And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
Revelation 13: 15
It turns out that Poythress is in profound agreement with Peterson about the land beast. He sees this creature as a propagandist that might have been meant to represent or to point to very definite goings-on in the world of his original audience.
Throughout our study of the book of Revelation I have relied heavily on two commentaries: Reversed Thunder, by Eugene Peterson, and The Returning King, by Vern S. Poythress. While these two commentaries are fairly consistent in their interpretation of the Book, the two authors are of different stripes and so, as we go back and forth between the two texts we find insights and turns of phrases in one that the other may not have been so clear about.
We might say that Peterson’s approach is a bit more poetic and Poythress a bit more academic or pedagogical.
When we began the study of Chapter 13 and saw the vision of the beast arising from the sea, our commentators were again consistent. Both of them saw the sea beast as a representation of secular, governmental authority and saw the power of this beast as being exercised through force and coercion in military and police action. But when we started to look at the second beast – the land beast – it appeared to me that Poythress simply did not have much to say about this one.
And so we went on with Peterson’s view, which was that the land beast represented primarily corrupt and sensationalized religion and that its power was exercised through deceit. While the sea beast manipulated through physical force, the land beast manipulated through the corruption of words; through propaganda.
It seemed easy for us to imagine that one of Satan’s ploys in his war on God’s people is through organized deceit. However strong that dynamic might have been in the ancient world it is almost unimaginable that it could have been more pervasive then than now. For at least a generation now, we in the west have been subject to unending and pervasive deceit from advertisers. Sometimes that deceit is not immediately deadly – we might be lured through slick advertising into watching a movie or TV show that is a waste of time. On the other hand, some of the advertising campaigns we’ve suffered through have caused direct and serious harm to individuals and to society. The first and most obvious of such is, of course, cigarette advertising which aimed at convincing us all that smoking was harmless and glamourous. It seems ridiculous now, but there were cigarette ads in magazines in the 1950s that touted certain brands as actually healthy for the throat.
But it goes on from there. It is now coming to light that advertisers and the Government have been telling us for more than a generation that foods that cause great harm (i.e. sugar and vegetable oil) were actually good for us and that other foods, which are actually good for us, were harmful. Before the sea change in American diets in the early part of the twentieth century, brought on in large part by advertising, coronary heart disease was almost unknown. And this is to say nothing about the modern explosion of diabetes, much of which is related directly to high-carbohydrate diets that the advertisers have foisted upon the population.
Moreover, we had no trouble understanding the evil in today’s news media – both on the right and on the left – which always has a hidden agenda and which, most recently, has been spectacularly wrong about almost everything. They look smart, but they don’t know what they are talking about.
Finally, the notion of deceit and corruption in organized religion is no new idea to us, either. We have had a whole snoot full of greedy televangelists who are clearly in it for the money and, sadly enough, the sex. Top that off with the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church and the decades-long cover up and it is not hard to believe that what Saint John was warning the faithful about was deceit in organized religion.
And so we found Peterson’s take on this passage quite believable and, indeed, relevant for our own time.
But it turns out that I sold Mr. Poythress short. I missed what he had to say for some reason. Maybe because he refers to the land beast by another name – “The False Prophet.” It turns out that Poythress is in profound agreement with Peterson about the land beast. He sees this creature as a propagandist that might have been meant to represent or point to very definite goings-on in the world of his original audience:
In first-century Asia Minor, the main propagandists were priests of the emperor cult and the “Commune of Asia,” a council of distinguished city representatives who promoted loyalty to the emperor.
The Returning King, P&R Publishing, 2000, at page 143.
He goes on to speak of the arrangement of the image of the emperor as it would have appeared in the local temples in ancient Asia Minor:
Priests in the first century were not above working a little fakery to encourage people to come and patronize their temples. In the first century, the image [referred to in verse 14] is the image of the emperor set up in the local temple dedicated to the imperial cult. Now it is the concrete thing through which godlike power and presence is mediated and adored: for some people, the TV set.
Id, at page 145-146