I am sharing some excellent research done by my friend Robert Cruickshank about Revelation and the Mark of The Beast of Revelation. Be sure to read part #1 here. You will need to read part 1 to understand where we are picking up in this installment.
I have decided to divide his long article into three parts- not just two- for ease of reading.
Past Manifestations of the Beast
Throughout the Old Testament, “Leviathan imagery” is used to refer to the “cosmic, non-human forces of chaos that resist God’s order,” but nevertheless manifest themselves in Israel’s earthly enemies and natural forces. This is evident, for example, in Ezekiel 29:2-3:
Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt; speak, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams, that says, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Ezek. 29:2-3).
Pharaoh is being referred to as “the great dragon” in this passage. According to Michael Heiser: “The Hebrew word lurking behind the English ‘dragon’ here is tannim and it “comes from the lemma tannin.” After noting that “Leviathan is perhaps the most well-known chaos symbol in antiquity,” Heiser goes on to demonstrate that tannim is simply another way of referring to Leviathan in the ancient world. As is another term we find frequently in the Old Testament, for Leviathan, is Rahab. For example, this term is used by the prophet Isaiah in conjunction with the original Exodus event:
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces, Who pierced the dragon? Was it not You who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; Who made the depths of the sea a pathway For the redeemed to cross over? (Isa. 51:9-10).
The point here is that, in both of these passages (Ezek. 29:3 and Isa. 51:9), foreign occupation of God’s people is associated with beastly, chaotic powers. In the examples above, the foreign power was Egypt/Pharaoh. In similar fashion, Jeremiah casts Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian invasion in the same light:
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured me and crushed me, He has set me down like an empty vessel; He has swallowed me like a monster, He has filled his stomach with my delicacies; He has washed me away (Jer. 51:34).
The word translated “monster” in this verse is tannin, the same word used with reference to Pharaoh in Ezekiel 29:3. It means “dragon, serpent or sea monster.” It was originally used of “the great sea creatures” of Genesis 1:21, created on the fifth day. “In their ferocity and strength to devour,” writes Richard W. Engle, “they became a symbol for great kings and empires who punished Israel or whom Israel should avoid.”
Pharaoh/Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar/ Babylonian were among these kings and empires in Old Testament times. In Revelation, John takes up the mantle of the prophets before him and, in his letter to the seven churches, it is Nero/Rome that follows in the footsteps of these evil rulers prophetically cast as chaos monsters. As Cyrus H. Gordon puts it, “The Leviathan theme reverberates in the New Testament (Revelation, chapters 12 and 13).”
Thus, as A.Y. Collins points out, Nero’s association with “the beast of watery chaos” and/or the “dragon motif” was merely the latest incarnation “of a long line of national enemies” or “foreign powers often personified in a particular ruler whose deeds were perceived as especially infamous or threatening.”
Collins goes on to make a rather significant point that seems to be missed by others. She observes that
“…the depiction of Nero and Rome as the Chaos beast is combined with an exhortation to the readers to endure persecution (13:9-10) It would seem that the combat myth in chs. 13 and 17 (cf. 17:6) functions to identify the ruling power with the forces of chaos and thus to awaken and reinforce resistance to that power in the readers…the depiction of Nero as the chaos beast is thus part of a cosmic ideology which interprets a situation of conflict and urges a policy of passive resistance and martyrdom.”
In other words, the characterization of Nero/Rome as “the beast” is meant to recall past endurance, on the part of God’s people, against this monstrous enemy. John’s purpose is to encourage his readers to persevere in their present situation. If the chaos monster, now embodied in Nero, was absent in history past, John would have no point of reference with his readers in regard to this imagery.
It is precisely because he does have that common point of reference that John is able to magnificently weave together themes and images, from ages long ago, in order to encourage perseverance and steadfastness in his readers’ current situation.
The full force of John’s message is diluted if the chaos beast had never reared its ugly head until the first century. This beast, that his readers were now facing, had been faced by God’s people before. As the heroes of the faith, from ages past, resisted this chaotic power, sometimes to the point of martyrdom, John is calling on God’s people of his own time to demonstrate such resilience once again.
This is the message of the book of Hebrews. The first-century Saints must persevere, just as those in that great cloud of witnesses had done (Heb. 12:1), so they too may join them in the “general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in Heaven” (Heb. 12:22). As in the past, so in the present. They must emulate the behavior of those who had gone on before, by resisting the beastly powers of chaos–now embodied in the Roman Empire.
John’s imagery is further enhanced as he defines this resistance, to the beastly power, in terms of not taking its mark on their right hand or forehead (Rev. 20:4).
As with everything else in the vision, John is not seeing the actual events themselves but images and symbols that represent the events. As Ken Gentry puts it: “This is dramatic imagery, not literal reality.” And, as Gary DeMar points out: “Every Jew would have understood what a mark on the hand and forehead meant.” And, he goes on to cite two passages in order to drive the point home:
“And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt (Ex. 13:9).
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:4-8).
The mark of the beast then, according to David Chilton, represents a “Satanic parody” of “wholehearted obedience to the Law in thought and deed (Deut. 6:6-8).” The mark of the beast, in essence, is a reversal of the requirement that God’s law alone was to be the governing force of a person’s thoughts and actions.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of this really good research!