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Revelation 13

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-18

Chapter 13

THE POWER OF THE BEAST ( Revelation 13:1-18 )

13:1-18 I saw a beast coming up from the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads; and it had ten royal crowns on its horns; and on its heads I saw blasphemous names.

The beast which I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's feet; its mouth was like a lion's mouth; and to it the dragon delegated its power and its throne and its great authority.

I saw that one of its heads looked as if it had been wounded to death; and its deadly wound had been healed.

The whole earth was drawn in wonder after the beast; and they worshipped the dragon, because it had delegated its authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast. "Who," they said, "is like the beast? Who is able to make war with it?" To it there was given a mouth which made arrogant and blasphemous claims; and it was given authority to go on doing so for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to launch blasphemies against God, to insult his name and his dwelling-place and those who dwell in the heavens.

It was given power to make war with the dedicated people of God and to overcome them; and it was given authority over every tribe and people and tongue and race. All who dwell upon the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain.

Whoever has an ear, let him hear.

If anyone is to be taken into captivity, into captivity let him go. If anyone slays with the sword, he himself will be slain with the sword. Here is the summons to steadfastness and to loyalty from the dedicated people of God.

I saw another beast coming up from the land, and it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises before it all the power of the first beast. It causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, the beast whose deadly wound has been healed. It works such great miracles that it causes even fire to come down from heaven in the sight of men. It deceives those who dwell on the earth, because of the miracles which it has the power to do in the presence of the beast. It tells those who dwell upon the earth to make an image of the beast, who has the wound of the sword, and who lived again. It was given power to give the breath of life to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast should even speak and so that it should bring it about that all who do not worship the beast should be killed. It causes all, small and great, rich and poor, free men and slaves, to take to themselves a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, It so arranges things that no one can buy or sell, unless he has the mark, which consists of the name of the beast or the number of his name.

Here there is need of wisdom. Let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for the number is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

It will be much easier if we treat this chapter as a whole before we undertake any detailed study of it. That is all the more necessary because this chapter is the essence of the whole book.

The general meaning is this. Satan, cast out of heaven, knows that his time is short and is determined to do as much damage as he can. To cause that damage on earth he delegates his power to the two beasts who are the central figures in this chapter.

The beast from the sea stands for the Roman Empire, to John the incarnation of evil and is described in terms which come from Daniel. In Daniel 7:3-7 there is a vision of four great beasts who come out of the sea; they are the symbols of the great empires which have held world power and of an empire which, when Daniel was written, was holding world sway. The beast like a lion with an eagle's wings stands for Babylon; the one like a bear stands for Media; the one like a leopard with four wings stands for Persia; and the fourth stands for the empire of Alexander the Great. As the writer of Daniel saw these world powers, they were so savage and inhuman that they could be symbolized by nothing but bestial figures. It was only natural for a Jew to go back to this picture of the beastly empires when he wished to find a picture of another satanic empire threatening God's people in his own day.

John's picture in the Revelation puts together in the one beast the features of all four. It is like a leopard with bear's feet and a lion's mouth. That is to say, for John the Roman Empire was so satanic that it included all the terrors of the evil empires which had gone before.

This beast has seven heads and ten horns. These stand for the rulers and the emperors of Rome. Since Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, there had been seven emperors; Tiberius, A.D. 14-37; Caligula, A.D. 37-41; Claudius, A.D. 41-54; Nero, A.D. 55-68; Vespasian, A.D. 69-79; Titus, A.D. 79-81; Domitian, A.D. 81-96. These seven emperors are the seven heads of the beast. But in addition it is said that the beast had ten horns. The explanation of this second figure lies in this. After the death of Nero there was a short period of almost complete chaos. In eighteen months three different men briefly occupied the imperial power, Galba, Otho and Vitellius. They are not included in John's list of the seven heads but are included in the list of the ten horns.

John says that on the heads of the beast there were blasphemous names. These are the titles which the emperors took to themselves. Every emperor was called divus or sebastos ( G4575) , which means divine. Frequently the very name God or Son of God was given to the emperors; and Nero on his coins called himself The Saviour of the World. For any man to call himself divine was a blasphemous insult to God. Further, the later emperors took as their title the Latin word dominus, or its Greek equivalent kurios ( G2962) , both of which mean lord, and in the Old Testament are the special title of God and in the New Testament the special title of Jesus Christ.

The second beast which figures in this chapter, the beast from the land, is the whole provincial organization of magistrates and priesthoods designed to enforce Caesar worship, which confronted the Christians with the choice either of saying, "Caesar is Lord," or of dying.

So, then, our picture falls into place. These two savage beasts, the might of Rome and the organization of Caesar worship, launched their combined attack on the Christians--and no nation had ever withstood the might of Rome. What hope had the Christians--poor, defenceless, outlaws?

The Head Wounded And Restored

There is another recurring theme in this chapter. Among the seven heads there is one which has been mortally wounded and restored to life ( Revelation 13:3); that head above all is to be worshipped ( Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14); it is the supreme evil, the supreme enemy of Christ.

We have seen that the seven heads stand for the seven Roman emperors. A head wounded and restored to life will, therefore, stand for an emperor who died and came to life again. Here is symbolized the Nero redivivus, or Nero resurrected, legend which the Christians fused with the idea of Antichrist. In the Sibylline Oracles we read of the expectation in the last terrible days of the coming of a king from Babylon whom all men hate, a king fearful and shameless and of abominable parentage (5: 143-148). A matricide shall come from the east and bring ruin on the world (5: 361-364). One who dared the pollution of a mother's murder will come from the east (4: 119-122). An exile from Rome with a myriad of swords shall come from beyond the Euphrates (4: 137-139).

It is only when we realize what Nero was that we see how his return might well seem the coming of Antichrist.

No man ever started life with a worse heritage than Nero. His father was Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was notorious for wickedness. He had killed a freedman for no other crime than refusing to drink more wine; he had deliberately run over a child in his chariot on the Appian Way; in a brawl in the Forum he had gouged out the eye of a Roman knight; and he finally died of dropsy brought on by his debauchery. His mother was Agrippina, one of the most terrible women in history. When Ahenobarbus knew that he and Agrippina were to have a child he cynically said that nothing but a monstrous abomination could come from himself and her. When Nero was three, Agrippina was banished by the Emperor Caligula. Nero was handed over to the care of his aunt Lepida who entrusted his education to two wretched slaves, one a barber and the other a dancer.

Under the Emperor Claudius, Agrippina was recalled from exile. She had now only one ambition--somehow to make her son emperor. She was warned by fortune-tellers that, if ever Nero became emperor, the result for her would be disaster. Her answer was: "Let him kill me, so long as he reigns."

Agrippina set to work with all the passion and the intrigue of her stormy nature. Claudius already had two children, Octavia and Britannicus, but Agrippina badgered him into adopting Nero as his son, when Nero was eleven years of age, and persuaded him to marry her although he was her uncle. Agrippina then summoned the famous philosopher, Seneca, and the great soldier, Afranius Burrus, to be Nero's tutors. Steadily Britannicus, the heir to the throne, was pushed into the background and Nero was given the limelight.

For five years the marriage lasted and then Agrippina arranged for Claudius' poisoning by a dish of poisoned mushrooms. When Claudius lay in a coma, she hastened his end by brushing his throat with a poisoned feather. No sooner had Claudius died, than Nero was led forth as emperor, the army having been bribed to support him.

A curious situation ensued. For the next five years Rome was never better governed. Nero was busy playing at painting, sculpture, music, theatricals; he was the complete dilettante; and the wise Seneca and the upright Burrus governed the empire.

Then Nero stopped being the cultured dilettante and embarked on a career of vicious crime. At night with other gilded youths he would roam the streets attacking all whom he could find. Worse was to come. He murdered Britannicus as a possible rival.

No young man or woman was safe from his lust. He was a blatant homosexual. He publicly married a youth named Sporus in a state wedding; and he took Sporus with him on a bridal tour of Greece. He was "married" to a freedman called Doryphorus. He took Poppaea Sabina the wife of Otho, his closest friend, as his paramour, and kicked her to death when she was with child.

He had a passion for wild extravagance and extracted money from all and sundry. The imperial court was a welter of murder, immorality and crime.

One of Nero's passions was building. In A.D. 64 came the great fire of Rome which burned for a week. There is not the slightest doubt that Nero began it or that he hindered every attempt to extinguish it, so that he might have the glory of rebuilding the city. The people well knew who was responsible for the fire but Nero diverted the blame on to the Christians and the most deliberately sadistic of all persecutions broke out. He had the Christians sown up in the skins of wild animals and set his savage hunting dogs upon them. He had them enclosed in sacks with stones and flung into the Tiber. He had them coated with pitch and set alight as living torches to light the gardens of his palace.

The insanity of evil grew wilder and wilder. Seneca was forced to commit suicide; Burrus was murdered by a poisoned draught which Nero sent him as a cure for a sore throat; anyone who incurred Nero's slightest displeasure was killed.

Agrippina made some attempt to control him and finally he turned against her. He made repeated attempts to murder her--by poison, by causing the roof of her house to collapse, by sending her to sea in a boat designed to break up. Finally, he sent his freedman Anicetus to stab her to death. When Agrippina saw the dagger, she bared her body. "Strike my womb," she said, "because it bore a Nero."

It could not last. First Julius Vindex rebelled in Gaul, then Galba in Spain. Finally the senate took its courage in its hands and declared Nero a public enemy. In the end he died by suicide in the wretched villa of a freedman called Phaon.

This is the head of the beast, wounded and restored; the Antichrist whom John expected was the resurrected Nero.

We must now look at this chapter section by section in more detail. This may involve a certain amount of repetition, but in a chapter so central and so difficult the repetition will make for clarity.

The Devil And The Beast ( Revelation 13:1-5)

We begin by summarizing the facts already set out in the introductory material to this chapter. The beast is the Roman Empire; the seven heads are the seven emperors in whose time Caesar worship became a power in the empire--Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. The ten heads are these seven emperors together with the three other rulers whose total reigns lasted for only eighteen months in the time of chaos which followed the death of Nero--Galba, Otho and Vitellius. The head which was wounded and restored to life again symbolizes the Nero redivivus idea.

In this picture the Roman Empire is symbolized by a beast which was like a leopard, with a bear's feet and a lion's mouth.

This indicates a completely changed attitude to Rome. Paul had received nothing but help from the Roman government. Time and again the intervention of the Roman authorities and the fact that he was a Roman citizen had saved him from the fury of the Jews. It had been so in Philippi ( Acts 16:1-40); in Corinth ( Acts 18:1-28); in Ephesus ( Acts 19:1-41); and in Jerusalem ( Acts 21:1-40; Acts 22:1-30). It had been Paul's view that the powers that be were ordained of God and that all Christians must render a conscientious obedience to them ( Romans 13:1-6). In the Pastoral Epistles prayer is to be made for kings and for all who are in authority ( 1 Timothy 2:1). In First Peter the injunction is to be a good citizen; to be subject to governors; to fear God, and to honour the emperor ( 1 Peter 2:13-17). In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 the most probable explanation is that it is the Roman Empire which is the restraining force which keeps the world from disintegrating into chaos and the man of sin from beginning his reign.

In the Revelation things are changed. Caesar worship has emerged. The emperors call themselves by blasphemous names--divine, Son of God, Saviour, Lord. The might of Rome is arrayed to crush the Christian faith; and Rome has become the agent of the devil.

In the description of the beast, H. B. Swete sees a symbol of the power of Rome. The empire has the vigilance, craft and cruelty of the leopard, ever ready to spring upon its prey; it has the crushing strength of the bear; it is like the lion whose roar terrifies the flock.

"Who is like the beast?" is a grim parody of the great question: "Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods?" ( Exodus 15:11). H. B. Swete points out that the beast's claim to preeminence lies not in any moral greatness but in sheer brute force. Any empire founded on brute force and not on moral greatness is anti-God. The description of the beast as speaking haughty things ( Revelation 13:5) comes from the description in Daniel of the little horn ( Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20).

One great truth stands out in this section. In this world a man and a nation have the choice between being the instrument of Satan and the instrument of God.

Insult To God ( Revelation 13:6-9)

(i) This may be taken quite generally. It may mean that the power of the empire and the institution of Caesar worship are a blasphemy against God, and heaven, and the angels. If we like to take this a little further, we can take more out of the word used for God's dwelling-place; the Greek is skene ( G4633) , which means a tent or a tabernacle or a place to dwell. Although it has really no connection with it, skene ( G4633) always reminded a Jew of the Hebrew word shechinah, the glory of God. (Compare the Hebrew verb, shakan, to dwell, H7931) . So it may be that John is saying that the whole conduct of the Roman Empire, and particularly the institution of Caesar worship, is an insult to the glory of God.

(ii) But it is possible to take this passage in a more particular sense. The beast is the Roman Empire. It may be that John is thinking of all the ways--not just those in his own time--in which Rome had insulted God and his dwelling-place.

Most Roman Emperors were embarrassed by Caesar worship; but not Caligula, A.D. 37-41, who was an epileptic and more than a little mad. He took his divinity very seriously and insisted that he should be universally worshipped.

The Jews had always been exempt from Caesar worship because the Romans were well aware of their immovable allegiance to the worship of one God. This is closely parallel to the fact that of all peoples in the empire the Jews alone were exempt from military service, because of their strict observance of food laws and their absolute observance of the Sabbath. But Caligula insisted that an image of himself should be set up within the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews would have suffered extermination rather than submit to such desecration of the Holy Place but Caligula had actually collected an army to enforce his demand (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 18: 8) when by great good fortune he died.

If ever there was an insult to the dwelling-place of God, this action of Caligula was one. And it may well be that this notorious incident is in John's mind when he speaks of the insults which the beast launched against the dwelling-place of God.

Earthly Danger And Divine Safety ( Revelation 13:6-9 Continued)

It was given to the beast to overcome those whose names were not written in the Book of Life. The Book of Life is mentioned frequently in the Revelation ( Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27). In the ancient world rulers kept registers of those who were citizens of their realms; only when a man died or lost his rights as a citizen, was his name removed. The Book of Life is the register of those who belong to God.

In Revelation 13:8 there is a question of translation. So far as the Greek goes, there are two equally possible translations, either: "Those whose names have been written before the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb that was slain," or, "Those whose names have been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world."

(i) The first is undoubtedly the translation in the parallel passage in Revelation 17:8. A close parallel would be in Ephesians 1:4 where Paul says that God has chosen us in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. The meaning would then be that God has chosen his own from before the beginning of time, and nothing in life or in death, nothing in time or eternity, nothing that the Devil or the Roman Empire can ever do can pluck them from his hand. This is the rendering of the Revised Standard Version and the newer translations.

(ii) The second translation speaks of Jesus Christ as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. A close parallel to this would be in 1 Peter 1:19-20 where Peter speaks of Jesus and his sacrifice as being foreordained before the foundation of the world. The Jews held the belief that Michael, the archangel, was created before the foundation of the world to be the mediator between Israel and God; and that Moses was created before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of the covenant between God and Israel. There would, therefore, be nothing unfamiliar to Jewish thought in saying that Jesus was created before the beginning of the world to be the Redeemer of mankind.

We have in these two translations two equally precious truths. But, if we must choose, we must choose the first, because there is no doubt that is the way in which John uses the phrase when he repeats it in Revelation 17:8.

The Christian's Only Weapons ( Revelation 13:10)

At first sight this is a difficult verse.

If anyone is to be taken into captivity, into captivity let him go.

If anyone slays with the sword, he himself will be slain with the

sword. Here is the summons to steadfastness and to loyalty from

the dedicated people of God.

The verse is made up of two quotations. It begins by quoting from Jeremiah 15:2, where Jeremiah is told to tell the people that such as are for death will go forth to death; such as are for the sword will go forth to the sword; such as are for famine will go forth to famine; and such as are for captivity will go forth to captivity. The idea there is that there is no escaping the decree of God. The verse then goes to quote the saying of Jesus in Matthew 26:52. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the mob has come to arrest Jesus and Peter draws his sword to defend him, Jesus says: "Put your sword back into its place: for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." There are three things here.

(i) If the Christian faith means imprisonment, the Christian must unmurmuringly accept it. Whatever is involved in following Christ, the Christian must accept.

(ii) Christianity can never be defended by force; the man who takes the sword perishes with the sword. When the Roman government began persecuting, the Christians could be numbered perhaps by the hundred thousand; and yet it never occurred to them to use force to resist. It is an intolerable paradox to defend the gospel of the love of God by using the violence of man.

(iii) There are weapons which the Christian can use and these are steadfastness and loyalty. The word for steadfastness is hupomone ( G5281) , which does not simply mean passively enduring but courageously accepting the worst that life can do and turning it into glory. The word for loyalty is pistis ( G4102) , which means that fidelity which will never waver in its devotion to its Master.

The Power Of The Second Beast ( Revelation 13:11-17)

This passage deals with the power of the second beast, the organization set up to enforce Caesar worship throughout the empire. Certain things are said about this power.

(i) It produces signs and wonders, such as fire from heaven; it brings it about that the image of the beast should speak. Everywhere there were statues of the emperor in the presence of which the official act of worship was carried out. In all ancient religions the priests knew how to produce signs and wonders; they knew well how to produce the effect of a speaking, image. Pharaoh had had his magicians in the time of Moses, and the imperial priesthood had its experts in conjuring tricks and ventriloquism and the like.

In Revelation 13:11 there is a curious phrase. This beast from the land is said to have two horns like a lamb; that is, it is a grim parody of the Lamb in the Christian sense of the term. But it is also said to speak like a dragon. It is just possible that that last phrase should be that it spoke like the serpent. The reference would then be to the serpent who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden. The imperial priesthood could easily use seductive appeals: "Look what Rome has done for you; look at the peace and the prosperity you enjoy; have you ever known a greater benefactor than the emperor? Surely in simple gratitude you can give him this formal act of worship." There are always excellent arguments why the Church should compromise with the world; but the fact remains that, when it does, Christ is betrayed again.

(ii) This beast brings it about that those who will not worship will be killed. That was, in fact, the law. If a Christian refused to make the act of worship to Caesar, he was liable to death. The death penalty was not always carried out; but, if a Christian had not the mark of the beast, he could not buy or sell. That is to say, if a man refused to worship the emperor, even if his life was spared, he would be economically ruined. It remains true that the world knows how to bring pressure to bear on those who will not accept its standards. Often still a man has to choose between material success and loyalty to Jesus Christ.

The Mark Of The Beast ( Revelation 13:11-17 Continued)

Those who had given the worship to Caesar which was demanded had on them the mark of the beast on their right hand and on their forehead. This mark is another of the grim parodies which occur in this chapter; it is a parody of a sacred Jewish custom. When a Jew prayed, he wore phylacteries on his left arm and on his forehead. They were little leather boxes with little scrolls of parchment inside them on which the following passages were written-- Exodus 13:1-10; Exodus 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21.

The word for the mark of the beast is charagma ( G5480) , and it could come from more than one ancient custom.

(i) Sometimes domestic slaves were branded with the mark of their owner. But usually they were branded only if they had run away or had been guilty of some grave misdemeanour. Such a mark was called a stigma ( G4742) ; we still use the word in English. If the mark is connected with this, it means that those who worship the beast are his property.

(ii) Sometimes soldiers branded themselves with the name of their general, if they were very devoted to him. This, to some extent, corresponds to the modern custom of tattooing upon one's person the name of someone specially dear. If the mark is connected with this, it means that those who worship the beast are his devoted followers.

(iii) On every contract of buying or selling there was a charagma ( G5480) , a seal, and on the seal the name of the emperor and the date. If the mark is connected with this, it means that those who worship the beast accept his authority.

(iv) All coinage had the head and inscription of the emperor stamped upon it, to show that it was his property. If the mark is connected with this, it again means that those who bear it are the property of the beast.

(v) When a man had burned his pinch of incense to Caesar, he was given a certificate to say that he had done so. The mark of the beast may be the certificate of worship, which a Christian could obtain only at the cost of denying his faith.

The Number Of The Beast ( Revelation 13:18)

In this verse we are told that the number of the beast is six hundred and sixty-six; and it is almost certainly true that more ingenuity has been expended on this verse than on any other verse in Scripture. Who is this satanic beast so symbolized? It must be remembered that the ancient peoples had no figures and the letters of the alphabet did duty for numbers as well. This is as if in English we used A for 1, B for 2, C for 3, D for 4, and so on. Every word, therefore, and in particular every proper name, can also be a number. One charming and romantic way in which use was made of this fact is quoted by Deissmann. On the walls of Pompeii a lover wrote: "I love her whose number is 545," and thereby he at one and the same time identified and concealed his loved one!

The suggestions as to the meaning of 666 are endless. Since it is the number of the beast, everyone has twisted it to fit his own arch-enemy; and so 666 has been taken to mean the Pope, John Knox, Martin Luther, Napoleon and many another. Dr. Kepler provides us with an example of what ingenuity produced during the Second World War. Let A = 100; B = 101; C = 102; D = 103 and so on. Then we can make this addition:

H = 107

I = 108

T = 119

L = 111

E = 104

R = 117

and the sum is 666!

Very early we saw that the Revelation is written in code; it is clear that nowhere will the code be more closely guarded than in regard to this number which stands for the arch-enemy of the Church. The strange thing is that the key must have been lost very early; for even so great a Christian scholar as Irenaeus in the second century did not know what the number stood for.

We set down four of the very early guesses.

Irenaeus suggested that it might stand for Euanthas. In Greek numbers E = 5; U = 400; A = 1; N = 50; TH (the Greek letter theta) = 9; A = 1; S = 200; and the sum is 666. But as to what Euanthas meant Irenaeus had no suggestion to make; so he had simply substituted one riddle for another.

Another suggestion was that the word in question was Lateinos. L = 30; A = 1; T = 300; E = 5; I = 10; N = 50; O = 70; S = 200; and the sum is 666. Lateinos could be taken to mean Latin and, therefore, could stand for the Roman Empire.

A third suggestion was Teitan. T = 300; E = 5; I = 10; T = 300; A = 1; N = 50; and the sum is 666. Teitan could be made to yield two meanings. First, in Greek mythology the Titans were the great rebels against God. Second, the family name of Vespasian and Titus and Domitian was Titus, and possibly they could be called the Titans.

A fourth suggestion was arnoume. A = 1; R = 100; N = 50; 0 = 70; U = 400; M = 40; E = 5; and the sum is 666. It is just possible that arnoume could be a form of the Greek word arnoumai ( G720) , "I deny." In this case the number would stand for the denial of the name of Christ.

None of these suggestions is convincing. The chapter itself gives us by far the best clue. There recurs again and again the mention of the head that was wounded to death and then restored. We have already seen that that head symbolizes the Nero redivivus legend. We might well, therefore, act on the assumption that the number has something to do with Nero. Many ancient manuscripts give the number as 616. If we take Nero in Latin and give it its numerical equivalent, we get:

N = 50

E = 6

R = 500

O = 60

N = 50

The total is 666; and the name can equally well be spelled without the final N which would give the number 616. In Hebrew the letters of Nero Caesar also add up to 666.

There is little doubt that the number of the beast stands for Nero; and that John is forecasting the coming of Antichrist in the form of Nero, the incarnation of all evil, returning to this world.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/revelation-13.html. 1956-1959.
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