6 And his [the beast’s] mouth opened unto blasphemies toward God to blaspheme His name and his tabernacle, those dwelling in heaven.
We got a late start this time which is partly why we only managed to cover a single verse. The main reason we didn’t get far is because I started with an examination of “blasphemy.” John has told us that this beast has blasphemous names on his heads, and that he has been given a mouth to speak great, or haughty, and blasphemous things. Now in verse 6, the beast opens that mouth and out come blasphemies against God, His name, and His tabernacle. Most Christians have an idea of what blasphemy is, but I want to be sure we’re on the same page with what we mean.
The Greek word blasphēmia, where we get our English word, was originally a compound of the terms blax and phēmē, so the initial idea was that of lazy or careless (blax) speech (phēmē). Of course, words change their meaning over time, especially compound words which often take on a life of their own, such that the one word means something that only vaguely relates to its parts. A good Greek example is the word ekklēsia, which we commonly translate “church” or “assembly.” The word is made up of the words ek and kaleō, giving it a meaning along the lines of “called out.” While “the called out ones” is a nice Reformed way of referring to the church, the fact is the word ekklēsia quickly came to refer simply to an assembly, and then, by New Testament times, to the gathering of God’s people, the church. When the New Testament writers use the word ekklēsia, they are simply using the word for church, and are not making a theological statement regarding election. Perhaps we can use “pancake” as an English example. These were originally “cakes” made in a “pan.” By our time, however, the word “pancake” conjures up thoughts of IHOP, and warm flat cakes with butter or maple syrup drizzled over the top. They might be cooked in a pan, or on a griddle, or heated up in a microwave. We don’t give a second thought to whether or not they are strictly “cakes” as we understand that word, or how they were cooked.
The primary idea behind the Greek word blasphēmia is that of disrespect. It refers to speaking in a way that demeans or denigrates someone, especially in a religious sense, when God is the one being slandered, reviled, or put down. Here are some biblical examples of the use of the word blasphēmia, and the verb blasphēmeō:
- 2 Kings 19:4 (in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament): Here the Lord will “revile” or “rebuke” the words of Rabshakeh, who was sent by the king of Assyria to mock the living God. The word “revile” translates blasphēmein in the Greek–“to blaspheme.”
- 1 Maccabees 2:6: Not Scripture, but useful history. In this section, Mattathias sees “the blasphemies” being committed in Jerusalem. These blasphemies are the atrocities that came upon Jerusalem and the Jewish people as a result of the rise of Anitochus Epiphanes, just before the Jewish Revolt led by Judas Maccabeus. The atrocities included the defiling of the Temple, and leading the Jewish people to sacrifice to pagan gods, and adopt the king’s religion. Antiochus Epiphanes even used divine names of himself (Theos Epiphanēs–God Epiphanes–for example).
- Daniel 3:29: Nebuchadnezzar decrees that anyone who speaks against (“blasphemes”) the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, will be torn limb from limb.
- John 10:33: The Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy because, at least from their perspective, being a man he made himself God.
So “blasphemy” covers slandering, reviling, demeaning, and showing no respect. In John’s context, it also includes elevating oneself to the status of God, or putting God down and elevating oneself above Him, becoming God’s judge.
Someone asked whether “blasphemy” had a secular use, or if it was always used in a religious context. In class I wasn’t 100% certain, but I thought it might have had some secular use in terms of reviling or slandering other people. I’ve double-checked, and indeed there are instances of that use of the word in classical Greek literature. In fact, there are some New Testament examples. In Titus 3:2 Paul admonishes his reader to “speak evil of no-one,” or blaspheme no-one. Paul uses the verb again in Romans 3:8, referring to the “slanderous” accusation that he teaches that Christians should do evil so that good might come. Acts 13:45 speaks of the Jews “reviling” Paul out of jealousy. So there is precedent for use of the term with regard to people. However, it does seem most of the time, the accusation of “blasphemy” is leveled against someone who reviles, slanders, or disrespects deity, or someone who assumes equality with, or elevates themselves above, the deity in question. Certainly, as the term has passed into English usage, it would be strange to talk about “blaspheming” another person. I think this is reflected in the English translations of those New Testament passages mentioned, where words like “revile” or “slander” are preferred over the literal “blaspheme.”
So, in Revelation 13:1, where John says the beast has seven heads, and upon those heads “blasphemous names,” we can assume these are names that either mock or slander God, or names that ascribe to the beast titles that rightly belong to God. The fact these names are on the beast’s head perhaps reflects the brazenness of his blasphemy. He wants the whole world to see his disrespect for God, and he doesn’t care about the consequences.
Continuing with 13:5, the passage not only says that the beast was given a mouth to speak blasphemies, but he was given authority “to act.” Some manuscripts say, “to make war,” which, given the context and what happens over the next few chapters, is not an unreasonable interpretation of “to act.” This authority to act, however, is not indefinite. The beast has 42 months, which is the same as the time, times, and half-a-time of Daniel 7:25. Given what we’ve said elsewhere about this time period, we understand the beast’s actions to last for the duration of the church age.
When the beast opens his mouth to speak these blasphemies in 13:6, John tells us his words have two principle targets: God–His name, that is, His very person and all He is, and God’s tabernacle, which John further defines as those who dwell in heaven. Is this a reference to martyred Christians? Some commentators think so, but I’m inclined to believe this refers to all believers. We’ve already seen an association between the Tabernacle/Temple and God’s people at the beginning of chapter 11 (see the notes). Also, since “those who dwell in heaven,” is a further elaboration on “tabernacle,” this gives the impression that it’s not just God’s tabernacle on earth that’s the target, but all those who tabernacle with God. However, I think the strongest argument in favor of “those who dwell in heaven” being a reference to all believers is the fact that it contrasts “those who dwell on the earth”–a phrase we’ve encountered more than once already (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10) in reference to unbelievers. These “earth-dwellers” are the objects of God’s judgment. So the “heaven-dwellers” are God’s people, whereas the “earth-dwellers” are not.
So the beast speaks blasphemies against God and against His people, the church. And it’s not that the church is divine such that to speak against the church is itself blasphemy, but the church is God’s people, God’s earthly representation. The church is made up of God’s adopted children. To revile God’s chosen people is to revile God Himself. This is how much God identifies with His people. And inasmuch as all that the beast does is only because God enables him, we can take comfort that the God who loves us, and who so closely aligns with us, has our best interest at heart, even in the midst of trial and persecution.
Lord willing, we’ll continue from 13:7 next time.