The Image of the Beast – Revelation Bible Guide Day 18
March 14, 2018
Previously in Revelation
17Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.
Day 18 – 4th Wednesday
18 Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.
13 1And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. 3One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. 4They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
5The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
9Let anyone who has an ear listen:
10If you are to be taken captive,
into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword,
with the sword you must be killed.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
11Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 13It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; 14and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; 15and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.
Points of Interest
- “I saw a beast” – Great: the devil dragon has friends. Announcing the rise of the sea beast and the land beast! In a chapter full of parody, we have a demonic trinity.
- “a beast rising out of the sea” – This looks a lot like Asia’s experience of Rome, rising out of the Mediterranean in their powerful ships. They had known seven Roman emperors (seven crowned heads). John unmasks these powers as selfish, exploitative liars.
- “They worshipped the dragon” – And yet people buy the lies of empire. When they weren’t being crushed by Rome’s armies, the world celebrated the peace and victory of Rome. Did you know that much of the world reads this material in Revelation and doesn’t think of Rome but of us? Over the past century, the United States has been the dominant force in the world: economically, culturally, in politics and in military force. Our calling card has been freedom, democracy, and prosperity, but that hasn’t consistently been people’s experience of our power, to put it mildly. Much of the world has a love-hate relationship with America. That’s always how it is with power and wealth – we think we want it and we worship it but the costs to our lives and our souls are high.
- “It was allowed to make war on the saints” – Empire’s war against the innocent powerless is part of its demonic liturgy. In Rome, think crucifixions and brutal lion attacks against Christians. In all times and places, think of public executions and the loud cheers for death of the enemy in war.
- “If you are taken captive…” At the heart of the chapter, we get a grim statement of karma and a grim call to endurance. Worship empire and you’ll be its prisoner. Be empire, and you’ll die by your own violence. Trust Jesus, endure, and have faith. There’s a better way.
- “another beast that rose out of the earth” – The land beast in John’s context probably represents local collaborators with Rome. West Asian political and economic powers were eager to welcome and kiss up to their Roman colonizers, even building large temples to Rome’s gods to curry favor.
- “two horns like a lamb” – The collaborators with empire are a parody of the true faith. They look a little like the Lamb, when they’re really more like the dragon. I think of how often our churches sell out – looking or talking like communities of faith in Jesus when what we most prize is the wealth and security and approval of power.
- “It deceives the inhabitants of the earth” – Empire that opposes God’s way on earth does so through propaganda – promising much, working occasional wonders, but largely not delivering on its promises.
- “the image of the beast” – Roman coins had the faces of their emperors on them. You couldn’t participate in their economy without participating in their empire. Same for us? If you think the United States is immoral or violent or sham-religious while actually godless, do you really stop buying all consumer goods that hurt the environment or hurt global workers? Do you stop paying taxes? It’s not easy to disentangle from our collective sins!
- “Its number is six hundred sixty-six” – Ah, one of Revelation’s infamous symbols that’s made its way into our superstitions. In John’s world, this is a number of ultimate imperfection. One less than a perfect seven, magnified by three. It also, through some complicated numerology, may be code for Emperor Nero, who had been the first Roman emperor to scapegoat and slaughter followers of Jesus.
This week, we’ll respond to the idea of judgment by practicing critique and truth telling – noticing places in our own contemporary American consumer empire that overpromise, lie, or do violence. Reflect on places where your use of money is tied to larger injustices. Ask God were you might have freedom to lower your participation in economic injustice or propaganda.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for some of the largest companies or industries you can think of in your country or region. Pray that their activity and marketing will be more beneficial for residents of the earth, less exploitative or unjust, and more truthful.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. On Sundays, we’re exploring this with our sermons; on weekdays, we’re doing so with our bible guide. The bible guide series starts here.