May 2, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LI: The Beast, A Mimic & The Mark

Revelation 13: The Beast from the Sea & The Beast from the Earth

The overarching exhortation to believers is to be discerning about falsehood and not to succumb to false worship propagated by Satan and his worldly minions or acolytes. Christians are to hold on their faith, with a death-grip if necessary.

There has been debate since the earliest times about the identification of the Antichrist figure in chapter 13. I will not speculate on whom this might be. Some see an individual Antichrist to come at the last stage of world history. This view is supported by the logical understanding of the Antichrist as a personal counterpart to the personal Christ. Others from the time of the NT itself have seen the Antichrist as an evil spirit repeatedly inspiring false teaching throughout the church age.

At the time of the Reformation, Luther, Calvin and other reformers saw the Catholic Church as the incarnation of the Antichrist. Surprisingly, the two interpretations are not incompatible. In the context of Revelation and of the NT in 1-2 John indicates that the Antichrist has and will display himself as a corporate spirit inspiring false teaching and persecution…even within the church itself or churches. He can and did also reveal himself individually as a leader of opposition to God’s people at a future time, just before the end.

The Devil's Agent: The Beast

The beast at Satan’s order will persecute the Church and easily deceive the ungodly as outlined in Revelation 13:1-8. The timeframe is parallel with chapter 12. The dragon positions himself “on the sand of the seashore” to call up his helpers who will carry out his will on earth. He summons them from the same nefarious place that he came from. The “seven heads” appear to be as a composite of the  heads of the four beasts in Daniel 7 because other features of Daniel’s beasts are also applied to the beast in Revelation 13:2. The “ten diadems” on the “ten horns” are a reference to Daniel’s fourth beast, whose “ten horns” are interpreted as “ten kings” (Daniel 7:24). Likewise, the “blasphemous names” are connected with the blaspheming figure of Daniel 7:8, who is also associated with the fourth kingdom. The fact that this monster in Revelation 13:1–7 is modeled primarily on Daniel 7 is also supported by the analysis of a similar portrayal of the dragon in Revelation 12:3–4, which was also predominantly taken from Daniel 7–8. Without exception the imagery of the sea monster is used throughout the OT to represent evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people.

The “ten diadems” on the beast’s horns confirm that the reference is to an earthly king or kings. Horns are typically metaphorical of power. As with the dragon’s horns and heads, so here the number of seven heads and ten horns emphasizes the completeness of oppressive power.

Satanic Mockery & Mimicry

The dragon had diadems on his heads Revelation12:3 and the beast now has them on his horns shows that the dragon has the ultimate rule and mandates his will through the beast itself. The “sea” that the beast arises from is synonymous with the “abyss” which is the spiritual storehouse of evil, where wicked spirits are confined under God’s sovereignty. The crowns appear to symbolize the beast’s false claims of sovereignty and authority in opposition to the One True God and “King of kings and Lord of lords,” who also wears “many diadems” as we will see in Revelation 19:12 & 16. This very similarity looks like it is intended to contrast the beast and Christ. The epitome of blasphemy is to attribute deity to someone who is not God. In John’s day the beast from the sea would have been identified as Rome. Where in Daniel 7:3–8 the lion, bear, leopard, and beast represent four successive world empires, in Revelation 13:1–2 these four images may be all applied to the one beast. The combination of four beasts into one highlights the extreme fierceness of this beast and the overall evil impetus behind its drive to conquer. To me the dragon and the beast could include world empires of the past and the present and potentially of the future.

John then sees the beast with a wound on one of his heads. Such a wound on the head of the grand nemesis of God’s people may reflect the protoevangelium Genesis 3:15, I will put enmity between you and the woman; and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” ~Gen. 3:15." This is especially true when seen together with Revelation 12:17. The wound appears at first to be fatal, and, indeed, it really was. Nevertheless, the devil’s continued activity through his agents makes it appear to John as though he has overcome the mortal blow dealt him at Christ’s death and resurrection. This thereby mimics Jesus’ death burial and resurrection in a mock repeat of the passion week. “One of the heads” of the beast appeared “slain unto death,” but “his death wound was healed”. But there is a difference between the Lamb’s recovery and that of the beast. The Lamb really did conquer and defeat death by resurrection, but the beast’s continued existence is not a reversal of his actual defeat. There is deception taking place here.

It is the beast who recovers from the wound, not merely the head itself. Furthermore, v 4 says that the beast’s revival resulted in universal worship and authority. In terms of interpreting this properly this probably cannot be limited to one historical person or epoch. That is, just as Christ’s rule spans the whole church age, so the evil activities of his ultimate counterpart, the devil and his servants, span the same time. This therefore leaves open the possibility of an Antichrist who comes at the end of history and incarnates the devil in a greater way than anyone ever before just as we are so used to hearing from those who hold to a Pretrib/Premil view. Whether this consummate expression of evil will be manifested in an individual or an institution is hard to say.

Sometimes when I read this passage it makes more sense to me to link the beast’s resuscitation to the repeated rise and fall of oppressive states, world systems, or social structures that continue because the devil continues to inspire opposition to God’s people generation after generation, even though he has been decisively defeated by Christ at the Cross.  This belief is supported by a broader historical interpretation is supported by the combined image of the rise and fall of Daniel’s four empires.

The dragon/beast will be so convincing in concealing his defeat as apparent victor that “the whole earth marveled after the beast.” This universal expression does not refer to all people without exception but to the entire world of unbelievers. Believers (at least a handful) will see right through this treacherous leech. They will become convinced of the beast’s claims and give him allegiance which basically means they will align themselves with Satan himself. The multitudes likewise worship the beast because of his purported incomparability: they proclaim in their worship “who is like the beast and who is able to make war with him? It brings to greater expression Daniel’s idea of the proud kinwho attempts to magnify himself above God in the end time Daniel 8:11. That God is the ultimate source of the beast’s authority in these verses is implied by the decreed time limit and the predestined number of those who worship him. Only God, not the devil, sets times and seasons. The devil would never want to limit his work against God’s kingdom to a mere “three and a half years.”

Calling his speech “blasphemy” enhances the idea of deception, since blasphemy involves slandering or defaming the name of the true God. That “he blasphemes God’s name” implies a speaking out against God through self-deification. Also included in the blasphemy are accusations or actions against Christians, who have God’s name written on them.

We then see reference to the Lambs book of life. The phrase “book of life” appears five other times in the Apocalypse (Revelation 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). In each case, as here, it is a metaphor for saints whose salvation has been predetermined in the consul of God: their names have been entered into the census book of the eternal new Jerusalem, and it was done before history began, which is explicitly affirmed in Revelation 21:27, though the pre-time/temporal phrase is omitted there, unlike 13:8 and 17:8, which express the notion of predetermination with “from the foundation of the world.” It’s called predestination folks! The saints were written in the book before history began is implied by the fact that the beast worshipers are said not to have been so written. This of course opens up a huge can of worms for all of our non-Calvinistic friends which I will not be going into here. What I will clearly say is that the point here is that the multitudes throughout the earth who worship the beast do so because their names “have not been written in the book of life.”  They will be or are being deceived into worshiping him because they do not have the eternal life-giving protection granted those whose names are in the book. The last phrase, “from the foundation of the world,” also alludes to the fact that the death of Christ was decreed before time began or “of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” 1 Peter 1:19. This fact shoo-shoos all the liberal theologians that view Christ as an insurrectionist or dissident leader whose plan went awry. This was a plan clear as day, not an accident. For me, because of this fact there is security and safety for the community of faith is that is a precreation or identification with the Lamb’s death, which means that they also identify with his resurrection life, which protects them from spiritual death and it has always been planned that way.

Believers are then exhorted to discern true from false worship in order to persevere and persevere in their Faith. We then see “the state” or a state authorizes its political, religious, and economic allies to be agents in persecute or God’s people and the Church and to deceive the ungodly In Revelation 13:11–17. Verses 16–17 and the demand that everyone receive “a mark on their right hand or on their forehead” could be an allusion to the ancient practice of branding or tattooing disobedient slaves and soldiers. The mark is clearly figurative of the ways in which the state keeps check on whether people submit to compulsory idol worship. I believe this is also intended to be a mockery of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6 which bound God’s commands on the same areas of the body thereby further “flipping off” God or figuratively giving God the “middle finger”. Those that refuse the mark by not submitting to receiving the mark are unable to “buy or sell.” – which is a direct reference back to 2:9 and 6:5–6, where it is said that economic measures are directed against Christians. While identification with the beast gives them earthly prosperity in this life, they will ultimately be condemned and punished with eternal death (Revelation 14:9–11).

666: Number of the Beast

As for verse 18, it is one of the most debated verses in the entire book because of widespread disagreement over the identification and meaning of the number 666. I will list a handful of the interpretations known for gematria or the Hebraic idea of  גימטריה‎, that is a system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, from the time of the Roman Empire until the present there have been many attempts to calculate by gematria the number of various world leaders and identify them as the beast.

The number is also taken as chronological and as indicating the duration of the beast’s reign, whether it be the heathen state, Islam, the Papacy, or some other entity. The number is taken as symbolic for the Antichrist, for antichristian power, or for both. In the languages of the ancient world, letters of the alphabet were for numerals. For example, the first nine letters of the Greek alphabet represented the numbers one through nine (a = 1, ß = 2, and so forth).  According to J. Walvoord, letters in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek had numerical equivalents. The name Caesar Nero spelled Kaisar Neron if written with Hebrew endings (as John does in some other proper names such as Abaddon, Apollyon, Armageddon) has a corresponding numerical value in that K equals 100, S equals 60, R equals 200, N equals 50, R equals 200, 0 equals 6, and N equals 50. Using the letters that would be Hebrew consonants in their numerical value it would add up to 666. A man named J. B. Smith concludes that Nero is the one who is intended, with the reference purposely obscure to avoid persecution. A number of other suggestions are made in that the six Roman numerals, that is, I, V, X, L, C, D, add up to 666. J. B. Smith says, "This alludes to the possibility of a Roman being the antichrist." Smith also adds, "All the numerals from 1 to 36 total 666. Beast in the evil sense occur exactly 36 times (6x6) in Revelation." Speculation continues ad infinitum using the letter equivalents for numbers in Hebrew, Greek, or Roman numerals--Which is to say that they are subject to endless speculation rarely based in Scripture (therefore not based in fact).

The very variety of the suggestions, however, and the unlikely and unprecedented supposition that someone would rise from the dead to take active part in earthly affairs leaves serious question as to all these imaginative explanations. Reading the number as 616 instead of 666, others find it referring specifically to Caligula (Gaius Caesar) as the Antichrist. The 616 is derived from the numerical equivalents of the Greek letters for Gaius Caesar written in the style of Caligula. Or if the Latin equivalents are used, the number 616 is reached by dropping the final “n”. The connection is made with Antichrist on the similarity of these Roman rulers to the future Antichrist.

A man named Beckwith holds that the number 666 refers to Nero and to the first century tradition that he would be raised from the dead. He holds, "No valid objection can be found here to the Nero explanation of the number." Whether or not the final Antichrist is actually Nero or not, he will in effect be a Nero reincarnate. All of these interpretations are based on speculation which reduces the numbers to their equivalents, either in Hebrew or Greek letters or in Roman numerals.

In reference to the number 666, J. N. Darby wrote:
“I confess my ignorance as to the number six hundred and sixty-six. I cannot present you with anything satisfactory to myself. We find, answering to the number six hundred and sixty-six, the words apostasy and tradition; but I cannot say anything positive on the point.”
Probably the simplest explanation here (Occam’s Razor) is the best, that the triple six is the number of a man, each digit falling short of the perfect number seven. Six in the Scripture is man's number. He was to work six days and rest the seventh. The image of Nebuchadnezzar was sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. Whatever may be the deeper meaning of the number, it implies that this title referring to the first beast, Satan's masterpiece, limits him to man's level which is far short of the deity of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 13, taken as a whole, is one of the great prophetic chapters of Scripture and is the only passage which presents in any detail the two principal evil characters of the end of the age that form with Satan an unholy trinity. Here is clearly presented the fact that the head of the revived Roman Empire ultimately becomes the ruler of the entire world. Dominated by Satan, he is Satan's masterpiece and substitute for Christ, and is aided and supported by the second beast called the false prophet.

The bottom-line to me is that the beast is the supreme representative of unregenerate humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness, but always trying. Humanity was created on the sixth day, but without the seventh day of rest Adam and Eve would have been imperfect and incomplete. Therefore a triple six emphasizes that the beast and his followers fall short of God’s creative purposes for humanity.

To clarify it serves us well to be reminded and to be exhort as Christians not to be taken in by the
beast’s deceptions like the rest of “the earth-dwellers” and surrounding culture that even today, so easily sucks us into its godless trappings and sin. (Revelation 17:8). We as Christians must be aware that the spirit of the Antichrist can express itself in the most unexpected places, even in the Church as it did in John’s day and today which it does with alarming frequency (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1–3). The prophecies in Daniel 11:30–39 warned that apostates from the covenant community would be allies of the ungodly state, we should not be surprised by this nor caught off-guard. We should just pray and be thankful the apostates are not us. IT is extremely important that Christians must be spiritually on the high alert to discern such deceptive manifestations within our own brethren as they are generally a by-product of Biblical illiteracy and flase assumptions about Scripture.

As has been noted all throughout this series, ultimately God is the definitive force behind the
action(s) of the beasts, as can be inferred from the appointed time span in v 5a, the ordained number of those who worship the beast in v 8, and the authorization clauses. This in the end should again be reassurance to the believer that they are indeed in good hands in terms of their guarantee of salvation and this should never be lost sight of.

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