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Revelation 12 describes a series of wars in which the dragon is the aggressor:

  • Before Christ, it opposes the women (12:1-4),
  • Then Christ (12:5),
  • Then Michael and his angels in heaven (12:7-12),
  • Then the woman again (12:13),
  • Then the woman during the time, times and a half (12:14, 6),
  • And lastly, the woman's other children (12:17).

All of these are in the past tense.

Revelation 13 continues in the past tense. It describes:

  • The beast coming out of the sea (13:1-2),
  • The fatal wound and the healing of the wound (13:3-4),
  • Then it refers to the beast's persecution of God's people for 42 months (13:5-7), which seems to refer back to the time, times, and a half of 12:14.

But suddenly, verse 8 jumps to the future tense.

The last part of Revelation 13 describes the work of the beast from the earth (13:11-15) and the work of the image of the beast (13:15-18). All of these are in the present tense.

  • Why the shift in the tenses?
  • Does it help us to determine the chronological sequence of events?
  • Is there perhaps a relationship between the future tense in 13:8 and the reference to "the foundation of the world?"
  • 13:8 looks pretty similar to 17:8. Revelation 17 describes the heads and beast in terms of the past, present, and future (17:8-11). 17:8 describe's the beast's worship as in the future. Is 13:8 in the future tense to link it to 17:8?
  • Is 13:8 in the future tense to tell us that 13:1-7 is an interruption and 13:8 continues where 12:17 left off?
  • Or is 13:8 in the future tense to say that it describes a later time than what is described by 13:1-7, which is in the past tense? But then 13:4 and 13:8 would be two different events, and they look very similar.

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Verses 1 to 8 depict a vision John was given, and he writes it down as he saw it. First, he gives his location. Note that the previous vision has ended (regarding the dragon). Now John finds himself standing upon the sand of the sea (the sea-shore) and out of this sea arises a monstrous beast. He describes the appearance of this symbolic beast and what happens to one of its wounded heads. He sees, in vision, people of the world worshipping this beast, then the beast being given a mouth to speak boastful and blasphemous things, and being given power that will continue for 42 symbolic months. It starts to blaspheme, and to war against God's people on earth while controlling all peoples and nations.

All of those things indicate on-going action with a beastly system that clearly links in with the vision of beasts that Daniel saw. There Daniel was given to see from the political power of Babylon through to the power of Rome, on the world scene. But John's vision of beasts had this difference: his were composite and went way into the future, from the time of Rome up till Christ's return. It is the way the book of the Revelation moves from John's time through till the still-future return of Christ that accounts for changes in tenses.

As you point out, previous visions about the dragon trying to kill the woman's man-child etc were past tense. That makes sense given how that event speaks of Satan's failed attempt to destroy the Christ-child more than 90 years before John got that vision.

Further, they continue in the past tense (and also present tense) because from Christ's arrival on Earth right through to his still-future return, Satan's beastly political systems have kept trying to destroy Christ's followers on Earth. In every generation, there have been various, and continuing, fulfillment of the different visions. And with each century the events get worse and worse. Same with the plagues poured out from heaven down on to an increasingly godless world. And, likewise, the horsemen of chapter 6 have been riding forth continually, until this very day.

However, the build-up of events show a climax that is to be reached very soon before Jesus suddenly returns. And this, I suggest, is the reason for verse 8 being future tense. There are penultimate events yet due to happen; seven last plagues; three final woes. Then the last trump to announce the start of the Day of Resurrection and Judgment. So in chapter 13: things were beginning to happen in John's generation, they would continue into the next century, and the third, and right on till today, but even as of today, we still await the revelation of those names written in the book of life of the Lamb to be revealed. That won't happen until the last trump, which is still future.

It is amazingly appropriate how tenses switch throughout the book of the Revelation. It is not arbitrary. Christians of every generation since John have been provided with intelligence as to what will happen, and what they are to expect. It has been given to enable Christians to endure until Christ's sudden return, to make sure they are not deceived into worshiping this satanic beast out of the sea, brought about by the other beast out of the earth. Those beasts manifest throughout the centuries, but at the last gasp, they will pull out their final deception, shortly before Christ returns. It is for this that the Revelation was given - to let God's people know what happens to them, and what will yet happen, for nobody knows when Christ will spectacularly appear, and Christians are already being targeted, to deceive them and to stop their witness for Christ.

Post Script with another example of changing tenses within one verse in Revelation: Rev. 5:6 - Present tense, "And I beheld..." This is part of an on-going vision where more is revealed about the throne of God. Past tense, "...stood a Lamb as it had been slain..." The slaying of Jesus, the Lamb of God, had taken place some 60 years previously, a once-for-all-time event. Present tense again - the Lamb is standing, alive, taking action. Verse 9 continues this fluctuation in tenses, The Lamb is worthy to take the book and open the seals because he was slain and had redeemed people (now depicted as being in heaven), then verse 10 switches to future tense with those redeemed people looking forward to when they will reign on the (new) earth.

This is a clear example of Revelation switching from present, to past, then to future tense, and it seems self-evident in this case as to why. Similar careful examination of the text in question should show this also.

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  • Hi Anne. Twice (12:5 and ch 5) you seem to say past tense refers to events before John’s time. But, if I understand you correctly, the past tense indicates ongoing activity – before and during John’s time and beyond – while the future tense describes “a climax that is to be reached very soon before Jesus suddenly returns” - “their final deception”. That would mean that the 1260 days, 42 months, and times, times and a half (12:6, 14; 13:5) are not part of the end-time events. Right? 13:8 and 13:4 seem to describe the same event. If so, why is one in the past and the other in the future tense?
    – Andries
    Dec 28, 2022 at 4:18
  • @Andries No, John was alive when Jesus was born. Those events in past tense were during John's life-time but he only got the explanatory vision of the woman and the child when he was in his 90s. I am of the view that the end-times, the last days (Heb.1:1-2) began with the incarnation and resurrection, so yes - those 'times' are part of the end times. But there are 7 repeated end time sections in Revelation, with more info added with each repetition, building up a larger picture from Christ's advent till he returns - still future. That's why different chapters describe the same event.
    – Anne
    Dec 28, 2022 at 14:00
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The change of tense from past (technically aorist) to future tense between Rev 13:7 & 8 is not unique in the book of revelation. Here are some other instances:

  • Rev 11:2 (including V1) contains a series of aorist (past) tense verbs and comes πατήσουσιν = they will worship (future); V3: δώσω = I will grant (future); προφητεύσουσιν = will prophesy (future)
  • Rev 11:7 contains a series of future tense verbs
  • Rev 13:11, 12a contains verbs in the past tense; but V12b contains the verb προσκυνήσουσιν = will worship (future)
  • Rev 14:10 - up to V9 in Rev 14 the verbs are all in the past tense but in V10 they are in the future tense (but then return to the present tense in V11)
  • Rev 15:4 contains two verbs in the future tense while those before and after are in the past tense.

There are others. All that is shows that John, in vision, is placed a point in time when some events were past and some were yet to occur. Beyond this point I will not venture as this requires the overall scheme of Revelations interpretation.

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  • Thanks. Complex stuff. Prophecies seem to be usually in the past tense because the prophet is relating things that he heard or saw in his past. E.g., “was given me” “someone said” (11:1). 13:4 and 13:8 seem to describe the same event but one is in the past tense and the other in the future. The beast from the earth spoke as a dragon and exercises all the authority of the first beast (13:11-12). Does it make sense to say that he spoke like a dragon in the past and is now exercising the authority of the first beast? I do not see the past tense in 14:11 (NASB). It seems all present tense.
    – Andries
    Nov 14, 2022 at 15:39
  • Just another question - 14:11 seems to describe future eternity. How on earth could that be in the past tense? Did the translators "fix" the tense and made it present tense to make it more sensible?
    – Andries
    Nov 14, 2022 at 15:52
  • @Andries - I made one correction - Rev 14:11 is in the present tense. All these various tenses are one of the challenges of understanding Revelation.
    – Dottard
    Nov 14, 2022 at 20:59
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In the book of Revelation, the author, St. Apostle John, writes in a highly symbolic and apocalyptic style. This means that the events described in the book are often intended to be understood as metaphors for deeper spiritual truths, rather than as literal predictions of the future. As such, it is difficult to say why St. Apostle John chose to use the future tense in Revelation 13:8 without understanding the broader context and meaning of the passage.

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