The Plague of the Modern Church (V)

Our Lord in many passages in the gospels, clearly expressed his displeasure and anger towards the generation of Israel of His era. The adjectives He employed are instructive; “sinful” (Mk.8:38), “evil and adulterous” (Mat.12:39, 45), “unbelieving and perverted” (Mat.17:17; Luke 9:41), and “wicked and adulterous” (Mat.16:4 KJV).

In another passage, Jesus warned of a coming judgment, that “the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world [may be] charged against this generation” (Luke 11:50). In the next verse, for emphasis, He added: “Yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”

After the ascension Peter, as he closed his Pentecostal sermon, reflected Jesus’ repeated condemnations, when he declared that his hearers needed to “be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40)[1]

Prov.28:14 says, “like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people.”[2] Evil, predatory, destructive governments are pictured in the Bible as predatory animals (see Joel 1:6). This is helpful in understanding Revelation 13. The initial Biblical description of the kingdoms of Revelation 13 is in Dan.2:31-35, but their ethical characteristics are not identified until Dan.7:1-7. The Roman Empire which ruled Israel in the first century, and participated in the execution of our Lord (Jn.19:13-16), is the “fourth beast” of Daniel 7:7, and is the beast of Revelation.

This Beast, however, is not just an institution, but a person; specifically… the Emperor Nero. How could this symbol have referred to both the Empire and the Emperor? Because, in a sense (particularly the way the Bible looks at things), the two could be considered as one. Rome was identified with its leader; the Empire was embodied in Nero.

Thus the Bible can shift back and forth between them, or consider them both together, under the same designation. And both Nero and the Empire were sunk in degrading, degenerate, bestial activities. Nero, who murdered numerous members of his own family (including his pregnant wife, whom he kicked to death); who was a homosexual, the final stage in degeneracy (Rom.1:24-32); whose favorite aphrodisiac consisted of watching people suffer the most horrifying and disgusting tortures;

who dressed up as a wild beast in order to attack and rape male and female prisoners; who used the bodies of Christians burning at the stake as the original “Roman candles” to light up his filthy garden parties; who launched the first imperial persecution of Christians at the instigation of the Jews, in order to destroy the Church.

This animalistic pervert was the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth. And he set the tone for his subjects. Rome was the moral sewer of the world.[3]

Revelation tells us much about “the beast.”                                                                                    

1. John saw him “coming up out of the sea” (Rev.13:1). Clearly, the Roman Empire did seem to arise out of the sea, from the Italian peninsula across the Meditteranean Sea. But John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is utilising the Biblical symbolism of the sea.

2. After the Fall, the picture of the raging deep is used and developed in Scripture as a symbol of the world in chaos through the rebellion of men and nations against God: “The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud” (Isa. 57:20; cf. 17:12). Thus John is told later that “the waters which you saw … are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). Out of this chaotic, rebellious mass of humanity emerged Rome, an entire empire founded on the premise of opposition to God. [4]

2. John saw that the Beast had “ten horns and seven heads” (Rev. 13:1), in the image of the Dragon (12:3), who gives the Beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). The ten horns (powers) of the Beast are explained in Revelation 17:12 in terms of the governors of the ten imperial provinces, while the seven heads are explained as the line of the Caesars (17:9-11): Nero is one of the “heads.” [5]

3. Rome is the one city in history that has been distinguished by and recognized for its seven mountains, spoken of in Rev.17:9. As Kenneth Gentry points out,

the famous seven hills of Rome are the Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Virninal, Quirinal, and Capitoline hills. The Roman writers Suetonius and Plutarch make reference to the first century festival in Rome called Septimontium, i.e. the feast of “the seven hilled city.” Archaeologists have discovered the Coin of Vespasian (emperor A.D. 69-79) picturing the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills.  The seven hills are mentioned by such Christian writers as Tertullian and Jerome, as well as in several of the Sibylline Oracles. This fact- that Rome was universally recognized as the city on seven hills- is widely recognized by evangelical commentators as having a bearing upon our passage.

The reference is virtually beyond doubt that Rome is alluded to in this vision of the seven-headed beast. By everyone’s dating, Revelation was written sometime during the period of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, both secular and ecclesiastical history record that the first imperial persecution of Christianity was begun in the seven-hilled city, Rome, by the emperor Nero Caesar in A.D. 64.[6]

4. On the beast’s heads were “blasphemous names” (v.1). The Caesars were gods in their nation and culture.

Each emperor was called Augustus or Sebastos, meaning “One to be worshipped”; they also took on the name divus (god) and even Deus and Theos (God). Many temples were erected to them throughout the Empire, especially, as we have seen, in Asia Minor. The Roman Caesars received honor belonging only to the one true God; Nero commanded absolute obedience, and even had an image of himself built, 120 feet high. For this reason Paul called Caesar “the man of sin;” he was, Paul said, “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God”(II Thess. 2:3-4).[7]

5. John writes that “I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed” (v.3). The image of a head wound to a beast should remind us of Genesis 3:15, where God promised the serpent that “He [Jesus] shall bruise you on the head…”

Even though Daniel had prophesied that Christ’s kingdom would crush the Satanic empires and destroy them (Dan.2:44), and Jesus clearly said from the cross that “it is finished” (Jn.19:30), the Satanically motivated beast (personified in Nero, and represented in the Roman Empire) which had received the head-wound still lived.

Why? Because the cross established Christ’s victory legally; it now had to be worked out progressively through His saints, in human history. The Bible teaches us that “we do not yet see all things subjected to Him” (Heb.2:8b). The reality, of course, was that Christ had defeated the Dragon and the Beast; but the implications of His victory still had to be worked out; the saints had yet to overcome, and take possession (Dan. 7:21-22; Rev. 12:11).” [8]

6. “The whole Land was amazed and followed after the beast; they worshipped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war against him?’ ” (Rev.13:3b-4)

Almost every translater of these verses utilises the English word “world” for the Greek word ge, (used only once in the New Testament). But Young’s Concordance points out that this word means “land” or “earth.”

John is not speaking of the world following the beast; the word he uses here should be translated Land, meaning Israel. We know this because the context identifies his worshippers as those who dwell on the Land (Rev. 13:8, 12, 14)-a technical phrase used several times in Revelation to denote apostate Israel… it is Israel in particular which is condemned for Emperor-worship. Faced with a choice between Christ and Caesar, they had proclaimed: We have no king but Caesar! (Jn.19:15). Their reaction to Caesar’s apparently victorious war against the Church (Rev. 11:7) was awe and worship. Israel sided with Caesar and the Empire against Christ and the Church. Ultimately, therefore, they were worshipping the Dragon, and for this reason Jesus Himself called their worship assemblies synagogues of Satan (Rev.2:9; 3:9). [9]

7. The beast was given “authority to act for forty-two months (v.5), and “to make war with the saints and overcome them” (v.7).

The period of 42 months (three-and-one-half years – a broken seven) is a symbolic figure in prophetic language, signifying a time of sadness, when the enemies of God are in power, or when judgment is being poured out (taken from the period of drought between Elijah’s first appearance and the defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel). Its prophetic usage is not primarily literal, although it is interesting that Nero’s persecution of the Church did in fact last a full 42 months, from the middle of November 64 to the beginning of June 68. [10]

8. The apostle John positively identifies the Beast. “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty six” (v.18). Numbers in the Bible are significant.

Solomon (a Biblical type of both Christ and the Beast) received 666 talents of gold in one year, at the height of his power and glory (I Kings 10:14; 2 Chron.9:13). That number marks both the high point of his reign and the beginning of his downfall; from then on, everything goes downhill into apostasy. One by one, Solomon breaks the three laws of godly kingship recorded in Deuteronomy 17:16-17: against multiplying gold (I Kings 10:14-25), against multiplying horses (I Kings 10:26-29), and against multiplying wives (I Kings 11:1-8). For the Hebrews, 666 was a fearful sign of apostasy, the mark of both a king and a State in the Dragon’s image.

The second point to consider about the number 666 is this. In both Greek and Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet is also a numeral (see the table of numerals at the end of this chapter). Thus, the “number” of anyone’s name could be computed by simply adding up the numerical value of its letters. Clearly, John expected that his contemporary readers were capable of using this method to discover the Beast’s name-thus indicating, again, the contemporary message of Revelation…the unexpected element in the computation was that it had to be worked out in Hebrew, a language which at least some of the members of the churches would know…

It is significant that all early Christian writers, even those who did not understand Hebrew and were therefore confused by the number 666, connected the Roman Empire, and especially Nero, with the Beast. There should be no reasonable doubt about this. John was writing to first-century Christians, warning them of things that were “shortly” to take place. They were engaged in the most crucial battle of history, against the Dragon and the evil Empire which he possessed. The purpose of the Revelation was to comfort the Church with the assurance that God was in control, so that even the awesome might of the Dragon and the Beast would not stand before the armies of Jesus Christ.[11]



[1] From Andrew McColl, “The Significance of the Godly Family,” 2009, Appendix I, “The Disinheritance of Israel.”

[2] Taken from Andrew McColl, “The Great Christian Revolution,” ch.XI.

 [3] David Chilton, ‘Paradise Restored,” 1999,  p.176.

[4] Chilton., p.177.

[5] Chilton, p.177.

[6] Kenneth Gentry, “The Beast of Revelation,” 1994, p.13.

[7] Chilton, p.177.

[8] Chilton, p.178.

[9] Chilton, p.179.

[10] Chilton, p.179.

[11] Chilton, p.180-181.

 

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