Making an Image to the Beast

I’m working on the 2nd edition of my study guide to Revelation, and I’ve been meditating on Revelation 12 & 13, and especially 13:14-15.

By the miracles it was allowed to perform in the presence of the beast it deluded the inhabitants of the earth, and persuaded them to erect an image in honour of the beast which had been wounded by the sword and yet lived. It was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that it could even speak and cause all who would not worship the image to be put to death.

Revelation 13:14-15 (REB)

I don’t want to spend a great deal of time discussing the approach I take to reading and understanding Revelation. I wrote a study guide for that purpose. The short version is simple. I think we miss a great deal of the message of Revelation when we spend our time looking for specific historical referents for the symbols. It’s possible to come up with a plausible scheme. In fact, many sort of plausible schemes have been proposed. But nobody has managed something truly definitive.

I lean closest to the allegorical approach, but more precisely I believe that through imagery that is worked into a tapestry Revelation presents us we a number of principles which are very broadly applicable. I describe this in terms of a theme park in my study guide. It’s not a sequential story; rather, it’s an interacting set of scenes.

In this passage we can work with a number of questions, such as who is the dragon and the beast that comes up out of the earth. Those questions are good, but I’m skipping over them to this one: Why does the beast that rises up out of the earth want to make this image? The beast is performing miracles, and through this miraculous power, he creates an image, which in turn does other things.

Let’s take the simple answer: If you’re a beast, you want an image.

We tend to think of the image as a statue or some other sort of representation of what a person or thing is. But an image can also be something deceptive, something that helps you think more favorably of what that image represents. The image of the beast is less beastly than the beast itself. That is its value.

In an age of political operatives and media manipulation, we should be able to feel this one in our bones. A politician has his or her own personality, but then through political operatives he or she can also have an image. Polish up the image but leave the reality tarnished. Or for the reverse, one’s opponents or enemies can create a false negative image. In either case, the “beast” doesn’t look like its “image” and vice versa.

So what image do we display through our churches? When someone looks at the reality, is the beast behind the image, or the lamb?

How’s that for jumping the rails?

I think it’s a valid jump. Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ. Jesus told the disciples that they would be known as His disciples by their love for one another.

Many people are going to form their opinion of who Jesus is by viewing Him in us. There can be a lamb behind the image just as well as there can be a best. An image can be transparent, letting people see the reality, just as it can conceal the beast that’s behind it.

If you read Revelation 12 & 13 you’ll get some good ideas about what beast-like behavior is, and why this 2nd beast needs an image to do its will.

The question is whether we will allow Christ to be seen through us and through the way we “do church.”

I think I’ll follow this up with a post on ways in which our churches can take on the image of the world around, to the detriment of our witness.

Featured image AI generated via Jetpack

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