Sunday 13-10-2019 Transcript
The Beast out of the Earth
Reading: Revelation 13:11-18
Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honour of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.
Last time round I mentioned that one writer describes the book of Revelation as principally a book on discipleship. He writes,
“Over the years, and especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people approached the book of Revelation as though it were some kind of crystal ball. But it’s not a crystal ball, it’s a discipleship manual. Yes, it is written in this really strange way, in this apocalyptic way, that uses symbolism and imagery. But written this way to help disciples of Jesus be disciples; to help disciples of Jesus remain loyal to him and keep their cool in the ups and downs of history. The purpose of the last book in the Bible is to encourage loyalty and obedience.” Darrell W. Johnson
As we look at these chapters, we’re reminded that Satan, our arch enemy, (also referred to as the devil, that ancient serpent, the great dragon), doesn’t attack God’s people directly. He has his instruments or agents through which he works.
He will do all in his power to prevent us from following Jesus.
He wages war on– those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. Rev 12:17.
However, he does this in an indirect fashion. He has his agents, his instruments! He does it through three (as someone describes it) ‘puppet powers.’
In this chapter we read: V1 And I saw a beast coming out of the sea.
V11. Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth.
And in the next chapter, 14 V 8 we read of Babylon the harlot.
One scholar tells us they represent, “antichristian persecution, antichristian religion, and antichristian seduction.” William Hendriksen.
Last time around we thought about the first beast ‘the beast out of the sea’ VV1-10. (He also strongly features in today’s reading) We saw that Daniel 7 was the background music of this chapter and with that in mind it makes sense to see that this beast, “Symbolises the persecuting power of Satan embodied in all the nations and governments of the world throughout all history. World-dominion directed against God’s people wherever and whenever it appears in history, that is the beast.” Hendriksen.
Now we come to today’s reading, the second beast (the beast out of the earth!)
V11. Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon.
What are we to make of all that?
One commentator tells us, “This is perhaps, the most difficult paragraph in the entire book of Revelation. The main ideas are clear; the details are obscure.” William Hendriksen.
Someone said Revelation is a picture book rather than a puzzle book. We’re told that it’s important not to get bogged down in the details!
Well, what or who is this beast from the earth? (the second beast.)
Were told that it looks like a lamb. He looks innocent enough! And he’s strong, symbolised by the two horns. In fact, on the surface he looks similar to the Lamb of God. As you look down through the verses you can see that he does lots of things and makes things happen. We’re told that, “Most people voting for a candidate or looking for a leader say they want a "doer," someone who "gets things done," not just a talker.” IVP.
However, when he speaks, we know that there is something definitely wrong. V11b. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon.
As you look at the text and other references you can see that he’s described with religious overtones. In fact, a few chapters on he’s described as the ‘false prophet’. Later on, we’re told,
And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. Rev 19:20a (also 16:13 and 20:10)
It exercises authority derived from the first beast and it works V12 on its behalf. You could describe it as the henchman of the first beast, its minister of propaganda Orthodox SB.
It religiously and zealously promotes and enforces worship but its wrong worship in that its misplaced!
It’s totally committed to focus people’s attention on the first beast. It performed great signs (V13) and because of the signs …it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. (V14)
It sets up an image of the beast and those who refuse to worship the image, are killed (V15)
Whatever impressive trickery it uses or occult power or blend of both, it results in many people being hoodwinked.
V13 It performs great signs (v. 13), such as demonic magic and ventriloquism (to make an image appear to speak!)NSFLB.
We need a healthy scepticism of the spectacular. There are genuine miracles in our day and age (and we long to see more of them)
But there are false signs and wonders. We need discernment. All that glitters is not gold.
It seems from what was happening in this region at that time, these verses are likely referring to the official enforcing of Emperor worship.
One commentator reminds us, “It is important to remember that virtually all the main verbs in verses 12-18 are present tense…. What John sees is something going on even as he watches. Literally, the second beast "is exercising" the first beast's authority and "is making" the earth's inhabitants worship the beast (v. 12). It "is performing" great signs (v. 13), "is deceiving" the earth's inhabitants (v. 14) and "is forcing" everyone to bear the first beast's mark on the hand or the forehead (v. 16). All this could simply be the style of prophetic narrative. It is, however, more likely that John is suggesting that what he saw was in some sense going on in the Roman Empire even as he wrote. IVP.
We’re told that the imperial cult first arose in provincial Asia Minor. (John is writing to the churches in this region!!) NSFLB
In first-century Asia Minor, the main propagandists would have been priests of the emperor cult and the “Commune of Asia,” a council of distinguished city representatives promoting loyalty to the emperor. Ref.SB. This quite likely is what is represented by the second beast, the false prophet.
We’re told that Christians in Asia Minor had large reason for concern. Shortly before Revelation was written, Domitian dedicated an imperial statue nearly 25 feet (eight meters) high in the imperial temple in Ephesus. Not many years after Revelation was written, a governor in Asia Minor refers to an existing legal tradition of executing Christians who refuse to worship the emperor’s image. NIVCBSB
We’re told that Babylonian and Greco-Roman magic included rituals that sought to animate (give life to) images; an entire branch of magic specialized in animating statues so they could give prophecies. Both traveling charlatans and priests of some cults staged wonders like moving or speaking statues, although it is not clear that this was common. NIVCBSB
Some very early Christian writers (Irenaeus, Clement, Justin, and Eusebius) note that the sorcerer Simon Magus (Acts 8:9–24) used illusion and occult practices to make idols seem alive. Orthodox SB.
This was happening there and then and it’s also a pattern throughout history.
The false prophet referred to here, in chapter 13, is not just a one off. As someone put it,
We’re told that the false prophet embodies a repeatable pattern Ref.SB.
We know from the letters earlier in this book that some of the churches were in trouble due to the activities of false teachers and false prophets who were encouraging Christians to compromise with their pagan society.
Jesus warned: Mat 24:4 “See that no one leads you astray.
V11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Mat 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
(They may look like a lamb but they speak like the dragon!)
V20.. you will recognize them by their fruits.
I was reading on the Church in Chains website on Friday in reference to the,
Sinicisation of the church in China (a big word!)
Christianity is growing rapidly in China, and in recent years the authorities have been cracking down on Christians in an effort to suppress growth, “Sinicise” the church (make it Chinese in character and bring it into submission under the Chinese Communist Party) and force all local churches to register with the appropriate government-controlled body (Protestant churches with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Catholic churches with the Catholic Patriotic Association).
The crackdown was originally intended to deal with the growth of unregistered churches but has been extended to persecute registered churches. Since June 2017, churches registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement have been required to display the national flag and a portrait of the president, install surveillance cameras and sing the national anthem at their services, and some pastors of registered churches have been detained.
While the effects of the implementation of the new regulations were felt across China, they were particularly intense in Henan province, which has a relatively high concentration of Christians.
As soon as the regulations went into effect, officials in 19 towns in the province went door-to-door urging Christians to attend government-registered churches instead of unregistered house churches and telling them to remove religious posters and crosses from their homes.
In the first year, over 7,000 crosses were removed from churches in Henan province alone, and the authorities shut down thousands of churches across the province. (End quote)
There’s plenty more information available! (There are proposals to produce a range of Study Bibles with altered text and also to remove one of the Ten Commandments (You shall have no other gods before me) as the government sees it as an obstacle to giving wholehearted allegiance to the Communist Party).How we need to continue to pray for the suffering church worldwide.
When I read that I thought how like Revelation 13 that sounds as they seek to subordinate the church and make it the servant of the state!
That’s blatant but I’m sure we’re facing more subtle pressures in our PC society today as new ideologies are been thrust upon us, that appear on the surface to cherish tolerance, equality and choice. That is until you choose to disagree!
What are we to make of these last verses, VV16-18.
It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
It’s evident at this time that Christians we’re being put under great economic pressure because of their refusal to compromise with local trade guilds (which involved honouring pagan gods).
The beast exercises not just religious control but also economic control. In recent years I’ve heard of Christian organisations in the UK been squeezed financially because they won’t comply with the new ‘norms’. Government funding may not come through if you don’t tick all the required boxes!!
What is this mark? You may have noticed already that there are several references to God sealing his servants and writing His name on their foreheads etc. We’re told that the mark of the beast is a counterfeit for the seal of God’s name on the people of God Ref.SB.
A few verse down in chapter 14:1 we read, Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.
Why is the mark of the beast on their right hands or on their foreheads?
We’re told that, the mark on the right hands or foreheads may parody (or mimic) the Jewish practice of strapping boxes of Scripture (phylacteries) on the forehead and left hand as a sign of loyalty to God’s covenant. NIVCBSB.
One scholar reminds us that “the forehead symbolizes the mind, the thought-life, the philosophy of a person. The right hand indicates his deed, action, trade, industry etc. Hendriksen
Another writer tells us something similar, “The ‘forehead’ represents ideological commitment and the ‘hand’ the practical outworking of that commitment.” Darrell Johnson.
Also, in ancient times this word for mark could refer to a number of different customs, e.g.
Sometimes slaves were branded with the mark of their owner. They were his property.
Sometimes soldiers branded themselves with the name of their general. It meant that they were his devoted followers.
We have been bought with a price we are not our own. Let us glorify God in our body and spirit which belong to God.
There is no neutrality: one has either the beast’s mark or God’s seal (7:3-4; 14:1). NIVZSB
Most likely he’s not referring here to a literal mark (no more than God’s name written on his people’s foreheads is literal writing across our foreheads)
As someone put it, Speculations about a visible mark miss the main point of the spiritual distinction between the two groups.
Name suggest character and the nature of something.
V18. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.
Well what about 666?
Some see in this number, an example of gematria, an ancient numbers game in which each letter of the alphabet was assigned a numerical value. A famous example has been found in an early piece of graffiti on a wall in Pompeii. (‘I love the girl whose number is 545’ Maybe he was saying to the puzzled reader, “That’s for me to know and you to find out!”)
Greek, Hebrew and Latin didn’t have a numerical system. Numbers were signified by letters of their alphabet. (Our numerical system as you probably know is in fact Arabic!)
Any name could be encoded in a number representing the total of the letters in the name. John makes it clear that 666 is man's number, or "the number of a person" (NRSV).
The name Nero seems to be a popular explanation for this number, with the idea that the present emperor Domitian was a sort of revived Nero, if not worse!
Many have attempted to identify “666,” but writing, only one hundred years after John, Irenaeus (early Christian writer) had no idea to whom John was referring!
The problem is that with a bit of ingenuity many prominent names in every generation can be made to add up to 666. One commentator wrote that such identifications "lead to nothing just because they lead to everything" (Hendriksen 1939:273). The numbers work quite well, for example, with the name Adolf Hitler.
(even Barney the dinosaur ???)
From my studies it seems best to consider this number as a symbol.
As someone well put it, “A more cautious approach starts from the simple recognition that 666 is linked to the characteristic interest in the number seven throughout the book of Revelation as a number of completeness or perfection.
The number 666 falls short of …seven three times over— as one scholar defined its message as "failure upon failure upon failure." Hendriksen” IVP.
V18 can also be rendered
“it is man’s number” Or it’s humanity’s number. NIV Footnotes.
It’s a human number. Message Bible, RSV.
Man, without God (not born of the Spirit!) setting up his human system (his tower of Babel) that rebels against God. Man, who considers himself the measure of all things. Government that will harness anything, including religion, if it serves its purpose.
Let’s continue to pray for and support the persecuted church, throughout the world.
Let’s continue to remember who we belong to and to whom our primary loyalties belong.
Someone said “the text calls us to remember that religion can lose its way. Political institutions lose their way. So do religions. The text is telling us that when religion loses its way, it puts its trust in power, not in the living God anymore, but in the power of human institutions to save and heal the world.” Johnson
These verses call us to worship the true and living God. The human system will fail. 666 spells “failure upon failure upon failure”.
Jesus never fails!
Rom 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Regarding the death penalty for failure to worship the image of the Emperor, we’re told that,
Pliny the Younger wrote to the emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) that people charged with being Christians were summoned under threat of execution to pray to Roman gods, make offerings to the emperor’s statue, and revile Christ’s name. NIVZSB