Thursday, April 20, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (22)


the second beast (13:11-18)
The Beast from the Earth (13:11-18)
A second beast, one from the earth, joins the beast from the sea. It has two horns “like a lamb.” (3:11). Remembering that a lamb is the central figure in God's plan to bring his purposes to fruition, the Dragon counters with a lamb-like beast. As the slaughtered lamb bears witness to the One on the throne, this lamb-like beast bears “witness” to the sea beast. The one who, like some Roman emperors, claimed to be “Lord and God.”[1] That this beastly “witness” has two lamblike horns reminds us of the two witnesses for God in ch.11. If the first beast is political power, this new beast is power of religion which so often serves to buttress the power and policies of the state. That's why it speaks “like a dragon.” By supporting the first beast, this second beast , like the first, ultimately serves the defeated but not yet destroyed Dragon in its futile efforts to undo God's plans.
Working with the first beast's power and authority, the second beast works to promote the “worship” of the former.  Worship – loyalty, love, livelihood, all placed in service of the beast. That's the Dragon's endgame. And God's. This is the “worship war” that matters!
Both beasts serve as grotesque parodies of the lamb. The two heads of earth beast we noted above. The reference to the sea beast “whose mortal wound had been healed” (13:12) suggests a faux “resurrection” to mimic that of Jesus. It's not a resurrection (which is going through death to new life) but a return to this old life.
But with the help of the earth beast, particularly an Elijah-like miracle that proved the sea beast's godlikeness (13:13; see 1 Ki. 18), this religious propagandist creates a religious vibe (v.15) for the worship of the sea beast. This worship is genuine even though its object false. And like all genuine worship, it “marks” the character and will of the worshiper with that of the sea beast so thoroughly that  “that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark “ on his right or forehead (13:17). That is, the beast has the people's head and hands, the whole of them, conformed to his ghastly image.
In such a situation, it calls for wisdom (always considered a divine gift) to make the discernments Jesus calls for here (13:18). Such a gift is always available to those who “keep the commandments of God  and hold the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). With this wisdom we can identify the “number of the beast”: 666.
Far too much time, ink, and ingenuity has been spent on trying to identify this 666. And I'm not interested in rehearsing that story here. I believe the answer is simpler and far less exotic than many/most of the others proposed. Grimsrud says it well:
               








“The actual number “666” seems essentially irrelevant, despite all the energy put                                 into deciphering it in Christian history (and, especially, today). In a broad sense, it                                    surely mainly                 signifies the Beast and his deceptions. Perhaps one way to calculate                              the number is to say that it is six cubed, not seven—seven being the number of whole-                 ness and power. The Beast claims to be the peacemaker and to have mighty power,                      but actually falls short of God’s peace and God’s power, just as six falls short of seven.”[2]


This closeness of the number of the beast (even though it utterly foreign to 777, God's peace and power) is perhaps one way to account for the power of this beastly way to delude the nations and entice them to collude with its will for it. It is impressive, apparently even miraculous, able to penetrate human hearts and enjoin a steadfast loyalty on them.

A Beastly Church

                The church John warns his churches (and ours) against becoming by acceding or assimilating to the “beastly” character of the Empire is well-known to North Americans. We’ve seen a lot of it and much of it remains today. Orlando Costas gives a fine sketch of this kind of church as we have known it here. It has:

-"a conscience-soothing Jesus” (makes it easy to go along to get along),

-an unscandalous cross (Dietrich Bonhoeffer captures what the cross of Jesus actually entails: “Over against the successful, God sanctifies pain, lowliness, failure, poverty, loneliness, and despair in the cross of Christ. Not that all this has value in itself; it is made holy by the love of God, who takes it all and bears it as judgment”.[3] DBW Vol 6 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 90).

-an otherworldly kingdom (focused on “heaven” and life after death there),

-a private, inwardly limited spirit (me and Jesus in my heart; no need for church [see below])

-a pocket God (one whose interested in saving us from this world for heaven rather transforming this world into an eternal home for him and his human creatures)

-a spiritualized Bible (one that focuses on our inner lives rather than faithfulness in public life), and

-an escapist church (one looking for Jesus to take it out of the world rather than engaging it).

The goal of such a beastly church is a happy, comfortable, and successful life, through “the forgiveness of an abstract sinfulness by faith in an unhistorical Christ." (Costas)

Such a church will never give the Empire trouble and will support it for both convenience and conscience sake. Loyalty to the Empire goes hand in hand with loyalty to “Christ.”



[1] Domitian, for instance. See Kraybill, Apocalypse and Allegiance, 131.
[2] Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/03/revelation-notes-chapter-13/. Johnson, Disci0leship on the Edge, 250 and Kraybill, Apocalypse and Allegiance, 67 also incline toward this solution.
[3]DBW Vol 6 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 90).

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