Beastly Economics

The False Prophet employs economic pressure to coerce men and women to render homage to the “beast from the sea”Revelation 13:16-14:5

Coins - Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
In
Revelation, the “false prophet” uses all the economic power of the first “beast” against anyone who refuses to give total allegiance to the beastly system. He employs the “mark of the beast” as an economic tool to impose conformity - his ability to level economic penalties against nations, communities, and individuals is the key to its power - [Coins - Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash].

We often assume the power of the “beast” lies in its military might. And while it may indeed possess the ability to subdue nations through naked force, in Revelation, the key to its domination over the “inhabitants of the earth” is its control of the economy.

In chapters 13 and 14, Revelation contrasts the “inhabitants of the earth” with the followers of the “Lamb.” For example, members of the former group have the “number of the beast” branded on their “right hand,” but those from the latter have the name of the “Lamb written on their foreheads.” The “mark of the beast” is the Devil’s counterfeit of the “seal of God” - (Revelation 7:1-314:1-4).

All the “inhabitants of the earth” take the “mark of the beast,” and therefore, they are legally authorized to engage in commerce - to “buy and sell.” In contrast, the followers of the “Lamb” have been “purchased from the earth,” and because they bear his name they are prohibited from full participation in the economic life of the empire.

Humanity is divided into two recognizable groups: the men who follow the “Lamb,” and the “inhabitants of the earth” who render homage to the “beast.” There is no middle ground, no neutral position. To which group one belongs determines whether one’s name is included in the “Lamb’s book of life.” References to the “earth” and “Zion” are NOT geographical, but relational.
  • (Revelation 13:16-18) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that they should give to them a mark on their right hand or on their forehead; and that no one should be able to purchase or to sell, except he that has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom: he that has understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is, the number of a man; and his number is 666.”
The “mark” designates whether one belongs to the “beast.” Without it, no one may engage in commerce.  The “mark” is also called its “name” and the “number of its name.” Functionally, all three accomplish the same thing; participation in commerce, but also, exclusion from the “book of life.” Receiving the “mark” on the “forehead” or “right hand” mimics the call to Israel to worship Yahweh alone:
  • (Deuteronomy 6:5-8) – “You will love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you will teach them diligently to your children and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise-up. And you will bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
If the “seal of God” is figurative, so is the “mark of the beast.” By default, anyone who gives allegiance to the “beast” has taken its “mark” and “number,” just as everyone who follows the “Lamb” has received the “seal of God.” The fundamental choice is between who one worships – The “Dragon” or the “Lamb” - (Revelation 14:9-11).

The description of the “beast from the earth” utilizes language from the third chapter of Daniel. The Babylonian ruler erected a “golden image” and required everyone in his empire to “bow down and to render homage to the image I have erected.” The same passage is the source for the number ‘666,’ which is derived from the measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s “golden image” - “Its height was sixty and its breadth six cubits.” The link to this story emphasizes the idolatrous nature of the “beast” and the homage it demands - (Daniel 3:1-7).

Commerce - Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash
Commerce - Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Those who are “
wise” must “count” (psephizō) the number of the “beast.” The verb signifies the tallying up of a total, in this case, the numbers 6, 60 and 600 - ‘666.’ In Revelation, numbers are figurative and often tripled or cubed. For instance, the number 12 is compounded into 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000). The “ten days of tribulation” become the “thousand years” (10 x 10 x 10).

In the Greek text, the “number of the beast” is listed as “six-hundred sixty-six,” or exakosioi (600) exékonta (60) ex (6), three distinct whole numbers.  They, in turn, represent the three entities that plot against the “Lamb” - The “Dragon,” the “beast from the sea,” and the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet.”

For its number is also of man” (anthrōpou estin kai ho arithmos autou). Here, anthrōpou is used for “humanity” in general, not for “a man” or “the man.” The point is not to identify an individual by decoding the number, but to link it to humanity in some capacity; to show the reader the true significance of the number. Just as the “golden image” of Nebuchadnezzar was “his image,” so the “number of the beast” is linked to humanity in its idolatrous religion.

What distinguishes the “image of the beast” is not its shape, size, or form, but the total allegiance required for it. It is the ultimate form of idolatry, in this case, state idolatry, the political order demanding the level of allegiance that belongs only to God.

The “name of the beast” is just that – “beast.” Revelation uses the diminutive form of the Greek noun for “beast” or ‘thérion,’ which corresponds to the diminutive form for “Lamb” (‘arnion’). Thus, the “beast from the sea” is an imposter, a false Christ.

This last paragraph of chapter 13 alludes to the conclusion from the book of Daniel:
  • (Revelation 13:17) - “Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast.”
  • (Daniel 12:9-10) - “Shut up and seal the prophecy until the season of the end. Many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined…but none of the wicked will understand, but they that are wise shall understand.”
Only those with wisdom from above understand the significance of the “number of the beast.” It cannot be decoded or calculated by mathematical formulas or mystical interpretations.

When a political entity appears on the world scene that uses its economic might promiscuously against nations, peoples, and even individuals that do not submit to its demands, that will be the first clue that the “beast” is “ascending from the sea.”

When the “beast” does appear, we must choose whether to submit to it or to “follow and the Lamb wherever he goes.” If we do the latter, very likely we will find ourselves marginalized in the economic sphere at a minimum.

If there is a relevant message in all this, it is the warning to exercise painstaking discernment before blindly embracing the political and cultural values of the surrounding society and political order, for when we imbibe its values and beliefs, we begin to take the “mark of the beast.”



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