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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 13

Verses 1-99

The Beast from the Sea. Chap. 13 vv. 1 10

1. And I stood ] We should probably read “ and he [the Dragon] stood ” the clause being connected with the preceding chapter.

and [ I ] saw … out of the sea ] Daniel 7:3 .

seven heads and ten horns ] Read, ten horns and seven heads . The ten horns are from Daniel 7:7 . But the beast seen by Daniel seems to have only one head, v. 20: and hence some have supposed that this beast is not the same as that, but a combination of all Daniel’s four and that the seven heads are obtained by adding together the four heads of the leopard with the single ones of the other three beasts. But this seems far-fetched: it is better to remember (see on 4:7) that God is not obliged always to reveal the same truth under the same image. St John’s vision was like enough to Daniel’s to indicate that it applied to the same thing, but it supplied details which Daniel’s did not. For one thing, comparing this description with 12:3, we learn that this beast has a special likeness to the Devil.

the name ] Read, names , as in the margin. Cf. 17:3. The reference perhaps is to the blasphemous assumption of divine honours by the Roman emperors most markedly (at least up to St John’s time) by Gaius.

2. like unto a leopard … bear … lion ] The fourth beast in Daniel 7:0 is not described as like any ordinary animal: here he is described as combining the likeness of the other three. We may draw the inference mentioned on v. 1, that this beast is not the fourth, but a combination of all four: but on the simpler view the description is not less appropriate. The Rome of St John’s day was “like unto” a Greek empire, and at the same time embodied elements derived from Babylon, and from Persia. And if we watch the “spirit of Antichrist” that is working in our day, we shall see it in the various forms of Hellenic aestheticism, of Persian luxury, and of Chaldean scientific necessarianism. It remains for this spirit to mount the imperial throne of Rome, when he who now letteth is taken out of the way.

the dragon gave him his power ] It is the Devil’s interest and policy to disguise his working under the forms of the world: at present, he has actually persuaded many to disbelieve in his existence.

seat ] Better, throne. The words rendered “power” and “authority” here are the same as “strength” and “power” in 12:10. Antichrist, or the Antichristian empire, bears just the same relation to the Devil as the true Christ to God.

3. I saw ] Should be omitted from the Greek text, but of course must be supplied in sense.

one of his heads ] Comparing 17:10, 11, it has been thought that this indicates the death of Nero , and his expected reappearance as Antichrist. See notes on ch. 17 and Introduction pp. 47, 49.

his deadly wound ] Lit., the stroke of his death .

4. which gave power ] Rather, because he gave his authority.

Who is like unto the beast? ] A sort of blasphemous parody of sayings like Exodus 15:11 ; Psalms 35:10 , Psalms 71:19 , Psalms 89:8 , or of the name Michael, which is by interpretation “Who is like God?”

5. a mouth &c.] Daniel 7:8 .

to continue ] Literally, to make or do . This may mean “to spend,” so that the text will give the right sense: but perhaps rather, as in Daniel 8:24 , Daniel 8:11 :28, 30, 32, “do” is used absolutely for “do exploits.”

forty and two months ] See on 11:2.

6. and them that dwell ] “And” should apparently be omitted, so that “them that tabernacle in Heaven” is in apposition with the “tabernacle” of God itself.

7. And it was given unto him … to overcome them ] There is considerable authority for the omission of this clause: but the omission is no doubt merely accidental it was left out in one or more very early copies, because scribes passed from one clause beginning “and there was given unto him” to another. For the sense cf. Daniel 7:21 and ch. 11:7: the latter proves that “the Saints” (i.e. the holy people of God) are to be understood as Christians, not as Israelites.

over all kindreds &c.] Lit., over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation . The Devil gives to Antichrist what he offered to Christ, St Luke 4:6 .

8. whose names ] Read, whose name , the pronoun as well as the noun being singular.

the book of life of the Lamb ] 21:27: see note on 5:1.

from the foundation of the world ] Perhaps in Greek, as in English, it is most natural to connect these words with “slain:” and 1 Peter 1:19 , 1 Peter 1:20 works out what, on this view, would be the sense. But the similar clause 17:8 seems to prove that the words are to be taken with “written:” it is God’s purpose of individual election, not of universal redemption, that is here dated “from the foundation of the world.”

9. If any man &c.] See on 2:7.

10. He that leadeth into captivity ] Decidedly the best attested reading is, “If any into captivity, into captivity he goeth:” and there being no verb expressed in the first clause, it is a question what verb is to be supplied. This will depend on the sense given to the rest of the sentence, and this on the reading adopted there. If the received text be right (it is, more literally than in the A. V., “if any will kill with the sword, he must be killed with the sword:” cf. St Matthew 26:52 ), its reading in the earlier clause must be accepted as a correct gloss. But there is a reading not so well attested, and which might have arisen accidentally “if any to be killed by the sword, [he must]” (one important MS. omits this) “be killed by the sword.” Inferior as this reading is in external evidence, it is supported by the parallel with Jeremiah 15:2 , Jeremiah 43:11 . We have therefore the choice between the two versions, “If any man [be] for captivity, he goeth into captivity: if any [be] to be slain by the sword, he must be slain by the sword,” and that of the A. V. with the word “leadeth” put in italics: and we shall choose between them, according as we think that St John is likelier to have had in his mind the text in Jeremiah or our Lord’s saying. Perhaps the former suits the context best “the patience and the faith of the saints” is to be shewn in submitting to death or captivity. But the other view, that their patience and faith is to be sustained by remembering the certainty of God’s vengeance on their oppressors, is supported by the parallel passage, 14:12.

The Beast from the Land, vv. 11 16

11. another beast ] Afterwards called the False Prophet, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10. Some think that it is he, rather than the first Beast, who is to be identified with St Paul’s “Man of Sin,” the personal Antichrist the first Beast being the antichristian Empire. But in 17:11 sqq. it seems plain that the seven-headed Beast, who is primarily a polity, at length becomes embodied in a person.

two horns ] Perhaps two , only because that is the natural number for a lamb the only significance of the number being, that they are not seven or ten.

like a lamb … as a dragon ] No doubt the obvious view is right, that he looks like Christ and is like Satan. Alford well compares St Matthew 7:15 though the resemblance is in the sense, not the language or even the image, so that perhaps there is no conscious reference.

12. exerciseth ] Lit. doeth : the sense is, he does all that the Dragon has given the Beast power or authority to do.

before him ] The relation of the False Prophet to the Beast is nearly the same as that of Aaron to Moses, Exodus 4:16 , Exodus 7:9 sqq., or even of a true Prophet to God, 1 Kings 17:1 .

13. he doeth great wonders ] St Matthew 24:24 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:9 .

maketh fire to come down ] The similarity to 2 Kings 1:0 , is best explained by St Luke 12:55 . To reproduce the acts of Elijah now shews the spirit, not of the true Christ, but of the false.

14. deceiveth ] 19:20. There is still a reminiscence of St Matthew 24:24 .

an image ] We cannot tell how, or how literally, this prophecy will be fulfilled in the last days: but it is certainly relevant to remember how the refusal of worship to the Emperor’s image was made the test of Christianity in the primitive persecutions perhaps especially by humane and reluctant persecutors like Pliny (see his famous letter to Trajan) who acted not from fanaticism, but from supposed political necessity. And the king-worship of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the maxim, earlier acted on than avowed, cujus regio ejus religio , shews us the really Antichristian element in the persecutions of that age. To the ingenious theory, that the second Beast is the Papacy, and “the image of the first Beast” the mediaeval Empire, it is a fatal objection that, though the Popes may be said to have made and vivified the “Holy Roman Empire,” they certainly did not make the world worship it; they might more plausibly be charged with making it worship them.

15. he had power ] Lit. it was given to him .

life ] Lit. breath or spirit .

16. to receive ] Lit. that they give them .

a mark ] The word for “mark” is not the same as in Galatians 6:17 , but the image is, as there, that of the brand put upon slaves to identify them; pagan devotees sometimes received such a brand, marking them as the property of their god. In the so-called Third Book of Maccabees (which, stupid as it is, has perhaps some historical foundation) we are told that Ptolemy Philopator ordered the Jews of Alexandria to be branded with an ivy-leaf, the cognisance of Dionysus. One may compare also the sealing of the servants of God in chap. 7, and 14:1.

The Number of the Name of the Beast, vv. 17, 18

17. and that ] “And” should not improbably be omitted, the construction then, being, he causeth all … that they give them a mark, … that no man may …”

no man might buy or sell ] Such disabilities seem to have been actually imposed, at least in the Diocletian persecution, by requiring business transactions to be preceded by pagan formulas.

the mark, or the name ] Om. “or:” the true reading is, “the mark the name of the Beast, or the number of his name.”

the number of his name ] In Hebrew and in Greek, letters were used for numerals , every letter having its own proper significance as a number. Among the Jews (and to some extent among early Christians, especially heretics) this suggested the possibility of finding numbers mystically corresponding to any word: the numerical value of all the letters might be added together, and the sum would represent the word. This process was called by the Jews Gematria , a corruption of the Greek Geometria . Ridiculous as were many of the attempts made to find mystical meanings in the words of Scripture by this process, it remains true that a Jew of St John’s time would probably mean, by “the number of a name,” the number formed by Gematria from its letters: and probably the numerous guesses, from St Irenaeus’ time to our own, that have been based on this method are so far on the right track. But there are too many that are plausible for any one to be probable. There are in fact an indefinite number of proper names whose letters will amount to 666 (or 616, see below) either in Hebrew or Greek at least when the names are neither Hebrew nor Greek, and so have to be arbitrarily transliterated. Thus neither Lateinos , i.e. Latinus (one of several mentioned by St Irenaeus) nor Nerôn Kêsar i.e. Nero Caesar (adopted by many modern interpreters) is convincing: and no other name ( Genseric, Mohammed , and even Napoleon have been tried, with more or less violence) has any real chance of being right. The letters of Lateinos must be taken with their numeral value in Greek, those of Neron Kesar as Hebrew. If neither of these be the true one, we may be pretty certain it will not be discovered till Antichrist appears: and then believers will be able to identify him by this token.

18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding &c.] “The terms of the challenge serve at once to shew that the feat proposed is possible, and that it is difficult.” (Alford.)

the number of a man ] Comparing 21:17, it appears that these words mean “is reckoned simply, by an ordinary human method.”

Six hundred threescore and six ] The reading 616 is ancient, but certainly wrong: and it is not impossible that the repetition (which must strike every one in the words , though the Greek figures do not suggest it like the Arabic) of the number 6 is significant: it approximates to, but falls short of, the sacred 7. Certainly we get no help by referring to 1 Kings 10:14 where the number is probably arrived at, by calculating that Solomon got 2000 talents every three years: cf. v. 22.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 13". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.