The Image of the Beast (Rebekah Liu Dissertation): (6) The Image of the Beast in Rev 19-20

In her dissertation, Rebekah Liu skips over Revelation 17 and 18 as the phrase “image of the beast” is not mentioned in either chapter. But it is mentioned in passing in Revelation 19:20. There the false prophet is cast into the lake of fire, because it deceived those who ended up worshiping the image of the beast. Once again the image plays no active role in the chapter. While Babylon the Great is not named in chapter 19, the great prostitute is mentioned (Rev 19:1-2). But no connection is made between the great prostitute and the image of the beast.

A major motif of Revelation 19 is divine warfare (Rev 19:11-21). That warfare ends with the ultimate defeat of the beast and the false prophet at the end of the chapter. They are thrown into the lake of burning sulphur (19:20), with Satan to join them there after the millennium (20:10). But here is the interesting detail. Throughout the latter part of the book of Revelation, the image of the beast is always mentioned together with the beast (Rev 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). But when it comes to the final destruction, only the beast, the false prophet and Satan are mentioned. The destruction of the image of the beast seems to have disappeared from the scene without any closure.

Ancient Near Eastern divine-war imagery is very helpful in explaining the situation. In the ANE, nations fought wars in the names of their gods. In doing so the nations were acting out the will of the gods. Such divine wars occurred in three stages. First, there was a pre-battle consultation with the gods through the use of oracles. Second, during the battle there was a divine presence and guidance through prophets. Third, after a victory the spoils were gathered and dedicated to the winning gods (the divine warriors). We have seen in Revelation the first two stages of ANE war conduct. The gathering of the kings for battle was like a pre-battle consultation with the gods in the person of the demonic spirits (Rev 16:13-14). The three angels’ messages (Rev 14:6-12) provide the corresponding divine consultation on the side of God. Then in Revelation 13 the land beast (the false prophet) leads the battle against God and the faithful. Since the false prophet is destroyed at the end of the battle (Rev 19:20), it is clear that he was with the army during the war.

The third stage of the ANE divine war was dedicating the spoils of battle to the gods. The capture of the cult images of the enemy gods confirms the defeat of a nation or entity. The idols are captured and either exiled or destroyed by fire. The destruction of the cult images not only represented the defeat of the nation, but also of their gods. This practice is confirmed in Deuteronomy 7:24-26. When the Canaanite nations were defeated Israel was to burn the images of their gods in the fire (Deut 7:25). These images were devoted to destruction (Deut 7:26) and Israel would be defiled if they did not do this. That this destruction was a common practice over the centuries is evidenced by 2 Samuel 5:21, 1 Chronicles 14:12 and 2 Kings 10:26. In 2 Samuel 5:21, David and his men exiled the Philistine idols (carried them away) but in 1 Chronicles 14:12, they burned them. In 2 Kings 10:26 Jehu burned the cult pillar of the temple of Baal. Given this background, it is hard to imagine that the final destruction of the image of the beast would go unmentioned. Since the beast and the false prophet are destroyed by fire in Revelation 19, Rebekah Liu proposes that the image of the beast is destroyed somewhere in Revelation outside of chapter 19. The fact that the image of the beast is not mentioned in 19:20 suggest that the earlier burnings of Babylon in 17:16 and 18:8, 18 serve as the destruction also of the image of the beast. The equation between Babylon and the image of the beast is increasingly stronger. The burning of the prostitute is the same thing as the burning of the image of the beast.

The image of the beast is mentioned in passing (Rev 20:4) once again, but is not seen, nor does it act or is acted upon in the chapter. So there is no explicit mention of the final destruction of the image of the beast in the chapter. But the final destruction by fire of Satan and of those who worshiped the image of the beast (Rev 20:9) is clearly portrayed. This leaves the question open again, is it possible that the destruction of the image of the beast is left unwritten or was that destruction described earlier in the book under another name? The fact that the phrase “image of the beast” does not occur at all in chapters 17 and 18 may point to the image appearing there in the form of Babylon the Great Prostitute and the Great City. The end of cult images normally occurs by fire. Revelation 17:16 and 18:8, 18 are the only places outside of Revelation 19 and 20 that record destruction by fire. So we will look at Revelation 17 and 18 for answers to the final fate of the image of the beast.

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