Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:8

8 And all those dwelling upon the earth will worship him [i.e., the beast], whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb, the one who was slain, from the creation of the world.

“All those dwelling upon the earth” is, again, a reference to unbelievers. We’ve noted before a distinction between “earth-dwellers” and “heaven-dwellers” in Revelation. There is no third group; everyone belongs to one or the other category. The earth-dwellers are those who serve and worship the beast, while the heaven-dwellers serve and worship the Lamb. The earth-dwellers do not have their names in the book of life, whereas the heaven-dwellers do (see chapter 14).

The verb “worship” translates the Greek proskuneō, which is sometimes used in the sense of bowing in respect, or pleading before an authority. It’s most common use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, however, is in reference to worship, i.e., what the Israelites did in the Temple in Jerusalem, what the elders do to the One who sits on the throne in Revelation 4:10, and what the earth-dwellers ought to be doing before the Lamb. But they won’t because their names are not in the Lamb’s book of life.

We talked for a little while about the fact the “earth-dwellers” are all non-Christians, and hence worship the beast. In other words, they don’t follow after the Lord, nor do they worship him. Instead they place their trust in the secular world, in the ruling authorities, and, perhaps by default if not overtly, worship idols and false gods. We were reminded of the passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, which says:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [ESV Translation]

As we have seen, and will continue to see, this beast is certainly out to deceive by means of signs and wonders. He attempts to imitate Christ, posing as a false Messiah, just one of the ways he commits blasphemy against God and His people. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul reminds us that the refusal of the “earth-dwellers” to love and worship the Lord is not because they are stupid, or lack the necessary information or evidence. They have been overcome by a strong delusion, and are unable to believe the truth. This is a fact we must remember as we reach out to our unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It’s so easy to become frustrated with people, and wonder if we’re saying the wrong things, or we’ve overestimate their mental abilities. There are a lot of smart atheists in the world, and there are good things we can learn from them. By what we call “common grace,” the Lord has allowed those who are His enemies to gain a measure of insight and wisdom, and to attain knowledge and expertise that is valuable. It is foolish for us to dismiss all unbelievers as worthless and ignorant. We must recognize that though they have understanding and intelligence, they are also under a delusion, so they will not give glory to the One who has so gifted them. In Ephesians 6, Paul says that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers. It’s not the people we’re battling against, but the delusion. This is why our evangelism must be with love and compassion, with the desire that our fellow creatures, made in the image of God, might be set free from the bondage of deception and come to embrace the truth in Christ.

We then tackled a couple of translation questions. First, the passage literally says “those dwelling upon the earth will worship him, he whose name has not been written…” The “he whose name” is not in reference to the beast–obviously his name hasn’t been written in the book of Life! And, as we’ll see in chapter 14, this is in contrast to God’s people whose names have been written in the book. But “those dwelling upon the earth” is plural, so shouldn’t it say, “those whose names have not been written…”? One of the principles of textual criticism–the process by which scholars attempt to determine what the author actually wrote from a group of differing manuscripts–is that the “harder” reading is usually the original reading. More often than not, a scribe will attempt to correct a hard reading (hard either grammatically or theologically). Scribes don’t usually try to make easy to understand passages more difficult. For that reason, scholars tend to favor the singular verb here. I think John intends us to see that each one of those in the group of worshipers is accountable for his action. Those who worship the beast are excluded from the book of life not as a group, but as individuals. Each person in that group has a name, and that name is noticeably absent from the book.

The second translation question has to do with the way the verse is to be understood. The Greek can read two ways. Either the beast-worshipers’ names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world, or the beast-worshipers’ names have not been written from the creation of the world in the Lamb’s book of life. The difference is subtle, but important. In the first, we have the emphasis on the fact that the slaying of the Lamb was foreordained from the creation of the world; in the second, the emphasis is on the fact that the names in the slain Lamb’s book of life were determined and written from the creation of the world. The first reading seems the most natural way to take the verse, and it’s certainly true that the cross was planned from the beginning of time. However, we have seen the phrase “the Lamb who was slain” already in Revelation 5:12. The second part of the phrase, “from the creation of the world,” is not part of the Lamb’s description in 5:12. Indeed, for John it seems the fore-ordination of the Lamb’s death is not as important as the fact he was slain. It’s a point of encouragement to the suffering believers in the churches to whom John writes that the Lord of glory, the one who has overcome and redeemed them, was one who also suffered, even unto death. Christ identifies with his people, and has invested himself in their salvation. This is the one who is in control of the beast and all that he does. Does it not make better sense that John would want to remind his readers that, a) the names in the book of life have been settled from the beginning, so Christ’s followers can be secure in their salvation, no matter what happens to them physically, and b) that it’s the slain Lamb, the one who died for them, that superintends their persecution, and who will ultimately see them rise victorious? I think so. 🙂

Lord willing, we’ll continue next time with verses 9 and 10 of chapter 13.

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