2.31. Imperial Cult

The worship of the emperor of Rome. This historical reality from the time of John’s writing provides a backdrop against which the readers of his time could better appreciate the final beast yet future (Rev. Rev. 13:1+). Asia was the epicenter of the imperial cult and cities competed for the privilege of erecting a temple in honor of the emperor. In 29 B.C. Pergamum was the first to erect a temple and Smyrna the second in A.D. 21. Ephesus was the third.1 To show their allegiance to the Roman emperor, citizens were required to burn incense to the emperor and to declare, “Caesar is Lord”2 whereupon he was issued a certificate. Under Domitian (A.D. 81-96) emperor worship became compusory for every Roman citizen on threat of death.3


1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 7.

2 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 97.

3 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 41.