PMT 2014-088 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In Rev 13:11 we see a beast “coming up out of the earth” in order to serve the beast from the sea (which is Rome). I argue that we might better translate the beast from “the earth” as the beast from “the Land,” i.e., the Promised Land, Israel. Specifically I hold that this Land Beast refers to the high-priestly aristocracy of Israel (as I have argued elsewhere).
But in Rev 13:13 we read of a remarkable action of the Land Beast: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev 13:13). What is going on here? How is this relevant to the first century high-priesthood?
We must always bear in mind that Rev is an extremely OT-oriented book. Indeed, it is the most Hebraic book in the NT. So when we look in the OT to see if we can find something to which John might be alluding, we discover a relevant, helpful source that had a direct relevance to the high-priesthood in Israel.
Three related OT episodes appear to be in John’s mind, each of which involves the formal worship of God and miraculous fire as a startling sign:
(1) We see it on the occasion in which Aaron establishes formal worship for Israel as he conducts his first offering as the high priest. On that grand occasion “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering” (Lev 9:24). Thus, Israel’s central altar was first fired by God himself, showing that God was pleased with the tabernacle and sacrificial worship.
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(2) We see miraculous fire again when God forgives David for his sin in numbering Israel. In 1Ch21:1 “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” David sins in this, thereby bringing God’s wrath upon the people. So he builds an altar to seek the Lord’s forgiveness. The Lord responds by confirming his gracious forgiveness when he “answered him with fire from heaven on the altar” (1Ch 21:26).
(3) We see miraculous fire once again when Solomon dedicates Israel’s first permanent temple. During that worship dedication “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings” (2Ch 7:1). Consequently, “when this Divine appearance was seen, the people supposed it to be a demonstration of God’s abode in the temple, and were pleased with it, and fell down upon the ground and worshipped” (Josephus, Ant. 8:4:4 §119).
Each of these dramatic episodes were confirmations that God was at work among his people when they worshiped him at the altar.
Therefore, these dramatic OT miracles powerfully affirm that the fire of the worship altar is God’s fire, a fire from heaven. This “fire from heaven = God’s fire” is true even in the non-miraculous, God-ordained altar fires that follow. These would be continuations of the fire that God himself started. In fact, in Rev itself we see that fire coming down from above derives from the altar — in heaven itself (8:3-5; 14:18).
So then, it appears that the Land Beast’s fire in the presence of the sea beast represents the Jewish high priesthood’s conducting temple sacrifices at the altar of God. And because John’s context involves the Land Beast’s submission to the sea beast (13:12–15), John has particularly in view the priestly sacrifices that first-century Israel offered in behalf of the Roman emperor.
Therefore, in John’s drama the Land Beast is presented as mimicking godly altar-fire episodes. As the Jewish priests go about conducting temple worship, they operate as if their worship is from heaven itself from whence the first fire of God fell. The fire on “the altar of burnt-offering, shows that, while that fire might symbolise the presence of a holy Jehovah in His house, it could not refer to the fire of wrath or of punishment” (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, 118).
But there is more. I will deal with that in my next article. Stay tuned.