How do you picture the devil? Red suit, pitchfork, horns on his head, and a pointy tail? It may seem counterintuitive, but the spiritual realm and the physical realm interact. There seems to be a close relationship between Satan’s activity and the powers and operations of this world. Satan comes to us in the form of the natural. What appears as human meanness, malevolent behavior, and evil is actually demonically empowered. NT Wright does a great job of showing that the beast in this passage is actually the Roman Empire – wealthy, proud, powerful, demanding worship and total allegiance. After describing the beast, John tells us that: “The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority” (v. 2). In other words, Satan, the dragon, gave the beast, Rome, power and authority. Rome uses this power and authority to dominate and exploit as well as to pleasure and seduce her inhabitants. Do you see any present day parallels?
What this tells me is that a Christian battles sin and evil not only in their personal spiritual life, but also at a socio-political level in culture and society, through the systems and institutions within the physical world. The Bible tells us to love not the world nor things in the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17). What that means is simply that we are not to love things that oppose or run counter to the ethics and values of the Kingdom of God. Spiritual forces of evil operate in connection with the structures and powers of the world and human existence. The Apostle Paul simply calls these things “powers” (Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20).
Every human institution is a complex composed of an entangled network of forces that condition human existence and the way we order everyday life. Human beings create and run these structural systems that so influence, control, and shape us. They function as quasi-autonomous and quasi-personal powers larger than the individuals who embody and run the structural systems. These ‘powers’ are embedded in the norms, values, and attitudes of culture. They are manifest in the media, governmental and political entities, legal systems, as well as, in industry, commercial, and economic domains. You can find them in family dynamics, education, medicine, and even in religious systems. God intended these structures to order and benefit human life and creation so that they could flourish.
The structures of human existence, as seen from Revelation 13, can be manipulated by human sinfulness and demonic beings to bring about evil purposes, corruption, and oppression. Just look at what is happening in Syria today. The evil use of the structures of human existence brings about alienation, enslavement, bondage, destruction, and death to Jesus-followers, as well as, to humanity in general, animals, and the creation itself. Prophetically, we are called to unmask, name, and challenge these powers with the values and practices of God’s Kingdom. However, it appears that Jesus’ strategy for dealing with oppressive powers in Revelation 13 is counterintuitive. Christ-followers are called to submit to imprisonment and death instead of giving in to the powers. They are to suffer with patient endurance and faithfulness (v. 10). How different is God’s Kingdom than the kingdoms and powers of Satan and this world. We win by losing. In the end, it is God’s Kingdom and his power that will be.