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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 13


Revelation 13. This chapter records the appearance of two beasts: ( a) the one rising from the sea ( Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :), ( b) the other springing from the earth ( Revelation 13:11-Job :). The first beast is conquered by the dragon, the second beast derives its authority from the first. The chapter throughout is reminiscent of Daniel 7. The first beast is generally identified with the Roman Empire and the second with the spirit of paganism which inculcated the cult of Cæ sar-worship. The portrait of the first beast in the concluding verses seems to individualise in the person of Nero; at any rate this appears to be the most plausible interpretation of the number 666 . The point of the chapter seems to be this. The dragon, beaten in the heavenly war by Michael and his angels, turns his attention to earth, and endeavours to exterminate the Christian faith by inspiring the Roman Empire to persecute.

Verses 1-10

Revelation 13:1 . a beast coming up out of the sea: cf. the vision of the four great beasts that come up out of the sea in Daniel 7:3. As the beasts in Daniel represent empires, we may suppose that this beast also stands for an empire.— ten horns: the horns represent emperors, either beginning with Julius Cæ sar and ending with Titus or beginning with Augustus and ending with Vespasian, or if we omit some or all of the three usurpers (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) we may end with Domitian, Nerva, or even Trajan. [Perhaps the “ seven heads” are emperors (Augustus to Titus), and the “ ten horns” provincial governors or dependent kings, cf. Revelation 17:12 *, p. 939 .— A. J. G.]— names of blasphemy: possibly the name “ Augustus,” which means “ worthy of worship,” or the title “ God,” which, as we know from the inscriptions, many of these kings assumed.

Revelation 13:2 . leopard . . . bear . . . lion: in Daniel 7:4-Joshua :, the lion, the bear, and the leopard are distinct. Here the qualities of all three animals are ascribed to a single beast.— the dragon: the power of the beast was derived from Satan.

Revelation 13:3 . one of the heads . . . smitten: note the point of contact between this description of the boast and the description of the Lamb “ as it had been slain” ( Revelation 5:6). This phrase must be interpreted in the light of Revelation 17:8, and doubtless refers to the legend of Nero redivivus ( Revelation 17:8 *).

Revelation 13:5 . Cf. the description of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel 7:8-Proverbs :.— forty and two months: the length of the persecution of Antiochus, 3½ years ( cf. Revelation 11:2 f.*, Revelation 11:9; Revelation 11:11, Revelation 12:6).

Revelation 13:6 . If, with the best MSS, we omit “ even” the words “ them that dwell in the heaven” define and explain the term “ tabernacle of God.”

Revelation 13:8 . shall worship him: i.e. the beast, a reference to Emperor-worship, which was so prevalent at this time (p. 775 ).— book of life: Revelation 3:5 *.— from the foundation of the world: the connexion of this clause is uncertain. Most people attach it to “ the Lamb slain,” and make it indicate the eternal character of the sacrifice of Christ. The parallel passage in Revelation 17:8, “ written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,” strongly suggests that a similar connexion of the words ought to be understood here.

Revelation 13:10 . Cf. Jeremiah 15:2, Matthew 26:52. The text and meaning of this verse are uncertain. The AV renders “ He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: He that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.” The faith of the Christian Church is sustained by the belief that acts of persecution will recoil upon the heads of the persecutors, and vengeance will be meted out to them by God. The RV, following a more reliable text, modifies the first clause, “ If any man is for captivity into captivity he goes,” but keeps the second clause practically unaltered. There is an ambiguity about this second clause. It may have the meaning of the AV, but it may also mean “ If any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he ( i.e. the murdered man) be killed.” The former rendering is much more natural, but it completely spoils the parallelism between the two clauses and brackets together two incommensurate ideas. It is essential that the parallelism of the clauses should be maintained even at the cost, as Hort suggests, of emending the text. The passage is probably based on Jeremiah 15:2, “ Such as are for death to death and such as are for the sword to the sword.” The words seem to inculcate the Christian duty of acquiescing in the will of God even though persecution and martyrdom were involved. It was by accepting the suffering which might come upon him that the Christian exemplified his loyalty and faith. Failing this interpretation of the passage, it will be necessary to fall back upon the weaker text of the AV. The RV cannot be right unless the second clause is explained as above.

Verses 11-18

Revelation 13:11-Job : . The Second Beast.— This represents the spirit of paganism, and more particularly the priestly system which was organised to enforce Cæ sar-worship.

Revelation 13:11 f. The second beast is regarded as inferior to, and deriving its authority from, the first.

Revelation 13:12 . to worship: an allusion to Emperor-worship.— deathstroke: cf. Revelation 13:3; an allusion to Nero redivivus ( Revelation 17:8 *).

Revelation 13:13 . great signs: an allusion to the displays of magic by the priests for the purpose of deceiving the people.

Revelation 13:14 . an image of the beast: a statue of the emperor which was used in Cæ sar-worship.

Revelation 13:15 . to give breath unto it: an allusion to the pretended miracles wrought by the priests, like the later miracles of the Middle Ages, by which a stone image was made to move and act like a living being.

Revelation 13:16 . a mark upon their right hands: like the stamp embossed on official documents bearing the name of the emperor and the year of his reign. [In later persecutions, at least, certificates were given to those who sacrificed or otherwise fulfilled the regulations of pagan worship.— A. J. G.] As to whether the devotees of Emperor-worship were actually branded on the hand or the forehead we have no information beyond this passage, and possibly here the language may be apocalyptic ( cf. the seal on the foreheads of the saints in Revelation 7:3). But it seems certain that there was some sign or mark which served to distinguish pagan worshippers from Christians.

Revelation 13:17 . Christians, since they lacked this mark, are said to have been boycotted in the markets and were neither allowed to buy nor sell.— the name of the beast: i.e. the name of the emperor.

Revelation 13:18 . Here is wisdom: these words are a challenge to the readers of the Apocalypse. If any man regards himself as wise, let him try to read the riddle of the number of the beast.— it is the number of a man: we are to look among the ranks of men, and not of angels or supernatural beings, for the answer to the riddle.— Six hundred and sixty and six: the riddle is, “ Find the man, the letters of whose name, when regarded as numerals, sum up to the total 666 .” There have been many guesses, but very few of them have any claim upon our attention. We may dismiss all those theories which find the “ number of the beast” in some later personage as Muhammad, Luther, or Napoleon. The beast lived in the age when the book was written. The best solution is that he was Nero. The words Neron Cæ sar or Nero Cæ sar when written in Hebrew characters make up the numbers 666 and 616 respectively, and as both readings, viz. 666 and 616 , are found in vogue in early times, and the solution does for both, we may regard it as tolerably certain that this is the key which fits the lock. [There may be an implied contrast between 666 and 777 , the triple repetition of the perfect number. In Orac. Sibyll. 1 : 328 , the number 888 represents Christ (Swete)— A. J. G.] [At a date earlier than this passage in the Sibylline Oracles, Marcus the Valentinian pointed out that the name Jesus made up 888 in Greek letters. Possibly the number 666 was an ancient symbol of the beast. The writer has observed that it also fits a man (not perfectly well, for Neron Cæ sar in Hebrew character would more naturally sum up to 676 , but written “ defectively” it gives 666 ); the ancient beast of apocalyptic tradition is thus incarnate in a man. Hence the ending of the passage, “ Let him count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man,” i.e. not simply the number of the beast, but at the same time the number of a man. The beast is incarnate in Nero.— A. S. P.]

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.