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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Revelation 13



Other Authors
Verse 1


This chapter has the two visions of the two remarkable beasts which rose out of the sea and out of the earth as allies and helpers of the dragon Satan. "He stood upon the sand of the sea" (Revelation 13:1) suggests the summoning of these beasts by Satan to aid his war against the saints of God; but it is incorrect to suppose that Satan, in any sense, either created or produced these monsters, called by Moffatt, "polycephalous brutes."[1] He simply encouraged and organized the emerging tendency of a human creation in rebellion against God.

The beast out of the sea symbolically represents the great earthly governments which repeatedly in human history have exalted themselves against God and against his people (Revelation 13:1-10); and the beast out of the earth represents false, blasphemous religion reaching from the shadows of Eden to the end of time (Revelation 13:11-18). Before beginning our exegesis of the chapter, it will be appropriate to give the reasons that underlie the interpretations presented.


This beast is perverted government used by Satan as an instrument against God's people, especially the seven great universal dominions in which the saints of God were persecuted. Despite the certainty with which so many identify this beast as the Roman Empire, we are certain that much more is meant, While true enough that this beast was indeed the Roman Empire at the time John wrote, the mention of the "seven heads" indicates a wider meaning. Some have viewed these as seven Roman emperors; but the fatal objection to this is that, "It was not merely one of the heads that was slain, but the beast himself received the mortal wound (Revelation 13:3,12,14)."[2] There were a hundred emperors, but only seven heads. The notion of Moffatt and others to the effect that the mortal wound of this beast was, "Nero's death with the bloody interregnum after it (a wound to the state)!"[3] is totally inadequate. Nero's death was not fatal to anything except himself. It certainly was not a mortal wound of the Roman Empire, but a blessing! The empire was not harmed at all by his death, but benefited. The true identity of the beast which recovered from the fatal wound is discovered in two considerations: (1) the connection of the prophecy with Daniel 7, and (2) the identity of the seven heads.

(1) Regarding Daniel 7, Daniel's vision of the four beasts like a lion, a leopard, a bear, and then another "diverse from the others" (Daniel 7:4-7) must be interpreted as four successive world governments, such as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. John's vision here is of a beast who is a composite of those in Daniel, requiring the conclusion that a great, continuous world government is meant, exercising an authority stretching over a period of centuries, with hundreds of rulers and emperors. To limit these visions in Revelation to a bare sixty-five years of European history is to ignore the cosmic dimensions of this prophecy. Of course, this is to be expected of those who deny any cosmic dimensions and repudiate any conception of predictive prophecy in the New Testament.

This writer believes that we are here studying a divine book, that it is inspired, and that every word of it is God's truth. To this point in our interpretation of Revelation, we have refrained from citing historical fulfillments of earlier portions of the prophecy, despite the fact of there having been many such fulfillments; but this plain and undeniable connection with Daniel's prophecy of the setting up of God's everlasting kingdom in "the days of those kings" (the days of the Roman kings) (Daniel 2:44); that is, during the time of the fourth great world empire, requires the discernment that future history is emphatically prophesied in this chapter. Nor does this rob the chapter of its relevance to the generation first addressed by the apostle. They were living in the days of Daniel's fourth beast, that of the Roman Empire; and "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thessalonians 2:7) which would ultimately culminate in the second beast (the one out of the earth) was already working.

(2) The identity of the "seven heads." Regarding this, Pieters has an extensive study of various views of their identity:[4]

The seven forms of government under which Rome existed; however, there were only six of these!

Seven prominent emperors of Rome during the latter part of the first century B.C. and the first part of the first century A.D. Of course, there is no agreement whatever on which seven!

The seven heads are to be understood not numerically, but symbolically. "Rome must have its full complement of kings" (the view of Beckwith).

The seven heads are seven world-kingdoms hostile to God and to his people, namely, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and a seventh to arise at a future time after Revelation was written.

Pieters referred to this as "a jumble of confusion," but reluctantly accepted the view (stated last, above) that, "the heads represent the great world empires of which five were past and the sixth was flourishing when the book was written."[5] Exactly the same conclusion has been reached by this writer, but with enthusiasm and confidence. No other explanation ever offered fits the prophecy so exactly and circumstantially as does this one. These seven world empires are indeed what is symbolized by the seven heads. Like practically everything else in Revelation, the seven heads are symbolical; and the interpretation of them here does not rule out the possibility that at some future time another world empire could develop; but significantly only seven have appeared in the entire history of the world up to the present time, a fact that certainly supports the view we have accepted.

"The ten horns" specifically identified later as ten future kingdoms (Revelation 17:12) represent this sea-beast in his final phase, not any longer as a worldwide empire, but as many multiple states (the ten is symbolical), none of them able to wield universal authority like the "seven heads," but still exercising great authority and power to persecute and destroy God's people. These are called the eighth head (Revelation 17:11). Nations like Russia and China today are just as much a part of this beast as was Nebuchadnezzar when he commanded all people to fall down and worship a golden image of himself (Daniel 3:5,6). An essential element in the personality of this beast is humanism, man worshipping himself.


In a word this beast is false religion opposed to God and persecuting God's people. The widespread willingness of scholars to identify this beast as the pagan priesthood of the "emperor cult" is apparent in almost every commentary one may pick up; but such a limited view does not fill the bill at all and cannot possibly be the correct interpretation. "This beast, called also the false prophet (Revelation 16:13; 19:20), symbolizes false religion and false philosophy in whichever form these appear throughout the entire dispensation."[6] This is surely correct; and views like that of Barclay who limited it to "the organization of Caesar worship"[7] are much too restricted, as are also those interpretations that would make this beast "self-deceit,"[8] "the proconsul sent yearly by the emperor to govern the province,"[9] etc. All such interpretations are focused upon details that in the large view are unimportant. "This vision represents a great movement already in progress";[10] it represents the "capture of organized religion to help promote the aims of the first beast";[11] "it includes the papacy (2 Thessalonians 2), but does not portray it separately but combined with all forms of a similar nature in the whole world."[12] We shall deal with the papal aspect of this beast later.

Especially important is the fact of this beast's period of operation being "forty and two months," which without any doubt whatever means "the entire Christian dispensation." This was the period of the first beast's operation (the sea-beast); and the operation of the land-beast is coextensive with that of the first. Thus it is no isolated or provincial event which could be signified. No. These two beasts, both instruments of Satan, are the two great enemies of God's people throughout history; namely, (1) the wicked, perverted government, and (2) false or apostate religion. Neither the world nor the church will ever be through with either one of these beasts until the end of time.


In order to interpret this chapter, the question of the healed "death-stroke" (Revelation 13:3) is crucial. Scholars have misunderstood it as follows:

The assassination of Julius Caesar.[13]

The illness of Caligula.[14]

The prohibition of paganism by Theodosius.[15]

The coming of Christ.[16]

The Christianizing of the Roman Empire.

The rebellion of Galba, Otho and Vitellius.[17]

The battle of Waterloo. The forerunner of the magazine Christian Herald published a book on this in 1860![18]

The actual death of the Antichrist and his subsequent resurrection from the dead (!) near the end of time![19]

Nero himself, the suicide who was raised from the dead (!) in a myth! This infamous "Nero redivivus" interpretation is parroted by so many scholars that it would be tedious to mention them; but of all the alleged interpretations of this question, this is the most worthless of all of them. In the first place, no such myth ever existed, except in the minds of imaginative scholars. Zahn was certain that when Revelation was written, no such superstition was in existence even if Revelation was written in 95 A.D.![20] Furthermore, as Pieters said, such an interpretation is "wholly incompatible with any believing acceptance of the book as a genuine prophecy; for the things foretold, if this interpretation is accepted, did not take place."[21]

The persecuting policy of Nero revived by Domitian.SIZE>

What is the actual meaning of the mortal wound that did not kill?

This part of the symbol was fulfilled when the barbarian hordes from the north swept down upon Rome, and the empire came to an end in 476 A.D .... This ended the western part of the pagan empire. The imperial government received its death-blow.[22]

But that death-stroke was healed. It did not mean the end of Roman persecutions of God's people. Where the first beast left off, the second took over. The old pagan empire was revived in a Christianized form, "The Holy Roman Empire"; and all of the arrogance, hatred, and persecution of the first beast was restored. The fatal wound was healed. The sixth head of the sea-beast (Rome) was fatally wounded; but the worldwide government continued as a religious power. Without this religious phenomenon, Roman authority would have perished as totally as did that of Nineveh and Tyre, or Assyria and Babylon. That religious power, of course, was the apostate form of Christianity known as the Roman Catholic Church. One thing should be particularly noted: there has been no other worldwide authority in the history of the world which might logically be called a seventh head of the sea-beast.

This brings us to consider the essentially Christian nature of this second beast, the pseudo-Christian nature of it. This beast was no mere "committee set up in the Asia Minor to enforce emperor worship,"[23] nor "a proconsul sent out every year"[24] for the same purpose, nor a provincial council made up of local pagan priests;[25] but, "It was an institution devoted to the empire on its religious side."[26] Its operations bore a genuine resemblance to Christianity, as attested by the lamb's horns that crowned it. The essential nature of it manifested all the outward appearance of Christianity; its function was primarily that of conducting worship; "And this priestly role identifies the second beast as a religious power."[27] In John's day, of course, the pagan priesthood were a manifestation of this beast; but several things forbid our accepting the priests of paganism as the principal identity. In the first place, where were their "lamb's horns," their outward resemblance of true Christianity? Furthermore, the pagan priesthood perished before the sixth head (Rome) was mortally wounded in 476 A.D. The whole structure of paganism had already collapsed before Rome received the death-stroke, the Edict of Theodosius having previously closed all pagan temples throughout the empire in 389 A.D. The pagan religions were not visibly present when the empire received the death-stroke; but this second beast was present in the form of the apostate Medieval Church, which restored all the old forms of the state, crowned Charlemagne as the head of it, and by religious devices continued to exercise worldwide authority and dominion. These historical facts are clearly foreshadowed in Revelation 13. This "second beast," the land-beast, is not "The Antichrist," nor "the lawless one" (2 Thessalonians 2), but that worldwide, religious ally of wicked human government used repeatedly to persecute and destroy God's people, as, for example, in the Spanish Inquisition.


The great apostasy foretold in the New Testament must be viewed as a significant manifestation of the entity symbolized by this second beast, an apostasy by no means limited to the papacy, but certainly inclusive of it. Measuring a chapter as, on the average, about twenty verses, there are at least seven whole chapters of the New Testament devoted to that phenomenon called the apostasy; and, if Revelation is the kind of book it is devoutly believed to be by this writer, there is no way for that apostasy to have been omitted from its pages. Where are the eyes of those scholars who can write a whole commentary on Revelation and never even mention it? What kind of astigmatism can be blind to the plainest references to it, and what kind of deafness is it that cannot hear the thunder of these middle chapters of Revelation? When we speak of the apostate church, we are not speaking of the devoted millions who are deceived within her ranks, nor of the countless faithful souls within her who may be doing their best to follow Christ. The apostasy is not The Catholic Church, but the religious apparatus which controls and exploits it, the secular state which the hierarchy created and controls, and the worldwide organization by which their tyranny and control are enforced. That is the apostasy, at least a significant part of it, but not the whole of it. A mere glance at what that religious apparatus has done historically should convince any thoughtful person that an apostasy of incredible dimensions did indeed overtake the historical church. Of what does that apostasy consist?

1. They placed a human being on a pedestal of authority above all Christians, receiving him as "the head of the church" instead of Christ.

2. This so-called "pope's" word is honored even in its contradiction of what Jesus Christ said.

3. They took the word of God away from the human race and burned the men who dared to translate it for the common people, as witness the ashes of Tyndale and Huss.

4. They took the wine of the communion away from all Christians and drank it up themselves.

5. They tortured, tormented, burned, destroyed, and consigned to hell countless saints of God throughout the whole Medieval period, during which they alone had a copy of the sacred Scriptures. The Spanish Inquisition is the only example of this that needs to be cited; and, significantly, the principal architect of that diabolical apparatus is still revered as a saint in the apostate church.

6. They corrupted Christianity by the consecration of sacred images, the introduction of Mariolatry, and the acceptance of so-called saints (dead Christians) as mediators between God and man, thus denying the true office of Christ our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5).

7. They invented the evil doctrine of purgatory, the greatest fund-raising system ever devised.

8. They sold for money the right to commit sin, in that notorious sale of indulgences that financed the Crusades and many of their cathedrals.

9. They condemned and executed the great translators of the word of God who dared to challenge their wicked usurpation of power.

10. They forbid to marry and command to abstain from meats, specific actions associated with the apostasy (1 Timothy 4:3).

11. They perverted and changed the ordinance of Christian baptism.

12. They invented so-called "sacraments" for the purpose of solidifying their control over people's lives; but of the "seven," only two of them have Greek names, effectively divorcing the other five from any connection whatever with true Christianity (They are not in the Greek New Testament).

13. They have courted the favor of earthly governments and maintained a relationship with them described in Revelation 17 as "committing fornication" with them; and this is going on now.

14. They have arrogated to themselves alone the right of determination of who is or is not saved, and have ruthlessly enforced their decisions beyond the gates of cemeteries all over the world. Try to find the grave of a dead Protestant in Rome!

15. They have brazenly claimed the right to forgive sins, require penance, and grant absolution. Satan himself has as much right!

The above is only a very small list of a much greater one showing how extensive an apostasy actually occurred in the historical church, and which is so dramatically foretold in the symbolism of this second beast. What is to be thought of the "Christian scholars" who are either ignorant of this, or who do not have the guts to mention it? Again, we deny any vindictive or unchristian hatred of Catholicism. See our article extolling the virtues of "The Great Whore" in Revelation 18. Dear members of this writer's family are members of the Catholic Church, as well as many precious and devoted friends; but, in this work, we are endeavoring to present the teachings of the sacred New Testament; and the word of the Lord leaves no doubt whatever with regard to the apostasy of the hierarchical apparatus which misdirected the historical church. Other characteristics of it will be mentioned in the notes on the text of the chapter, below.


This view in Revelation of great world-governments full of blasphemy, utterly opposed to God and Christ, persecuting and destroying God's people, etc., is misunderstood by some scholars as a contradiction of the views of Paul and Peter (Rom. 13:1-7,1 Peter 2:13-16); but it is clear from Revelation 13:10 that John's views were fully in harmony with theirs. Rist stated the erroneous view thus:

For Paul, the empire and its rulers were inherently good ... under the direct control of God, not Satan ... However, for John, there is nothing good about either the empire or the emperors. The rulers are not ordained of God, but are the agents of Satan himself.[28]

Such a view is based upon an inadequate understanding of what all the apostles taught. For a discussion of "The Christian and the State" from the Pauline viewpoint, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 447-449. There are two kinds of states; and, besides that, the same principles of submission are enjoined upon Christians with reference to both kinds, as plainly indicated in Revelation 13:10 where John implied the very fullest consonance with all that Paul and Peter wrote. Despite the satanic alliance between wicked states and Satan, such alliances exist clearly and only under the terms of God's permissive will. What else could be the meaning of the recurring expression "and there was given unto him" (Revelation 13:5), "and it was given to him" (Revelation 13:7), "it was given to him" (Revelation 13:14), "and it was given to him" (Revelation 13:15), etc.? No, John did not teach that Satan is truly in control. We now turn our attention to the text of the chapter.

[1] James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 429.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 179.

[3] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 430.

[4] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 214ff.

[5] Ibid., p. 218.

[6] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 179.

[7] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 89.

[8] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 334.

[9] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 112.

[10] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 410.

[11] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 183.

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 389.

[13] R. H. Charles, Revelation of St. John, Vol. I, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), p. 349.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Carl August Auberlen, The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John, Viewed in their Mutual Relation (Andover: W. F. Draper, 1857), pp. 298,304.

[16] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 394.

[17] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 220.

[18] Ibid.

[19] J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1900), Vol. II, p. 452.

[20] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 223.

[21] Ibid.

[22] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 191.

[23] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1961), p. 171.

[24] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 112.

[25] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 171.

[26] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 432.

[27] Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 259.

[28] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 461.

And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)

A beast coming up out of the sea ... We reject the futurist interpretation that, "We are now in the time of the end."[29] In this vision the true meaning of the persecuting Roman power was revealed for the information and encouragement of the suffering saints of John's day, and not merely for their benefit, but for ours also, and for those of all times and places to come. This beast is always ready and waiting to be summoned as an ally of the devil whenever times and circumstances permit it.

The sea ... "Both the sea and the earth here (in this chapter) are expressions equivalent to the whole world."[30] Earle pointed out the diverse explanations of the beasts in this chapter thus:

Preterists say they are the Roman power (the empire), and the pagan priesthood supporting emperor worship, particularly in the province of Asia.

Historicists find here the Roman empire and the Roman Catholic church (the papacy).

Futurists identify the first beast as Antichrist, and the second as the false prophet.[31]SIZE>

Our own interpretation is not like any of these. See discussion under the chapter heading, above.

Having ten horns and seven heads ... These seven heads are the symbols of seven great world empires: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and another future from the time when John wrote. "The symbolism is analogous to that of Daniel 7, where we find the key to the interpretation. The seven heads are symbols of universal dominion, and the horns are the type of power."[32] The horns also represent the multiple kingdoms that succeed the fatal wounding of the sixth head. See under Revelation 17:12ff.

And upon his heads the names of blasphemy ... The universal dominions indicated here ascribed all honor and glory to themselves, as when Nebuchadnezzar required all people to worship a golden image of himself (Daniel 3:4,5), and as when Roman Caesars required their subjects to burn incense to Caesar's image, or address them as "Lord and God." "This beast is a symbol of idolized power."[33] The identity of this beast is extensive, occupying a major portion of all world history; but the phase of the beast's operation in view here concerned the persecuting power of the Roman empire. The blasphemous titles of the Roman emperor were exhibited everywhere, in the pagan temples, in the coinage, at the imperial court, everywhere. Despite the particular phase in view here, "This sea-born beast symbolizes the persecuting power of Satan embodied in all the nations and governments of the world throughout history."[34] "It is co-terminus with the whole earth."[35] "Like the other chaotic forces of evil, it is thrown up by the cosmic deep (Daniel 7:2)."[36]

[29] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 176.

[30] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 390.

[31] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 578.

[32] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 330.

[33] Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 85.

[34] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 176.

[35] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 92.

[36] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 652.

Verse 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 dragons gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.

Like a leopard ... bear ... lion ... The significance here is that this one beast is a composite of all those named by Daniel, and having the effect of requiring a historical view of what is here prophesied. "The application is not the Roman empire, namely, but the aggregate of the empires of the world as opposed to Christ and his kingdom."[37] "All that is so frightful about three of Daniel's beasts is combined in this one beast of Revelation."[38] Caird discerningly addressed the problem discussed under "The Christian View of the State" in the chapter introduction, pointing out that, "The beast is not actually government, but the abuse of government."[39] Therefore, we should say, not that the beast is Rome, but Rome captured by satanic forces and perverted as an instrumentality of the devil. "Only when the state acts within the limits of its God-given authority can the believer freely submit to its regulations."[40]

And the dragon gave him his throne and great authority ... From this, are we to conclude that even though Satan had been thrown out of heaven that he still had a throne and great authority? No. "Satan's authority goes only so far as men allow it. If he is called the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), or the prince of this world (John 12:31), it is only because men are blind enough to acknowledge him as such."[41] Another excellent comment on this verse is that of Roberson:

The dragon (Satan) gave the beast his throne and power. He works through the beast as his agent; and it is to his interest that he disguises his working under the forms of the world. At present, he has actually persuaded many to deny his existence.[42]

[37] Alford as quoted by A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 331.

[38] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 392.

[39] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 164.

[40] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 252.

[41] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 209.

[42] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 92.

Verse 3

And I saw one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed: and the whole earth wondered after the beast;

Smitten unto death, and his death-stroke was healed ... See in the chapter introduction under "The Fatal Wound that Did Not Kill," for a complete discussion of this. As Lenski said:

The fact that only one of the heads suffered the death-stroke must not mislead us. Thereby the beast itself was slain.[43]

These seven heads were seven successive world dominions, and the death of any one of them would have been the death of the beast. Pagan Rome perished in 476 A.D.; and that is when the death-stroke fell upon the sixth head of the sea-beast. The "healing of this" occurred when the land-beast, the religious beast with the two lamb's horns (closely resembling Christianity) succeeded the sixth head which was killed, restored all the old forms, and went right on exercising the worldwide persecuting power that pertained to the beast prior to the mortal wound sustained by the sixth head of it.

It is almost universally agreed among commentators that the Roman empire must be understood in one way or another as the sea-beast; but the thing that defies all comprehension is how so many of them report Nero's suicide as the "fatal blow"! "The mortal wound is evidently an allusion to the myth that Nero, who died of a wound in his throat, would return to life to plague the empire."[44] Ridiculous! Was Nero the only emperor that died? How could the mere death of any emperor, or a dozen emperors in succession, be viewed as a fatal blow to the Roman empire? The scholars are simply not thinking in their acceptance of such nonsense. As for the so-called myth that Nero would rise from the dead, there is no evidence that any such myth ever existed; but even if it existed (which we deny), no apostle of Jesus Christ would ever have paid the slightest attention to it. "The Roman empire (not one of its scores of emperors) was smitten to death; but it is the resurrection state of it with which the world still has to deal."[45] Supporters of the notion that the death of Nero is meant here try to make it out that the seven heads are "seven kings," which, of course, they are in Revelation 17:9; but that is a different vision. John used the same symbols for different things in different visions.

And the whole world wondered after the beast ... "The grand sweep through history of this "resurrected beast" is inherent in a statement like this.

[43] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 393.

[44] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 461.

[45] Frank L. Cox. op. cit.. p. 85.

Verse 4

and they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? and who is able to make war with him?

And they worshipped the dragon (Satan) ... Thus, it was no innocent thing to sprinkle a few grains of incense upon Caesar's altar. It was the same thing as worshipping the devil who was behind the entire operation. The fact of mankind's general acceptance of such worship was enforced, "not by the moral greatness of the beast, but by the awesome power of his might. The authority he wielded was that of Satan himself."[46]


[46] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 254.

Verse 5

and there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months.

And it was given to him ... The principle in this is that all authority in the final sense is God's. The beast cannot operate, except under the restrictions of the permissive will of God. See under article on "The Christian View of the State" in the chapter introduction.

To continue forty and two months ... This time period must surely be identified with "the whole time the woman was in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6), that is, the whole Christian era, from its beginning to its close."[47] "The forty-two months is a symbolic number for the entire period of the persecution of the church."[48] This is why the sea-beast is more than the Roman empire and why the land-beast is more than the emperor cult. Both beasts will be in operation throughout the time of Christians living upon earth. Plummer thought the forty-two months signified "the period of the earth's existence,"[49] but it is more logical to understand it as a reference to this whole dispensation.

These great blasphemies against God and against all that is holy must not be thought of as merely the anti-Christian actions of human governments. The beast is busy in every sector. The anti-Christian power fills people's souls with uncounted blasphemies. As Lenski said:

A thousand avenues pour out arrogant contradictions to God's word. The point to remember here is that this blasphemy is over the whole world for all time until the very end.[50]

John's vision is here signaling the church of God that, "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

[47] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 94.

[48] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 180.

[49] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 332.

[50] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 397.

Verse 6

And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven.

For blasphemies against God ... Blasphemy is speaking against either God or man. The negative aspect of the opposition is evident in its being against both. Note that the blasphemous use of God's name is the same as speaking against God.

And his tabernacle ... "Christians are themselves God's tabernacle, because he is in the midst of them (Revelation 21:9)."[51] Speaking against Christians is a primary activity of the "beast." The guilt of his doing so is no less than that of speaking against God himself. In fact, the great campaign against God is focused in the attack upon Christians. The hatred and opposition to God's people is exactly "where the rubber meets the road" in the satanic conflict with the purpose of God.

Even them that dwell in heaven ... There are two possible meanings here, compounded by an element of uncertainty with reference to the true text; but fortunately it is true both ways. "It is possible that John means angels ... but the more attractive meaning is that he means that those dwelling in heaven are men whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20)."[52] Dummelow also preferred this understanding of it: "Christians are here said to dwell in heaven, because they belong to the kingdom of God on earth, and because 'in Christ' they have begun to live the heavenly life (Ephesians 2:6)."[53] The whole thrust of this passage was summarized thus by Mounce:

To regard the state as supreme (and to offer divine honors to the emperor as was demanded in the first century) was not a permissible opinion but the supreme blasphemy. John's words must have come home to his first readers with tremendous force.[54]

[51] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1083.

[52] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 167.

[53] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1083.

[54] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 20. The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 168.

Verse 7

And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.

And there was given to him ... The importance of this is seen in its repetition, this or a similar clause being used twice in this verse, once in Revelation 13:5, and in Revelation 13:14 and Revelation 13:15. The truth behind this is that God is still the sovereign in his universe. People, in the stubborn and willful pursuit of their own selfish desires, and in following their own free will to do whatever comes into their minds, provide the tools from which the work of Satan prospers; and God "gives" to Satan and to the beast the right of exploiting whatever opportunities may be afforded them through the disobedience and wickedness of people. Neither Satan nor his beast, nor any other creature, can harm the one who loves God (Romans 8:31-39).

Authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation ... Some authors view this as merely an indication of the worldwide extent of the Roman empire; but much more than that is said here. "The fourfold enumeration, applied to the earth, denotes the universal character of the description."[55] This means that there is no place on earth where sin does not dwell, no place where the authority of the beast is totally absent. Despite this, people are not predestined to be delivered into his hands; that can happen only when people choose to follow Satan rather than Christ.


[55] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 333.

Verse 8

And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, 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.

Whose name hath not been written ... in the book of life ... New Testament references to the book of life are: Philippians 4:3, and Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27. An Old Testament reference is Deuteronomy 32:32,33. Here the book of life is said to be "of the Lamb that hath been slain," indicating Christ as the owner of the book. The reason this is said is that, "It is through his sacrifice that life is possible (Revelation 5:9,10)."[56]

From the foundation of the world ... The ASV translation which places this phrase as a modifier of "written" is undoubtedly incorrect. The KJV is right in rendering it, "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

It may be safely said that no group of translators would have come to such a decision (as that in the ASV) were it not for the statement in Revelation 17:8. The phrase in question immediately follows the Lamb that was slain, and normally one would not question the application of the phrase to that antecedent.[57]

Thus, this just happens to be a case in which the ASV translators indulged in commentary instead of translation. Caird stressed the fact that the mere fact of John's using this phrase to modify "book of life" in Revelation 17:8 is no proof at all that he could not have used it to modify "the Lamb slain" here. "That is no reason why he should not be allowed to say something complementary here.[58] Lenski also favored the KJV in this verse;[59] and Morris was emphatic: "From the foundation of the world should be taken with slain (1 Peter 1:19f) rather than with written."[60] All of God's great purpose of redemption was formulated "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). Many have vainly tried to get rid of this plain New Testament teaching, but as Bruce said:

Whatever be the interpretation of Genesis 1:2, it is certain that [@katabole] can mean nothing but "laying down" in the sense of "establishing" or "founding"; the phrase used in Ephesians 1:4 and in ten other New Testament passages is unambiguous and denotes the creation of the universe.[61]

[56] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 256.

[57] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 214.

[58] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 168.

[59] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 400.

[60] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 169.

[61] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 28.

Verse 9

If any man hath an ear, let him hear.

The contemporary equivalent of this is, Now hear this! It occurs in each of the seven letters (Revelation 2:7,11,17; Revelation 3:6,13,22) and recalls the familiar expression of Jesus, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9). It alerts the reader to the importance of what follows.[62]

Morris also thought the alert here "regards what follows in stead of what precedes.[63] This makes verses Revelation 13:9,10 a solemn warning "against any effort on the part of the church to return evil for evil."[64]

[62] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 256.

[63] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 170.

[64] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 95.

Verse 10

If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth ... This means, "Whatever is involved in following Christ, the Christian must accept."[65]

The different translations of this passage give different meanings, thus:

KJV: "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity. He that killeth with the sword must be killed by the sword."

This, of course, makes the meaning applicable to the persecutors. The nations that persecute God's people shall themselves be destroyed; and there are many historical examples of this happening.

RSV: "If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; If any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain."

It is by the device of construing this as a pair of parallel statements that the RSV makes the meaning of both parts the same; the Christian must accept either captivity or death.

ASV: In this version, the first half teaches Christian submission to whatever befalls him; and the second part is a warning against resisting the persecuting power by means of the sword, thus:

If any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed ... This means that, "Christianity can never be defended by force; the man who takes the sword perishes by the sword."[66] Ladd interpreted the passage to mean that, "There is divine retribution; the last word is not with the persecutor."[67] Dummelow thought it means, "Christians are not to fight against the persecutors, but are to submit to God's will."[68] In this interpretation Dummelow (1937) anticipated the RSV. Caird likewise accepted this view, basing it on the final clause.[69] Lenski was equally certain that KJV is correct, adding that, "This is not a warning for saints to let the sword alone."[70] He thought the passage was given as a comfort to Christians, the comfort coming from this revelation of, "Where their enemies are going and how those enemies must end."[71] Of these various views, this writer favors those of Ladd and Lenski.

Here is the patience and the faith of the saints ... The knowledge that right shall finally triumph, that evil may indeed win the battle but can never win the war, the absolute certainty of the ultimate triumph of righteousness - these are the considerations which, alone, can establish the hearts of Christians when the skies are clouded with the smoke of their burning. Of course, the principle that it is wrong for the church to take up carnal weapons in its own defense is true; but this was not the place for emphasizing such a truth. Where could the comfort have been if that had been John's meaning here?

[65] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 97.

[66] Ibid.

[67] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit, p. 182.

[68] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1083.

[69] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 170.

[70] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 402.

[71] Ibid.

Verse 11

And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

Another beast coming up out of the earth ... This monster is the character later called the false prophet. Satan, the sea-beast, and the land-beast are the unholy trinity of evil. Eller's facetious comment is included here for its humor:

The dragon made his entrance out of the air (as it were, falling on his tail out of heaven); the sea-beast rose out of the garbage-can sea. Number three now comes out of ground (he's the dirty one); and his, obviously, is intended as a counter-description of the Holy Spirit.[72]

For more on this beast, see under "The Beast Out of the Earth" in the chapter introduction. He is identified as the institution, or organization, of false religion opposed to God's truth and persecuting God's people.

No doubt the pagan priests of the various heathen gods of John's day were a manifestation of this beast; but something far greater, more enduring, and better organized is also included. "The commune of Asia" mentioned by Caird,[73] was no doubt an evil in the character of this beast; but all such things, including the proconsul often mentioned in this context, were evil enough; but they were the slaves of the sea-beast. This land-beast was the ally of the beast! This absolutely forbids the view that the "emperor cult" was represented by this land-beast. The difference is between the sea-beast's slave and his ally. The power visible in this land-beast was a partner of the sea-beast, not his servant, as were the pagan priests, communes, and proconsuls who recognized the Caesars as their masters. It is the whole organized structure of false religion, especially as manifested in the hierarchical apparatus of the Roman Catholic church, and in many other nominally Christian churches also. It is the human control of sacred office perverted to serve secular, worldly, material; political, and other unchristian ends. He is that beast who was already working in Paul's day (2 Thessalonians 2) and has continued ever since, and who will continue until the end of time. It is a shortsighted mistake indeed that would limit this to any particular church or to some specific time in history.

And he had two horns like unto a lamb ... A literal lamb has two horns; and the big thing here is the resemblance of the land-beast to the Lamb of God. As Summers said, "The lamb was a religious symbol."[74] We might add, "A Christian religious symbol." Therefore, it cannot be the pagan priesthood symbolized by this beast, but a perverted religion of Christ.

And he spake as a dragon ... Disregard what he looked like; this beast spoke as a dragon, there being times during the Middle Ages when kings trembled at the dragon's voice. The persecuted saints of an entire millennium were tormented by this dragon voice of the false lamb. In our own times, this beast's dragon voice has been considerably modulated and toned down, only because the beast recognizes his limitations. One may only be amazed at the scholars who seem to know all about false religion in John's day, when Revelation was written, and absolutely nothing at all about it now. Are we to suppose that this religious beast died somewhere along the historical road the world has traveled? If so, it would be wonderful to hear all about it. "He that hath an ear, let him hear."

[72] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 132.

[73] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 171.

[74] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 178.

Verse 12

And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.

And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight ... "This is the head of the beast wounded and restored."[75] The wounded head was the beast in his sixth worldwide manifestation; namely, the Roman empire. Therefore, this beast is a successor to the sea-beast, being a worldwide dominion over the whole world, "every tribe and people and tongue and nation." Only thus could this beast have exercised "all" the authority of the first beast, all the authority of Rome, the sixth head, being itself the seventh head," but diverse from the others, being religious instead of solely secular. By having its operations on the same seven mountains (Rome) where the first beast was centered, and by its imposition of a religious authority over all the world, it was true in a remarkable sense that the slain beast (the sixth head) lived again in the seventh!

This can have no reference at all to some little deputy of the Roman emperor in Asia Minor 1,900 years ago, who never, in any sense, exercised the extensive worldwide authority of the Roman empire. No! A worldwide, ongoing, institutional organization is symbolized here, and one that continued to operate in the same kind of time-frame that pertained to the other six heads of the sea-beast: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and appearing in the sequence as, in some spectacular manner, a reincarnation of Rome. We believe it is intellectually impossible to make this seventh head to be anything small. Nothing less than a worldwide dominion will fit.

In his sight ... This probably refers to the location of the seventh head's operations. It was in the same city of seven hills; and as the sixth head was already dead when the seventh succeeded to the worldwide authority it could hardly mean anything else, unless it is understood as the growth and development of the great religious authority during the century or so leading up to the final death of the sixth head in 476 A.D.

The current fad among commentators which interprets the land-beast's exercise of worldwide authority equal to that of the sea-beast as a reference to the "promoters" of the cult of the emperor"[76] is illogical and contradictory of the truth that the mortal wound of the sixth head took place before the seventh head succeeded to that great authority. When the mortal wound occurred (476 A.D.), the emperor cult had been out of business for generations, their temples closed, their sacrifices severely prohibited, their whole pagan religion outlawed and proscribed by the Roman Senate under the leadership of Theodosius. See Edward Gibbon's entire chapter 27(vol. 2entitled, "The Final Destruction of Paganism.[77] Neither the so-called emperor cult, nor the pagan priesthood, nor the institution of paganism itself, continued until the time of the mortal wounding of the sixth head and most certainly could not have been instrumental in the healing of the mortal wound, nor in continuing afterwards as the reincarnation of the beast in the form of the seventh head.

And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed ... The big things here are: (1) The new beast, a worldwide religious empire, was very successful. All nations continued to look to Rome; the ancient adoration accorded the pagan emperors was transferred to the enthroned bishop of Rome, and even many of the blasphemous titles were applied to him. (2) The actual change in all this, however, was more apparent than real; worship was still lavished upon a man, a mere human being; and such worship was the exact equivalent of the worship of man under the pagan system. The text before us called it "the worship of the first beast." There had been a change of certain externals, but the essential ingredients were exactly the same as before. Thus the religious apostasy became the seventh head of the beast out of the sea, being, in effect, a reincarnation of the old head, ROME.

This writer would enthusiastically welcome a better understanding of this dreadful chapter which forces some very difficult conclusions, but where is it? Certainly, the ridiculous Nero redivivus myth explains nothing. No explanation at all is far preferable to the unreasonable, awkward, and contradictory postulations of that alleged interpretation! The key thing to remember in seeking the truth here is that, "It was not merely one of the heads which was wounded to death and then healed. The beast himself (Rome) received a mortal wound and then was restored to life."[78] The true answer has to be Rome reincarnated with the new incarnation exercising "all the authority of the first" (Revelation 13:12), "over every tribe and people and tongue and nation" (Revelation 13:7). If it could possibly be anything other than what we have pointed out, let someone identify it! In the meanwhile, the view presented here is the only one known to this writer which does not violate either the rules of logic or the true principles of Biblical exegesis. We absolutely refuse to make this sacred prophesy of Revelation a myth in order to avoid it!

[75] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 92.

[76] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 216.

[77] Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Five Volumes (Philadelphia: Henry Coates and Company).

[78] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 183.

Verse 13

And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men.

And he doeth great signs ... fire from heaven ... Here is the apocalyptic equivalent of Paul's man of sin sitting in God's house, setting himself forth as God, and exhibiting "all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). See discussion of that whole passage in my Commentary on 2Thessalonians pp. 97-117. Paul referred to the great signs as "lying wonders"; and from this, we may be certain that the apostate power did not actually do what is mentioned here. Every year during the Easter season, the newspapers carry stories of miracles, visitations, and phenomena alleged to be miraculous. There are images bleeding, bloody robes with the image of Christ, etc. Admittedly, we have not seen any fire come down from heaven yet; but, who knows, we might get that next Easter! "Men still claim the power to perform miracles, but their message is not in harmony with God's word, and therefore we can be certain that God is not the source of their power."[79] In this connection, Hinds appropriately mentioned such alleged miracles as "changing the bread and wine of the communion into the literal body and blood of Christ."[80]

[79] James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour, and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 177.

[80] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 198.

Verse 14

And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given unto him 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 who hath the stroke of the sword and lived.

And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth ... The vast majority of mankind will accept at face value the claims of false religion. The purpose of the deception was to produce the worship of the beast. "Its function is again seen to be religious, not secular; it is a system and not a person."[81] Moffatt also discerned the same truth: "This figure is not any individual like Simon Magus, etc., but a personification of some order or institution."[82]

That they should make an image to the beast ... A literal image? No. What is the image of a great worldwide state? It is a little state, made after the pattern of the big one. The Vatican City State of Rome is surely such an "image," whether it is the one meant here or not. It is complete with soldiers (The Swiss Guards), a diplomatic apparatus reaching to the ends of creation, and having its own laws, government, and all the other trappings of a worldly empire (in miniature, an image), and all this from the alleged followers of him who said, "My kingdom is not of this world."

[81] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 98.

[82] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 432.

Verse 15

And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even 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.

And it was given to him to give breath to it ... Yes indeed! That little thumbnail image of a worldwide empire is very much alive, and it carries an incredible clout with every national government on earth, even our own. This is not a reference to some clown of a pagan priest pulling some kind of a shenanigan to make a crass literal statue utter a few words. No! The deception in view in this passage deceived the whole world.

The image should speak ... First, there was the relevance of this for John's generation. The pagan temples were full of idols that, by various ingenious devices were made to speak, the purpose of the perpetrators of such deceptions being that of compelling Christians to worship the image of Caesar; and all of the scholars stress this; but that is certainly not all that this passage means. If so, Revelation, in large part, is irrelevant to this age, a proposition which we cannot accept. What is the "speaking image" today? Tune in any of the papal encyclicals broadcast on world radio and TV regarding economics, politics, morals, etc. But this "image," the little copy of the big state, is itself worshipped.

As many as should not worship the image should be killed ... The first application of this was the sentence of death executed upon Christians who would not worship Caesar's image; but the relevance of this did not perish with the Edict of Theodosius banning paganism. The relevance of it to the martyrs of the Middle Ages was that the persons who would not bow before the rules of the papacy were put to death, a fact well attested by the long bloody record of the Medieval Church which slaughtered thousands who would not worship them and their little image of the beast, with its "Throne of St. Peter," and its universal apparatus culminating in the Spanish Inquisition and a hundred other horrors. That is all prophesied in this verse whether some scholars are able to see it or not!

Verse 16

And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead;

The language of this and the following verses is that of economic sanctions and boycotts, the universality of their enforcement being indicated by'

Small and great, rich and poor ... This means that all people everywhere were to be subjected to the most serious economic sanctions unless they were recognized as servants of the persecuting power, and as supporters both intellectually and physically (head and hand) of the wicked establishment.

A mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead ... The obvious meaning of this "head and hand" identification is that both mental and physical cooperation was the price of "belonging." There is no likelihood that anything literal is meant by this "mark." It is true, of course, that some of the pagan gods were worshipped by their devotees having themselves branded with an ivy leaf, or some other symbol of the god's religion; and that pagan custom probably colored the language which John adopted here in a figurative sense, as Paul did in Galatians 6:17. See in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 113,114. No Christian of John's times, however, could have failed to read this "head and hand," "heart and hand" compliance with the persecutor's will, through confessions or deeds. Christians could prove themselves worshippers of Caesar, either by denouncing Christ, or by offering incense upon Caesar's altar, or by both. The point is, that if they were unwilling to do this they were boycotted, or even put to death.

But is this no longer true? Organized false religion in many guises still exercises this merciless and unchristian device against nonconformists, as for example, in the following:

An advertisement in Salt Lake City's leading newspaper carries an offer of an apartment to LDS only.

A Catholic priest who was baptized in Italy could not find employment in the entire nation.

The Amish cult of Pennsylvania consistently "shuns" those who disobey them or renounce any tenet of the cult.SIZE>

Eller extended the meaning of this, as follows; and, without agreeing fully with his comment, we include it:

Buying and selling is the world's big operation. The world has set up the game, defined the rules, and is manning the tables; and never forget it, the beast is "the lord of this world." You won't get very far at these tables, then, John is saying, unless you can show proof that the boss has okayed you. You'll never win unless you play according to the ways of the world.[83]

Despite Eller's view, we believe that there are many great merchants and businessmen who have played the game by Christian rules, and yet have won. Yet there is much truth in what Eller said.


[83] Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 133.

Verse 17

and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.

That no man should be able to buy ... sell ... save he have the mark ... We cannot believe that there is any reference whatever here to any physical mark. The only thing indicated is that a victorious economic boycott will be launched against all who do not "belong" to the beast. The description here regards the method of his enforcing his will; and that method would no doubt vary according to times and circumstances. The very use of such a device defines the wickedness of the boycotting powers. An economic boycott says, "Do as we say, or we will starve you to death." That an alleged "church of God" should do such a thing defines it as a church of Satan.

Even the name of the beast, or the number of his name ... The consistent use of "or" both here and in Revelation 13:16 is interesting. Either the name of the beast or the number of his name would suffice; and it might be either in the forehead or in the right hand. It must be confessed that no fully satisfactory explanation of this has been encountered by this writer. Perhaps it indicates the diversity and variableness of the manner of the beast's exercising his sanctions. The purpose of the mark, however, is clear enough; it is that of distinguishing between the beast's followers and those who are not his followers. "Probably the passage is a figurative and unqualified expression for conspicuous loyalty.[84] Anything, therefore, that would indicate such conspicuous loyalty would fill the bill of what is meant.


[84] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 433.

Verse 18

Here is wisdom. 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 and sixty and six.

Here is wisdom ... This remark seems to indicate that no little study will be required in order to understand it!

The number of the beast ... the number of a man ... Six hundred and sixty and six ... More people probably know about this verse than of any other verse in the whole book; and the theories of what it means are almost unlimited. This writer is not at all certain of what it means, beyond the cautious conclusion given under the preceding verse. Its identification with the second beast is certain, and probably also with the first beast as represented in his "image."

The ancient science of numerology seems to have influenced a number of passages in this prophecy; and perhaps the most probable meaning relates to the symbolic value of the number itself. Seven is the number of perfection. Six is the number of imperfection, of falling short, of forever being below what is perfect. The number 777 is said to be "the number of God, Christ, grace and salvation for men."[85] The number 666 is therefore the crowding out of perfection "in Christ," and the contradiction of all that is indicated in 777. Many scholars have stressed this line of thought. Our own conviction is that this "number" is not a literal number at all, but the symbol standing for a "spiritual likeness."

We note some of the "explanations" that are offered:

The position of the Seventh Day Adventist religion is that Sunday, or the observance of it as a day of worship, is the mark of the beast. As Pieters said, "For vicious denominationalism, this is unsurpassed."[86]

"Preston and Hausen suggest that the mark of the beast was a parody of the practice of making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the new Christian."[87]

The making of the "sign of the cross" by "crossing one's self" was once thought to be the mark; and this accounts for the omission of that practice in the Protestant Reformation. In some ways, this seems to fit, but not in others.

The interpretation of the number by gematria has yielded all kinds of answers. Gematria is the assignment of numerical values to certain letters of the alphabet, as for example: M, D, C, X, L, and I have commonly recognized values as used on clocks. Both the Greek and Hebrew languages, as perhaps also others, used similar systems; and these were diverse, the same letter having one value in one language and another value in another language. This, of course, led to many names having a numerical value; and the attention granted to this type of thing was evidently extensive when John wrote; and this could have caused him to adopt this reference to it as a symbol of the reality depicted. Roberson believed that it was actually this gematria calculation that John had in mind,[88] but that it is now impossible for us to know what it was, or to whom he referred. He pointed out, for example, that it is simply unknown what specific values were assigned to certain letters in that period. As we have the number, and following the common values often assigned, "There are an indefinite number of names that will yield it; and there are too many which are plausible for any one to be the probable meaning."[89]

Earle, like so many others, called attention to the imperfect "six" as related to the perfect "seven," and identified 666 as the full symbol of imperfect, fallible, and sinful man. "This 666 indicates that this age will end in the worship of man, instead of the worship of God."[90] The 666 might not mean this, but it appears to be true anyway.

Roberts, like so many, found Nero in the number 666,[91] but even if he did, Nero is the wrong answer. Nero was not the beast; he was not the wounded head; he did not rise from the dead; and it is absolutely untenable to interpret this prophecy as predicting any such thing as that! The device of getting "Nero" out of this number is as devious and illogical as anything ever resorted to in order to bolster a false theory. Caird explained how they do it: "They start with the hypothesis that Nero is the name."[92] This derives from their conviction that a myth is the basis of this chapter. "The name Nero in Greek (the language in which John wrote) adds up to 1005![93] So they translate it into Latin, and that does not work either, so they transliterate it into Hebrew (leaving out the vowels because Hebrew has no vowels); and then, by leaving out a lot of the letters and throwing in Nero's title of Caesar, and misspelling that, they force it to yield 666! It is truly amazing that any Christian scholar could be brainwashed into receiving any such alleged explanation. That's certainly going a long way around to get the wrong answer. Bruce's comment on this shenanigan was:

The three rules for making any name yield the desired 666 are: (1) if the proper name itself will not yield it, add a title; (2) if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Latin, or Hebrew; (3) if that does not work, misspell it![94]

Dummelow's explanation is sound Scripturally, whether or not it is "correct":

The number of Jesus in Greek in 888, and the meaning is that the beast falls so far short of seven (perfection and holiness) as Jesus goes beyond it.[95]

The late, highly respected Frank L. Cox took a similar view:

The number 666 represents worldliness at its zenith, "expressing all that is possible for human wisdom and power, when directed by an evil spirit, to achieve." This man cannot be identified as an individual, but as a type, a kind.[96]

The scholars, of whom there are a large number, who worked "Nero" out of this number should take a look at two or three other "solutions" which are quite natural, unforced, open, and plainly demonstrable. We include them here because, at least, they do apply to the beast, which is what the number is said to identify:

1. Stauffer took the full title of one of the emperors (Domitian) in Greek: AUTOKRATOR KAISAR DOMETIANUS GERMANICUS, as abbreviated on Roman coins; and it duly yields 666. However, no single coin has ever been discovered on which the entire abbreviation occurs, although coins with each part of it have been found.[97]

2. The Latin expression VICARIUS FILII DEI, meaning "in place of the Son of God" and said to be one of the titles used by certain popes, was cited by Ray Summer:



It will be noted that U is counted as V, after the archaic manner, as it is still used in inscriptions. For example, over many Court Houses, the title reads: COVRT HOUSE. Summers stated that "It is reported that this expression encrusted in jeweled letters on the pope's crown is used in his ceremony of coronation."[98]

3. A third explanation was first proposed by Irenaeus, being the oldest calculation on this subject that has come down through history. He used the letter-values assigned in Greek, which explains the difference from those cited in 2, above. It is based on a word which means "The Latin Kingdom":[99]



This is a favorite explanation by the historical school of interpreters, and fits well the Catholic apostasy idea of this group.[100] It must be admitted that "the Latin kingdom" describes a salient feature of the apostasy; namely, the public services in Latin all over the world throughout the ages.

These three "explanations" cited here are a hundred times more logical and reasonable than the contrived application of the 666 to Nero; but our reluctance to affirm any certainty on this point derives from the inherent difficulty of the verse itself. Rist thought that John intended it to be "something of an enigma";[101] and so it has remained whether or not John so intended it.

Affixing the meaning of this 666 to any man is wrong, for it is primarily the number of the beast (Revelation 13:17). The notion that Nero, or any man, is meant could not possibly be correct. The number has been confidently assigned by scholars to literally dozens of historical persons, by far the most reasonable of such assignments being the three cited above, because they, at least, have the quality of being connected with the beast. However, any confidence that even these, or any one of them, is "the answer" fails because of the problem involved in every person following the beast also having the number in his forehead or his right hand. For awhile, in his early ministry, this writer accepted number 2, above, as the true explanation; but while true enough that it applies to a prominent feature of the apostasy; namely, the blasphemous title of the popes, nevertheless, that was not a number or title worn by all of his followers in either head or hand. Furthermore, there is the additional light on what is meant here which comes from the truth that the very next verse in this prophecy (Revelation 14:1) speaks of God's name being written on the foreheads of his followers. Can that be a literal number? No! Therefore this is not a literal number. What must be meant is "a spiritual likeness" to the beast in his followers and a "spiritual likeness" to God among his followers. Any thought of absolute certainty on this question is disclaimed.

[85] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 412.

[86] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 212.

[87] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 262.

[88] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 101.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 578.

[91] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 115.

[92] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 174.

[93] Ibid.

[94] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 653.

[95] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1084.

[96] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 87.

[97] Stauffer as quoted by Caird, op. cit., p. 175.

[98] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 176.

[99] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 204.

[100] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 176.

[101] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 466.


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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