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Bible Commentaries

Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 13

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF MAIN SYMBOLS OF THE CHAPTER

The devil works through two agents against Christ and His church.

1.

The first of these is A BEAST rising out of the SEA. This beast is all WORLD POWER IN HUMAN SOCIETY WHICH IS RULED BY MATERIAL INTERESTS INSTEAD OF BY OBEDIENCE TO GOD. This world power of humanistic materialism received its DEATH WOUND AT THE CROSS OF CALVARY but continues to fight against Christians during the whole period of the church’s life from Acts 2:1-47 until the final coming of Christ.

2.

The second is the devil’s agents is A BEAST rising from the EARTH. This is FALSE RELIGION which blindly supports the State--Nominal Christianity. Having the name but not the life of Christianity. And again, the devil works through these two agents during the whole period of the church’s existence until Christ’s final coming. And during this whole period God protects the real inner life of His own people. The MARK OF THE BEAST "666", is conformity to the world’s standards--Humanism--the falling short of God’s perfect plan--the best that man can be and do without obedience to God--The belief that man can run this world’s affairs himself without God.

Verses 1-10

The purpose of Chapter 13 is to describe the second and third enemies of the church.

"A beast of the sea," (verse 1).

"Another beast out of the earth" (verse 11)

The dragon (the devil) attacks the church by delegating his power to these two beasts (verse 4) and (verse 11).

There is no surprise so terrifying as an indirect attack. When evil comes, not in some familiar shape for which one is prepared, but in some unforeseeable form, then he is at a loss as to how to fight this evil. The surprise of Revelation 13:1-18 is that the devil--the great red dragon, does not attack the church directly but he employs the roundabout way of delegating his power to another, and delegated power is harder to combat than any direct attack just because it is so difficult to recognize it.

THE FIRST BEAST: Verses 1-10. It is important to note his origin.

Verse 1 "Out of the sea"--(see also Daniel 7:1-28).

"The sea" represents THE RESTLESS MASS OF HUMAN KIND (see 17:15--"The waters are peoples, and multitudes, and nations.").

Individuals, like the waves of the sea, swayed by impulse or passion make up this sea (see Isaiah 57:20). This beast rising out of human kind is not to be confused with "the living creatures" of 4:7 where the Authorised Version incorrectly translates as "beasts."

WHO IS THIS BEAST?

Most scholars see here a symbol of THAT WORLDLY POWER WHICH IS CONTROLLED BY "THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD." This wild beast is the symbol of ALL worldly power built on passion, greed and selfishness. It is not merely Rome of John’s day, nor any one form of earthly government, it is the general influence of the world so far as it is opposed to God. The influence of the beast is not confined to any party, system, sect or age. Wherever in human society, or group or individual, men are ruled by material interests instead of by God, there this beast is to be seen (see Ephesians 6:12).

THE DESCRIPTION OF THIS BEAST

Verse 1.

"With 10 horns and 7 heads." "Seven heads"--later, in 17:10 these "7 heads" are more fully described as "seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come." Thus the key is in our hands. Five world powers had passed away when John wrote. Our history books refer to the five world powers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persian, and Greek, which had all passed away when John wrote. The sixth "IS" (when John wrote) is Rome. "AND THE OTHER HAS YET TO COME"--THIS REFERS TO OUR PRESENT AGE. "Ten horns" These are explained in 17:12 as "The kings which have not yet received royal power." When they arise they also will derive power from the dragon and be part of the beast (worldly power). "A blasphemous name upon its heads" (verse 1) evidently refers to the self-worship, the arrogant pride and self-sufficiency which characterises these world powers. (We haven’t far to look for present day evidence of this).

Verse 2.

The beast has THE FEATURES OF THREE WILD ANIMALS. He is like a "leopard" --leaping on its prey like a "bear" --relentless like a "lion" --devouring The beast is a symbol of all world powers which are quick to shed blood.

Verse 3.

"One of its heads seemed to have A MORTAL WOUND, BUT ITS MORTAL WOUND WAS HEALED." It is important to note that when John saw the beast rise from the sea the beast had already received its death wound. The blow which cast the dragon (the devil) down from heaven in chapter 12 also inflicts a mortal wound on his agent. The victory of Christ at the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension inflicted a death blow to all worldly power based on passion, pride, greed and self-sufficiency. "BUT ITS MORTAL WOUND WAS HEALED" This tells the church that the full results of Christ’s victory will be DELAYED. Worldly power having received its death wound does not die immediately, but rises with renewed vigour to persecute the church. Note also that it is this beast IN HIS RESURRECTION STATE to which John draws our attention.

Verses 5-10

In that condition the beast is UNIVERSAL IN HIS INFLUENCE. "Authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation." All "whose names are not written in God’s book of life" worship this beast. This beast has power never possessed by any one form of human government. He is universal in his influence.

Verse 5.

HE WORKS NOW IN THIS DISPENSATION for "it was allowed to exercise authority for 42 months." This period, as previously noted, refers to the WHOLE CHRISTIAN AGE FROM PENTECOST UNTIL THE RETURN OF CHRIST.

Verse 10.

Against this enemy the true life of every Christian is protected. They may be troubled (as the witnesses of chapter 11) but those who persecute Christians will come into greater condemnation. Here is cause for Christian patience and faith. One fact stands out--Satan is always looking for instruments to use in this world. Just as God is always looking for hands to use, so also Satan seeks servants. In this world a person and a nation has the choice between being the instrument of Satan or of God.

Verses 11-17

THE SECOND BEAST Revelation 13:11-17.

Whereas the first beast rises out of the sea (verse 1)

This second beast comes up "out of the EARTH" (verse 11)

1.

THE CONTRAST OF THESE ORIGINS OF THE TWO BEASTS IS SIGNIFICANT. "THE SEA" is a symbol of the restless secular world (Isaiah 57:20) "THE EARTH" is a symbol of religion In this sense the first beast belongs to the SECULAR. This second beast belongs to the RELIGIOUS sphere. Particulars of this enemy of the church confirm this.

Verse 11.

"The TWO HORNS LIKE A LAMB" are a mockery and travesty of the "SEVEN HORNS OF THE LAMB" so often seen. THIS SECOND BEAST IS A SYMBOL OF FALSE RELIGION. Note that in 16:13, 19:20, 20:10 this second beast is actually called "THE FALSE PROPHET" indicating that he arises in religious affairs.

2.

THE FUNCTION OF THIS BEAST (verses 11-17) is to lead people to worship the first beast. It is always true that the worst possible combination that evil can concoct is the union of bad secular government with corrupt religion. History records many instances when religion has supported unjust secular government. John is asserting what takes place whenever false religion and bad government go together. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 in conjunction with this passage. (The Living Bible is a good translation here.) THE SCENE IS JOHN’S AGE. He has seen the divine system of Judaism perverted by its priests. He has seen Jesus, the Son of God, rejected, misrepresented, and crucified--not so much by a Pilate of secular government AS BY THE PRIESTS OF FALSE RELIGION. So, to John THIS SECOND BEAST TAKING POWER FROM THE DEVIL IS SEEN WHENEVER THERE IS A PROFESSION TO UPHOLD RELIGION BUT OBJECTING TO THOSE TRUTHS IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH WHICH IT FINDS UNPALATABLE. It is "salt that has lost its savour."

Verses 16, 17

"The MARK ON THEIR RIGHT HAND OR THE FOREHEAD, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark" "THE RIGHT HAND"--suggests TOIL and the strength, the power and ability to work. "THE FOREHEAD"--suggests "WHERE IT CAN BE SEEN"--conforming to popular custom--character. Do we see in this mark of the beast a present day abuse of trade unionism which refuses a person the right to work for a living unless he conforms to stipulated ways of thinking and acting. Unless a man has his union ticket (the mark on his right hand) he is not allowed to work. And unless a person conforms to accepted social pressures he is not accepted (the mark on the forehead).

Verse 18

3.

The NUMBER OF THE BEAST. Revelation 13:18 "This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon THE NUMBER of the beast, for it is A HUMAN NUMBER, its number is 666." (R.S.V.). (1) Note--It is not the NAME of the beast but "THE NUMBER" which John counts as important. There are interpretations of this verse which calculate the numerical values of the letters of the names of men. When these total "666" they think they have the answer. At various times these have been interpreted (or manipulated) as "Nero," some of the Popes of Rome, even "Martin Luther," "Mussolini," "Hitler," and a score of others. But "wisdom" and "understanding" is not here. We sacrifice the dignity of the symbolism of Apocalyptic literature in "John’s Revelation" when we search for its meaning like children with an acrostic puzzle. (2) THE INTERPRETATION OF "THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST" Let us keep true to the principles of symbolism here. "SEVEN" is the number of "THE PERFECT" "SIX" is the number for "SIN"--missing the mark--one short of seven. So that to a Christian, The Trinity of the Godhead is symbolically represented by the triple seven--"777." But the number "SIX" awakened feelings of dread in the mind of every Christian who realized its symbolic significance for it missed the mark, it came short of the perfect "seven." Triple the "SIX" and we have a symbol of EVIL, MISSING THE MARK, DOOM. WE UNDERSTAND THIS "666" TO BE A SYMBOLIC NUMBER EXPRESSING ALL THAT IS POSSIBLE FOR HUMAN WISDOM AND HUMAN POWER TO ACHIEVE WHEN UNAIDED BY FAITH AND OBEDIENCE TO GOD. "666" REPRESENTS WHAT WE CALL HUMANISM.--The belief that man can manage all affairs in life and society himself, without God. The number "666" represents unregenerate mankind and the best that he can do and be. "666" is what we call "WORLDLINESS"--the belief of man that he can run the world without God. We read John’s word of doom on such a system which apes the divine. "Its number is the number of MAN" (not "A" man, as the A.V. wrongly translates. There is no article "A" in the Greek text. Nor is the Living Bible correct for it gives the misreading "the numerical values of the letters in his name amount to 666.") The text really says "Its number is the NUMBER OF MAN." MAN--unregenerate man--man apart from God.

4.

THE NAME OF THIS BEAST This name will not be found in any single person who has yet appeared in history. Whether such a person will yet arise is beyond our view. But the beast described in Revelation holds UNIVERSAL sway--and no single ruler in any part of the world has yet had such power. No human ruler has died and risen again to be worshipped by "every tribe and people and tongue and nation" (13:7). But there is a philosophy, a trust of man in himself, in his own powers and abilities unaided by any faith in God or obedience to God--a philosophy accepted in university chairs to workshop floors--that man is the master of things. This is "666." Man’s belief in himself has received its death-wound because of its failure to satisfy the deepest needs of men in past generations. Yet this false philosophy rises again in the succeeding generation which gives its blind worship to the discredited trust of man in himself--which misses the mark--which apes God--which creates a bear-garden of strife in place of a garden of harmony in society. The name of this beast?-You find the name in man himself, in his trust in himself.

II. MEDITATION--; Revelation 13:11-17

THE IMPORTANT THING

This is the important thing--

THERE IS A SPIRIT WHICH WORKS IN ALL NATIONS,
WHICH KNOWS NO NATIONAL BOUNDARIES,
--WHICH OPERATES IN ALL CLASSES,
--WHICH WORKS IN MAN.

THIS IS THE ATTITUDE THAT MAN CAN RUN THIS WORLD ON HIS OWN, WITHOUT GOD.

There you will find the number of the Beast.

Man’s short-coming 6, even when tripled by the THREE enemies of the church--the dragon and the two beasts animated by him is the awful "666". Perhaps it is best expressed by the one word "WORLDLINESS".

We can be sealed with the mark of God.

We can also be sealed with the mark of the devil.

So, in blunt words we can put what John is saying in this way--

"Commercial, industrial, social life can become so involved in the current idolatry of materialism that one cannot succeed in business and society without the mark of the beast. One is not permitted to work unless he holds a union ticket. One cannot succeed in business without conformity to unethical standards in business. This conformity to unethical standards in commercial, industrial and social life is to have the mark of the beast upon the right hand and forehead."

We must choose either to have the mark of God’s Holy Spirit, or to have the mark of the beast.

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Bibliographical Information
Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/nor/revelation-13.html. 2021.