“And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.” – Revelation 13:2
The book of Revelation is both prophetic and enigmatic. It cannot be understood except in the light of the Second Coming. It does not treat of external events but of a conflict which goes on in the minds and hearts of men between love of the Lord and the neighbor and the love of self and the world. The beast is the love of self which fights against the love and wisdom of the Lord. Thus the book of Revelation treats of the end of the first Christian dispensation and the beginning of the new.
In the thirteenth chapter of Revelation the beast – the love of self – appears in two mystic forms, one of which rose out of the sea, and the other out of the earth. They have and exercise the power of the dragon, and represent particular and open manifestations of his power. The beast that rose out of the sea represents the principle of self-love received and applied more externally and superficially, and the beast that rose out of the earth pictures those more interiorly in the love of self.
The first beast is thus described: “And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion.” Beautiful in appearance but fierce in disposition, the leopard presents the image of a doctrine pleasing to the senses but dangerous to the soul. Its coat, spotted black and white, is a fit emblem of the mixture of truth and falsity which seeks to vindicate and at the same time to impeach the Divine truth. The beast had also a bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth. The bear is emblematic of the harsh literal sense of the Word, the lowest truths of which are meant by its feet. These are not genuine truths but are apparent truths, such as those which speak of God as being angry and vindictive, and yet as being easily won over to clemency and forgiveness. The dragon uses the letter of the Word to cause belief in it. The mouth of the lion proclaims with power the teaching of the dragon. So it is written, “Who is like unto the beast?” and “Who is able to make war with him?” And having this power, it is further recorded: “He opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.”
The dragon perverts the teaching of the Word by using the letter to deny the unity of God in Jesus Christ, and when this is done, all worship and heavenly life are threatened.
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The slaying of the Lamb is the denial of the truth concerning the Lord, that denial which led to the rejection of the Law and the Prophets by the Jewish Church, and later the rejection of the Lord Himself, that denial which leads men today to pervert and reject the teachings of the Gospel. And this Scripture is a picture of what has taken place in the Church itself. True Christianity is the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the recognition of Him as the Word made flesh. It is the recognition of Him as omnipresent in His Divine Humanity. Risen and ascended, He exercises all power in heaven and on earth.
This conflict depicted in Revelation represents a war, the war that has been and is going on on the earth. It is not merely a conflict of theological opinions waged in the upper regions of abstract thought; still less is it a mythological war in the world of the departed. It is a conflict going on in the minds, hearts, and lives of men.
The state of the world is dependent upon the state of the Church. As is the Church, so is the world. The book of Revelation applies particularly to the Church in the world. If the Church is united and true, the world’s progress is assured. If it is divided and in error, the world will suffer accordingly. The inner moulds the outer, and not the reverse.
There is only one source of a good life, one source of happiness and peace. Men can be led to good only by the Lord by means of His Word. Directly or indirectly to the Lord through His Word must all good be traced.
There are two beasts mentioned in our chapter. The first rising from the sea represents the perversion of the truth by the laity; the second represents a more interior evil, the perversion of the truth by the clergy.
When nations are to perish for their sins,
‘Tis in the Church that the leprosy begins:
The priest, whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain and to keep it clear,
Carelessly nods, and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock should drink,
Or walking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own:
His unsuspecting sheep believe it pure,
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul forerunner of a general rot.
So when the world goes wrong, the leaders of the Church are more responsible for it than any other class of men. When the Lord was on earth, the burden of His condemnation fell upon the chief priests and the scribes and Pharisees, the leaders of the Church. They were chiefly to blame. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” The doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Savior of men is the central teaching of the Christian Church.
The dragon, the reasonings of self-love, seeks to bind the Word to teach what favors man’s desires. He trusts in self instead of in the Lord. He trusts in his own ability to determine what is true and good, and to determine the validity of the Word of God. The Word is subject to him, and not he to the Word. All the evils of the ages are concealed within this doctrine. It is the doctrine of self-sufficiency, and makes the Lord’s presence and operation in the soul obscure and insignificant and religion a mere shield and pretext for every form of self-indulgence. When the world gets into difficulties, people begin to look for remedies. Laws are passed, national and international conferences are called, but the result is only superficial and transitory relief. Why? Because the reformers are working with only partial truths, the truths which the leopard with his black and white spots represents. They do not make the sinfulness in human hearts the great cause of all conflicts.
The teachings of the Word are not mere abstract theological opinions. They are the only laws by which happy human life can be governed. It is only as the truths of the Word are learned, acknowledged, and applied to life that evil can be recognized and removed. The dragon is the spurious belief that man must and ought to live as he wills, a belief which is irrational, immoral, and futile.
The teaching of the Word is that the Lord is the way, the truth, and the life. He alone is the Creator, Redeemer, and Savior of men. The Lord is present in and through His Word. By it alone He enlightens the mind to see the way of life. By it He removes from the heart the love of self, and fills it with unselfish love, the love that finds happiness in the joy of others, and in the suffering and pain of others suffers with them.
Those whose names are not written in the book of life are the evil. Falsity by itself does not condemn; truth by itself does not save. Falsity palliates and excuses evil; truth aggravates it. So with the evil falsity makes the condemnation less, while truth makes the condemnation greater. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is the denial of the deity of Christ. All true religion is the worship of the Lord in the heart, mind, and life. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”