The Sea Beast
I believe the sea beast of Revelation 13 symbolizes the civil and military powers of the Roman government as these were used by the emperors and other authorities for evil instead of good. God never ordained civil government to be a “terror to good works.” Therefore, any government engaged in such activities has, without a doubt, come under the influence of Satan. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the teaching of Revelation 13:2, where it is learned that the sea beast was given his power, his throne, and his great authority by “the dragon.” According to verse three, this illegitimate power received a “deadly [i.e., a mortal] wound” that would later be healed. It is my opinion that the suicide of the tyrant Nero represented this “deadly wound.” After Nero, the next three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius), all installed by the Praetorian Guard, came and went in quick fashion. In fact, they were so busy trying to keep from being killed, they had no time to even think about persecuting Christians. There is no record that the next two emperors (Vespasian [A.D. 69-79] and Titus [A.D. 79-81]) ever used their authority to persecute Christians. It was not until late in the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) that Christians were again persecuted by Rome.
It was during Domitian’s reign, I think, that the “deadly wound was healed.” According to the historian Eusebius, Domitian was Nero’s successor as persecutor of the church. About him Eusebius said:
Domitian, indeed, having exercised his cruelty against many, and unjustly slain no small number of noble and illustrious men at Rome, and having, without cause, punished vast numbers of honorable men with exile and the confiscation of their property, at length established himself as the successor of Nero, in his hatred and hostility toward God. He was the second that raised a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had attempted nothing to our prejudice (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter XVI).
In relation to this, it must not go unnoticed that Tertullian identified Domitian as “a limb [viz., an extension or continuation] of the bloody Nero” (Apology, Chapter V). Then there is the earth beast of Revelation 13:11. It represents, I think, the perverted religion of the Romans which required citizens of the State to engage in Caesar-worship.
The Earth Beast
This earth beast is twice referred to as the “false prophet” (Rev. 16:13 and 19:20.) The Concilia (i.e., the contingent of State priests throughout the Empire; namely, the Imperial Cult) had the responsibility of promoting Caesar-worship and, deriving their authority from the civil and military powers of Rome (cf. Rev. 13:12), forced all citizens to acknowledge Caesar as dominus et deus, which means “my Lord and God” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, 1983, p. 185). That which had been instituted by Augustus (viz., the divinity of the emperor) was fully revived in the tyrant Nero and, after a short reprieve, was resurrected in Domitian (cf. Rev. 13:14.). Under such a system, Christians who would not acknowledge the Roman gods, which included the emperor, were referred to, ironically, as “atheists.” As such, they continued to be officially persecuted until A.D. 311.
Contrary to what many think, “666,” although it is definitely referred to as “the number of the beast” (Rev. 13:18), is not really the identifying mark of the beast itself. Instead, 666 is the “number of a man,” and is used, I think, to identify those who bow down to the State and its ministers as if they were gods. This could be called Babelism or even Statism (viz., man’s effort to deify the State), and all who promote or engage in such activities make themselves enemies of the only True and Living God and are, without repentance, destined for everlasting destruction. The “mark of the beast” appears to have been the official certificate or license to engage in the benefits of Roman citizenship. Under such a Satan-ordained system, to honor the Roman gods and to acknowledge Caesar as divine were deemed acts essential to good citizenship. All that was usually required of the Christians was for them to buy a little incense from the Concilia and burn it to Caesar as god. The Roman authorities made it clear that they did not, in their opinion, have to stop being a Christian in order to do so. In other words, just burn a little incense today and tomorrow you can continue to worship Christ was the idea being touted by the State’s priests. For many, the temptation was too great, as burning a pinch of incense made the difference as to whether or not one was allowed to work in the trade guilds. No pinch of incense, no job. It was as simple as that. And, of course, if one had no job then one’s family would eventually become destitute. This must have been what some of those who failed to trust in the Lord thought before they burned their little pinch of incense to Caesar.
Modern-day Incense Burners
After participating in a forum on whether or not a Christian could be involved in carnal warfare, I was approached by a brother who explained to me rather energetically that he believed a Christian was under obligation to fight in any war that his government became involved in. This, he exclaimed, was exactly what the Bible taught on the subject in Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14. Whether this brother actually knew better and was simply trying to rationalize his predilections, or whether he was just plain ignorant of God’s word, I had no way of knowing. Either will ultimately lead to a rejection of God and participation in conduct that is sinful. But here’s my point: when a Christian says he must always obey the government, then what he is ultimately saying, whether he realizes it or not, is that he will recognize no power above that of the State. In other words, and although I am sure he would deny it, one like this has accepted the State as his god (i.e., he has received the “mark of the beast”).
Although it seems to be a shocker for many Christians, the fact remains that idolatry did not cease to exist with the completion of the New Testament. Babelism/Statism, which is only one of many kinds of idolatry, is very much alive today. This is demonstrated additionally by a school teacher who wrote in one of the popular religious magazines that circulated in the 1980s about the “near panic” she believed prevailed in the minds of some gospel preachers concerning the public schools and the alleged indoctrination of humanism. Although very critical of any criticism of the public schools on this matter, she went on, quite ironically, to accurately identify some of the precise techniques used by the public schools to inculcate humanistic philosophy (viz., role playing, values clarification sessions, situation ethics, et cetera). She tried to justify all of this by saying: “The laws of our land, fearing interference with the parents’ right to teach their children religious beliefs and/or values, forbids the teaching of moral decisions based on God or the Bible, so the teacher must teach these decisions based on man and his limits and consequences, in relation to other members of society.” Her reason for believing it “must” be done this way is—perhaps you’ve already guessed it—Romans 13:1-7. In other words, this Christian believed that she must teach her students the anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-biblical philosophies of humanism because this is what the State had commanded her to do; and she, after all, must obey the State because the Bible—that’s right, the Bible!—tells her to do so. Here we have, in my opinion, a Christian who had received the “mark of the beast” and didn’t seem to know it. She may just have been ignorant of God’s word, and this would certainly have been bad enough. However, she may just have been trying to rationalize the type of behavior the State had forced upon her. Personally, I suspect the latter. But here’s my point: this school teacher, who was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, did not seem to understand the implications of Acts 4:18-19 and 5:29. These passages clearly teach there are circumstances in which the Christian must disobey civil authorities. In fact, a knowledgeable student of the Bible ought to know that when the authorities command a Christian to do those things that are contrary to the word of God, he or she must be disobedient to those authorities in such matters.
Perhaps you can see that the brother and sister mentioned above are in error. Maybe you even agree with me that they have received the “mark of the beast.” But permit me to further turn your attention to some areas where we could be just as guilty, but not know it.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” With His all-encompassing authority firmly established in the minds of those to whom He spoke, Jesus instructed them, in verse 19, to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” By this, we must necessarily conclude that the gospel is to have free course in the world, and this regardless of the restrictions governments may attempt to place on it. But if we truly believed and practiced this doctrine, then there would, more than likely, be at least a few of us occupying the prisons and gulags of those nations in the world that are openly antagonistic toward Christianity.
When governments tell us we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ within their borders, too many of us obediently obey. When they forbid the importation of Bibles, too many of us dutifully comply. This is all done under the guise of obeying the laws of the land. But what the church really needs today are men and women who are willing to be criminals, when necessary, for the cause of Christ. And make no mistake about it, as soon as we refuse to obey governmental authorities for the sake of Jesus Christ, we will immediately be branded as law-breakers and criminals. But although smuggling Bibles into countries that prohibit the printing or importation of such will be identified as a criminal act, such would not be a sin according to Scripture. In fact, when subjected to such laws, if we are not willing to break them, we are being unfaithful to Christ and His cause. Some, thankfully, understand this and have been willing to disregard such illegitimate laws. However, this concept is made much more difficult within those governments that have not been openly antagonistic toward Christianity. In fact, such a concept is very difficult for most of us. Nevertheless, Western governments, including our own, are becoming increasingly hostile to New Testament Christianity. Consequently, it is time to think seriously about the obligation to engage in holy disobedience even here in the “good ol’ US of A.”
Yet another example of this country’s becoming increasingly hostile to New Testament Christianity can be seen in the 1989 Oklahoma court case involving the Collinsville church of Christ and a withdrawn from fornicator. In that case, the courts ruled that the Collinsville church broke the law when doing what the Bible clearly says they must do. The church, directed by the elders, was in the process of withdrawing from an accused fornicator when she, in turn, “withdrew” her membership. I know some brethren argue that we can’t withdraw from the withdrawn, but most brethren believe the local church can and must withdraw from such in order to remain faithful to the Lord. Anyway, the Collinsville church ultimately withdrew from the accused fornicator who, incidentally, did not deny that she had engaged in fornication, only that it was none of the church’s business. She sued them for defaming her character in the community and the church lost. As a result, the court directed the Collinsville church to pay the withdrawn from fornicator $390,000 ($205,000 in actual damages and $185,000 in punitive damages) plus $44,737 in prejudgment interest (Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, 775 P.2d 766 [Okla. 1989]).
Later, a church in California lost a similar case and was ordered to pay an unconscionable amount of money. As you can imagine, this all had a very chilling effect on churches of Christ’s exercise of discipline. Thus, a heretofore minority position held by brethren that taught you can’t withdraw from the withdrawn now has court precedent to back it up. Just how many elderships, fearing the results mentioned above, have thought it prudent to just go ahead and burn their little incense to Caesar rather than exercise themselves as the Lord has commanded, I do not know. But that times have changed should now be obvious to us all.
Unfortunately, our government is exhibiting the tell-tale signs that indicate a transition from a Romans 13 government ordained by God to a Revelation 13 regime under the influence of Satan. I’m not saying the government of the United States of America is a Revelation 13 type government. But there definitely seems to be a “mystery of iniquity” at work in its midst. It is disturbing to me that so many Christians seem to be oblivious to what is happening in our day. Many think of being a good Christian with being a good American. However, this is simply not true. Yes, it is certainly true that in times past (because of the principle of a government or nation “under God” that this country was founded on), being both a good Christian and a good American were easier than they are today. I am not saying those years were without controversy, for any time a Christian is trying to live consistent with the truths taught in the Bible, there will be difficulties both with society and government. But it can no longer be denied that civil disobedience, long ignored by Christians living in America, will become an increasingly important subject as this country continues to separate itself from the biblical base that had served it so well throughout the years.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any nation (Prov. 14:34).