman administrators during the time of the Apostles. During the early centuries of Christianity, heretics and false teachers undermined the Church with their schisms and thus aided in the successful conquests by the Arabs and Turks who flooded and ruined the Orthodox Christian East. Russian free-thinkers and populists paved the way for the revolution, and contemporary pseudo-prophets corrupt unsteady Christians into various sects and cults. They all manifest themselves as false prophets collaborating for the success of the powers fighting against God. The Apocalypse vividly discloses the mutual support between the dragon-devil and both beasts. Each one here is full of his own selfish plans: the devil thirsts for obeisance to him; the antichrist seeks power; and the false-prophet seeks his material gain. As the Church calls on people to have faith in God and to fortify their virtues, the Church becomes an obstacle to them and they fight together against her.

The seal of the beast (Rev. 13:16-17, 14:9-11, 15:2, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4). In the language of Holy Scripture, to bear upon oneself a seal (or a mark) denotes belonging to or being subordinate to someone. We have already mentioned that the mark (or the name of God) on the forehead of the faithful denotes their being chosen by God and consequently having God's protection over them (Rev. 3:12; 7:2-3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4). The activity of the false prophet, which was described in the thirteenth chapter of the Apocalypse, convinces us that the kingdom of the beast will be of a religious-political nature. In creating the union of various governments, it will simultaneously propagate a new religion instead of the Christian faith. Therefore, the submission of oneself to the antichrist (allegorically speaking, by taking upon one's forehead or right hand the mark of the beast) will be tantamount to renunciation of Christ, which will result in the forfeiture of the Kingdom of Heaven. (The symbol of the mark is drawn from ancient customs, according to which warriors burned upon their arms or their foreheads the name of their commander, and slaves, either voluntarily or by force, were branded with the seal of their master's name. Pagans devoted to some deity often bore upon themselves the tattoos of that particular divinity.)

It is quite possible that during the time of the antichrist a perfected computerized registration system will be introduced which would be similar to modern bank credit cards. This state-of-the-art registration will have an invisible computerized code imprinted not on a plastic card as it is now, but directly on the body of the individuals. This code, read by an electronic or a magnetic "eye," will be transmitted to a central computer that will contain all pertinent personal and financial information regarding that person. Thus, the imprinting of personal codes directly on individuals will replace the need for money, passports, visas, tickets, checks, credit cards and other personal documents. Thanks to individual encoding, all monetary operations such as payment of salaries and payment of debts can be performed directly in the computer. In the absence of money, robbers will have nothing to take. It will be pre-eminently easier for the government to control crime because people's movements will be known thanks to the central computer. It appears that the positive aspects of this system of personal encoding will be used to introduce the system. In practice, however, it will also be used for religious-political control over people "when no one shall be able to buy or sell, except those who have such an imprint" (Rev. 13:17).

Of course the idea of stamping codes on people is speculation. The essence is not in electromagnetic markings but in fidelity to Christ or our betrayal of him! Throughout the history of Christianity, pressure on believers from antichristian authorities has taken on the most varied of forms: the bringing of a formal sacrifice to an idol, the acceptance of Islam, the joining of a godless or an anti-Christian organization. In the language of the Apocalypse, this acceptance of "the seal of the beast," is the acquiring of temporary advantages at the price of the renunciation of Christ.

The number of the beast is 666 (Rev. 13:18). The meaning of this number remains a mystery to this day. Evidently, it will be deciphered when circumstances enable us to do so. Some scholars see the number 666 as a diminution of the number 777, which in its own right designates threefold perfection or completeness. In the context of this understanding of the symbolism of the number, the antichrist, who strives in every way possible to show his superiority over Christ, in reality will be imperfect in every way. In ancient times the numeric count of a name was founded on the idea that all letters of the alphabet had a numerical meaning. For instance, in the Greek language (and in Church Slavonic), "A" is equal to 1, "B" to 2, "G" to 3, and so on. Similar numeric meanings of the letters of the alphabet exist in Latin and Hebrew. Each name could be mathematically totalled up by the addition of the numeric values of the letters. For instance, the name Jesus written in Greek equals 888 (possibly denoting the highest perfection). There are a number of proper names that in the sum of their letters translated into digits equal the number 666. An example of this is the name of Nero Caesarius written in Hebrew. In that case, if the proper name of the antichrist were known, then calculating his numerical meaning would not require any special wisdom. Perhaps one must look for the solution to the puzzle in the area of method, although it is not clear in which direction that is to be done. The beast of the Apocalypse refers to both the antichrist and his kingdom. Could it be that in the time of the antichrist there will be the introduction of initials designating a new global movement? By the will of God the proper name of the antichrist remains hidden from idle curiosity until its time. When the time comes, those who should do so will decipher it.

The talking image of the beast. It is difficult to understand the meaning of the words about the false prophet that "He was granted power to instill the spirit into it, to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would both speak and act so as to have killed each one not worshipping the image of the beast" (Rev. 13:15). A motive for this could have been Antiochus Epyphanes' demanding that the Jews bow to the statue of Jupiter that he had erected in the temple at Jerusalem. Later on, the Emperor Domitian demanded that all citizens of the Roman Empire bow down to his own image. Domitian was the first emperor who demanded for himself a godly reverence even during his lifetime and demanded that he be addressed as "our lord and god." Sometimes, for greater effect, priests would hide behind the statues of the emperor and prophesy in his name. It was decreed that all Christians who did not bow down to the image of Domitian were to be executed, while others who obeyed were to be rewarded. It may be that in the prophecy of the Apocalypse the discourse deals with some apparatus similar to a television set that would transmit the image of the antichrist and simultaneously watch how the people react to it. In any case, at the present time movies and television are widely used to propagate antichristian ideas in order to accustom people to cruelty and banality. Daily, indiscriminate watching of television kills the goodness and holiness in man. Is television not the forerunner of the speaking image of the beast?

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