Satanic parodies in Revelation

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William Blake, “The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea” (1805)

parody – an imitation or a version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty. ORIGIN: via Latin from Greek parōidia “burlesque song or poem,” from para- “beside, parallel to” +  ōidē “sing, ode.”

Following the etymological origin for the word parody, the reader of Revelation 13 should notice that John’s apocalyptic vision emphasizes how the Satanic powers, despite their best efforts, can never match the victorious song of the slaughtered Lamb. When the beast apes the Lamb, the result can be nothing other than pathetic and perverse. Anglican theologian Joseph Mangina articulates this very well in his commentary on the Book of Revelation:

The parodic element in John’s depiction of the beast is quite explicit. A woman clothed with the sun gives birth to the child, so the dragon “fathers” the beast by calling him from the sea. God the enthroned entrusts the sealed scroll to the Lamb, the dragon gives “his power and his throne and great authority” to the beast. As the Lamb is the word of God who bears true witness (19:11), so the beast wears blasphemous names on its heads and blasphemes God’s name. As the Lamb lives even though slaughtered, so one of the beasts’ heads appears as if slaughtered, and yet its death blow was healed. A final, somewhat poetic parallel can be seen in the Greek words John employs. John might have chosen any of several words to speak of a lamb. The word he actually employs is arnion, which rhymes with thērion, the word for “beast.” Even at the aural level, the beast cannot help but mimic the one he despises. 

The beast is, in fact, the antichrist. While Revelation does not use this word, which in the New Testament appears only in the Johannine epistles (1 John 2:18 [twice], 22; 4:3; 2 John 7), the correspondence makes clear that the thērion is Jesus’s opposite. Jesus lives and rules – that is the ultimate reality testified to by the Apocalypse. But the penultimate reality, the reality of our lived experience, seems quite different. 

***

The branding of humans as the beast’s property, thus ultimately disposable, is no less a sign of death’s presence than is the literal killing of the saints. The denial of the image of God in human beings is death’s work. That is why the receiving of Christ’s name is such a momentous event in the life of the Christian (3:12; 14:11). In sacramental terms this occurs at baptism. Occurring as an event in the public world, baptism sees a visible, concrete limit to the reign of the principalities. It says that this man or this woman has been elected as Christ’s own forever and that nothing the powers can do can alter that fact. “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isa. 43:1). 

The beast from the sea attempts to mimic Christ the Lamb, and together the dragon, beast, and false prophet constitute an entire demonic Trinity parodying God, the Lamb, and the Spirit. As God gives life, generously and with overflowing abundance, so the beast embodies every kind of violence and bloodshed and exploitation. As the prophetic Spirit exposes the truth in all things, so the false prophet spins a web of lies, inviting us to debase ourselves by worshiping the beast rather than the Creator.

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The beast is the antichrist, the anti-Jesus, the anti-Lamb. Even his number tells us this. Quite apart from its connection to Nero, 666 is an interesting number. In a rather obvious way, 666 triply fails to attain the seven of divine perfection or fullness (although the beast’s seven heads suggests that he has a negative perfection all his own, namely as the embodiment of evil). But lying just beyond seven is eight. In early Christian typology Easter was often thought of as the “eighth day of creation,” Sunday being the eighth day after the seven originally set forth in Gen. 1. Eight is the number of eschatological fulfillment. It did not take long for Christian interpreters to discover that the gematria value of the name “Jesus” in Greek is 888, a tripling of eschatology, in much the same way as the beast’s number is a tripling of the imperfect six. Jesus in Revelation is ho erchomenos (“the coming one”), while the beast is passing away, a creature whose origin and destiny are in the realm of death. He emerges out of the death-dealing sea and in the end will be consigned to the abyss, whereas Jesus will stay forever. 

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