‘Comparison is the thief of all joy’. But not all comparison. As we’ve seen in the last three posts, comparing God to ourselves and to others, to angels and to idols, inspires worship and trust. But two can play at that game and in John’s Revelation they do.
A beast rises out of the sea - the place of chaos and confusion - and to it the dragon gives ‘his power and his throne and great authority’ (Rev 13:2). On one of its heads it seems to bear ‘a mortal wound’ but it’s a wound that’s ‘healed’ (v3). It’s the wound inflicted by Christ when he crushed the serpent’s head at the cross and in turn his heel was bruised (Gen 3:15). But the fact that the wound appears to have healed is a mockery of Christ’s resurrection, for its recovery is only temporary.
But that does not stop the mockery. The beast’s appearance of invincibility causes ‘the whole earth’ to marvel and to follow it (v3). And if comparing God to all others inspires worship, it is in worship of the beast that his followers make their own comparison: ‘They worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” As GK Beale points out, ‘their words are a mockery… of words rightly used toward God in the [Old Testament].’1 And like the words used of God, these words are designed to inspire worship. Or, rather, intimidate true worship. To promote, if not trust, then at least allegiance. After all, the words ‘who can fight against it?’ demand the response ‘no-one.’ No one can stand up to the beast or against it. No one can resist it. So, give in now, all resistance is futile. It’s the propaganda of every totalitarian power. But then, as Tom Schreiner writes, it’s a time-honoured formula, for ‘people support a winner.’2
But what the beast and his worshippers will never do is encourage you to compare it to God. That would be like a totalitarian state allowing windows in its walls. Seeing the outside world, making comparisons, might prove fatal.
But it is exactly that comparison that the apostle John encourages you to make: ‘For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4). It is precisely by comparing God to the dragon, the real Victor over death to the mimicry of the beast, that hope is born, resistance is forged and overcoming becomes a reality.
John has no fear of windows. It’s through windows that the light floods in.
1. Beale GK, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 2015; 272.
2. Schreiner Thomas R., ESV Expository Commentary, Vol XII: Hebrews - Revelation, 2018; 669.