Artist and theologian Katrina Ross illuminates the timeless words of Revelation 13:1-2 with a lens of today's potential context.
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1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. 2 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.
Illuminating this passage was challenging for me, because of how it has been used to terrorize and demonize groups of people, but I chose it because I’ve always loved drawing giant monsters. There are a variety of interpretations for the “beasts” described in the Book of Revelation, but it is widely thought that the beasts are meant to represent religious and economic powers within society which persuade people to pledge their allegiance to institutional powers, often at the expense of what is good and right.
In its original context, the beast of the sea was likely a subversive reference to the imperial cult of Rome and specifically Emperor Nero who was a notoriously brutal and unjust persecutor. However, this story has found its way into the narrative of other battles and culture wars since. As with most Bible stories, Revelation can be used to justify almost any worldview. The beast can become whatever you find most threatening or what you see as the greatest evil of our time, but I think it is important to keep God’s faithfulness in mind as we interpret scripture. I find it especially troubling when the beast is said to represent marginalized groups because this text was written to give people hope for justice in the face of institutionalized cruelty, not to further subjugate the powerless.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how theology is used to uphold unjust systems of power. For our context, I think the beast of the sea would more appropriately symbolize wealth inequality, systemic injustice and corporate greed. The seven heads of the beast, said to be seven emperors who formed the Roman Empire, might today be the seven “supermajors” of Big Oil whose influence disproportionately controls political and economic direction worldwide. I think this story, found in the Book of Revelation, is about God’s witness to the oppressive forces in our world, which will be overcome in God’s time and with our compassionate action.
Katrina Ross is currently an M.Div student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and she has also worked as a freelance graphic designer and artist for many years. She draws things using ink, water-based paints and digital applications. Katrina’s inspiration is often derived from things she thinks she saw, or symbols that want to be reconfigured. She tries to avoid explicit narrative to leave room for a range of experiences, because your contribution as the viewer is central to the meaning.