Sunday, November 15, 2009

Revelation 13:11-18, The Land Beast

"Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image of the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also 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, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."

While I haven't figured out some of the details, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the land beast referred to here was apostate Israel, which cooperated with the Roman sea beast of the first half of the chapter in the persecution and murder of the early Christians.

First, the internal evidence from the passage. The beast is compared to a lamb with horns. This seems clearly contrasted with "the Lamb that was slain," i.e., Jesus, just above, in verse 8. Yet, this lamb has horns, not normal for a mere lamb. While that first Lamb is the Prince of Peace, "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), this one has horns, to gore its victims. And Jesus Himself referred to Israel as "lost sheep" (Matthew 15:24).

Further, the beast turns people to the image of the first beast, and later that control extends to the ability to buy and sell. This reminded me of the passage in which the Jewish leaders tried to trip up the Savior on the matter of Roman taxes. The story is found in Matthew 22, and in Mark 12:13-17. When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on the tax, He replies, starting at 15b, through17, "'Bring Me a denarius, and let me look at it.' And they brought one. And He said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...'"

That power of buying and selling is also connected, in verse 16 of Revelation 13, to a mark "on the right hand or the forehead." Can this be anything other that a reference to a perversion of Deuteronomy 6:8, in which Israel was commanded to remember the Law: "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes"?

And second, I recall from scriptures outside the Revelation, in which the Jewish leaders claimed, even if hypocritically, a devotion to the Roman emperor. In the description of the crucifixion given by the Apostle John, we see the Jews professing their loyalty to the emperor. In John 19:12, we read, "From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, 'If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.'" And then the last clause of verse 15, "We have no king but Caesar." The Jewish authorities declared their loyalties: they preferred Caesar over Christ, the sea beast over the Lamb.

While the Jews certainly hated their Roman occupiers, they made a choice: Caesar over Jesus for king. The connection with the Land Beast would be consistent with a timing of the Revelation before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

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