The Mystery Of The Beast - Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Behold He Cometh - Chapter 41Index to "Behold He Cometh"
Revelation 17:1-14)

7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.

8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.


Let us, first of all, have a little review.

Babylon's picture we have tried to draw in the preceding. In all the various attempts and interpretations which have been made to make the symbol of - Babylon intelligible to the minds of God's people we found the noticeable struggle to harmonize and unify in one picture the symbol of Babylon as a woman and as a city. And we also discovered that exactly in this respect they failed to a large extent. Yet we concluded that it is essential to bring about this harmony. For evidently the text pictures Babylon to us under both of these aspects. The symbol of the woman evidently indicates her historic appearance, while that of the city designates her essential and mystical character. For her name, which is Babylon, the name of a city, is Mystery. Her essential character is concealed behind the historical appearance of the woman.

As woman, Babylon is symbol of the church, in the first place, as all Scripture plainly indicates. The church, the people of God, the covenant people, appear time and again in Holy Writ under the symbol of a married woman. In the Old Testament, Israel is the wife of Jehovah, pledged to Him in sacred bond of marriage in all faith and truth. And in the New Testament, the church is the bride of Christ. Especially in the Book of Revelation, so we found, she appears time and again as the bride of Christ, appears again and again as a woman and mother both. In the twelfth chapter of this book we meet with a rather elaborate description of the church symbolized as a woman. And as the church she appears as the perfected bride of the Lamb, without spot or wrinkle. And therefore, the symbol of the woman as such is, on the basis of Scripture, nothing else than the people of God, the church of Christ, pledged to Him in faith and truth in all things.

But we found, in the second place, that this woman is a harlot, and as such representative not of the true but of the apostate church. A harlot in Scripture is a married woman who has forsaken her rightful husband, has become unfaithful, and whores after other men, who are strangers. And so is the false, or the apostate church. Committing spiritual fornication, she bears the name of church. She stands outwardly in covenant relation to the God of salvation. She enjoys all the spiritual blessings of that relation to God. But essentially she has broken the pledge of faith and truth and separated herself from the covenant God, in order to ally herself with the powers of the world and the kingdom of Antichrist. She has all the outward appearance of the church, with ministry and officebearers, with the outward signs of the Word and the sacraments. She is busy in all kinds of nominally Christian work, and has perhaps more organizations than any other local church on earth. But she denies the truth, forsakes her God and Savior, tramples under foot the blood of the new covenant. In a word, Babylon, as the harlot woman, is the apostate church in this dispensation.

Finally, we found that at first consideration it may seem strange that this woman also appears as a city. But at second thought we found that after all this is not strange whatever, if only the analogy of the true church is kept in view. Also the true church is finally pictured to us as a city, as the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, destined to rule centrally over all the works of God in the new creation. And the same is true of the false church. In every sense of the word the work of Satan is the parallel with the works of God. Even as the ultimate purpose of God is to establish His own kingdom in glory, so the purpose of the devil is to establish his own kingdom through the power of Antichrist. And even as in God's plan the church is, as it were, the army of the kingdom on earth, but is destined to rule over the works of God in the new kingdom that is to come, so also Satan established his own counterfeit church, in order that also she may develop into a city and ultimately have control over all things in the antichristian kingdom. That city, that center of the antichristian kingdom, that shall cap the climax of apostate Christianity, shall be Babylon in character although she shall continue to claim to be the true Jerusalem. And therefore the warning voice came to us from above: "Go ye out of her, my people, that ye may have no fellowship with her sins."

And now we must make a little study of the beast that carries the woman and with which she is evidently closely allied.

The Character Of The Beast

As to the character and identity of this beast, we need not be in doubt very long. In fact, in the light of what we have discussed in the past, we have already recognized this beast as the same as the one that was pictured to us in Chapters 11 and 13. It is the antichristian world-power especially from its political point of view. It is the attempt of the devil to establish his own kingdom through the agencies of the powers that have been instituted for this present sinful world and dispensation.

That this is true is clear, in the first place, from the fact that the general description here and in Chapter 13 is the same. You will remember that in that chapter we were told of the beast who rose up out of the sea and which manifested itself as having seven heads and ten horns. So also this beast that is described in our present passage and that is carrying the woman is possessed of seven heads and ten horns. In the second place, it may be noticed that this beast has the same origin as the one pictured in Chapter 11. True, in Chapter 13 he is pictured as coming out of the sea, which symbolized the tempestuous ocean of the nations and tribes and tongues of the earth, swept on by war and revolution, while here he is pictured as coming up out of the abyss. But this is not necessarily conflicting. We must remember, in the first place, that in Chapter 11 this same beast, which is there pictured in his antagonism and hatred against the two witnesses of Jesus Christ and in his war against them, is pictured as coming up out of the abyss, just as in the passage before us. There can be no doubt about the identity of the two. The same beast is pictured all the while, in Chapters 11 and 17 as 'coming up out of the abyss, and in Chapter 13 as rising out of the sea of war and revolution-swept nations. And the difference is simply this, that in the one case he is pictured as to the idea and spiritual character. Spiritually this beast finds his origin in the abyss, in the kingdom of darkness, in the mind of the devil; and therefore he is pictured as rising up out of the abyss. But the devil realizes his kingdom, this antichristian beast, through the agency of men and in the course of history; and for that reason he is also pictured as coming up out of the sea. In both, therefore, it is the same beast. But in the one case he is pictured as being the ultimate historic result of all the uprisings and developments of the kingdoms and nations of the world, while in the other he is pictured to us in his essential and spiritual origin, namely, in the wicked mind of Satan himself.

In the third place, we immediately recognize this beast as identical with the one we have studied before because evidently his relation to the inhabitants of the earth is the same, both in regard to the saints and to the followers of Antichrist. In Chapter 13 we read that all the dwellers of the earth wondered after the beast, were surprised at his wonderful appearance, admired and worshipped him. Thus in our text we read that the inhabitants of the earth wondered at the appearance of this beast, especially in view of the fact that he was, and is not, and yet is. In Chapter 13 we read, however, that those whose names were written in the book of life of the Lamb were an exception to this rule, since they did not worship the beast, neither his image. And so do we read in our chapter that those who worship the beast are limited as to their number to those whose names are not written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. And, finally, in Chapter 13 we read that the saints who refused to worship the beast and his image and to receive the sign of the beast on their forehead or hand were bitterly hated and maliciously persecuted, so that they could neither buy nor sell. Here we read that those who give their power to the beast are all of one mind, also in their war against the Lamb and against the called and chosen and faithful of Jesus Christ.

In general, therefore, there can be no question about the fact that here we have again a picture of the final manifestation of Antichrist, the highest development of all the power of the world, the greatest feat of the devil, the terrible and glorious kingdom that shall come in the future to make war with the Lamb and His people. It is the picture of that great, universal kingdom that shall have sway over all the nations of the world for a time and have control over all things, but that shall be the opposition kingdom against the kingdom of Jesus Christ and shall make life unbearable for the saints of Jesus.

But although the identity of this beast with the one that is mentioned in Chapter 13 is established beyond any possible doubt, yet it must not be overlooked that in our chapter he is described from a different point of view and with a different purpose. That may be regarded as plain from the simple fact that we have here once more a description of the same beast, and that rather elaborately. If the vision in this chapter were not for a different purpose and in order to show the beast from a different point of view, it would have been sufficient for the angel to explain to John that this was the same beast as the one he saw before rising up out of the sea. This, however, he does not do; but, on the contrary, he adds various details in the interpretation which have not been mentioned before. In the second place, this is plain from these details themselves. We read of this beast that "he was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss," and that "he was, and is not, and shall be," and the equally mysterious words, "The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven." So we read in this text a detailed explanation of the historic significance of the seven heads and the ten horns. Of the seven heads we read that they are seven mountains and seven kings, of which five are fallen, one still is, and the seventh is still to come in the future, while the beast as a whole is himself an eighth kingdom, or king, and is of the seven. And of the ten horns we also read that they are ten kings who have not yet received their power, but who shall receive authority in the future and shall give their power to the beast, all being of one mind with the beast. All these apparently mysterious details are added to the information we receive in Chapter 13. And hence, it is plain that the purpose of this description is different from that in the former chapter.

That difference, it seems to me, consists in this, that in Chapter 13 the purpose was simply to picture the terrible opposition of the beast against the kingdom of the Anointed of God, while in our chapter this opposition recedes into the background. The purpose of our chapter is, in connection with Chapters 18 and 19, to reveal the historical development of the antichristian power, as well as its final defeat and descent into destruction, as are mentioned three times in the words of our present passage.

And then it is our conviction that in the heads we receive a picture of the various individual manifestations of the antichristian world-power in the history of the world, while in the ten horns we have a picture of the final formation of this power, when all the kings of the earth shall unite, being of one mind, to give their power to the beast. We must remember that in principle the beast, representing the antichristian power of the world, exists throughout the history of the world, particularly in the new dispensation. It existed in Daniel's time in the form of the Babylonian Empire; and Daniel prophesies of different forms of that same worldpower that are to manifest themselves as principally opposed to the people of God. He speaks of the Persian, of the Grecian, of the Syrian and Roman power that is still to come in the future, each of which are temporary manifestations of the world-power in history, so clearly even that in Antiochus Epiphanes we may find a clear type of Antichrist in person. At any rate, the world-power as such always exists, and, characteristically, is always opposed to the people of God. Instead of being satisfied to occupy their God-ordained position in the world, they aim at absolute control and at the establishment of one grand kingdom, in which man shall be his own god. The result is that there are various successive manifestations of the world-power, and that the latter passes through different stages of development. At the same time, we must remember that none of these realizes the entire beast. None of them succeeds to establish the universal kingdom for which they strive. On the contrary, they all fail; and in so far they do not fulfill the symbol of the beast in its entirety. And, in the third place, we must also remember that this universal kingdom shall nevertheless be realized in the future, and that this complete realization of the beast shall form the ultimate outcome, the historical product, of all that have gone before.

If, therefore, you would have a full picture of this beast, of the antichristian world-power, you must not merely think of the final manifestation, but just as well of the historic process through which the beast has passed. And it is this complete picture of the beast which is drawn before our eyes in the words of our present passage. The seven heads, then, represent different stages of development through which this beast has passed in the various kingdoms which existed before its complete manifestation, while the ten horns reveal to us the final formation, or league of kings, which shall be of one mind and completely realize the ideal of the beast for a short time. And, for the same reason, we are called to study this picture of the beast, first of all, in its historical appearance, and, in the second place, from the point of view of its ultimate formation.

The Historical Development Of The Beast

As to its historical development, we must, first of all, call your attention to the apparently dark expression that the beast was, and is not, and yet shall come up out of the abyss. Three times this is repeated in the text; and therefore it will be of importance that we understand the significance of this expression.

In the first place, it must be clear to us that this is asserted of the beast as a whole. We must make a distinction between the beast in principle and the beast in its completion manifestation. And we must remember that the beast never entirely disappears from the scene of history. He is always there in some form. Even in John's time the angel interprets that one of the heads is, exists, so that also then the beast appeared in one of his heads. But the beast does not always appear in his proper and full manifestation. He does not appear in his full and complete aspect. And therefore it is of the beast as a whole that the text says that "he was, and is not, and comes up out of the abyss," or again, that "he was, and is not, and shall be."

Many have been the interpretations that have been given of this mysterious expression. It seems to us that it makes us think immediately of what we read in Chapter 13 about the death-stroke that was healed. You will remember that in that chapter we had a picture of the full manifestation of the world-power of the beast in its ultimate formation and appearance. And of that final manifestation of the beast it was said that it had been wounded to death, but that the wound was healed. At that time we referred to the kingdom of mighty Nimrod, which also aimed at universal world-power, but which was distinct from all the forms of the worldpower which succeeded it in this particular, that it consisted rather of a confederation of all the different tribes and peoples which existed at the time, rather than of the dominion and aggrandizement of one particular nation at the expense of the rest. They all spoke one language. They all were of one mind. They all combined in one purpose, to establish the kingdom of the world and exalt themselves against God Almighty. But by the separation and confusion of their language and counsel that mighty dominion had received its death-stroke, a stroke, however, which shall be healed in the future, when that same world-power shall appear in the same form once more, as a great and powerful federation, as a league of nations that shall be of one mind.

If we recall this, it seems to me the interpretation of the seemingly mysterious words, "the beast that was, and is not, and shall come out of the abyss," cannot be difficult. The beast did exist also in its proper form at the time of the building of the tower of Babel. Then a great and mighty federation must have been formed, for they were already building their central city and tower. Then they were of one mind and purpose. Then the beast revealed himself in his proper form. And therefore, in that sense the angel can say, "The beast that was ...." It was in the dominion of ancient Babel and mighty Nimrod. But in that sense the angel also could truly say, "It is not..." Surely, there was a mighty world-power at the time. The Roman Empire had sway over practically all the world. It had succeeded by the strength of its legions and by its mighty organizing power to extend its dominion over all the important countries of Europe and Africa and Asia. It was a world-power which might be called universal. But it is not true of the Roman power that it resembled the ancient federation of Nimrod. For in the Roman Empire they were not all of one mind. It merely consisted of one mighty nation which had subdued a number of others and for that reason ruled the world. And therefore, however mighty the Roman Empire may have been, it was a strength of force, not of purpose. They were one, not because they were of one mind, but because they were suppressed by one single nation. And therefore, in John's time the beast was not. But the same beast shall again appear in the future. Again the nations of the earth shall unite, shall be of one mind, shall all give their power to the beast, and by a great league, or federation, shall succeed in establishing a universal world-power, having sway over all things.

In the second place, we must pay attention to the seven heads, indicating seven different manifestations of the world-power in history. As we have remarked, the picture of the beast in our text places before us the historic development of the world-power, as well as its final formation. And the former is symbolized in the heads. That this is the case is plain from the language of the angels. He tells us about these heads that one is, that five have fallen, and that one is not yet, evidently pointing to succession. The ten horns evidently indicate a number of world-powers existing all at the same time; but there is succession, - past, present, and future, - in the number of heads.

Now what does the angel tell us about these heads? In the first place, he tells us that the seven heads are seven mountains. He adds that they are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth. But for the present we can leave this out of consideration, and discuss the relation of the woman to this beast in a future discourse. We now take the interpretation of the seven heads as such. They are seven mountains. As I have remarked before, there are interpreters who take it that these seven mountains refer to the seven hills of Rome. The city of Rome was built on seven hills; and so the woman, which was the city of Rome, was sitting on the seven hills of the Roman capital. But that this interpretation is not correct may be plain, in the first place, from the fact that the text speaks of mountains, while the hills of Rome were mere mole hills, not for a moment to be called mountains. But in the second place, the angel indicates that mountains must be taken in the figurative sense of the word: for he adds, "and they are seven kings." Not merely, "And there are seven kings," as some would translate, but specifically referring to the seven heads of the beast, "And they (namely, the heads, the mountains) are seven kings." Now surely, the hills of Rome are not at the same time the kings of Rome: and therefore, this interpretation will not hold. They stand for strong and conspicuous kingdoms, just as a mountain stands for a conspicuous elevation of the earth's surface, elevating itself above even the smaller elevations and hills which may appear next to it. Thus, a mountain is symbolic of a mighty empire or kingdom. More than once it appears thus in Scripture. In Psalm 30:7 we hear David sing of his kingdom: "Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong." In Jeremiah 51:25 we read that the prophet spells destruction upon the mighty kingdom of Babylon when he says: "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain." In Daniel 2:35 we read that the stone which is cut loose and symbolizes the kingdom of God will develop into a great mountain, filling all the earth. And again, in Zechariah 4:7 we read in respect to the world-power that opposes the rebuilding of the temple: "Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain." And therefore, it is nothing strange to meet with the figure of a mountain as indicating a king and a kingdom. And as far as the objection is concerned that in this case the angel interprets one symbolism by another, that of the heads by that of the mountains, if the latter must not be taken in the literal sense of the word, this is sufficiently explained by the fact that the heads do not symbolize any world-power, - not Moab and Edom and Samaria, - but specifically, great and mighty, conspicuous kingdoms and kings, which may be compared to mountains in their high and powerful exaltation. And therefore, the heads refer to seven mighty dominions.

In this light it is not difficult to understand the rest of the angel's explanation of the mystery of the beast. He says: "Five are fallen, one is, the other is not yet come." Taking our starting-point at the one that is, we can make no mistake about it. It is, of course, the one that existed at the time of John's exile on Patmos, namely, the mighty Roman Empire, with its sway over practically all the world. Figuring back from that mighty empire to the five that are fallen, we obtain the result that before the Roman Empire the Graeco-Macedonian Empire held sway over all the world, especially in the time of Alexander the Great. Before that great Macedonian empire, it was the power of the Medo-Persian kingdom that was supreme. It was preceded by the tremendous and glorious worldpower of Babylonia, having its representative king in Nebuchadnezzar. Before the last, the Assyrian Empire was supremely powerful under Sennacherib. And again, before the Assyrian Empire we have the royal power of Egypt, as pictured in Scripture. Thus we obtain the following five: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece. All these are mentioned in Scripture. And besides, all of them were conspicuous also in their opposition to the kingdom of Israel. Besides, four of these six are mentioned in the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, namely, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome, - the golden, silver, brass, and iron elements of the image. And therefore, there can be little doubt but that the angel, prophesying from the viewpoint of John's own time, refers to the power of the Roman Empire as the head that is at that period, and to the five representative powers of the world which have just been mentioned as the ones that have fallen already.

The seventh is not yet, so the angel continues. And when he comes, he must continue a little while. That seventh power has not yet been today. Ever since the final downfall of the Roman Empire in the year 476, the history of Europe has been a struggle between the various nations of the continent. True, there have been powerful empires; but never has any succeeded in obtaining undisputed control of the universal power of the world. And since the discovery of a new continent, this has become all the more impossible. It is very plain from history that God wills not that any one nation shall gain the complete control over the others, in order thus to realize the kingdom of Antichrist. No, evidently that kingdom shall be established in an entirely different way, as already has been discussed before and as also is indicated in the words of our passage in an unmistakable manner.

The Ultimate Formation Of The Beast

How then shall the final formation of the beast come to its realization? In order to understand this, we must, in the first place, understand the expression that there shall still be a seventh powerful kingdom which has not yet been. For a time it was thought by some, - and personally, we have been inclined to think, - that Germany might become that seventh head. But evidently that is not the way in which God has it. Germany's aim was extension of her own power and the Germanizing of the world; and that was not the purpose of the Almighty. No, but a mighty nation is still to appear, it seems, in an entirely different light. For if we take in connection with this picture of the seven heads the symbolism of the ten horns, and read that they are all of one mind and shall give their power to the beast, we receive the impression that the future realization of the kingdom of Antichrist shall rather be by way of confederation than by way of conquest.

Taking these two statements together, then, it seems that we are justified in drawing the following picture. The text speaks of a seventh mighty power which is still in the future. It had not yet received its dominion at that time. But there can be no question about the fact that it shall receive its dominion. For a short while it shall show its power as a separate power. For it must continue a little while in the midst of all the other kingdoms or powers which may exist together with it. But after this little while is finished, whatever may be the history of it, the other powers, indicated by the ten horns, shall give their power to the beast together with that seventh head, thus forming the great, final confederation, or league, that shall constitute the ultimate form of the antichristian world-power. It shall be a league formed of the seventh head together with the ten horns. And then we can also understand the expression, apparently so difficult to grasp, "The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven." That is, the beast in its entirety, as a confederation of world-powers, all being of one mind and one purpose, and all giving their power to the beast, - that one great league is, in the first place, as such an eighth power. It is distinct from all the seven heads separately, for they formed no confederation. It is the old kingdom of Nimrod over again in modern form. First, therefore, come the seven great powers, but the seventh culminating in the final manifestation of the antichristian worldpower, which as such shall be the eighth. And, in the second place, that great, final world-power is of the seven in the sense that it is the culmination and the consummation of all history, the climax of the history of these seven powers, the combination of all that Egypt and Assyria, Babylonia and Persia, Greece and Rome, and all the powers which followed have ever stood for and realized. It shall be the ultimate product of all the aims of the powers of the world.

To recapitulate in brief, therefore, there are to be eight world-powers in all. Six have been, in Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The seventh is not yet, or, if it is today, it has not yet become plainly manifest. Its existence shall be peculiar in this respect, that it shall aim at the unification and combination of all the powers that exist at this time. And this shall lead to the final league of nations to realize the kingdom of Antichrist.

The Sure Defeat Of The Beast

Spiritually, our text plainly characterizes this league, this final realization of the beast, as standing in direct antagonism against the Lamb and His people. For our text tells us that these confederate kings shall make war with the Lamb.

Of course, they shall not fight Him in body: for the Lamb is exalted in heaven. But they shall attack all who stand for the Lamb in this dispensation. They shall fight the Lamb by fighting His Word, His worship, His name, His blood, His cause, His kingdom, His people. They shall deny the truth of His revelation. They shall refuse to believe His Word. They shall refuse to accept His authority. They shall not worship Him as King of kings and Lord of lords; and they shall instead worship the beast, deify their own power, and set up the image of the beast. And so they shall also fight His people.

Notice how beautifully and significantly these people of the Lamb are designated in our text. They are the called, the chosen, the faithful. Because of their own effectual, irresistible calling they are also faithful. It is because Christ has called them that they consciously belong to Him. And it is. because they are the chosen of God that the Lord has called them. Objectively, their faithfulness rests in the eternal counsel of God. They shall be faithful even unto death because the Lord Jehovah has chosen them to be His people. And subjectively, their faithfulness is assured in the irresistible calling of Christ Jesus, which can never be changed. And therefore the people of God shall be faithful also in those days. They may not be able to buy or sell, as it is expressed in a preceding chapter; but they shall faithfully cling to the name of Jesus because Jehovah of Hosts has chosen them, and because they have been called by the Spirit of Christ irresistibly. Hence, in the midst of tribulation, persecuted and pressed from all sides, as social outcasts in the world, they shall maintain, "The Lord Jehovah is our God, and Christ alone is King."

And they shall not be ashamed!

Three times we are assured in the words of our passage that the victory shall be ours. In the first place, we read in verse 8 that the beast shall come up out of the abyss, but shall go into destruction. The same expression we read in verse 11. And, finally, we read in verse 14 that the Lamb shall overcome them. How, in what way, we are told in a later connection. Now we are simply told the fact that also this final attempt of the devil shall fail. And at the same time we are informed as to the reason why: the Lamb is Lord of lords and King of kings. That explains it all. He stands on Mount Zion as the great victor, as the Anointed of God, destined to rule over the kingdoms of the world. And when all these kingdoms, though striving to establish the kingdom of opposition, shall have served the purpose of Jesus Christ, He shall consume them by the breath of His mouth, establish the new heaven and the new earth, the kingdom of His people, and reign in glory over them forevermore. And therefore, the picture is rather clear, especially with a view to the times in which we now live.

Watch, therefore, and cling to the name of Jesus; and have no fellowship with the great sin of Babylon, namely, to be carried by the beast. For then you shall have no fellowship with her judgment. And be comforted with this thought: the Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords! Our Lord is mightier than they all! The victory is assured!


Index to "Behold He Cometh"