THE TALKING IDOL IN REV. 13:15

Altar firePMW 2022-029 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In Rev 13:15 we come upon an idol with the power to speak. What is John prophesying here? And how can it fit into a preterist analysis of Revelation? In this article I will be considering the Land-beast’s image which deceives and speaks (Rev 13:12, 15). But before I begin this (too) brief study, we must remember our previous study.

Presuppositions

(1) I believe “the beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11) is the beast arising from “the Land,” of Israel. Specifically, it is the high-priestly aristocracy of Israel which has effectively become idolatrous in rejecting God’s Messiah and preferring idolatrous Caesar as their king (Jn 19:12, 15).

(2) The “image of the beast” is a derogatory reference to the Jerusalem temple, which has become an instrument of Rome rather than of God’s worship (cp. a similar thought in the OT, Isa 66:3). The Jews preferred their temple over their Messiah, and put him to death (partly) for speaking of the temple’s destruction (Mk 14:55–58). In an important sense, the Romans control the temple by appointing many of its high priests, and the high priests use the power and prestige of the temple to maintain their Rome-granted authority over Israel (note their fear in Jn 11:48).


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(3) In my last Revelation Research update I explained his making “fire come down out of heaven” (Rev 13:13) as a back-reference to the divine establishment of Israel’s altar. There God himself causes fire to fall from heaven to ignite the altar as it is initiated for formal worship in the tabernacle (Lev 9:24)., and then later in the newly built temple of Solomon (2Ch 7:1). John’s imagery, therefore, is showing the priesthood’s claim that the current temple worship continues to be from God, despite the rejection of the temple by Christ and his apostles.

The Speaking Image

Now in Rev 13:15 we read the following remarkable aspects of the vision of the Land-beast. Not only does the Land-beast (high priest) call down fire from heaven, but he causes the image of the beast (the Jewish temple) to speak:

“And it was given to him [the Land-beast] to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

We must recall that the land beast “spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11), that is, deceptively. And since John is casting their beloved (but doomed, Mt 24:2//) temple and its services as an idolatrous image, the speaking of the image may refer to either: (1) The deceptively alluring temple liturgy as speaking delusory words of peace and acceptance to all who submit. Or (2) the satanically inspired orders (Jn 8:44; 13:2) from Jewish temple authorities against Christ and his followers. Perhaps this speaking alludes to both the delusive liturgy and the deadly decrees from the temple in that they issue from the same source and have the same end in view: the confirmation of the dominance of the religious authorities over Israel. Double entendre is a common enough feature in dramatic presentations, as it is in Rev itself (e.g., Rev 11:8; 17:9-10).

Though it appears the image miraculously speaks, we must remember that this is an act in an apocalyptic drama. In that John is writing a drama for Asia Minor Christians, we should understand that prosopopoiia (personification) was a common rhetorical device in antiquity (B. Rossing, The Choice Between Two Cities, 1999: ch 2). Rossing (22) cites Quintillian in arguing that “by means of personification ‘cities also and peoples may find a voice,’ as in the example, ‘Your country, Catiline, pleads with you, and though she utters never a word, cries to you.’” This even happens in Rev itself, for in 16:7 we read: “I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.’”


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Elsewhere even in Scripture itself, inanimate objects are said to speak by way of testimony, as when Abel’s blood cries from the ground (Ge 4:10), when Job’s land cries out (Job 31:38), or the stone in the wall of a house cries out against the haughty (Hab 2:11). For instance, mountains shout (Ps 89:12; Isa 44:23), sing (Ps 98:8), and skip (Ps 114:4, 6). Valleys shout (Ps 65:13), trees sing (Ps 96:12) and the heavens declare (Ps 50:6; 97:6). Or, more significantly, John may be reflecting on Joshua’s altar stone which “shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us” (Josh 24:27).

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