Revelation 17:8

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Revelation 17:8

John was just told by the angel presenting the vision to him that the mystery of it would also be told to him. That now immediately begins to take place with the words, “The beast that you saw was, and is not.”

Is this past, present, and future description from the time John was alive? If so, it would mean the entity existed prior to John’s time, was not there during John’s time, and it would again come in the end times.

It could also be a description of another time such as “prior to the tribulation, at the beginning of the tribulation, and then during the tribulation?” As such, it could speak of the Roman Empire that once was. Eventually, it faded and does not exist at that future time (to John). However, based on a futurist interpretation of Daniel 9, it will exist again.

This interpretation seems reasonable, and it would be in accord with Revelation 4:1 where John was told, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” He was told he would see things after his current age. Thus, it would refer to after the church age, during the tribulation.

No matter what, the “when” is important in the analysis, and we simply cannot know for sure. The matter is future, and speculation is needed because of this. With this understood, the angel next says, “and will ascend out of the bottomless pit.” The bottomless pit is that which was previously described in Revelation 9.

The probable meaning here is that the beast, or at least its power, is derived from the underworld. It was, but then it was dead – it is not. And yet, it is revived during the tribulation period to its former power and glory. This makes the assumption that Daniel’s description of the Roman Empire is a suitable and likely candidate. NATO failed, the EU is failing, and yet Europe still exists and is in need of suitable leadership. A description of the Roman Empire is given in Daniel 2 –

‘But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. 41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. 43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.” Daniel 2:39-43

As a side note for those verses, verse 2:43 says, “they will mingle with the seed of men.” This has led to some rather ridiculous interpretations, such as angels or aliens intermingling with humans and resulting in giant hybrids. We could call them Nephilim Ned and Rephaim Rhoda. This is irresponsible theology. Several translations give a much more likely reading, such as, “so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united” (NIV).

Other references to the Roman Empire are found in Daniel, and which have no past fulfillment, meaning they are pointing to a date yet future to us now –

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.” Daniel 7:7, 8

Daniel 9:27, taken in proper context, also shows that the antichrist will come from the same people who destroyed the temple in AD70 – Rome. With this a possible, and even likely, scenario, we next read “and go to perdition.”

The word translated as “perdition” means “destruction.” It is used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 when speaking of the antichrist, saying, “and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” This then would correspond to Daniel 7:11 –

“I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame.”

As these points all fit, it will be the only option given for this analysis. However, there are innumerable other evaluations of what the angel is describing to John. For now, he next says, “And those who dwell on the earth will marvel.”

This is a general reference that the beast will be remarkable enough to cause those who see it to be amazed at it. If Hitler’s Germany suddenly arose again, one could see the amazement of it in many people’s eyes. The same is true with Stalin’s Russia. Likewise, a revised Roman Empire would be considered a fantastically marvelous event. Those who will marvel at this are those “whose names are not written in the Book of Life.”

The Greek reads epi, upon. Thus, it says, “upon the Book,” or “upon the scroll.” This does not mean that there is a literal scroll with names written on it. What it means is that every name is known, and the details of that person are wholly known to God.

This involves the doctrine of predestination, but it does not negate the doctrine of free will. Just because God knows what will happen, it does not mean that He actively directs those things. Understanding this, the names are written in the Book of Life “from the foundation of the world.”

The Book of Life is a way of stating that there are those who are saved, and there are those who are not saved. Those who are saved have been recorded upon this Book of Life.

God is all-knowing. The outcome of all things, every event, and even every decision we make is known to Him. Thus, even at creation, what would occur within creation – from that time on and forever – is recorded in His mind. The term “from the foundation of the world” reflects this. This was also seen in verse 13:8.

In this, God knows that those people who are not recorded in the Book of Life are those that will marvel “when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” The revival of this great beast will be a source of amazement to those who behold it, and they will willingly want to be a part of it. It gives a good explanation of why they would be so willing to take the mark of this beast. This would then explain why they are not in the Book of Life. Each point logically fits, one after the other.

Life application: There are several verses in the Bible that are extremely hard to interpret. This is one of them. Is this beast the antichrist or is it a government system? It is hard to be dogmatic. The term is used in both ways, and which one is being referred to depends on how one interprets the other passages in conjunction with it. One may simply represent the other.

No matter what, this beast will become a source of idolatry to the people of the world – “Who is like the beast?” They will follow after it just as Germany followed after Hitler. They will put their allegiance behind it lock, stock, and barrel, and they will reject any sense of following God.

When they contemplate the beast, they will think that it is their destiny to follow it because it was, and then it wasn’t, and then it appeared again. If it is the revived Roman Empire, or another such state – Islamic perhaps – the people will think that it is the fulfillment of the original intent of that state and their allegiance to it will be complete.

How much better to put your trust in the One who has been all along. Empires come and go. Nations rise and fall. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Put your trust in God! Be saved through His glorious provision. Today is the day to come to JESUS!

Lord, let us not trade our allegiance to You for that which is both temporary and barren. There is no hope in man, nor in anything which man can do. There is only hope in calling out to You and walking in uprightness and holiness as we wait on the good things You alone have promised, and that which You alone can fulfill. Help us to focus on You and not on that which is temporary and will fade away. Amen.