“The Idolatrous Temple” – Revelation 13:14b-15

by Roger McCay
19 November 2023
Sermon Passage: Revelation 13:14b-15
Link to Audio Version

When pastors endorse a candidate for political office from the pulpit, they play a dangerous game. This is the general wisdom among pastors, as the majority (although there are many in the minority) … but the majority of pastors agree that they absolutely should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit over another candidate, regardless their political party affiliation, according to a 2020 Lifeway poll.[1] And there are many reasons for this view, including the fact that, in America, a church breaks federal law if it endorses one candidate over another or contributes funds to one candidate over another. Even so, such endorsement should not be unnecessary, if a pastor and the teachers of the church have been doing what they are called to do, which is teach Biblical truths and ethics. A Biblically educated congregation can make their own moral and ethical decisions, when it comes to how each member votes, what party they affiliate with, and what candidates they support.

Along these lines, Tim Keller wrote a great article a few years back, called, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? ‘They Don’t…’.” We don’t have time to delve into all the reasons he gives (and the whole article is a worthwhile read), but a particular reason he puts forward is that when believers “identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one … it gives those considering the Christian faith the strong impression that to be converted, they need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the (fill in the blank) Party.”[2] Such an impression can result in a pastor or church driving people away and hindering the gospel message. It can inseparably tie the two together in people’s minds (church and political party), causing them to assume that the pastor or church endorses whatever the political party or politician believes or does, even if their position or action turns out to be Biblically immoral or unethical, even reprehensible. And in some cases that person might be right, due to the political brand loyalty of the pastor and members of the church, which could lead them to make certain problematic justifications.

Indeed, there is a danger that politics might develop into a major focus of the church over the gospel. Worship services can become times for the pastor to plug political issues from his selected party’s or favored politician’s point of view, wrapping them up in a religious package, and stamping them with the name of Jesus. And if Jesus is behind said political candidate or party or issue, then anyone opposed must be of the devil. Politicians love that kind of support, because it helps boost their power base. And church leaders, enjoy the crowds of like-minded people flocking to hear and cheer, with increased numbers in the pews and dollars in the plate.

Yet, this Sunday rally comes with a sacrifice. And what is that sacrifice? It is those people who are desperate for the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Lord’s Word; those desperate for grace, love, joy, and peace of God’s Kingdom; and it is those who need discipling, as citizens of God’s Kingdom—not as good members of “name your political party.” They are the sacrifice: neglected, as the message and truths they need are subverted for the needs of worldly power.

Now, picking up in our passage today, in Rev. 13:14-15, we see that the intertwining of politics with religion is no new thing, nor is the corruption that follows from such a mingling. So, let’s take a look at this, beginning with a quick rehash of some essentials from this chapter.

So far, in our study of Revelation, ch. 13, we have made certain identifications of the key symbolic characters—the two beasts. The identity of the first beast, the Sea Beast called forth and empowered by the Dragon (Satan), was the Roman Empire (in a generic sense) and the Roman Emperor Nero (in a specific sense), the reigning emperor, who was brutally persecuting Christians at the time of the book’s writing, circa. AD 65. And Nero’s persecution of the Christians was empowered by and done according to the will of Satan. Then, the identity of the second beast, the Land beast (who is subordinate to the first beast) and later referred to in Revelation as “the False Prophet,” … the False Prophet was “the high priestly aristocracy” of the Jews—essentially, the religious leaders of the Jews with the high priest at their head. They were likewise Satan’s tool, under his sway, and Satan used them against God’s Kingdom together with the Beast: murdering the Christ; actively suppressing the teaching of the gospel, seeking to keep the Jewish people in the dark and away from the living and true God; persecuting those who came into the light of Christ; and actively striving to destroy the church, to destroy the true heirs of the covenant of grace in Christ.

Then we looked at the harmony of the False Prophet working with its political sponsor, Nero and the Roman empire. When the Jewish high priestly aristocracy turned their backs on the Lord Jesus, they turned to another god. In the Lord’s eyes, as Kenneth Gentry explains, “the high priest’s role in securing Christ’s death and persecuting the Christians [was] worship of the beast.”[3] The high-priestly aristocracy was sold out to Rome. They received and kept their authority and power at the pleasure of Rome, were controlled by Rome, and the high-priest was even appointed by Rome. The Temple in Jerusalem was built for the glory of a king appointed by Rome (called a Roman client-king). And the Jewish religious leaders’ allegiance was to Caesar, not to the Lord, as they said, “We have no king but Caesar.”

From that position, the Jewish religious leaders led the people of the Land of Israel astray, speaking according to the voice of Satan, against the Christ. The Temple had become an idol, as both Jesus and Stephen pointed out. And the signs of worship in the temple, like the sign of fire coming down from heaven, were the priesthood’s way of operating, as Gentry explains, “as if their worship is from heaven itself from whence the first fire of God fell.” [4] But it was all a lie. The temple worship in which the high priesthood continued to engage, with all the sacrifices and so forth, were signs that they used to deceive “those who dwell on the land.” All the trappings of worship, the rituals, the sacrifices, the readings of Scripture, were merely a veneer. It was like in Ezekiel, where the prophet was told to tear at the wall of the temple, and digging into the wall he found the idols of the Jewish religious leadership, described as beasts (Ezek. 8:8-10). In their heart, the religious leadership was not truly worshipping the Lord, as seen in their rejection and murder of the Messiah. Instead, they were worshipping the source of their authority, power, religious prestige, and even their own temple—the Beast. The Jewish religious leadership had deceived the Jewish people (the people of the Land), leading them down the path of destruction, in idolatrous worship.

Now, it was not, as Gentry suggests, that “The high priests actions [were] overtly to get the people to worship Rome. But, because of the deception, not letting the people know they depend upon Rome for their own power, they promote[d] the worship of the beast indirectly.”[5] Rather, their corrupt teaching and example deceived the people of the Land, leading them astray from the truth, their own Messiah, and the Kingdom of God, with the Beast at the head of the train, both doing the will of Satan. Consequently, the spiritual reality was that their worship was actually directed towards the Beast, and not the Lord. Thus the people were led in worship of the Beast (the Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire). And, as we studied a number of weeks ago, to worship the first beast was (in actuality) to worship Satan, the power behind the Beast.

And so we pick up with the second part of v. 14:

14b it deceives those who dwell on [the land], telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.

In the rehash of our last look at Rev. 13, I mentioned that the temple in Jerusalem that was standing when John wrote Revelation (circa. AD 65), was built by a Roman appointed king. Expanding on this topic helps us to better understand the rest of v. 14. First off, this king was Herod, who (in coordination with the Jewish religious leaders) had the Jews tear down God’s Temple (which was built in Ezra’s time, after the exile, at the Lord’s command, as a place to worship and to glorify him). Every stone of the temple was removed, even its foundation. Then, using 10,000 skilled workmen (according to Josephus),[6] they built another Temple from the foundation on up, with the main temple completed within a few years, during Herod’s lifetime. The construction of the entire temple complex, beginning in 20 BC, was not completed until AD 63, and was destroyed not long after, in AD 70. Herod’s motivations to build it, as Josephus records, included making “an everlasting memorial of him” (in other words, an everlasting name for himself), thus he built the temple for his own glory.[7] The building project would also, by extension, bring glory to the Roman empire, as Herod put it in motion using his Roman authority, influence, resources, and so forth. This all traced back to the emperor (who was Augustus when construction began, and who sanctioned the endeavor; and finally Nero, at the temple’s completion).[8] Interestingly, Herod built three other temples that were overtly for the worship of the emperor—Augustus Caesar.[9]  Moreover, as David Jacobson explains (in an article in Biblical Archaeological Review), the design of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem was greatly influenced by Roman architecture, with designs and patterns found in pagan Roman temples (among other structures) incorporated into it. The effect, as Jacobson explains, was that “the design and construction of Herod’s Temple represent[ed] a contemporary reinterpretation of the Biblical prototype.”[10]

Now, as we considered when last we looked at Rev. 13, it is apparent that the Jewish Christians saw Herod’s temple as being “made with hands,” as Stephen put it (Acts 7:48), and as Jesus was accused of calling it (Mark 14:58), which was a term that carried the meaning that it was an idol. The temple was built for the glory of a Roman client king (who was a brutal tyrant), bringing him, the Roman Empire, and Caesar glory. And it was built in coordination with the Jewish religious leadership, using Jewish labor. Its design was influenced not only by Biblical guidelines, but also by Roman architecture and temple design. Further, the Jewish high-priestly aristocracy, whose seat of power was the temple, was under Rome’s thumb and loyal to the Roman emperor, loyal to him over the promised Messiah. And John clarifies that spiritually, their worship was an abomination, as they had rejected the Messiah for the Beast.

Even more, the high-priest elevated honoring the emperor in temple worship, by having sacrifices offered for the emperor.[11] And this goes way beyond what we think of when we pray for our political leaders, like the president. Josephus explains that first off, the priests “offer[ed] sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people.”[12] He elaborates, saying,

We also offer perpetual sacrifices for them; nor do we only offer them every day at the common expenses of all the Jews, but although we offer no other such sacrifices out of our common expenses, no, not for our own children, yet do we this as a peculiar honor to the emperors, and to them alone, while we do the same to no other person whomsoever.[13]

On this issue, Gentry comments: “The Jews in the high priestly system are so owned by Rome that they offer up at their own expense sacrifices for the Roman Empire.”[14] And note that Josephus says they prioritized this unique and special expense over their own children. This may tie into Jesus’ rage when he called the temple “a den of robbers.”

So, considering all these things, the temple itself is the obvious candidate, in Rev. 13:14, when John says the False Prophet told the people of the Land to make an image for the beast

(which happened when Herod coordinated with the Jewish religious leaders in building the Temple). This means that the temple was that image for the Beast, built by the Jews. Even more, beastly worship was so integral to the Temple that John straight up calls it an image of the beast, in v. 15.

Take a look. Verse 15:

15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.

Now, the people of the Land (the Jewish people), having been deceived by the high-priestly aristocracy, were kept in submission under both the Jewish religious leaders and the Beast, by the great image that was built for the beast. Like I’ve mentioned, the temple served as the seat of power for the high-priestly aristocracy. And Satan used this in his war against the Christians. As Gentry puts it, “The temple is an idol for Israel that is being used to try to control the growth of Christianity and crush it out.”[15] And remember, the Sanhedrin (which was the Jewish council with the high priest at its head) couldn’t even convene without Roman approval, and their actions were under Roman authority. So, in Rev. 13:15, the symbol of the image speaking represents the high priest, using temple authority (consisting of religious authority backed by Roman authority) to make decrees against the Christians. Remember, the temple had become an idol to the Jews, and the Christians absolutely refused to worship it. Christ Jesus had opened their eyes to the truth, and the apostles’ teaching spread that truth. So, not only was Jesus charged with criticizing the temple, but remember Stephen? One of the accusations against him was that he was guilty of speaking words against the temple, saying he was teaching that Jesus would destroy it (Acts 6:13-14). And Paul was likewise accused of speaking against the temple (Acts 21:28; 24:6).

For the Jewish leadership, someone speaking against the temple was a direct challenge to their authority and power. And by their actions, it was clear they would do pretty much anything to keep their power—lies, murder, whatever. We see this when Jesus put great fear into them that they would lose their position and power, after he raised Lazarus from the dead. Remember the Sanhedrin’s response? John 11:47-48:

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

So, due to their fear of loss of power, John says, in v. 53, “From that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

As it was, they successfully killed both Jesus and Stephen using the charge that they had spoken against the temple (their center of power). They later charged Paul with it, trying to kill him. But Paul, after a long imprisonment, appealed to Caesar, which led to his eventual release. But at his trial, (in a case of extreme irony) Paul used the opportunity to share the gospel with Nero, the Beast himself.

And, of course, Luke, in Acts, tells of the high priests arresting the apostles for preaching Jesus in the Temple, commanding the apostles to stop preaching Jesus, and having them flogged when they refused to obey (e.g. Acts 4:1-3; 5:18). And from the temple, orders went out to persecute Jewish Christians. Acts 9:1-2, for example, records Saul obtaining letters from the high-priest authorizing him to hunt Jewish Christians in Damascus. So, Christians, at the high-priests order, were being captured, bound and transported to Jerusalem for trial. Christians were being killed—what Luke called “murder,” in Acts 9:1; their deaths caused by this voice coming forth from the image of the beast.

Now, considering all that, what about us today? In application, it speaks to and boils down to the church’s relationship to worldly power. It serves as a warning for the church, as to why it is unwise for a church to support particular politicians and political parties.

The possible situational reasons and examples for why that’s a bad idea could fill a sizeable book. Think, for example, about how the Nazi’s took root in the German Evangelical Church, with the movement within the church of the so-called “German Christians,” who “embraced many of the nationalistic and racial aspects of Nazi ideology.”[16] That led to a unification of churches, unified in their alignment with National Socialism and Nazi ideology. This even led to twisting biblical theology into a theology that supported the Nazi regime and policies. Remember, for example, how they changed Jesus’ race—the Aryan Jesus? But the debacle of the church in Germany is a study on its own, and a warning among many as to why churches and pastors must not align themselves with a political party or candidate, especially if it is driven by nationalistic impulses.

You see, when a church ties itself to a political party or candidate, the dynamic does not lift up Christ, his Kingdom, and the gospel. It more has a tendency to go the other way—a diminishment. This is because the church (where Christ is the head, and his Word is our rule for life) must be compromised in order to align with the world system of political rule. The political sphere and the religious sphere are both under Christ’s reign. But only the church is eternal, with an eternal mandate and an eternal outlook. World governments are temporal, with a temporal mandate by God, and only a temporal outlook. Indeed, Christianity can thrive in all sorts of governmental systems: democratic, socialist, monarchies, and so on. This is because the church is outside the world’s political system, in its own sphere of authority.

But if the church aligns itself with a particular government, a political party, political leader or candidate, the nature of political power (which is to control, to have dominion) can easily worm its way into the church. Party issues can become the focus of the church. Teaching can become focused mostly on the political issues of the day, pushing the agenda or current issue the favored party or politician is pushing (which effectively abandons teaching the whole counsel of God). Compromises and justifications might be made when Biblical values are violated by the party or politician. And as the diminishment grows, the church can find itself (as it staunchly supports its adopted party and politicians) accepting and supporting political movements and agendas that are morally bankrupt, even supporting laws that may restrict the God-given freedoms of the church, or impose unbiblical requirements upon the church. Such would include the freedom to preach and teach certain biblical truths, freedom to gather to worship, and so forth. On the other hand, it could be the requirement to employ people in ministerial roles who do not meet Biblical requirements for such employment. In support of worldly agendas, which their party or politician might put forward, this could even bring the church under the control of the government to where the church becomes a puppet of the government, with church leaders awarded with power and privilege, or awarded that carrot of personal peace and affluence that Francis Schaeffer goes on about, which are treats to motivate church leaders to keep the people in line with the political powers. And this is just skimming what we’ve historically seen, and possibilities.

Now, this does not mean that Christians are to have nothing to do with the government. That relationship falls into the realm of Biblical ethics (which I’ve preached on in other sermons and taught in various classes). Christians are to submit to the governing authorities, because all governing authorities are under God’s authority, with a mandate from him that empowers and limits them (Rom. 13). And it is good for Christians to get involved with politics themselves, as salt and light. And it is perfectly fine for individual Christians to show support for political candidates, parties, and issues, if that support best seems to align with God’s Kingdom’s values.

Yet, we must be careful, thoughtful, wise, and wary. Our ultimate allegiance can only be to Christ, not a party or politician—much less a government. There are several reasons why Keller taught that Christians don’t really fit in a two-party system. I’ve mentioned one, in that it can hinder the gospel. Another reason is that all the right answers are not found in just one party. Answers are found on both sides, from different perspectives, trying to do what’s best for the people represented. And another problem is “package-deal ethics,” as labeled by “British ethicist James Mumford.” Briefly summed, he says, “Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.”[17]

My friends, the church is the true Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). Let us be vigilant to never let the body of Christ be compromised into becoming a voice of the idol of political power. Yes, we must address the issues of the day, candidly, and seek to find the Biblical solutions, to then be salt and light to the world. Having done this, when we each are called to do our civic duty, we will be prepared to best vote or serve according to and consistent with the Lord’s revealed will. Because the Lord’s people are his Temple, we must resist the worship of worldly politics.


[1] Lifeway Research, “Pastors’ Views on Political Endorsements: Survey of American Protestant Pastors,” slideshow, published Oct. 2020, accessed 15 Nov. 2023, https://research.lifeway.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Pastors-Sept-2020-Endorsements-Report.pdf.

[2] Tim Keller, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? “They Don’t…,” written 29 Sept. 2018, accessed 16 Nov. 2023, https://www.bibletek.com/Kings%202020/Keller%20Politics.pdf

[3] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 3, lesson 16.

[4] Kenneth Gentry, “The Land Beast & Great Signs (1),” PostmillenialWorldview.com, accessed 6 Oct. 2023, https://postmillennialworldview.com/2022/09/27/the-land-beast-and-heavenly-fire/.

[5] Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, lesson 16.

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 423. The Antiquities of the Jews, 15.390.

[7] Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 15.380.

[8] Interestingly, the temple construction had the support of the Roman Emperor (cf. David Jacobson, “Herod’s Roman Temple,” Biblical Archaeological Review, Mar/April 2002, accessed 17 Nov 2023, https://library.biblicalarchaeology.org/article/herods-roman-temple/). Davidson states, “The work undoubtedly had Imperial sanction, a conclusion easily inferred from the fact that Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ deputy, attended the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Temple in 15 B.C.E. Agrippa also paid for the sacrifice of a hundred oxen (a hecatomb) and presented gifts to the Temple. Augustus’ wife Livia presented the Temple with golden vessels and other precious gifts.”

[9] Ibid. They were located “at Samaria-Sebaste, Caesarea and Panium.”

[10] Ibid. Jacobson also notes that Solomon’s temple was also contemporary for its age: “as it is described in the Bible, is clearly a Syro-Phoenician building, for which archaeology has found several parallels in that cultural sphere.”

[11] Apparently, the Jews were obligated to make such sacrifices for the emperor, since to cease making such sacrifices would have been considered rebellion. Cf. Martin Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judea (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 3. Goodman describes an incident at the beginning of the Jewish war (ca. AD 66), “In disgust a few Temple priests decided to suspend those sacrifices which had traditionally been offered up each day in Jerusalem in honour of the Roman emperor. From the Roman point of view such an action constituted rebellion.”

[12] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 610. Jewish War, 2.10.4

[13] Josephus, Against Apion, 2.6

[14] Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, lesson 16.

[15] Ibid.

[16] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, “The German Churches and the Nazi State,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, accessed 18 November 2023, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-german-churches-and-the-nazi-state.

[17] Keller, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? “They Don’t,” quoting James Mumford from an uncited source.