The Image of the Beast (Rebekah Liu Dissertation): (1) Word Study

When Rebekah Liu of China was in the New Testament doctoral program at Andrews University, she came to me one day to talk about the topic of her dissertation. She suggested exploring the image of the beast of Revelation 13:14-15. She noted that the topic had not been widely explored by scholars and that it would be of great interest to Seventh-day Adventists around the world, two good reasons for the choice. I noted that “image of the beast” is introduced in chapter thirteen, but is not described. While the phrase occurs several times more, it is not directly identified with any later beast or symbol in Revelation. For me, the best candidate was the beast of Revelation 17, which looks like the beast of Revelation 13, hence could be termed the “image of the (sea) beast”. In any case, I was delighted to work with her on that topic and she commenced work almost immediately. What I am sharing here is a summary of key points in her dissertation, with particular focus on the implications of the topic for Revelation 17. I do not imply that this is the best summary or even the best I could do with more time. I am sharing this summary for the sake of those followers who have requested such a summary. With Rebekah’s permission, I may one day add it as an excursis to my commentary on Revelation 17.

After an Introduction and a chapter exploring the literature on previous attempts to interpret the image of the beast, chapter 3 reports on Rebekah’s exegesis of Revelation 13:14-15. She begins with a word study of “image” (Greek: eikôn) and “beast” (Greek: thȇrion) in the Bible and the ancient world. Since both words occur in the creation story of Genesis, creation seems to be one of the primary sources of Revelation 13:15. The main meaning of eikôn is as a similitude of another figure, basically an idol. In a metaphorical and positive sense human beings are portrayed as idol-images of God. To be in the image of God means to bear enough resemblance to God to be God’s representative to the creation. In Second Temple Judaism (the period between the Testaments) and the pagan Greco-Roman world, the meaning of eikôn is similar. It can mean a likeness or portrait, a copy of something else, the cult statue of a god, or the same form as something else. In the New Testament, “image” also means a likeness/portait and a living image, like the original Adam or like Jesus Christ, who is the visible image of God. In summary, eikôn seems to have three primary meanings in the ancient world; 1) the image or likeness of a prototype (like the idol image of a god), 2) it can refer to outward forms and appearances, or 3) it can be a living representation of someone or something else.

When human beings were created in the image of God, it meant God’s image lies in human beings and nowhere else (therefore the second commandment). Because of the Fall, the image of God was damaged or marred in human beings, requiring a restoration of God’s image in humanity, beginning with Jesus Christ. That future restoration implies an eschatological meaning for “image”. While the “image of God” is never mentioned in Revelation, the “image of the beast” is an obverse allusion to the original image and the problem of sin. In Revelation, the beasts of Revelation are setting in motion a counterfeit of the image of God. People who have lost the image of God are recreated into the image of the beast. In the end, human beings become like the gods they worship. They will either embrace the restoration of God’s image and character in their lives or become more and more like the dragon (Satan). The image of the beast is more than just an identifying mark, it represents a change of character in the assembly of the unfaithful. The image of the beast is a composite of all who end up serving Satan in the final era of earth’s history.

The primary meaning of “beast” (Greek: thȇrion) in the Bible and the Greco-Roman world is “wild animal,” especially the kind of wild animal that is hostile to human beings. Metaphorically, it can represent people who are cruel. As part of creation, the wild animals were placed under the dominion of human beings which were created in the image of God. It was after the Fall that the beasts became hostile to human beings. So the dominion over the animals proved to be conditional on human obedience to God. King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 represented how far from the image of God human beings could fall. In Revelation 13 the beasts are hostile to God and appear as allies of the dragon/Satan. Given the background, the image of the beast recalls the king of Babylon’s fall and represents a counter-attack against God’s end-time plan to restore His image in the human race.

2 thoughts on “The Image of the Beast (Rebekah Liu Dissertation): (1) Word Study

  1. Rustin Sweeney

    Would you elaborate more on why we translate thȇrion into “beast’ for the earth beast of Revelation 13? It would seem more fitting to translate it into “dangerous animal”, or something along those lines. (Strong’s a dangerous animal: – (venomous, wild) beast.) Can I understand that the word “beast” has a negative connotation in this passage? In preparing thoughts concerning the earth beast of Revelation 13 it has struck me that most of our literature portrays this beast as either a lamb or a bison. It would seem more realistic to portray the earth beast as a dangerous animal. Should not the word “beast” in this passage be understood in a negative context? Would not have John said “lamblike animal” instead of “beast” if indeed he saw an animal that operated on different principles than all the other previous beasts? I’ve read Liu’s comments on beast in her dissertation but was wondering if you might have some added insight. Seems to me the earth beast has operated very often in a “beastly” manner.

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    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I think you’re on the right track. The sense is wild animal hostile to humans. In my Revelation Seminar the artist portrayed the land beast in quite a ferocious manner. But in translating, I prefer to render the original as simply as possible. I just checked 8 of the top dozen English translations and they all simply say “beast”.

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