CURRENT EVENTS XX
Indecent Exposure I
Indecent Exposure II
Chaining Oregon I
Chaining Oregon II
Chaining Oregon III
Chaining Oregon IV
The Guys at the Gym
Chinese Mastery I
Chinese Mastery II
Chinese Mastery III
More Thoughts on Revelation I
Bill Long 3/11/12
Understanding Rev. 13; Rev. 15-16
As we continue to study the book of Revelation in our adult education forum at my church, I discover I have too many things to say--and thus I only make a few comments in class, waiting for this forum to get the rest of the thoughts "out." My earlier essay argued that the structure of Rev. 7, where numbers as well as beautiful poetry were presented, is calcuated not to titillate but to comfort. Here I will argue two things: 1) that the goal of Rev. 13, including the mysterious number 666, is to provide a "weak mirror image" of the true God, thus tipping off the careful reader that though the beast with horns is fearful, there is, ultimately, nothing to fear; and 2) that the purpose of Rev. 15-16 is to provide, through a series of apparent contradictions, the ultimate "contradiction" of the whole book--how the merciful God of Scripture can execute such utter, unrelenting, unforgiving destruction on his creation. I say it is something of a contradiction or paradox because no "good" parent would ever wish upon his/her children, however errant, the kind of furious demolition that God visits upon the creation. Indeed, it might be well argued that Revelation, by pointing out this unremitting fury, is really the most challenging and dangerous book of Scripture, because it forces thinking people to ask the question of what, indeed, has gone wrong with creation that God would want to torture and maim it so badly as the penultimate act of his power.
But, first, Rev. 13.
A Little Less than God..
My thesis, argued here, is that the Revelation 6-7 are meant to provide comfort to Christians, as they are presented with the unfolding destruction through the seven scrolls and seven trumpets. By the time one gets to the middle of the book (11-13), one has an interlude from the trumpet-blowing, and a variety of unforgettable images, capped by the woman clothed with the sun, pursued by the dragon (ch. 12), appear. Most commentators see this woman as a type or image of the Church. That the "Church" is pursued in ch. 12 means that those who were comforted in chs. 6-7 now might have real fear that the comfort was only ephemeral and that new destruction impends.
After this picture follows Rev. 13. In my mind it deals with the comfort issue in a different way than Rev. 6-7. Rather than arguing that accountants and poets should have confidence, it suggests that the great opponent of ch. 13, a multi-horned breast, is a pale imitation of the true glory of Christ. That "imitation divinity" can never really and finally destroy the saints.
Putting Flesh on the Thesis
If I am right that the tone of ch. 12 is to suggest that the church is being pursued and may be in danger, then there may be a literary need to minimize that threat in ch. 13. I argue that through the overflowing brilliance of literary images in ch. 13, comfort again is restored. First, the beast, in imitation of Christ, has diadems, but one of the heads is injured--an imperfect mark to be sure. Second, the beast is like three creatures, a leopard, bear, and lion, which is reminiscent but only a sort of pale shadow of the four faces of the living creatures around the throne in 4:7 (lion, ox, human, eagle). Or, in other words, the beast 'leaves off' where the living creatures 'begin.' Third, the language of worship the beast uses in 13:4, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" is a pale shadow of the Scriptural language regarding the true God. Note the much more beautiful and full language of Ps. 113:5ff.:
"Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens of the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap.."
Fourth, the beast is given freedom to rule for a circumscribed period of time--42 months (13:5), which is 1/2 the perfect number of 7 years, the time of God's eternal reign.
One might be getting the impression so far that there is thus no contest between the beast and the Holy One of Israel, and that indeed is the message, but then things become a little dicey. Note verse 7:
"It was given power to wage war against God's holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation."
Oops. The fear no doubt returns, fear that the author has been allaying throughout the chapter. In other words, whereas the victory or comfort in chs. 6-7 was a rather easy one, which I likened to sitting in a movie theater watching a terrible drama unfold on screen, here there will be comfort but it will come at a higher price. The beast's imitation of the Holy One is clear in the first six verses, but he will still have ability to "conquer" God's holy people. Thus, the threat still exists. Indeed, the saints are given the same encouragement/advice as those under the altar after the opening of the fifth seal: hang in there!
Dealing with a Second Threat
The literary purpose of the second beast, who makes his appearance in vv. 11-18, is to show that he, also, is a pale imitation of the true Holy One of Israel. Yet, by the same token, this beast is much more dangerous because the currency in which it deals is deception (v. 14). One might be able to hold out against the onslaught of a force such as the first beast, but if one is facing deception, how does one know how to fight? Deception is the "ministry" of the second beast in that he works miracles, even those that are seemingly identical to Christ. For example,
"it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people" (v. 13).
Isn't this similar, but not as powerful, as what the Gospel of Luke records, after Jesus sends out the 70:
"I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven," Luke 10:17.
Second, this beast imitates Christ and his message in a pale way through its content. In Rev. 13:16 we learn that the beast:
"forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads.."
The purpose of the mark was economic--only those with the mark can buy or sell. But the author has framed the language in a felicitous fashion to be a sort of pale imitation of Gal.3:28, where in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Rather than the categories being listed to give an economic focus, they are given, in Galatians, to show a spiritual unity and strength of the people of God. Because the second beast works in deception rather than through outright manifestations of power, the readers are urged to practice wisdom (v. 18)--the characteristic that discerns when deception exists.
This discussion leads us to the final mystery of the chapter--the number 666 in v. 18. In the context of all the rest of the "pale imitations" in the chapter, we are given an immediate interpretive context--666 is the number of a man, as the Scripture says, and not the number of the divine. So,ultimately, even though all the destructive and deceptive power of the two beasts are unleashed, one is to realize, simply that its power is more akin to human than to divine power. It may threaten, deceive and even kill, but it is still a lesser power, and that ought to give one confidence. Luther's words in the first verse of "A Mighty Fortress" come to mind: "The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.."
Now, in the next essay, we turn to Revelation 15 and 16.