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29 December 2018

Counterfeit Religion of the Beast

Synopsis:  The “Beast from the Earth” mimics the Lamb - It employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men and women to render homage to the “Beast from the Sea.”  

Photo by Daniel Klaffke on Unsplash
By Daniel Klaffke on Unsplash
The book of Revelation includes a vision of two beasts, one seen by John “ascending from the sea,” and a second beast “ascending from the earth.” The first beast is a composite of the four creatures from the vision of Daniel in which he saw four “beasts ascending from the sea” (Daniel 7:1-8, Revelation13:1-18).

The passage describing the second beast and the “number of the Beast” he imposes on the “inhabitants of the earth” combines language from two passages in the book of Daniel to form its image of a beast “ascending from the earth”:

(Daniel 7:17) - “These four are four kings that will ascend out of the earth.”
(Daniel 3:1-7) - “Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits, and its breadth six cubits.”
(Revelation 13:11-18) – “And I saw another wild-beast, coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns, like unto a lamb, and began speaking as a dragon… Here is wisdom: he that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.

In Daniel, the four beasts represent four consecutive kingdoms, beginning with Babylon. However, while the prophet Daniel saw four beasts ascend from a chaotic sea, John saw only one entity – It had the characteristics of all four of the beasts from the book of Daniel.

The Beast from the sea in Chapter 13 of Revelation is characterized by political and military might (“Who can make war with it?”). It first appears in the vision of “Two Witnesses.” After they completed “their testimony, the beast that ascended from the Abyss made war with them, overcame them, and killed them.” The Two Witnesses are identified as “lampstands,” meaning, they represent churches (Revelation 1:20, 11:7).

In Revelation, the Beast that is “ascending from the sea” represents the same reality as the Beast in the vision of the Two Witnesses that “ascends from the Abyss” to kill them. That is, the “Abyss” corresponds to the “sea.” Like the Dragon in Chapter 12, the “Beast from the sea” has seven heads and ten horns It operates with all the authority of the Dragon (Revelation 11:7, 12:9, 13:1-3).

One of the seven heads of the Beast appeared “slain unto death, and its death-stroke was healed.” This is not a prediction of a future politician who is assassinated and, miraculously, restored to life. The Beast is more than an individual human being - It symbolizes a political system. It has all the characteristics of the “four beasts” or “kingdoms” that Daniel saw “ascending” from a chaotic sea.

As having been slain.” The phrase translates a Greek clause applied previously to the slain Lamb, “a lamb standing as having been slain”. Likewise, the Beast was “wounded by the sword and lived.” The Greek verb rendered “lived” is spelled precisely the same as when it is applied to Jesus in the letter to the church at Smyrna - “The words of the first and the last, who died and lived” (ezésen - Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).

The restoration of the wounded “head” of this Beast mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. Its “resurrection” causes the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to it - It is a counterfeit of the Lamb (Revelation 13:3-6).

The “Beast from the sea” uses its power “to make war against the saints,” and “to overcome them.” The repetition of verbs from the assault against the “Two Witnesses” by the “Beast 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” against the “saints” by the “Beast from the sea.” (Revelation 11:7, 13:7-10).

The description of the “war” ends with the exhortation: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear…Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints”. The exhortation is reiterated in the next chapter when the “saints” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This group is comprised of faithful followers of the Lamb (Revelation 14:1-12).
The “Beast from the sea” is more frightening than the “Beast from the earth.” However, the use of religion by the latter to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth” should not be downplayed. It plays a vital part in leading men and women into idolatrous allegiance to the first Beast, and it does so through religious deception AND by economic pressure.
The second Beast is seen by John “ascending out of the earth.” It has “two horns like a lamb.” “Lamb” translates a Greek diminutive form for “little lamb” (arnion) - The same term applied to Jesus in Chapter 5. This beast is not identical to the Lamb, but it is like him; it mimics the true Lamb. It is a counterfeit of Jesus (Revelation 5:5-6, 13:11-15).

Rather than a complete complement of seven horns, the second Beast has only “two horns.” The smaller number of “horns” means it is a counterfeit of the Lamb. Moreover, the number “two” means it is a beastly counterpart to the “Two Witnesses.” They bore prophetic witness, and, like Elijah, they had the power to devour their enemies by fire. Likewise, the second Beast performs miracles like Elijah (and Moses), and it summons “fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth” (Exodus 7:11, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Kings 1:10, Revelation 11:3-6, 13:13).

Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash
Thus, the “Beast from the earth” provides a counterfeit of the true faith. It “speaks like the Dragon,” which is why it is called the “false prophet” elsewhere in Revelation. The “false prophet” was anticipated earlier in the seven letters to the churches of Asia by the warnings of Jesus about the “false apostles,” “Nicolaitans,” Jezebel, and the “teachings of Balaam.” Already, the “false prophet” is active among the seven churches (Revelation 2:2-6, 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20).

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 performing “great signs.” In this way, he causes the “inhabitants of the earth” to build an image to the first Beast.

The paragraph describing the “Beast from the earth” includes verbal allusions to the story of the great golden imageset-up” by Nebuchadnezzar and his command for all the subjects of his realm to venerate the image:

(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 in Chapter 13 of Revelation is on the use of religious deception by the “False Prophet” to coerce humanity to give allegiance to the “Beast from the sea,” although he also uses economic power to do so. The language from Daniel provides the 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 centuries earlier by King Nebuchadnezzar. The story from Daniel links the “number of the Beast” to idolatry, at least on some level. In view is its use to cause men to give allegiance to the “Beast from the sea.” Thus, idolatrous religion and political 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 to do so was thrown into a fiery furnace and slain. So, likewise, anyone who refuses to render homage to the “Beast from the sea” is killed. The attempted slaying of the three faithful Jews who refused to worship his image by Nebuchadnezzar (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego) foreshadowed the fate of the “saints” who refuse to give their allegiance to the “Beast from the sea.”

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was “sixty” cubits and its width “six cubits.” The Greek Septuagint version of the book of Daniel reads, hexékonta and hex cubits, the same form of the second two numbers added to “six hundred” (hexakosioi) in Chapter 13 of Revelation, the “number of the Beast.”

The expansion of the number in the book of Revelation to ‘666’ may intensify its symbolic significance. Likewise, the “ten days of tribulation” allotted to the church at Smyrna was cubed to become the “thousand years” during which martyrs reign with Jesus as a “kingdom of priests” (10 x 10 x 10). The reign of the martyrs is paradoxical, and is of an entirely different nature than the reign of the Beast (Revelation 2:8-11, 20:4-6).

The “Number of the Beast” is figurative. Both the background from Daniel and the context link it to idolatry, a sin of concern throughout the book of Revelation. Likewise, the “mark of the Beast” is contrasted with the “seal of God” and the “Name of God” placed on the foreheads of all who the Lamb – The “mark of the Beast” is the satanic counterfeit of the “seal of God” (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).

The mark on one’s forehead signifies to whom he or she belongs. Humanity falls into two groups - Those who follow the Lamb, and those who take the “mark of the Beast” and, therefore, render homage to it. Total allegiance is given to one or the other.

Thus, on some level, the “Beast” imitates the Lamb - It employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men and women. The goal of the Dragon is to destroy the church, either through apostasy or, more directly, by persecution (“It made war against the saints”).

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