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The Beast in Jerusalem
by Marcus Booker
"When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and over come them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." Rev 11:7-8"When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and over come them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." Rev 11:7-8In this text, the beast is in Jerusalem. Of course, Roman power also stood within Jerusalem. However, the form of the argument in relation to other texts and history points to a Jewish beast.
First of all, let's compare the above text to Luke's Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, Stephen gives testimony of Jesus Christ, for which reason the Jews stoned him. It says...
"Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud proclamation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."
Now read Revelation again:
"When they have finished their testimony [when Stephen and those who followed after him finished their testimony],
the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and over come them and kill them [a great persecution will afterward arise, they will ravage the church, enter house after house, and drag off men and women].
And their dead bodies will lie [unless some devout men come along to bury them]
in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified [in Jerusalem].
Revelation also says, "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction."
Compare this text's promise of destruction to 1 Thessalonians:
"For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost."
1 Thess also says, "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" [the classic statement of the false prophets of old--Jer 6:13-14] then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape."
2 Thessalonians seems to speak of the beast and the false prophet:
The man of lawlessness is called also the "son of destruction."
It is said that he "opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" [compare this to the image of the beast that must be worshipped--Rev 13:4,14]
It then says, "Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of his coming" [compare to Rev 19:20, those who "were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse..."]
It goes on to describe the culprit as "the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders." [compare to Rev 13:2 where the beast receives its authority from the serpent. Also compare with Rev 13:14; 16:14; 19:20 where the false prophet performs "signs"]
Who was responsible for the great persecution?
Paul, in his allegory, says "as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the spirit, so it is now also."
Yet in his allegory he contrasts two covenants and the children of two covenants. The children of the one, born for slavery from Mount Sinai and corresponding to the "present Jerusalem" persecuted the free children born of the Jerusalem that is free. There is, of course, no mention of Rome.
John's Gospel also seems to downplay Rome. Jesus omits any reference to it (as a persecuting body) when he says, "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the father or me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour [of destruction] comes, you may remember that I told you of them."
So...with all of this background and history, why do people still identify the beast as Roman?
There are several reason:
1. A traditional interpretation of Revelation [if there be such a thing] identifies the Harlot as Rome, with its reference to seven hills. Indeed, the letter says "the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is sitting; also they are seven kings..." Moreover, some have taken "Babylon," in both Revelation and in Peter's Epistle, to refer to Rome (according to some Jewish historical usage).
However, it has been well established that the harlot is Jerusalem, which also calls into question the identity of the beast. Indeed, if the harlot can be said to sit on seven hills (and still be Jerusalem), how does the seven hills and seven heads of the beast demand a Roman interpretation? The problem, exegetically, is that people get bogged down trying to identify seven or eight kings, or ten kings, or three kings who have fallen, or seven hills, etc. They let the uncertain and dubious overshadow the plain and straightforward. They also neglect the poetic/symbolic language of the text (at least at these parts).
2. A second reason that the beast has been viewed as Rome, historically, has been because of so-called historicist and futurist views. Some early exegetes saw the demise of the Roman empire predicted; they separated the epistle from its historical significance to seven real churches in Asia Minor. They also cast aside the imminency language so prevalent in the writing. Leading up to and during the Protestant Reformation, the same approach became popular to implicate the Romish Papacy. It was, for their time, a convenient means by which they could justify a break with Rome (along with other reasons). The interpretation was convenient, but it was anti-historical and on shaky ground grammatically.
3. Another reason the beast is seen as Rome concerns the interpretation of Daniel. Many have assumed two things about Daniel's fourth beast. They assume identity (not likeness) between the two. Also, they assume that the fourth beast is a literal world power (and not primarily a spiritual powerhouse and obstacle to God's people). However, I will not here discuss this point further. Nevertheless, I will affirm that Rome fits neither in Daniel (as the fourth beast) nor in Revelation (as the beast).
4. A fourth reason is that much of Christian culture has reacted so strongly against anti-semitism, that it has instead identified the principle adversaries against the early church as Rome (all the while downplaying Jewish opposition). The early Christian persecution is often seen as an insane rampage by Caligula or Nero against Christians (who challenged the Roman state and power). The ordeals against lions and bears in the arenas become, in the minds of some people, the picture of Christian persecution. Unlike in the Scriptures, Jewish opposition and murder of Christians is curiously absent. Yet in the text itself, the casting from the synagogues, the handing up to authorities, the chasing from city to city, the stoning, the throwing into prison, the persecution in general, was from the Jews. The Scriptures do not talk of emperors or arenas. Rome is almost a refuge, a protection. It provides law and order for Christians and keeps them from the muderous hands of their countrymen. Roman citizenship, to Paul, was a great blessing; it certainly was not the mark of the beast. He appeals to the emperor, who he thinks will be more just than the locals (who would have him done away in a heartbeat). The apostles also encouraged obedience to Roman authority and the payment of taxes. Rome, when it did act against Christians, often did so reluctantly or to appease the overwhelming mobs of Jews crying for blood. Pilate, for his part, was ready to release Jesus. He found no crime. He [personally] wanted to have him released. So...Rome is in many ways a very bad candidate for being the beast, especially since it was not destroyed "soon" after the writing of Revelation.
Marcus J. Booker