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THE FIRST BEAST
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
IN this and the preceding chapter the three chief adversaries of the real kingdom of God in the world are described. The first is the dragon, or Satan. The second is the power of the world striving to withdraw our thoughts from the unseen and eternal, and to confine them to the seen and temporal. The third is the spirit of carnal religiousness, like that which so bitterly opposed Jesus in the days of His flesh, and sought to substitute its superficial and hollow forms for the depth, the sincerity, and the freedom, of a true life with God. These two last agencies always work together, and help one another against Christian truth. Nothing so welcome to the mere politicians of this world as a faithless Church which will help them to use men for their own selfish ends. Nothing so welcome to a faithless Church as the honours, the riches, and the spoils which the mere politicians of the world have to bestow. In this part of the Apocalypse, therefore, the passion of the seer burns with its intensest flame. The degenerate Church is represented under the figure of Babylon. In quick succession the contents of the bowls are poured out upon her, until she is cast, like a great mill-stone, into the sea; and company after company of those who had been enriched with the abundance of her dainties lament, with piercing cries, her disastrous and irremediable fate? (W. Milligan, D.D.).
Revelation 13:1. Beast.—Stuart says this beast rising out of the sea is a symbol of the Roman imperial and persecuting power; the beast which rises out of the earth (Revelation 13:11) is an emblem of the domination and persecution of the Pagan priesthood, or religious power; and these two united, with Satan at their head, use all their efforts to crush the Church, wherever and whenever they can attack it. The first sentence of this verse should read, “and he” (i.e., the dragon) “stood upon the sand of the sea.” Two monsters, one more brutal, the other more subtle, seem to rise at his bidding. Compare Daniel
7. Name.—Should be “names.”
Revelation 13:2. The special features of three wild beasts are combined, as in Daniel 7:4. “The leopard (panther), lion, and wolf (bear), were symbols of luxuriousness, cruel ambition, and hungry and heartless avarice, which oppose men and nations when they seek the Holy Hill, where the light of God ever rests.” We need not find either imperial or papal Rome in the beast, or the false prophet. The beast represents the civil power, whenever it is used for the persecution of the Church. The second beast, or false prophet, represents the religious power whenever it is antagonistic to the spiritual life of the Church. They typify the civil and sacerdotal powers. “Antichrist represents political despotism, and the false prophet spiritual error.”
Revelation 13:3. Wounded to death.—Some refer this to the death of Nero, and to a popular notion of the day that he would reappear. Godet says: “We see here one of the earlier forms of anti-Divine power on the earth, which, after having been put down by an act of the Divine power, reappears suddenly in the person of the Antichrist himself, in such a manner that the kingdom of the latter seems to be only the restoration of that ancient power.” “The spirit of the wild beast is adored wherever worldliness prevails. There is nothing so successful as success, and the homage of men is more often paid to power than to principle.”
Revelation 13:6. And them.—Omit “and.” “Even them” would be better.
Revelation 13:7. Overcome them.—In the sense of crushing them, not in the sense of making them give up their allegiance to God.
Revelation 13:8. Book of Life.—Revelation 21:27.
Revelation 13:10. Read, “if any one (is) for captivity, into captivity he goeth. The patience and faith of the saints are to be shown by their submitting to death or captivity’.
Revelation 13:11. Another beast.—See on Revelation 13:1. Like a lamb, etc.—The idea of hypocrisy to serve base ends is suggested. He looks like Christ, and speaks like Satan.
Revelation 13:13. Great wonders.—Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9. The figures of this and the following verses are taken from the demand to worship the image of the Emperor.
Revelation 13:17. Number of his name.—There have been hopeless disputings in the endeavour to identify this beast with a person; he really stands for a principle or polity, but the principle has been embodied and represented, over and over again, in the Christian ages. Some read six hundred and sixteen, but the number cannot be made to answer to any known name without considerable manipulation. It is enough to say that the Roman power is a supreme representation of the principle.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 13:1-66.13.18
The Two Beasts.—The first beast is the great force of the world-power, which, in every age, has been antagonistic to the power of right. The wild beast is always the figure of the kingdoms of this world; i.e., the kingdoms which are founded on passion or selfishness. The spirit of arrogant self-sufficiency characterised all the world-powers. The second beast is less monstrous in appearance. He somewhat resembles a lamb; he rises from the earth, and not from the sea; his power lies in deception (Revelation 13:13-66.13.14), as well as violence; he seems to possess more supernatural power; yet the whole of his work is directed to magnifying the first beast (Revelation 13:12). Do not these features lead to the conclusion that the principles which the second wild beast supports are the same as those on which the former wild beast acted, but that he supports them with more subtlety, intelligence, and culture? He is called the False Prophet. The force and appropriateness of this designation become more apparent when we notice that the features which are assumed bear a deceptive resemblance to those of a lamb. The advancing intelligence of the world, its increase in knowledge and wisdom, the wider diffusion of culture and thought, produce a change in the general fashion of life; but the spirit which animates Society is unchanged. The second wild beast is that change which is a change of mode, but not of spirit; a change of manners, but not of heart. There is more refinement, more civilisation, more mind, but it is still the world-power which is worshipped; it is self-seeking adoration of pleasures, honours, occupations, influences, which spring from earth and end in earth—the pursuit of powers which are worldly.… All who use their knowledge, culture, wisdom, to teach men that there is nothing worthy of worship, save what they can see, and touch, and taste, are acting the part of the second wild beast. And, be they apostles of science, or apostles of culture, or apostles of logical immorality, or apostles of materialism, if their teaching leads men to limit their worship to the visible and tangible, they are making men worship the beast, who is the adversary of the servants of the Lamb.—After Boyd Carpenter.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 13:18. The Number of the Beast.—The various attempts made in recent years to solve this famous Apocalyptic riddle seem to show that students are as far as ever from agreement. Wey-land finds the number in the phrase, “Cæsar of the Romans,” written in Hebrew characters; Schmidt and Vischer recognise it in the name “Nero,” so written; Pfleiderer, in the phrase, “Nero Cæsar”; and Voelter in “Trajan Adrianus.” Erbes, Spitta, and Zahn, who follow Irenœus in reading six hundred and sixteen instead of six hundred and sixty-six, identify the beast with Caligula, that is, “Gaius Cæsar”; but this result is obtained by the use of Greek, not Hebrew, letters. After eighteen centuries it is still uncertain whether any one has yet arisen with sufficient understanding to count the number of the beast.
A New Suggestion Concerning the Number.—It may seem a wild idea to make another attempt to explain the six hundred three score and six of Revelation 13:18; but I hope I may be read before being condemned. It seems to me, then, that Hengstenberg makes a very wise suggestion on the subject, but does not draw the right conclusion. “Here,” he remarks, “we must not wander after our own imaginations The seen of the Apocalypse lives entirely in Holy Scripture. On this territory, therefore, is the solution of the sacred riddle to be sought.” He then goes on to find it in the name of Adonikam, whose “sons,” or rather descendants, in Ezra 2:13, are given as six hundred sixty and six in number. But may I call attention to that number in? 1 Kings 10:14, where it represents the number of talents of gold which came to Solomon in one year? The luxury and extravagance thus brought in corrupted the heart of the king himself, who, considered the model of wisdom, gave way, led astray by wealth and its consequences, to wickedness and idolatry in his old age. May not the number in question there represent worldliness and covetousness, of which Christ our Lord taught us so especially to take heed and beware? Additional probability is given to this by the preceding verse, where the votaries of this are described as the worshippers of the beast and of his image.—W. T. Lynn, B.A.
The Number Symbolical.—I am disposed to interpret this “six hundred and sixty-six” as a symbolical number, expressing all that it is possible for human wisdom and human power, when directed by an evil spirit, to achieve, and indicating a state of marvellous earthly perfection, when the beast-power has reached its highest development, when culture, civilisation, art, song, science, and reason, have combined to produce an age so nearly resembling perfection—an age of gold, if not a golden age—that men will begin to say that faith in God is an impertinence, and the hope of a future life a libel upon the happiness of the present. Then will the world-power have reached the zenith of its influence; then will only a wisdom descended from above be able to detect the infinite difference between a world with faith and a world without faith, and the great gulf which the want of a little heaven-born love can fix between an age and an age. Some find the answer to this number in Nero Cæsar; others in the papacy.—Commentary for English Readers, in loc.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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