This is the third and final installment from an article by my friend Robert Cruickshank, on the Beast of Revelation. The three articles contain some excellent research and I urge the reader to consider it carefully The first two articles can be found Here…. and Here.
The first-century Christians were faced with the reality that they could not serve two masters. It’s the same reality that all too many of those who had gone before had themselves been faced with. It is a choice between following the commands and precepts of Yahweh, or following a foreign set of commands and precepts which are contrary to Yahweh. Thus, John specifically contrasts receiving the mark of the beast with keeping the commandments of God:
And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Rev. 14:11-12).
So, keeping the commandments of God and staying faithful to Yeshua is the exact opposite of taking the mark of the beast. To take the mark of the beast is to disobey God and become unfaithful to Yahweh and His Son.
An example of some Old Testament heroes who were faced with such a dilemma would be Daniel’s three friends who would not bow down to the golden idol in Babylon.
Commenting on how John’s language and imagery is a “fusion of Biblical tradition with the contemporary experience of persecution,” Simon Price observes: “As we have already seen, Saint John interpreted, and condemned, the imperial cult in religious terms; other Jewish and Christian sources also show how the imperial image was seen in the light of Biblical history. The Book of Daniel (3, 1-18) recounts the story of the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to serve the god of Nebuchadnezzar and worship the golden statue which he had made…and the three young men were protomartyrs in the eyes of the early Church.”
The idea that Daniel’s three friends were viewed as “protomartyrs” comports well with the suggestion that those on the thrones, in Revelation 20, were those who resisted the beast in its past manifestations. And these were to serve as an encouragement to those who were under the alter, in Revelation 6:19, who were currently coming out of The Great Tribulation (cf. Rev. 7:14), and resisting the Beast in its present manifestation (i.e., Rome/Nero).
As noted above, the Old Testament uses the Leviathan language in reference to Nebuchadnezzar, just as John does in reference to Nero in the book of Revelation. This is the key to understanding how the martyrs of Revelation 20 could possibly be those Saints who arose with Christ in Matthew 27, around 30 AD. The beast of Revelation was more than simply Nero or Rome. So, do we have a pre-AD 30 beast in the Bible? Indeed, we do. The beast of Revelation was the same beast that it always was: the sea dragon, Leviathan –manifesting itself in whomever, or whatever, is persecuting and opposing God’s People. In Revelation, he appears one last time before being thrown into the
Lake of Fire.
The Significance of Psalm 74
A magnificent passage, that really pulls all of this imagery together for us, is Psalm 74. Psalm 74 is a communal Psalm of lament during foreign occupation. “While scholars are divided on the exact historical context for Ps 74,” it most likely “reflects the situation of those left in the land when the leaders of the nation of Judah were carried off into exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC.” Thus, it would be contemporaneous with the time that Daniel and his three friends were in exile.
The Psalmist bemoans God’s anger against His people (vs.1), and the damage the enemy has done to the sanctuary (vv. 3-9). He asks God how long the adversary will revile, and if His name will be spurned forever (vs. 10). He pleads for God to rise up, remember His covenant, and restore and vindicate His people (vv. 18-23). The context is clearly cast in light of a foreign invasion, conquest and occupation of God’s people. The Psalmist reminds God of His mighty deeds in the past and pleads with Him to act in a similar fashion in the Present:
Yet God is my King from long ago, Who performs acts of salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You broke open springs and torrents; You dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, Yours also is the night; You have prepared the light and the sun.
17 You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have created summer and winter.
18 Remember this, Lord, that the enemy has taunted You,
And a foolish people has treated Your name disrespectfully.
19 Do not give the soul of Your turtledove to the wild animal (θηρ ον [thērion] in the LXX ‘ –the same word that John uses for “beast” in Revelation)
Do not forget the life of Your afflicted forever.
Thus, the correlation is again made between foreign powers and the “wild animal” or beast, Leviathan. As Nathaniel E. Greene points out, the Psalmist is calling upon Yahweh “to re-enact his battle with his primordial enemies.” The Psalmist clearly “perceived a theological connection between God’s conflict with the mythological beasts” and the current situation in which foreigners were oppressing God’s People. As in Psalm 74, so in the book of Revelation. Foreign occupation is undeniably linked to Leviathan imagery. But there’s more.
The correlation with John’s language even goes one step further in Psalm 74 and links to the idea of the mark of the beast. Amidst the lament over the beastly powers ravaging God’s people, the Psalmist exclaims:
3 Step toward the irreparable ruins; The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary.
4 Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; They have set up their own standards as signs.
5 It seems like one bringing up His axe into a forest of trees.
6 And now they break down all its carved work With axe and hammers.
7 They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground;
They have defiled the dwelling place of Your name.
8 They said in their heart, “Let’s completely subdue them.”
They have burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our signs; There is no longer any prophet,
Nor is there anyone among us who knows how long.
In the turmoil of foreign occupation, the Psalmist bellows: the “adversaries” have “set up their own standards as signs” (vs. 4) and laments the fact that God’s people do not see their “signs” (vs. 9). This is the same word for “sign,” אוֹת (ot), that is used in Deuteronomy 6:8, where God’s law is to be the “sign” on the hands and foreheads of His people. Additionally, these “signs” were to be written on the door posts of their houses and gates (Deut. 4:9). This makes perfect sense if in fact Psalm 74 is set in the context of the Babylonian invasion under Nebuchadnezzar.
The Israelites’ homeland has been devastated and their structures were destroyed. Their doorposts and gates lay in shambles. Now, the Babylonians had set up “their own standards as signs” (vs. 3).
In other words, God’s people were given a new, foreign set of laws and commands with which to govern their thoughts (symbolized by the forehead) and actions (symbolized by the hand). Those who stayed true to Yahweh, like Daniel and his three friends, would continue to bind God’s law as the “sign” on their hands and foreheads despite the pressure to succumb to the foreign power and bow down to the idols of false gods.
Another concrete example would be Daniel himself making up his mind to not defile himself with the king’s choice meat (Dan. 1:8), which presumably violated the Old Testament kosher laws for the Israelites.
The full force of John’s message is diluted if there was no “beast” prior to the first century. This beast, that his readers were now facing, had been faced by God’s people before. The beast was Pharoah, the beast was Nebuchadnezzar and now…the beast is Nero. So, do we have a pre-first-century beast in the Bible…that makes those risen martyrs, in Matthew 27, martyrs killed by the Beast? If Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Psalmist have anything to say about it, we sure do.
For more in-depth discussion and examination of the book of Revelation, see my book, Who Is This Babylon? It has been called “ground breaking” and “highly significant” by many, many people!