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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Revelation 13

Verses 1-18

THERE CAN BE no doubt, we think, that the 3.5 year period, mentioned in several different ways in this passage, is the time of the great tribulation. It will be a time when the devil is excluded from heaven and consequently concentrating his wrath upon earth, and, as we shall see presently, the time when the vials of the wrath of God are poured out on the earth: a much more serious matter. It will also be the time when human lawlessness and iniquity rise to mountainous heights, and as a result the most fearful oppressions are instituted and wrongs are perpetrated. Chapter 13 now brings to our notice the two chief human instruments of Satan’s power, by whom these evils are brought to pass.

John is now transported in his spirit to the sand of the sea, and out of the sea a wild beast arises. This beast has features which clearly connect him with the fourth beast seen in vision by Daniel, and described in his seventh chapter, and also with the red dragon we have just been considering. The symbolism is not obscure. Out of the restless, surging sea of nations the Roman Empire in its dosing form will emerge. For the significance of the seven heads and the ten horns we may consult Revelation 17:8-13; a passage we must deal with later. It will suffice here to notice that in the case of the dragon the diadems are on the heads: in the case of the beast they are on the horns. The heads signify the varied forms which the ruling power has assumed through the years, and whatever they have been the devil has claimed to wear the diadem; and has, in fact, dominated the scene. When the Roman power reappears in the last days, it will be in a ten-kingdom form, and each king will claim a diadem under the beast.

Verse Revelation 13:2 indicates that this beast of the last days embraces within himself the characteristic features of the first three empires mentioned in Daniel 7:1-28. The Babylonian was like a lion: the Medo-Persian like a bear: the Grecian (or Macedonian) like a leopard. This beast had the features of all three. All their forms of beastly violence will be incorporated here, and even worse features of its own added. Here is blasphemy, a form of sin directed specially and definitely against God. Moreover the power that is wielded is directly Satanic, for “power and his seat and great authority,” was delegated by the dragon. Evidently when the Roman dominion reappears it will be a distinctly Satanic production.

In these early verses we pass almost insensibly from the kingdom to the remarkable man in whom the dominion is to be headed up. When we read of one of the heads of the beast being wounded “as it were” to death, we think of it as figuring the empire. The deadly wound is healed in the surprising uprising of the beast energized by the devil; and now the beast figures the imposing individual, who will wield the power of the Empire in the last days. The word, “seat,” in verse Revelation 13:2 is really “throne.” Solomon, we may remember, inherited from David a throne that came from the hand of God, and there was added to him riches and power from the same hand. This individual will accept all from the hand of the devil.

Let us recollect also that Satan approached our Lord in the temptation in the wilderness with an offer of all the kingdoms of the world, if only He would worship him. The Lord’s answer was, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” He utterly refused it. But the offer which the Lord in His perfection refused, will appeal to this man, who is called, “the beast,” and he will do homage to the devil and get the kingdom for a brief spell. For that same brief spell Satan will be publicly acknowledged as “god,” and thus seem to achieve what he has coveted from the beginning. We find a prophetic reference to it in Isaiah 14:12-14. “I will ascend... I will be like the Most High.” Yet in result, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” The achievement of his darling desire is the prelude to his fall.

As the chief political agent of the dragon, the beast will be a very powerful and imposing personage; so much so that men will worship him, and regard his power as irresistible. Men will feel that here at last is the superman and the super-kingdom, which can effectively impose its will and subdue all opposition. This it is, we judge, that will induce men to say, “Peace and safety,” as foretold in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, but which leads to “sudden destruction.”

We have recently had striking and terrible proof of the superhuman influence and power that can be exerted by a man of the basest description, if he traffics with demons, as the late ruler of Germany did. In what we are considering not a mere demon is at work but Satan himself. In all the greatest crises that Scripture records it would appear that Satan employs no inferior agency but acts himself. This is so, for instance in the fall of man; in the temptation in the wilderness, when the Deliverer came forth; in encompassing the death of Christ through Judas Iscariot; and here, where the final bid is made to completely dominate the earth.

Inspired by Satan, the beast acts as Satan; his mouth is filled with promises and boastings on a great scale, coupled with blasphemy against God and depreciation of everything divine. Not only the Name and dwelling of God but also those who have their dwelling or tabernacle in heaven, come under the lash of his tongue. Satan has just been cast out of heaven, and previously to that, saints have been caught up into heaven. They are therefore beyond Satan’s power, but the more therefore the objects of his hate.

There will be saints still on earth and on these he will make war successfully. His rage is against everything of God. Those that dwell in heaven he can only speak against. Those on earth get different treatment. Some, represented by the woman in the previous chapter, flee and are protected from his animosity. Some are overcome, presumably by death. Some, represented by the two witnesses of Revelation 12:1-17, have a special place of testimony, and are only overcome for a moment, and just before the end.

As to men generally, he completely captures their imagination. They will see in him all that they desire. Only the elect, whose names from the foundation of the world have been in the book of life of the slain Lamb, will fail to worship him. It will be a time of intense testing and patience, and faith will be tried to the uttermost.

And for ourselves, the revelation of these things is a test, and if we have not “ears to hear,” we shall not profit. It is a revelation that runs counter to every thought of the natural man.

Another beast now engages the attention of John, the seer. If the first holds a dominating position in the government of the world, the second is equally dominating in the sphere of religion. The government of God in relation to the earth is largely the theme of the Old Testament, whereas the New Testament unfolds the grace of God in Christ and brings heaven within our view. The devil will introduce his counterfeits, acting in both directions, and when men are brought under the power of both his grip upon them will be complete. They will be held by “totalitarianism” as in a vice. Our chapter predicts this, long before the word “totalitarian” had been coined.

The second beast rises not from the sea, but from the earth; that is, from a settled state of things. The rise of the first beast will have quelled the surging sea of nations, and prepared his way. He impersonates a lamb, but his true character is revealed by his speech. Jesus came as THE LAMB of God, as John 1:1-51 shows, and John 10:1-42 shows that as the true Shepherd of the sheep He was recognised by His voice. Here the false “lamb” proves himself to be no true shepherd but a slave-driver, speaking with the voice of the dragon.

Tyrannous power marks him, power derived through, and exercised in favour of, the first beast, who supports him. This interplay of forces has always been sought through the centuries by the civil rulers on the one hand and the religious leaders on the other—particularly by the Roman hierarchy. It will be attained in very full measure at the end of the age. We do not forget that there will be the apostate “church,” symbolized by the harlot in Revelation 17:1-18, but this is to be destroyed by the ten kings under the first beast, whereas the second beast continues to the end and meets his doom together with the first beast. He is supported by the worldly power of the first beast, whom he supports religiously by displays of supernatural power, even to the extent of bringing fire down from heaven, thus claiming Heaven’s approval.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, we read of the coming lawless one, “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” Here John sees him deceiving the nations, and particularly “them that dwell on the earth.” These earth-dwellers will doubtless feel that their dreams are to be realized in these “super-men;” that here at last has been organized the ideal condition of things, wherein great MAN may display himself in all his glory. It will be the apotheosis of Humanism; that is, of religion which finds its centre in man and not in God. Hence the suggestion to set up some great image of the super-man will be a very natural one.

It is remarkable that at the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar, the first head, arrogated to himself almost divine honours and made a great image, the worship of which was to institute a kind of super-religion, thus unifying the diverse religions that prevailed in his wide dominions. Thus he glorified himself; but he was defied by a mere handful of godly Jews, defeated when he attempted to exterminate them, and soon after was debased below the level of the beasts and made to appear one of the greatest fools that ever crawled on the earth, by the mighty hand of God upon him. He learned a salutary lesson, as the end of Daniel 4:1-37 shows. Our chapter is showing us that the times of the Gentiles will end just as they began and with apparently greater success, for those who refuse to worship the image of the beast will be killed. This time God will not intervene to frustrate the intentions of these wicked men as He once did with Nebuchadnezzar. Their judgment will fall on them in one overwhelming blow at the finish, as we see in Revelation 19:1-21.

The lying wonders performed are evidently Satanic in origin, and their effect is to subjugate the minds of men and make them completely subservient to the designs of the devil. The system instituted being totalitarian, its tentacles are spread over matters of a commercial nature as well as religious. Every man will have to bear a mark. Just as the ancient slave-owners used to brand their slaves, so men will carry a mark which will brand them as slaves of the devil through the puppets of his creation. The brand employed will apparently have three forms; either “the mark,” whatever that may exactly mean, or “the name of the beast,” or, “the number of his name.”

As to the last we are informed that it is 666. Revelation 13:18 has intrigued many minds and led to much speculation as to its significance; and hitherto all to no purpose. Nearly sixty years have passed since we ourselves first heard confident solutions put forth, all to be falsified by subsequent events, as many since have been. We believe that when the time arrives, and those who fear God need a distinguishing mark, this point will be illuminated by the Spirit of God and so all will be clear. For us let it suffice that just as seven is the number of completeness and perfection, so six is the number of human incompleteness and imperfection. It is significant that six is a number stamped upon the Philistine giants—see 1 Samuel 17:4-7; 2 Samuel 21:20. Goliath’s height was six cubits and a span; six pieces of his armour are specified; his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels.

His brother had six fingers on each hand, six toes on each foot. Yet the giants fell like ninepins before David and his warriors. The imposing beast, whose number is six thrice over, will similarly fall before the presence of the Lord.

With steady gaze John had observed the scenes unrolling before him. He had looked at the sea and seen a beast rise therefrom; then at the earth and seen a second beast arise. But now chapter 14 opens and his gaze is directed to Mount Zion, and there he sees the Lamb, whom he had previously seen in Revelation 5:1-14. What a delightful change! No longer is it a beast of grotesque and frightful appearance, or a pseudo-lamb that is a dragon at heart, but the true Lamb, who is indeed the Son of the Father, and He stands on Mount Zion, which is symbolic of that royal grace which is the only hope for any man. That being so, we are permitted to see others associated with Him.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.