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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Revelation 13

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 13:1. His ten horns first become visible. The prophet has shifted the diadems from the heads to the horns (thereby altering their number, of necessity), since he wishes to stamp the heads (i.e., the Roman emperors, cf. Sib. Or. iii. 176; Tac. Ann. xv. 47) with the blasphemous names. Hence the ten horns (successive monarchs in the Danielic oracle) are superfluous here, except as an archaic, pictorial detail in the sketch of this polycephalous brute. Such grotesque, composite monsters were familiar figures in Persian and Babylonian mythology. The blasphemous title of divus, assumed by the emperors since Octavian (Augustus = σεβαστός) as a semi-sacred title, implied superhuman claims which shocked the pious feelings of Jews and Christians alike. So did θεός and θεοῦ υἱός which, as the inscriptions prove, were freely applied to the emperors, from Augustus onwards. The imperial system, especially with its demand for imperial worship, appeared the embodiment of irreverence and profane infatuation (Revelation 13:6). This calm usurpation of divine honours was inexplicable except on the supposition (Revelation 13:2) that the empire was a tool or agent of the devil himself. Much had happened since Paul wrote Romans 13:1-6, and even since Asiatic Christians had received the counsel of 1 Peter 2:13 f.


Verse 2

Revelation 13:2. The empire gathered up all the obnoxious qualities of Israel’s former oppressors: craft, lust of blood, and vicious energy. Hence the combination of traits from Daniel’s four beasts: general appearance that of a fierce panther, feet like a bear’s (i.e., plantigrade), jaws like a lion’s (of devouring strength)—a Palestinian (Hosea 13:7-8) picture of a perfect beast of prey, raging and ravening, before whom the church, like Dryden’s milk-white Hind, “was often forced to fly, And doom’d to death, though fated not to die”.— καὶ ἔδωκεν κ. τ. λ., connecting the empire with the dragon of 12 and stamping it as Satanic (cf. Lueken, 22 f.; Weinel, 11–12), as a weird and wild messiah of the devil on earth.


Verse 3

Revelation 13:3. The prophet sees in the empire an extraordinary vitality which adds to its fascination. Disasters which would suffice to ruin an ordinary state, leave Rome as strong as ever, thanks to her marvellous recuperative power. The allusion is not to the murder of Cæsar (so e.g., Bruston, Gunkel, Porter), nor to the illness of Caligula (Spitta), but (so Düsterdieck, O. Holtzmann, B. Weiss, etc.) to the terrible convulsions which in 69 A.D. shook the empire to its foundations (Tac. Hist. i. 11). Nero’s death, with the bloody interregnum after it, was a wound to the State, from which it only recovered under Vespasian. It fulfilled the tradition of the wounded head (Daniel 8:8). Song of Solomon 4 Esd. 12:18 (where the same crisis is noted) “post tempus regni illius [i.e., Nero’s] nascentur contentiones non modicae et periclitabitur ut cadat et non cadet tunc, sed iterum constituetur in suum initium”; also Suet. Vesp. 1 and Joseph. Bell. iv. 11, 5, Revelation 7:4; Revelation 7:2 (Rome unexpectedly rescued from ruin by Vespasian’s accession). The vitality of the pagan empire, shown in this power of righting itself after the revolution, only added to its prestige. The infatuation of loyalty, expressing itself in the worship of the emperor as the personal embodiment of the empire, grew worse and worse. A comparison of 3 a with 12 (cf. Revelation 13:18) shows, however, a further allusion, viz., to the Nero redivivus belief (cf. Introd. § 5). This is not developed until 17, but already the beast is evidently identified in a sense with one of its heads, who is a travesty (3 a = Revelation 5:6) of the Lamb, i.e., an antichrist. The context would certainly read quite naturally without 3 a, but it is implied in 12 (and 18), and none of the numerous attempts to analyse the chapter into source and revision is of any weight, in view of the general style and characteristics. These indicate the author’s own hand. Even the translation-hypothesis (e.g., Bruston, Gunkel) leads to arbitrary handling. See Introd. § 6.


Verse 4

Revelation 13:4. All that had transpired—Nero’s own death heralding a return, and the collapse of his dynasty proving no fatal blow to the empire—had simply aggrandised the influence of Rome. The Caesar-cult which characterised it is dubbed a worship of Satan by the indignant prophet. The hymn to the incomparable and invincible beast is a parody of O.T. hymns to God. In the following description (Revelation 13:5-8) two traits are blended: insolent blasphemy towards God and almost irresistible powers of seduction over men. Both are adapted from the classical sketch of Antiochus Epiphanes (in Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7), the prototype of that anti-divine force whose climax had been reached, as the prophet believed, in the divine pretensions of the Caesars.


Verse 5

Revelation 13:5. “Big and blasphemous (or abusive; 2 Peter 2:11) words.” So Apoc. Bar. lxvii. 7: “surget rex Babylonis qui destruxit nunc Sionem et gloriabitur super populo et loquetur magna in corde suo coram Altissimo”.


Verse 6

Revelation 13:6. The days of Antiochus (Daniel 8:10-12) have returned. On the claims of the emperor, see Introd. § 6, and Sib. Or. ver 33, 34 (Nero ἰσάζων θεῷ αὐτόν), Asc. Isa. iv. 6–8, x. 13, etc.— τοὺςσκηνοῦντας, an exegetic gloss defining σκήνη (cf. Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:12). The temple in Jerusalem is no longer the scene and object of the beast’s blasphemy.


Verse 7

Revelation 13:7. In Enoch xlvi. 7 the rulers and kings “make themselves masters of the stars of heaven [i.e., the righteous], and raise their hands against the Most High”. The beast’s world-wide authority goes back to the dragon’s commission (2) but ultimately to divine permission (so in 5). There is a providence higher even than the beast.


Verse 8

Revelation 13:8. Standing on the verge of this crisis (note the change to the future tense), the prophet anticipates the almost universal success of the Cæsar-cult (cf. Revelation 3:10). Only the elect will be able to resist its appeal (cf. Matthew 24:25). As in the O.T., the consciousness of predestination is made a moral lever (cf. Revelation 17:8). The rest of mankind who succumb to the cult are plainly not on the celestial burgessroll or register. cf. the instructive second-century gloss on Acts 5:39. As a rule the faithless in life are deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:2-10; Asc. Isa. iv. 7, 8), but here the Imperial cultus occupies the place of the false prophet in Mark 13:12, etc,— τοῦ . τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου, which transfers to Christ the possession of the divine register of citizens in the heavenly state, is usually taken as a scribe s gloss (after Revelation 21:27 where the position of ἀρνίου is less difficult). Elsewhere the book of life appears by itself. In any case, ἀπὸ κ. κ. goes with γέγραπται, not ἐσφαγμένου.


Verse 9

Revelation 13:9. The prophet’s nota bene introduces (Revelation 13:10) what is either (a) a demand for patience and non-resistance, or (b) an encouragement to it. (a) “Be patient. If captivity is your destiny from God, accept it. If any one is (destined) for captivity, to captivity he goes (in God’s order, ὑπάγει in a future sense). Show your patient faith in God by abstaining from the use of force” (cf. Matthew 26:52). This interpretation (rejecting συνάγει or ἀπάγει in 10a) is preferable to (b) that which reads (or even understands; with B. Weiss) συνάγει, ἀπάγει, or ὑπάγει (so some cursives and versions) in 10a, and thus finds in the words a promise of requital rather than an appeal for endurance. The fate inflicted on Christians will recoil on their persecutors (cf. Revelation 14:12). Imprisonment or captivity and death were the normal fates of the age for criminals who refused to invoke the emperor’s genius (cf. Jos. Bell. iii. 10. 10, vi. 8. 2, Philo: de Flacc. 11, leg. ad Gaium, 32). A variation of this meaning would be: use force, and you (Christians) will suffer for it. The whole stanza is written for saints who, like Sigurd, are not born for blenching.— ὧδε κ. τ. λ. Josephus (Bell. iii. 5. 8, etc.) had just given, from prudential motives, a similar warning to Jews against participating in any anti-Roman movement. It was always hard to disabuse the Oriental mind of the idea that religious faith must be bound up with fate and fighting. cf. Introd. § 6.


Verse 11

Revelation 13:11. ἐκ τῆς γῆς—the mythological trait is applied geographically to Asia Minor (i.e., the East). Here again the cosmological antithesis has been transformed into a political application. The marine monster cannot exercise dominion over the land except through an intermediary ἐκ τῆς γῆς. Cf. Apoc. Bar. xxix. 4, where the two beasts, leviathan and behemoth, rise from the sea and the land, as in the ancient Semitic and Babylonian mythology the dry land and the deep were the habitations of the two primeval monsters (En. lx. 7f. , 4 Esd. 6:49 f.), who represented the chaos-opponent of heaven. The mild appearance of the beast ( ὁμ. ἀρν. does not mean that he deceived men with the name of the Lamb) is accompanied by a plausible appeal (cf. Weinel, 21 f.). The allusion (Revelation 13:12), borrowed from the older dragonmyth, is to the seductive inducements held out by the Beast to Christians, such as considerations of loyalty, patriotism, self-interest, and the like. These are backed by (Revelation 13:13) miracles, which together with magic are also connected with Nero redivivus in Asc. Isa. iv. 9–11 (cf. A. C. 175 f.). The deceptive influence of miracles was a sure sign of the end, in early Christian literature (cf. the lines of the πρεσβύτης cited by Irenæus, Revelation 1:15; Revelation 1:6). Most Oriental cults practised such tricks lavishly, and constant warnings against them were heard (cf. Weinel 9; Friedlander, iii. 458 f., 521 f.).


Verses 11-18

Revelation 13:11-18 : the Imperial alter ego or the second beast, a monster from the land (identified afterwards with the traditional “false prophet,” Revelation 16:13, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10). This mythological figure is not any individual like Simon Magus or Alexander of Abonoteichos or Apollonius of Tyana or Balaam redivivus, but a personification of some order or institution devoted to the interests of the empire on its religious side, i.e., the priests of the Cæsar-cult in the provinces and especially (cf. Introd. § 6) in Asia Minor, where the local dignitaries acted through the Diet of Asia in order to superintend and popularise the cult (so Holtzm., Pfleid., Charles, Bartlet, Porter, Bousset, Forbes, Swete). The following description brings out the cunning, suavity, and arrogance of this sacerdotal power.


Verse 14

Revelation 13:14. As Beliar sets up “his image before him in every city” (Asc. Isa. iv. 11, after 10 = “and there will be the power of his miracles in every city and region”), so here the εἰκών or bust of the emperor as the Neronic antichrist representing the empire (cf. the hint repeated from Revelation 13:12 c) is brought forward along with the statues of the gods to receive offerings of wine and incense from the citizens. For the naîve identification of such images with the deities they represented see Friedländer, iii. 500 f.— λέγων = κελεύων (Blass § 72, 5).


Verse 15

Revelation 13:15. The statue is made to speak, in order to work on the credulity and awe of the worshippers. The trick was well within the reach of contemporary magic (cf. Valer. Maxim, i. 8. 3–5), and later tradition attributed it to Simon Magus (Clem. Recogn. iii. 47, cf. Clem. Hom. ii. 32), while similar ventriloquism was practised by Apollonius of Tyana and Egyptian sorcerers at Caligula’s court. cf. Lucian’s αὐτόφωνοι χρησμοὶ (Alex. 26).— ἀποκτανθῶσιν, cf. the scutcheon of Captain Pope in Bunyan’s Holy War—“the stake, the flame, and the good man in it”.


Verse 16-17

Revelation 13:16-17. Detection was inevitable, for the very coins were stamped (Matthew 22:19) with the head of the Cæsar, the gods, or Rome itself, and the prophet apparently expected that genuine Christians would refuse to sanction idolatry and condone blasphemy by handling such emblems of profanity (cf. Ign. ad Magn. 5, δύο νομίσματα, μὲν θεοῦ, δὲ κόσμου). Only abject, servile devotees of the cultus will stoop to that! Irenæus has a similar allusion (iv. 30. 2) to those who carried money “cum inscriptione et imagine Cæsaris”.— μέτωπον. This highly figurative allusion is to the habit of marking soldiers and slaves with a conspicuous tattoo or brand (cf. Lucian, Dea Syra; 3 Maccabees 2:29, where the Alexandrian Jews are branded with the mark of Dionysius; also on Galatians 6:17); or, better still, to the religious custom of wearing a god’s name as a talisman (cf. Deissmann, 349 f.). The general sense of the prediction is that the faithful will be shut up to the alternative of starving or of coming forward to avow their prohibited faith, so subtly and diabolically does the cultus of the emperor pervade all social life. Another solution is to think of the χάραγμα or red stamp, which was essential to all documents of exchange (Deissmann, 240 f.); it consisted of a red seal with tho emperor’s name or effigy. Ramsay (Seven Letters, pp. 106 f.) takes the whole description as a symbolic and rather sarcastic way of referring to a boycotting demand that every Asiatic Christian should somehow “stamp himself overtly and visibly as loyal, or be disqualified from participation in ordinary social life and trading”. Probably the passage is a figurative and unqualified expression for conspicuous loyalty to the Imperial cult. In Ep. Lugd. the devil is said to work against Christ by “excluding us from houses, baths, and markets, and also by forbidding any one of us to appear anywhere”.


Verse 18

Revelation 13:18. “Now for wisdom”—skill to penetrate the secret of the cryptogram which would reveal the features of the dread opponent. This cryptic method was a favourite apocalyptic device, due partly to prudential reasons, partly to the desire for impressiveness; Orientals loved symbolic and enigmatic modes of expression in religion (cf. Apoc. Bar. xxviii. 1, 2; Sib. Or. i. 141 f.; Barn. ix. 8, burlesqued by Lucian in Alex. 11). The prophet here drops the rôle of seer for that of hierophant or cabbalist. He invites his readers to count the name or number of the Beast, i.e., to calculate a name whose letters, numerically valued on the fanciful principles of Gematria, would amount to 666. For John and his readers the Beast was primarily the foreign power which opposed the divine kingdom, i.e., in this case, the Roman empire. But the drift of the present oracle is the further identification of the empire with the emperor, or rather (Revelation 13:3) with one emperor in particular. Hence the prophet throws out the hint which will solve his riddle: the number of τοῦ θηρίου is ἀριθμὸς ἀνθρώπου, i.e., of a historic personality. ἀνθρώπου does not require τινός or ἑνός before it to bring this out. The only intelligible sense of the words is “a human number,” i.e., not a number which is intelligible (for no other kind of number would be worth mentioning) but one which answered to an individual. Hence it is a matter of comparative indifference what the number of the Beast originally meant— τειταν (so recently Abbott 80 f. = Titus, Teitous), η λατεινη ( ιταλη) βαϹιλεια (Clemen), λατεινοϹ, קיסר רום (= 616), קיסר רומים (= 666), Nimrod ( נמרד בו כש, Bruston), or any other (cf. Cheyne’s Traditions and Beliefs of Anc. Israel, p. 248). This generic number is expressly identified or equalised by John with the number of an individual, viz., Nero Cæsar ( קסר נרון), the Greek letters of which yield 666. The defective writing of קסר (without the yod) is not unexampled. Besides, the abbreviated form would gain, at a very slight expense, this telling and symettrical cipher. Furthermore, when the last letter of Neron is dropped, this Latinised spelling brings the total value of the name to 616, the very variant which puzzled Irenæus. Gunkel’s proposal תהום קדמוניה (primal chaos = Tiâmat) suffers from several flaws; it omits the article, it employs a feminine ending which is not used in adjectives of this type, and “primal” is not a conventional epithet of mystery (cf. G. F. Moore in Journ. Amer. Oriental Society, 1906, 315 f.). Besides, as Gunkel admits, there are no Babylonian parallels to Revelation 13:11-17. Thus, while the application of the term is obvious, its origin is obscure. The basis of such contrivances (which became popular in Gnostic circles) was twofold: (a) gematria, which, using Greek and Hebrew letters to denote numbers, could often turn a name into a suggestive cipher; (b) isopsephia, which put two words together of the same numerical value (cf. for instances of ἰσόψηφα, Farrar 468 f. and Corssen). Probably the number of the Beast belonged to tradition. John plays upon it in order to disclose the shuddering climax of his oracle, that the final foe of the saints was Nero redivivus. The particular number 666 was specially apt as a symbol for this anti-divine power, since it formed a vain parody of the sacred number seven (Gfrörer notes further the ominous usage of 18 = 6 + 6 + 6 in Judges 3:14; Judges 10:8; Jeremiah 32:1; Jeremiah 52:29; Luke 13:1, etc.), always falling short of it. In Sib. Or. i. 324 f. 888 represents Christ, and Origen (on Ezekiel 4:9) remarks, apropos of the present passage, ἐστὶν ἀριθμὸς οὗτος πάθους σύμβολον καὶ κακώσεως τοῦ σωτῆρος τῇ ἕκτῃ ἠμέρᾳ πεπον· θότος. Irenæus explains the suitability of the number as “in recapitulationem uniuersae apostasiae eius, quae facta est in sex millibus annorum” (adv. Haer. ver. 28, 2). Thus the very number 666 by itself, may have been significant of the anti-divine power. The Neronic application would intensify and concentrate its meaning for John’s readers who were initiated. And such calculations, as the Pompeii graffiti prove, were familiar even to Greek-speaking inhabitants of the empire. The Pergamos-inscriptions furnish analogous instances.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-13.html. 1897-1910.

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