Christ and Caesar

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

 

Our recent studies in the book of Revelation began with war in heaven.  Satan, once an angel and a creature of God, rebels and is defeated.  “Michael and his angels” fight against the rebellious dragon, defeat him and throw him down to earth where he gathers himself and undertakes his mission of destruction here.

The passage tells us that the beaten Satan is even further frustrated in his attempt to kill “the woman” who represents many things – the church, perhaps and, perhaps, all that is good and beautiful.

Beaten and frustrated, Satan conjures or waits for two creatures he then employs to help him in his dirty work here on Earth.

The first of the two is the sea beast.  Our commentaries – Poythress and Peterson – both agree that this beast would have been understood by the churches to which John’s message was originally written to represent the power of earthly governments.  Poythress particularly emphasizes that John’s description of the beast here is a direct reference to the beasts seen in the prophetic visions in Daniel chapter seven.  The book of Daniel is explicit that the beasts of Daniel’s vision represent particular, earthly kingdoms.  Poythress asserts that the similarities between Daniel’s vision and the vision in Revelation are too direct and multiple to be anything but intentional.

 

The overall point in John’s vision is that Satan may use governments to aid him in his plan to destroy souls and suppress human flourishing.  We may find it easy to support this notion when we look at infamous governments like those of the Roman Empire that demanded that citizens worship the Emperor or the governments of Stalin or Hitler that carried out the genocides of the twentieth century.  But Peterson suggests that democratic governments may be co-opted, too.  On the one hand, the individual may tend to worship them in the sense that they look to the government as the ultimate authority (take for example, the notion of same-sex “marriage.”  For the moment, the government of the United States – acting through a 5-to-4-vote majority in the Supreme Court – has asserted that same-sex relationships may constitute “marriage.”  It has been the position of the church through the centuries that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for one lifetime.  The question that individuals are now faced with is “which definition governs?”   There are those who believe that it is the province of the government to tell the church what is right and what is wrong on the point.  That is, these people hold that it is within the province of the government to dictate to the church that it will perform same-sex weddings or face consequences.  This is an example of the government overreaching its legitimate boundaries.)  So governments, even democratic ones, may be the tools of Satan insofar as they set themselves up as moral arbiters.  Where they dictate according to one agenda or another without regard for God.

On the other hand, individuals may tend to elevate government inordinately.  Looking to the government as a means of salvation, as a means of moral light, as the means of order.

Government is limited in the United States.  This is an idea that probably has its roots in Christian teaching and culture.  Government is not absolute, it does not have the last word; it is not the final authority.

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