Things are starting to get interesting!
After being cast down from heaven (12.9), the dragon calls up
reinforcements from the sea. In the old stories, the sea was the
primordial source of chaos and destruction. It was the abode of
Leviathan, Rahab, and a host of watery adversaries. The sea-monster that
emerges at the dragon’s beckoning, then, is nothing less than a
manifestation of pure terror. It is a “beast” aligned with the dragon
against the church.
So, to recap, we have the dragon and the sea monster on one side versus the slain-lamb and the martyrs on the other.
Of course not. But that’s the point—to remind John’s readers (and
ourselves) that despite all appearances, the monsters eventually lose.
First Century Christians would have understood this sea-monster to
represent the Roman Empire. However, there is—once again—a surplus of
meaning in this text. The sea-monster isn’t representative of Rome ONLY,
but of ALL powers that cooperate with the dragon to oppose God and wage
war against the church. The Roman Empire was a type of sea-monster,
just as the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Grecian empires were types of
monsters represented in Daniel 7 (to which John is clearly referring
with his adjectives/images of the monster). Later sea-monsters have
dominated world history and geo-political thought: the Third Reich, for
one, and Apartheid for another. More will indefatigably appear until the
end of time. People with power will always forget the origins and
purpose of that power. They will forget God, remembering only their own
ambitions and desires. The role of the church is to persist and bear
witness in the midst of the Imperial Beast Machine, regardless of its
One final thought: the phrase “if anyone is killed with the word,
with the sword they will be killed” is a clear reminder that the powers
of the sea-monster and the force of the dragon are violent. The violence
is theirs, which is to say it does not belong to either the Lamb or his
people. Many Christian novelists and imagineers forget this. They
mistakenly believe that the means by which the dragon is overcome
involve force-of-arms. But this is never how the church is meant to
conquer. We do not wage war as the world does. We do not battle against
flesh and blood. These verses remind us to “be patience and have faith”,
not to march into battle with guns a-blazing. We follow the Lamb—not
just in principle, but in means also. To abandon the suffering-witness
of the Lamb in favor of the military conquest of the beast doesn’t just
mean we’ve compromised the method of our discipleship.
It means we’ve changed sides.