“The Unholy Trinity: The Sea Beast” (3 of 3) – Revelation 13:5-10

by Roger McCay
20 August 2023
Sermon Passage: Revelation 13:5-10
Link to Audio Version

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Thus wrote George Orwell, in his 1945 article “Notes on Nationalism.” He goes on to say:

Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.[1]

Nationalism can lead to some severe problems in a nation. The Nazis were exemplary German nationalists, for example.

But for a Christian, nationalism presents a particularly devious snare. Charles Drew (retired pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA), in New York City) elaborates a bit on these dangers of nationalism. He says, “Idols are any good created thing that God has given us, that we give too much hope to, we put too much credence in. Nationalism is in great danger of being that.”[2] Too, like Orwell, Drew distinguishes the difference in patriotism and nationalism. He goes on to say,

“I consider myself a patriot. I love my country. I really do. I am so thankful to God for having put me in this country, for giving me the freedoms that I have in this country. But nationalism is patriotism taken too far. It’s patriotism taken to the point where America is my essential identity and the triumph of America is my central goal. That, to me, is idolatrous.”[3]

Drew then lists three serious problems such idolatry presents. First off (and perhaps most pertinent to today’s sermon):

Nationalism “obscures the gospel. God has exalted Jesus to his right hand as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He is not to be identified with any particular nation or political group. Well, when I, as a Christian, make America too important, I run the tremendous risk of denying the fact that Jesus is the Lord of all the nations, not just my nation. My American exceptionalism is not biblical. America is not exceptional. America has been blessed in ways, but we’re not the place where King Jesus resides in a special way which makes America deserving of God’s attention in a special way. We’re declaring that Jesus is the King of everybody.”[4]

He then explains (secondly) how “[Nationalism] can lead us to blindness about America’s sins;” and (finally) how “[Nationalism] can lead us to care less than we should for the needs of people who are not Americans.”[5]

With regard to Drew’s first point, when Christians embrace nationalism, as an idol that obscures the gospel, we’ve really gone down a dark and dangerous path. It’s a matter of divided allegiance. While a Christian patriot can honestly express allegiance to his or her country (while understanding their allegiance is subordinate to their allegiance to Christ), a nationalist finds themselves at odds. Your identity as an “American” cannot be your “essential identity” with “the triumph of America as your central goal” (as Drew put it), while also having your essential identity being “in Christ” and the triumph of the Kingdom of God as your central goal. Only one primary and ultimate allegiance can prevail in our hearts (Matt. 6:24).

Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and Christ Jesus (our King) reigns supreme. Christ’s kingdom has no borders. It encompasses all creation—heaven and earth—and every nation. Every follower of Christ, every believing Christian in the world is a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom, no matter their nation. God shows no partiality, no favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11). We alone are the holy nation of the living and true God. We alone had our freedom earned by the sacrifice of our sovereign King, who was resurrected, ascended to the throne of God, and reigns (at the right hand of the Father) over all people, with absolute power and authority. As citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, our relationship with one-other is eternal, bound together by the love of our creator Lord, who enables us to love one another. Together, our very souls are united with Christ, and the Spirit of God indwells us. We are the temple of God.

But nationalism, by its very nature, is temporal. Citizenship in any nation (no matter how civically virtuous) is temporary, for our mortal lives are short. And, if history has taught us anything, nations rise and fall and will continue to do so until Christ returns in glory. Our nation is not exempt.

Over the past few weeks, in our study in Revelation, we’ve considered the importance of staying alert for and recognizing Satan’s influence in government. Otherwise, we might find ourselves succumbing to a misplaced confidence and a misplaced worship, having elevated government and government leaders to a deific status. Satan actively works to influence nations and national leaders according to his purposes, particularly as a means of warring against the Kingdom of God and God’s people, the Christians. So, those blinded by their devotion to nationalism are vulnerable to being ensnared and brought under the sway of the devil, towards his ends. And remember, too, as we considered, idolatry of any sort is (in effect) vicarious worship (worshipping one in the other) … worship of demons and even Satan (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 13:4, and v. 8, in our passage today).

Now, over the past few weeks, looking at Rev. 12:17-13:4, we zeroed in on four out of five “necessary textually derived limiting principles” found in Revelation along with the context of its writing, which limit the possible candidates as to the identity of the Sea Beast (introduced in Rev. 13:1). We considered how “The beast [was] an evil man of debased character;” “The beast possessed ‘great authority;’” “The beast [was] one of John’s contemporaries;” and how “The beast [was] relevant to first century Christians.”[6] And we’ll cover the fifth limiting principle, the number of the Beast (the number of a man), when we get to Rev. 13:18. As it is, we considered the text and went over a bit of the textual and historical context (which included briefly studying why the dragon called forth the Beast; from whence the Beast came; when the Beast ruled; how Satan pulled the Beast’s strings to do his will; Satan giving the beast his power, throne, and authority; that the Beast was prophesied in Dan. 7; the Beast’s claim to deity; people’s worship of the Beast; and the nature of the Beast’s revival). And I explained how it all points to the Beast being an historical entity from the first-century, generically the Roman Empire and specifically the Roman Emperor Nero. As Kenneth Gentry puts it, “He and he alone fits the bill as the specific or personal manifestation of the Beast. This vile character fulfills all the requirements of the principles derived from the very text of Revelation.”[7]

So, take a look again at v. 5 through the first part of v. 7:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7a Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.

Now, we saw last week how the Blasphemous names on the seven heads of the Beast had to do with each of the first seven emperors being named as gods—something that is blasphemous against the Living and True God. Here, in v. 5, it then says (similar to Satan giving his power, authority, and throne to the beast), that the Beast “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words.” We addressed the worship of the state and the worship of the emperor last week in some detail, so I won’t belabor it today. But for a mere human emperor (Nero) to be worshipped as part of the Imperial cult (in other words worshipped as an embodiment of the divine state), and for him to accept worship as a god, and for that same human along with his empire to proclaim other humans to be gods after their death (which is called Apotheosis) … well that’s all rather haughty, don’t you think? And it was certainly blasphemy. The Roman Empire, for example raised up Julius Caesar as a god after his death along with other emperors and various people such as the emperors’ loved ones and relatives. Nero even declared his wife Poppaea and their 3-month-old daughter to be gods, when they died.

But even more specifically, Nero blasphemed the Living and true God by his attack on the Christians (vv. 5 and 7). This was the thrust of the dragon’s purpose in him, carrying out his war upon “the offspring of the woman” (Rev. 12:17)—war against the Christians throughout the Empire.

So the Beast “was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months,” and he was “allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” Of note, rather than this instance of 42 months being a reference to the time of the Roman conquest of Israel (which took 42 months), this 42-month period is a reference to Nero’s persecution of the Christians that started around mid-November AD 64 and lasted until his death in early June AD 68 (which is right around 42 months). And notice that Nero was “allowed” to do this. It was not Satan “allowing;” he was actively instigating. Rather, it was God who allowed it. Similar to what happened with Job, our sovereign God (according to his own will and purposes) allowed the persecution of the Christians by Nero and the Empire, who were under Satan’s influence and empowered by Satan.

So Nero brought the power of the Empire against the Christians, and conquered them by the means of his persecution. And it was a brutal attack. Tacitus, for example, gives us a hint:

Nero … punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, [those] whom the crowd [called] Christians…. Derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus.” [8]

And not only was the persecution in Rome, history records that, at Nero’s command, the persecution of Christians was carried out throughout the Roman provinces.[9]

This overt attack was, in itself, a blaspheming of God’s name and the faith of all believers in Jesus Christ, who dwell on earth and heaven. For, to attack Christ’s people is to attack Christ Jesus himself and his name. Like Jesus asked Saul on the Road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul was persecuting Christians, and Christ Jesus said that such was persecuting him. And the Scriptures teach not only that Christ’s people on earth are citizens in heaven, but “from it” (heaven) we await Christ’s return and our resurrection (Phil 3:20). Paul further declares that we are even now, in our union with Christ “raised … up with him and seated … with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). So, Nero’s attack on the Christians was a blasphemous attack against the whole Kingdom of God – God himself and all his people.

Take a look at vv. 7-8:

And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

In v. 4, John says Satan gave the beast his power, throne, and authority. But, as we know, ultimately all governmental authority is from God, as Rom. 13:1 teaches (a passage written when Nero was the reigning Emperor). But authority can be misused. And here, the Beast is being used according to Satan’s will, and so abuses his authority. And because Satan was behind the atrocities of Rome and it’s Emperor, when the people throughout the empire, of “every tribe and people and language and nation” [10]  … when the people bowed to Rome and its emperor (who was worshipped as an embodiment of the divine state), participating in the Imperial Cult, they were worshipping Satan.

There was, therefore, tremendous pressure on the Christians to worship the emperor. It was expected of everyone in the Empire (the politically correct thing to do). To do so was to show loyalty and allegiance, as religion and politics were intermingled. But the elect (those whose names were irrevocably written in The Book of Life before the world was ever formed; those whom God would save through Christ’s perfect sacrifice—Eph. 1:4-5) … the true followers of Christ, his people, remained faithful to him, refusing to worship the Beast. And history shows that such refusal was further fuel towards their persecution in the Empire.[11]

So, take a look at vv. 9-10:

If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Now, v. 10 has some serious exegetical difficulties. If you have a KJV, you’ll note a big difference in how it is rendered versus the ESV. The KJV says, “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.” So, is it “he who leads into captivity” or “he who is destined to captivity” that “will go into captivity”? And is it “he who slays with the sword” or “he who is destined to be slain with the sword” that “will be slain with the sword”? The difference comes down to who this passage is about. The ESV translation says it’s about the Christians. The KJV says it’s about the Beast. Without going into all the technical details, I’ve concluded that the ESV seems to be the better.

And it makes sense. The OT passage that John hearkens to here, Jer. 15:3, is a pronouncement of the Lord, concerning his judgment on the people of Judah (eventually fulfilled in 586 B.C. with the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, which involved many of his people being slain by the sword or taken into captivity). And Jer. 15:3 tells the people, as David Aune observes, “that those whose lot is death or the sword or famine or captivity will have to endure those fates.” [12] And that’s the point. Likewise, Rev. 13:10 is not specifically speaking of “the principle of lex talionis”—the law of retribution, in kind (like we see in  Gen. 9:6 or Matt. 26:52).[13]

As it is, we want Rev. 13:10 to be about retribution, don’t we? But while this passage may not specifically be about retribution, it does not discount retribution. Wasn’t Nero, who killed innumerable people by the sword, himself killed by the sword in his own hand?[14] What we find is that no matter if you hold to the KJV or ESV rendering of the verse (or some mixture like you find in some other translations), either way speaks to the truth of events.

Nero imprisoned innumerable Christians, including the Apostle’s Paul, Peter, and John, during his great persecution. But wasn’t this destined? In his prophetic discourse, Jesus had prophesied, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:12). And this was ongoing even as John was writing, circa. AD 65. He had even warned the church in Smyrna that some of them were going to be imprisoned (Rev. 2:10).

Yet wasn’t Nero also a captive? Absolutely. He was a captive of Satan, doing Satan’s will (2 Tim. 2:26). And were not his actions and captivity destined, like Judas? Judas was ensnared by Satan to do his will (Luke 22:3-6; John 13:27), and Judas’ actions were explicitly described as being the fulfillment of Scripture (John 17:12; Acts 1:16-18). As for Nero, Daniel (in Dan. 7) prophesied of the Beast’s persecution of God’s people (the Christians) and the Beast’s destruction, to then be burned by fire (vv. 11 & 21-27). And, doesn’t the Beast go into eternal captivity to be burned in eternal fire? Sure he does. Rev. 20:10: “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

But getting the translation right is very important (I can’t emphasize this enough). Only the correct translation leads to the intended, thus the “right” word of encouragement to the Christians. While the Lord would certainly bring justice upon the Beast (as decreed), the Christians to whom John was writing, circa. AD 65, had the “here and now” to worry about, specifically Nero’s persecution. They were justifiably alarmed, as they were either facing or suffering persecution along with friends and family. Numerous Christians had already been imprisoned and killed (in Rome and through the provinces), and numerous more would follow. Their tribulation was ongoing (Rev. 1:9). As the Lord’s Word had decreed (many times), God’s people (the Christians) were going to be persecuted, some taken captive and some slain by the sword (the Apostle Paul, for example, was imprisoned, then beheaded).

Rev. 13:10 serves as a reminder and an encouragement, telling the first-century believers that if they were destined for captivity or the sword during Nero’s persecution, it was coming. So be prepared. The Lord’s Word for them was (and continues to be for us today) “Don’t live in denial; be realistic. It is better for you to recognize (in the midst of suffering and death) that if God has willed for you to suffer and die, then you will suffer and die.” Such better prepares the Christian to answer the call put upon him or her. For, regardless what comes, the call for the Christian (then and now) is to endure and stay faithful.

Undoubtably, we can take heart in the idea of divine retributive justice, when we are suffering. Yet such could be far off. In the here and now, when troubles come upon you, Christians need to buck-up, face it head on, and faithfully endure until the end. This passage isn’t about the patting of hands and soft words like, “Oh, it’s going to be okay.” No, it’s a reminder that God is sovereign, and sometimes he calls his people to suffer and die. Mark 8:35 – Jesus said, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” 1 Pet. 1:20-21 –  “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”  Acts 14:22 – “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

But if a believer is called to suffer or die (following in Christ’s steps), integral to that is the call to “Keep on going. Don’t give up. Endure and stay faithful to the Lord, even if it means you have to undergo brutal captivity or even die a horrible death because of it.”

Now, these are hard words. They are necessary words. Christians are called to be faithful to the Lord. We are called to endure when the world gives us trouble for it. We are called to remain faithful in the midst of the trouble, not compromising or backing down. To help get you and I through requires hard words. But remember, like I’ve taught from the Scriptures many, many times from this pulpit, the Lord himself gives you his strength to endure to the end, and you stand against the devil’s schemes in the Lord’s mighty power. You absolutely can endure and remain strong in your faith, faithful through whatever comes your way.

There are and will continue to be temptations and pressures to turn the government and government leaders into idols. History proves this. Along these lines, nationalism can be an incredibly attractive lure. But resist that lure of idolatry. Our first allegiance is to Christ Jesus and his Kingdom. Be deliberate in keeping human government and God’s Kingdom distinct from one-another, in your mind and actions. That would include refusing to give the government what only belongs to God, like your primary allegiance and worship.

Resist the siren call to nationalism. Be a patriot, sure. Love your country. Serve your country (and I say that as a 25-year Army veteran, having served in two wars). Work towards its prosperity and good (Jer. 29:7). And be loyal to your country. It’s where you live. It’s where (for most folks) your family lives. It’s where you love your neighbor. Be a good citizen. In America, we can do this, usually. But know that when allegiances collide, your first allegiance is always to the Lord, and mighty powers don’t like to be denied. So, you could suffer for such faithfulness to our Lord.

My friends, we have been warned with hard words, and the Lord calls us to endurance and faith. Nations rise and fall, but the Lord’s Kingdom is forever. Let us be faithful. Because the Lord Jesus reigns supreme, his people should be confident in his Kingdom.


[1] George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism,” The Orwell Foundation, accessed 17 August 2023, https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/notes-on-nationalism/. Originally published in Polemic, GB – London, 1945.

[2] Charles Drew, “Is Nationalism an Idolatry,” Center for Christian Civics, accessed 17 August 2023, https://www.christiancivics.org/blog/is-nationalism-an-idolatry.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., The Beast of Revelation, Second Edition. (Fountain Inn, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2002), 7-10.

[7] Ibid., 13.

[8] Tacitus, Tacitus: The Histories and The Annals: English Translation, ed. G. P. Goold, trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, vol. 4, The Loeb Classical Library (London; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann Ltd; Harvard University Press, 1925–1937), 285. Annals 15:44.

[9] Cf. Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 384 fn1. Schaff, 389, also states that “Sulpicius Severus, Chron. II. 28, 29…. and Orosius (Hist. VII. 7) first clearly assert that Nero extended the persecution to the provinces. George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1913), 143, translating from Latin, quotes Orosius, (Historiae adversus Paganos, VII.7, ca. AD 417): “The boldness of his [Nero’s] impiety towards God increased the mass of his crimes, for he was the first at Rome to visit the Christians with punishments and deaths, and through all the provinces he commanded that they should be tortured with a like persecution.”

[10] Indeed “the whole world,” as the first-century Roman populace would have understood it (like Paul, in Rom. 10:18, and Philo, who wrote (circa. AD 40) of Caesar’s “sovereignty” over “the most numerous, and most valuable, and important portions of the habitable world, which in fact one may fairly call the whole world”).

[11] Cf. John Laurence Von Mosheim, Historical Commentaries on the State of Christianity during the First Three Hundred and Twenty-Five Years, ed. James Murdock, trans. Robert Studley Vidal and James Murdock, vol. 1. (New York: S. Converse, 1852), 129ff. Von Mosheim provides a thoughtful discussion on why the refusal to worship the Emperor was a reason for persecution.

[12] David E. Aune, Revelation 6–16, vol. 52B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 749–750.

[13] Another thing is that Rev. 13:10 can also, in a way, act as a subtle introduction of the False Prophet, the Land Beast (13:11), with its destiny of destruction in view (very similar to what happened in 586 B.C., involving the sword and captivity), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

[14] The Greek for sword and dagger is the same – μάχαιρα (BDAG, def. 1 – “a relatively short sword or other sharp instrument, sword, dagger).