Can Change the World Again.
The Revelation of John - Chapter XIII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible
This chapter introduces two new personages who play a vitally important part in the scenes described throughout chapters 13-19. they are both savage wild beasts;--the first comes up from the sea (v. 1); the second from the land (v. 11); both sustain special relations to the great red dragon already introduced in chap. 12, for they are his servants, subserving his purposes and doing his work.
Here our first main question should be--Who are these beasts? What do they represent?--Certainly some great persecuting powers, for they make war with the saints and overcome them (v. 7); they blaspheme God, his tabernacle and his people (v. 6); they receive their power from the red dragon and do his work (vs. 2, 4); they receive the homage of all whose names are not in the Lamb's book of life (v. 8); and in all these points the second beast is only a subordinate agent of the first (v. 12), acting upon the public mind by great but lying miracles and by manifold deceptions to bring to him the confidence and the worship of the people.--The same view is sustained by the obvious allusion to the beasts of Daniel's visions (chaps. 7 and 8) which represent worldly powers hostile to Christ. These are similar powers, reproduced under like symbols.--For the more precise identification of these two beasts we must bear in mind the positive limitations of time within which the main events of this book must fall as given us by the revealing Spirit repeatedly, in both the first chapters of the book and the last. And then finally we are very much indebted to chap. 17 in which the revealing angel appears for the definite and declared purpose of explaining to the prophet and to us what is meant by the woman and by the beast that carries her having seven heads and ten horns. The explanations given in that chapter are God's own key to the sense of this chapter and of these two beasts.--At this stage of the discussion I need only say that, guided by these limitations of time, by these points of character, and by these special explanations, it is simply impossible to make any thing else of the first beast save the Roman Empire--the civil power of the Roman Emperors; while the second beast (v. II), judging from the description given of him here, from his influence as sketched here, and also from the further description of him which appears in chap. 16: 13, 14, and in 19: 20--" the false prophet that wrought miracles before him" [the first beast] "with which he deceived them that had the mark of the beast, etc., we must interpret to be the Pagan Priesthood--every-where ministering to the idolatrous homage paid to the Roman Emperors; every-where inspiring the animus of Paganism, and by virtue of their character, naturally active in the persecution of Christians. Beyond all question this second beast is co-ordinate and co-operative with the first and therefore contemporaneous, doing its work at the same time; receiving its final doom in the same fearful hour of judgment.--Another great personage is yet to appear, first called "Babylon" (14: 8, and 16: 19), and then taken up for a more particular description and explanation in chap. 17. Her real name, her place in history, and her relation to the first beast will be readily seen when those passages come under consideration.
In this chapter the beast from the sea is described (vs. 1, 2); also the special fate of one of his heads (v. 3); the worship given him (v. 4); additional points of his character and history (vs 5-8); a special call of attention to him (v. 9), with an intimation of God's retribution upon such wickedness (v. 10).--The second beast comes to view and is described (vs. 11-17), and the chapter closes with an intimation that special wisdom will be requisite to identify precisely the then present representative of this formidable beast (v. 18).
1. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
The prophet's standpoint is not in heaven but on earth, the things to be shown being just now, earthly. His position is upon the sand of the sea, i. e., upon the shore, that he may have a view of the first great beast coming up from the sea.--Probably we may take the sea to represent the vast populations of earth considered as agitated by wars and revolutions, surging and tossing in dismal disorder and perpetual unrest--out of which condition of the various countries and kingdoms of the civilized world there came up the great Roman Empire.--I hardly need say that this beast is a savage wild beast (Greek, therion), not having the remotest analogy to the four "beasts" [living ones] of chap. 4: 6-9.--The seven heads are shown (chap. 17: 9, 10) to represent the seven hills on which the great harlot, borne on the beast, sitteth--but more prominently the seven successive emperors who were in their order and for the time being, the brain-power of the empire, representing her; doing her work.--Of the horns I shall have occasion to speak more definitely when we reach the explanation in chap. 17: 12-17.--In the last clause the better reading gives us the plural, "names of blasphemy," apparently not less than one on each head.
2. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
This beast though from the sea is not a sea but a land monster, grouping its prominent organs from the most active, formidable and terrible wild beasts known to man. To crown all, the dragon has put him in power to do his own persecuting work against the people and the name of God. He is Satan's prime minister and general agent.
3. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
The specially noticeable thing here is that one of the heads received a fatal wound, and yet the beast did not die but rallied and still lived. Normally the head holds such relations to the entire animal that a deadly wound upon it is fatal to life. Here the head dies but the animal lives because other heads in their succession perform for their time the brain functions of the beast. This comes of having more heads than one. The explanation given us (17: 10) proves that these heads perform their respective functions, not simultaneously but successively, for there "five are fallen, one is, and the seventh is yet to come."
This dynasty of Roman Emperors was founded by Julius Caesar. It was the uprising of the old elements of liberty that cost him his life. At that moment the death of the empire which he founded seemed probable, not to say inevitable; but to the wonder of mankind the beast rallied under Augustus and lived on. "His deadly wound was healed and all the world wondered after the beast."
4. And they worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
"And they" ("the world"--the masses of the people) worshiped the dragon because [the better reading in place of "which"] he gave power unto the beast, and they worshiped the beast," etc. This is devil-worship and king-worship. Devil-worship has been often practiced among the heathen in the most formal and definite manner possible; yet I am not aware that such was the case in the Rome of the Caesars. But it should be borne in mind that worshiping the emperor was virtually worshiping the devil, and that he cares little for the form provided he has the reality, well enough satisfied if be can draw men's hearts away from God and draw them into any form of idol-worship.--All the early emperors demanded and received religious worship as gods of the nation. This horrible fact is amply attested in history. Gibbon manifestly disliked to admit and record the fact, but could not excuse himself. "The deification of the emperor is the only instance in which they departed from their accustomed prudence and modesty." "The imperious spirit of the first Caesar too easily consented to assume during his lifetime a place among the tutelar deities of Rome." [Decline and Fall, chap. 3 ]--Of Caligula, Taylor says, "Finding no one dare to oppose his sanguinary caprice, he began to regard himself as something more than a mere mortal, and to claim divine honors; and finally he erected a temple to himself and instituted a college of priests to superintend his own worship" [vol: 1, p. 261].--Unlimited and unrestrained power filled them with pride and culminated in this as assumption of the honors of real divinity.
5. And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
No blasphemy can surpass that of arrogating the homage and worship due to God alone. This was practically blaspheming God, his name, his tabernacle, and his worshipers. To receive such worship from men is most emphatically to decry and traduce both God and all his true worshipers in heaven. The offering of such worship to men is practically and outrageously denying supreme homage to God only.--In the last clause of verse 5 the Sinaitic manuscript, instead of "continue," etc., reads, "And it was given unto him to do;" i. e., what he pleased.--Forty-two months, here (as throughout this book) by historical allusion to Daniel indicates an indefinite period of calamity, such as is suggested by the case of the persecuted Jews in the age of the Maccabees. This may perhaps intimate that the persecution under Nero continued about three and a half years; but it seems to me more satisfactory to suppose that this time is named under the influence of the case in Daniel to indicate that this season of persecution was like that. It may have been somewhat more or less than three and a half years.
7. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
The sway of these Roman Emperors reached all kindreds and tongues. For a season God gave them a fearful power of persecution against his people. All were drawn into this man-worship save those whose names were in the Lamb's book of life from the foundation of the world. Those whom the Father had thus given to him (John 10: 29) no force of persecution, no edicts of savagely cruel Roman Emperors, could avail to seduce and destroy. This was said to the brethren of the seven churches to show them where their strength lay, in whose hand they had been put for safe-keeping, and on whom therefore they might rely in the sternest emergencies.
9. If any man have an ear, let him hear.
10. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
But let every willing ear be open to hear this: God will requite a terrible retribution- upon all persecutors in due time. Whoever shall drag others into captivity [or exile] must in due time go himself; whoever kills God's innocent children with the sword must surely himself perish by the sword. The arrangements of God's providence may put the patience and faith of the saints to a stern trial, even for a period that may seem long; but let them know that God rules and at no distant day will execute justice upon the wicked!
11. And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
12. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
13. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
14. And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
This beast is distinguished from the first (v. 1) by coming up from the earth (not necessarily out of the bowels of the earth); by having two horns (not ten) and those not as of a savage wild beast but of a lamb." Truly he had "stolen the livery of heaven to serve the devil in." How innocent and harmless in appearance; yet "he spake as a dragon." All the cunning and wickedness of Satan were in his words. Only the more dangerous was he for his lamb-like aspect--"Exercising all the power of the first beast" seems to mean that he works toward the same result--promoting idolatry, king-worship, blasphemy against the true God, and the persecution unto death of his people. Especially he claims to have miraculous over, pretending to call down fire from heaven (like Elijah, 1 Kings 18: 38), and so he deceives the vast populations of the Roman Empire and draws them into such worship of the emperor as belongs to God only. It can not well be doubted that in this description the prophet drew from the practices of the false prophets (e. g., in the days of Jeremiah) whose influence was unutterably pernicious in depraving and debasing the people and paralyzing every effort of the true prophets to turn them back to God. Equally pernicious was the influence of this second beast--the Pagan priesthood. They were precisely the ministers of heathen idolatry and of king-worship, devoting their immense influence to sustain Pagan ideas, Pagan worship and all Pagan abominations.
On the question whether this second beast can be Papal Rome it should surely suffice to say that every feature of the description points us to the Pagan priesthood; that this beast worked for the Pagan Emperor as Papal Rome certainly did not in the age of her first seven emperors, six hundred years before Papal Rome became a well-defined system, and one thousand years before she became thoroughly a great persecuting power. Hence it is entirely inadmissible to find Papal Rome in this second beast. As surely as this prophecy makes the first beast and the second contemporaneous and co-working, and as surely as history locates the persecuting activities of the seven heads of Pagan Rome on the one hand and of Papal Rome on the other one thousand years asunder, so surely do the stubborn facts of history rule out as absurd and impossible the theory that this second beast is Papal Rome.
15. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
This power to put vitality, i. e., life, force, into the first beast I take to mean only and precisely that his influence was effective, great, indispensable, in sustaining the system of Paganism, and in infusing the animus, or better, the virus of the persecuting spirit against God's people.
16. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right band, or in their foreheads:
17. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
As all God's people received his mark, so all the devil's followers must needs bear his. The ban of public sentiment fell on all who would not receive and wear this mark. They were ostracized from society, driven from the market-place, denied the right to any of the most common privileges of Roman citizens. Not only was the brand of opprobrium put on them, but the mark of Satan's vengeance.
18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
The emperor then on the throne was for the time the representative of the beast. Obviously he is now before the mind, and moreover is thought of as a persecutor to whom all must yield divine honors, or suffer under his persecuting wrath.--The "number of the beast," defined to be the "number of a man," is generally (and in my view correctly) thought to refer to the numerical power of the letters which compose his proper name. The Hebrews and the Greeks used each their own alphabet for numerical purposes. In Hebrew the first letter is one; the second, two, etc.; the tenth, ten; but the eleventh is twenty; the nineteenth is one hundred; the twentieth, two hundred, etc. Hence each letter had a numerical power. In our passage the numerical power of the name is given to find the name itself.--A preliminary question will be, whether this name is to be spelled in Hebrew letters with their numerical power, or in Greek letters. It being manifestly the intention of the writer to put his readers in a way to spell out the name, and yet not give it so plainly as to expose himself or his brethren to persecuting vengeance; and inasmuch as his readers (some of them being Jews) would have the advantage of the Roman magistrates in deciphering Hebrew letters, it becomes antecedently probable that he would use them.--Supposing this name to have been written in Hebrew characters with their known numerical power, and taking the name of Nero as it appears often in the Talmud and in other Rabbinical writings, * [Hebrew letters not translated for computer] we shall have as the numerical equivalent of these Hebrew letters in their order, 50+200+6+50; and 100+60+200=666. This result must seem quite satisfactory, even though it rested on the mere fact that these seven Hebrew letters by the sum of their numerical powers give us precisely the well-known Hebrew name of Nero. But the proof that sustains the correctness of this solution is greatly strengthened by another remarkable fact. Let it be borne in mind that the received Greek text gives these three Greek letters [c x V]--pronounced chi, xi, vau; and having in their order these numerical powers, 600+60+6 =666. Now the fact is brought out and fully discussed by Ireneus, that in his day (A. D. 180) some manuscripts had a different reading for the middle character, viz., not x (xi), but i (iota). He insists however that the true reading is xi (x).--Can the other reading be accounted for? It can, most readily. There was a second mode of spelling the name Nero in Hebrew, viz., by writing it, not Nerõn, but Nero, i. e., omitting the final (n). The numerical power of n is fifty. Striking off this final letter reduces the sum total of the "number of his name" from 666 to 616; and to write this amount in three Greek letters we must change the middle one as they stand in our text from (xi) to (iota), i. e., from the letter which means 60 to the letter which means 10. Precisely this is the change which appears in the different reading of which Ireneus speaks. Hence it becomes substantially certain that the "number of the beast" was understood by some at least before the age of Ireneus; certain also that they read in this number the name of Nero Caesar; certain also that there being a second way of writing his name (i. e., Nero rather than Nerõn), the change was made in the text which this other spelling of the name would require. This double coincidence is of the sort which could not occur by chance and without a foundation in truth, one time in ten thousand. It amounts therefore practically to demonstration.
Let it also be definitely noted that this passage now becomes one of the irrefragable proofs that Nero was the reigning emperor when this book was written; and also that the succession of Roman emperors, of which he was the sixth (17: 10) constitute the seven heads of the beast first shown coming up from the sea (13: 1), which beast therefore represents the regal power of Pagan Rome.--I have treated this subject with the utmost brevity, omitting all allusion to scores of other opinions, none of which, as compared with the view given above, has any claim upon our particular attention. Stuart's Apocalypse, vol. 2, pp. 452-459, presents other views at length.