Ed Vitagliano | The Stand
It is common in America to complain about our government, but the Bible makes it clear that a political system can become far, far worse than simply being inefficient or even corrupt.
The Romans 13 model of government is at one end of the biblical spectrum, in which proper political authority keeps order, protects citizens, promotes what is good, and punishes what is evil. (See AFA Journal, 9/20)
However, sometimes a government can get it so wrong that it drifts from the Romans 13 model toward the Revelation 13 end of the spectrum. In that famous passage in John’s Apocalypse, we see a terrifying image of governmental power that has turned utterly demonic.
Certainly, Revelation 13 has application to a final political form that will appear in the end times. Yet there is a sense in which the pictured governmental form represents an amalgamation of political villains throughout scriptural history. The Revelation 13 description of the beast that comes out of the sea recalls empires such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Understanding the nature of this political beast in the Apocalypse provides us with insights into the moment when a system takes a turn for the worse and follows the dark path to demonic governance.
Enemy of heaven
In Revelation 13, the beast arises as an enemy of the true God, the true faith, and the true servants of God at the end of the age. Yet previous governments in human history have waged war against God and His people too. Why?
Psalm 2 indicates that human rebellion against God begins with the impulse to separate a culture from His commandments. The picture is one of political leaders – “the kings of the earth … and the rulers” – actively resisting the Lord and the Messiah (“His Anointed”). The reason? They want to free society from the moral restraints of God’s laws. They shout in unison, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
As Romans 1 makes clear, such rebellion always leads into a death spiral that proceeds into deeper forms of spiritual blindness. In America, it is heartbreaking to chronicle our nation’s turn away from God, His Word, prayer in schools, and the Ten Commandments.
The resulting devastation is clear, as marriages and families disintegrate; the violent death of the unborn is funded with tax dollars; gross immorality is championed; and some of our major cities are filled with bloodshed while entire city blocks are burned down.
It is terrifying to contemplate where such a journey of defiance could wind up. This beast in Revelation 13 winds up “speaking arrogant words and blasphemies” against God and all that is holy (vv 5-7).
Yet, the beast doesn’t stop with words; it proceeds “to make war with the saints.” It is a truism of human nature: A heart filled with complete darkness will eventually plummet into hellish violence.
That is why communist governments, for example, begin to make war against Christianity soon after they have come to power. It is no coincidence that a government that springs from an ideology that rebels against God eventually gorges itself on the blood of those created in His image.
State as idol
We also see in Romans 1 that sin drives men to refuse to give God glory, but Paul points out that people do give glory to something – idols.
In Revelation 13, the beast exalts itself to replace God. It becomes an idol. Scripturally speaking, this is fairly typical human behavior as people and governments grow in power and accomplishment. For example, the taunt against the king in Babylon in Isaiah 14 and the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 echo the fall of Lucifer precisely because these human leaders arrogantly saw themselves as deities.
Over the last century or so, we have become all too familiar with this human tendency to make government – even its human leaders – into god-like entities. In fascism, for example, the state becomes a modern idol. Benito Mussolini, the originator of the concept of fascism, said this in 1932: “The fascist conception of the state is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, fascism is totalitarian, and the fascist state – a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.”
Such ideas are clearly rooted in a human attempt to become “God” to a nation’s people. Mussolini goes on to say that the state refashions individuals inside and out, including a person’s “character and his faith.” How does it do this? He says the state “enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway.”
We see similar tendencies growing stronger in America, instituted by the “progressive” Left: Public education has become in many districts an instrument of propaganda; the federal government attempts to force Christian ministries to support abortion and homosexuality; state colleges and universities actively suppress Christian viewpoints; parental rights are eroded as the state increasingly absorbs their roles as caretakers for children; and so on.
A state that becomes an idol – a false god – is not morally neutral. Not only does such a government often wage war against God’s people, but it often succeeds in drawing the affection of everyone else. In Revelation 13, the unmatched power of the beast turns the hearts of the people to himself as they declare, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (v 4).
The reason such governmental forms are demonic, however, is that the apostle Paul declares that behind every idol is a demon (1 Corinthians 10:20). Once Satan has succeeded in turning people away from honoring the true God to honoring idols, the Enemy has succeeded in turning the subsequent worship to himself.
This is why the worship of the beast in Revelation 13 is ultimately seen as the worship of the dragon behind it – Satan (v 4).
Revelation 13 portrays governmental power at the furthest end of corruption and abuse. It is the gold standard, if you will, of an evil state.
However, like other aspects of end times theology, we are meant to learn the warning signs about when this process begins. Recognizing those signs allows the church to anticipate the trajectory of a nation as it veers away from Romans 13 to a darker path.
America has clearly strayed onto that darker way. Christians must remain vigilant, pray for boldness to proclaim the truth, and actively work for righteousness while we have the opportunity to do so. If we fail to be faithful and obedient stewards of the freedoms we have been given, we might one day be facing a monstrous entity that is at war with the truth. After a while, that monster will turn its hungry eyes to us.