29 December 2018

The Beast and its Counterfeit Religion

Pantheon
Roman Pantheon
The book of Revelation includes John’s vision of two beasts, one that ascends out of the sea and another from the earth (13:1-18). The first Beast is a composite of four creatures from Daniel’s vision of four beasts that ascend from the sea (Daniel 7:1-8). The description of the second beast combines langue from Daniel 7:17 (“These four are four kings that will ascend out of the earth”) and imagery from Daniel 3:1-7(“Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits, and its breadth six cubits”).
    In Daniel the four beasts represent four consecutive kingdoms, beginning with Babylon. But while Daniel saw four beasts, John sees only one with the characteristics of all four of Daniel’s beasts.

First Beast
Revelation’s Beast from the sea is characterized by political and military might (“who can make war with it?”). This Beast first appeared in the vision of “Two Witnesses.”  After the Witnesses complete “their testimony the beast that ascends from the Abyss made war with them, overcame them and killed them” (11:7. Cp. 9:2; 9:11; 13:1; 13:11; 17:8; 20:1-10). The Two Witnesses are identified as “lamp-stands,” meaning they represent churches (1:20; 11:4).
     The Beast next appears in Revelation 13:1 ascending from the sea,” the same reality as the Beast that “ascends from the Abyss.” Like the Dragon, this Beast has seven heads and ten horns; it operates with all the authority of the Dragon (12:9; 13:1-3).
     One of the Beast’s seven heads appears “slain unto death and its death-stroke was healed” (13:3). This is not a prediction of a future politician who is assassinated and miraculously restored to life. The Beast from the sea is more than an individual; it symbolizes a political system; it has the characteristics of Daniel’s four past kingdoms, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and in John’s day is incarnated in Rome(17:9-10).
     “As having been slain” replicates a Greek clause previously applied to the slain Lamb (5:6, 13:3), “a lamb standing as having been slain”. The Beast is also described as “wounded by the sword and lived” (13:14). This Greek verb spelled precisely the same was also applied to Jesus in Revelation 2:8 The words of the first and the last, who died and lived” (ezĂ©sen). The restoration of this beastly head mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. Its “resurrection” causes the inhabitants of the earth to render it homage. It is a counterfeit of the true Christ.
     The Beast uses its power “to make war against the saints” and “to overcome them” (13:7-10). The repetition of terms from Revelation 11:7, the Beast is seen ascending from the Abyss, demonstrates the same reality is in view. The term “saints” refers to the same group represented by the Two Witnesses; the “war” waged against the latter is the same as the “war” waged against the “saints.”
     The description of the Beast’s war ends with the exhortation:  If anyone has an ear, let him hear…Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints”. This exhortation is reiterated in Revelation 14:12 where “saints” are defined as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This group, the saints, consists of Christians (cp. 8:3-4; 11:18; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 20:9).
     This first Beast is the most impressive and frightening of the two. However, the importance of the second beast with its use of counterfeit religion to deceive should not be downplayed. It plays a vital part in leading the inhabitants of the earth into idolatrous allegiance to the first Beast, and it does so through religious deception.

Second Beast
The second Beast “ascends out of the earth.” It has “two horns like a lamb” (13:11). “Lamb” translates a Greek diminutive for “little lamb” (arnion) used for Jesus (5:5-6).   It is not identical to the Lamb but is like it; it mimics the true Lamb; it is a counterfeit.
     Rather than a full complement of seven horns, the second Beast has only two horns. The limited number of horns shows it to be a counterfeit of the true Lamb, and the number (two) means it mimics the Two Witnesses (11:4). The Two Witnesses bore prophetic witness and like Elijah had the power to devour their enemies by fire (11:5; 2 Kings 1:10). The second Beast likewise performs miracles like Moses and Elijah, and is able “to make fire come down out of heaven upon the earth” (13:13; Exodus 7:11; 1 Kings 18:38). The second Beast engages in a counterfeit prophetic witness to the inhabitants of the earth, as it directs them to the false messiah, the Beast from the sea.
    The second Beast is thus a counterfeit. It “speaks like the Dragon.” This is shy elsewhere it is called “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). This deceiver has already been anticipated in the seven letters to the churches of Asia in the “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” Jezebel, and the teachings of Balaam (2:2; 2:6; 2:14-15). The False Prophet is active within the Church, as well as among the inhabitants of the earth.
     The False Prophet uses “all the authority of the first Beast to cause the inhabitants of the earth to render homage to the first Beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” It achieves this by doing “great signs” (13:13). The description is similar to the warning of Jesus about coming deceivers and “false prophets” that work “signs and wonders” to deceive the elect (Matthew 24:24); similarly, Paul’s warning about the deceitful activities of the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
     The False Prophet uses signs and wonders to “deceive those who dwell on the earth” so they build an image to the first Beast. The paragraph in 13:14-18 contains verbal allusions to Daniel 3:1-7 and is the origin of the number of the Beast, 666:
(Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image…the height thereof sixty cubits, its breadth six cubits…the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and render homage to the image. Whoever did not render homage to the image was slain.”
(Revelation 13:14-18) – The second Beast “causes the earth’s inhabitants to “make an image to the Beast who had the stroke of the sword and lived…It caused that as many as should not render homage to the image should be slain. 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.”
The stress is on the False Prophet’s use of religious deception to cause humanity to give allegiance to the first Beast, though he also has economic power on some level. The language from Daniel 3:1-7 provides background for the number of the Beast, six hundred and sixty-six.
    The first Beast is given authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation,” the same authority claimed by Nebuchadnezzar. This source links the number of the Beast on some level to idolatry. In view is the second beast’s use of idolatry to cause men to give allegiance to the political power of the first Beast. Idolatrous religion and State power are inextricably linked.
   Nebuchadnezzar, a forerunner of the final Beast, forced everyone in his kingdom to fall prostrate before his image.  Anyone who refused was slain, so also for anyone who refuses to render homage to the first Beast.  The slaying of the three faithful Jews who refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, foreshadows the fate of any “saint” who refuses to take the mark of the Beast or worship its image. Persecution and religious deception are used to wage war against the saints.
   The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was “sixty” cubits and its width “six cubits.”  The Greek Septuagint version of Daniel reads hexĂ©konta and hex cubits, the same form of the second two numbers added to “six hundred” (hexakosioi) and applied to the Beast from the sea. The expansion of the number may intensify its basic symbolical significance. Similarly, the “ten days of tribulation” given to Smyrna are cubed to become the “thousand years” during which martyrs reign with Jesus as “priests” (10 x 10 x 10 [2:1020:2-4]), their reign is paradoxical and of a different nature than that of the Dragon or the Beast.
     The number of the Beast is figurative. Both the background from Daniel and the context link it to idolatry, a sin of concern throughout Revelation. The mark of the Beast is contrasted with the “seal of God” and God’s name on the foreheads of them who follow the Lamb (7:1-3; 14:1-4). The Beast’s mark is a counterfeit of the seal of God, as is his “name.”  If God’s seal is not a visible mark, neither is the Beast’s mark. 
     What is on one’s forehead signifies to whom one belongs.  The mark “upon the right hand” signifies willing assent and submission. Humanity falls into two categories:  those who follow the Lamb and have the seal of God, and those who take the mark of the Beast and render homage to it.  Total allegiance is given to one or the other.

Conclusion
Religious deception in Revelation promotes total allegiance to political power,   especially to that incarnated in the Beast from the sea.  History provides examples of this practice; governments routinely employ religious language and symbols to claim divine authorization for their policies. Christians should beware when religion, particularly their religion, is used to validate regimes and political agendas.
    The final Beast system will be on some level an imitation of Christ, it will employ a counterfeit of the true faith to justify its mission.  This may include religious rites, language, and symbolism borrowed from Christianity; it will mimic the genuine article.
     Satan’s goal is to destroy God’s church and cause its apostasy.  Christians are not easily fooled by non-Christian beliefs and practices, or by secular philosophies.  But Satan can appear as an “angel of light” and understands that the best deception is one that closely resembles the true faith.
     Christians alert for the rise of religious deception in non-Christians religions, philosophies and movements ought to watch developments closer to home. The Devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, especially inside the church.
    Followers of Jesus should exercise caution towards “Christian” organizations, preachers and “prophets” that glorify and venerate a political system, ideology, party or government, in particular, any attempt to identify a nation or government with Christianity. Biblical Christianity does have a decided political side to it; the kingdom of God.

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