High priestPMT 2014-089 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is the second in a two-part study of the heavenly fire by the beast from the earth in Revelation 13. In the previous study I showed that the beast is from the “Land,” and not just the “earth.” That is, he is the beast from Israel. I see the Land beast as picturing the high priestly aristocracy. And in the last article I noted how this fire from heaven reflected several OT episodes in which God himself lit altar fires miraculously. John’s imagery here is echoing those events.

But here John is exposing contemporary temple worship as a lie (remember 2:9; 3:9) whereby the high-priest, the Land Beast, “deceives” those who “dwell in the Land” (13:14a). Thus, instead of acting “before the Lord” (enōpion tou kuriou) (11:4) as a true servant of God, he acts “in the presence of men” (enōpion tōn anthrōpōn) (13:13). As Osborne (Revelation, 514) argues, this beast does so “in full view of men” so that “it is not a religious act but a public-relations performance.”

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But this is not an either/or situation. The Land Beast is acting both religiously and for public relations purposes. He is engaging in (what has by this time become) false religious worship in order to maintain influence among men. This is precisely like the religious leaders during and after Christ’s ministry. Instead of engaging worship to serve God, those who betray the Messiah act religiously but hypocritically, in loudly praying on street corners (Mt 6:5), engaging in showy religious fasts (Mt 6:16), doing various religious works, and wearing extravagant religious attire (Mt 23:5). They do this so as to be “noticed by men” and so that they could receive “honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Mt 23:5).

After Christ’s death and the rending of the temple veil, the temple authorities continue sacrificing at the temple altar. Because of this the Land Beast “deceives those who dwell on the earth” (“in the Land”; 13:14). That is, Israel is (falsely) comforted to think “all is well” with our worship and our temple — just as if miraculous fire were falling from heaven as in the days of Aaron, David and Solomon. Deception is Satan’s work (12:9; 20:3); he blinds the eyes of men (2Co 4:4), and particularly those in Israel (2:9; 3:9; cp. Mt 13:13-16). And remember: this Land Beast “spoke as a dragon” (13:11), i.e., as Satan himself, deceptively (Jn 8:44).

In doing this, Israel’s religious authorities are following their rebellious OT fathers who trusted in ritual and not in God (Isa 1:10-17; Jer 7:1-6, 21-22; Hos 6:5-6; Mic 6:1-8; Mal 1:10). The author of Hebrews repeatedly makes this point (e.g., Heb 3:9-12; 4:1-8; 8:6-9; 12:25). The temple worship is now all for men, and not for God. This is so because God has turned from it to establish a new temple. We see this clearly in the conclusion to John’s drama: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple” (Rev 21:22).

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The temple system that stood until AD 70 was “obsolete” (pepalaiōken) in John’s day and “ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13). The physical temple and its ritual service have become Israel’s idol. They themselves sold out their temple to Rome when they rejected the true temple, Christ (cf. Mk 14:58//; 15:29//). They declare in Jn 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.” This declaration “was a clear renunciation of their Messianic hope, a virtual abolition of the Theocracy — a deliberate abandonment of their place and purpose as a nation” (Thomas Whitelaw, Commentary on John, 397). The temple service and religious rituals were deceptions. They no longer functioned under God’s blessing (13:14; cp. Gal 4:10; 5:6, 12; Php 3:2-3; Heb 9-10). The Land Beast’s deceiving activity entails his operating within Israel, for his “imagery and background suggest deception within the covenant community itself” (Beale, Revelation, 708).

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