01 September 2022

State Idolatry


The “beast from the earth” mimics Jesus and creates a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive the inhabitants of the earth – Revelation 13:11-18

Roman Column - Photo by Thimo van Leeuwen on Unsplash
Regardless of form, the State employs language to associate it in the popular mind with dominant religious themes. But when it becomes totalitarian, it begins to substitute itself as the religion of the population. Ultimately, the ruler or the State itself becomes the nation’s object of worship, one that tolerates no rivals - [Photo by Thimo van Leeuwen on Unsplash].

In the book of Revelation, this reality is portrayed graphically in the activities of the “beast from the sea” and its main propagandist, the “beast from the earth,” namely, the “false prophet” who promotes the veneration of the former.

In the thirteenth chapter, John sees a second “beast ascending from the earth” whose purpose is to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth” to give their allegiance to the first “beast.” The “beast from the sea” is characterized by political power, while the “false prophet” is empowered to deceive the population. And he uses the economic power of the first beast to punish anyone who refuses to bow to it.

The “inhabitants of the earth” worship the “beast from the sea” and, by proxy, the “Dragon,” but it is the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” that promotes this religious devotion and gives it concrete expression by encouraging men to erect an “image” to the “beast from the sea” - (Revelation 13:4-8).

FIRST BEAST


The first “beast” has “ten heads” and “seven horns,” and one of the “heads” appears to have been “slain.” Buts its “death-stroke is healed.” The description, “as having been slain,” was applied previously to the “Lamb.” Likewise, the “beast from the sea” is wounded “and lives,” just as Jesus “died and lived” - (Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).

The restoration of the wounded “head” mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus, and its restoration to life causes the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to it. Thus, the “beast from the sea” is a counterfeit Lamb - (Revelation 13:3-6).

Likewise, the “beast from the earth” has “horns like a lamb.” It is not identical to the “Lamb,” but it also imitates him. And while the “Lamb” has “seven horns,” the second “beast” has only “two horns.” And it has the power to summon fire from heaven, making it the satanic counterpart to the “two witnesses” who consume their opponents with “fire from their mouth.”

FALSE PROPHET


The “false prophet” employs religious devices to direct the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image to the first “beast.” But it uses economic pressure to punish anyone who resists, especially the overcoming saints who, like the three Jewish exiles in Babylon, refuse to render homage to the “image” - (Daniel 3:13-14) – “O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, you serve not my god or worship the golden image that I have erected!”).

The attempts to deceive followers of Jesus were anticipated in the letters to the seven churches with their warnings against “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “prophetess Jezebel,” and the “teachings of Balaam.”

Already, the “beast from the earth” is active among the churches of Asia. The economic attacks by the “false prophet” are also reflected in the economic deprivations suffered by the congregation in Smyrna - (Revelation 2:2-6, 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20).

The stress is on the use of religious deception by the “False Prophet” to seduce humanity into giving allegiance to the first “beast.” However, when coercion becomes necessary, his tool of choice is economic control.

BEAST’S NUMBER


The “number of the beast” and its “image” use language from the story of the great “golden image erected” by Nebuchadnezzar, and his demand for all his subjects to venerate the image “that I have erected.” That incident resulted in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego being cast into the “burning fiery furnace”:

  • (Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image… the height thereof sixty cubits, its breadth six cubits… And the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and render homage to the image. Whoever did not render homage to it was slain.”
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead… Six hundred and sixty and six.”

This background is the source for the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, and it links the “number” to idolatry, especially state idolatry. Thus, idolatrous religion and political power are inextricably linked.

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image is “sixty” cubits and its width “six cubits.” The Greek Septuagint version reads hexékonta and hex cubits, the same form of the second two numbers added to “six hundred” in Revelation, and it divides the original number into three components based on the number ‘6’ (600 + 60 + 6). The number reflects the sexagesimal or 60-base numeral system of Ancient Babylon.

The “number” is figurative. In the book, the “mark of the beast” is contrasted with the “seal of God” that is placed on the foreheads of those who follow the “Lamb,” which likewise is not literal.

Thus, the “mark” or “number” is the satanic counterfeit to the “seal of God” and the “name of the Lamb” inscribed on the foreheads of the latter’s followers - (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).

In Revelation, humanity is divided into two groups: Those who “follow the Lamb,” and those who take the “mark of the beast” and give allegiance to it. Total allegiance is given to one or the other, and there is NO middle ground, no third alternative.

COUNTERFEIT


Thus, the “beast from the earth” in his activities imitates the “Lamb.” The “false prophet” employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men, causing them to render homage to the “Dragon” and the “beast from the sea.”

The goal is to destroy the church, either through deception and apostasy, or more directly, through economic pressure and persecution (“It made war against the saints”).

Capitol under dark cloud - Photo by Tsiky Raharinaivo on Unsplash
[Photo by Tsiky Raharinaivo on Unsplash]

The marginalized congregations of Asia would have recognized the arrogant pretensions and hubris of Rome in all this, especially the demand to venerate the emperor. Local magistrates pressured citizens to participate in the imperial cult, which certainly would have included economic sanctions against anyone who refused to do so.

If there is a lesson for today, it is that the “beast” will imitate the true faith in order to deceive the “saints.” Its counterfeit will look and feel all too familiar, and very likely, it will direct us to give the allegiance that belongs to Jesus ALONE to someone or something else.

The best preventative medicine is to give our absolute allegiance to Jesus, and daily, to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him “wherever he goes.”

Thus, the book calls this figure the “false prophet” and portrays it as the satanic imitation of the true “Lamb.” This may very well reflect Christ’s own warning that “false Christs” and “false prophets” will appear and deceive many prior to the coming of the “Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.”

This conflict occurs whenever the State in whatever form demands the allegiance and veneration that belong to God alone. Disciples of Jesus should beware whenever any government begins to cloak itself in religious language and symbolism.



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