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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
Revelation 13

 

 

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Verses 1-10

Revelation 13:1-10.] THE VISION OF THE BEAST THAT CAME UP OUT OF THE SEA. See Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:19-27, to which continual reference will be made in the Commentary. And he (the dragon) stood upon the sand of the sea (see Daniel 7:2, where the four winds of heaven are striving upon the great sea); and I saw out of the sea a wild-beast coming up, having ten horns (now put first, because they are crowned. The ten horns are found also in the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7) and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads (notice the gen. ἐπὶ τῶν κεράτων and the accus. ἐπὶ τὰς κεφαλάς: the reason being probably, that the crowns are simply spoken of as in position on the horns, whereas the names were inscribed on the heads, and the preposition takes the tinge of motion belonging to the act of inscription) a name of blasphemy (whether (see digest) we read plural or singular, the meaning will be the same—on each head a name. The heads are (see for the interpretation ch. Revelation 17:9-10, where it is given by the angel) Kings, in the widest acceptation of the word; Kings, as representing their kingdoms; not necessarily individual Kings (see as above):—the name or names of blasphemy, the divine titles given to those Kings, “Lord of the whole earth,” and the like: in the Roman form, “Deus” or “Divus.” Hereafter, when the great harlot succeeds to the character and symbolic details of the beast, this is carried yet further). And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and its feet as of a bear, and its mouth as the mouth of a lion (thus uniting in itself the three previous kingdoms of Daniel 7:4 ff., the first of which was like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard; and in consequence representing, not the Roman Empire merely, but the aggregate of the Empires of this world as opposed to Christ and His kingdom). And the dragon gave to it his might and his throne and great power (i. e. this beast, this earthly persecuting power, was the vicegerent and instrument of the devil, the prince of this world, and used by him for his purposes of hostility against the remnant of the seed of the woman). And (I saw) one from among his heads as it were wounded unto death (this seems to represent the Roman pagan Empire, which having long been a head of the beast, was crushed and to all appearance exterminated), and the stroke of its death was healed (in the establishment of the Christian Roman Empire. The period now treated of is the same, introduced here by anticipation, but hereafter to be described in detail, as that during which the woman sits on the beast and guides it. Very many Commentators have explained these seven heads as individual kings, and supposed the one who was wounded to death to be Nero, and these last words to allude to the idea that Nero would return from the dead and become antichrist. But this idea was certainly not prevalent in this form at the time when the Apocalypse was written. Tacitus merely relates, that there were many rumours about Nero’s death, “eoque pluribus vivere eum fingentibus credentibusque,” Hist. ii. 8, and that on the strength of this, a Pseudo-Nero arose in the East, Hist. 1. ii, “mota etiam prope Parthorum arma falsi Neronis ludibrio.” See also the citations from the Sibylline oracles, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus, in Düst.’s note. The first who mentions the idea of Nero returning from the dead, is Augustine, Civ. Dei xx. 19. 3, vol. vii. p. 686, in explaining 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ff.: “quidam putant hoc (Revelation 13:7) de imperio dictum fuisse Romano—ut hoc quod dixit, jam enim mysterium iniquitatis operatur, Neronem voluerit intelligi, cujus jam facta velut Antichristi videbantur. Unde non-nulli ipsum resurrecturum et futurum Antichristum suspicantur.” But it is observable that Aug(111) does not connect the idea with the Apocalypse. This is first done by Sulp. Severus, and completed by Victorinus, whose very words (“unum autem de capitibus occisum in morte et plaga mortis ejus curata est, Neronem dicit. Constat enim, dum insequeretur eum equitatus missus a senatu, ipsam sibi gulam succidisse. Hunc ergo suscitatum Deus mittet regem dignum dignis, et Christum qualem meruerint Judæi”) betray the origin of the idea having been from this passage itself). And the whole earth wondered after (pregnant construction for wondered at, as they followed, or gazed, after) the beast, and worshipped the dragon, because he gave the (or, his) power to the beast, and worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? And who is able to war with him (these words are a sort of parody, in their blasphemy, on ascriptions of praise to God: cf. besides reff., Psalms 112:5; Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 46:5; Jeremiah 29:20 (Jeremiah 49:19); Micah 7:18; they represent to us the relapse into all the substantial blasphemies of paganism under the resuscitated Empire of Rome, and the retention of pagan titles and forms. I may remark, that nothing in those words finds any representative in the history of the times of the Pagan Empire)? And there was given to it a mouth speaking great and blasphemous things (so we read of the little horn in Daniel 7:8): and there was given to it power to work (more probably, as in former reff., than “to spend” merely: this meaning is indeed found in latter reff., but the places in Daniel seem to decide for us) forty-two months (the well-known period of the agency of antichrist = 3½ years = 1260 days: see Prolegomena, § v. 29 f.), and he opened his mouth (spoken, see reff., of the commencement of a series of discourses. These Revelation 13:6-7, in fact expand into detail that which Revelation 13:5 gave compendiously) for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, which dwell in heaven (the apposition is strange, but if the καί must be omitted, the meaning is to enhance the enormity of the blasphemy by bringing out the lofty nature of God’s holy Name and dwelling-place. With the καί, the last clause would mean that he blasphemes them that dwell in heaven, i. e. the holy angels of God. To take this as still the meaning without the καί, is to introduce into the apocalyptic style an asyndeton which is not found in it). And there was given to it to make war with the saints (see Daniel 7:21) and to conquer them (see ch. Revelation 11:7, of which this is a wider statement): and there was given to it power over every tribe and people and tongue and nation (viz. universal empire). And all shall worship it ( αὐτόν, though masculine, must be referred to the θηρίον, which has been now for some time spoken of as an agent, and not to an impersonation of it by a living king) who dwell upon the earth, (every one) whose (the change into the singular arises from resolving πάντες into its component individuals) name ( οὗ αὐτοῦ, the usual Hellenistic redundance: see reff.) is not written in the book of life of the Lamb which is slain from the foundation of the world (these last words are ambiguously placed. They may belong either to γέγραπται, or to ἐσφαγμένου. The former connexion is taken by Hammond, Bengel, Heinr., Ewald, Züllig, De Wette, Hengstb., Düsterd. But the other is far more obvious and natural: and had it not been for the apparent difficulty of the sense thus conveyed, the going so far back as to γέγραπται for a connexion would never have been thought of. See this remarkably shewn in the Catena: ὧν γέγραπται, ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου γέγραπται· οὕτω γὰρ δεῖ νοεῖν, οὐχ ὡς ἡ γραφὴ ἔχει· ὅτι μηδὲ ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου ἡ τοῦ ἀρνίου σφαγή. The difficulty however is but apparent: 1 Peter 1:19-20 says more fully the same thing. That death of Christ which was foreordained from the foundation of the world, is said to have taken place in the counsels of Him with whom the end and the beginning are one. Ch. Revelation 17:8, which is cited by De W. as decisive for his view, is irrelevant. Of course where simply the writing in the book of life from the foundation of the world is expressed, no other element is to be introduced: but it does not therefore follow, that where, as here, other elements are by the construction introduced, that, and that alone is to be understood).


Verse 9-10

9, 10.] These verses bear various meanings, according to the reading which we adopt. If the rec. be taken, they express a consolation to the persecuted saints in the form of a jus talionis: the judgment of God will overtake the persecutors, and in that form in which their persecution was exercised. If we take the reading in the text, they form a prophetic declaration how it shall fare with the saints in the day of persecution, and declare also that in holy suffering of captivity and death consists their faith and patience. The latter appears to me, both from critical and contextual considerations, by far the more eligible. Thus we have what is so frequent in this book, an O. T. citation (see below): and all falls into its place in connexion with the victorious war of the beast against the saints: whereas the other declaration is at least out of place in the context. If any man hath an ear, let him hear (see reff. This notice is given to bespeak solemn attention to what follows, as warning Christians of their fate in the days of the beast’s persecution). If any one is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any to be slain ( ἀποκτανθῆναι = εἰς τὸ ἀποκτανθῆναι) with (see reff. and note on ch. Revelation 6:8) the sword, that (i. e. it is necessary that: δεῖ, as the other reading supplies) he should be slain with the sword (so ref. Jer., “Such as are for death, to death: and such as are for the sword, to the sword: and such as are for the famine, to the famine: and such as are for captivity, to captivity:” cf. also Jeremiah 43:11 and Zechariah 11:9. As that was the order and process of God’s anger in his judgments on his people of old, so shall the issue be with the saints in the war of persecution which the beast shall wage with them). Here is (reff., viz. in the endurance of these persecutions) the endurance and the faith of the saints.


Verses 11-18

11–18.] THE SECOND WILD-BEAST, THE REVIVER AND THE UPHOLDER OF THE FIRST. It may be well to premise a few remarks, tending to the right understanding of this portion of the prophecy. 1) These two beasts are identical as to genus: they are both θηρία, ravaging powers, hostile to God’s flock and fold. 2) They are diverse in origin. The former came up out of the sea: that is, if we go back to the symbolism of Daniel, was an empire, rising up out of confusion into order and life: the latter comes out of the earth: i. e. we may not unreasonably say, arises out of human society and its progress: which as interpreted by the context, will import its origin and gradual development during the reign and progress of the secular empire denoted by the former beast. 3) The second beast is, in its zeal and action, entirely subsidiary to the first. It wields its authority, works miracles in its support, causes men to make and to worship its image; nay, itself is lost in the splendour and importance of the other. 4) An important distinction exists between the two beasts, in that this second one has two horns like a lamb. In other words, this second beast puts on a mild and lamb-like appearance, which the other did not. But it speaks as a dragon: its words, which carry its real character, are fierce and unrelenting: while it professes that which is gentle, its behests are cruel.

And now I may appeal to the reader, whether all these requisites do not meet in that great wasting Power which arose, not out of anarchy and conquest, but out of men’s daily life and habits, out of and in the presence of the last form of the secular power, which was the Empire of Pagan Rome; I mean, the sacerdotal persecuting power, which, gentle in its aspect and professions, was yet cruel in its actions; which did all the deeds of the Empire, in its presence, which kept up its image, its laws, its formulæ, its privileges; which, coming in as it did by a corrupt and ambitious priesthood, deceived by its miracles the dwellers on earth, and by them maintained the image of the despotic secular power? Surely it is this Latin Christianity, in its ecclesiastico-secular form, not identical with, but as preparing the way for, the great apostasy, helping, so to speak, to place the woman on the beast, as in ch. 17, that is here depicted before us. It is this which, owing its power in the main to imposture and unwarrantably assumed spiritual authority, deserves best the name of the false prophet, expressly given to this second beast in ch. Revelation 19:20. Nor would I limit the interpretation, as has generally been done, by dividing off Pagan from Christian. Primarily, this second beast plainly sets forth the Pagan sacerdotal power; this it was that made the image of the Emperors, that compelled Christians to worship that image, that wrought signs and wonders by its omens and magic. But as the first beast, still subsisting, has passed into a so-called Christian Roman Empire, so has the second beast into a so-called Christian priesthood, the veritable inheritor of pagan rites, images, and superstitions; actually the continuators, nomine mutato, of the same worship in the same places; that of the Virgin for that of Venus, Cosmas and Damian for Romulus and Remus, the image of Peter for that of Jupiter Tonans: lamb-like in profession, with the names and appearances of Christianity, but dragon-like in word and act. And this was surely never more strikingly shewn than at the time when I am writing (Jan. 1860), when the Papal priesthood is zealously combining in the suicidal act of upholding the temporal power as necessary to the spiritual pre-eminence of their “Lord God the Pope.” So that I believe the interpretation of the second beast to be, the sacerdotal persecuting power, pagan and Christian, as the first is the secular persecuting power, pagan or Christian. I conceive the view which would limit it to the priesthood of Paganism (Hammond, Grot., Ewald, De Wette, Hengstb., Düsterd.) quite insufficient for the importance of the prophecy; while that of Elliott, al., which would limit it to the priesthood of the Papacy, fails notably in giving a meaning to its acts as here described, the making an image to the beast and causing men to worship it. And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth (see the preceding note), and it had two horns like a Iamb (i. e. like the two horns of a lamb: see ref. It is quite true that the absence of the article before ἀρνίῳ forbids the idea that a direct comparison is intended between this lamb-like beast, and the Lamb on Mount Sion: but it does not follow from this that no reference is made to that Lamb in the choice of the animal to which this beast is compared. I believe the choice is made to set forth the hybrid character of this second beast: see more below. The number may perhaps be of no special import, but merely inserted to complete the similarity: it, as a lamb has, had two horns), and it spoke as a dragon (here again we cannot doubt that the term is chosen on account of the dragon which has been before mentioned. It is no objection to this, that we do not hear of that dragon speaking (Düsterd.): the character of the animal explains what kind of speech is meant, and the acts of the dragon were of that kind. And as to this second beast, though its appearance and profession are sacerdotal, its words and acts are devilish. The whole description strongly recalls to our mind our Lord’s προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες, Matthew 7:15). And it worketh all the power (performs all the acts of authority) of the first beast in his presence (while the first beast is subsisting and beholding; and as the expression seems to shew, being in a relation to it of serving and upholding), and maketh the earth and those that dwell in it to worship (construction, see reff.) the first beast, whose wound of death was healed (this was formerly, Revelation 13:4, described as the reason why the world wondered after the former beast): and worketh great miracles, so that ( ἵνα depends on μεγάλα: “miracula magna, tam magna, ut” &c. So that ἵνα ποιῇ = ὥστε ποιεῖν. See Winer, edn. 6, § 53. 6, who as well as Düsterd. finds fault with Bengel for recognizing here a feature of St. John’s style. But Bengel only remarks “ ἵνα frequens Johanni particula: in omnibus suis libris non nisi semel, John 3:16. ὥστε posuit:” and this is true and applicable to the case here in hand, where ὥστε would naturally have stood,—whatever may be the minute shade of difference between the force of ἵνα as connected with the previous words in various passages. We know that the Apocalypse is written in a laxer style and more faulty Greek than either the Gospel or the Epistles: what wonder, if the use of ἵνα epexegetic be carried further in it, and from its meaning of ideal purpose be extended to detail of matter of fact? Granting the two meanings to be even as far apart as Düsterd. insists, may we not say that the Writer who so often uses the one is just the person who, when writing less strictly, was likely to use the other?

As to the fact described, it is notorious enough that the great arm of support of the sacerdotal power, pagan and papal, has ever been the claim to work miracles) he even maketh fire to come down from the heaven to the earth in the sight of men (“hæc magi per angelos refugas et hodie faciunt,” says Victorinus, writing in the beginning of the fourth century, before yet the Empire professed Christianity. But it is probable that this special miracle is mentioned to recall the spirit and power of Elias, and shew how the false prophet shall counterfeit the true). And he deceiveth those who dwell on the earth on account of (the prep. expresses not the instrument, but the ground of the deceit: the imposture succeeds, because of …) the miracles which it has been given to him to work in the presence of the beast, ordering those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast (dat. commodi) who hath the stroke of the sword and lived (this part of the prophecy seems to describe the acts of the pagan sacerdotal power then presently to follow. See more below). And it was given to him to give breath (or, spirit; by inference, life) to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should even speak, and should cause (the regular subject to ποιήσῃ is the image, not the second beast) that as many as do not worship the image of the beast, shall be slain. The Seer is now describing facts which history substantiates to us in their literal fulfilment. The image of Cæsar was every where that which men were made to worship: it was before this that the Christian martyrs were brought to the test, and put to death if they refused the act of adoration. The words of Pliny’s letter to Trajan are express on the point: “cum præeunte me deos appellarent, et imagini tuæ, quam propter hoc jusseram cum simulacris numinum afferri, thure ac vino supplicarent, præterea maledicerent Christo, quorum nihil cogi posse dicuntur qui sunt revera Christian, dimittendos esse putavi.” Above he had said, “perseverantes duci jussi.” And if it be said as an objection to this, that it is not an image of the Emperor but of the beast itself which is spoken of, the answer is very simple, that as the Seer himself in ch. Revelation 17:11, does not hesitate to identify one of the ἑπτὰ βασιλεῖς with the beast itself, so we may fairly assume that the image of the beast for the time being would be the image of the reigning Emperor.

It is not so easy to assign a meaning to the giving life and speech to the image of the beast. Victorinus gives a curious explanation: “faciet etiam ut imago aurea Antichristo in templo Hierosolymis ponatur, et intret angelus refuga et inde voces et sortes reddat.” The allusion probably is to some lying wonders permitted to the Pagan priests to try the faith of God’s people. We cannot help, as we read, thinking of the moving images, and winking and speaking pictures, so often employed for purposes of imposture by their far less excusable Papal successors. And he (i. e. the second beast, more naturally than the image) maketh all men, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that they should give them (i. e. stamp on them. The subject to δῶσιν is left uncertain: it will naturally be understood to be, those whose office it is: see reff. It evidently is not as Düsterd., “that they impress on themselves:” nor does this at all follow from ch. Revelation 14:9; Revelation 14:11, Revelation 16:2, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:4, which he quotes to support it, but merely that they may refuse to receive it, and by receiving it become apostates from God) a mark (such a mark as masters set on their slaves, or monarchs on their soldiers, a brand, stamped or burnt in, στίγματα, see note on Galatians 6:17, and Grotius and Wetst. here. We read in 3 Maccabees 2:29, of Ptolemy Philopater, that he ordered the Jews in Alexandria to be forcibly enrolled, τούτους τε ἀπογραφομένους χαράσσεσθαι καὶ διὰ πυρὸς εἰς τὸ σῶμα παρασήμῳ διονύσου κισσοφύλλῳ. And Philo, de Monarch. i. § 8, vol. ii. p. 221, mentions idolaters who confessed their idolatry by ἐν τοῖς σώμασι καταστίζοντες αὐτὴν σιδήρῳ πεπυρωμένῳ πρὸς ἀνεξάλειπτον διαμονήν, οὐδὲ γὰρ χρόνῳ ταῦτα διαμαυροῦνται) on their right hand ( στίγματά ἐστι τῶν στρατευομένων ἐν ταῖς χερσίν, Ælian. in Grot.) or upon (before, the fact of the mark being visible on the hand was prominent, and the gen. was used: now, that of the act of impression is, and the accus. is used) their forehead (i. e. in some conspicuous part of the body, that all may see it: or as Aug(112) Civ. Dei, xx. 9. 3, vol. vii. p. 674, “in fronte, propter professionem: in manu, propter operationem”), [and] that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except he who has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name ( τὸ ὄνομα κ. τ. λ. is in apposition with τὸ χάραγμα: it is in this that the mark consists: either in the name stamped in letters, or in the number of the name thus stamped, i. e. the number which those letters make when added together according to their numerical value. The practice of thus calculating the numerical value of the letters in names was widely prevalent: see the instances collected by Mr. Elliott, vol. iii. pp. 220 ff.: and more below.

This particular in the prophetic description seems to point to the commercial and spiritual interdicts which have, both by Pagan and by Papal persecutors, been laid on nonconformity: from even before the interdict of Diocletian mentioned by Bed(113) in his hymn on Justin Martyr (“non illis emendi quidquam, Aut vendendi copia: nec ipsam haurire aquam Dabatur licentia, antequam sacrificarent Detestandis idolis.” Mede, p. 511) through those of the middle ages (of which Mr. Elliott gives an example from Harduin vi. ii. 1684, in a canon of the 3rd Lateran Council under Pope Alexander III., “ne quis eos—scil. hæreticos—in domibus vel in terra sua tenere vel fovere vel negotiationem cum eis exercere præsumat”), down to the last remaining civil disabilities imposed on nonconformity in modern Papal or Protestant countries. For these last have their share in the enormities of the first and second beast in as far as they adopt or continue their practices.

With regard to the circumstance of the imposition of the mark, I conceive that with the latitude here given, that it may be the name or the number, and having regard to the analogy of the mark inscribed on the saints (ch. Revelation 7:1 ff.: cf. ch. Revelation 13:1), we need not be anxious to find other than a general and figurative interpretation. As it is clear that in the case of the servants of God no actual visible mark is intended, so it may well be inferred here that the mark signifies rather conformity and addiction to the behests of the beast, than any actual stigma impressed. Certainly we fail to recognize any adequate exposition of such stigma in the sign of the Cross as propounded by Mr. Elliott (iii. 236), or in the monogram on the labarum as succeeded by the Papal cross-keys of Bp. Wordsworth (Apocalypse, Appendix G: see also his note in loc.)). Here is wisdom (these words serve to direct attention to the challenge which follows: see Revelation 13:10, where ὧδέ ἐστιν is similarly used): let him who hath understanding calculate the number of the beast (the terms of the challenge serve at once to shew that the feat proposed is possible, and that it is difficult. Irenæus’s view, that if St. John had meant the number to be known he would have declared it, and that of Andreas, ὁ χρόνος ἀποκαλύψει, are, it seems to me, excluded by these considerations. The number may be calculated: and is intended to be known): for (gives a reason why the calculation may be made) it is the number of a man (i. e. is counted as men generally count: not, as Bed(114), Grot., al., and recently Hofmann, Schriftb. ii. 637, the number belonging to an individual man: see against this the reff. which are decisive as to usage), and the number of it (the beast) is six hundred sixty-six (of all the hundreds of attempts which have been made in answer to the challenge, there is but one which seems to approach near enough to an adequate solution to require serious consideration. And that one is the word mentioned, though not adopted, by Irenæus, v. 30. 3, p. 330 (the passage cited in the Prolegg. § i. par. 7), viz. λατεῖνος (the diphthong ει being, as all critical students of the Greek text know, not only an allowable way, but the usual way, of writing the long i by the Greeks of the time): ( λ = 30) + ( α = 1) + ( τ = 300) + ( ε = 5) + ( ι = 10) + ( ν = 50) + ( ο =70) + ( ς = 200) = 666. This name describes the common character of the rulers of the former Pagan Roman Empire,—“Latini sunt qui nunc regnant,” Iren.: and, which Irenæus could not foresee, unites under itself the character of the latter Papal Roman Empire also, as revived and kept up by the agency of its false prophet the priesthood. The Latin Empire, the Latin Church, Latin Christianity, have ever been its commonly current appellations: its language, civil and ecclesiastical, has ever been Latin: its public services, in defiance of the most obvious requisite for public worship, have ever been throughout the world conducted in Latin: there is no one word which could so completely describe its character, and at the same time unite the ancient and modern attributes of the two beasts, as this. Short of saying absolutely that this was the word in St. John’s mind, I have the strongest persuasion that no other can be found approaching so near to a complete solution. See however the remarks on this subject in the Prolegomena, § v. par. 32, where I have after all thought it best to leave the matter in doubt).

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/revelation-13.html. 1863-1878.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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