The book of Revelation is a book of mystery and impossible to understand apart from understanding the context within the book and the reason for its writing. While reading Revelation may always be a challenge for us today, it doesn’t have to be a total mystery. In this blog I will give context to Revelation chapter 13.
Context to the letter of Revelation.
Within the Roman Empire were Emperors who ruled along with the Senate. The Emperor had authority over the military and district governors. Within the Roman and Greek polytheistic culture they deified these Emperors when they died. Caesar Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome and ruled during the time of the birth of Christ. His son Tiberius Caesar ruled during the death of Christ.
When Caesar Augustus died he was deified and believed to go rule with the gods. His son Tiberius Caesar became the new reigning emperor of Rome and began referring to himself as the son of god. He had this inscription placed on coins and emperor worship began. Side note - Imagine being a citizen of Rome living in the city of Corinth being told Tiberius Caesar is the son of god because his father is god.
Fast forward to Emperor Nero who ruled from 54 AD - 69 AD. Nero is known for his cruelty and for persecuting Christians. In 66 AD Nero sent his commander of the Roman army Vespasian to destroy Jerusalem. Vespasian completely surrounded the city of Jerusalem not allowing people to enter or leave the city for 3.5 years. For 3.5 years there were small battles against the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. During one of these battles Vespasian received a fatal wound to the head. Believing he would die they sent him back to Rome to be buried, but he miraculously recovered. Side note, the number 666 is the numerical equivalent of the name and title Nero Caesar, and became known as the make of the Emperor.
In 68 AD Nero committed suicide after being sentenced to death by the Senate. Shortly thereafter Vespasian became emperor (69 AD - 79 AD). As emperor, Vespasian returned to the battle with Jerusalem and in 70 AD completely destroyed the city burning the city and Temple to the ground and killing all the inhabitants. Emperor Vespasian is known for the destruction of Jerusalem and his campaign of providing military protection to the eastern region of the empire known as Asia Minor. Emperor Vespasian was beloved and worshipped by the inhabitants of Asia Minor and made his residence in one of its great cities, the city of Ephesus.
Emperor Vespasian died of natural causes in 79 AD and his son Titus became emperor, but only ruled for two years and also died of natural causes. Vespasian’s second son Domitian became the new emperor in 81 AD - 96 AD.
Emperor Nero and Emperor Domitian were the two greatest persecutors of Christianity and the Jewish people. Domitian, like his father lived in Ephesus, which is also were the Apostle John lived (connection). Domitian took emperor worship and the idea that he was the son of god to a new level. He built shrines to his father’s memory, and built statues of himself all over the cities. He also placed a shrine of his father and statue of himself at the entrance of the agoras. He had musicians who would march through the city and at certain times of the day they would begin to play their music and the people were to stop whatever they were doing and bow and worship the image of Domitian (beast). Side note, the term Beast was a nickname for the emperors of Rome. Before you could enter into the agora and buy or sell you had to worship the shrine and statue of Domitian which you would receive the Emperor’s mark, or the mark of the beast (666) so you could buy and sell.
The Apostle John opposed Emperor Domitian and encouraged the christians to not bow and worship him because he was NOT the son of god. The christians refusal to bow and worship emperor Domitian not only infuriated him, but it was a potential threat to his rule. Domitian in retaliation captured John, dipped him in hot oil and transported him to the island of Patmos to die.
Why was Revelation written?
The Apostle John wrote the letter of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia Minor to encourage them that emperor Domitian was a fake, and that Jesus Christ was the true Son of God. Why the seven churches of Asia Minor? Because John was the bishop over these seven churches. John ministered, loved, possibly planted some of these churches. Also, because these seven churches were located in the same region where Domitian lived and was beloved and worshipped. Reminder: remember it was Domitian’s father Vespasian who provided the people of Asia Minor military protection from a threat further east.
With John out of the picture exiled to the island of Patmos to die emperor Domitian will be furthered feared and regain his authority and rule over the people. However, the Apostle John would have the last word though his letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor.
Reading Revelation 13: here is what you will read:
There are two beast (emperors) mentioned. One of them received a fatal wound but was healed. This beast was a violent beast and worshipped. The second beast was like the first beast (son of the first beast). The second beast set up a shrine in honor of the first beast and had the people to worship the beast who was wounded yet lived.
The second beast also set up images of himself and had the people worship the first and second beast. The second beast caused people to received the mark of the beast (666) on their forehead before they could buy and sell in the agora.
Revelation 13 is speaking of emperors Vespasian and his son Domitian. The point of John’s message was they are fakes. Many people have been led to believe they are gods, but they are not according to John.
The final blow to this letter called Revelation is when the apostle John reappeared after being exiled on the island of Patmos. His physical presence along with his letter empowered not only the christians in Asia Minor, but became a great source of encouragement to christian all over the Roman Empire.
The timeless message of Revelation is there will always be powers, authorities, and personalities who, by what they do or the power they possess impose the masses to worship them as gods. THEY ARE FAKES! Jesus Christ is the reigning Lord of lords!