Text: Rev 13:11-17
OT Text: Daniel 3
Featured Verse: Rev 13:12 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.
Main Idea: The second beast uses a different method to seduce the church into false worship.
OK, at first this may seem a little redundant. You may be thinking, another beast? Is this a zoo?
While the two beasts are similar, the significance of this second beast lies in where they are different. The first beast rises from the sea, while the second rises from the earth. For first century Christians living in Asia Minor, they experienced the Imperial power from Rome as something that came to them from "over the sea."* By contrast, there were dangerous forces which were more homegrown. While the first beast exercises dominion and authority**, that is political power, the second beast uses its power to compel false worship. The power of the second beast is not from its military might, but from its seductive attraction. That is found in several forms.
First, he performs counterfeit miracles which "deceive" people. (13:14a)
Then, he creates an "image" to encourage false worship. (13:14b)
Finally, he creates a "mark" which is necessary for economic activity. (16-17)
The purpose of this is all to direct worship to the first beast. So serious is this endeavor that those who refuse to do so risk being killed. (13:15)
First century Christians, didn't have to stretch their imagination too far to find examples. In many ways, their experiences seem to make the most sense of the text. The imperial power that came from "over the sea" would claim absolute authority and place demands on the church that they could not obey. But some of the problem came from "home grown" sources. Historians have noted that the practice of emperor worship was more restrained in the West, where the original Romans were hesitant to declare an emperor divine during his lifetime. By contrast, the Eastern part of the empire was where the more egregious practices began. G. B. Caird wrote that the provincial council of Asia Minor were the ones who initiated the practice of worshipping a living emperor, going back as far as Augustus.*** History would show us that during the the reign of Domitian in the 90's, the cult of imperial worship would instigate the first wave of empire wide persecution and lead to a dramatic confrontation between the church and the state. John's vision fortified the church for conflict and revealed the true battle which lay behind Domitian's mad grasp for absolute power.
Conclusion and Application
What do we make of all this?
These visions show us that multiple powers are at work in the world. There is the military power of the government. But there is also the power of false religion and man-made philosophy. The first comes at us with power and fear. The second comes with seduction. In John's visions, these powers are entangled together. In our experience, one aspect or another can be more present. Sometimes, the dragon uses the military force of the first beast to try to suppress the church. Other times he comes at the church with the seduction of signs, wonders, and false religion. Other times it is the allure of wealth and prosperity that come through compromise.
In some parts of the world today, Christians have to endure oppressive military power.
In other parts, the economy dictates the terms. Money talks.
Which do you think is more likely to influence the church in America?
* G. B. Caird (The Revelation of St. John) described it this way: "The first beast represents the Roman imperial power which, for the province of Asia, annually came up out of the sea, with the arrival of the proconsul at Ephesus. The second beast represents an indigenous authority." He then shows how this pattern is found in other writings and quotes the NT scholar Ramsay who wrote, "Whatever comes from the sea is foreign, and whatever comes from the land is a native product."
** He "makes war on the saints to conquer them." (13:7)
*** Ibid. "It was historically true that the [provincial council of Asia] had made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first monster; for it would never have occurred to [Caesar] Augustus to claim divinity, if the Asian provinces, accustomed as they were to the worship of their previous oriental rulers, had not taken the initiative in elevating him to a place among the immortals, city vying with city for the right to erect a temple to Rome and Augustus."