Observe here, 1. The place where St. John had the vision related in this chapter; he apprehends himself to stand on the sea-shore, a place fit for the sight he was to see, namely, a beast rising out of the sea.
Where note, That it is usual in the prophets, Daniel especially, to set out temporal monarchies oppressing the church, by great beasts.
Where we learn, what a base and vile, what a low and mean, esteem God has of the mightiest enemies of his church and people; let the world admire them as gods, if they abuse their power God calls them beasts; and as such, in his own time, they shall be destroyed; I saw a beast rise up out of the sea.
Observe, 2. The monstrous description of that beast which St. John saw, it had seven heads, denoting, some say, the seven hills upon which Rome stands; or the seven sorts of government successively in the Roman state, say others; and ten horns, that is, ten kings under Rome, and confederate with her.
Where note, That all such kings, be they ever so mighty or many, which persecute sincere Christianity, are vile in the esteem of God, accounted no better than the horns of a bloody beast, which Almighty God will either blunt or break. And upon the horns ten crowns, which crowns they hold of God, who is the King of kings. Sovereignty is from heaven, however men come by it, or however they abuse it, which shows the horrid ingratitude of those princes, who having received their power from God, do improve it against him, and turn it upon him by whom they reign. And upon his heads the name of blasphemy; those that apply this description of the beast to Rome Pagan, understand hereby their paganish idol-worship in general; and their deifying of the Roman emperors in particular.
Others, as most Protestants, who apply it to Rome Papal, by this name of blasphemy, understand those blasphemous titles which are given to the Pope, as "Lord God, the universal Head, the Husband of the church, the Light which came into the world," &c. which are the incommunicable attributes of Christ; and by flatterers and admirers frequently given to the Papal Antichrist, upon whose head is the name of blasphemy.
St. John here proceeds in giving a farther description of this monstrous beast; it was in appearance like a leopard, spotted with divers kinds of idolatry, with variety of idol gods; with feet like a bear, denoting its strength and fierceness; its mouth like a lion, that is, cruel and ravenous.
Next an account is given from whom this beast receives its power and authority; the dragon, that is, the devil, by God's permission, gave unto this beast power and great authority, to deceive by strong delusions, and hurt the soul, as also to kill and destroy the body.
Note here, That when the dragon is said to give the beast his throne and power, his seat and great authority, we must not understand it as by right, for all power is from God, but as by usurpation, belonging to him. That authority, which is claimed to depose kings, to dispose of kingdoms, to dispense with the laws of God, all this is from the dragon, and in no wise from God. The dragon gave the beast his power, his seat, and great authority.
Here St. John farther declares what he saw concerning this beast; namely, 1. That one of its heads was wounded; by which head many understand the fall of the ancient imperial power, the decay of its wonted glory, and that ample jurisdiction which Rome heretofore had under the Pagan emperors: and by the wounding of this head, they understand the abolishing of Paganism and idolatry, and putting a stop to persecution, by the Christian emperors.
2. It is asserted, That his deadly wound was healed; namely, when idolatry, the same for substance with the Pagan and old Heathenish idolatry, but in a new dress, was gradually restored by the Papal powers.
3. Here is the effect of this healing, all the earth wondered after the beast, that followed him in blind devotion.
Where, 1. Observe, Who the admirers of the beast are, the earth, the men of the world: no wonder to see them seduced!
2. This admiration is general, the whole earth wondered after the beast; how false is it then, that multitude is a note of the true church! Behold the several instances of the world's wondering after the beast at Rome; they receive their doctrine and worship from him, they make all their appeals to him, all church officers receive their ordination from him, and are installed by him.
From admiration in the former verse, they proceed to adoration in this, they worship both the dragon and the best, that is, they did worship idols, which are often in scripture called devils; like the Gentiles of old, who are said by St. Paul to sacrifice to devils, and not unto God, 1 Corinthians 10:20.
Behold here a vast difference between God's judgment and the opinion of the seduced world. They think the worship they give to a creature is given to God; but God accounts it as given to the devil, who is the author of all idolatry.
Note next, That as the seduced world worshipped the beast, so do they extol his earthly grandeur and surpassing power, saying, Who is like unto the beast! who is able to make war with him? Who can resist his power and greatness? The greatest princes are not able to withstand him. See how pomp and worldly grandeur dazzles the eyes of its admirers.
Note farther, That a mouth was given this beast to speak, that is, a power by the devil's instigation and God's permission to utter blasphemies against the Most High.
1. The blasphemous mouth of the beast is opened against the name of God, that is, against the word of God, by which God makes himself known, as a man is known by his name. Now the word of God is blasphemed by the beast and his worshippers, when it is charged with obscurity, with imperfection, called a dead letter, and a nose of wax, &c. The Spirit of God is blasphemed, when his divinely inspired writings are thus vilified and undervalued.
2. This blasphemous mouth is opened not only against God's name, but against his tabernacle, the place of his instituted worship; meaning by his tabernacle, the true church, wherein God is worshipped according to his word. God accounts himself blasphemed when his true worshippers are called Heretics, Schismatics, and in a way of scorn Hugonots, and the Synagogue of Satan.
3. They blaspheme them that dwell in heaven, by which some understand the holy martyrs now in heaven, whom they frequently called damned heretics, blackening their names, and blasting their reputations; others understand it of some saints in heaven, whom they pretend to honour, as the Virgin Mary, &c. They blaspheme them, namely, by speaking of them, and praying to them blasphemeously, as when they bid the Holy Virgin, "in the right of a mother, command her Son."
Hence observe, That when we give that honour and worship to saints and angels, which is only due to God, it is an idolatrous and impious blaspheming of them that dwell in heaven; were the Virgin Mary sensible in heaven of that idolatrous adoration which is given her here on earth, with what indignation and disdain would she look down upon this sacrilegious violence offered to her only Son, in robbing him of that divine honour which is peculiarly due to his divine nature! for religious adoration is peculiar to a deity.
Observe here, 1. A war proclaimed; the beast makes war upon the saints, by bloodshed and persecution, and by the force of those weapons overcomes them; that is, to outward appearance, and in the opinion of the world, they seem to be totally overcome, because visibly slain: but really do the saints overcome him, by their patience and constancy under sufferings; and by rejecting his cursed idolatry, and adhering to the truth.
Observe, 2. The large extent of the beast's power that was given him, namely, over all kindreds, tongues, and nations. This must not be understood of individual persons, nor universally of all nations, but of the nations belonging to the Roman empire: whole nations were carried away with his idolatry, though not all of every nation. Christ's flock is a little flock, compared with antichrist's herd: how wrong a note then is multitude of the right church!
Observe, 3. That as the power of the beast is universal, so is the worship also: All that dwell on the earth shall worship him, that is, the generality of the Roman empire shall obey and honour him, and comply with him in his idolatry; few comparatively refusing it.
Yet, 4. We have a number excepted, whose names are written in the book of life. Blessed by God for this comfortable restriction: all are not worshippers of the beast. Christ has his number of faithful ones, who are not defiled by antichrist's pollutions; a number whose conversations are in heaven, and whose names are written there, in the book of life, called the book of the Lamb; because it is by him, and by the merit of his blood, that we obtain eternal life.
Observe lastly, The title here given to our Lord Jesus Christ, he is styled the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and that in several respects:
1. In the purpose and decree of God.
2. In the promise of God made from the beginning, Genesis 3:15.
3. In respect of the types, shadows, and sacrifices, whereby his death was prefigured and represented; Christ was slain typically in those sacrifices which Adam and Abel offered up unto God daily.
4. In respect of the virtue and efficacy of his death, which was effectual to all that truly believe in him, from the first promise made of him. The merits of Christ's death have saved all that have been saved from the foundation of the world.
Behold here, The tender care of God in providing for our salvation before we were, yea, before the world was; and observe also, that the saints of God, in all ages, have been saved the same way, and by the same mean, namely, by faith in the death of Christ, which has extended itself to all true believers from the beginning of the world; and the efficacy of it will reach to all such, even to the end of the world; the virtue of the sacrifice is as fresh as the first moment it was slain, the death of Christ is of eternal efficacy.
Observe here, 1. That this acclamation, If any man have an ear, let him hear, is added in scripture when something went before, which required a very diligent attention and close application of mind: If any man have an ear, that is, a spiritual understanding to discern the meaning of what has been foretold, let him ponder and consider what is here revealed concerning this beast, and take heed that he be not found amongst the number of the worshippers of it.
Observe, 2. The consolation here given to the saints, from the consideration of God's just retribution to his and their enemies, He that leadeth into captivity, shall go into captivity; that is, the beast, who has brought many of the saints into captivity, shall himself at length be taken captive, and thrown into that lake of fire and brimstone, spoken of, Revelation 19:20. With what measure antichrist metes to others, it shall be measured to him again: God has as many ways to hurt his church's enemies, as they have to hurt his people; if they lead into captivity, so can he; if they kill with the sword, so will he.
Observe, 3. The end and design of God in suffering antichrist's rage to break forth against the church: it is for the trial of his church's faith and patience, Here is the patience and faith of the saints.
Where note, 1. That none can stand under, or bear up under, sufferings like saints.
2. That under great sufferings, saints themselves will have great occasion for the exercise of faith and patience.
3. That the faith and patience of the saints will be made very conspicuous by great and sharp sufferings.
4. That faith and patience must accompany each other in suffering times. Patience is the soul's shoulder, to bear what is afflictive at present; faith is the Christian's eye, to discover a glorious deliverance to come: where no patience is, it is a token of no faith; and where no faith is, there will appear great impatience. Behold then the faith and patience of the saints.
Here St. John enters upon the description of a second beast, very different from the former, yet not succeeding the former, but appearing during his continuance; and this beast (whoever he is) we find sundry ways here described, namely,
1. By his original he ascended out of the earth,, Revelation 13:11. which denotes his rise from a small beginning to a mighty height, as those things which from small seeds grow out of the earth to be tall trees. Thus has one arisen from being Episcopus urbis, to be Episcopus orbis.
2. He is said to have two horns, whereas the former beast had ten, Revelation 13:1. which signifies ten kingdoms, into which the Roman empire, after its dissolution, should be divided. Accordingly, by the two horns here, in all reason may be understood two of those kingdoms of which this beast (whoever he be) shall be possessed.
3. He is said to look like a lamb, but to speak like a dragon; that is, to pretend to great meekness, and make a show of much lenity and mildness in his proceedings, but should really be very cruel: pretending to do all without violence, but doing indeed all by force, assisted by his armed dragons, and booted apostles, with javelins in their hands.
4. It is affirmed, Revelation 13:12 that he shall arise during the continuance of the first beast, and engage in his cause assuming to himself as great, or a greater, power than any emperors did before him, causing the earth, that is, all earthly-minded men who are subject to him, to worship the first beast, that is, to yield as great reverence nad obedience to his decrees for establishing idolatry, as ever the people did under the Pagan emperors.
5. He is remarkable for working wonders, and particularly for causing fire to come down from heaven in the sight of men; that is, he seemeth to the deluded multitude to do as great miracles as Elias did, who brought down fire from heaven to confirm the religion he professed: in like manner the beast here works wonders seemingly great, lying wonders, false miracles, such as false prophets may work, and have wrought for confirming their false doctrines: accordingly we find this beast here called the false prophet elsewhere,, Revelation 16:8-9. He requires the inhabitants of the earth to make an image to the beast, that is, he persuades them, now professing Christianity, to introduce and bring in such a kind of idolatry, that the old heathenish idolatry may seem to revive again.
Here note, That the idolatry of the Church of Rome is a living image of the old heathenish idolatry; this is but the image of that, that was performed to heathen deities, this to departed saints. Popery, says the learned Dr. More, is such a Christianity, as in all points answers the model of the old execrable heathenism, with which the Gentiles were enamoured then, as are the Papists now: thus the wounded and dead image of Pagan idolatry revived, and lives again in Papal idolatry. Good God! that any persons professing to know and worship the blessed Jesus should thus dishonour him, by intermixing the old heathenish superstitions, or something worse, with his holy institutions.
St. John proceeds here to give a farther character and description of the beast, which he had begun to describe, Revelation 13:11.
And, 1. His bloody cruelty is set forth, Revelation 13:15. He causeth them to be killed that would not worship the image of the beast.
Where mark, It is not said that he killed them himself, nor challenging directly the power of life and death to himself; but he causeth them to be killed, namely, by the secular power, by the kings and princes, who are the horns of the beast, and who give their power and strength to the beast, and war against the Lamb.
Again, 2. After his cruelty follows his compulsion; he causes all sorts of men, high and low, bond and free, to receive a mark in their right hand, and in their forehead, in allusion to an ancient custom, which was to mark servants and soldiers on the arm by which it was known what master or captain they belonged to; in like manner the beast here is said to have a mark for those that are his, which mark seems probably to have been an open owning of him, an active engagement for him, a professed subjection to him.
3. The beast here is said to interdict and forbid all trade and commerce with those that had not his mark, Revelation 13:17. He causeth that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark of the beast. Several bulls and decrees have been sent forth from Rome, commanding that no traffic or commerce be had with any heretic in buying or selling, but only with those that profess themselves members of the Romish church.
4. It is added, that the Number of the beast is six hundred sixty-six, that is, that the numeral letters of a certain word or name, being computed, should amount to that number. I shall close this chapter with the words of a great man, Archbishop Tillotson, on Revelation 14:13. "Unto whom all the fore-mentioned characters of the beast do agree, and especially the number of his name, I shall not presume to conjecture, much less positively to determine, because it is said to require a particular wisdom and understanding to find it out: Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast. However, the event will discover it."
And again, on Luke 9:55 he thus speaks; "It is believed by many and not without cause, that the Pope and his faction are the antichristian beast; I will say no more than I know in this matter: I am not certain that is is he that is particularly designed in scripture by the name; but however that be, I challenge antichrist himself, whoever he is, and whenever he comes, to do worse and wickeder things than he has done: verily it almost looks uncharitably barely to relate what these men have not blushed to act."
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 13". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany