Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 13
- 1And 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. 2And the beast which I saw was like 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.
Commentary: The beast from the sea, the dragon of chapter 12, and the Babylon of chapter 17 are all described as having seven heads and ten horns, indicating a connection between them. The sea here may represent the Gentile nations of the world, from which the Beast will come. The Beast has been suggested to represent a so-called "anti-christ", the "false messiah" of Matthew 24:5 and I John 2:18, and is also the "little horn" of Daniel 7:8, 20, 21, 24, 25. The Beast could to be understood either or both as a person and an empire. As a man, he is the "willful king" of Daniel 11:36, the "coming prince" of Daniel 9:26, and the "man of sin" of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. As an empire, he represents the revival of the Roman Empire, both with respect to lands and belief systems. The leopard, bear, and lion refer to the first three beasts of Daniel Chapter 7. The horns and heads will be discussed in Chapter 17. He speaks blasphemy against God because his power and authority come from Satan himself.
The seven heads have been known to represent the Rome because the capital is built on seven hills. The ten horns represent the ten provinces of the Roman empire. The appearance of the beast as a whole (looking like a leopard with bear feet and a lion mouth) also relate to the Roman empire because by giving an analogy of the qualities of the empire.
If we assert that there is a possible connection between the number of the beast and Nero and if not Nero, then at least some would agree that John may be using the beast as a symbol for the governing Roman Emperors at the time he was writing and aligning them with the anti-christ.. If so, the sea could be a connection to the Roman emperor's proconsul emerging from the sea at the arrival for his annual visit to Ephesus (Witherington III, Revelation). Also important to note is that the according to ancient beliefs the sea was a symbol of chaos, evil, and demonic powers. While the sea may be a symbol of chaos and evil, historically speaking, the sea was a major source of the Roman Empire as far back as Julius Caesar's defeat of the Medditerranean pirates and Caesar Augustus' naval defeat of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. This comparison lend some credit to the argument that much of John's revelation is a warning against the pagan religion of the empire.
- 3And I saw one of his heads, as it were, wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world wondered about the beast.
Commentary: It is unclear how to understand the Greek verb "esphagmene" at work in this verse. Generally, this verb is translated to mean "to slay" or "to murder." One interpretation that could be taken from this verse is that the wound was nearly mortal, thus causing the head to die. However, another interpretation is that the wound was actually mortal, and only the head survived. This verb is also used in Revelation 5:6, referring to the death of the Lamb. Recall that the Lamb rose again though. Scholars have argued that the reader is meant to see a demonic imitation of Christ in this verse.
A prophetic reading of this passage could refer to the Holy Roman Empire and its collapse in the fifth century. This reading is only possible if the Beast with seven heads is understood to be the Gentiles of the world and represent the kingdoms who had succeeded the empire. One of the heads, presumably the seventh head, is mentioned specifically in this text and could possible represent a succeeding kingdom that was lead by Satan. This head, being "wounded to death" and then healed is Satan overtaking and rule the kingdom. Satan will enter the body and proceed to deceive all those who did not believe, ultimately overtaking the kingdom. But, this can only be done because God wants it to be done. All of these events (even the absolutely horrible ones) are only done because they are God's will.
- 4And they worshiped the dragon which gave power to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" 5And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and power was given to him to continue forty-two months. 6And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.
Commentary: John may be discussing living in the day when the government saw themselves as deities and required everyone to worship them. The dragon is Satan. People will not realize they are worshiping Satan; they will believe the Beast must have divine (messianic) power because of the things he is able to do. He will deliberately foster this belief in his speaking, which constitutes blasphemy since he is claiming God's authority.The word "great" in this text can be translated as arrogant words. The blasphemies allude to Daniel 7 v 8 & 20. He will have worldwide power during the last half of the Tribulation: forty and two months or three and a half years. Satan gives the beast freedom of speech and the authority to continue for forty-two months, as God limited the beast's power of influence and reign.
It is highly unlikely that Satan would limit his time to create havoc. With this we must consider how did he get his power? Ultimately God has allowed Satan to have this capability which is hard to imagine if you only see his work as positive without considering the opposite. This time period of 3½ years occurs in several places in Revelation: Gentiles tread the holy city underfoot for "forty-two months," or 3½ years (11:2); the two witnesses are given power to prophesy "1,260 days," or exactly 3½ years, according to the Hebrew year of 360 days (11:3); the "woman clothed with the sun" is protected in the wilderness for "1,260 days," or 3½ years (12:6); and in this passage, we see that the beast is given authority to continue for "forty-two months," or 3½ years (13:5). It is very likely that all of these passages refer to the same time period, and that they coincide with either the first or the second half (depending on interpretation) of Daniel's 70th week (cf. Dan 9:26-27).
- 7And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them, and power was given him over all kindreds, tongues, and nations.
Commentary: The Beast will challenge and create war with the true believers (saints) and overcome them. This war may be seen more as a war of persecution as opposed to an actual war with soldiers. Because God has given Satan control over the Earth and its inhabitants, he has decidedly not protected the saints who are instead supposed to endure there tribulations. The saints were defined as “the women’s children who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The power of this beast is not meant to be underestimated, he is predicted to have power over the earth and its inhabitants.
- 8And all who live upon the earth will worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. 9If anyone has an ear, let him hear.
Commentary: The figure of the lamb indicates some sacrifice and in relation to the mentions of humanity, "the book of life" and its relation with salvation, it seem to indicate the initial sacrifice by Adam, the initiation of the human condition. The foundation of the world predates the coming of Christ, the last Adam. If the effects of Adam’s original sin are not undone before a person dies or before judgment day, then they are doomed. Numerous passages in the Bible refer to “the book of life”, this seems to indicate a book with a genealogical record of some type, for registering peoples names for divine purposes. Accordingly, this reference indicates one of God's records of men, that is kept in heaven (Luke, 10:20) as "the book of life". There are many other books/records kept (Revelation, 20:12), this particular one was started in the foundation of the world (Revelation, 17:8). Names are added and removed from this record in accord to their relation with God. Only the righteous (Psalm, 69:28) are kept, and only those will be saved (Daniel, 12:1), the others will suffer (Revelation, 20:15) as they will believe the falsehoods of the Beast and will worship him. Verse 9 is an often repeated formula originating in Isaiah 6:9-10 used in the Gospel of John to emphasize the importance of a concept. Here he is pointing out that the Lamb offers the only path to salvation, and that all who reject Him will be lost.
- 10He that leads into captivity shall go into captivity. He that kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
Commentary: God will punish the evildoers when their allotted time is over. The Beast and his followers will be defeated, judged, and punished. Patience here is the Greek hupomonē, meaning "endurance". Saints, in this verse, is the Greek hagiōn, better translated as "holy ones". Those who have saving faith will endure the persecutions of the Beast. Some of the saints will be held captive and others will become martyrs according to God's plan. The faith of the saints through such tribulatory periods and through physical death will be the key to saving them in the end from Eternal damnation. They are not to take the sword and attach their foes, but instead they should suffer the evil and end the cycle of killing by revenge. Some say that the wars that are waged against God's people are brought about by the people of earth alone. It is said that once the time comes for this to be fulfilled, Satain will not even need to wage war because the people on earth will have brought war upon themselves already.
The Beast from the Earth
- 11And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon, 12and he exercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast whose deadly wound was healed. 13And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.
Commentary: The second beast is the False Prophet. His role is to encourage people to worship the Antichrist. His two horns like a lamb represent his attempt to appear gentle, reverent, and harmless. But his power comes from Satan, and he has the full supernatural power of the Antichrist, who is the political ruler. The False Prophet equates to the Holy Spirit in Satan's false trinity. His actions show him to be a religious leader. His wonders and miracles, accomplished through the power of Satan, will convince the world to worship the Antichrist. He is able to make fire come down from heaven (a vision of modern weapons?).
- 14And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he has power to do in the sight of the beast, saying to those who dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound by the sword and yet lived. 15And he had power to give life to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
Commentary: The False Prophet will use the miracles of Elijah (I Kings 18:38 and II Kings 1:10) to trick people into worshiping the false messiah, and to create an image of the Beast in violation of God's commandment. This image will be set up at "the holy place", which is either the Well of Souls or the Western Wall, both on the Temple Mount at Jerusalem. This is the "abomination of desolation" (Matthew 24:15 and Daniel 9:27). The people of the earth must either worship the image or be killed. There is no room for religious freedom in the Beast's empire! Seeing that the second Beast has the power to give life, it has the same ability as the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says: "When you see the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place... there will be great tribulation."[Mt 24:15,21] The "abomination of desolation" is usually understood to mean the setting up of a pagan altar in the temple at Jerusalem. This has happened twice already: once in 168 B.C., when Syrian forces under the Greek general Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem, and again in 70 A.D., when Roman forces under Titus destroyed the city. Since Jesus was referring to a future event, the first of these does not apply. Some believe that the prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD, because Jesus said, "This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.[Mt 24:34] Others see a partial fulfillment in 70 AD, and a more complete fulfillment at some future date, because many of the contextual details attached to Jesus' prophecy were not fulfilled in 70 AD. This future occurrence of the “abomination of desolation” will herald a time of great tribulation “such as has not been since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever will be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved. But for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened."[Mt 24:21-22]
- 16And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17so that no one might buy or sell except those who have the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Commentary: There have been many attempts to identify this mark. Given modern technology, it is quite possible that the "mark" might be an embedded microchip, readable electronically at a short distance, that uniquely identifies every person. This could be tied into financial accounts and used much as a credit card, allowing the transfer of funds without cash. Others believe that this could possibly relate to a bar code since it is imprinted on every product at a store. Those who refuse the mark are unable to buy food, thus forcing people to accept it. The right hand is symbolic of authority and power as evidenced in the Scriptures when describing God's power (e.g. Ps 63:8; Ps. 139:10). The right hand may be used to show the power and authority Satan will have over those who take his mark. Also, the right hand and forehead are clearly visible demonstrating that there is no secrecy when it comes to this mark. One cannot purchase food or other necessities without taking on this mark. Starvation coupled with poverty or submission to the beast will be the only alternatives to choose from.
- 18Here is wisdom: Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Commentary: Of all the verses in Revelation, Rev. 13:18 has easily received the most attention. There have been many interpretations regarding the number 666. It may simply signify incompleteness and chaos by virtue of the fact it falls short of the perfect 777.
However, gematria, the ancient practice of assigning letters numerical value, was common in John’s day. Going the other way (numbers to letters) involves a little more guess work after 2000 years. Having said this, the Greek to Hebrew to number translation of Nero can produce 666. Also, the word Beast itself also produces 666. It seems John is showing as explicitly as he is able that 666 is the Beast is Nero is 666, etc. Nero is also a likely candidate due to his rampant persecution of Christians. Furthermore, he would have been extremely well known to John's audience, so that even after concealing his identity in the number, the beast would have clearly stood as a symbol of Nero.
Additionally significant is the fact that 666 is the eighth sequential doubly triangular number; that is, it is the eighth number which is the sum of successive numbers beginning with 1 whose last number in the series (in this case 36) is also triangular. Some have argued that this could be the meaning of the symbolism of the beast having seven head, with Nero being the eighth and the beast himself. This may be pushing the symbolism too far.
There is actually some contention that the number is not, in fact, 666, but is instead 616. This can be found in some early manuscripts of the book. These are certainly in the minority, although they are not totally without merit. This comes from using the Latin form of Nero's name, translating it to Hebrew, and then assigning a number value to the letters. This is the same process discussed above which translates the letters of Nero's name to 666.
Others see this verse differently. Given that John expected his early Christian readers to understand it, it seems unlikely to be a complex code. Perhaps it is a pointer to the only other place in scripture where this number is given in exactly the same way: I Kings 10:14. If so, the verse itself is not the target; the intent is rather to draw the reader to I Kings Chapter 10. That chapter, taken together with the secular history of Ethiopia's Solomonic Dynasty, would explain very nicely how the Antichrist can fulfill the prophecy of being from the line of King David while also being a Gentile (King Solomon was King David's son). [cf. the Wikipedia article on the Solomonic Dynasty.]
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.