An image comes to life – Revelation 13:5

Previously: He also performs great signs – Revelation 13:13-14

The scripture

Rev. 13:15 – He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (HCSB)

He was permitted to give a spirit to the image

In verse 15 John writes of the false prophet, “He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

GhostNote first that the false prophet is permitted to give life to the image of the beast. His power comes from Satan; his permission comes from God. Thusly armed, he gives a “spirit” to the image. The Greek word pneuma is used more than 300 times in scripture and may be translated “spirit,” “breath” or “breeze.” It also may refer to the human spirit or rational soul; an angel, demon, or the Holy Spirit; or even a ghost. Here it appears to be best translated “breath” or “life,” for the image speaks and acts.

This is a stunning miracle, for it convinces many to worship the first beast. It’s quite possible that the false prophet uses sleight-of-hand tricks to make it appear the image is speaking. However, it could be that demonic forces are at work. In confronting the Corinthians with the truth about hand-carved idols, Paul pulls back the veil to expose the truth that those who offer sacrifices to idols – which cannot speak or act – are in fact sacrificing to demons, which the idols represent (1 Cor. 10:20). But in Revelation, John depicts the idol as being alive – or apparently so. Whether animated by demons or creative illusions, the image of the beast inspires both wonder and terror in the hearts of people, for he pronounces death sentences on those who hold fast their allegiance to Christ.

Consider the caesars

Large statues of the Caesars are well documented. Caligula, the fourth Roman Caesar, is so convinced of his own divinity that he orders a colossal image of himself to be erected in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Only death prevents him from being enshrined as a god in the Holy of Holies. Later, Domitian orders an imposing likeness of himself erected in the temple at Ephesus. The head, which remains intact, is almost four feet tall, and the entire statue is estimated to have been 23 feet tall. Domitian also is the first Caesar to give himself the religious title dominus ac deus (Lord and God).

Lucian, a rhetorician and satirist in the second century A.D., reports that statues in the temple at Hierapolis could move and voice audible oracles, and at night, when the temple is closed, a voice may be heard in the holy of holies. “Whether it was the power of suggestion here or whether by technical tricks it was possible to produce such effects, we do not know. In any case, from the fourth century A.D. there is evidence that heathen priests were able to stage such sensational effects by clever technical tricks” (Jurgen Roloff, Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 163).

Reading John’s account, first-century Christians of Jewish descent must be drawn back to the Book of Daniel, where King Nebuchadnezzar commands all the subjects in his empire to worship his cultic image – or die (Dan. 3:6, 11, 15). When God’s faithful servants – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – refuse to pay homage to the 90-foot-high golden statue, they are cast into a fiery furnace, but not before being given one last chance to recant their faith in God. Their response no doubt is an encouragement centuries later to those suffering intense persecution at the hands of the Caesar worshipers: “If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).

The three Hebrew men are visited in the furnace and so protected from the flames that their clothes do not carry so much as a whiff of smoke. The visitor: One whom the king says looks like “a son of the gods,” or a divine being. Many commentators understand this person to be the pre-incarnate Christ. Many first-century followers of this same Jesus will die in the flames of Caesar’s torches, or be sawed in half, or ripped apart by wild beasts. While Jesus does not rescue them as He did the three Hebrew men, He walks with His martyrs through the flames and accompanies them to their place in heaven beneath the throne, where they are given white robes and told to rest until God’s day of vengeance vindicates them.

Next: He requires everyone to be given a mark – Revelation 13:16-17

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