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Revelation 13

Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NTLuscombe's NT Commentary

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This is an important chapter. Not because it contains much more vital information. Just the opposite is true. It does not deal with any more vital information than the chapter before it or the chapter that follows it. The reason this chapter is important is because of the many misunderstandings connected with chapter 13. This is the chapter that introduces the beast and his number - 666. There are more theories, calculations, and interpretations about how to understand this number than perhaps any other section of the Revelation.

This chapter introduces two “beasts” about which many theories have evolved and developed. The theories depend on the system of interpretation chosen. Before we enter this chapter we need to discuss the term “beast” and how it is used throughout the book of Revelation and in other apocalyptic writings in the Old Testament.

A study of Dan_7:1-28 will be very helpful here. In Daniel there are four beasts that arise out of the earth. ( Dan_7:17 ) The meaning is clear. The beasts are the four kings, or better, the four kingdoms, which shall arise. This chapter writes world history in advance. God begins with Babylon. Following the Babylonian Empire will come the Medo-Persian Empire. Next will be the empire of Alexander the Great in Greece. Lastly will come the Roman Empire. It is clear in Dan_7:1-28 that the beasts are kings or kingdoms. Therefore, a beast is a symbolic term for a government power or rule in this world.

Beast out of the Sea

Here is a summary statement of the verses that follow about the beast out of the sea in this chapter (1-10). Since the beast represents governmental power, a kingdom or empire, it is clear from this chapter that the beast here stands for civil government. There are a couple of reasons for this conclusion.

1. The number seven is the number of divine completeness. This beast has seven heads. Some believe this represents seven actual governments or empires. This is a stretch, any way one tries to make the list.

2. This beast signifies all the kingdoms that have existed because God desired them. One can see this clearly in Dan_4:1-37 . God sets up kingdoms. God can take them down. Civil rulers only have power as God ordains them. ( Rom_13:1-4 )

3. In Jer_51:24-29 , the seven heads are described as seven mountains. One of the mountains under consideration is Babylon. Thus, Babylon is one of the seven mountains, which is one of the seven heads of the beast.

4. This beast has ten horns. Since ten is the number of human completeness, there will be many kingdoms in power. They will come and go. Some will last a long time and others will quickly fade away. Thus, this beast is not one nation or one ruler. A variety of nations will, at different times rise to rule, or seek to rule, the world.

5. The final end of this beast is given in Rev_19:20 . He is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.

Beast out of the Earth

The second beast described in this chapter (11-18) rises from the earth. This one is also a beast, that is, it exercises governmental power and rule. However, this beast is also called the “false prophet” in 16:13 and 19:20. This is an important clue. This beast is false religious power. This beast will lead people to false worship. The final destiny of this beast is also the lake of fire. ( Rev_19:20 )

There comes a time when the beast from the earth (at that moment, the Roman Empire) was weakened and ready to collapse. The beast from the earth (corrupt, false religious power) is ready to resurrect the dying government. This is a clear picture of the decline of the civil Roman government and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. This conforms to verse 12, which states that this beast exercises all the power of the first beast.

The number 666

Let me here make some comments about the many theories about the number of this beast.

1. We must be consistent here. While many commentaries seek to be consistent in other parts of the book of Revelation, here they lose all their common sense.

2. What did it mean to those who first read this book? We have the advantage of 2,000 years of hindsight. We can look back, do all kinds of spiritual gymnastics with a calculator and arrive at dozens of conclusions. But, when the Christians in Asia Minor read this letter, what did it mean?

3. How will this comfort persecuted saints? Suppose you are in fear for your life, and this book was to bring you comfort, encouragement and strength to remain faithful in the face of death. How would you be helped to learn that 2000 years from now Hitler would arise and cause a World War? How will I be comforted to know that two millenniums from now world leader will arise and seek to control the world?

Choose your view - Select your beast

Let me share with some of the many theories about this mark of the beast. One looks for the meaning of the number “666” and who it might represent, based on the method of interpretation being used. All look for an interpretation that fits their preconceived view of Revelation.

1. If you choose to take the Preterist method of interpretation, you will believe that this beast is Nero. If you reduce Nero Caesar to the Hebrew consonants “Nron Ksr” and add up the numerical equivalent for each letter - you get 666.

2. In you choose the Futurist view that this entire book is yet to be fulfilled, you will believe that the beast number of 666 represents some “yet to be born” world leader, who will be come the Anti-Christ. 75 years ago the most common view was Hitler. If you take the English letter values of A=100, B=101, C-102, etc., then Hitler’s name totals, you guessed it, 666.

3. If your method of interpretation is the Continuous-Historical with a spiritual view, then you will believe that the whole book is about the Roman Catholic Church. This means that the beast here and the number 666 is connected to the papacy in Rome. You will take the Latin inscription in the pope’s mitre, “Vicarius filii dei,” which translates, “in the place of God.” If you take this Latin phrase and find the Roman numeral values - the total is (drum roll please) - 666.

4. If you select the Continuous-Historical view with a civil government application, then you will find the following to your liking. The first Roman ruler was named Latinus. The Greek name is spelled “Lateinos.” Using the Greek letter values for this Greek spelling. (You will be surprised at this.) The sum of the letter values Isaiah 666 .

5. Which of these, or the dozens of others devised, invented and calculated over the years is correct? In my view, NONE OF THE ABOVE is correct . I have seen schemes for Stalin, Watergate, Henry Kissinger, Pope Pius IV, and Pope John Paul. The manipulations that take place are sometimes so far-fetched that it is beyond reason.

Whatever view you take here, I believe, it must be consistent with the book, meaningful to the first century Christians and offer them some hope and encouragement. (My view is written in the comments of this chapter.)

Ray Summers concludes, “This “reductio ad absurdum” treatment is given to indicate the futility of such efforts to arrive at the truth. By this cryptic method the number has been applied to several popes and a large number of political personages during the course of the world’s history. A pathetic loss of time and thought and mathematical ingenuity has marked the labor of an endless number of men who have tried to solve the riddle of this mystic number and assign it to some contemporary.” (2, 177)

Verse 1

1 Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.

A. Some have tried to make this literal. They claim that John was on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and that the best is the Roman Empire coming by ship to invade Israel.

B. It is true that Israel was most vulnerable by sea because they did not have a navy. There were not able to stop an invasion by sea until the enemy landed on their shore.

C. I do not believe we should try to identify the sea. My view is that this is the sea of humanity, the world of people.

D. The beast, which arises out of this sea of humanity, has seven heads and ten horns. As we read more about this beast it becomes clear that what is being described here is civil governments and their power to control people.

E. The heads and crowns represent power and authority. The government (any government) seeks to control and exercise power over its people.

F. The most important point of this verse is the fact that this beast is blasphemous. He makes claims that blaspheme the name of God, His church, His Son, and His Word.

Verse 2

2 Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.

A. The symbols of a leopard, bear and lion have a double emphasis.

1. These are three of the four beasts described in Dan_7:1-28 as the world powers of Babylon, Persia, and Greece.

2. In a broader sense, these animals represent great power, savage, persecuting power. They describe, not a kind and gentle government, but a brutal one.

B. Civil governments have many powers at their disposal to control people. They use physical force. They can use violence, punishments, persecutions and all types of hardships (economic, family, property, etc.)

C. Woodruff said, “Just because we live in a nation that offers freedom of religion, we should not lose sight of forces that exist in this world which seek to prohibit God’s people from worshiping him.” (1, 221)

Verse 3

3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.

A. Some commentators have tried to identify each of the seven heads as individual kings. Then they try to ascertain which one was wounded.

B. If the heads represent individual kings, then you have an evil, persecuting king, being killed and resurrected to life again. I do not believe Christians can accept or even imagine such an event occurring.

C. Here is my view. The civil Roman Empire was dealt a fatal blow and the empire was destroyed in 476. It was dead until Christmas day in the year 800. This is when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor. This marks the new beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. Just go to your history books or to any encyclopedia and look up “Holy Roman Empire,” “Papal Inquisition,” “Spanish Inquisition,” and “Middle Ages.”

D. This also matches the rest of this chapter as you meet the second beast in verses 11-16.

Verse 4

4 So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

A. Notice first that worship is offered to two things. They (sea of humanity) are worshiping the dragon (Satan) and they are worshiping the beast.

B. The beast gets its power from Satan, so to worship the beast is to worship the power behind the beast.

C. This beast is recognized for its power. Who could resist?

D. I believe this question was being discussed in church assemblies. Rome is persecuting the church. We are weak and not able to stand. What good will it do for another one, ten, or 100 to die in this persecution? Are we able to resist the power of the government?

E. Some first century Christians developed a doctrine called - Mental Reservation. It went like this: We cannot fight against Rome. We will all be killed if we resist. Here is what we can do. In our minds, we know that Jesus is our only Lord. But we can pinch some incense and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Because, this is not what we really believe. It is just an outward act with no real meaning. In other words, we can lie, if we know in our heart of hearts that we really don’t mean it.

F. This is an ancient version of “Situation Ethics.” There are some religious groups that still teach that mental reservation to preserve life is acceptable.

Verse 5

5 And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.

A. His voice is also powerful. He is able to speak great things.

B. Blasphemy can include all types of critical lies. The Greek word means, “to speak against.” Today we use words like libel, defame and slander. Here the civil governments have the power to speak against, to slander, Christians.

C. The authority lasts for 42 months. See our previous discussions about this phrase representing the entire gospel age. See my comments at 11:3.

D. I believe the number 42 is used here because 1) Four is the number of the earth and this material world; 2) Two is the number for strength; thus 3) This beast will work, persecute, threaten and exercise power on earth, over material things with great strength and power. The number is another way to express the 1260 days, and 3 ½ times. They all suggest that civil governments will be with us as long as this world stands. Some of these civil rulers will seek to control and restrict Christians. This will happen until the end of the age.

Verse 6

6 Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.

A. These evil governments will blaspheme God. They will slander the good name of God. They will ridicule His tabernacle. They will speak against Christians.

B. NOTE: The tabernacle, in the Old Testament, contained the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. This represented to Israel, the presence of God. The blasphemy against the tabernacle is blasphemy that scoffs at the presence of God. As many were being persecuted, they would be asked, “Where is your God now?”

C. The last phrase in this verse has caused some dispute. Here is my view. Christians are in God’s Kingdom, the church. (12:12) Faithful Christians are in “heavenly places in Christ.” ( Eph_1:3 ; Eph_2:6 ) We are now in “heavenly places in Christ.” We are in the sanctuary and protection of our God. Yes, we are still on earth in the fleshly sense. But, we have moved our citizenship to heaven.

D. This beast does everything possible to destroy religion, worship of God and God’s people. The beast seeks to control the people’s soul and body.

Verses 7-8

7 It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

A. Remember, we dwell in “heavenly places.” This verse shows the contrast. Those who dwell on the earth are those who do not have their names written in the Book of Life. Christians have their name written in this book. (21:27)

B. All the people who are not Christians will worship this beast. They will think that the civil government is looking out for their best interest. I am reminded of the many times I was told this by Russians. Under Communism, they were told that their government was the best in the world. They were led to believe that the government really cared about them and was doing what is best for them.

C. I believe that the last phrase, “from the foundation of the world,” refers to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. This verse is showing that from the beginning the Lamb owned the book and keeps the records. It was God’s plan from before creation that Jesus would die for the sins of all humanity. By our faithful obedience, we can have our names written in the Book of Life.

Verse 9

9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear.

A. This short verse reminds us of the ending of each of the letters in chapters 2 and 3.

B. The purpose is to issue a admonition to pay close attention. Something very important is about to happen and you will not want to miss this.

Verse 10

10 He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

A. Some have used this verse to oppose capital punishment. Others have suggested that this verse teaches that Christians must not go to war or fight for their nation’s freedom and safety.

B. NOTE: The term “He who” is not identifying Christians, but the beast. It is the beast that is taking people into captivity. It is the beast that is killing Christians with the sword.

C. The beast will be in captivity in hell for all eternity. The sword (Word of God, the gospel) will strike the fatal blow to this beast.

D. We are reminded that God will avenge these wrongs. Our task is to be patient. God does not work in our timeframe. God may not avenge the blood of persecuted Christians immediately. But, God will not forget. It will happen in God’s time. (See 6:10)

Verse 11

11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.

A. We are now introduced to the second beast. This beast rises from the earth.

B. He is described as looking like a lamb. I believe this indicates that it would look religious.

C. But, he speaks like a dragon. In summary, He looks like Jesus and talks like Satan.

D. He has two horns. Horns are a symbol of power. Two is the number of strength. This beast has strong power.

E. Remember that Jesus is described as a lamb with seven horns. (5:6) Jesus IS the Lamb of God. He has complete power. This beast has two horns, indicating strong power. And this beast looks LIKE a lamb. It is NOT a lamb, it just appears that way.

Verse 12

12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

A. When the Roman Empire suffered its decline and fall in 476, the civil government was dead.

B. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor in 800, the Holy Roman Empire was born and the Roman Empire was resurrected. These two beasts work together. The first, civil government dies. The second, false religion, gives power for the first to start again. This beast possesses both civil power over the emperor it appoints and religious power over people.

Verse 13

13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.

A. This beast that looks like a lamb, also tries to act like a religious power. He does great signs (miracles) to impress people and command obedience.

B. Men are caused to fear the great power that this beast demonstrates.

Verse 14

14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.

A. These miracles are a fake. They are deceptions, a fraud. The beast does not have any supernatural power to perform miracles. His only power is the ability to deceive.

B. This beast “appears” to be in submission to the first beast. The reality is that this beast is the one that put the first beast back in power. It resurrected the civil government, giving it power and life and it could take away that power and life.

C. I have seen a parallel in my work in Russia. I have seen the Russian Orthodox Church claim to support the government, but in fact, it is more powerful than the government and could take it down if the civil leaders fail to follow the desires of the Patriarch.

Verse 15

15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

A. He, in this verse, refers to the civil government, which was to be worshiped. This beast was given delegated authority. He gave the image breath and life. The image (perhaps, the image of a Roman Emperor on the seal or on coins) was given life and breath by the living and breathing emperor.

B. This beast was given two powers.

1. He was given the ability to put force, fear and power behind the image. Without the emperor, the image would just be a picture or a statue. It is the emperor that gives this image power and dread.

2. He was given the power to kill all who refused to worship the image. Christians, when they refused to bow down to the image of the emperor, were subject to death. It was considered treason to refuse to bow and worship the image of the emperor.

Verse 16

16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,

A. There has been far too much speculation about the mark mentioned here. What is that mark? Is it a literal mark? It is literally placed on the forehead?

B. Some of the theories common today include: Social security number, Credit card accounts, a coming cashless society where some other method is used. Some have imagined that the time will come when all people will have a small computer chip implanted in their foreheads. As you enter a store, the chip will be scanned. If you do not have the chip implant, you will not be allowed to enter the store and buy what you need.

C. This mark is not a literal mark that could be seen by others. It is a figurative method of indicating who has pledged himself or herself loyal to the emperor or not.

D. The symbolism is similar to the seal of God in 14:1. God’s name is not literally tattooed in our forehead. Neither is the mark of the beast.

E. The forehead represents the mind, will, and intellect of man. In Deu_6:1-25 , parents were to keep the commands of God before their children, writing it on their foreheads. This was a figurative way of saying make sure these truths are deeply implanted in the heart and mind of your children.

F. The right hand (even though I am left-handed) represents, physical labor or work. A rancher will hire extra “hands” to round up cattle. The right hand is the symbol of work, labor and skill.

Verse 17

17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

A. This second beast represents false religious leaders, in whom also rests the power over the emperor. Between the two beasts there is tremendous power and control over all parts of human activity.

B. There are two views here:

1. The emperor kept tight control on commerce. Only those who had bowed to the image and expressed allegiance to the emperor would be granted permission to conduct business, import or export goods, or have freedom to travel over the empire.

2. Similar to our labor unions, each trade or skill had a “trade guild” which had its own idol deity to be worshiped. If you were not a member and participant in these guilds, you could not conduct business. For example, a carpenter might have excellent skill to build houses, but if he did not belong to the carpenter’s guild, he could not get any work. Christians, of course, refused to worship the pagan gods. They were excluded from these trade guilds.

C. Christians have a mind and heart directed toward the worship of the true and living God. We worship the only Lord, Jesus Christ. To worship the emperor, or to submit to the pagan practices of the trade guilds, would be disloyal to our God.

D. Woodruff comments, “Christians do not have God’s name literally written in their foreheads, but they do commit their minds and will to him. They figuratively have God’s name written in their foreheads. When men render their labors and allegiance to anything, they figuratively wear that mark in their right hand and forehead.

Verse 18

18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number Isaiah 666 .

A. The number is important, not the name. See the introduction to this chapter for some of the ways this number has been explained.

B. Since seven is the number of the sacred and divine completeness, then six represents doom, failure to achieve, incompleteness, and imperfection.

C. In some of the writings of the early church fathers, Jesus is given the number “888” to symbolize that Jesus goes as far beyond perfection as this beast falls short of it.

D. This verse has been twisted, distorted, and perverted in so many whys. It should not surprise us to hear John say, “Here is wisdom.” This tells us, this will not be easy. It will take some extra care and study to determine what is intended here.

E. The number given is the number of a man. The text does NOT say it is the number of a name. Most of the schemes devised, center around seeking to give this man a name or title and find a number equivalent to the name.

F. Of course, you have already seen one problem. With so many different suggested answers to this puzzle, which one is correct? Because there are several possible solutions, we realize it becomes a matter of opinion. I must, therefore, reject all of these suggested answers.

G. NOTE: Here are some observations that must be considered.

1. The number is not needed to identify the beast. We have a very clear picture of who this beast is. See the comments in verses 11-17. The beast is the great religious power that unites itself with the civil government to persecute Christians.

2. Like most other numbers in Revelation, the meaning is not literal, but symbolic. We tend to associate some numbers with certain concepts or ideas. The number “13” is unlucky and the number “7” is lucky. Many hotels do not have a 13 th floor because guests would not stay there, feeling it would be bad luck for them.

3. The proper view of this verse requires wisdom and understanding, not a spiritual calculator.

4. While this is the only time the number 666 is used in the book, it is not the only time the number 6 is used. The number 6 is used three times. It is used in connection with the seals, trumpets, and will be used again with the plagues that will be poured out. Each time the number 6 is used, we are approaching the end of all things.

5. If you combine together the 6 th seal, 6 th trumpet, and 6 th plague - 666 - you will have a clearer image of the meaning here.

a. The sixth seal shows the end of all physical things on the earth. Those who have not obeyed God seek to flee in terror and beg for death. (6:12-17)

b. The sixth trumpet warns those who are not spiritually minded of the terrible condition in which they will find themselves at the second coming of Christ. (9:13-21; 11:12-14)

c. The sixth plague teaches that God will gather together all the non-Christians. It will be a time of great sorrow. (16:12-16)

H. Here is my conclusion on this matter. The number “6” represents, failure and doom. The combined effect of the seal, trumpet and plague discussed above show that the beast will be totally, completely destroyed at the second coming of Christ. The beast will be powerless when Christ comes. The “battle of Armageddon” will be the final defeat, the last gasp. The beast will be defeated. The number proves it. 6 = failure. 6 = doom. 6 = imperfection. Combine them together and you have the complete, total, and utter defeat of this beast, which has done so much harm to God’s people.

Bibliographical Information
Luscombe, Manly. "Commentary on Revelation 13". Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mlc/revelation-13.html. 2021.
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