Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (21)



The Dragon and Two Beasts: The First Two Portents  2  (chs.12-13)


The Sea Beast (13:1-10)

Jesus continues his exposure of the deep dynamics at work in creation as the Dragon plants himself on the shore to continue his nefarious activities.[1] He summons a minion from the sea, a beast with “ten horns and seven heads” diadems on each horns and blasphemous names on the heads (13:1). He comes from the “sea” a haunt of demons and evil in Jewish thought. When Jesus describes the new heaven and new earth in Rev.21 he explicitly mentions that there was no sea (21:1). Evil has no foothold in the new creation!

But here and now it does. The ten and seven horns and heads bedecked with crowns reflects earlier use of this imagery: ten horns – full and complete power; seven heads filled with blasphemy. It was leopard-like, with bear-like feet, and a lion’s mouth (13:2). These animal elements were a part of Daniel’s vision of successive empires (7:3-7). Jesus’ creates this montage of oppressive powers to show that this figure indeed bore the power and authority of the Dragon (13:3). This first beast, then, is oppressive political rule.

Even more impressive than that, though, is Jesus’ invocation of the Nero Redivivus myth. Keener explains:

“Although Nero died, reportedly by his own hand, on June 9, a.d. 68, rumor circulated that he was still alive and ready to take vengeance on the Roman aristocracy for rejecting him. According to writers of the day, the majority of people in the eastern part of the Empire expected his return. Several impostors arose claiming to be Nero, hoping to gather followings in the eastern Empire, where he was most popular; one of them arose in Asia Minor during the reign of Titus (Domitian’s older brother). During Domitian’s reign, a Nero figure even persuaded the Parthians to follow him to invade the Roman Empire, but Domitian forced them to back down and execute the impostor instead.

“Jewish oracles predicted the return of Nero, and Christians feared it. Although John clearly does not believe in a literal return of Nero, he may use the image of this popular myth, as many scholars think, to say: "You thought Nero was bad; wait till you see this!" (the way we today would use the image of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot). This image so shaped the views of early Christians-thousands of whose numbers had been eradicated under Nero in Rome-that “Nero” even became a term for “antichrist” in the Armenian language. Many later Christian writers, including Tertullian, Augustine and Jerome, connected Nero with the antichrist. The view that John here uses this Nero redivivus myth has continued through history and is widely held by modern scholars, such as F. F. Bruce, William Barclay and most commentators on Revelation.”[2]

As a Nero-Redivivus figure, this beast excites fearful admiration, loyalty, and most tellingly, worship (13:4,8). And that, worship of the beast, is finally what Revelation is all about.

This beast exercises authority over the earth for 42 months (the time between Christ’s resurrection and return, as we have seen).  It blasphemes against God and wars Successfully against his people (13:6-7) and exercises authority over the whole world.

A saying consonant with Jesus’ own earthly teaching (Mt.26:52) counsels endurance and faith even if that means accepting the beast’s apparent hegemony without violently resisting it (13:9-10). Resist they shall, but not armed with weapons. Their very endurance and faith are the forms of resistance required.



[1] This is perhaps a weaker parody of the mighty angel with the little scroll who sands astride sea and land in 10:2.  
[2] Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, on Rev.13.

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