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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Revelation 13



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Verse 1

The third Woe, or the seventh Trumpet, came to an end with chap. 11; and, as the seven Trumpets followed immediately after the seven Seals, we might now have expected that these, in their turn, would be followed by the seven Bowls. The pouring out of these Bowls, however, does not begin until we reach chap. 15. Three chapters intervene; and it becomes both important and difficult to fix their place in the articulation of the Apocalypse as a whole. The inquiry is rendered more difficult than it might otherwise have been by the fact that chap. 12 seems distinctly to take us back to the beginning of the Christian era, to the birth of Christ. Can it be, then, that hitherto we have witnessed only the fortunes of the Jewish Church, and that the Christian Church is now to be brought before us in the wider sphere of the Gentile mission? The supposition is plausible, but it is hardly possible to accept it. The Church of Christ is not thus divided by St. John into two parts. He takes his figures, indeed, at one moment from Judaism, at another from Gentilism, but it is always one Church that he has in view, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek. The enemies of the Church, again, described in chaps, 12, 13, are certainly not peculiar to her Gentile branch, but are equally hostile to all believers from whatever quarter they come. The course of events, too, under the seven Bowls is so strictly parallel, though at the same time climactic, to that under the seven Trumpets, that it is impossible to regard the former in any other light than as a series of visions directed to the same object and filled with substantially the same meaning. How then explain this long intercalary portion of three chapters? The key is to be found in the words of Revelation 15:1, ‘Seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.’ We are on the verge of the seven final and most disastrous plagues. The moment is thus far more critical than any at which we have previously stood. The purposes of the Almighty are now to be fully accomplished. The whole mystery of His dealings with a sinful world to which He has offered salvation is about to end. No place, therefore, could be more suitable than the present for once more gathering together the main elements of the conflict and the main features of the result.

The first object of the Seer is to give us a full and correct idea of the three great enemies of the people of God. Of these the earliest and chief is the Dragon; and to make us acquainted at once with his power and with his weakness is the aim of chap. 12. The chapter obviously divides itself into three pans or scenes, the relation of which to one another will come before us in the course of exposition.

Verse 1

Revelation 13:1. A beast is seen coming up out of the sea. The word of the original translated ‘beast’ has occurred only once before (at chap. Revelation 6:8), and is wholly different from that which, to say nothing of many other passages, meets us no fewer than seven times in chap. 4 alone; and which, rendered in the Authorised Version by the same term, ought to be translated ‘living creatures.’ The ‘living creatures’ are symbolical of all that is noble and admirable, of all deep and true spiritual life; the ‘beast’ represents whatever is most violent and repulsive. It is not simply a beast but a wild beast, unrestrained in its fierce and destructive rage. This beast is beheld in the act of ascending out of the sea,—a circumstance which explains the order of the words in the next following clause, where, according to the true reading, the ‘horns’ are mentioned before the ‘heads,’ because they rise first above the surface of the water. In chap. Revelation 17:3, when the beast has risen, the heads are mentioned first.

By the ‘sea’ we are not to understand the ocean everywhere embracing and surrounding the land. The word has its usual symbolical sense, and denotes the nations of the earth, the whole mass of the ungodly. The beast not only rules over them, it springs out of them and is their native king. Although not expressly stated, there can be no doubt that this beast comes up from the sea at the call of the dragon (who had stationed himself for this purpose upon the shore, chap. Revelation 12:17), in order to serve him and be his vicegerent among men.

Having ten horns and seven heads; the same number of both as the dragon had (chap. Revelation 12:3); the order only, for the reason already spoken of, being different. It is a question how we are to think of the distribution of the horns. The probability seems to be that they are all connected with the seventh head, for in Daniel 7:7, which gives us the groundwork of the representation, they belong to the fourth beast alone, and at chap. Revelation 17:11-12, where the figure before us is interpreted, it is said that the ten horns are ten kings receiving their power along with the beast who had been spoken of as the ‘eighth.’ The beast before us is thus at no early stage of its progress. In the true spirit of prophecy we are invited to behold it in its final and completed form.

And upon his horns ten diadems, emblems of royalty. Comp. chap. Revelation 17:12 ‘the ten horns are ten kings,’ and chap. Revelation 19:12 where He who is described as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ has upon His head ‘many diadems,’ ‘tokens of the many royalties—of earth, of heaven, and of hell (Philippians 2:10)—which are His’ (Trench, Syn. i. p. 92).

And upon his heads names of blasphemy. No indication is given what the names were. The fact, however, that they were upon the heads is important, for there can Le little doubt that we have in this a mocking caricature of the name borne upon the forehead of the high priest, and transferred in this book to Christ’s faithful people (comp. chaps. Revelation 2:17, Revelation 7:3, Revelation 14:1).

Verses 1-10

The twelfth chapter has set before us the first great enemy of the Church. This chapter introduces us to other two by means of whom the devil or Satan carries on his warfare against the truth. The first is described in Revelation 13:1-10; the second in Revelation 13:11-17.

Verse 2

Revelation 13:2. The description of the ‘beast’ is continued. The three animals, the leopard, the bear, and the lion, some of whose parts it possessed, are the first three ‘great beasts’ of Daniel 7:4-6, although they are here introduced in a different order, and are combined into one. The qualities represented are the most offensive of their kind, the swift cruel spring of the leopard, the brutish relentlessness of the bear, and the devouring power of the lion.

And the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority. Three things are mentioned; first, the power itself; secondly, the position from which it is exercised; and thirdly, the right to use it. They are the things which Christ had been offered by the dragon, but which He had refused (Matthew 4:9). They are now accepted by the beast at the expense of becoming the dragon’s slave and sharing its fate. It is probable that St. John has the Temptation in the wilderness as described by the earlier Evangelists in his eye.

The question as to the precise meaning of the first beast has perplexed inquirers, and very various opinions in regard to it have been entertained. There is indeed an almost general agreement that it is a symbol of worldly anti-christian power. But by some this power is supposed to be that of heathen Rome, in which case the seven heads become the seven hills upon which Rome was built, or seven of its emperors. Others add the idea of Papal to that of heathen Rome, in which case the seven heads become seven forms of Roman government—Kings, Consuls, Decemvirs, Tribunes, Dictators, Emperors, Popes: while others again understand by the seven heads seven kingdoms which, either in the Bible or in Christian history, oppress and persecute the Church of God,—the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, Roman, together with the Germanic-Sclavonic kingdoms by which the downfall of Rome was followed. The point is of great importance, especially for the interpretation of chap. 17; and the following remarks may be made:—

1. The numbers seven and ten must, as elsewhere, be regarded as symbolical, as expressing the idea of fulness or completeness rather than the mere value belonging to them in the numerical scale. We are not, therefore, entitled to make an arbitrary selection from the worldly powers opposed to the Church of God, and to use it as simply illustrative of the nature of these powers in general. Our selection, if made at all, must be made in such a manner that it shall embody the idea of completeness. 2. The rule symbolized by the power of the beast must be a rule over the whole world. The dragon of chap. 12 rules it all, and not merely a part of it (chap. Revelation 12:9): his vicegerent the beast must do the same. We learn from Revelation 13:7 of this chapter, and from its fourfold division of ‘tribe and people and tongue and nation,’ that he actually does so. It is to be remembered, too, that the description given us of the power of the beast is a mocking caricature of the power of Christ, and His rule is universal. 3. The objects represented by the heads of the beast must be kingdoms, not personal kings like the Emperors of Rome. Such is the sense in which the word ‘kings’ is used both in the Book of Daniel and in the Apocalypse, where there is nothing in the context to compel us to think of personality (comp. Daniel 7:17; Daniel 7:23; Revelation 17:2; Revelation 18:3), and the seven heads are said in chap. Revelation 17:10 to be seven ‘kings,’ Apart from this it may be observed that no seven Emperors of Rome can be a fitting representation of the whole world-power. They might represent the power of Rome, but that is not enough to meet the necessities of the case with which we deal. 4. It will hardly be denied that the seven heads must severally and individually bear a similar relation to the Church of God, for it is in relation to that Church that the beast is viewed; but no seven Emperors of Rome did so. They were not all persecutors: under some of them the Church enjoyed peace. 5. We may conclude from analogy that the objects, whatever they may be, lying at the bottom of the series of seven are taken either from what was before the Seer at the moment, or from his acquaintance with the past. 6. But, if so, chap. Revelation 17:10 at once affords us the point from which to start. There we are informed that five are fallen and ‘one is,’ i.e ‘is’ at the time when St. John lived and wrote. This can be no other than the Roman power; and, counting backwards from it, we have the Greek, the Medo-Persian, and the Chaldean for three of the five. The two earlier, still counting backwards, are the Assyrian and the Egyptian. These two last-mentioned powers are often named together in the Old Testament as enemies of God’s people, ‘I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria’ (Zechariah 10:10); ‘and it shall come to pass in that day, that they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 27:13). We have thus six of the ‘heads,’—Egypt, Assyria, Chaldaea, Persia, Greece, Rome,—all of which had successively been opponents and persecutors of the Church of God. The seventh, resolvable into the ten horns, is no one definite kingdom. It had not yet arisen: but St. John saw that the wicked Roman Empire was tottering to its fall, and that it would be dissolved in other and final world-powers represented in their totality by the number ten. The ‘beast’ before us is thus the symbol of the world-power in its absoluteness and universality. Yet it is not identical with the world-power in any one of its seven single and successive forms. It is rather the essence of that power as it appears to a certain extent in each form. In this respect it is really the ‘Little Horn’ of Daniel 7:8, before which ‘there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots,’ in order that it might take their place. This characteristic, however, is not yet brought out; it will meet us in chap. Revelation 17:11. Finally, we may remark that, in so far as the power of Rome enters into the description, it can only be that of Pagan, not Christian, Rome. Even in her darkest days Christian Rome could not have been fitly represented by one of the heads of the beast.

Verse 3

Revelation 13:3. And I saw one of his heads as though it had been slain unto death; and his death-stroke was healed. The rendering alike in the Authorised and Revised Versions of the Greek word which we have translated ‘slain’ (in the one ‘wounded,’ in the other ‘smitten’) is peculiarly unfortunate and objectionable. The word occurs eight times in the Apocalypse. In seven of these it must be translated ‘slain,’ or ‘slaughtered,’ or ‘killed.’ How can it be otherwise translated here? The statement in the verse is the counterpart of that in chap. Revelation 5:6, where we read of the ‘Lamb as though it had been slaughtered.’ In both cases there had been actual death, although in both there had also been a revival, a resurrection, to life. The one is a mocking counterpart of the other. The Seer does not tell us to which of the seven heads he specially refers, but a comparison of the words now used by him with those of chap. Revelation 17:8-11 seems clearly to show that the sixth head, or the Roman power, was in his eye.

The language before us, it will be observed, is thus utterly inconsistent with the idea entertained by so many in modern times, that the sixth head, instead of being the Roman power in general, is the Emperor Nero himself, regarding whom the rumour is said to have prevailed, that after his death he would return to life and revive all the horrors of his former reign. It is extremely doubtful whether such a rumour was in existence at the time when the Apostle wrote. The thought would seem rather to have arisen long afterwards, when the misinterpretation of this passage gave it birth. Even Renan admits that ‘the general opinion was that the monster (Nero), healed by a Satanic power, kept himself concealed somewhere and would return’ (LAntechrist, p. 350). The form which the belief assumed was not that Nero had died, but that he had hidden himself in the wilds of Parthia, from which he would come again to strike terror into the world. This being the case, there are at least two important points on which the statement of the passage before us is directly at variance with that rumour. In the first place, the head of the beast spoken of had not simply disappeared from view: it had been actually slain. A death-stroke had been inflicted. It had died as really as the Lamb of God had died on Calvary, and the Seer saw that it had done so. The words ‘as though’ before ‘it had been slain’ no more imply that there had not been a real death than they imply this in chap. Revelation 5:6, where they are used of the slain Lamb. In the second place, this head was not to revive at some future day. It had already revived, and its death-stroke had been already healed. In order, therefore, to make the story of Nero’s disappearance and reappearance constitute the foundation of the passage before us, it is necessary to suppose that the prevalent rumour was that that monster of iniquity had both died and risen from the dead; and neither particular was embraced by it. What is spoken of is the world-power in the form of its sixth head. That power received a mortal stroke by the work of Christ. The world was then ideally and really overcome. It revived, and resumed its working.

And the whole earth wondered after the beast. The words ‘the whole earth’ cannot be understood to mean only the Roman people. They must be allowed their full force, and thus they afford a further proof that in the ‘beast’ we have a representative of the general world-power. See a fuller discussion of the Nero hypothesis in note on Revelation 13:18.

Verse 4

Revelation 13:4. This verse contains a parody of the ascriptions of praise given to the true God in many passages of the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 46:5; Psalms 113:5, etc.). If the words apply to Nero they must apply to Nero redux, for it is unnecessary to spend time in showing that it is to the beast as healed, and not before it was stain, that the song is raised (comp. especially chap. Revelation 17:8). But there is not a tittle of evidence to prove that homage of this kind was paid even to the thought of the resuscitated tyrant. The acclamations with which he had been received by the citizens of Rome, when he returned from Campania his hands red with the blood of his murdered mother, belong to a period before his death, and afford no indication of the feelings with which he was regarded after that event. It is true that some even then cherished his memory and decked his tomb with flowers. But, as invariably happens when a tyrant dies, the sentiment of the masses underwent an immediate and profound revulsion. Suetonius tells us that ‘the public joy was so great upon the occasion that the people ran up and down with caps upon their heads’ (Nero, chap. 57). Horror rather than admiration filled their breasts.

Verse 5

Revelation 13:5. And there was given him a month speaking great things and blasphemies. This is the first of three things spoken of (Revelation 13:5-7) as ‘given,’ i.e given by God to whom in its utmost might the beast is subject. The description is taken from Daniel 8:8; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 8:25, where similar language is used of the ‘Little Horn.’ The second thing ‘given’ is authority to work forty and two months. For the time here specified see on chap. Revelation 11:2.

Verse 6

Revelation 13:6. In this verse the blasphemies of Revelation 13:5 are more particularly described.

Verse 7

Revelation 13:7. The third thing is ‘given;’ and the authority is universal, the whole world being marked out by the four departments into which it is divided.

Verse 8

Revelation 13:8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him. These dwellers upon the earth are in contrast with those who ‘tabernacle in heaven.’ They are the ungodly as distinguished from the godly; and again they are not confined to the Roman Empire, but include all who anywhere worship the beast.

Every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that hath been slain. The plural of the first clause of the verse, ‘all,’ passes into the singular of the second clause, those referred to being now looked at individually (comp. John 17:2; Joh_6:37).—The connection of the last clause is doubtful. It may be joined, as in the Authorised Version, with the ‘Lamb that hath been slain;’ but chap. Revelation 17:8 seems to determine in favour of connecting it with the word ‘written.’ Besides which, the clause is less appropriate to the slaying of the Lamb, an act which took place in time, than to those counsels of the Almighty which are from eternity.

Revelation 13:9 contains a solemn call to listen, and is best connected with what follows.

Verse 10

Revelation 13:10. If any one is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any one shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. In a climax of two clauses consolation is afforded to the righteous amidst all their trials. There is a lex talionis in the dealings of God. They who lead His people into captivity, they who kill them with the sword, shall experience a similar fate.

Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. For surely there is enough to nerve our patience and to stimulate our faith in the thought that ‘God judgeth in the earth,’ and that it is a righteous thing with Him ‘to recompense tribulation’ to them that trouble His people.

Verse 11

Revelation 13:11. And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth. This is the third great enemy of the saints, the second ‘beast.’ It is characterized by the same general term as the second enemy or the first beast; and although therefore, as afterwards mentioned, it resembles a lamb, this in no degree diminishes the fierceness of its nature. It is still a ‘beast.’ It comes up not out of the ‘sea’ like the first beast, but out of the ‘earth.’ The contrast between the ‘sea’ spoken of in Revelation 13:1 and the ‘earth’ now mentioned makes it impossible to refer the latter to any one particular portion of the world, such as the Asiatic Continent, or even to the whole world itself, or to human society and its progress, or to earthly thinking and willing. The true meaning of the term must be sought in that distinction between the Jews and all other nations by which Scripture is pervaded. The ‘sea’ represents the latter: the ‘earth’ the former,—yet not the former simply as a nation. The ‘sea’ is the nations as opposed to God. The ‘earth’ is the Jews, as God’s prophetic and priestly people. That this beast comes up out of the earth is therefore a token that it springs out of a religious, not a secular, source; and this trait corresponds, as we shall see, to the whole description of it.

And he had two horns like a lamb. The lamb-like form of the horns can only be a travesty of the seven horns of ‘the Lamb’ spoken of in these visions (chap. Revelation 5:6); and the number two is not to be understood literally. Like the ‘two’ of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:3, the number is symbolical, and denotes all who are animated by the spirit of this lamb. The number two, therefore, does not ‘complete the similarity’ to the animal in its ‘natural condition,’ nor does it show that its power is ‘much less’ than that of The Lamb, because two is less than seven. It rather connects with this beast an element of persuasiveness. There may even perhaps be a reference to the two false witnesses of Matthew 26:60, who came against our Lord. The like enemies will come against His people. The religious element again appears in the lamb-like horns.

And he spake as a dragon. The first beast does not speak: the second does. It is not said that the words spoken are religious; but, when we remember how often the word ‘spake’ of the original is used of Christ in the Fourth Gospel, and that it denotes not so much an occasional remark as formal and continuous discourse, we can hardly be wrong in seeing here again a travesty of our Lord. The beast professed to teach religious truth; but his mode of teaching was fierce and murderous, the very opposite of that of Him who did not strive nor cry aloud, neither did any one hear His voice in the streets (Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:19).

Verses 11-18

The passage upon which we now enter describes the third great enemy of God’s people, and closes with the mysterious indication of the number of the beast.

Verse 12

Revelation 13:12. And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast before him. The words ‘before him’ are to be connected with ‘exerciseth;’ and they are again a travesty of that ‘before God’ which we find predicated of the Son, of the Spirit, and of the saints (chaps, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 7:15, etc.). This second beast is ‘before’ the first, in his presence, sustained by him, ministering to him, doing his pleasure (comp. chap. Revelation 8:2, where the seven angels are described as standing ‘before God’).

And he maketh the earth . . . whose death-stroke was healed. The word ‘worship’ leads us directly to the thought of religious service, and therefore to that of the religious persuasion by which it is secured.—The description of the first beast given in these words is highly important—‘whose death-stroke,’ or ‘the stroke of whose death,’ was healed. We have here an unmistakeable description of the first beast, not as he appeared in the earlier stages of his manifestation under the first five heads, but as he appeared under the sixth, after he had been slain and had risen to life. Let us allow that St. John gave credit to the rumour that Nero would return, could he have supposed that he had returned?

Verse 13

Revelation 13:13. And he doeth great signs that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven into the earth before men. The ‘great signs’ are again a symbol of what is done by false prophetical and priestly power. The ‘fire out of heaven’ is explained by the function of this beast. He is to direct men to the worship of the first beast in whom the Satanic power of the dragon is personified. As therefore Christ, in whom the power of God is personified, is preceded by Elias, who is to direct men’s eyes to Him, so the first beast has in the second his Elias, who travesties the miracle of the ancient prophet (2 Kings 1:10-12).

Verse 14

Revelation 13:14. And he deceiveth, etc. The word ‘deceiveth’ again leads us to the thought of false teaching (Matthew 24:24, etc.).

Saying to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which hath the stroke of the sword, and rose to life. The difficult expression ‘image of the beast’ occurs ten times in the Apocalypse, Revelation 13:14-15 (thrice), Revelation 14:9; Revelation 14:11, Revelation 15:2, Revelation 16:2, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:4. It is to be explained by the help of Genesis 1:26; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 3:10; Hebrews 1:3, Comparing these passages, the thought of the Seer appears to be as follows—First, we have God, the Son the true ‘image’ of God, and man ‘renewed’ in the Son ‘after the image of Him that created him.’ Secondly, we have the first beast or the world-power in all the ungodliness of its spirit, that spirit supposed to be incarnated in its ‘image,’ and men so created after that image that they may be said to be ‘of their father the devil’ (John 8:44). The second beast or the false prophet will then stand in the same relation to the first beast and men as that in which Christ the true prophet stands to God and men. It may indeed be said that, were this view correct, we ought to read that men are made after the image of the beast, whereas what is really said is that they ‘make’ the image. But, according to the constant teaching of St. John, men who are made make. They love the darkness; they choose the evil; their will is active not passive in the matter. There is no ground for the idea that in the image made to the beast we have an allusion to those statues of the Roman Emperors which some of the basest of them set up for worship. ‘Image’ in its Scripture sense expresses something living. It would be far more natural to seek the ‘image’ in the Emperors themselves.

Verse 15

Revelation 13:15. In the words of this verse the second beast is still further characterized as giving breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed. These words are commonly understood to refer to the lying wonders of pagan priests in making pictures and statues appear to speak; to which many add ‘the moving images and winking and speaking pictures so often employed for purposes of imposture by their far less excusable papal successors.’ But such pictures and images, however they might seem to move and speak, were never able to put to death. It seems better, therefore, to think first it may be of the persons in whom civil power was centred, of the possessors of the world power, of kings or emperors in any land, but especially in Rome, who demanded that Divine honours should be paid them, and who persecuted to the death such as refused the homage. These may be first thought of, but after them come all who, having any worldly power, are persuaded to use it against the saints of God. To them the second beast gives ‘breath,’ making them bring it about that they who worship not the image of the first beast, and are not to the incarnate spirit of the world what believers are to their Lord, ‘should be killed.’

Verse 16

Revelation 13:16. The mark is originated by ‘the beast,’ that is, by the first beast, but is imposed at the instigation of the second. At the same time, however, it must be noticed that it is freely accepted by those who receive it (comp. chap. Revelation 14:9), and that, probably for the purpose of bringing out this, the word ‘give’ is used. The Son freely receives what is given Him by the Father, the devil what is given him by God, the beast what is given him by the dragon, the adherents of the beast what is given them by the beast. The ‘mark’ itself is the travesty of that impressed by God as His seal upon His own (chap. Revelation 7:2). It is made upon the ‘right hand or upon the forehead,’ the former being that part of the body upon which soldiers, the latter that upon which slaves, received their mark. The followers of the beast own the beast as their captain and serve it as its slaves. What the precise nature of the mark was we are not informed, although from the following verse it would appear to have been either the name of the beast, or the number by which that name might be expressed. From chap. Revelation 14:1 it would seem that the ‘Father’s name’ was the mark imprinted upon the followers of the Lamb.

Verse 17

Revelation 13:17. The meaning of this verse can only be that the second beast aimed at denying a part in the intercourse of life, or the rights of citizenship, to every one who refused to acknowledge the supremacy of the first.

Having considered the particulars mentioned in these verses, we have now to ask what is denoted by this second beast, or third great enemy of the saints. In doing so it is necessary to call to mind the leading principle which seems to lie at the bottom of the apocalyptic conception of the Church’s struggle. We have already had various illustrations of it, and more will meet us as we proceed. That principle is simply this, that the struggle of the Church is the counterpart of the struggle of Christ Himself. The Church is one with her Lord, is appointed to carry on His work in the world, is exposed to the same trials, and is destined to achieve the same victory. The enemies who rise against her are therefore substantially the same as those with which Jesus had to contend. Keeping this in view, we ought to have little difficulty in determining the meaning of the second beast. It was with three great enemies that the contest of Jesus was carried on, and by them His sufferings and death were brought about. These were the devil, the power of the heathen world, and the spiritual wickedness of the Jews. The two former have already been set before us in the dragon and the first beast. The last mentioned is the second beast. It is not worldly wisdom, or learning, or science, or art; not increasing civilisation, or the power of intellectual cultivation, even when most refined and spiritual. A fatal objection to all such views is that they not only draw no sufficient distinction between the first and the second beast, but that they fail to recognise the essentially religious character of the latter. Upon this point the indications of the passage are too numerous and precise to be mistaken. The second beast exercises its power not through the sword but through the word and signs. The lamb-like form of the horns reminds of Jesus the great Teacher and Prophet of his people. The speaking as a dragon takes us to the thought of those false teachers who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15). The ‘great wonders’ done by it are an obvious allusion to the words ‘There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect’ (Matthew 24:24); while at the same time we are reminded by its whole appearance of that antichrist, whose coming ‘is according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Add to all this that the second beast is expressly styled the ‘false prophet’ in other passages of this book (Revelation 16:13, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10), and the conclusion appears to be incontrovertible, that it represents to us no mere secular or worldly, but a distinctly religious and antichristian, spirit. Further, this spirit is clearly in the first instance Jewish, for the second beast rises up out of the ‘land,’ not like the first out of the ‘sea,’ and the land is the emblem of Judaism, as the sea is of heathenism. More even may be said; for the action of the second beast corresponds precisely to that of the fanatical spirit of Judaism in the days of our Lord. It was ‘the Jews’ who stirred up the power of Rome against their true King;—it was they who ‘exercised all the authority of the first beast before Him;’ they who by their cry ‘We have no king but Caesar’ made an ‘image to the beast;’ and they who gave ‘life unto the image of the beast,’ that it should both ‘speak and cause as many as would not worship it to be killed.’ Circumstances such as these lead directly to the belief that the fundamental spirit of this second beast is that of a degenerate Judaism in its most bigoted, fanatical, and antichristian form,—that spirit which stirred up the Roman power against our Lord, which in after times was so often the means of unsheathing the sword of the civil magistrate against Christians, and which, down to our own day, has been ever working as a spirit of enmity and persecution to all that claims for the religion of Christ the immediate presence of the Divine.

At the same time we are not to imagine that this spirit of degenerate Judaism is to be found only in those who are Jews by birth. In the Fourth Gospel the spirit of ‘the Jews’ is looked upon as that which most truly and fully exhibits the irreligious spirit of the world. The same is the case here. The spirit and rule of the second beast are as wide as those of the first. ‘The Jews’ were men. Their nature was human. They exhibited the preference shown by human nature in every age for the seen above the unseen, for the outward and formal above the inward and spiritual. In this beast, therefore, although we have first the spirit displayed by them, we have also embodied that irreligious spirit which, especially in the Church, has no toleration for the unworldliness of the children of God. Tolerant of all else, it would here threaten and persecute and kill. The friend of the world is the enemy of God. Finally, the remark must be made, that this second beast is to be sought within rather than without the professing Christian Church.

Verse 18

Revelation 13:18. At this point the Seer pauses, and we meet those words which have been so great a puzzle to the Church of Christ in all ages of her history. Here is wisdom.—The test of wisdom is then set forth in the following clause: He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred sixty and six. ‘It is the number of a man,’ that is, the number of the name of the beast is one which, when transferred according to the fashion of the time into the letters designating them, will give the name of the beast. ‘The number is six hundred sixty and six,’ that is, it is a number which consists of three numerals, the lowest 6; the second 6 multiplied by 10, or 60; the third 60 multiplied by 10, or 600. ‘Let him count the number of the beast,’ that is, let him note or weigh carefully the import of these three numerals.

To treat the point now before us with anything like the fulness which it deserves is unfortunately out of the question. The limits of this commentary forbid the attempt. Instead, therefore, of endeavouring either to examine the various interpretations that have been given of the verse, or to trace the history of the inquiry, we shall confine ourselves as much as possible to one interpretation which seems to have been first proposed half a century ago by several German scholars (Fritzsche, Benary, Hitzig, Reuss, etc.; see Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, new edition, vol. ii p. 846) who each claimed to have discovered it, and which has of late been accepted as an unquestionable solution by not a few who have paid most attention to the subject and are best entitled to be heard. If we succeed in showing that this particular solution is untenable, we shall not only determine one point at least to which, in its bearings on the Apocalypse as a whole, too much importance cannot be attached, but we shall, in doing so, indicate the lines upon which it appears to us that a solution must be sought. The interpretation to which we refer understands the number ‘six hundred and sixty and six’ to represent the words ‘Neron CAESAR.’ The argument is that, when written in Hebrew characters, the letters of these words stand as follows: NRON KSR, and that, taken according to their numerical value in the Hebrew alphabet, they supply the following figures: 50+ 200+6+50+100+60+200, or in all 666. The conclusion is obvious, and the ‘beast,’ alike of our present passage and of chap. 17, can be no other than the Emperor Nero, the foulest monster that ever stained the page of history with deeds of cruelty and lust and blood. We believe that this solution is mistaken, and we offer the following considerations in connection with it.

(1) Every inquirer allows that the ‘beast’ spoken of is not the second but the first beast of the chapter. Sufficient attention, however, has not been paid to the fact that a distinction must be drawn between that beast in itself and in each of the various forms in which it was manifested under its successive ‘heads’ (comp. on Revelation 13:2). Properly speaking, the beast itself is no one of these heads singly. It is rather the concentrated essence of them all (comp. on chap. Revelation 17:11). Whatever of evil there is in each of them flows from it, and must be restored to it when we would form a true conception of what it is. We know it only fully when, gathering into itself every previous element of its demoniacal power, it is about to exert its last and fiercest paroxysm of rage before it goes ‘into perdition’ (chap. Revelation 17:8). By the confession even of those against whom we contend it is ‘the eighth’ mentioned in chap. Revelation 17:11; it is ‘of the seven,’ and yet it is so far to be distinguished from them. That this is the correct view of ‘the beast’ in the present chapter as well as in chap. 17 is clear, not only from the fact that the beast is spoken of as distinct from any one head, and from the impossibility of interpreting chaps. 13 and 17 unless we suppose the beast of both chapters to be essentially the same, but also because in Revelation 13:14-17 of this chapter we have the whole work of the second beast in its service, as well as its own work, set before us as fully and finally accomplished. ‘The beast,’ therefore, to which our attention is here called, cannot be Nero, for, even on the supposition that the seven ‘heads’ of Revelation 13:1 or the seven ‘kings’ of chap. Revelation 17:10 were personal kings and not, as we have already shown, kingdoms, it must be more than any separate individual of the series. (2) The interpretation makes it necessary to have recourse to the letters of the Hebrew instead of the Greek alphabet. But the improbability that St. John had Hebrew letters in his mind is very great. He writes in Greek. On other occasions he employs the letters of the Greek alphabet in order to give, by means of letters, an expression to his thought (chaps. Revelation 1:8, Revelation 21:6, Revelation 22:13). When he uses the Hebrew he expressly notifies that he does so (chaps. Revelation 9:11, Revelation 16:16; comp. John 5:2; John 19:13; John 19:17; John 20:16). Few things are more certain than that the Christians of Asia Minor, for whom he wrote, had little or no acquaintance with Hebrew. It is urged indeed that the Seer resorted to the Hebrew alphabet for the sake of more effectually concealing a name the disclosure of which might have been attended with danger. The assumption is wholly gratuitous. The obvious intention of the Seer is not so much to conceal as to reveal the name, although in a manner that shall illustrate its solemn import. He is dealing, in short, not with a human puzzle but with a Divine mystery, the most essential conditions of which would have been destroyed had he concerned himself about the half-concealed name of an individual. Nor, if his object be to avert danger from the Christian Church, is he consistent with himself. It will not be denied that if the numbers before us point to Nero, the words of chap. Revelation 17:9; Revelation 17:18 point to Rome, and in that case a city, the naming of which must have been as dangerous as the naming of its Emperor, could not have been designated with greater clearness. (3) It is only by force that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet can be made to accomplish the end for which they are referred to. The names of Ewald and Renan stand at the very head of Semitic scholarship in Europe, and neither scholar can be suspected for a moment of any leaning towards the traditions of the Church. Yet both of them have pronounced it almost, if not altogether, impossible to believe that the words Nero Caesar could in the first century have been spelled in the way demanded by the proposed solution. The former, accordingly, first inserts an additional letter in the KSR, then substitutes Rome for Nero, and lastly obtains the number 616 (of which we have still to speak) instead of 666 (Johann. Schrift. 2 p. 262). The latter, agreeing with Ewald as to the spelling but not as to the number represented, gives it as his explanation that the author of the Apocalypse has ‘probably of design suppressed the additional letter in order that he may have a symmetrical cypher.(1) With that letter he would have had 676 (L’Antechr. p. 416). It is surely too much to expect that men shall readily receive an explanation so heavily encumbered.

Another circumstance has yet to be noted which has been adduced by a well-known and influential writer of the day in the following words:—‘If any confirmation could possibly be wanting to this conclusion (that afforded by the reference to Neron Caesar), we find it in the curious fact recorded by Irenaeus, that in some copies he found the reading 616. Now this change can hardly have been due to carelessness. But if the above solution be correct, this remarkable and ancient variation is at once explained and accounted for. A Jewish Christian, trying his Hebrew solution, which would (as he knew) defend the interpretation from dangerous Gentiles, may have been puzzled by the n in Neron Kesar. Although the name was so written in Hebrew, he knew that to Romans, and Gentiles generally, the name was always Nero Caesar, not Neron. But Nero Kesar in Hebrew, omitting the final n, gave 616, not 666; and he may have altered the reading because he imagined that, in an unimportant particular, it made the solution more suitable and easy’ (Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, vol. 2 p. 298). At first sight the argument is plausible, but it breaks down on the fact that the ancient father to whom we owe our earliest information as to the reading 616 instead of 666 knew nothing of the proposed explanation. Although himself offering conjectures at the time as to the meaning of the mysterious symbols, he makes no allusion to either Neron Caesar or Nero Caesar; and, after mentioning one or two solutions, he concludes that St. John would have given the name had he thought it right that it should be uttered. It is a curious fact, illustrating the little importance to be attached to the argument under consideration, that the father to whom we refer preferred another rendering Teitan (T=300, E=5, I=10, T=300, A=1, N=50, in all 666), from which, if we drop the final n, we get Teita, numbering 616, and a better representation than Teitan of the Emperor Titus by whom Jerusalem was overthrown. When we find therefore that, notwithstanding the desire to penetrate into the meaning of the enigma which marked the early Church, this solution was not discovered, we have a proof that the discovery has been made by a false process, and is worthless. (5) We venture to ask whether in conducting this discussion sufficient attention has been paid to St. John’s use of the word ‘name,’ and to the precise manner in which he makes the statement of this verse. In all the writings of the Apostle the ‘name’ of any one is much more than a designation by which the person receiving it is identified. It marks the person in himself. It tells us not only who he is but what he is. It has a deep internal signification; and importance belongs to it, not because the name is first attached to a person and then interpreted, but because it has its meaning first, and has then been affixed, under the guidance of God, to the person whose character or work it afterwards expresses. Keeping this in view let us carefully note the manner in which the statement of this verse is made. It is not the name, it is the numbers that are emphatic—not the name deduced from the numbers, but the numbers deduced from the name. Upon these numbers we are mainly to fix our eye. But there must be a bond of connection with the name deeper and stronger than the bare fact that the numbers were yielded by it. Familiar as the writer snows himself to be with the method of transposing letters and numbers then in vogue, he must have known that many names would yield the number 666, probably quite as many as the long list which swells the history of the interpretation of this text. Of what use would it have been merely to call attention to this? The questions would instantly arise, Which is the true solution? Wherein is one name so given better than another? There must be some additional element in St. John’s thought. Let us endeavour to discover it by making the supposition that he had been dealing with the human name of the Redeemer, ‘Jesus’ He cannot fail to have known that the letters of that name in Greek give the number 888 ( ι= 10, η=8, σ=200, ο=70, υ=400, ς=200), but many other names must also have done so. What would lend peculiar importance to the fact that the correspondence existed in the name of Jesus? The combination of two things does it; first, the meaning of the figures; secondly, the meaning of the divinely-bestowed name. The two correspond; behold the expression of the Divine will! The figure 8 had a Divine meaning to the Jew. It was upon the 8th day that circumcision, the initiatory act of a new life, was performed. The 8th day was ‘the great day’ of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37). What in Matthew 5:10 is apparently an 8th Beatitude is really the beginning of a new cycle in which that character of the Christian which had been described in the seven previous Beatitudes is thought of as coming out in such a manner before the world that the world persecutes. Upon the 8th day our Lord rose from the grave, bringing His Church with Him to her true resurrection life. But the name ‘Jesus’ has also a Divine meaning (Matthew 1:21). In the very spirit of this passage St. John might have spoken of ‘the number of the name’ of Jesus as eight hundred, eighty, and eight. As it is, he is occupied with one who, in his death, resurrection, and second coming, is the very counterpart of our Lord. He has a ‘name,’ a character and work, the opposite of Christ’s. That name may be translated into numbers yielding 666. Ominous numbers! falling short of the sacred 7 to the same extent as the eights went beyond it; associated too with so much that had been most godless and impious in Old Testament history. The nations of Canaan had been 6 in number (Deuteronomy 20:17). The image set up by Nebuchadnezzar, and for refusing to worship which the three companions of Daniel were committed to the fiery furnace, had been sixty cubits high by six cubits broad. The weight of gold that came to Solomon every year, in token of the subjection of the heathen nations around him, had been 666 talents (1 Kings 10:14; 2 Chronicles 9:13). On the sixth day of the week at the sixth hour, when Jesus hung upon the cross, the power of darkness culminated (Matthew 27:45). What dread thoughts were connected with such sixes! The argument then is,—these numbers correspond to the name of the beast when its meaning, otherwise known, is taken into account. Both tell the same tale; behold how God expresses Himself regarding it! Now for all this the words Nero Caesar were utterly useless. The second of the two words might have a meaning, but the first was meaningless. It was simply the name of an individual. Merely to count up the numerical value of the figures obtained from Nero Caesar would not have answered the apostle’s purpose, and could never have filled his mind with the awe that is upon him in this verse.

These considerations seem sufficient to show that the mere equivalence of value between the letters of Nero’s name (as of many other names of that and every following age)(1) and the number 666 is no proof that the Roman tyrant is mysteriously indicated. When we add to this some of the other points previously spoken of, more especially that the beast is before us in its complete development, and that the homage it receives is paid to it as a beast that had died and risen from the dead (facts never asserted of Nero at that time), we are justified in concluding that the whole Nero theory will most probably prove but an illustration of the manner in which exegetical, not less than other, fancies have their periods of temporary revival as well as decay.

It is scarcely necessary to allude to an interpretation of an altogether different kind which has found favour with many, and which depends on the form rather than the numerical value of the figures. Written in letters rather than in words the figures 666 are the following ϰξς,—the first the initial letter of the name of Christ, the last the first double letter of the Greek word for cross, in the middle the twisted ‘serpent.’ There is nothing inconsistent with the ideas of the time in what may appear to be only too fanciful to be true. It is a sufficient argument against it that the verse which we have to explain was addressed to the ear rather than the eye.

All other proposed solutions may be omitted. We have confined ourselves to that which is by far the most plausible, and the consequences of which, could it be established, would undoubtedly make this verse the keystone of apocalyptic interpretation. Our readers, we believe, will not ask more. It will be noticed, too, that we have indicated, in what has been said, the most important condition to be fulfilled by any solution which is to obtain general acceptance. The ‘name’ of the beast represented by the figures must have itself a meaning expressive of the beast’s position or character or work. Only if this were the case could the coincidence of its name with its number be of consequence to those who were to learn from it.


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

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