The Red Team of Revelation: Beauty and the Beasts
The A-Team of the Apocalypse (the subject of my April posting) has a formidable opponent in the red team of Revelation: the red dragon, the scarlet beast, and the scarlet harlot. The beastly red dragon of Rev. 12:3 is identified in 12:9 as “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” In 13:1-3 the dragon gives its power and great authority to the beast coming out of the sea; the whole earth follows the beast with wonder. The saints, however, whose names are written in the book (scroll) of life, refuse to give allegiance to this beastly power; so the beast fights and slaughters some saints with the sword (13:7-10).
This dynamic duo of the dragon and beast is then expanded in 17:1-4 with the scarlet harlot, who rides the beast, now colored scarlet also. As the red dragon and scarlet beast slaughter with the sword all over the earth, the scarlet harlot sits pretty, drunk with the red blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (17:6; 18:24). The red team is bloodthirsty.
When the slaughtered Lamb is given the book (scroll) of life by the one on the throne in heaven, he will open the scroll by opening its seven seals (5:1-5). The only other mention of red in Revelation is when the second seal is opened: a bright red horse comes, whose rider is given a great sword, and he takes peace from the earth, so men slaughter one another (6:4). This thus portrays the beast (or one of its heads, identified in 17:9-10 as kings) riding the red dragon; their teamwork wreaks havoc all over the earth, slaughtering with their great sword.
John’s visions of this red team expose the violence of Satan’s world empire, which was the Roman Empire then. This international empire came out of the (warships on the) sea in order to enforce its authority and enhance the beauty of its great harlot (city). All the luxuries, resources, and merchandise of conquered lands came flowing into the city–including slave labor (18:12-13). Her wealthiest businessmen were the “great men” of the earth (18:23), who enriched the various kings of the earth and lesser merchants, who all supported this red team. The majestic city that dazzled was then Rome.
Jesus shows these visions to John in order to awaken the churches in Asia Minor–not far from Rome–to the grim realities of imperial power and wealth. For most of the seven churches have benefited from their cities’ close links with Roman power and wealth. But their toleration and even adoration of the “beast” and “harlot” have meant their becoming part of the “fan club” of the red team, whose “captain” is the dragon.
Moreover, apocalyptic symbols–like dragons, beasts, and harlots–have an ongoing usefulness to expose later appearances of the red team in history. For the beast of 13:2, that is a combination of wild animals (the leopard, bear, and lion), draws on older symbols itself. Daniel 7:3-6 portrays great beasts that come out of the sea (a lion, bear, and leopard), and identifies them as kingdoms, and kings (7:17,23). And the scarlet harlot is depicted in Rev. 17:5 as that older great city, Babylon the great. The great world empires, and their showcase cities, continue to come throughout history, like the waves of the sea.
Many people in the world today who might read the above description of the red team would have little trouble identifying its present form. The world empire that now brings “shock and awe” via its wild unleashing of the “sword” is the U.S. And the great city that profits from this slaughter and showcases the luxuries and wealth that result is New York–with its great international bankers and businessmen. Revelation can continue to expose the dangers of our patriotic love, our love for the rich and powerful, because like most of the seven churches (of Rev. 2-3), many of our churches are also deceived by this red team. Because we profit from its beastly rampages, and desire its beautiful luxuries, we listen to false prophets who proclaim the good intentions of the beast and the harlot, the “innocence” of this violent empire and its wealthy corporations. According to the false prophets, the bad guys are primarily those who speak or act against this empire.
The challenge for churches and Christians continues to be: Whose team do you like? Whose team do you adore and give allegiance to? Whose team do you listen to and believe? For only one team, the A-team of the apocalypse, is telling the truth and is worthy of adoration and allegiance. Many Christians and churches in the U.S. are not persecuted because they are not true prophets; it is not in their self-interest. Revelation shows that this present comfortable position–allied with the red team–endangers one’s eternal position; for the red team (that rules the international seas) will end up in the lake of fire.