THE LAND BEAST
13:11 I saw another beast: Here is imperial religion, or emperor worship, that forces upon all Roman citizens the worship of Caesar. This is the “false prophet” of 16:13; 19:20 and 20:10. Out of the earth: This religion rises out of the earth, for it is of human origin. It is a religion created after the desires of men. Two horns like a lamb: This religion has the deceptive appearance of an innocent lamb. However, since this book of Revelation was originally directed to churches in Asia, John possibly has in mind a figure of two powers in the Asian province that worked against the church. First, by Roman law the Roman proconsul of the area enforced Caesar worship on all citizens. Second, a religious commune was established in the area to promote the cult of emperor worship. In the following verse, John continues an explanation of what this religious cult did.
13:12 Exercises all the power of the first beast: Roman religion was forced upon the populace by the authority of the Roman government. Domitian claimed deity. Submission to him as lord signified loyalty to Rome. Those who did not submit were viewed as insubordinate to the Empire. In this theocratic condition of the Roman Empire at this time in history—the time of Domitian’s reign—government and religion were entangled together into a powerful cult that trampled on any who would resist total submission.
13:13,14 He performs great wonders: What the Roman religious commune sought to do reminds us of Jesus’ warning, “Be not deceived” (Mt 24:4,24). John later says that these religionists go out “performing signs” (16:14). This is the false prophet “who performed signs in his [the beast’s] presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image” (19:20). But these are those who are deceived, and who deceive (2 Tm 3:3). They worked great wonders that are false (2 Th 2:9). If the wonders were actually miraculous, then those who followed the false emperor worship would not be deceived by believing the wonders. They would have been believing that which was true. Makes fire come down from heaven: Only those who were deceived affirmed that fire came down out of heaven. “Fire coming down out of heaven” was a miraculous sign of the presence of God in the Old Testament (See Gn 15:17; Lv 9:24; Jg 13:20; 1 Kg 18). But here John uses the symbol, not to speak of something Roman religious leaders actually performed, but to show the strength of their deceptive power. He deceives: God did not allow Satan to work miracles through false priests of Caesar worship in order to lead Christians to submit to the beast. We do not serve a God who would cast such a stumbling block before the saints at a time when they were under severe persecution, and thus, so vulnerable. God does not allow Satan to have authority over the supernatural to the extent of being able to work miracles before men in order to confuse those who believe (See Mk 16:14-20; At 8:1-25).
13:15 It was given to him to give: God allowed the deceptions by not countering with true fire from heaven (Compare 2 Th 2:10-12). The deceptive works were not true for such would have nullified all the miraculous work the Holy Spirit had done through the early church in order to confirm the word of God’s early messengers (Mk 16:20; Hb 2:3,4). Roman religionists set up busts (images) of Caesar throughout the Empire in order to promote Caesar worship. These images were the symbol of Rome’s false religion. Those who would not submit to Domitian’s image were subject to the penalty of death. The fact that John is not talking about real miracles in verses 13-15 is seen in the imagery of this verse. Give breath to the image: The image certainly did not become a living thing and literally begin to speak as a man. Naïve interpreters who believe that Roman religionists actually worked miracles are inconsistent if they do not continue the literality of their interpretation of verses 13 and 14 into verse 15. If real miracles are indicated in verses 13 and 14, then certainly the same would be true of verse 15. But who wants to take the position that these images of Caesar actually began to speak like men? John’s point with the “speaking image” figure is to show the intensity of belief in false religion of those who refused to worship the one true God. However, many Jews and Christians did succumb to confessing Caesar as lord in the heat of persecution. They were intimidated by the mass belief of those who affirmed that Roman religionists were working miracles of some god. They thus confessed Caesar as deity. Those faithful Christians who did not reverence “lord Caesar” as deity were persecuted unto death. However, the angel warned in 14:9,10 that if any would succumb to the initimidation of the beast he would drink of the wrath of God (See 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Christians, therefore, should be very careful when they start believing that false religionists can work real miracles. We must remember that God would not allow Satan to work miracles through false religions in order to entice Christians to believe false teachings (See 2 Th 2:10-12).
13:16,17 He causes all … to receive a mark: Rome commissioned that all citizens give both political and religious allegiance to the State. In this sense, Rome became to some extent a theocratic system. At least from the viewpoint of the Roman priests, one had to submit to the religious laws in order to be true to Rome itself. The “mark” refers to those who would direct worship toward Rome (14:9; see 20:4). The mark, or identification, was both psychological (on “their foreheads”) and physical (“on their hands”). Domitian wanted total allegiance. He wanted the minds of the people. He also wanted an outward manifestation of allegiance. If one would not submit to confessing Caesar as lord, he or she was subject to the fury of the Roman government. That no one may buy or sell: There was a boycott against those who would not give their allegiance to Rome. They would not be able to carry on the normal work of life in buying and selling goods.
13:18 The number of the beast: John knows that the number referring to the beast can be understood by the immediate readers. As verse 10 stated the end of the “sea beast” (Roman government), so verse 18 signals the end of the “land beast” (imperial religion). John identifies the beast by the number of man. It is not the number of a man. The indefinite article “a” does not need to be placed in the text before the word “man.” It is simply the “number of man.” The same word structure is used in 21:17 in reference to the measuring of the holy city “according to the measure of man.” The indefinite article here does not signify a specific man. It means only that the calculation was according to man’s numbering rules. His number is six hundred and sixty-six: The most consistent interpretation is to maintain the figurative significance of numbers as John uses them throughout the visions. A Hebrew method of communication through numbers was to use the number of letters in words or numbers themselves to signify something other than the numbers. This is called a gematria. Therefore, as a gematria, the number six was used by the Jews to signify that which was imperfect or incomplete. Six is also the number that signifies that which is earthly. The three sixes used together in a gematria in this text would possibly indicate that which is “triple” imperfect or incomplete. It is that which originates “out of the earth,” but tries to claim heavenly origin. It is found to be fake and incomplete. And so it is with Caesar worship and the whole system of Roman religion. Roman government originated from the populations of the world. Roman emperor worship originated from arrogant Caesars who claimed to be deity. Both government and religion were earthly and totally insufficient. When it came to religion, they had insufficient truth and were incomplete in being acceptable to God. In reference to government, all governments change throughout history. No nation exists throughout history. Such would be the case with Rome. Rome would come to an end.
[Next lecture: The Lamb & The Saints – April 15]