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Other Explanations of Ch. 13
It still remains for us to examine the more important views that have been taken of this section, different from the one we have given. And a regard to history demands, that we should, first of all, subject to a careful investigation the view which refers it to the papacy. Bengel says, “As old as is the description here given of the papacy, so old also is the testimony to the truth, by which this prophecy is applied to the papacy. This was done long ago by the Waldenses, and afterwards by the followers of Wickliff and Huss. Such was the case before Luther’s time, and by him the light was still more widely diffused.” The two most valuable expositors of the Revelation, Bengel and Vitringa, have advanced everything that could support this interpretation. And the authority of the former especially still carries such weight with many, that the opinion almost possesses with them the character of an article of faith. He says, “The beast from the sea is the pope; the beast from the earth is that power which most particularly supports and defends, though from interested motives, the doctrine of the pope’s power. Whether and how much the orders of the Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, the Inquisition, etc., have contributed to this end, it is still impossible to compute.”
This explanation, however, is first of all opposed by the connection in which this chapter stands with ch. 13. The beast from the sea is the instrument by which the dragon carries on his persecution, which was described in ch. 12 (see the introduction to ch. 13). If, therefore, the beast were the papacy, it must also be the papal persecution of Christianity, of which ch. 12 discourses. But in that chapter the description of the persecution follows immediately after the narrative, which relates how the power of Satan was broken by the atonement of Christ. It is rage for this defeat, which calls forth the persecution. In Revelation 13:13 it is said, “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the man-child.” If we understand by the persecution that of the papacy, then the revenge of Satan was a very late one; he must have restrained himself for a full thousand years. It would also be singular, if the heathen persecution of the church, which commenced soon after the ascension, and continued to rage for centuries, under which John himself had to suffer, should have been entirely unnoticed, and yet a persecution delineated, which did not commence till a thousand years afterwards. Add to this, that Revelation 13:15-17 of ch. 12 cannot be explained, if by the persecution we understand the papal one—the commentaries of those who do so, need only to be looked into, to convince any one how utterly they grope in the dark—while by being understood in reference to the heathen persecution, they admit of a quite easy explanation. Further, Satan appears in ch. 12 under the name of the dragon. This indicates that the beast, which persecutes the church as his instrument, is a purely worldly power, without the intermixture or appearance of what is spiritual, and without ecclesiastical properties. For the dragon is everywhere employed in the Old Testament only as an emblem of purely worldly powers. The Papal persecution might justly have been assigned to the agency of Satan, but not to that of the dragon.
As another argument against the explanation of the papacy, may be mentioned the relation of this group to the two groups of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The oppression of the church, and the execution of judgment on the persecutors, is the theme which belongs in common to this group and to the other two. The latter manifestly possess a preparatory, an introductory character. The relation can only be of this nature, that there a general delineation is given of the victory of Christ and the overthrow of the world, while in this group begins the detailed representation; as quite similarly in the prophets, a general announcement often precedes the mention of particulars. Thus in Nahum, Nahum 1:3-6, the appearance of the Lord to execute judgment on the earth is revealed, and then the prophet goes on to describe the judgment on Nineveh, the particular earthly power which in his day threatened destruction to the kingdom of God. So also Isaiah, in Isaiah 13, after unfolding the Lord’s purpose to judge the earth, immediately proceeds to proclaim the overthrow of Babylon. If the relation were to be made out differently—if it were to be supposed that the two former groups and this latter one refer to different victories of Christ and discomfitures of the world, then the two first should want details, and the last a general foundation. If, then, the papal persecution was here the subject of discourse, those two earlier groups must needs also refer to the papal persecution, if not exclusively, yet so as distinctly to embrace it. This, however, cannot be the case, simply on account of ch. Revelation 9:20—to say nothing of other reasons—as the sins there mentioned are of a distinctively heathen character.
Again, the explanation that finds the papacy here, is at variance with the historical starting-point of the book. The Apocalypse was written at the time of a bloody heathen persecution which arose against Christianity. Its aim is a thoroughly practical one, being designed to comfort and animate the faint and desponding minds of believers. We would not affirm that in a book of this nature the papacy could not possibly be the subject of discourse. The Revelation of Jesus Christ was not intended merely for the present, but for the church of all ages. We do maintain, however, that primarily the subject of discourse must be that persecuting power, under the oppression of which the church sighed during the time then present, and such other powers as, in the nearer and more distant future, had the same root as that. And an exposition, which results in finding that only the most general account is given of the heathen persecuting power, that we can learn nothing of the fate of heathen Rome (for the first two groups leave us quite in the dark as to that), that all the details have respect to a hostile power, of which no suspicion had as yet begun to be entertained, and which was to be of an essentially different character from the one that then threatened the church with destruction—such an exposition must necessarily be false. The whole literature of prophecy presents nothing analogous to it. Everywhere we find the prophets manifesting solicitude primarily for the necessities of the present time. Isaiah, for example, during the oppression exercised by Assyria, in the first instance, and in the most particular manner, announces the coming deliverance from this worldly power; and when he at the same time foretells a similar deliverance from a still future Chaldean power, the future oppression, whose elements had already begun to exist, as the Chaldean dominion was even then shooting up, lay in the same line with the present one, and the application of what was said to the relations then existing was perfectly obvious. “When did a father give a stone to the son that asked of him bread!” and yet this would really have been done here. Let us but transport ourselves to the times of Domitian, so as vividly to realize the position of believers when that tyrant was persecuting the church, and we shall soon feel that such cold comfort could be to them nothing but a bitter irony. Let us imagine ourselves in the position of John himself, when he was in Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, banished to a desert island by the Roman tyrant, bearing the sufferings of all Christendom as in the microcosm of his own heart ( 2 Corinthians 11:29), and ask ourselves whether it would have been at all natural for us, when living in such a time, to withdraw ourselves entirely from it, and start off to a future that was but slightly connected with it? The interpretation, which refers all to the papacy, arose at a time when people were called to suffer bitter things from the papacy. It proceeded from a desire to find, under such circumstances, direct consolation from Scripture. Must not John himself, then, must not the first readers of the book, have earnestly desired the same consolation in their sufferings? And what could have caused it to be withheld from them? Do not the epistles to the seven churches in Asia plainly show that the Apocalypse was primarily intended for the behoof of the apostle’s contemporaries? that it must consequently meet, in the first instance, the necessities of their condition? that by its composition John sought more immediately to fulfil the obligation which lay upon him in respect to his official sphere of duty, and “by pen and ink” to furnish them with what he could not administer by his presence? in a word, that John had throughout in view his “companions in tribulation?”The interpretation that regards the papacy as symbolised by the beast, arose at a time when men had not felt the force of such considerations, when they still did not understand, how prophecy, though not bound to the present, must yet have an actual starting point in the present, must always connect itself with present necessities, questions and complaints, and never can swim loosely in the air. Now, however, when no one scarcely can fail to attain to this understanding, to attempt to defend such a mode of exposition would be a sheer anachronism.
Moreover, the relation of our prophecy to Daniel 7 is against the interpretation in question. The symbol of the beast in Daniel denotes purely worldly, godless, God-opposing powers, without anything of a nobler kind in appearance, without the intermixture of any better elements, powers in palpable opposition to the kingdom of God. The papacy does not stand on the same line with such powers, not even in the view of those who take up the strongest position against it. It would be a perplexing thing, and detrimental to the uniform character of Scripture symbolism, ‘ if under the same symbol something essentially different had been presented to John. Further, the beast here is a composite creature formed out of the different beasts in Daniel. It must, therefore, comprise within itself the particular phases of the ungodly power of this world, which in Daniel was represented under a succession of different beasts. Otherwise, confusion must be introduced into the symbolism of Scripture. But if the papacy is understood by the beast, this reference to the particular phases of the worldly power in Daniel is entirely lost. The beast here has on one of his heads, the seventh, ten horns. These point back to Daniel. There, in Daniel 7:24, the ten horns are ten worldly kingdoms, into which the fourth world-monarchy falls on its dissolution. If by the beast here the papacy is understood, the connection between the ten horns of the Revelation and those of Daniel is wholly destroyed.
Still further, the interpretation before us is proved to be untenable by comparing the 2 Thessalonians 2 second chapter of 2 Thessalonians. It forcibly impresses itself upon us, that the adversary there, “who exalts himself above all that is called God or is worshipped,” stands in a close relation to the beast here; as has from the first, indeed, been acknowledged. That adversary, however, is not a disguised, but an avowed opponent. He appears in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, compared with Daniel 11:36, as the antitype of Antiochus Epiphanes 2 in his flagrant impiety. (Hävernick: “A very special mark of Antiochus Epiphanes was his utter want of religion, which led even heathen historians to bring the strongest animadversions against him: he plundered the temples of all divinities.”) He does not come in the name of God or of Christ, but he exalts himself above all that is called God, will tolerate no God above himself, nay, not even beside himself. In the whole description no trace is to be found of hypocrisy, of a Pharisaical appearance. Often has his pseudo-ecclesiastical character been argued on the ground, that “he sits in the temple of God.” The temple of God is his church. This, certainly, must be admitted; but the meaning of the statement simply is, that he presses in upon the church from without, and, not content with the homage of the world, he lays claim to the homage of her members, after the manner stated by Pliny, who tells us that he constrained the Christians to do honour to the image of the emperor, and to curse Christ. So already Olshausen: “The Antichrist will seek to drive Christ, the true object of worship, out of the church, and set himself up in his room.” Especially, if we take properly into account the connection between Th 1 and 2, we shall not be able to entertain a doubt, that the first great phase of the appearance of the adversary was the rising up of heathen Rome against Christ and his church, of which even at the time, when the epistle was written, there were some preparatory symptoms, as the readers of the epistle knew from painful experience, but which first attained its full height in the time of Domitian. The first great fulfilment of the declaration in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, “Whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming,” was the overthrow of heathen Rome. The last great phase of the appearance of the adversary is described to us in Revelation 20:7-9, and we see with our own eyes how it is making way for itself. It is also to be noted, that the adversary of St Paul corresponds, not specially to the second beast, as Vitringa and others suppose, but rather to the first in conjunction with the second.
What is said of the beast is of such a kind for the most part, that it is not applicable to the papacy. We shall here only specify what more readily presents itself. Whoever desires more, may find it in the exposition, and in the refutation to be given afterwards of the view that has now become current.
First of all here, the name of the Beast falls to be noticed, denoting, as it does, the low, earthly mind, opposed to all that is God or godly— regular godlessness. If this name is properly interpreted, we shall soon acknowledge, in presence of the chief representatives of the papacy—a Gregory VII or an Innocent III, for example—that it is not applicable to the papacy. With all the accusations that may be brought against them, from an evangelical point of view, they still cannot be charged with having a bestial mind, excepting by setting history at defiance. It is impossible to deny their having had “a zeal for God,” and this lies out of the sphere of the beastly. The importance of this argument is evident alone from the circumstance, that those who advocate the reference to the papacy, such as Bengel, have found it necessary to ascribe to the symbol of the beast a false signification.
In determining the import of the seven heads the interpretation for the papacy is in perplexity, and no agreement has been come to in regard to it. The different views bear the character of mere random guesses. They are all dashed to pieces by the express statement of the author in ch. Revelation 17:9. And so are they all by the fact, that the ten horns, by which, according to the view in question, must be denoted the kingdoms yielding homage to the papacy, are placed on the seventh head.
The beast bears on his horns diadems. These in the Apocalypse are the symbol of royal dignity. They meet us at the very outset, with the manifest design of preventing misapprehensions, and of forcing on us the conviction, that the beast is not a spiritual, but a purely worldly power; not an ecclesiastical, but simply a civil dominion.
The beast bears on his head names of blasphemy. This points to a manifest opposition to God and Christ, and does not accord with the papacy, which even amid its loftiest pretensions has always represented itself but as a servant and living organ of God and Christ.
The beast according to Revelation 13:2 is an instrument of the dragon, his visible representative upon earth. The papacy was not regarded as a purely satanic institution, even by those who lived in the times when the contest with it was hottest. At least, when they bethought themselves, they recognized along with the satanic, also a divine element. Such especially was the case with Luther. He says, for example, in the epistle to two pastors of the Anabaptists, written in the year 1528 (W. W., p. 2646), “But we acknowledge, that under the papacy there is much Christian good, nay all Christian good, and also that it has come from thence to us; namely, we confess, that in the papacy there is the true Holy Scripture, true baptism, the true sacrament of the altar, the true keys for the forgiveness of sins, the true office of preaching, a better catechism than the ten commandments, the articles of the creed, the Pater Noster. Even as on the other side, he too (the pope) confesses, that with us (though he condemns us as heretics), and with all heretics are the Holy Scriptures, baptism, the keys, the catechism, etc. O how hypocritically dost thou speak here! How do I speak hypocritically? I say, what the pope has in common with us. And he, in return, acts a like hypocritical part towards us and the heretics, and tells us what we have in common with him. I shall play the hypocrite still more, and cannot do otherwise in the matter. I say, that under the pope, there is true Christianity, nay the real quintessence of Christianity, and many pious and eminent saints.” The concessions which Luther here and in other places makes to the papacy, loudly contradict the supposition, that by the beast the papacy is to be understood. So also does the fact, that the Evangelical church recognizes the baptism of the Roman Catholic. A church, whose centre is Satan’s vicegerent, can have no true sacraments.
An argument against the notion of the papacy being symbolized by the beast, is contained in Revelation 13:3, and was already noticed in the remarks on the verse. It was shewn, that, by this verse, the beast must have been in existence at the time of the atonement of Christ. In place of the death of the beast, those expositors are obliged to substitute a dangerous merely, but not actually mortal wound, which was to be inflicted on him by the civil power. They arbitrarily tear asunder the overthrow of the beast here from that of the dragon in ch. 12.
According to Revelation 13:4, the world in the first instance worships the dragon, because he gives power to the beast, and then the beast himself. The advocates of the view now under consideration know not what to make of this worship of the dragon. Even the worshipping of the beast, in the sense in which it is taken here, as connected with the open denial of God and Christ, cannot be historically proved, if by the beast we understand the papacy.
What is to be understood by the second beast, has never been agreed upon by those, who refer the first beast to the papacy. The contrast is this, that the one is an external, and the other a spiritual power. This is clearly shewn by the Lamb’s horns, which in Revelation 13:11 are attributed to the beast. But such a contrast cannot be pointed out, when the interpretation is adopted, that looks to the papacy. In that case the first beast becomes in part at least, nay predominantly a spiritual power. The name of the false prophet, by which the nature of the second beast is distinguished from the first, suits also equally well to this. One cannot understand how it can denote, for example, the monkish orders in contrast to the papacy.
Insuperable difficulties are presented by Revelation 13:14. [Note: Vitringa says on this verse: Nostrarum tamen partium interpretes, fateor, ipsi quoque hic fluctuant, acsi consisterent in lubrico.] The subject there is not image worship generally, but the image of the beast, and the seducing of the whole world to worship it. But history knows nothing of the fabrication of images of the papacy, and of a worship that was paid to these.
Then, the interpretation is completely wrecked on ch. Revelation 17:3, according to which the woman, Rome, sits on the beast.
Thus, the delineation of the prophet contains much, that does not suit when applied to the papacy. And, on the other hand, it contains nothing, which is properly characteristic of the papacy. Not a trace even exists in it, of a pious appearance, of an outwardly ecclesiastical character. In every part of it hostility to Christ in its rudest form, in undisguised nakedness, meets us. The Holy Spirit would be a bad painter, if he had meant after such a fashion to delineate the papacy. Bengel has not produced the shadow of a proof for his proposition, that the beast is a power, spiritual as well as worldly, opposed to the kingdom of Christ; although it was this, which above all he required to prove. Neither the name of blasphemy, nor the worship, nor the false prophet, lead to any such result. But if this proposition is incapable of proof, it is all over with the interpretation in question.
The reasons, which have been adduced by those, who advocate the view we are controverting, are not of a kind to detain us long.
Rome, it is said, is, in ch. Revelation 18:2, doomed to destruction. But since Rome still remains, it could not have been heathen Rome that was meant, it must have been Christian Rome. The answer is plain: The Rome, whose destruction is announced, is, according to ch. Revelation 17:18, “The great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” This world-wide dominant Rome has really disappeared without leaving a trace behind. Nothing now remains of the all powerful imperial Rome, which existed in the days of the apostle.
The name of the false prophet, it is said, points to false teachers, who go about in the mask of ecclesiastical authority; and so, we can only understand by the first beast, which the second serves, a pseudo-ecclesiastical power. But even in Deuteronomy 13, and Deuteronomy 18:20, prophets are discoursed of, who speak in the name of other gods, and endeavour to draw away the people to serve other gods; in whose case, therefore, that appearance of ecclesiastical authority must have been wanting. In 1 Kings 18:19, mention is made of the prophets of Baal and Aschera. In Matthew 24:24, it would be an arbitrary limitation, if we should understand by the false prophets only wolves in sheep’s clothing, as also by the false Christs are to be understood not solely, nor even principally the poor creatures, who appeared under the name of Christ or of the Jewish Messias, but much rather those, who in avowed opposition to Christ laid claim to what belongs only to him.
In ch. Revelation 17:4-5, zeal is ascribed to the woman, who sits upon the beast, for the diffusion of false doctrine, which she violently forced upon the whole earth. This does not suit heathen Rome, which allowed the nations she conquered to live in the quiet exercise of their religion, but it points to Christian Rome! To this Bossuet long ago justly replied, “What an illusion! The prophets have said as much of Tyre, of Nineveh, and of Babylon, which beyond doubt were not corrupt churches.” But he could not pluck the objection up by the root, because he, too, adhered to the wrong explanation of zeal for false doctrine. It is not this that is spoken of, but thirst for conquest.
Mark conceives, that as heathen persecutions had already been discoursed of in ch. 12, and as the description of the beast comes after this, it must refer to a later power, that was to appear in opposition to the true church. This argument, however, rests on an entire misapprehension as to the relation in which ch. 13 stands to ch. 12. In the heathen persecution there would then be no mention of any human instrument.
According to Bengel’s view, the beast must first denote the Papacy, “in a succession of popes, who for a long period one after another exercised an ungodly power under a godly name;” and then a single personage, in whom at last the ungodliness of the Papacy should culminate. On this ground it has been argued against the view we maintain, that “heathenism (more correctly: the heathenish, ungodly power of the world), the abstract thing, is still not seized and cast into the lake of fire.” But the same thing is declared in ch. Revelation 19:20 of the false prophet, as well as of the beast. If that is to be understood of an ideal person, the same may also be understood of the beast. Such modes of representation must, certainly, appear strange to one, who does not reflect, that John was in the Spirit, when he received the Apocalypse; one who sets forth the principle, that “prophecy is anticipated and condensed history;” one who has no idea, that in vision the spiritual must be invested with body, though this is still but an external veil;—but then it is needless to argue farther with such a person.
Finally, it is alleged, that what is said of the beast does not suit the heathen Germanic princes, “who for the most part so readily received Christianity. The saints were not persecuted by these princes till the latter had been received into the Christian church.” Undoubtedly, German heathenism forms, according to our view, a seventh phase of the ungodly world-power.
But who can deny, that it also shewed itself to be such, without flying in the face of history? Did not the blood of martyrs flow profusely among the tribes, of Germany, before they were converted to Christianity? See on Revelation 17:14. Besides, it is said of the ten kings, who formed the seventh phase of the ungodly power of the world, in ch. Revelation 17:12,”They received power as kings one hour with the beast;” so that the comparatively short continuance of their opposition to the Lamb is expressly and strikingly noted.
The interpretation, which considers the Papacy represented by the beast, belongs to a time long since gone by; a time, when the ungodly and God-opposing elements of the Papacy came prominently out, and the proper, the capital enemy of Christianity had almost entirely vanished from the field. At such a time this interpretation was natural, and in a sense necessary. But now, in quite altered circumstances, in the presence of another, far worse and more formidable enemy, common to us with those, who live under the Papacy, it can, one would think, only be upheld by an excessive conservatism, which would not part even with the hair and the nails. That ignoring of the Christian elements in the Papacy, which lies at the bottom of this interpretation, and against which the feelings even of the earlier interpreters sometimes loudly reclaimed, [Note: Vitringa says: “Ego saltem ita affectus sum, ut hanc bestiam cum prostibulo illi insidente nolim interpretari de Roma Christiana, nisi extrema necessitas me ad id adegerit. Non quod praecipuos hujus bestae characteres in Roma, fide et moribus corrupta, non videam: sed quod, nescio quo animi motu, hic fere horream dicere quod verum est Quis enim, qui rem ipsam rite meditatur, absque horrore cogitet, ecclesiam Christi de generasse in bestiam tam feram et immanem, qualis illa est, quae depingitur in Apoc.” Bengel arms himself against this feeling by the consideration, that he used no bard word excepting what he found in the text, and which he could not change.] carries with it now no small degree of criminality.
But while we thus decidedly oppose this interpretation in regard to the Papacy, which imposes on the word of God a very serious exaggeration (how differently does the Apocalypse speak of Laodicea, which had yet declined far enough!), we are far from denying all applicability of what is written of the beast to the Papacy. Beyond the narrow sphere of strict prophecy, there is a wide one of application, which takes into account only some leading points of agreement. There have been times in which the Papacy has looked very like the beast. But in making such applications, we must not only be careful to confine them within proper limits, but also should never forget our own faults, lest the judgment of God fall on ourselves. “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye.”
Other Explanations of the Ch. 13
We turn now to the consideration of that view of the beast, which has become the most current in the strictly theological field. This is as follows: By the seven heads of the beast are to be understood, according to the explanation of the Apocalypse itself, besides the seven hills of Rome, also seven kings. All concurs to show, that by these are meant the seven first emperors of Rome; as also by the beast itself, to which the seven heads belong, nothing else can be understood than primarily the Roman monarchy in general as an impersonation of the antichristian power of the heathen world. The beast has a double meaning; first, that of antichristian heathen Rome, the Roman world-monarchy, inasmuch as the seven heads are the seven Roman emperors; then, that of the personal Antichrist, or the concrete person of the Roman antichristian State, whose historical appearance is regarded as an eighth head of the beast. (N.B. The beast itself the eighth head of the beast!)
Of those seven Roman emperors five, at the time the vision was seen, and manifestly also at the date of the composition of the Apocalypse, according to ch. Revelation 17:10, had already fallen, that is, had died; one, namely the sixth, was then in the possession of the government. The sixth Roman emperor, beginning with Augustus, is Galba. Under him, therefore, the Apocalypse must have been written. (Galba scarcely reigned eight months; so that the time when the Apocalypse was written is known very exactly). From this historical stand-point, then, the author looks forth into the future. After the sixth a seventh also comes, who was to reign but for a short time. (The author would thus have correctly known the short continuance not only of Galba’s reign, but also of Otho’s). Then it was thought Nero, as the personal Antichrist, should again appear, and in connection with the kings of the East destroy Rome.
This view, which is the one put forth by Ewald and Lücke, has been espoused by most recent commentators with blind confidence as the correct one, as well by the representatives of a believing theology, as by those of the Rationalistic school. Of itself it makes no pretension to a well-grounded and thorough investigation; but proceeds on the lowest views of the dignity of Holy Scripture, and, in particular, of the Apocalypse, which it would place in the same rank as common apocalyptic reveries, and on a most superficial exposition. At no distant period, it will be only occasionally noticed as a singular aberration. However, ever, on account of its present momentary importance, we must give to it a careful examination, which may also enable us to supply what was the great desideratum in the interpretation generally adopted by the church. Had the church properly discharged its duty in the matter—had it not allowed itself to be drawn into a wrong path by undue polemical zeal, but attained to a right understanding of the matter, such an hypothesis would never have made its appearance. A thorough examination will also afford the advantage of plainly showing, how the want of due reverence for sacred Scripture, one of the fundamental errors of the day, of which no one can claim to be altogether free, brings ultimately confusion on those who, while destitute of it, apply themselves to the work of interpretation and criticism.
Consideration of Three Questions
First question: Is the beast the antichristian worldly power of Rome? Expositors are divided between holding the affirmative of this, and understanding the beast of the Papacy. The latter opinion received some heavy blows from Grotius and Bossuet, though their own explanation presented too many weaknesses to be generally followed. The former is now the prevailing one; but is not less arbitrary and untenable than the other.
If the beast were the Roman empire, then the woman, who sits upon the beast, must be the capital city in contradistinction to the empire. This distinction between city and kingdom is a very questionable one. It has against it the analogies of the Old Testament, where usually the great monarchies of the world are represented by their capital cities. The Chaldean kingdom, for example, is contemplated under the symbol of Babylon. Through the whole of the eighteenth chapter Rome, the woman, manifestly represents the whole Roman empire. With the overthrow of the city Rome, also, the utter dissolution of that empire is afterwards identified. In ch. Revelation 19:11, ss., entirely different enemies come upon the stage, a series of contemporaneous independent kings or kingdoms, whose power and greatness are rendered manifest by the circumstance, that the prophet sets against them the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who has many diadems (ch. Revelation 19:2; Revelation 19:16). The destruction of Rome is a catastrophe, according to ch. Revelation 16:9, which brings to an end one of the most important phases of the heathen worldly power. That the woman is Rome, not in contradistinction to the Roman kingdom, but as the concentration and representation of that kingdom, is clear, especially from ch. Revelation 17:18, “And the woman whom thou sawest, is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Here, for the city, we might substitute simply the Roman kingdom. But if the woman is the anti-Christian Roman kingdom, the beast which carries her can only denote the worldly power generally, as opposed to the kingdom of God, which was then wielded by Rome. Besides, how could it have been possible to apply what is said of the beast to the body of the Roman kingdom, separate from its head? The great power, the thirst for conquest and terribleness, the mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, the war against the saints, in all this the capital city is the soul, and whenever we look away from it we at once see, that the representation is no longer suitable to the kingdom. Then, if the beast were the Roman worldly power, as contradistinguished from the capital city denoted by the woman, the woman also must have occurred at any rate in ch. 13, as in the case supposed, the beast and woman are inseparably united together. But in that chapter the beast appears without the woman. And the supposition, that in ch. 13 the beast denotes the Roman dominion including the capital, and in ch. 17 in contradistinction to it, would destroy the uniformity of the symbolism, which is so steadfastly adhered to in the Revelation, and which alone renders a sure interpretation possible.
This view, however, which considers the Roman kingdom as the beast, is more especially proved to be erroneous by the fundamental passage regarding the beast, which in ch. 17, where the figure of the woman that sits upon the beast was to be delineated, is supposed to be known from the preceding part of the description, ch. Revelation 13:1-2. The exact agreement of the first part of the description with the vision in Daniel 7 alone makes it probable, that the beast here is a composite of the four beasts in Daniel; that the plurality, which appears there in the beasts, is placed here in the head:—there, “I saw—and four great beasts came up from the sea;” here, “And I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns.” We may the rather suppose this, as otherwise nothing analogous would be found in Daniel for the seven heads, while yet the horns, an appurtenance of the heads, are derived from Daniel. With such an original pattern, it was scarcely possible that the copy of what represented the whole power of the world should have been made to image only one of its phases. This would have destroyed altogether the relation of the Apocalypse to the prophecies of Daniel, which our author everywhere appears to resume and supplement. It would have introduced confusion into the symbolical representations of Scripture, the intelligibility of which necessarily depends on their uniformity, and is incompatible with an arbitrary and variable usage.
But we arrive still more certainly at the same result when we consider, that in ch. Revelation 13:2 the one beast is formed of the same component elements which in Daniel were distributed among the four beasts. One cannot but perceive that the beast has a composite character; that it does not, like the several beasts in Daniel, denote so many particular phases of the world’s power, in its hostility to the kingdom of God, but that power generally; and that the particular phases it was to assume, are to be sought in the heads and horns, which are peculiar to the Apocalypse.
Something like an objection may be urged on the ground of what is held by several expositors, that the fourth beast in Daniel is composed of the three first. [Note: Vitringa, p. 595: Descripta tamen hand duie est ad imaginem belluae quartae, Daniel 7:7, quae cum dicatur fuisse terribilis et horrendae specie, plane videtur supponi esse illam compsitam ex speciedbus trium belluarum, quae Danieli ante hanc quartam in viso depictae erant.] Having such an example before him, the author of the Apocalypse may have exhibited under a composite form the last and most frightful manifestation of the world’s power. But there is no foundation for that view of Daniel’s vision. On the contrary, it is expressly said, that the fourth beast was quite diverse from the beasts before it (ch. Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:19); and we find from Revelation 13:3, that all the beasts were peculiar. Such a compound, too, is from the outset scarcely conceivable. If the prophet saw in the three first beasts the worldly power under the symbol of actually existing beasts, it is not to be supposed, that in the fourth he should have introduced a mere ideal compound. Though he did not name the beast, he is not therefore to be held as giving up its at least conceivable reality.
When the Roman empire, or Nero, is understood by the beast, the parallelism among the three enemies of God’s kingdom is destroyed. The two others are of such a kind that their enmity attends the kingdom of God through the whole of its history.
The first, the dragon, is the old serpent, who from the very beginning deceives the whole earth (ch. Revelation 12:9, Revelation 20:2), and whose power, formerly existing in greater strength, was broken by Christ (ch. Revelation 12:9-11). We must the less think of separating between this dragon and the beast, as of the latter seven heads and ten horns are given up to the dragon (ch. Revelation 12:3). The other, the second beast from the earth, the opposite of the wisdom that cometh from above, earthly, physical, demoniacal wisdom (comp. Daniel 7), the false prophet, the opposite of true prophecy, which peculiarly belongs to the kingdom of God—represented, for example, by Moses, Daniel, the two witnesses, in ch. Revelation 11:3, ss., as the representatives of that faithful witnessing which in the church of Christ never ceases, and in times of persecution and apostacy rises into unusual vigour,—this second beast has had his instruments in all ages, from the magicians of Egypt downwards.
Bengel remarks, “The heads of this beast are peculiarly his own, belonging to his nature. Hence, much is ascribed in the prophecy sometimes to the seven heads of the beast, sometimes to the beast himself—as the wound in ch. Revelation 13:3; Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14—and elsewhere not much more is said of the beast, because in the description of the heads it had itself also been described.” Such a circumstance can only be explained by the beast being put for the worldly power in general, and its heads for the particular forms in which this manifests itself. For in that case it was only in the latter that the beast had its real existence, with them perished, and with them again returned to life. If, on the other hand, the beast represents the monarchy of Rome and the heads individual emperors, the connection comes to be of a much looser sort. The destruction of a particular head might even have been an advantage to the beast. Who would maintain, for example, that the death of a Nero was a heavy misfortune to the Roman empire, and that his return to life again should be considered as the healing of a deadly wound to the commonwealth?
The ten kings have one mind, and give up their power and authority to the beast, ch. Revelation 17:13. But they hate and lay desolate the woman, Rome, Revelation 13:16. What painful violence must be done here, if one should understand by the beast the Roman empire? The beast must then denote here, not the emperor Nero as a representative and concentration of the power of Rome, but the deposed Nero as an individual in contrast to the Roman state. On the other hand, whenever we understand by the beast the power of this world generally, as opposed to the kingdom of God, and by the woman, that for the present was borne by the beast, Rome and the Roman empire, all becomes perfectly plain. The Apocalypse presents n double and very striking political prophecy in the strictest sense—first, the express announcement of the overthrow of the Roman dominion, uttered at a time, when still no visible indications of such a catastrophe appeared; then, the prediction that, otherwise than in the past, from the times of Pharaoh downwards, when one vast world-monarchy had always supplanted another, after Rome there was no general ruler of the world to be looked for, but the ungodly power of the world from the fall of Rome to its final destruction was to present a divided appearance. The destined heirs, too, of the Roman dominion, the ten kings or kingdoms, while they do fealty to the world’s hatred toward the kingdom of God, still hate that possessor of the world’s power, under whose persecution at the time of the Seer the church sighed, and, as instruments of judgment in the hand of God, execute upon her the recompense of God’s righteousness.
The ten horns belong to the beast. But the kings, who are represented by these, cannot be any belonging to the Roman kingdom, for they act in hostility to Rome, and destroy her; they are not subordinate vassals, but kings of the earth with their armies, ch. Revelation 19:18-19, against whom the Lord of the church himself takes the field with his heavenly hosts; and so great is their power, that by their overthrow is completed the destruction of the heathen ungodly power generally, and the church enters on the enjoyment of a millennium of secure and undisturbed possession of the kingdom.
Second question: Are the seven heads of the beast the first seven Roman emperors?
That they are not, appears from this alone, that Satan has seven heads and ten horns, and upon the heads seven diadems, plainly as a mere reflection of his visible representative and agent upon earth. For, that Satan is viewed here as the moving principle of the conquering and despotic power of the world in its violent assaults against the kingdom of God, through which he seeks to accomplish his wicked designs, is clear, not only from the name of the dragon given to him, but also from its being said, that “with his tail he draws the third part of the stars, and casts them on the ground,” ch. Revelation 12:4. The stars are rulers, and their being thrown on the ground denotes their overthrow and subjection. It is also evident, further, from ch. Revelation 13:2, where it is said that the dragon gives up his power, and his throne, and his great authority to the beast. Finally, it appears from comparing the great red dragon in ch. 12 with the purple-red beast in ch. Revelation 17:3. The blood-colour, the signature of conquest and tyranny, is common to the dragon and his earthly instrument. Now, the seven Roman emperors are far too tiny to be regarded as affording such a reflected image. There is wanting also in the most of them an essential element—hatred toward the kingdom of God, with which the four first had almost nothing whatever to do. “Nero,” says Lactantius, “was the first to persecute the servants of God, he caused Peter to be crucified, and killed Paul.” Tertullian also says in his Apology, “Turn up your annals; there you will find, that Nero was the first who raged against this sect, which then flourished especially at Rome.” The reflection of the crown of an Augustus on the head of the red dragon would indeed be a singular anomaly.
The beast has on his head names of blasphemy, according to ch. Revelation 13:1; and according to ch. Revelation 17:3, the whole beast is full of names of blasphemy. Vitringa: “Names and designations are meant, which are in the highest degree blasphemous, and insulting to the true God and his true Son Jesus Christ. For such is what we properly call blasphemy; it is a smaller crime to assume the honours and titles of false and imaginary deities.” That this is the right view of blasphemy, appears more particularly from ch. Revelation 13:6, according to which the blaspheming of God goes hand in hand with the blaspheming of his church and acting hostilely toward her. Direct blasphemy is also spoken of in ch. Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21. Hence, the fact in question implies, that all the seven heads have been related to the true God and his kingdom. What is meant by blasphemy may be understood from the speech of the king of Assyria in Isaiah, Isaiah 36:13, ss., and Isaiah 37:10, ss., in which he proudly exalts himself above the God of Israel, and mocks all confidence in him; in which “he reproaches the living God,” Isaiah 37:4, and “blasphemes” him, Isaiah 37:6; and in Isaiah 37:23, he is represented as “lifting up his eyes against the Holy One of Israel.” See also for similar blasphemies in Isaiah 10:9-10. The same thing appears from the example of Pharaoh, who on hearing the command of the Lord by Moses, “Let my people go,” impiously exalts himself above God, and asks, “Who is Jehovah, that I should obey his voice, and let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go.” ( Exodus 5:2). It may yet again be learned from the example of the Chaldean monarch Belshazzar, when in mockery of the God of Israel he drank wine with his nobles, and wives and concubines, out of the gold and silver vessels, which his father Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from the temple at Jerusalem ( Daniel 5:1); thus raising himself against the Lord of heaven, in whose hand his breath was, and whose were all his ways, and not honouring him, ( Daniel 5:23). Who does not see, that in such a person as Augustus, for example, there was nothing to be found of blasphemy after this sort?
In ch. Revelation 17:9, it is said, that the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and seven kings. It is clear as day, that there is not a double signification ascribed here to the seven heads, but that the second only serves as an explanation of the first. Even Bengel remarks, “It is certainly no satisfactory exposition, which takes a particular symbol in two quite different significations.” Now, in the symbolism of Scripture generally, and especially of the Apocalypse, mountains uniformly denote, not particular kings, but kingdoms—see on ch. Revelation 8:8. The kings, therefore, are not individuals, but ideal persons, personifications of kingdoms, the king of Babylon, of Rome, &c. Such phraseology occurs very frequently in the higher style of prophecy. For example, in Daniel 7:17, “The four beasts are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth;” Vulg. regna; in Daniel 7:23-24 for מלךְ? , king, there is מלכו , kingdom. In Daniel 8:21, it is said, “The rough goat is the king of Grecia, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.” Isaiah 23:15, “Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years as the days of one king;” on which Michaelis remarks, “Not one royal personage, but one kingdom; q.d. so long as the Chaldean empire lasted.” See, on kings for kingdoms, Gesenius on Isa., I. p. 760. It is scarcely to be conceived, how such expositors as Vitringa could allow themselves to be carried away here by the mere appearance; he says, “It denotes, as every one sees, the seven-hilled city of Rome.” So much only can be admitted here, that John saw in the seven hills of Rome a symbol of the seven- formed worldly power, of which Rome was then the possessor. But to understand the seven heads of the beast of the seven hills of Rome is in itself quite incongruous; between the image and the object thus represented by it, there exists no natural connection. Vitringa himself must admit, that “all the properties of the heads of the beast, as they are found in the two visions respecting the beast, cannot be pointed out in the hills, on which the beast sits, as is clear from ch. Revelation 13:3, and Revelation 17:10-11.” The groundlessness of the interpretation becomes more apparent by the consideration, that it would denote by one and the same symbol the seven hills of Rome and the seven kings, which have nothing properly to do with each other. And it becomes still more clearly manifest, when we glance into what goes immediately before, “Here is (in its proper place) the understanding that has wisdom.” The meaning of this declaration was quite correctly explained by Vitringa, as intimating, that a quick discernment and wise discrimination in regard to spiritual things would be required of those who should understand aright what is written. It corresponds to the frequently repeated formulas of our Lord, He that reads, let him understand, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear, He that can keep it, let him keep it; after which it is formed. It indicates, that the meaning is still mysterious to those, who have simply a sound natural understanding, who do not penetrate through the shell or rise above the letter, and by such cannot be properly understood. It sets forth as a canon for the right exposition, the sentiment expressed by Vitringa on Revelation 13:10, “The explanation itself, which shall solve the enigma, presents a new enigma.” It would be wonderful, after such an introduction, to begin with a statement, which contains in it no spiritual element, demands no spiritual apprehension. The words, “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits,” according to the view most prevalent now, truly require no understanding that has wisdom. Let one lay it before a school-boy, and merely tell him that the woman is Rome, and he will be quite ready with his answer. But that, according to our view, the demand for wisdom was not superfluous, is evident alone from the current misunderstandings on the subject. The mountains in the place of kingdoms, the symbolical mode of considering the hills of Rome, kings instead of kingdoms, the determining of the monarchies, which are not expressly named, but which complete the number seven—all this rises above the sphere of the ordinary understanding, and is in unison with what follows, where we never meet with a statement of such bald simplicity as the one before us is by the current interpretation.
The ten horns, which denote ten kings (ch. Revelation 17:12), that is ten kingdoms—as also in Daniel 7:8, and Zechariah 2:1, the four horns are four kingdoms—do not exist along with the heads, but they sit upon the seventh head. The object was a double one—first, to bring out in what the seventh phase of the ungodly world-power agreed with the others; and then wherein it differed. The first object was served by the head, the other by the horns upon the head, by which the seventh form of the power was exhibited as a divided one. That the horns belong to the seventh head is manifest: the head is the natural place for the horns to be, and no sensible symbolism would mention head and horns with each other, if the horns were not to be conceived of as on the head. It is clear, farther, from ch. Revelation 12:3, by which Satan has on his head seven diadems, which must of course be equally understood of the horns; but this could only be the case if the horns stand inseparably connected with one of the heads. It appears again from the circumstance, that in the beast, which rose out of the sea, the horns first were visible and before the heads, which only appeared afterwards, so that the horns must be regarded as placed on the heads. That this was the reason why, in the beast rising out of the sea, the heads were named before the horns, is clear from ch. Revelation 17:3, where, since no such cause any longer operated, the heads are mentioned before the horns: “a beast having seven heads and ten horns.” There the prophet does not see the beast “arising,” as he had done in ch. Revelation 13:1. There it is plain, that the horns are to be viewed as connected with the seventh head, because what in ch. Revelation 17:10 is declared of the seventh head or kingdom, stands related to what is said in Revelation 13:12, ss., of the ten horns, as the general outline to the filling up; so that the position of the horns on the seventh head cannot be doubted; for in this case alone is such a relation capable of explanation. The seventh king denoted by the seventh head had not yet come; and when he came, he should only continue for a short time. So also it is said of the ten horns, that they are ten kings, “who have not as yet received the kingdom, but they receive power as kings (to be and act quite independently) one hour with the beast.” With the fall of the seventh head is coupled that of the beast ( Revelation 13:11), as it is, in like manner, according to Revelation 13:17 and ch. Revelation 19:20, with the fall of the ten horns or kings. But if any doubt still remained, it would be dissipated by the prophecy of Daniel.
According to what is written there in Daniel 7, there were to arise out of the fourth monarchy (by which, at the time of Christ, was generally understood the Roman empire), ten kings, represented by ten horns; that is—according to the usual language of the book—ten kingdoms, which had already, indeed, been symbolised by the ten toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision Daniel 2): the fourth kingdom was first to be parted into two great kingdoms, the feet; then into smaller ones, the toes. These, and for the same reason also the horns, must denote kingdoms, because the whole image has to do, not with individuals, but only with kingdoms. In Daniel, however, in the fundamental prophecy, the ten horns exist, not along with the four beasts, but upon the head of the fourth and last beast. So here also must they belong to the seventh and last head. But if it is certain, that the ten horns or kingdoms belong to the seventh head, then the heads cannot denote royal personages, but only monarchies.
When the first seven Roman emperors are understood by the seven heads, the author must be held to have placed the overthrow of the Roman state in the immediate future. But at the time of the composition of the Apocalypse no grounds existed for such an expectation; and it would have been wonderful if a book, which, but a few months afterwards, when Vitellius ascended the throne, must have proved itself to be the production of a senseless visionary, should have risen to such high honour in the church.
We would not lay any great stress on the circumstance, that the naming of kings in ch. Revelation 17:10 does not precisely warrant the expectation that the discourse should be exclusively of the Roman Caesars; more especially as the word Caesar is of frequent use in the writings of the New Testament. Nothing is proved by 1 Peter 2:17, for there the apostle speaks in a general way.
It is a more important objection, that no properly old and valid authority can be produced for numbering the Roman Caesars from Augustus, on which the hypothesis we contend against rests; for only thus does Nero become the fifth. Tacitus has been improperly quoted in this connection, as has been already proved by Hofmann (Weiss. und Erf). In the XII Caesars of Suetonius, we find Julius Caesar, who had the substance, and from whom the name passed over to the others, even those who were not of his line, which expired with Nero (comp. Dio Cassius, p. 484, 713); so that, if he, the first, is left out, we have a body without a head. In Dio Cassius, Augustus is regularly called the second Caesar (see Reimarus, p. 502). Josephus, too, reckons from Julius Caesar. But of peculiar importance is the expression, “five are fallen,” in ch. Revelation 17:10. This does not at any rate suit those of the five emperors, who died a natural death. It indicates, that not individuals, but rather kingdoms and empires are to be thought of, for whose overthrow the term falling is the standing expression in Scripture—comp. Revelation 18:2, Revelation 14:8, Revelation 16:19, as also in the Old Testament, Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 51:8; Amos 5:2. Falling is used in regard to individuals only if they have perished in war, not of persons who may have a violent end in some other way. By Isaiah and Jeremiah the falling is used expressly of Babylon, which according to our view is comprehended among the five. To the five here there is added in other passages of the Revelation a sixth, which was still in existence, the Babylon of the prophet’s time, Rome.
Third Question: Do ch. Revelation 17:8 ; Revelation 17:11 point to Nero?
There can be no doubt, that if they did, the Apocalypse must be regarded as the production of a merely human, and very miserable author. In Revelation 13:1-7, by this view, the beast must denote the Roman power. In Revelation 13:8 the beast must signify Nero, the Roman emperor, it must be observed, who had been driven from the throne, and who, it is supposed, was to come forth as the enemy of Rome; who, therefore, cannot for a moment be thought of as a concentration of the power of Rome. In Revelation 13:9-10, the author again, it is thought, sets out from the consideration of the beast as the image of the Roman power. But in Revelation 13:11 the beast again becomes Nero. And this change is made without the slightest intimation on the part of the author, that he here takes the beast, the description of which he has already finished in ch. 13, in a different signification. Further, Nero must appear in Revelation 13:9-10, as also in ch Revelation 13:3, as one of the seven heads of the beast; but immediately afterwards in Revelation 13:11 as the beast itself. Truly, in Ewald’s statement, “There is in reality not much that requires to be excused in the Seer,” we should need to score out the not, if this interpretation were right. But since the defenders themselves cannot withhold from the author, as a man, their admiration, they must allow us in passing to entertain the suspicion, that these crudities belong not to him, but to them, his interpreters. Nothing but the most conclusive reasons could induce us to raise the question about tendering excuses, in regard to the author, rather than to them. But we soon discover, that what they allege in support of their reference to Nero, cannot stand a careful examination.
Revelation 13:11, it is thought, must especially point to Nero, “And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” In him, who had already appeared as one of the seven, and was again to appear as the eighth, there can be no doubt, that we must understand Nero, who, according to the popular opinion at Rome, was to re-appear after his supposed death. At p. 249, Lücke says, “Then it is said of the beast, which was and is not, that is, of the personal Antichrist here, who had just been, but now was not, that he is the eighth in that succession of Roman emperors; and again, that so far as he already was, he was one of the seven, and goes into perdition.”But there is a strong objection to this view in the import and position of the clause, “and is of the seven.” That it is so in regard to the former, is evident from Lücke’s finding an explanatory insertion necessary: “And again, in so far as he already was one of the seven.” And in regard to the other, the position of the clause, the interpretation separates, “and is of the seven,” in the most unsuitable manner from the other two: “He is the eighth” and “he goeth into perdition.” But, on the contrary side, another and quite simple explanation of the passage presents itself, which entirely sets aside the reference to Nero. Of the seven, there was only one thing of moment brought prominently out in the preceding verses, that of the fall, or destruction. Hence, in the clauses, “And he is an eighth,” and “he is of the seven,” there is quite naturally to be supplied, “in the destruction;” and that there might be no doubt as to this being the thing to be supplied, it is expressly added at the close, “and he goes into perdition.” The meaning is: with the overcoming of the seventh phase of the ungodly power of the world, that power generally goes down—comp. ch. Revelation 19:20, where immediately after the second catastrophe, which subsequently to the fall of Rome, passes over the new manifestation of the worldly power, after the victory of Christ over the ten kings, the beast with the false prophet is seized and cast into the lake of fire. With that the ungodly power of the world comes to an end. At the close, indeed, of the thousand years of quiet and secure repose enjoyed by the church (the maintaining of which to be still future, is one of the sad consequences of conceiving the beast to mean the papacy), there is to arise a new and powerful display of hostility on the part of the world. But for reasons which have been already given, the Seer did not comprehend this under the symbol of the beast.
It is alleged, that Nero must also be meant in the clause, “the beast which was and is not,” in ch. Revelation 17:11, as also in Revelation 13:8, The beast, which thou sawest, was and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition.” So also ch. Revelation 13:3, where the prophet sees one of the heads of the beast as wounded to death, but whose deadly wound was healed. This last passage, however, cannot refer to Nero. If a beast’s head is slain, the beast itself is also slain. But by the death of Nero the beast, to wit the Roman kingdom, was not at all affected. Further, that the wounding to death in the head at the same time reached to the whole beast, is clear from ch. Revelation 13:3-4, by which, in consequence of the healing of the head, the whole earth wondered after the beast and his power. That the deadly wound of the head was deadly for the whole body, appears also from the parallel passages in ch. 17, and other reasons already mentioned on ch. Revelation 13:3.
The whole of the three passages are to be explained by ch. Revelation 12:9, which teaches that through the bloody atonement of Christ, Satan is robbed of his power, and by John 16:33, where the Lord says.”Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” With this compare John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”The power of this world, as opposed to the kingdom of God and wielded by satanic influence, was; it showed itself active and powerful during the two thousand years before Christ. It is not; it was wounded to death through Christ, and had as yet given only a few indications of life. But the prophet perceived, having the eye of his mind opened through the beginnings, which were made known to him by painful and personal experience, that it should revive again, that the saying, I was dead and behold I am alive again,” should also be verified in the case of the antichristian state, though certainly in an inferior manner, and without the addition, “for ever and ever.” On this singular fact, this strange anachronism, this remarkable quid pro quo, this riddle, so incomprehensible till one goes into the sanctuary of God ( Psalms 73:17), the prophet wondered (ch. Revelation 17:6-7):
Not at the circumstance, that the worldly-power had the will—for all experience since the beginning of time, and the apostle’s own declaration, that “the world lieth in wickedness” ( 1 John 5:19), could leave no room to wonder there—but that it should be allowed to rage so fiercely against the saints. The world itself also, whose conscience responded to the word, “I have overcome the world,” looked with wonder ( Revelation 13:8), while it beheld the apparent opposite of this before its eyes in the revived power of the beast. The antidote to the wondering, which is presented in Revelation 13:7, ss., by the angel to the prophet, is the respice finem; look to the approaching overthrow of the persecutors, now glittering in their pride, and of the ungodly power of the world generally; look to the ultimate fulfilment of the word, I have overcome the world; to the blessed time, when the loud acclaim shall be heard, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” Standing on this high watch-tower, the prophet could say with a firm voice, Non euro te Caesar. There is nothing, then, requiring the supposed reference to Nero: nothing to necessitate or justify us in relieving the expositors of the monstrous absurdities referred to, and throwing them on St John, the blessed Seer, who was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. Nay, there are still other and weighty considerations against the reference to Nero.
The beast cannot fitly be an individual. The four beasts in Daniel are not individuals, but powers. In Ezek. Ezekiel 29:3, the great dragon is the ideal person of the Egyptian king, the personified kingdom. So also in Psalms 68:30, “the beast of the reeds” (in the Eng. version, “the company of spearmen”). The boar out of the forest in Psalms 80:13, is the king of Assyria. In the Revelation, too, the four beasts (ζῶ?α ) in ch. 4, are the Cherubim, not angels, but ideal creatures. symbols of the earthly creation, after the four chief classes of beings that belong to it, man, cattle, wild animals, birds, representatives of the earth generally, along with the four and twenty elders, who represent the church upon the earth. The second beast in the Apocalypse, the false prophet, is an ideal person coming in a multitude of individuals to an actual existence. But the beast and the false prophet are together thrown into the lake of fire. How strange would this be, if the one were an individual, and the other an ideal person! Not less strange would be the juxtaposition in ch. Revelation 16:13, where the beast in the middle of the dragon and the false prophet appears like them as possessor of a spirit, which proceeds from him among the kings of the whole earth, like frogs that live and croak in unclean places. On the other hand, the ungodly power of the world is a worthy companion for the dragon and the God-opposing worldly wisdom. Like these it actually has a spirit, which it breathes forth, and with which it inspires its votaries.
If we compare ch. Revelation 17:6, “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration,” and Revelation 13:8, “And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, when they behold the beast, that was, and is not, and yet is;” it will appear, that the re-existence of the beast coincides with the drunkenness of the woman with the blood of saints and the martyrs of Jesus. Now, this is the case only, if we understand by the beast the ungodly power of the world. The restored existence of this power discovered itself in the frightful persecutions, which Rome suspended over the faithful.
Here it is an actual death that is spoken of. For, the beast returns from the abyss ( Revelation 13:8, comp. Revelation 11:7); “it is not” (ib. and Revelation 13:11). Even ch. Revelation 13:3 is in favour of this, and not against it, as Lücke supposes (see on the passage). The expression, “ as it had been killed to death,” refers not to the seemingness of the death, but to the traces of the absolutely mortal wound, which might be discerned on it, after it had returned to life again. This is manifest from the similar expression in ch. Revelation 5:6, “I saw a lamb as it had been slain.”The lamb was actually killed. The obvious parallelism of the Iamb and the beast demands for this passage an especial regard. The popular report, however, did not suppose the return of Nero from the dead, but, abiding by the merely natural territory, questioned the fact of his death, which very few persons had witnessed. [Note: Tacitus Hist. II. 8. 1, Vario super exitu ejus rumore eoque pluribus eum vivere fiugentibus credentibusque, Sueton. Nero. c. 57, Quasi viventis et breivi magno inimicorum melo reversuri.]
Nero put an end to himself; ferrum jugulo adegit (Sueton). But the head of the beast, according to ch. Revelation 13:3, was slain to death; it received a mortal blow from some foreign hand, as the lamb had done (and through this very Iamb, which by dying overcame the world, and more immediately Rome, which through Pilate had given the sentence of death).
No trace is to be found of those, who imagined Nero still to be alive, entertaining extravagant expectations regarding his future course. The report in this respect also occupied merely common ground; it went no farther than this, “that he lived and would soon return to the great detriment of his enemies” (Sueton). The false Nero made no higher pretensions than to acquire anew, what the real Nero had possessed. But that something quite different is here affirmed of the beast, is evident alone from Ewald’s remark on ch. Revelation 13:4, “They held this for a kind of supreme God, to whom none could be likened; a form of speech borrowed from the Old Testament, where it is frequently employed of the true God, Isaiah 40:25.” Those extravagant expectations, then, must have been coined by the prophet’s own hand, and without any proper occasion in the object. One who had lived so wretchedly, and still more wretchedly died, certainly afforded no ground for such expectations being cherished respecting him. The most absurd dreamer who, as a contemporary, had the personal existence and course of Nero before him, could never have thought of raising such a person to the dignity of the Antichrist. But even the modified report of the continued existence of Nero obtained credit only among the credulous populace.
Some notices, indeed, are to be found of a return to life in Nero being expected even by the more credulous Christians; but this opinion was confined to the lowest class, and is without any respectable authority. Augustine expresses his wonder at the stupidity of those who gave credit to it (multum mira est haec opinantium tanta praesumtio), and Lactantius, de mort. persecut. c. 2, simply characterizes them as senseless—deliri. [Note: Ewald remarks on ch. 16:8, “That the passage refers to Nero was the unanimous opinion of the earlier Fathers,” and points for proof to this passage of Luctontius, and besides to Sulpitius Severus. A striking contrast, the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and some senseless persons! How must the tradition, then, of the composition of the Apocalypse under Domitian have had on its side all authorities of any moment!] Besides, that notion had originated in a mistaken view of the meaning of the Apocalypse, and also of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. This is quite obvious from the passage in Sulpitius Severus. [Note: Hist. Sacr., L. 2, p. 373, Horn: Creditur etiamsi se gladio ipsi transfixerit curato vulner ejus servatus, secundum illud quod de eo Scriptum est; et plaga mortis ejus curate est; sub seculi fine mittendus, ut mysterium iniquitatis exerceat.] It appears also from that of Lactantius. For, the senseless persons are represented, in the fragmentary account that is preserved of their reasons for such an opinion, as appealing to the analogy of the two prophets, who were transferred alive to heaven, and who in the last days are to precede the coming of Christ. In this they manifestly had respect to what is said of the two witnesses in the Apocalypse, by whom many, as still also Ewald, understand the literal Enoch and Elias—instead of the spiritual Moses and Elias, or the New Testament work of witnessing represented under the type of those two Old Testament servants of God—that work of witnessing, which no persecution of the church can suppress, which rather rises into more vigorous exercise, the more powerfully the world presses on the church, the more vehemently Pharaoh and Jezebel rage. But it is one thing to take up a matter like this, on the ground of a supposed authority, and because no other resource presents itself (since otherwise the most intelligent persons might be accounted fools, from the many absurd interpretations that they have given of various parts of the Apocalypse), and a different thing to take it up at one’s own hand.
Lücke certainly thinks, that the apprehension of Nero, reviving out of death and appearing as the Antichrist, can be proved to have prevailed among Christians of the first century independently of the Apocalypse. In this he follows Bleek, who, in the Theol. Zeitshrift II., p. 287, maintains, “that the earliest certain apprehensions of this kind among Christians are to be found, besides the Apocalypse, in the fourth book of the Sibylline verses, composed A.D. 79-80.” But the fixing of this date rests on very doubtful grounds. After the re-appearance of Nero there were to follow several other facts, oracles which Bleek declares to have been “not perfectly intelligible,” without considering that, till they can be found intelligible, it is needless to think of fixing any definite time. After the author has reached the close of his historical narrative, which he would have us to regard as prophecy, he launches forth into warnings and admonitions respecting the final judgment. And what is said there of Nero? Nothing more than this: The fugitive of Rome shall fly with a numerous army beyond the Euphrates, and march toward the west. There can be no doubt, when the related passage of Zonaras, p. 578 b., is compared (Reimarus on Dio Cassius), that the writer alludes to the expedition of the Pseudo-Nero under Titus, after the outburst of Vesuvius, which is mentioned immediately before in the Sibylline book. When the Sibyllist speaks of this false Nero as of the real one, this is simply to be explained, with Thiersch (Versuch, p. 413), “on the ground of such a mode of representation being the most in accordance with the mysterious, hyperbolical, and awe-inspiring character of the whole oracle.” Nothing is said in it of what the false Nero was really to accomplish; not so much as a word of his being to take Rome. The contrary, rather, is clear from the following verse, according to which Antioch, on account of its folly (its foolish credulity), was to suffer much through the Romans. And from this passage it is clear, according to Lücke, “that in the first century the idea spread among the Christians, that Nero, like a sort of New Testament Antiochus Epiphanes, should immediately before the second coming of Christ return from the East as the “Antichrist,” attack the kingdom of Christ, though he should be over-come and perish in the attempt.” Of Antichrist, of an attack on the kingdom of Christ, of anything happening "immediately before the second coming of Christ,” (here is not so much as a word! The single fact, that Nero accomplished nothing against Rome, shows that no sort of parallel can be found here for the modern exposition of the Apocalypse.
Finally, this exposition rests on the supposition, that the Apocalypse contains the doctrine of the Antichrist being an individual. But such a doctrine is from the outset not to be expected in it. St John, in his epistles, makes no mention of such an one. He expressly states, in 1 John 2:18, that the Antichrist is an ideal person, to be realised in a multitude of individuals; comp 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:3; 2 John 2 John 1:7, Nor is any mention made of a personal Antichrist in the discourses of our Lord regarding his second coming, to which John alludes in his epistles, as they also contain the general plan, that is merely enlarged upon in the Apocalypse. They are, therefore, to be regarded as of decisive authority wherever the exposition is doubtful. But they speak only of false prophets and of false Christs, who should arise and draw away many into error, (comp. with 2 John 1:7, Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24). If from the firm position we have thus gained, we direct our eye to 2 Thessalonians 2, we shall there also not find the Antichrist as an individual, unless we leave out of view the use made in Scripture of the ideal person—which is, indeed, very apt to be done in the present day, when there is so little intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament. Most commonly the question is incorrectly put. It is so, for example, by Olshausen, when he remarks, “We cannot, without violence to this passage, deny the individuality of Antichrist. Not only is he expressly called, ‘the man of sin,’ the adversary,’ but there is also ascribed to him a parousia as to the person of Christ, and a manner of acting such as is proper only to a person.” The question is not, whether person or not person; but whether a real or an ideal person, such as we constantly meet with in the Psalms, of the wicked, the enemy, the adversary; where also a vicious realism has greatly damaged the work of exposition. But that the subject here is an ideal person is clear, if only no decisive proofs of the contrary can be adduced, from the parallel passages alone of the New Testament, which have already in part been referred to. “Elsewhere, also,” remarks Olshausen, “as for example in Acts 20:29-30; 2 Peter 2:1, ss.; 2 Peter 3:3, ss., Jude 1:18, ss., where the hostile forces and seducers of the last time are spoken of, it is always of several, not of a single individual, that mention is made.” So also with Paul himself, besides the passages in his speech and writings referred to, in 2 Timothy 3:11, ss.; 1 Timothy 4:1, ss. If everywhere else we find, first, a real plurality in the enemies of Christ, and secondly, this plurality exhibited under the form of an ideal person, it should certainly not be without serious consideration, that we regard the Antichrist here as an individual; more especially, as the parallel with Christ afforded so natural an occasion for combining into an ideal person what properly consisted of scattered individuals. It is also in favour of the view of an ideal person, that the falling away, with which the apostle begins, would receive no farther notice, this subject would be entirely left undiscussed, if the declarative falling away at the commencement were not identical with the man of sin, &c. An explanation also is given by the apostle in the “strong delusion,” in 2 Thessalonians 2:11; and another still more clearly indicating the ideal import of the person of Antichrist in the expression mystery of iniquity,” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Olshausen himself has said, “from the relation of this phrase at the beginning of 2 Thessalonians 2:7, to the words in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, ‘and then shall that Wicked be revealed,’ this mystery of iniquity can mean nothing but Antichrist.”But the mystery of iniquity cannot denote a real person. For mystery can be used only of a thing; and only of such also could it be said, “it already works.” Nor could it properly be said of a person, but only of a tendency or system, that it is stayed (letted). Finally, it is an ideal person also “who withholds” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and before in 2 Thessalonians 2:6—the personification of the noble powers, that then watched and prayed for the church; or the ideal person of the good shepherd, in respect more immediately to the Thessalonians represented by the apostle himself in his writing to them. Of him, and such as him, we must primarily think in this connection (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Acts 20:28; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:6; 1 Peter 5:1; Hebrews 13:17).
Revelation 13:1 . And I was placed upon the sand of the sea.
Ch. Revelation 13:1. And I saw a beast ascend out of the sea, which had ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns ten diadems, and upon its heads names of blasphemy. In ch. Revelation 13:1, there is found a remarkable variation in the text. For “I was placed,” or, as it is more commonly rendered, “I stood,” some authorities of importance have, “he stood,” ἑ?στά?θη ). One cannot decide on external grounds between the two readings. (Bengel: “A letter may easily have been either added, or dropt. The authorities for the two readings are nearly equal.”) But the internal grounds are in favour of John and not the dragon being the subject of discourse. We have not here a continuation of ch. 12, but a new scene opens to our view; it is now represented through what medium Satan accomplishes what had already been described in ch. 12. But this being the case, the dragon would require to have been expressly named again. It must have been said: And the dragon stood. We should have expected, too, that the agency of the dragon in the beast’s arising out of the sea, would have been distinctly mentioned. And, finally, the reference to John is confirmed by the fundamental passages, Daniel 8:2, “And I beheld in the vision, and I was by the river Ulai,” Daniel 10:4, “I was by the great river Tigris.”According to these statements Daniel had visions beside great streams, which, corresponding to the sea in Daniel 7:2, were to him the symbol of the national masses, with whose movements and conflicts he was occupied. Besides, it is solely on account of the reading: he stood, that this verse has been attached to ch. 12, whereas it should have commenced the following chapter. Instead of: I stood (Luther), the meaning is more correctly: I was placed. John did not take up his own position, but he was set there— comp. ch. Revelation 17:3, “And he brought me in the spirit into the wilderness;” ch. Revelation 4:1, “Come up hither, I will shew yon what shall be hereafter,” because wonderful things were to be seen there, which he was to communicate to the church. [Note: In ch. 8:3, also, the passive retains its signification. The angel does not of his own accord place himself beside the altar, but he is placed there.] John had not to leave his place in heaven, when he was made to stand by the sea. To be in heaven means to be in the Spirit; but John was set down in the Spirit beside the sea. Why the holy Seer had a position given him there, is sufficiently manifest from what follows. The sea, according to this, exhibited a remarkable spectacle. But it may be asked, why exactly the sand of the sea is mentioned. According to the common supposition the sand here simply denotes the shore of the sea. But the sand of the sea is never so employed. The expression always occurs elsewhere in the New Testament as a designation of a great multitude— comp. ch. Revelation 20:8, “the number of which is as the sand of the sea,” Romans 9:27; Hebrews 11:12. In the Old Testament also it is usually employed in the same signification, Genesis 22:17; Isaiah 48:19; Job 6:3. In this sense also the sand is specified here, because it suggests the thought of the innumerable multitude of the inhabitants of the earth, on whose condition and destiny the beast, that was going to arise out of the sea, should exert an influence. The beast ascends now out of the sea, has not ascended previously. (Bengel: “It is to be noted, that θηρί?ον is said ἀ?ναβαῖ?νον in the present, not ἀ?ναβεβηκό?ς in the past.”) From this it has often been concluded, that the vision has respect entirely to what is future; that the beast in John’s time could have had no historical existence. But this is a very hasty conclusion. It rests upon an intermingling of the reality and the vision. What in the reality has for a long time existed already, may be seen in vision rising into existence anew, if the object is to give a summary view of the whole manifestation. Thus the first of the four beasts seen by Daniel, in Daniel 7, rising not of the sea, denotes a kingdom (the Chaldean), which in the reality had for a long period occupied a place on the theatre of history. Indeed, the past as such is not the object of what is testified in the Revelation; but that it may, on account of its connection with the present and the future, be drawn into the sphere embraced by the vision, is abundantly plain from Daniel 12.
That the sea can only come into consideration here in the figurative sense, as designating the sea of peoples, the restless world (Bossuet: “The sea = the agitated state of human affairs”), is clear, first, from the common usage of the Apocalypse (comp. Revelation 6:14; Revelation 7:1; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 8:8; Revelation 10:2; Revelation 16:3; Revelation 20:13; Revelation 21:1); and, secondly, from the fundamental passage of Daniel, Daniel 7:2,”And behold the four winds of heaven strove on the great sea;” Michaelis: “A symbol of restless nations;” Hävernick: “A symbol of the restless, stirring agitation that exists out of God’s kingdom.” The point of comparison is, on the one hand, the multitudinous, and, on the other, the restless character of both; comp. Psalms 93:3-4, “The floods lift up, O Lord, the floods lift up their voice. More than the noise of many waters, than the glorious waves of the sea is the Lord glorious in the height;” Psalms 46:3-4, on which it was remarked in my Commentary, “Seas and overflowing floods are not rarely an image of hostile masses of people, which take delight in making conquests over the face of the earth ( Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 8:7-8; Jeremiah 47:2, Jeremiah 46:7). But the image cannot have this import here. For here the mountains, the conquered kingdoms, are in the heart of the sea. Here the sea is rather the symbol of the world, the masses of people generally, which are kept in constant motion by their principle, their pride and ambition; comp. Isaiah 57:20, ‘The wicked are like a troubled sea, that cannot rest, and its waves cast up mire and dirt.’”
A beast rises out of the sea. The Greek θηρί?ον is properly beast in general (in Hebrews 12:20, it is used, where in the original passage, Exodus 19:13, cattle are referred to); but it is employed to denote pre-eminently such beasts as have the bestial nature peculiarly prominent in them. It is used, for example, of wild ferocious beasts (comp. Acts 11:6, where the beasts are distinguished from the four-footed creatures [Note: Xenoph. Cyrop I. 4, 16: ἁ?κού?ων οὐ?͂?ν ἐ?ν τοῖ?ς μεθορί?οις τοῖ?ς τε αὐ?τῶ?ν καὶ? τοῖ?ς Μή?δων πολλὰ? θηρί?α εἰ?͂?ναι ἁ?τε ἀ?θή?ρευτα ὀ?́?ντα διὰ? τὸ?ν πό?λεμον ; The θηρί?α here correspond to the ἀ?́?γρια θηρί?α of Callmi. in his h. in Dianam, Revelation 13:12.] ), of serpents ( Acts 28:4-5), or when it is intended to render what is beastly particularly prominent (as in Hebrews 12:20, where beasts are spoken of as contradistinguished from men. [Note: Plato in Steph. Thes. connects ἀ?νθρῶ?πων καὶ? θεῶ?ν θηρί?ων , then θηρί?α τε καὶ? βοτὰ? .] ) Of men, who are like beasts, the word is also used in Titus 1:12. What is there figure, is here symbol. The point of comparison here is by no means simply the attribute of wildness, ferocity—for were this alone to be taken into account, the bridge would be broken down that connects the first and the second beast; nor can we understand how the gentle-looking false prophet should appear under the symbol of a beast. It must rather be regarded as standing generally in the want of the divine image, which at the threshold of Revelation, in Genesis 1:26-27, is represented as the properly and distinctively human—the want of the living breath of God, —the ascendancy of the flesh, carnality and corruption. This is also what comes prominently into view in Titus 1:12, where the same persons who are called “evil beasts,” are, at the same time, represented as “foul bellies,” being under the dominion of their lusts and passions. A brutal, wild and savage character, is only a peculiar manifestation of that beastly nature, which here especially comes into consideration. Still, by no means that alone; as much, and even more, godlessness, hatred of the true God, and what springs out of him. Bengel incorrectly remarks: “Its being called a beast, is in itself not a matter of reproach. In Daniel, under the images of strong beasts, the different worldly kingdoms are represented. But all depends on the circumstance, how in the sequel this beast may conduct himself.” The subsequent behaviour of the beast is the simple indication of its nature. Because it is a beast, it behaves in a bestial manner. In Daniel it is not kingdoms generally, but worldly, godless, irreligious kingdoms, that are represented under the image of the beasts. Otherwise, the kingdom of God itself should have appeared under the image of a beast. It is said there in Daniel 7:17, “Four kings shall arise out of the earth.” The designation of beasts corresponds with this origin. The earthly disposition and the bestial nature go hand in hand. That the kings or kingdoms in Daniel are called beasts in contrast to men, as a designation of their low state of feeling, is clear from Dan. 7:45, where it is said of the first beast, “And it was taken from off the earth, and set upon two feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given it.” Misfortune there changes the beast into a man. The expression is remarkable, “It was taken from off the earth,” from that to which it had hitherto belonged as a four-footed creature. A mind directed toward the earth thus appears as the characteristic of a beast. The change is the same with that, which at an earlier period passed upon Nebuchadnezzar, in whose personal history the fate of his empire was imaged. In his career of ambition and pride, which rose through prosperity to the highest pitch, the human heart was taken away, and a beastly heart was given him. As a punishment for this he was reduced to the condition of a beast in intellect and outward appearance—comp. Daniel 4:13. “And at the end of the days,” it is said in Daniel 4:34, “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High. And I praised and lauded him, who lives for ever, whose dominion is everlasting, and his kingdom is from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing.” Here it appears as the characteristic of man, to lift the eyes (adoringly) to heaven, to praise and glorify the Most High, in contrast to the senseless indifference toward the divine, or presumptuous hatred of it, as connected with the condition of a beast. The beast in the passage before us is a compound of the several beasts in Daniel. If by these the more prominent phases of the ungodly power of the world are represented, the beast here can be nothing else than that power in its entireness. Farther, as the seven heads of the beast are, according to ch. Revelation 17:9-10, seven ungodly kingdoms, which follow one another in succession, so the beast, that bears these heads, can only indicate the ungodly power of the world in general. Bengel says, “It is the same beast with ten horns and seven heads, which is described in ch. 13 and 17. According to ch. 17 the beast is most closely and particularly connected with “the city Rome.” But there it is also very pointedly distinguished from Rome; and the remark of Bossuet, “It is the Roman empire, or, more properly, Rome herself, the mistress of the world, pagan and the persecutor of the saints,” must be rejected as altogether erroneous. The beast carries the great whore Babylon (ch. Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7); Rome is only the possessor for the time of the ungodly power of the world. The Roman empire is not the beast itself, but only a particular head of it, which five others precede, and one follows. It is said in ch. Revelation 11:7, “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast, that arises out of the abyss, shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and shall kill them.”And in like manner also in ch. Revelation 17:8, the subject of discourse is the beast, that arises out of the abyss. That in these passages the discourse is not of another beast, or of a different ascending of this beast, is clear from ch. Revelation 13:7, where the enigmatical announcement in ch. Revelation 11:7 is again resumed, and introduced at its proper place: “And it was given to the beast to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” If the statement in ch. Revelation 11:7 were to be separated from ch. 13, it must swim in the air. The arising out of the sea, and the arising out of the abyss, are not counter-representations, but only two aspects of the matter, very closely connected together. The beast could not arise out of the abyss without, at the same time, arising out of the sea, nor out of the sea without also coming out of the abyss. The abyss is hell, the seat of Satan—comp. on ch. Revelation 9:1. There is the original source of all evil on earth, the fountainhead of all that erects itself in opposition to God and his kingdom. From thence also the beast proceeds, although it comes more immediately out of the sea. The dragon, that gives to him his power, and his throne, and his great authority, is the moving agent in his ascending from the sea. From the relation of this section to ch. 13, nothing can happen in it in which the dragon does not form the background. Even in ch. Revelation 12:3, Satan appears as the moving force of the conquering world-power, which lifts itself up against the kingdom of God; so that hell was to be regarded as its original seat. These two sides are so far from being contrary to each other, that a third is rather to be added to them. The beast, which immediately arises out of the sea, more remotely out of hell, comes down also from heaven, as the angel of the abyss in ch. Revelation 9:11 is, at the same time, the star from heaven in ch. Revelation 9:1. Nothing comes out of the abyss and the sea, which does not at the same time come from heaven—comp. the emphatically repeated “It was given to him,” in Revelation 13:5; Revelation 13:7.
The beast has ten horns and seven heads. The reading: seven heads and ten horns, which Luther follows, is but weakly supported, and has obviously flowed from ch. Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7, Revelation 12:3, where the heads precede the horns. It is clear, besides, from these parallel passages, and from the nature of the case—since the horns could only be found upon one of the heads—that the horns are here named before the heads, simply because John here sees the beast come up, and consequently beholds the horns before the heads. The investigation, therefore, has first to do with the heads, and then with the horns. A clear note of explanation as to what we must understand by the heads, is given in ch. Revelation 17:9: “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and are seven kings.”Mountains are the common symbol of kingdoms. The symbolical expression is explained by the proper one: seven kings, or kingdoms. So that the seven heads of the beast are seven phases of the ungodly power of the world. “Ten horns,” remarks Bengel, “were already described in Daniel, but here we have somewhat new in the seven heads.” The vision in Daniel, Daniel 7, should have kept the church at once from too rash hopes, and from gloomy despair. The tyranny of the world, under which she then sighed, was still not the last. A series of other phases of the ungodly power of the world was still to follow, which were to lie heavy upon her. But a clear light beams forth at the further end of her dark journey. The kingdom, the power, and the dominion under the whole heaven, shall at last be given to the saints of the Most High. Daniel has represented in that vision the variety of phases belonging to the world-power, from his own times, by the number of beasts in the vision. John, on the other hand, saw the whole of the ungodly power under the image of one beast, while he represents the variety of its phases under the image of the heads of this beast. Still, even in Daniel there is not wanting some indication of this plurality of heads. It is said, in Daniel 7:6, “After this I looked, and behold another beast like a leopard, and it had four wings on its sides, and four heads, and the dominion was given to it.” The four phases of the third monarchy, the Grecian, are here symbolized by the four heads of the third beast—see my Beitr. I., p. 203. The heads manifestly denote so many parts, principal divisions of the monarchy—see Genesis 1:10. The seven heads are visible at once. In Daniel also, Daniel 7:3, the four great beasts arise simultaneously out of the sea. At least no word is used to denote a successive appearance. The succession is indicated, not by sequence of time, but by local position. The beast which Daniel sees immediately before him, represents the then existing kingdom of the Chaldeans. It was fit, that to him (as now also to St John) the whole of the manifestation should be presented from its commencement, that he might be able to view the particular parts in relation to the whole. Bengel’s remark: “the beast, on his rising out of the sea, has the seven heads one after another, “is true, only in so far as the one after another is referred to the historical manifestation of the beast, not to the symbolical representation of it here set before us. Viewed in reference to the latter, the heads exist together. How, otherwise, could the horns, which belong to the last head, be seen on his first rising up? The beast has, so to speak, but one active head at any particular time; the others have only either a historical or a prophetical import. This is clear from ch. Revelation 13:3, compared with Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14. According to the first passage, one of the beast’s heads is wounded to death, and the deadly wound is healed. According to the two others, the wound and healing are spoken of as belonging to the beast himself. Hence it plainly follows, that the beast can have no existence separate from his heads (excepting only an ideal one), as may indeed be understood of itself.
We have now to consider the question: How are the seven worldly, God-opposing powers, denoted by the seven heads of the beast, to be determined? The determination of four of them may be quite easily ascertained from Daniel: the Chaldean, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman kingdoms. So also may a fifth, the seventh head with ten horns. This consists of the ten ungodly kings or kingdoms, which, according to Daniel 7, were to arise out of the fourth monarchy. Since these five, according to Daniel and the Apocalypse, were to extend to the final ceasing of the ungodly power of the world, or the state of heathendom; since, further, at the time of the sixth head or king this prophecy was given, according to ch. Revelation 17:10, shewing the sixth to be the Roman, the first and the second heads must therefore be sought for in the time that preceded the Chaldean empire. Now, if we take into account the twofold element of world-dominion, and of hostility to the kingdom of God, the conclusion can be neither difficult nor doubtful. We can think only of Egypt and Assyria. The collocation of the two as the pre-Chaldean worldly- powers, that oppressed the kingdom of God, is of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament—comp. Isaiah 52:4-5, “For, thus saith the Lord of hosts, my people went down aforetime into Egypt, to sojourn there (and suffered violence); and the Assyrian ( afterwards) oppressed them without cause. And now what shall I do here (in respect to the Chaldean desolation); for my people is taken away for nought; their rulers howl, and my name continually every day is blasphemed.” So also are Egypt and Assyria coupled together in Isaiah 10:24-26; Isaiah 11:11-16; Isaiah 19:23, Isaiah 27:13; Hosea 9:3, Hosea 11:11; Jeremiah 2:18, Jeremiah 2:36; Zechariah 10:10-11, where Egypt and Assyria, as the most dangerous enemies in earlier times, appear as the types of the present and future oppressors of God’s people, as both had also been used in Isaiah 27:13, and Hosea. The Apocalypse is in unison with Zechariah, as well as Daniel, as to the determination of the ungodly powers of the world. That prophet, who lived under the Persian tyranny, sees in Daniel 2:1-4, four horns, which denote the enemies of God’s kingdom—the four hostile worldly powers, corresponding to the four corners of heaven, under whose oppression Israel had sighed, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia.
Horns, in the symbolical language of Scripture, denote power—comp. on ch. Revelation 5:6. Accordingly the ten horns can only be ten powers. We are furnished with the means of a more exact determination of the ten horns by ch. Revelation 17:12, “And the ten horns, which thou sawest, are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” From this we perceive, that the ten horns are ten kings; that is, kingdoms. They are set upon the seventh head, as will afterwards be more fully proven. It is thus indicated, that the seventh phase of the ungodly world-power should be a divided one, while all the preceding ones bore the impress of oneness. The original passage is Daniel 7:7-24. There, the ten horns are the ten kingdoms, into which the fourth power, the Roman, is split. Bengel remarks: “With the ten horns here the case is different. For, in John the horns are overcome together in the last period of the beast; but in Daniel the horns are overcome at a much earlier stage, and not together, but one after another. The little horn, with the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, which Daniel saw on the fourth beast, has become in John a separate beast, and bears respect especially to the latter times of this beast, as the similarity of the description in the two prophets implies; it respects what concerns the overthrow of the horn or beast.” But the ten horns in Daniel correspond entirely to the ten horns in John; in both alike they denote the kingdoms, which were to spring out of the Roman empire. The only difference consists in the little horn; by which we are not, with many expositors, to understand an individual. If the ten horns in Daniel represent not persons, but kingdoms, then neither can the eleventh signify an individual, but only a power. This little horn is wanting in the Revelation, in which the beast comes to an end, on the overthrow of the ten kings by Christ. But it re-appears afterwards under another form—not as Bengel, misled by a wrong interpretation, imagined, as “a separate beast”—but at the close as Gog and Magog—see vol. i., p. 478. There is a further difference, that Daniel does not expressly mention, as is done in the Revelation, the victory of God and Christ over the kingdoms represented by the ten horns, that were to arise out of the fourth great monarchy, and their conversion to Christianity. Nor does he give any indication of the thousand years’ reign of Christ. The Apocalypse has here, in suitable accordance with its later origin, filled up a very important hiatus in Daniel. Daniel fixes his eye simply oh the final victory, John describes also the victory that should precede. This second difference carries along with it the first as a necessary consequence. As soon as the thousand years, which intervene between the last enemy but one of Christianity and the last enemy of all, came into view, it no longer appeared suitable, to unite them into one symbolical figure. It seemed more appropriate, to make the beast with his ten horns perish, and to give to the last ungodly power a separate name and an independent position.
The beast has on his horns ten diadems; on his heads names of blasphemy. The description is first given of what was on the horns, though they belong only to the seventh head; because on the beast’s rising out of the sea it was these that first became visible, and hence in the preceding context they had been mentioned first. That the heads bore diadems as well as the horns, is evident on a comparison of ch. Revelation 12:3, “A great red dragon, which had seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems.” The diadems, which Satan there possesses, belong to him only as a reflection of his agent on earth—the beast. The same point is also manifest from ch. Revelation 19:12: the many diadems, which Christ is there represented as wearing on his head, have a polemical reference to the diadems on the heads of the beast. And, finally, it is manifest from ch. Revelation 17:9, where it is said, that the seven heads are seven kings: the diadem is the insignia of royal dignity, and where such dignity is, there the diadem must also be. Diadems are not expressly mentioned in connection with the heads, merely because the names of blasphemy lead to the same result. As in the case of Christ the many diadems, and the name “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” go hand in hand (ch. Revelation 19:12; Revelation 19:16), so is it also in the case of the beast. The names of blasphemy refer to the assumed supremacy over the world, and consequently involve the existence of the diadems. In like manner, the diadems involve the existence of the names of blasphemy. For, that the horns do not hold the kingly dominion signified by them in fief from God, is evident alone from the circumstance, that the horns belong to the beast, whose very nature is godlessness, rebellion, presumption, and blasphemy. According to ch. Revelation 17:3, the whole beast, with its heads and horns, is full of the names of blasphemy. As there the names of blasphemy belong in common to the horns and the heads, so here the diadems upon the horns are to be taken positively and not exclusively, as if we ought to change the “ and upon his heads,” into a but. The names of blasphemy are concealed behind the crowns, and the diadems behind the names of blasphemy. It might have stood thus: and upon his ten horns names of blasphemy, and upon his seven heads diadems; or: and upon his ten horns and upon his seven heads diadems and names of blasphemy. The diadems, however, are made to precede the names of blasphemy, to define more exactly the sphere of the latter; to indicate that the blasphemy consists in the assumption of independent sovereignty. What the name of blasphemy is, we learn from ch. Revelation 19:12; Revelation 19:16. The name, which belongs to Christ and to him alone: “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” is usurped by him. He sets himself forth as the independent lord of the world, the god of this earth. Every name is a name of blasphemy, [Note: It is difficult to decide between the two readings ὀ?νόμα and ὀ?νόματα . The singular may have been derived from a comparison of ch. 19:12, 16. The plural is favoured by διαδήματα and by ch. 17:3, where the beast is described as γέμοντα ὀ?νομά?των βλασφημίας . But then the plural may also have sprung from this consideration. If the singular is the original form, then it will indicate, from its position, that one and the same name of blasphemy was set upon each head; that is, according to ch. 19:16, the name “King of kings, and Lori of lords.”] by which the creature makes an inroad into the territory of God, lays claim to an independent greatness. Nor will it make any material difference, if in this he concedes a certain homage to his idols; for these are but the reflections and objective aspects of his proper self, which, in process of time, continually takes back more and more of what it yielded to them. As this, however, may be done in ignorance, the blasphemy then only reaches its full height, when the person has come into a conscious relation to the living God, and in opposition to his, “I am the Lord,” has put forth the impious counter-assertion, I am the Lord. Pharaoh had been long calling himself the lord of the world, but it was then for the first time that he was guilty of blasphemy, when he said, “Who is the Lord, that I should hearken to his voice, and let the people go?” It was then only that the title “lord of the world,” being uttered in a different tone, and with a polemical feeling, became in the full sense a name of blasphemy. Rome and its emperor had for a long period already assumed the proud title, but the blasphemy never reached its consummation, till this assumption came to be directed immediately against God, his Son and his church. That the idea of blasphemy is to be understood thus here, is clear from Revelation 13:6. According to this the blasphemy pre-supposes, that God has a name; that he has come forth from his secrecy, and manifested himself; the unknown, nameless God cannot be blasphemed.
THE THREE ENEMIES OF GOD'S KINGDOM
Second Enemy of the Kingdom of God, the Beast Out of the Sea (Ch. REV 12:18-13:10)
IN the fulfilment of his calling, to console the church under the severe persecution she had to suffer for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, St John had deemed it enough, in the second and third groups, to give a general representation of the divine judgments which were to alight on the ungodly world. He had in these to do merely with “the inhabitants of the earth.” It was impossible that he could continue to abide thus with merely general delineations. And, while he would now go more particularly into the victory of Christ and the overthrow of the world, he must, in the first instance, delineate more exactly the enemies of the church, and the authors of the persecution; so that the true nature of the conflict may come clearly to light, and the representation afterwards to be given of the victory may be rendered intelligible and edifying.
The preceding chapter had spoken of the persecution of the church by the dragon. Here, we learn, how he carries on the work, not by assuming a personal bodily form, but by preparing for himself a powerful instrument on earth—by rendering the heathen, and especially the Roman power, serviceable to his designs, and in it taking, as it were, flesh and blood. The three enemies of God’s kingdom, to which the whole group refers, are not co-ordinate with each other; but the second is the vassal and instrument of the first (ch. Revelation 13:2), and the third is the abettor of the second (ch. Revelation 13:12). The enemy, with which the saints have primarily and immediately to do, is the second. But this has an invisible head—the circumstance which makes the conflict with him so severe and dangerous—and a visible auxiliary.
The church should inevitably faint before these three formidable enemies, unless her Lord and Saviour had said: Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world, and the prince of it. This word forms the theme, which is enlarged upon in the following visions by the mouth of his servant John.
The arrangement of the section before us is the following.
We are first presented in ch. Revelation 13:1-3, with a full delineation of the enemy, in which his past, present, and future history, are brought together, precisely as in the case of the first enemy. Respect is also had to the past, in order to set the present in its true light—comp. on ch. Revelation 12:2. The prophet sees a beast with seven heads and ten horns rise out of the sea, to which the dragon gives his strength, and his throne, and great power. Under this symbol is represented the God-opposing power of this world, in its seven phases—the seven being again subdivided. For, that the subject respects the power of the world, is put beyond a doubt by the diadems, the insignia of dominion on the horns; and the names of blasphemy on its heads leave as little room to doubt, that it is the power of the world in its state of enmity to God. And that by the several heads must be denoted the particular phases of this God-opposing power, is alone rendered probable by the consideration, that in the fundamental prophecy of Daniel 7, the plurality of the world-powers is exhibited by a succession of different beasts, while here only one beast appears on the scene, combining the properties of all the beasts in Daniel. Not only so, but from the relation of the vision to that fundamental prophecy in Daniel, it is not to be imagined that an element of such importance should have been omitted. And if it exists, it can only be sought in the seven heads; these must denote the particular manifestations of the worldly power in its hostility to God, from Pharaoh down to Rome, the ungodly power in the time of the prophet, and even to the new heathen power, which, according to his later announcements, is yet to tread in its footsteps.
The second part of the section, Revelation 13:3-8, has respect to the state and action of the enemy during the time then present. The Seer beholds one of the heads of the beast, as it were, wounded to death—the ungodly Roman power having, along with the power of the world in general, received a deadly stroke through Him who said, “I have overcome the world;” through Him at whose feet all the kingdoms of the world must lie, because his kingdom is not of this world. But the deadly wound was again healed: the heathen state comes anew, at least apparently and for the time, to the possession of power, as the Seer found in his own experience. For, at the very time he saw the Revelation, he was banished by the Roman antichrist to the isle of Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The whole earth follows, as if nothing had happened, in wondering admiration anew after the beast, that appeared still to possess unbroken power, and this again is allowed to blaspheme and persecute, Revelation 13:5; the former is represented at greater length in Revelation 13:6, and the latter in Revelation 13:7. Hence it more and more comes to pass, that the earth falls into two parties—the frightful majority of the worshippers of the beast, and the small flock of the Lamb that was slain, Revelation 13:8. For the temptation is so great, that it can only be endured by virtue of an eternal election and of the blood of Christ; and a middle or indifferent position is impossible.
An admonitory conclusion, in Revelation 13:9-10, points the eye of the church, under these threatening and perilous circumstances, to the divine recompense, and charges her to wait for it in faith and patience.
Revelation 13:2. And the beast which I saw, was like a panther, and his feet as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority. The description of the beast’s form rests on Daniel, Daniel 7; and Daniel again has respect to Jeremiah 5:6, “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf out of the deserts shall spoil them; and a panther shall watch upon their cities; every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces; because their transgressions are many, and they are hardened in their disobedience.” Daniel only so far differs from Jeremiah, that in his representation of the earthly powers, that should desolate the people of God, by means of wild beasts, he substitutes the bear for the wolf. The form of the beast here is compounded of the different beasts in Daniel; quite naturally so, since the beast here images the ungodly power of the world as a whole, while in Daniel the different phases of this power are represented. A return is in some degree made to the simplicity of the fundamental passage in Jeremiah, where the lion, the wolf, and the panther, are also employed to represent the power of the world as a whole, and form, so to speak, a composite animal. Of the four beasts of Daniel, only the three first enter into the composition of the beast before us. For, the common supposition, that the ten horns here may belong to the fourth beast, is hardly tenable. The ten horns are not introduced here into the description of the beast’s form, which only begins with this verse; and in Daniel the ten horns stand in so loose and outward a relation to the fourth beast, that they cannot be regarded as a distinguishing characteristic of it—the less so, since in the Revelation they are not ascribed to the sixth head, which corresponds to the fourth beast in Daniel, but are set upon the seventh head, so that the connexion, already of a loose nature in Daniel, is completely dissolved by John. Several have sought to explain the fact of John’s confining himself to the three first beasts, on the supposition, that even in Daniel the fourth beast is composed of the peculiar features of the three first; so that the beast in John would thus be an exact image of the fourth beast in Daniel. But this is an entirely groundless assumption. Not the smallest trace is to be found in Daniel of the fourth beast having been compounded of the three first. We must rather, therefore, seek the reason of the fact referred to in the circumstance, that only the three first beasts in Daniel have a definite form attributed to them. The fourth beast could not form part of the representation here, because nothing farther is said of it in Daniel, than that it was indescribably dreadful.
The order in which the beasts succeed each other, is here exactly reversed: in Daniel the lion, the bear, the panther—here the panther, the bear, the lion. If we could be justified in taking into account the ten horns, we might think of it as an explanation of the arrangement adopted here, that now Daniel’s fourth beast had come into the foreground, now the beast bore the woman, Rome, on its back—see ch. Revelation 17:7. But, as we must exclude all consideration of the ten horns, there remains but one way of explaining the deviation from the order in Daniel; which is, that if it had been retained, one would very naturally have supposed that the particular elements in the composite beast, like the different beasts in Daniel, indicated definite phases of the power of the world in the order here mentioned. Since the order, however, is reversed, no one can fail to see that nothing depends on it—that the object of the description is merely to portray the nature of the ungodly power of the world—that panther, lion, bear, equally belong to Egypt, Babylon, Rome. The different phases also could not be denoted here by the particular animals entering into the composition of the beast, because John has enlarged the sphere; does not, like Daniel, begin with Babylon, the ungodly power in existence at the time the prophet lived, but goes back to Egypt; so that the bestial forms in Daniel were found insufficient for him, when he was going to apply them to the same purpose.
In the case of all the three beasts, we have only to take into consideration their property as creatures of a savage and blood-thirsty disposition. The panther cannot, as Vitringa supposes, denote “nations of different languages and manners,” on account of its spotted appearance; nor can it, as Bossuet conceives, be “the symbol of instability;” for everywhere in Scripture, when the panther is spoken of, respect is had only to its terrible and savage energy—see Habakkuk 1:8; Hosea 13:7; Isaiah 11:6. The bear cannot denote “steadfastness in purposes and undertakings;” for in Daniel the call is addressed to the bear, “Arise, devour much flesh.” (Jerome on Hosea 13:8, “Those who have written on the natures of animals say, that among all wild beasts, none are more savage than the bear, when it is hungry.”) Of each beast, that part is taken which more especially manifests its mischievous and frightful nature. In its main bulk, in all excepting the head and feet, the beast resembles a panther. The dark-spotted body of this animal, from which it has its name in Hebrew (נמר , in Arabic, to be spotted), is an emblem of spiritual staining. We have the interpretation in Jeremiah 13:23,”Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard (panther) his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil;”on which Hitzig remarks: “the swarthy complexion of the Ethiopian, and the spots of the panther, are the emblems of sinfulness, and of blemishes of a moral kind.” The beast has the feet of the bear. These have also been particularly referred to in Daniel: “The other beast was like a bear, and stood upon one side;” Hävernick: “It stood higher upon the one side than the other, manifestly the posture of assault.” In attacking, the bear uses especially his fore-paws; while with the lion it is the mouth which especially inspires terror.
To the beast formed after this manner the dragon gives his power, and his throne, and great authority. The dragon is a name applied to Satan, only when the Old Testament description of the earthly world-power is transferred to him. The dragon is not Satan generally, but Satan in a particular relation, as the prince of this world—see on ch. Revelation 12:3. Accordingly, the throne of the dragon is only his dominion upon earth. The throne of the dragon is, at the same time, the throne of the beast in ch. Revelation 16:10; for the dragon exercises his dominion on earth by means of the beast. It could not, indeed, have been put in this form: Satan gave him. For, Satan has never given up to the beast his whole power, dominion, and authority. The power is the natural power, consisting in the great number of retainers, fulness of earthly resources, and such like; the throne is worldly supremacy; and the authority is its assumed right to command whatever it might please. A remarkable coincidence exists between these words and what is written both in the gospel of St John and the earlier gospels. They have this in common with “John’s gospel, that Satan bears a distinct name as the animating principle of the ungodly power of the world—there the prince of this world, here the dragon. In Matthew 4:8-9, the devil takes Christ along with him to a very high mountain, and shews him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and says to him: “All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” What Satan here gives to the beast, he there promises to Christ. And this, even apart from the passage before us, cannot be understood otherwise than as importing that Satan only promised what he was able in certain circumstances to secure. For, if we were to explain the promise of Satan as an empty boast, the temptation of Christ would be a thing unworthy of him. The addition made to the words of the devil in the evangelist Luke ( Luke 4:6), are remarkable: “All this power will I give thee and the glory of them; for that is delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.” Olshausen observes: “The expression, ‘it is delivered to me,’ contains a striking note of contrariety to the doctrine of an independent principle of evil; the prince of this world has received all from God, to whom alone belongs the glory as the eternal and universal Ruler." In the passage before us also the power and authority which is given by Satan, is not an independent, but a derived one,—one that comes from hell, but, at the same time, descends from heaven ; as the angel of the abyss in ch. Revelation 9:11, is identical with the star from heaven. The gift of Satan is subject to divine direction, and not merely to divine permission. Satan here also is but a servant of God. Not only is the sovereign power itself of God, but its abuse also is of him, when turned to lawless conquest or to the cruel persecution of the church, which requires to be chastised for her sins, exercised under the cross, perfected through sufferings, and prepared for her destiny.
Revelation 13:3. And (I saw) one of his heads as [Note: We must read ὡ?ς , and not ὡ?σεί? with Tischenforf. The latter never occurs in the Apoc.; see on ch. 1:14.] killed to death, and the stroke of his death was healed. And the whole earth wondered after the beast. The verb, I saw, is but feebly supported, and has manifestly been of late introduction. The accusative depends on the “I saw” of Revelation 13:1, as is the case also in ch. Revelation 4:4, Revelation 7:9. But the omission of the “I saw” here, is both intentional and significant. It indicates, that the beast even when it rose into view (not in a historical, but a symbolical or visionary respect—two appearances which are here again confounded with each other by Bengel), bore on it the marks of the wound. Had the wounding and the healing belonged to the period after its rising, the “I saw” could not have been omitted.
The head, as it appeared to John, had already been restored: he did not see first the wounding, and then the healing. It is only thus that he could see the head as wounded to death; that is, with the scar of a perfectly mortal wound. That the as must be understood in this manner, is evident from the corresponding expression in ch. Revelation 5:6, “a lamb as it had been slain.” One might perceive, he had once been slain, since he bore upon him the scar of a perfectly mortal wound, such as a mark going round the throat, plainly indicating that the head had been cut off.
The wound here spoken of is a wound, which had really brought death—not, as the embarrassment of interpreters has led them to suppose, merely of a dangerous, though not actually mortal wound. The expression plainly imports what we understand by it. It signifies, not wounded, but killed. By killing is always denoted a violent death—comp. 1 John 3:12; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 6:4; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 18:24, and Revelation 13:8 of this chapter. Neither in Scripture nor elsewhere is it used of wounding. Further, the stroke [Note: The word πληγή? , which occurs with great frequency in the Apocalypse, is always stroke, plague, not wound. The simple πληγή? here corresponds to πληγή? τῆ?ς μαχαὶ ρας in Revelation 13:14. What is meant is the stroke of his death, which Michael gave him with his sharp sword; see ch. 12:7.] of his death can only be the stroke, which had death for its result. The supposition, that the stroke of his death stands for his deadly stroke, as a Hebraistic mode of expression, is not confirmed by any certain analogy in the New Testament. That the head was actually killed, is clear from ch. Revelation 17:8, by which the beast again rises out of the abyss, hell, which it could only have done if it had already been sent thither. It also appears, from ch. Revelation 17:11, which says, that the beast was and is not. The representation in Revelation 13:14, too, of its having become alive again, confirms the view of an actual death having taken place. And the parallelism with the once slain, and again resuscitated lamb, points to the same conclusion, that the head, and along with it the beast had really been killed.
The answer to the question, which head it was that John saw slain to death, and again healed, is furnished by ch. Revelation 17:10. According to that passage, the head, which the beast bore in the time of Christ and John, was the sixth, or the Roman empire. Since the deadly stroke, as the following investigation will shew, was inflicted on the beast through the atonement of Christ, this is the only head that can be thought of.
Whence comes the stroke? According to the immediately preceding context the beast stands in the nearest connection with the dragon. It is this dragon that gives him his power, and his throne, and his authority; he is the vice-dragon, the deputy of the prince of this world. Whatever, therefore, brings destruction to the dragon, or to Satan in his relation to the world, whatever injures his dominion, must also inflict on the beast a deadly wound. Now, we read in ch. 12 (to which in the first instance we turn, as the epochs of the beast must correspond to those of the dragon), of a great and severe discomfiture which Satan, as the possessor of this world’s power, received through Christ and his atonement. It was there already remarked regarding the overthrow described in Revelation 13:9, “The great dragon stands at the head, even before the old serpent, because Satan comes here into view precisely as the prince of this world, as the animating principle of the ungodly world-power, which in the Old Testament is represented under the symbol of the dragon.” To this fact in the history of the dragon, there must be a corresponding one to be set along with it in the history of the beast. It is too essential and important a matter to be omitted in the history of the beast. From what the prince of this world experienced, we must explain what befel his instrument; the rather so, because, otherwise, the latter would possess a quite abrupt and enigmatical character, and we should be thrown upon mere conjecture respecting it—to which we never can be left in the Apocalypse, and in reality never are so. Where this seems to be the case, the fault always lies in the misapprehension of the expositor. We are led also to the same result by the close connection which, according to Revelation 13:4, the dragon and the beast hold to each other. Men worship the dragon, because he gives his power to the beast. Hence, whatever destroys the power of the dragon, must also be fatal to the beast. Further, we learn from what quarter the wound comes, when we are told, that the beast, after his deadly wound was healed, magnifies himself in deeds of blasphemy and violence against Christ and his church. Whither the revenge displays itself, from thence has the injury been received, The assault, renewed after fresh strength had been obtained, can only be directed against him, from whom the discomfiture had proceeded. In ch. Revelation 12:12, sq. also the dragon continues to make war on him, who had overcome him. Still farther, when we regard Christ as the author of the deadly wound, we come to see, how this wound, which is here ascribed to a single head, is in Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14, and even in our verse itself, [Note: The ἀ?υτοῦ? , which refers, not to the head, but to the beast, shows that the deadly stroke had affected the whole beast, as well as the head; and, as already stated, the beast has always but one active head at a time.] ascribed to the whole beast; and how, in ch. Revelation 17:8, the beast can be said to have ceased to exist. The victory of Christ affected the ungodly power of Rome not as such, but only as a part of the ungodly power of the world in general. All other discomfitures but this bore only a partial character; they could but affect a single head of the beast, and not the beast as a whole. It is the one event in the world’s history, by which the whole beast was smitten in the one head; whereas, in former times, the overthrow of one head was immediately followed by the rising up of another. From what has been said, the beast must already have existed at the time of our Lord’s death. For, by means of the atonement then effected, one of his heads was wounded to death. This alone serves for a refutation of those, who would understand by the beast a power, that did not arise till a much later period—the Papacy. The healing of the beast, though but apparent and temporary, lay as a dreadful burden upon John himself. The Lord had said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world;” and “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” Yet still Antipas had been killed, where Satan had his seat, and John was in the isle of Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Those also, to whom he wrote, were companions in the tribulation of Jesus Christ. So that it seemed as if nothing whatever had happened. Truly it was a time for the Seer to stand upon his watch-tower, to see what the Lord should say to him, and what he should answer to his reproof.
What follows the expression, “was healed,” does not refer to the beast in general, but has especial respect to the time, when the head of the beast was healed, after he had received the deadly wound. This appears not only from the natural progress of the narration, but also and more especially from the circumstance, that in Revelation 13:8 the future is substituted for the preterite; while in ch. Revelation 17:8 it is “they that dwell on the earth shall wonder,” here the corresponding expression is, “they that dwell on the earth wondered”—a proof that transactions are referred to, which were even then in the course of taking place. The practical conclusion in Revelation 13:9-10, points also to the same result.
The wondering astonishment (comp. ch. Revelation 17:8) with which the earth follows the beast, comes not merely in spite of the death, but also on account of the healing—see on Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14. A sad presentiment, that it was over with the ungodly power of this world, accompanied the preaching of Christ’s gospel even through the heathen world. From this feeling alone can we explain the rage of persecution. “Nothing,” says Züllig, “awoke more astonishment and greater faith, in respect to the Messiah, than his resurrection after he had been killed.” Nor was it otherwise in the case of the beast, the earthly power of heathendom. The new life which it displayed, the success that attended its persecutions, the helpless prostration of the church, were all contrary to the expectations of its own adherents, who had not merely heard the external report of Christ’s victory, but had also felt the truth of it in their consciences.
Revelation 13:4. And worshipped the dragon, [Note: The proper reading is τῶ?ͅ? δρά?κοντι and τὸ? θηρί?ον . Bengel long ago remarked, “τῶ?ͅ? δρά?κοντι , a middle rending, since what follows is τὸ? θηρί?ον ; whence some have put the accusative, and others the dative, twice.” Προσκυνεῖ?ν is in like manner construed variously with the dat. and the accus. in John 4:21; Revelation 14:9; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 20:4.] because he gave the power to the beast, and worshipped the beast: Who is like the beast! and who can make war with him! Bengel remarks, “Those, who regarded the beast as deserving of adoration, at the same time worshipped the dragon, without being themselves conscious of it. This was very agreeable to the dragon. Those who despise the Son of God, despise also the Father, although they are not aware of it. And there is the same connection on the other side in regard to the worship of the beast and the dragon.”This representation, however, has arisen merely from the embarrassment in which the worship of the dragon involves those who understand by the beast the Papacy. We cannot here think of a worshipping of the dragon simply in the beast. For it is expressly said, that they worshipped the dragon because he gave. In the kind of worship paid, therefore, a distinction was observed between the giver of the power and the bearer of it. We are rather to hold, that they worshipped the dragon under the form of an idolatrous service, which, according to ch. Revelation 9:20, has a demoniacal, Satanic background. The property of being incomparable belongs only to God—see Exodus 15:11; Psalms 89:7; Isaiah 40:18—and to Christ, who is connected with him by oneness of nature, and appears in the Revelation under the name of Michael, “who is like God,” ( Revelation 12:7). They make the beast, to which the dragon gives his power, or the beast in his connection with the dragon, a Michael, and scornfully challenge the true Michael and his servants to measure themselves with him. They were allured to this folly by seeing the beast stand before them in renovated strength. God had raised Christ from the dead, and had thereby powerfully revived the hopes of his prostrate church, and filled her with buoyant and victorious energy. A similar wonder seemed now to be wrought by the dragon in favour of the beast. This also celebrated a resurrection, and hence the jubilee-shout of his adherents rose so high: Who is like the beast, and who can make war with him?
Revelation 13:5. And a mouth was given him, which spoke great things and blasphemies, [Note: Instead βλασφημίας several, whom Luther follows, have βλασφημίαν from Revelation 13:6; others βλά?σφημα ; Bengel: ob μεγά?λα .] and power was given him to do [Note: May copyists have found themselves unable to comprehend the elliptical and Hebraistic ποιῆ σαι . Hence they have either dropt the word out, or they have shoved in before it πόλεμον , taken from Revelation 13:7.] forty and two months. The expression, there was given, is very consolatory. The word, “what hast thou, which thou hast not received,” holds here also; if it is the true God who moves the tongues of his enemies, and wields their arms, it can be no real evil, so far as the church is concerned, it can only be a concealed good, which he gives to the enemy: in his own time he will again resume what he has taken; so that the loud cry, “Who is like the beast?” can no longer occasion bitter tears, but should only be matter for derision. It is not without meaning, that the “It was given” is so frequently repeated in this chapter. It appears in three pairs; two of which belong to the first beast. Revelation 13:5; Revelation 13:7, and one to the second, Revelation 13:14-15.
We are taught by the analogy of the second part of the verse not to think, in respect to the giving, of the inclination to blaspheme, but only of the liberty granted for the indulgence of this inclination by God, who could with one stroke have brought the beast to the ground ( Exodus 9:15-16), or the presenting of such conditions as were necessary to its being indulged. De Wette is of opinion: “ We would say, It was permitted him to speak; but that according to the style of Scripture the permission of God is considered as a doing.” The idea, however, of mere permission, is not worthy of Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being; who has our breath and all our ways in his hand; without whom we cannot so much as lift our arm or our tongue. Such an idea places the creature in a certain, though limited independence, beside his Creator.
The simple doing forms an antithesis to the speaking. What was to be done is more specifically described in Revelation 13:7. [Note: The doing is not put for acting, but it is used elliptically, as עשה very frequently is, for example, Psalms 22:31, Psalms 37:5, Psalms 52:10; Daniel 8:12; Daniel 8:24; Daniel 11:7; Daniel 11:30, to which passages of Daniel allusion is here made—and the object is to be supplied from the context: what he wished; or still belter: what the mouth spake. Here no indication is as yet given of the object of the doing (though that may be gathered from the connection in which it stands with the speaking), but the doing itself is put in contradistinction to the speaking.]
In Daniel 7:8, Daniel 7:20, a mouth is attributed to the little horn speaking great things; here blasphemies are also added. We have a specimen of these blasphemies in the words: “Who is like the beast, and who can make war with him,” spoken in the Lord’s presence, and before his anointed and his church.
The forty and two months have already occurred, in ch. Revelation 11:2 (comp. Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14), as the signature of the world’s dominion over the church, or of the temporary subjection of the people of God. It shall last only forty-two months—so should the church say [Note: Dionysius of Alexandria says of the persecution under Valerian, in Eusebius VII. 10: “It was in like manner revealed to John: ‘And there was given to him,’ he says, ‘a mouth speaking great things and blasphemy, and power was given to him forty and two months.’ Both were wonderfully verified in Valerian.” The persecution of that time occupied the second half of his reign, which lasted about seven years. The emperor was stirred up to persecute the Christians by a certain teacher and principal person among the Magi from Egypt—a master in “abominable enchantments;” so that in him also was fulfilled what is afterwards ( Revelation 13:12-18) said of the second beast.] (comp. what was said at ch. Revelation 2:10, on “Ye shall have tribulation ten days”), whenever power is given to the beast over them; and with that silence natural reason, which, as soon as it sees no human means of help at hand, is ready to exclaim, “All is lost!” The world has nothing, which has not been given to it by the Lord of the church, and in its rage against the church, there is still a prescribed period set to it, even when the church has been brought to the lowest condition, and that period not a long one. While the forty and two months continue, the saying of our Lord, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” goes into fulfilment; but at the close the comforting assurance stands fast, “I have overcome the world.”
The relation of the verse before us to Revelation 13:6-7, was correctly settled by Vitringa. We have here the general plan, there the filling up, first in reference to the mouth, Revelation 13:6, then in reference to the doing, Revelation 13:7.
Revelation 13:6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy [Note: Instead of βλασφημίαν several copies have βλασφημίας , from Revelation 13:5, as there some have βλασφημίαν from this verse.] against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and those that dwell in heaven. Bengel: “Blasphemy against God is elsewhere said to be committed in three different ways: when anything is attributed to him, which is contrary to his holiness; when anything is disowned that rightfully belongs to him; and when anything is ascribed to the creatures, which belongs to him alone.” The name of God (St John makes very frequent mention of the name of God and of Christ), is the product of his acts (comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18), of his revelation, of his historically manifested glory. When we hear his name, we remember all that he has done. The name is the focus, in which all the rays from his actions meet. In my commentary on Psalms 20:1, under the clause “The name of the God of Jacob exalt thee,” it was observed, “The name of the God of Jacob, is as much as, God who has manifested himself as the God of Jacob, or Jacob’s God, who by a fulness of deeds has manifested himself to be such. God is not merely the God of Jacob, but he is also named thus; he has made himself known in this character, and has gotten to himself a name, that is glorious and terrible
Deuteronomy 28:58. His election is not a hidden, but a revealed one, confirmed by deeds. Without such deeds the God of Jacob would be nameless; his name would be a shell without a kernel.” See besides on Psalms 22:31, Psalms 23:3, Psalms 74:10, Psalms 83:16. The main element in the name of God is his revelation in Christ, and the most fearful blasphemy of his name is committed, when this most glorious revelation is consigned to the region of lies and sin—see Hebrews 1:1. Hence, we may understand, why the blasphemy of Christ is not mentioned along with the blasphemy of God. It is comprehended in the blasphemy of the name of God, and forms the kernel of it. Moreover, blasphemy is committed against the name of God, when attacks are made on the holy Scriptures, which are the original record of the acts and words of God, of which his name is composed.
On the temple of God as a designation of the church, see vol. i., p. 395. Here the temple bears the name of the tabernacle, or the tent, because this was its original form; and it is the more suitable in this place, as at the period of the persecution here referred to the church was again in the wilderness (comp. ch. Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14), to which this original form of the sanctuary belonged. That the tabernacle of God is here used as a designation of his church, admits of no doubt, from the connection in which it stands with those, who dwell in heaven, saints and believers, corresponding to the connection between the temple and those who worship in it, in ch. Revelation 11:1. The name of God and his tabernacle hang very closely together. Without the name no tabernacle, and where the name is, there must also the tabernacle be. The church assembles, not about a concealed, but only about a manifested God—about the God, who has gotten to himself a glorious name (Isa. 64:14), which first reached its perfection in Christ; and in this especially she must find a point of union.
On the dwelling of all believers in heaven, see at ch. Revelation 12:12; Php_3:20 ; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10; Revelation 3:12, according to which, till the introduction of the new world, Jerusalem, the holy city, the mother of all believers ( Galatians 4:26), who even in this vale of tears have their citizenship there, is in heaven. Those who are spoken of here as dwelling in heaven, are identical with the saints in Revelation 13:7; Revelation 13:10; here we have blasphemies, in Revelation 13:7, active persecutions. That believers on earth are not excluded, that, on the contrary, they are principally meant, is evident alone from the circumstance, that it is this section of the saints which forms the chief object of the blasphemies of the beast and his adherents; it is these, who are calumniated as evil-doers, and their good behaviour in Christ reproached—comp. 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 3:16.
Blasphemy against God is the genus; the different species are the blaspheming of his name, which is converted into an empty one, a nomen vanum, by transmuting history into poetry and lies—the blaspheming of his tabernacle, which is bereft of a present God (comp. Exodus 25:8; Matthew 28:20), and changed into a wretched building of man, unworthy any more of bearing the name of the tabernacle of meeting, where “God and angels meet with man”—finally, the blaspheming of those who dwell in heaven, denying that they possess his Spirit, and changing them from saints into evil-doers, thus blaspheming God himself, who dwells in them through his Spirit. These three kinds of blasphemy against God always go hand in hand, and are never found apart. They have now again become rampant, since the beast of Daniel in the little horn has once more come upon the stage, and Gog and Magog have taken the place of the beast in the Apocalypse.
Revelation 13:7. And it was given him to make war and to overcome them. [Note: The words καὶ? ἐ?δόθη—αὐ τούς are wanting in important MSS., and are omitted by Lachmann. But they cannot be dispensed with-since, otherwise, only the first proposition of Revelation 13:5 would be developed, and either both must have a fuller development, or neither of them. The words also are confirmed by a comparison of ch. 11:7, an anticipatory passage, which required to be resumed here and set in its proper place; and by Daniel ch 7:21. Bengel: “The words here do not so exactly coinc1de with those in Daniel 7:21 that we should suppose them to have been borrowed thence.” The omission can only have arisen from copyists gliding over one καὶ? ἐ?δόθη to the other.] And power was given him over every tribe and people [Note: The word people is omitted by Luther (also in the English version), and thus the number four is lost, which, in all the parallel passages, is preserved in enumerations.] and tongue and nation. In ch. Revelation 11:7 it is said, “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast, which ascends out of the abyss, shall make war with them and overcome them.” To this anticipatory passage a literal allusion is intentionally made in the verse before us. Hitherto it has possessed the character of a riddle, but here the riddle is explained. There the object of the conflict and the victory was the testimony, here it is believers generally. The fundamental passage is Daniel 7:21, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and overcame them.” The reference to this fundamental passage is full of consolation; for there immediately follows in Daniel 7:22, “Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints should possess the kingdom.” What is said in Daniel primarily of the little horn is here applied to the beast, though that little horn corresponds with the Gog and Magog of Revelation. And so also what is said here of the beast, of his conflict with the church of Christ and his victory over it, holds good respecting Gog and Magog. Hence we may account for the extreme brevity of the description given us of Gog and Magog. What is merely indicated there, is to be extended and filled up from the delineation of the beast, whose activity, interrupted for a thousand years, is again resumed by Gog and Magog. Whenever this is duly attended to, the description of the beast acquires an entirely new meaning. It then no longer relates simply to things past, but has respect also to the conflicts which we ourselves have to maintain, and fills us with an apprehension of the desperate character which these conflicts may be expected increasingly to assume, as well as inspires us with courage to stand fast in the midst of them. The power consists in this, that all must either worship or suffer persecution; that the tribes and nations of the world have no choice left them between worship and death. By confining what is said here merely to the worshippers of the beast, the connection is lost with what precedes; and by confining it merely to Christians (Ewald), the connection with Revelation 13:8 is lost. In regard to the four number of the tribes, &c., see on ch. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:9, Revelation 10:11, Revelation 11:9; also Revelation 14:6, Revelation 17:15.
Revelation 13:8. And all that dwell upon the earth [Note: The κατοικοῦ ντες ἐ?πὶ? τῆ?ς γῆ?ς is a standing formula in the Apoc.—see ch. 3:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:14, 17:8. An argument might be drawn from this peculiarity of expression in support of the view, that John is not the author of the book. But this very peculiarity teaches us to be cautious in drawing such conclusions. For the expression is manifestly but a particular result of the dependence exercised in the Apoc. on the Old Testament—comp. Jeremiah 10:18; Psalms 33:8; Isaiah 18:13. That it is an Old Testament form of expression, is rendered plainer by ch. 14:6, where for κατοικοῦ ντες ἐ?πὶ? τῆ?ς γῆ?ς we have καθημένοι ἐ?πὶ? τῆ?ς γῆ?ς . ישב has the meaning both of dwelling and sitting.] shall worship him, whose name is not written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain, from the foundation of the world. Shall worship him (not it)—the king, according to ch. Revelation 17:10, by whom the beast was then represented, the Roman emperor. The shall worship shews that the matter was viewed as still in the act of becoming, and that the prophet saw the end only in the beginning. [Note: To the future here, προσκυνήσουσι , corresponds in ch. 17 the future θαυμά?σονται , for which we have ἐ?θαύ?μασεν in Revelation 13:3 of this chapter.] “The worship,” Bengel remarks, “is not to be regarded as a purely external homage, but consists principally in an inward veneration, holding the power of the beast to be divine, by which the light of faith in Jesus Christ comes to be greatly obscured, or altogether extinguished.” He observes also upon the clause “whose name is not written,” &c., as follows: “The trial shall be so general and so severe, that both here and in ch. Revelation 17:8, their election is set over against it as a security (comp. Matthew 24:24.) The elect alone shall be preserved. The human race will then be divided into two very unequal masses. The smaller will remain on the side of the Lamb; the far larger will worship the adversary.”With respect to the book of life, see on ch. Revelation 3:5. Here this book is more exactly defined, as belonging to the Lamb that was slain. (In ch. Revelation 21:27, simply “the Lamb’s book of life” is named.) The ground of our salvation is not our good deeds, but Christ, or more precisely the sacrifice of Christ, the atonement made by his blood (comp. ch. Revelation 12:11, Revelation 5:9); whence it is, that Christ appears here under the designation of the Lamb that was slain. Whatever name is not written by him in the book of life, that name shall never be found there. Since the book of life is unreservedly ascribed to the Lamb that was slain, all salvation, not excepting that of the saints of the Old Testament, is thus represented as depending on the one sacrifice of Christ. Those who have been reconciled through the blood of this Lamb, and have their names written in his book of life, have power to overcome Satan and the beast (comp. ch. Revelation 12:11). But if salvation has been won for believers by blood and death, they are thereby made to understand, that through blood and death also they must gain the victory—see Romans 8:17, Romans 8:36, and Revelation 2:10; Revelation 12:11.
That the expression, “from the foundation of the world,” must not be referred to the slaying of the Lamb—as was often done before the time of Bengel—but to the writing of the name in the Lamb’s book of life, appears from the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 17:8. [Note: Bengel besides presses the following considerations: “The Apocalypse often speaks of the Lamb slain; it never adds from the foundation of the world; nor, In truth, was he slain from the foundation of the world, Hebrews 9:26; they who hold him to have been slain in the divine decree from the foundation of the world, may with equal justice speak of him as having been also born, raised from the dead, ascended to heaven.”] Instead of, “from the foundation of the world,” it might have stood, “from before the foundation of the world,” as in John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; comp. Ephesians 3:11. But we should not on this account, either here or in Matthew 25:34, have naturally expected before, in place of from. The Seer here desires to carry the matter no higher than the foundation of the world; he wishes merely to express the thought, that election precedes existence, which must necessarily be subsequent to the foundation of the world. The words declare the fixed and immoveable nature of the divine counsel, which was formed even before a single individual of the persons embraced in it had come into being. A reference to such a counsel so fixed and determinate is full of consolation for those, who are oppressed by the mighty and apparently irresistible power of this world, for the purpose of constraining them to worship the beast. Here there is a rock, on which its waves must break. Wherever temptation reaches its greatest height, there nothing preserves but the eternal election, which rests as to its foundation on the atonement of Christ. The world constantly does homage to what, in point of fact, holds possession of the power. We have been taught this by our recent experience. But this eternal election secures us of a safe protection. It is impossible, as our Lord testified ( Matthew 24:24), to deceive the elect to their ruin. We have a parallel to the words before us in ch. Revelation 11:1, where, notwithstanding the pressure of the power of the world, the temple and those who worship in it are described as being preserved. The true members of the church are simply those, who by virtue of Christ’s blood, which they have appropriated by a living faith, have come to be among the elect. Such may, indeed, be outwardly overcome and even killed by the beast, but they can never be drawn by him into apostacy.
Revelation 13:9. If any one has an ear, let him hear. Revelation 13:10. He that leads into captivity, shall go into captivity; he that kills with the sword, must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. According to Revelation 13:9 there is a double point to be attended to. What is to be heard follows in Revelation 13:10. In the epistles the call, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (the latter part of the clause is also to be supplied here), is addressed in respect to the mysterious promises given to the churches, which required to be explained and understood in a spiritual manner (see on ch. Revelation 2:7). Here also the words intimate that the consolatory truth which follows, is a very hard one, and is above the discernment of the natural heart. The heart in a state of nature always cleaves to the visible, and the truth, “There is a reward for the righteous, there is a God who judges in the earth,” must be hard for it. The words here (which purposely, for the sake of avoiding what might seem a standing formula, present a slight deviation from those employed in the epistles—there “He that hath,” here “If any one has”), call aloud to all, that they should endeavour to make their escape from this natural condition into the region of the Spirit, so that they may come to enjoy the divine consolation, as it is presented in what follows. Many, who have had an ear, lose it when the temptation rises to its highest pitch ( Luke 24:25). To unfold the divine consolations to such, is to preach to deaf ears. Besides, the consolation, which the ear is here called to hear, is only a preliminary one—a sharply pointed utterance, in which all is concentrated, that afterwards is set forth at large for desponding hearts, and in the strength of which they might be enabled to look the formidable beast in the face, till further help should arrive. The prophet, or rather the Lord, in whose name he speaks, cannot, in a manner, find it in his heart to leave believers so long altogether without consolation, till the description of the first beast’s ferocities could be placed beside those of the second. It was necessary, that he should even now address to them a powerful word of encouragement.
The meaning of Revelation 13:10 was given quite correctly by Vitringa, as intimating that the persecutors of the church should experience the vengeance of God, and should suffer the same evils which they had inflicted on the saints. There are parallels, for example, in Deuteronomy 32:43, “He will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries;” and Psalms 94:12-13, “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of thy law, that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.” According to Bengel, the recompense spoken of is “that which awaits those, who defend themselves against the beast otherwise than is agreeable to the intention of God.” But in the carrying away of prisoners and killing with the sword, all naturally think, not of the conquered, but of him to whom it was given, according to Revelation 13:7, to make war on the saints, and to overcome them. The analogy of the use made in the epistles of the formula, “He that hath ears,” etc., also seems to indicate, that it is a promise, and not a warning, which we have in the words before us.
St John himself belonged to the number of the captives, being in the isle of Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. In the original it is properly prisoners of war that are meant. [Note: The phrase συνά?γειν αἰ?χμαλωσί?αν occurs also in 1Ma_14:7 : καὶ? συνή?γαγεν αἰ?χμαλωσί?αν πολλή?ν . It corresponds to the Hebrew שבה שבי and הגלה גלות , and denotes the bringing together of captives ( Luke 21:24), for the purpose of transporting them from their own to a foreign land. The reading adopted by Tischendorf from the Cod. Alex.: εἴ? τις εἰ?ς αἰ χμαλωσίαν , εἰ?ς αἰ χμαλωσίαν ὑ?πάγει , which introduces a harsh ellipsis into the text, originated in an ignorance of the Hebrew idiom, which is so appropriate to this book, and was certainly not introduced by any copyist, and which also goes hand in hand with the representation of the persecution under the image of war. For this was derived from the Old Testament relations, according to which the Lord’s people formed a separate nation. The Hebraism was the more readily missed here, as αἰ?χμλωσί?α (which is used of prisoners of war in Numbers 31:12; Amos 1:6; Ephesians 4:8), occurs presently afterwards in its usual Greek meaning of captivity.] But this arises merely from the same figure being continued that was used in Revelation 13:7, where the persecution appears as a war, which the beast makes on the saints. If we leave out of view what belongs to the figure of war, we shall find simply marked the deportations which first appeared in the persecution under Domitian (see Introduction.) As an example of those killed with the sword, we find Antipas mentioned in ch. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 6:11, where it is pre-supposed as a fact, that many had even then suffered death for the testimony of Jesus, and also implied that many more had still to suffer. From such passages as ch. Revelation 12:16, “And the earth helped the woman;” Revelation 17:16, “And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire;” Revelation 18:6,—we see that under the expression, he shall be killed with the sword, we are not merely to think of God’s avenging sword.”He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” this declaration—which lies at the foundation of what is written here—must be fully realised. As in the original passage, and in Matthew 26:52, we have before us here, not a command, but a prophecy—not the rule by which the civil power was to proceed, but that by which God was to work. The two, however, are not so different from each other as they may seem to be. The rule of God’s procedure is, at the same time, the rule by which the magistrate should regulate his doings, as certainly as he is the servant of God for the punishment of evil doers. Those who would withhold from the magistrate the right of capital punishment are always the persons who have no living sense of the punitive righteousness of God. The declaration of our text has often been fulfilled in particular cases; we need only think of Domitian, Valerian, Julian. [Note: Bossuet: “St. John, distressed by the long sufferings of the saints, with which all the chapters of the book are occupied, enters into their sorrow, and consoles them with this declaration. It has been verified to the letter, even in the case of the emperors. Valerian, who had dragged so many of the faithful to prison, was himself dragged thither by the king of Persia, and reduced to a harder servitude than what he had imposed on others; his blood was shed, as he had shed that of saints,” etc.] But these were only preludes of the more comprehensive fulfilments it was to receive in persecuting Rome and the other persecuting monarchies that have trod in her footsteps, and are still treading (see on Gog and Magog the ungodly power of the last times, ch. Revelation 20:9).
That we must explain, “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints,” here they are in their right place, and they have here their proper work (not: in this word respecting a coming retribution they have their root), appears by comparing Revelation 13:18, ch. Revelation 14:12, Revelation 17:9. Patience and faith are here in their place; whatever individual, whatever church possesses them, if they but shine forth in the lustre of these graces, it will be seen how soon the wicked go to destruction, coming to a dreadful end, and how the righteous, on the other hand, flourish like the palm-trees, and grow like the cedars in Lebanon. Patience is that which prevents men from becoming faint and languid, as those who are spoken of in Matthew 13:21—see on ch. Revelation 2:3. The root of patience is faith, which keeps its eye on God’s sword of vengeance, hanging over the adversaries, and descries his avenging hand in the clouds. The prophet comes to the help of this faith and patience in what follows—as he there presents in the liveliest colours possible the divine retribution, clothes it, as it were, with flesh and blood, so that they may successfully maintain the conflict with what outwardly appears of an adverse nature.
Revelation 13:11. And I saw another beast arise out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb’s horns, and spake like a dragon. That this other beast denotes false ungodly teaching is clear alone from the designation of the false prophet, under which he appears elsewhere—comp. Revelation 16:13, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10. The more exact destination we learn from the circumstance of this second beast coming to the help of the first, when the latter undertook the war against Christ. On this ground we conclude, it can only be the antichristian heathen wisdom. We formerly adduced proof (vol. i. p. 27), to shew that even at the time the Apocalypse was written under Domitian, the claims made by the Roman empire in opposition to Christ found support in a false worldly wisdom. This enemy appears only here under the name of a beast, which is to be explained from the circumstance, that the name had become peculiarly appropriated, through the prophecies of Daniel, to the power of the world as opposed to the interest of God. It is of importance here only as indicating, that the false wisdom of the world has the same source of life as its power. The name of beast was very humbling and vexatious for such persons as thought they had almost raised themselves by their aerial speculations above the common lot of humanity. To the name of beast here corresponds, in James 3:15, the description of human wisdom as sensual (ψυχικὴ? ); of the soul, the soul being common to man with the beasts. The Gnostics, who actually were the wisdom of the heathen world under a Christian dress, have the same epithet applied to them in Jude Jude 1:19, as having merely animal life, but no spirit, corresponding to the designation of “brute beasts” in Jude 1:10, We point also for elucidation to 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, where “man’s wisdom” in like manner appears confined to the lower region of the soul, to which is opposed the region of God’s Spirit.
The beast arises out of the earth. This origin of the second beast corresponds to its designation as a beast. The original passage is Daniel 7:17. The four beasts, which had arisen out of the sea, are there said to be four kings, who should arise out of the earth, in contrast to the kingdom, which the God of heaven should set up
Daniel 2:44. In John 8:23, the expression, “who is from above,” stands in opposition to those who are from beneath; and the same contrast is presently after marked by being of this world and not being of it. In John 3:3, our Lord speaks in opposition to a purely earthly origin, of being born from above. This being born from above is afterwards explained by being “born of the Spirit” ( John 3:8). The want of spirit, and, corresponding to it, the purely animal, brute nature, is the characteristic mark of that wisdom which comes, not from above, but out of the earth. The earth, out of which the prophet sees the beast ascending, stands in opposition to the heaven (comp. “the wisdom which is from above”). But what thus belongs only to the earth, has its origin also in hell, between which and the earth there exists a free communication—comp. ch. Revelation 9:1, where through the medium of the opened well-pit the evil spirit ascends from hell to the earth. In things pertaining to the spirit earth has no productions of its own. Either heaven or hell, God or the devil, are always standing in the background. According to ch. Revelation 16:13, the spirits of devils proceed out of the mouth of the false prophet. That the earthly origin, too, when more profoundly considered, is a hellish one, may be inferred from the beast ascending through the medium of the earth out of hell, or, at least, receiving thence his inspiration. The name of the false prophet itself also points in the same direction. The essential element in prophesying is, the inspiration. Revelation and prophecy are inseparably connected together. The false prophet can only be one who, instead of the Divine, has a Satanic inspiration. A prophet, who is destitute of the higher Spirit, must be full of the spirit from the abyss. Of the three predicates, therefore, which in James 3:15 are applied to the wisdom of this world—earthly, sensual, devilish—the first and third correspond to the rising out of the earth here; while the middle one corresponds to the designation of the false prophet by the name of beast.
In regard to the form of the beast, here only its horns are taken notice of. It is, therefore, of no use to throw out conjectures regarding the other parts. The figure of the wolf suggested by Vitringa would scarcely suit. The false prophets in Matthew 7:15 are only in respect to their internal disposition “ravening wolves.”
Of the horns it is not said, that they were like the, but a lamb, for: the horns of a lamb—a lamb in so far as he has horns. But since they are like lamb’s horns, they are also like to the horns of the lamb. Horns are a symbol of power (see on Revelation 5:6). The Lamb in the passage referred to is represented as having seven horns. The horns being seven in number indicates that power belonged to it in a very high degree. Here the horns are only two, showing that its fulness of power is far below that of the Lamb. But a resemblance exists in the shape of the horns. These are in both cases so small and imperceptible, that one would think, nothing could be accomplished by them. The wisdom of this world has so much in common with Christ, that its power is a concealed one; its manner of working is invisible, at least not palpable. The more spiritual, however, the power is, it is so much the more efficient. We must not understand the horns being like lamb’s horns, of gentleness. goodness, meekness (as Bengel thinks),—for according to what follows, such qualities had no place here; but it must denote something which really belongs to the beast, not what it has merely in appearance. In the case of the Lamb also, it is not meekness that is denoted by the horns. The expression: like a dragon, is of much the same meaning with, like the dragon. For, how a dragon would speak—if it could speak—this we can only learn from what the dragon actually speaks. In the preceding verses no speech of the dragon is expressly recorded. But we can be in no doubt respecting its nature. For, the whole being of the dragon concentrates itself in hatred against Christ and his church, in panting after bloody persecutions. Ecrasez l’Infame—this is its watchword, and that also of the second beast. De Wette, when remarking “like a dragon, namely cunning, deceitful, comp. Genesis 3:1,” substitutes the serpent for the dragon. Satan bears the name of dragon only as the prince of this world, who plies every effort to maintain his dominion over it, and to extirpate those who set themselves against him.
The Third Enemy of the Kingdom of God
The Beast From the Earth (Ch. Revelation 13:11-18 )
The prophet sees a second beast ascend out of the earth, earthly and demoniacal wisdom. Its horns being like lamb’s horns indicated that in the secret, spiritual manner in which it should seek to operate on men’s minds, it was to resemble Christ; while its speech, being like that of the dragon, implied that it was to have, in common with the first beast, an ungodly nature, hatred to Christ and his church. It was to give itself to the service of this first beast, and in it the power of that beast was to find its chief support. Its whole energy is directed to the one point, of inducing the inhabitants of the earth to worship the first beast. Its origin, form, and nature are described in Revelation 13:11, and its activity in the one grand direction in Revelation 13:12. In the interest of its master it does great wonders, and employs the authority it thus acquires to the purpose of seducing the inhabitants of the earth to make an idol of the first beast, which by its art it inspires, as it were, with life, and accomplishes, that as many as refused to worship this idol should be put to death, Revelation 13:13-15. It brings the whole world to the alternative of either receiving a mark of the first beast, his name or the number of his name; or, in the event of their refusing it, having withdrawn from them the means of life, Revelation 13:16-17. In Revelation 13:18 the number of the beast is given, and consequently also his name.
Bengel says, “The beast out of the sea is by much the more distinguished of the two. The beast out of the earth comes with all that he is and can do merely as the herald of the other—his armour-bearer, his advocate. Not this latter, but the first beast is the one that is worshipped, has the ten horns, &c. Mention is often made of the first beast alone, but never of the other without the first. The whole being and object of the second are summed up in its doing to the first the part of a false prophet.”
This enemy, too, has a long past history: from the first it has been the attendant and helper of the second enemy of God’s kingdom. The God-opposing power of this world has constantly gone hand in hand with its wisdom. Pharaoh, when contending with the Lord and his people, was surrounded by his wise men;—see Exodus 7:11; 2 Timothy 3:8. In like manner we find the king of Babylon attended by his wise men, Daniel 1:20, Daniel 2:2, ss., Daniel 5:7-8; and they had their place around him as the props of the state, and its guardians against misfortune (Isaiah 47). However, in this case no survey is taken of the past, as in regard to the first and second beast. The influence of this enemy is only represented from the period, when the war of the first beast against the kingdom of God after the healing of its deadly wound burst forth anew.
If it is certain, that the first beast revives again in Gog and Magog, we must not regard its inseparable attendant, the second beast, as for ever buried, but must consider every word that is said of it as of practical moment also for us. Wherever the ungodly state again flourishes, there also the ungodly wisdom is sure to be in attendance, to strengthen its hands and deck out its pretensions.
Revelation 13:12. And he makes all the power of the first beast before him; and makes, that the earth and those who dwell on it should worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. Bengel remarks, “The other beast urges the worship of the first; and the first, whose power the other has entirely at command, has only, as it were, to look on, and allow himself to be worshipped. The earth and they who dwell on it are brought to this by the other beast.” The prophet had already spoken of the power of the beast, in Revelation 13:2; Revelation 13:4-5; Revelation 13:7. Of these passages respect is here had more especially to the last; “And power was given him over all tribes and peoples, and tongues and nations.” The wisdom of this world is the main support of this power. The state of heathendom would soon have sunk into utter ruin, if this had not lent its aid. Brute force is always impotent. That only which has an ally in public sentiment, can have a lasting existence. And it was to secure that, that the false wisdom put forth its energies. The lamb’s horns of science are more powerful than the bullock’s horns of the state. Neander in his Church History (vol. i. p. 213), remarks in unintentional coincidence with this verse: “Intellectual weapons united with external violence to attack the new principle, which had begun to manifest itself in the life of mankind.” Bengel also remarks, “What the first beast has power to do, this other does in his name, since the first can no longer take the business directly in hand—although his power in itself still continues.” He improperly substitutes for the power itself that, which the first beast has power to do. The expression, before him, implies that he acts as his servant, works in his interest. Following Vitringa, Züllig erroneously explains: “Before his eyes, not only as his servant, who as such should stand before him, but also as his servant of hearty good-will, who delights to be seen acting for him.” In the Old Testament phraseology, to stand before any one, simply means to serve him, without the collateral idea of good-will in the service. It is enough to compare Exodus 24:13, “Joshua his servant,” with Deuteronomy 1:38, “Joshua who stands before him;” then Numbers 3:6, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him,” 1 Kings 10:8, “These thy servants who stand continually before thee,” (LXX. ἐ?νωπιό?ν σου ), Daniel 1:5. In Revelation 19:20, the before him is explained by the preceding with him. The second makes resumes the former: [Note: On this account alone the reading, καὶ? ἐ?ποί?ει instead of ποιέ?ι cannot be the correct one.] It makes, or exercises the power of the first beast, as it brings the inhabitants of the earth to the length of worshipping the first beast, and thus to recognize his power, and submit themselves to him. That the earth is named beside and before its inhabitants, was probably done with a view to the contrast with the heaven and them that dwell therein, in Revelation 13:6, and in reference to the ascending of the beast out of the earth, in Revelation 13:11. In this connection the earth and those that dwell in it would not be absolutely all who have their local habitation on the earth, but only the earthly-minded portion of its inhabitants ( Php_3:19 ). The words, “whose deadly wound was healed,” cannot possibly have been given as a mere note of distinction; the simple epithet of “the first beast” would have been quite sufficient for that. They are rather intended to point to what the second beast urged as the ground of his solicitation, that men should worship the first. He appeals to the new life that was manifested by the first beast, the great success of his persecutions, and the helpless and prostrate condition of the church (see on Revelation 13:3, and also on Revelation 13:14). Besides, the healing can be no perfect and thorough one, in the feeling of the beast himself, and of those who serve him. The strenuous exertions made to help his cause, bear evidence to this. The old naive confidence is gone. The efforts of a worldly philosophy to prop up and maintain the worship of idols, also come under the class of things here referred to. For this was only another form of the service which was yielded to the dominant worldly power. The Roman state was honoured in the idol gods which it had set up. At the time when Christianity appeared, faith in these gods had already been much shaken. “Pious sentiment,” says Tzschirner, on the Fall of Heathenism, p. 118, “had vanished from the soul, no longer did any faith in the avenging and protecting gods dwell in the depths of the heart. Polytheism Lad become a mythology without doctrine, a bodily service without devotional feeling, a lifeless form, a mere shell.” Neander also says, in reference to the letter of Pliny, “He requires, inasmuch as he looks upon religion as a matter of state, unconditional obedience even here to the laws of the empire. With the character of the religion he has nothing to do. Whatever that might be, defiance of the imperial laws must be severely punished” (History, vol. i., p. 134). And again, at p. 136, “He was of opinion, that open contempt of the ‘Roman ceremonies,’ open resistance to the laws of the empire, could not be suffered in any case to go unpunished, even though no act was connected with it of a morally punishable nature.” Bengel says in his closing prayer, “What the Spirit of truth has done in thy servants, the same is done in the contrary direction by the false prophet in the men of the world. Imprint the truth of thy testimony deeply upon our hearts, that we may hold it fast against all temptations.”
Revelation 13:13. And he does great wonders, so that [Note: Bengel: “ἱ?́?να , a particle much used by John. In all his writings, he has never but once, Gos. iii. 16, employed ὠ?̀?στε , and there a ἱ?̀?να immediately follows.” An important observation! This predilection for the ἱ?̀?να is of great moment in regard to the question of the authorship of John’s writings.] he even makes fire come down from heaven before men. Revelation 13:14. And deceives them that dwell on the earth, because of the signs which are given him to do before the beast, saying to those who dwell upon the earth, that they should make an image of the beast which had the wound of the sword, and became alive. Revelation 13:15. And it was given to him to give spirit to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should even speak; and that he should make, that whosoever would not worship the image of the beast, should be killed.
This third does or makes at the beginning of Revelation 13:13, points back to the first. The great wonders which the second beast works, are the means by which he establishes the power of the first. The fundamental passage is Matthew 24:24, “There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall do great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Here, as there, the same word is used to denote the means of seduction; it was to be through the working of great wonders. Our verse comes the nearer to the fundamental passage, when it is considered that it would be an arbitrary limitation of the first, if we should understand by the false prophets only wolves in sheep’s clothing; as also if by the false Christs should be understood, not solely, nor even pre-eminently, the poor subjects who gave themselves out for the Jewish Messias or Christ; but we should much rather understand those, who in palpable opposition to Christ, lay claim to what belongs only to him. The passage 2 Thessalonians 2:9 is also to be compared. It is said there of the adversary, whose first great manifestation was the raising up of heathen Rome against Christ: “whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders.” No indication is given in any of the three passages, that the great wonders, when more closely examined, should prove only cheats and delusions. For, that the lying wonders in 2 Thess. are not false wonders in the ordinary sense, needs no proof. The reality of the wonders in the several passages is neither denied nor admitted. It appears inadvisable to go more closely into the examination of the material composition of these signs and wonders. It was possible that they might rise above the sphere of mere semblance and deceit; there might be much going along with them, that would bring them to the very borders of the miraculous, that, by means of demoniacal excitement, would make what was done exceed the ordinary powers of nature. Scripture has a more efficacious way of dealing with the matter than criticism. It lets the wonders, by which the world suffers itself to be deceived, be what they give themselves out for, and what they are reckoned, and yet laughs in their face. It took this course even in respect to the wise men of Egypt (see my work Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 79, sq). And it is the course prescribed in Deuteronomy 13:1-3, “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake to thee, saying, Let us go after other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth yon to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Soothsaying and witchcraft also are rejected in Scripture, not on the ground of their nothingness, but because they are an abomination to the Lord, Deuteronomy 18:9, sq. Though the signs should here and there rise above what is common, they still remain widely different from true wonders through their aim, the merely natural character of which they never can get rid of, and by their mixture with common frauds. Besides, as the signs of the Egyptian wise men were occasioned by those of Moses, so are the signs of the false prophet here occasioned by those of Christ. He would undo the powerful impression which these had made upon the minds of men. [Note: It is unnecessary to adduce any historical quotation to show, that in the conflict of heathenism with Christianity, wonders and signs played an important part. Every church history supplies the proof. Bossuet remarks, “All the writings of Jamblious, all those of Porphyry and the others, so much esteemed by Julian, are full of those delusive prestiges, which the people generally take for miracles; and the weakness of Julian outrun that of others, Amm. Marc. XXII., XXIII., XXV. We find also a vast number of the prodigies of those philosophers of Julian, even to resurrections from the dead, reported by Ennapins. Julian himself declared his belief in those arts, which he called holy; that is to say, in magic, ap. Cyrilhim, L. VI., c. Jul., p. 198.”] Then, as times change, so in the room of the old material signs come, in the progress of civilization, the pretended wonders of the intellect. Beside the general expression, great wonders, there is also mentioned by way of individualizing that wonder, which from John’s peculiar temperament was especially fitted to strike him. Fire from heaven was what he and James would have brought down upon those, who would not receive Christ ( Luke 9:51). Fire from heaven also, according to ch. Revelation 20:9, falls upon the last enemies of God’s kingdom, and consumes them (comp. ch. Revelation 11:5).
The expression, before, men, here, corresponds to, before him, in Revelation 13:12. The second beast forms, as it were, the agent between the first beast and men. [Note: This ἐ?νώπιον τῶ?ν ἀ?νθρώπων also shews, that the former ἐ?νώπιον must simply mean before. So also the ἐ?νώπιον τοῦ? θηρίου in Revelation 13:14.]
In Revelation 13:14, is given the aim, which the great wonders serve. The inhabitants of the earth [Note: In Revelation 13:12, the earth and those who dwell in it, after the Hebrew comp. for example, Psalms 24:1; here it is more after the Greek style, those who dwell upon the earth.] are mentioned so frequently, in order to bring distinctly into view the critical position of the little flock, who have against them a whole deceived world, the huge mass of worldly-minded persons on the earth (comp. on Revelation 13:12). The greatness of the danger has also occasioned the copious, repetitionary description of our section. Since the history of the deluge Scripture has employed the method, in describing great catastrophes, conflicts, dangers, critical moments, of using frequent repetitions, which tend to bring the scene more vividly before the eye of the reader. Such, for example, is the narrative of the image of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3; and the account of Haman’s elevation, pride, and cruel plot against the Jews, in Esther 3. That a description of this kind, so full of repetitions, should be employed in what is said of the second beast, more than in the case of the first, corresponds to the declaration in Revelation 13:12, that all the power of the first beast is exercised through the second, and rests upon the discernment, of the heathenish and demoniacal intelligence being a still more frightful enemy than the coercive power of heathendom. The effort is everywhere apparent, to render manifest the danger and the tribulation in their real depth and magnitude. Scripture looks the reality full in the face, because it has even for the greatest sufferings and dangers the strongest consolation. The world, on the other hand, deceives itself regarding the danger, and would have all in that respect diminished, because it sees no alternative but despair, whenever it opens its eyes on the entire magnitude of the danger.
It is not images that are spoken of, but an image. But in regard to the sense a multitude of images are meant. The oneness of the image belongs only to the vision, in which the manifold nature of the reality is compressed into one great drama. It was very natural also to speak only of one image, on account of the example already given in Daniel, to which allusion is not doubtfully made here. The king of Babylon there collects all his officials from every province, and commands them to worship the image set up by him. The image there is the image of a god.
But this difference is not essential. The worship was required for the god, not on account of his own nature, but merely because he was the god of Nebuchadnezzar. Disobedience was punished as high treason. Nebuchadnezzar reproaches the persons accused in Revelation 13:14-15, with having refused to worship his god and the image, which he had caused to be made (see my Beitr. I., p. 83, ss). The setting up of the likeness of the emperor was one of the most effectual means, which heathen despotism could employ, to place itself in the centre of the world. By means of this image the beast was rendered in a manner omnipresent. Its living representative, the Roman emperor, was confined to no particular place. In this way the choice was set before Christians between martyrdom, for the true confession, and apostacy.
In the beast’s return to life again lies the reason, for which an image behoved to be made for him. Persecution appeared to proceed with every mark of success. The beast seemed to make a sport of Him, who had alleged, that all power was given to him in heaven and on earth, and who had said that the very hairs of his people were numbered. Ground enough in this for preparing an image for the beast, and holding it up as an object of adoration to the whole world, with which also we have to think of the cursing of his apparently impotent rival as immediately connected. [Note: Pliny, in L. X. ep. 97, reports, at H time very near to the composition of the Apocalypse: Propositus est libellus sine auctore, multorum nomina continens, qui negant se esse Christianos aut fuisse; cum praeeunte me deos appellarem, et imagini tuae (he writes to Trujan), quam propter hoc jusseram cum simulacris numinum afferi, thure ac vino supplicarent: praeterea maledicerent Christo, quorum nihil cogi posse dicuntur, qui sum revera Christiani, ergo dimittendos putavi. Alii ab indice nominati, esse se Christianos dixerunt: et mox negaverunt, fuisste quidem sed desiise.
Omnes et imaginem tuam Deorumque simulacra venerati sunt; ii et Christo maledixerunt.]
The Spirit, which, according to Revelation 13:15, belongs to the image of the beast, is not one properly residing in him, but flowing out of him, along with the speech given to him by the wisdom of this world. It can only, therefore, be an apparent life that is spoken of. The spirit is first given to the image of the beast in this way, that men’s minds are filled with exalted representations of the beast himself and of his almighty power, in contrast to the supposed impotence of his opponent. Admiration of the object naturally passes over to the image. Then, it is also to be taken into account, that according to the heathen manner of viewing things, the apprehension of a very close connection between the image and its object immediately presented itself, whenever the beast was raised into the rank of super-human beings, and invested with divine glory. An idol was no mere image to the heathen mind, which always sought an objective ground for its feelings; it was penetrated by the divinity which it represented, and formed a visible representation of it. The one partook of the life of the other; spoke though without uttering audible words, threatened and promised. How vividly such conceptions were entertained, is evident from the reports so often circulated of voices actually uttered by these images of the gods. [Note: Grotius: Imagines loqui res mira, non tamen incredibilis. Habes id in histories Romanis et Valerio maximo, de simulacris Junonis Monetae, Fortunae Muliebris, Silvani.] On these reported utterances, however, no stress is to be laid here; and they are only so far of importance, as they shew, how deeply rooted was the imagination of a speaking spiritually by the images.
The import of the speeches we may learn from Revelation 13:5-6. The image speaks what the beast does—great and blasphemous things against God and his name and his church, threatenings to his adversaries, who worship the Lamb that was slain, and promises to his own worshippers. It is difficult for us to render properly manifest the tempting nature of such a state of things. Now that time and the judgment of God have brought fully to light the vanity of the objects, which the world reverences and adores, we can scarcely comprehend, how vast a power they must have exercised on the minds of men, and how much they would carry of a temptation even for the chosen people of God. We shall only attain to some real acquaintance with this, if we learn to understand the past by the present—if we bring ourselves distinctly to apprehend the great power of the spirit of the age, so that with a clear eye we can discern the absolute poverty of the idols, to which the world now pays homage; and then put it solemnly to our own hearts, whether we find it quite easy to withdraw ourselves from all participation in the homage, to which the wisdom of this world so treacherously invites us, communicating life and spirit to things in themselves dead, and to which we are drawn by the almost resistless power of public opinion, which, like a mighty torrent, sweeps everything along with it, that is not firmly rooted in God. The danger in such circumstances is not simply of being killed; it arises fully as much from one’s own inclination to do homage. This discovers itself in the roughness, which so often meets us in the martyrs of the first centuries. It was the reaction against the internal temptation into which they were dragged by the force of public opinion. We must not explain: and made; so that the image is the subject; but rather: and that it made; so that the beast, the false prophet is the subject. Otherwise, instead of: the image of the beast, the pronoun would have been put: and made, that those who did not worship his image, should be killed. The insertion of the name instead of the pronoun was here indispensable, as thus alone could the dubiety be shunned. That the second beast is the subject, appears also from the repetition of the words, “and makes,” in Revelation 13:11. The being killed and the not buying or selling can have him alone for its author. We have here the commentary on the words: he spake like a dragon, in Revelation 13:11. We may further compare Daniel 3:6, according to which those, who did not worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar, were to be cast the selfsame hour into the fiery furnace.
Revelation 13:16. And he makes all, [Note: The expression: be makes all, is as much as: he brings nil into such a position, he works upon them to this effect (comp. Revelation 13:12)—a Hebr. use of ποιεῖ?ν ; see Gesenius on עשה .
Heb.] the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that a mark should be given them on their right hand or on their forehead.
Revelation 13:17. [Note: The καὶ? , which several good manuscripts have here, so as to make “and that,” can scarcely have been original. The ποιεῖ? would then have been repeated, as it occurred in Revelation 13:16 in a sense not quite applicable here.] That no one should be able to buy or sell, but he that has the mark, the name [Note: Luther follows the false reading, ἡ?̀? τὸ? ὀ?́?νομα , or the name.] of the beast, or the number of his name. The named are seven; the all at the beginning, then the three pairs. We have a similar seven, and divided in a similar way, in ch. Revelation 6:15. The divisions are comprised in the number four, which is always in the Apocalypse the signature of the earth. The enumeration begins with the small, and concludes with the slaves. From the small a rise is made to the great, and from the rich there is a descent to the poor, from the free to the bond. We often find in the Apocalypse the contrast between the small and the great—see on ch. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 19:5-18, Revelation 20:12. The mark is also mentioned in ch. Revelation 14:9, Revelation 16:2, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:4. It belongs only to the vision, in which every tiling must become visible and possess form. Substantially it means confession. This confession, however, naturally drives at public notoriety by some visible mark—as we see in the present times the revolutionary, anti-christian spirit making itself known by the wearing of dark red cocades. The mark, however, is independent of these outward distinctions, although the idea involved in it is by means of them brought out in a lively and striking manner. The figure of the mark is only corporealized by such things.
If the right hand had not been expressly named, the hand along with the forehead might have been simply taken for the uncovered parts of the body. But as it is, the hand must be regarded as named in respect to its being the instrument of acting. A person’s bearing the mark upon his right hand, is to be explained thus, that in all his actions he is to shew himself a true servant of the beast. The forehead comes into notice as the most open part of the body. Whatever is there is easily seen and is used for display—comp. Revelation 7:3, Revelation 9:4, Revelation 14:1, Revelation 17:5, Revelation 22:4. For any one to bear the mark of the beast on his forehead, is to declare himself before all the world as a servant of the beast. The forehead is the most appropriate place for a confession.
Allusion is made to Deuteronomy 6:6-8, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes,” (comp. the parallel passages, Deuteronomy 11:18-19; Exodus 13:9, Exodus 13:16, and on the sense of the passages, the figure of which was embodied in the Jewish phylacteries, my Beitr. II. p. 451, ss). That one should often think of the true God, of his commandments and his benefits ( Exodus 13:9), and be always ready to make acknowledgment of them, this is enforced by what is said figuratively in the law concerning the marking on one’s hand, and binding between the eyes. But those blind and deluded victims—horrid thought!—bear upon their hand and forehead the mark of the beast. (The agreement, too, is the greater, as the μέ?τωπον properly means, what is between the eyes.) It is well remarked by Züllig, “John has as little thought here of the Roman custom of marking slaves on the hand and forehead, as generally of referring to heathen matters.” He continues to stand at “the rough, almost disdainful contrariety that was manifested to the precept in Deuteronomy 6:8; Exodus 13:9-10.” The aim and result of imprinting the mark is, that no one is able to buy or sell, who has not the mark, Revelation 13:17. He that cannot buy and sell is as one excluded from human society, and deprived of the necessary means of existence. The mark consists either of the name of the beast, or of the number of his name. Hence it follows, that the number of the name must be equally significant with the name itself—that the nature of the beast must thereby be definitely exhibited. This also is plain from ch. Revelation 15:2, where those are spoken of who obtain the victory over the beast, and over the image, and over the number of his name. There the name itself is not specified.
Revelation 13:18. Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding consider the number of the beast; for it is a man’s number, and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. That we must here explain; here wisdom is in its proper place, is plain from what was already said at Revelation 13:10. From that passage, and from ch. Revelation 17:9, we expect, in what follows, not a child’s play with letters, but a problem, which belongs to the region of a more profound spiritual discernment. Wisdom used absolutely, is always that wisdom which comes from above ( James 3:15), which has an ethical foundation, and bears an ethical character. Properly a prerogative of God ( Revelation 7:12), and of Christ ( Revelation 5:12), it comes to be possessed only by those to whom the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, “has given the spirit of wisdom and of revelation ( Ephesians 1:17; James 1:5; Acts 6:3; Colossians 1:9, also the classical passage upon the heavenly origin of wisdom in the book of Wisdom, Wis_7:25-26 ), and along therewith a deeper insight into divine and human things, and the capacity generally of apprehending the right in knowledge and duty. The passage before us would stand entirely out of the sphere of the New Testament usage, if by wisdom were here meant something, for which no spiritual discernment is required, and which might be attained even by the most carnal mind. If wisdom generally is required for the elucidation of this book, as certainly as it is the product of the Spirit, it must be quite peculiarly so here. They only have understanding, whose understanding Jesus has opened by his Spirit, ( Luke 24:45). The understanding is a mere name, if it has not wisdom—comp. Revelation 17:9. The understanding is properly the seat of wisdom, being the mental power to which it belongs, where it exists. Still, since this mental power, when devoid of wisdom, might as well not exist, is a shell without a kernel, so he alone has understanding in the more distinctive sense, who has wisdom—comp. Daniel 12:10, “The wicked shall not understand it, but the understanding shall understand it,” where wickedness and understanding stand opposed to each other. In those passages, of which this is one, where wisdom comes into consideration only in a theoretical respect, to have understanding and to have wisdom are one and the same. The history of the exposition of this book has amply justified the appeal to wisdom and understanding.
We are called literally to count the number. But as here such a counting is meant, as belongs to the sphere of wisdom and of spiritual discernment, it cannot be a counting in the ordinary sense that is intended. Nor would this afford any proper exposition; for though we should set out from the view, that the number of the beast is that which arises from the summing up of the letters of his name, read as numerals, there should still be no proper reckoning of the number of the beast. (This is clear alone from the circumlocution of Ewald: “let him compute the number of the beast, let him see by computing, what name will be expressed by the sum of the number.”) In a looser sense every mental exercise which has to do with numbers, may be drawn into the category of reckoning.
The beast, being named unconditionally, is the first beast—not, however, in contrast to the second, which is rather to be regarded as its inseparable attendant. Here the subject of discourse is the number of the beast, and in Revelation 13:17, and in ch. Revelation 15:2, the number of his name. The number of the beast, according to these parallel passages, is primarily, on this account, the number, that it is the signature of his name. Whence we obtain the result, that we must not stand at the point of endeavouring to discover an internal relation between the nature of the beast and his number; that the number also, and above all, must be employed in reference to a name; and that every determination of the number must be false, which does not fulfil this condition. [Note: Hofmann, in his Weissagung und Erf. I. p. 312, thinks, “that we cannot gather from the words of John, that he himself knew the name, and that the contrary is the more credible, the more extraordinary the import of the number is.” But if John did not know the name of the beast, (which would ill accord with his being the organ of the revelation of Jesus Christ. and on this ground alone is incredible, because it must necessarily be a name of nature that is meant, the knowledge of which must be essentially bound up with the knowledge of the nature itself,) how, then, could he speak, not only of the number of the beast, but also of the number of the name of the beast? He, who is ignorant of the name of the boast, cannot possibly know the number which corresponds to this name, and is indicative of it.] This result is confirmed by the circumstance, that whenever we dissever the number of the beast from his name, the latter remains unknown to us. But it is not to be imagined, that John, after having spoken in Revelation 13:17 of the name of the beast and his number, should here announce only the latter. If John had not wished to note (indirectly) the name of the beast, he would certainly have made no mention of it. On the other hand, however, the number must have a signification even apart from its reference to the name of the beast. It must stand in an independent relation to the nature of the beast. For, were this not the case, it could scarcely be understood, why the number should have been spoken of beside the name, why the name should not have been put without circumlocution. Then, there can be no doubt that here of purpose, not the number of the name of the beast, but only the number of the beast, is what is mentioned; and it will not do to take the expression as a mere abbreviation. The result therefore is, that alone can be the right explanation of the number which, first, supplies a name; and, secondly, indicates a direct relation between the number and the nature of the beast.
What we are to understand by “the number of a man,” is plain from the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 21:17, where the “measure of a man” is the common measure, that is used among men, and from Isaiah 8:1, where “with a man’s pen” means, with the instrument commonly employed by men in writing. Accordingly, the number of a man forms a contrast to a mystical or mysterious number; and the words indicate, that in the solution of the riddle we must seek for no mystery in the number itself. Against the explanation, “for it is the number of the name of a man,” a number which is made up of the numerical value of the letters of a name; we oppose, 1. The fact, that the beast is not a man, not an individual; 2. The fundamental and parallel passages. To say nothing of other reasons—for example, that the for in that case would be unsuitable. Rightly understood, these words overthrow the hypothesis, which would construct a number out of the numerical value of the letters of a name.
The for belongs to both clauses. Were the number not an ordinary, a common one, the call to compute it, or to reflect on it, would be to no purpose; as is clear alone from the endless diversity that prevails among the advocates of the reckoning by letters; and in order to be able to count the number, one must know what the number is.
It admits of no doubt, that John wrote the number 666. The same Irenaeus, who mentions the variation 616, also tells us, that the number 666 was found in all the best and oldest manuscripts; and that those who had seen John, testified to its correctness. [Note: B. 13:30: ἐ?ν πᾶ?σι τοῖ?ς σπουδαί?οις και ἀ?ρχαί?οις ἀ?ντιγρά?φοις τοῦ? ἀ?ριθμοῦ? τού?του κειμέ?νον καὶ? μαρτυρού?ντων ἐ?κεί?νων τῶ?ν κατʼ? ὀ?́?ψιν τὸ?ν Ιωά?ννην ἑ?ωρακό?των .] And the more importance is to be attached to the latter portion of the statement, that he makes no appeal to such confirmatory testimony, in reference to the signification of the number. In the manuscripts are to be found only faint and unimportant traces of the reading 616. On internal grounds, too, the other reading is to be preferred. “The three sixes,” says Vitringa, “placed together, have something of an enigmatical appearance, which does not exist to the same degree in 616.” Probably the number 616 is not a proper variation, but only the conjecture of some who could not bring the number 666 into accordance with the name, which they had got fixed in their heads. Irenaeus, certainly, is of opinion that the reading 616 was originally a slip of the pen; but, at the same time, he says expressly, that on the number 616 were raised calculations of names, and he himself offers in consequence grounds for an easier explanation. Then, as it is evident from Irenaeus alone, that the number even in the earliest times had awakened much attention, it is scarcely to be imagined that a deviation from the correct reading should have arisen from mere carelessness.
From the preceding remarks, it is obvious, that our business is first to discover the name of the beast which furnishes the number 666. And here we must not wander about after our own imaginations. The Seer of the Apocalypse lives entirely in holy Scripture. On this territory, therefore, is the solution of the sacred riddle to be sought. And there also it can be found with perfect certainty. In the whole of the Old Testament there is but one instance in which the number 666 occurs in connection with a name. It is said in Ezra 2:13, “The sons of Adonikam 666.” The name Adonikam must therefore be the name of the beast. It was admirably fitted for being so. It means: the Lord arises, [Note: אדון without the article is used of the Lord in Psalms 114:7. The Jod is commonly in the proper names a connective vowel, and not the suffix—see Ewald, p. 499, Anm. 2. So also in other proper names, which are compounded of Adon: Adoniram (Jehoram corresponds), the high lord, a designation of him, to whom the bearer of the name was devoted, as so many similar names—for example, Eliab, God father, Joab, Joel, Jehoshua; Adouijah, the Lord is Jehovah (not my Lord). The קום is used of the Lord, who rises up to the help of his people, and for vengeance on his enemies; comp. קומה יהוה in Ps. in. Psalms 7:6; Psalms 9:19; Psalms 10:12; also Psalms 12:5; Psalms 44:26; Psalms 68:1. The name took its rise from these passages of the Psalms; as indeed it was very natural that the Psalms, whose words were continually sounding in the ears of the Lord’s people, should especially exercise an important influence in the formation of names. A reference is found to those passages even in Isaiah 33:10. The name Asrikam is formed in the same way; the help (the Lord as helper) rises up, resting on Psalms 44:26.
We must take the name Adonikam in no other signification than that in which it occurs in the fundamental passages; not, for example, with Vitringa in the sense of the Lord’s enemy; which is also grammatically inadmissible.] and is in excellent agreement with the watch-word of the worshippers of the beast: “Who is like the beast, and who is able to make war with him?” It combines all, that in the preceding description had been said to characterize the beast. It is a name of blasphemy; it corresponds to the mouth speaking great things; it accords admirably with the demand upon all the inhabitants of the earth to worship the beast. It points to the war against the saints, and the carrying away of these into captivity, and killing them with the sword. It also perfectly agrees with the description, which St Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, gives of the man of sin: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” The Lord arises—this name originally consecrated to the true God, and derived from the songs of the church, that celebrate him as the Almighty Being, who rises to avenge his enemies, the beast appropriates to himself, as his adherents had already in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 claimed for him the name Michael. By this reference of the name to its original destination, its blasphemous character is heightened; q.d. not that one, the miserable product of the vain imaginations and arrogant claims of his wretched worshippers, it is not he who is the Lord, but I, whose omnipotence is palpable to all; it is not he, who arises to help his poor worshippers, and execute vengeance on his enemies, but I that arise to extinguish those wretched saints with their crucified One and their God. Besides, the name Adonikam in its original reference to the living God reacts against the claim, as also the number 666, according to what is presently to be remarked, at once indicates the claim, and marks its presumptuous and shameful character.
Our second problem was to show, that a direct relation exists between the number and the nature of the beast. That this is the case appears, besides the reasons already adduced, from the circumstance, that in the immediately following verse, the number 144,000 occurs with manifest design, and so, that it is used simply and directly, without any intervening expression, of the church. The 666 is, as it were, the swollen, blown up six, the six in its highest potency, but still, even when swelled up and increased to the uttermost, no more than the six. This number has in Scripture but a very subordinate dignity. As the five only occurs as the half of the ten, the broken number of perfection, so the six appears either (as often, in particular, in the arrangement of the Psalms, for example in Psalms 7, Psalms 80), as the half of the twelve; or as the preliminary step to the seven (for example in Job 5:19; Proverbs 6:16) therefore in a subordinate relation to the two numbers, which are formed by a similar combination of three and four, and which generally, but especially in the Apocalypse, are consecrated to the church. (See in reference to the twelve on ch. Revelation 7:4). By the six being carried through units, tens, and hundreds, the number marks the soaring pretensions and might of the beast; while, on the other side, the relation of the six to the seven and twelve, implies, that in respect to the church he still after all came short. To the number 666 thus explained, corresponds the number three-and-a-half, which in the Apocalypse is the signature of the apparent victory of the world over the church—see on ch. Revelation 12:6-14—merely on account of its relation to the number seven. Even Irenaeus, in his early age, seeks in the number 666 an import by itself, brings it into connection with the nature of the beast. He supposes a connection between, it and the image of sixty cubits high and six cubits broad, which Nebuchadnezzar caused to be set up in the plain of Dura ( Daniel 3:1, and my Beitr. I., p. 94). And, indeed, if we look upon this image, not with our own, but with Israelitish eyes, if we consider the great attention which was paid to numbers in Old Testament times, as recent investigations have shown, nothing is more natural than to suppose, that the book notices the dimensions of that symbol of the ungodly power of the world (for such the image was), because it saw in these a shadowy representation of the nature of that power. So colossal, and yet indissolubly bound to the fatal six, the broken twelve, and the incomplete seven! The name of the valley, too, is ominous. It properly signifies the valley of the funeral pile (comp. Ezekiel 24:5, Ezekiel 24:9).
This is what we can maintain with certainty respecting the 666, as the number at once of the name of the beast, and of the beast himself. Perhaps, however, there is also an import in the mode of writing the number. It is expressed by the three letters χξς . That this writing by letters was the original form, is certified by Irenaeus. [Note: It is evident also from this consideration, that where the number has been written out, the gender of the words is differently given, sometimes ἐ?ξακό?σιοι , and sometimes ἐ?ξακό?σια .] The first and the last of these three letters are the common abbreviation of the name of Christ. The ξ standing in the middle, is like the serpent, under the name of which Satan appears in ch. Revelation 12:9, Revelation 20:2. Through the whole, therefore, the Antichrist, that is raised up by Satan, is placed before our eyes. This ingenious hypothesis was first advanced by Heumann, and afterwards recommended by Herder. But we are not to seek in it the chief matter, it is only a thing of secondary moment.
The other explanations are to be altogether rejected. The wide-spread supposition, that the number 666 is made up of the aggregate numerical value of the letters of a name, is disproved by the following reasons among others. 1. For the solution of so common an enigma, there is required no wisdom and no understanding. A cunning Jew is as capable of it as an enlightened Christian. 2. It is impossible by this view to come to a certain explanation of the sacred riddle. Even Irenaeus remarks, that this number is to be got from a multitude of names; and one only needs to glance at the numberless solutions, that have actually been attempted on this ground, to be convinced, that such a riddle could have no place in the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Not even the simplest conditions necessary to the solution are given. It is never so much as said, for example, in what language the name is to be sought. 3. Most of the advocates of this view set out from the idea, that John had in his eye a common proper name of the beast. But in a book which never employs common proper names, which everywhere makes use of descriptive names, we can expect none but such also in regard to the beast. 4. The most current explanations of this sort, for example Lateinos, mentioned even by Irenaeus, Nero Caesar (a ludicrous contest, too, about the prior right to this miserable discovery!), furnish a name which does not properly suit the beast; since this represents the whole of the ungodly power of the world, not simply or peculiarly Rome, and far less still, a particular Roman king; so that it is not worth while to advance any other considerations that might be urged against this name. The defenders of the view, which refers it to the papacy, have set forth the opinion, that the number 666 announces the period during which the beast was to continue. Luther took the lead hero. In the German Bible with marginal notes, it is said on this passage: “666 years, so long lasts the worldly papacy.” But how could the number apply to the period of 1he beast’s continuance? The number must be descriptive of the nature of the beast. Otherwise, it could not go by the side of the name, so that the mark should consist either of the name, or of the number. How also could one obtain the victory, according to ch. Revelation 15:2, over the number of the beast, if this announces only the period of its duration? Further, it were a misplaced appeal to wisdom and understanding, if the problem were merely to discover, what not a word seems to indicate, that the number of the beast is the period of his duration, (though, in the whole context, the beast’s duration never comes in question), and that 666 is simply 666 years. One might have much wisdom and understanding, and never light upon this; and one might want all wisdom and all understanding, and yet discover it. How little does the wisdom suit here, according to Bengel’s own explanation! “He who sanctifies God in his heart, who abides in the true fear of God, and with his soul cleaves to the salvation of Christ, is wise. Though he may not be discerning for himself in natural things, nor able to discover much, yet, if the good and the evil are set before him, he still has a sound taste to reject the evil and cleave to the good.” And then it must be left to each one’s own liking to find out in history where the commencement of the period is to be made! Usually, and in particular by Bengel, the age of Gregory VII is fixed upon as such. But with that starting-point the hypothesis has already long since been wrecked on the facts of history.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 13". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany