Sun Worship-Satan’s Ancient Counterfeit
In ancient Babylon, the kings served as high priests of the sun, Bel-Marduk. “To take the hand of Bel-Marduk” was part of the ceremony of installation as king in Assyria and Babylon (“Babylonian and Assyrian Religion,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed.). The celebration of the winter solstice around December 25 was regarded as the birthday of the sun. It was a major holiday associated with gift-giving and the sacred evergreen tree.
Not only did much of Babylonian pagan worship involve the sun, but so also did the worship of each of Babylon’s successors in its own turn, first in Persia and later in both the Hellenistic world and Rome. In fact, by the time each of Daniel’s four beasts arose, sun worship had risen to prominence as the imperial religion.
Persia was Babylon’s first successor. Ancient Persian religion centered on the worship of Mithras, the god of light. As a result of Babylonian influence, however, Mithras came to be identified with the Babylonian sun god. The Greeks of Asia Minor identified Mithras with their ancient sun god, Helios, and contributed to the westward spread of the cult of the sun. Alexander the Great traveled to Egypt to the Temple of Amon-Ra to be proclaimed by the priests as the literal son of the sun god. And what of Rome? “Mithras, identified with Sol Invictus at Rome, thus became the giver of authority and victory to the imperial house” (“Mithras,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed.). Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary states that Sol, the sun god of Rome, was worshipped as “the Baal or Bel of the Chaldeans [Babylonians]” (p. 590). Sun worship and its symbols were adopted by the Roman Empire from her predecessors and passed on to the entire western world!
In modern Lebanon today there is a tiny Arab village called Baalbek. Located there are the ruins of two majestic temples, once the pride of Heliopolis, the Greco-Roman “City of the Sun.” Notice the explanation of historian Will Durant: “Augustus planted a small colony there, and the town grew as the sacred seat of Baal the Sun-God…. Under Antoninus Pius and his successors Roman, Greek, and Syrian architects and engineers raised, on the site of an old Phoenician temple to Baal, an imposing shrine to Iuppiter Heliopolitanus” (The Story of Civilization, Will Durant, vol. 3, p. 511). Thus the Roman Jupiter became identified with Baal the ancient sun god.
Another great center of pagan sun worship was the temple at Heliopolis in Egypt, where a great obelisk sacred to the sun was located. Around 40ad, the Roman emperor Caligula had this obelisk transported from Egypt to Rome and erected in his circus on Vatican Hill. In 1586, upon order of Pope Sixtus V, this ancient obelisk-83 feet in height and weighing 320 tons-was moved a short distance to its present location. Requiring a crew of 800 workmen, 160 horses and 45 winches, the obelisk was exactly centered before the entrance of St. Peter’s Cathedral-where it remains to this day.
In ancient Rome, before the days of the empire, there was a cult devoted to Sol, the sun god. Parrinder’s World Religions from Ancient History to the Present discusses the development of sun worship as the religion of Rome:
“It was natural that as the centre of gravity of the Roman empire moved eastwards, sun-worship should grow in power. It was already strong in imperial propaganda; Nero’s Golden House was an appropriate home for the incarnate sun, and Antonius accorded the sun peculiar honour. Under the Severan dynasty sun-worship became dominant; the sun-god was portrayed with Severus’s characteristic beard, and the emperor took the title INVICTVS (unconquered), which was the peculiar epithet of the sun… The sun was a superb unifying symbol and rallying-point for the whole empire… in AD 274 Aurelian established the sun-god as the supreme god of the Roman empire” (p. 175).
Aurelian, emperor from 270-282ad, ascribed much of Rome’s third-century moral and political chaos to religious disunity. He sought to unite the whole empire in the “worship of the sun-god, and of the Emperor as the vicar of that deity on earth… He built at Rome a resplendent Temple of the Sun, in which, he hoped, the Baal of Emesa and the god of Mithraism would merge… Aurelian advanced that Orientalization of the monarchy which had begun with Elagabalus and would complete itself in Diocletian and Constantine” (Durant, p. 639).
Constantine, considered Rome’s first “Christian” emperor, was himself a devotee of the sun god. “In fact the emperor Constantine’s Christianity was ambiguous. His family owed traditional allegiance to the sun-god; the famous vision of the cross as he marched on Rome came to him from the sun; the sun continues to appear on his coins through the decade, and on his arch at Rome; his own statue at Constantinople bore the rayed crown of the sun-god” (Parrinder, p. 175). By the first century, the seven-day planetary week was being popularized at Rome. The seven-day week itself originated at creation (Genesis 1) and the knowledge of the correct weekly cycle was preserved by the Jews. However, in ancient Babylon each of the seven days of the week became associated with what the ancients called the seven planets: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. This is significant because it set the stage for an imperial proclamation that indelibly stamped upon the Christian-professing world a mark, or brand, derived from ancient sun worship.
The Encyclopædia Britannica records: “The earliest recognition of the observance of Sunday as a legal duty is a constitution of Constantine in 321ad, enacting that all courts of justice, inhabitants of towns, and workshops were to be at rest on Sunday (venerabili die solis)” (“Sunday,” 11th ed.).
By using the Latin term properly translated as “venerable day of the sun,” Constantine identified the first day of the week with that day dedicated from ancient times to Sol, the sun. Through the proclamation of a Roman emperor, a mark from ancient Babylon and the cult of sun worship was forcibly stamped on the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. That mark-with other associated symbols of sun worship-has continued right on down through the medieval period to modern times.
The Image of the Beast
We have seen that the second beast mentioned in Revelation 13 is none other than the Church of Rome, while the first beast mentioned is the Roman Empire. The Church of Rome, this second beast, instructed that an “image” of the first beast, the Roman Empire, should be made. What is an image? It is a copy, model, representation or counterpart. The image of the Beast is therefore a counterpart to the old Roman Empire-something modeled after the pagan Roman kingdom or government. Notice the plain statement of British historian and statesman James Bryce that the “papal [system] itself had been modeled after the elder Empire” (“A History of the Holy Roman Empire Must Be Deduced from Its Theory,” Hertzstein, p. 53).
Revelation 13 explains that the false church, the second beast, insists that all people give total loyalty and devotion (worship) to the image, the religious organizational structure modeled after the old Roman Empire. It “causes” to be killed those who refuse (Revelation 13:15). During the Middle Ages, the church did not carry out the punishment itself. It simply declared as heretics those who refused adherence to the system. Those declared anathema from the church were considered as enemies of the state and were accordingly dealt with by the civil government.
The first-century Roman Empire was authoritarian. But most do not realize that for many offices election was also an honored and accepted practice. Even the emperor was elected-ostensibly by the Senate, though more commonly in fact by the Praetorian Guard or simply by the army.
Some of the very elders that Paul admonished (Acts 20:30) later became ringleaders in deceiving God’s people into following the pattern of Roman municipalities by holding public church meetings with elected officers. Notice the statements of historian Arthur Boak: “These municipalities were patterned closely after Rome, although certain titles, like those of consul and Senate, were reserved for the capital city… All officials were popularly elected” (A History of Rome to 565ad, 1965, p. 370). Dr. Boak goes on to write, “While the lower classes of Rome and the municipalities had little opportunity for political activity, they found compensation in the social life of their guilds or colleges… Thus arose professional, religious, and funerary colleges. Their organization was modeled on that of the municipalities” (pp. 370-371). Writing of the development of the incipient Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Boak adds, “In their organization these communities were all of the same general type, resembling the Roman religious collegia” (p. 401).
In the congregations, increasing numbers of unconverted people wanted “say-so.” They chose teachers who sanctioned elections, who pleased them with teachings that increasingly led them back into the pagan customs of the world around them. In his final letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul had directly prophesied of this turn of events (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Historian Edward Gibbon wrote that “the order of public deliberations soon introduces the office of a president, invested at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolutions, of the assembly” (Triumph of Christendom in the Roman Empire, p. 44). Gibbon went on to describe the times following the emperor Constantine’s reign:
“But the episcopal chair was solicited, especially in the great and opulent cities of the empire, as a temporal rather than as a spiritual dignity. The interested views, the selfish and angry passions, the arts of perfidy and dissimulation, the secret corruption, the open and even bloody violence, which had formerly disgraced the freedom of election in the commonwealths of Greece and Rome, too often influenced the choice of the successors of the apostles” (p. 336).
Using the institutions and practices of the Roman Empire as a model, men devised a church government structure. Political maneuvering became a substitute for seeking God’s will. Popular and soothing teachings were substituted for the plain word of God, which offered correction and rebuke.
The problem with the Church of Rome was that it substituted a human political structure in place of God’s government. In God’s government, elders are to be appointed, based upon their fruits, by those Christ has already set as leaders in His Church (Titus 1:5-9). God’s government is based upon His law. God validates it based upon positive fruit being borne (Matthew 7:15-23; cf. Numbers 17:7-10).
The Church of Rome developed on the model of the old Roman Empire from which it derived its structure. Idolatrous allegiance to the organizational structure was demanded, even if it sought to “change times and laws” (cf. Daniel 7:25). In God’s government, He makes it plain where He is working by the fruits, and we submit to human leaders as long as they are following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
By John H. Ogwyn
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