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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Revelation 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

REVELATION CHAPTER 13

Revelation 13:1-10 A beast with seven heads and ten horns riseth out of

the sea, to whom the dragon giveth his power,

wherewith he blasphemeth God, and vexeth the saints.

Revelation 13:11-17 Another beast cometh up out of the earth, which

supporteth the worship of the former beast.

Revelation 13:18 The number of the beast.

Chapter Introduction

God is now coming to show his prophet that grand enemy of his church, who is emphatically called antichrist; after the determination of whose time of one thousand two hundred and sixty years, the kingdom of Christ shall begin, whether in the day of judgment, or in some period of time before that, and here upon the earth, I dare not determine.

The rise, power, and prevalency of this adversary, is described in this chapter; the opposition made to him by Christ and his followers, Revelation 14:1-20; his fall, Revelation 15:1-18:24; for which praise is given to God, Revelation 19:1-21.

This enemy of the church is showed to John by the symbol or representation of two beasts; the one having the body of a leopard, the feet of a bear, and the mouth of a lion; the other having two horns like a lamb, but speaking like a dragon, Revelation 13:11.

The reader must understand, that the rise of these beasts, their rage, and prevalency, was contemporaneous with some of the six trumpets, mentioned Revelation 8:1-13 and Revelation 9:1-21. For, Revelation 9:15, upon the sounding of the seventh trumpet antichrist began to fall; whose gradual fall we shall find more fully described in Revelation 16:1-21, by pouring out of the vials; only (as was before said) there is from Revelation 12:1-17 a more particular description of what should happen to and in the church under the first six trumpets.

The best interpreters, by these two beasts, understand the antichrist, (for in a larger sense there are more antichrists than one), and by the antichrist they understand the pope, as armed both with a secular and ecclesiastical power; yet I durst not conclude from that notion, the civil magistracy of the Roman empire, who either helped the pope into his chair, or held him there.

The greatest loss we are at, is to determine the time when the papacy began: it could not be before the pagan empire was thrown down, that was about the year 325, nor before the silence in heaven for half an hour was over, which (if that by it the rest be meant which the church enjoyed in the time of Constantine and Theodosius) was about the year 390, or 400; but if we fix the rise of the papacy there, I know no ground for it, and it would, besides, have been determined in the year 1660, or thereabouts. I think, therefore, we must distinguish between the rise and reign of antichrist. It doth not seem to me reasonable to make his reign to commence higher than the year 600, or 606, when he arrogated to himself the primacy; and that was confirmed to Boniface the Third by Phocas, in requital of Boniface’s kindness to him, who had got the empire by the base murder of Mauritius his master, and of all his children, and stood in need of the pope’s help to support him. From that time, I judge, the one thousand two hundred and sixty years should be counted; but Nemo repente fit pessimus, we must allow the papacy some time to come to this virile estate from his cradle. And I see no great harm of allowing the two hundred years, from the year 400 to 600, for this. So that I do think that in this chapter is shortly revealed what should happen to the church from about the year 400, or the space of forty-two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty years, the time of the beast’s reign.

And I stood upon the sand of the sea: the place of John’s present residence was Patmos, which was an island, Revelation 1:9. He was yet in a vision, but thought he was upon the sea-shore, either in Patmos, or elsewhere.

And saw a beast rise up out of the sea; that is, as I should think, unexpectedly; for who would expect to see a leopard rise from thence?

Having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns: this beast is described like the dragon, Revelation 12:3, (only that is described with but seven crowns), by which we understand the devil in the heathen emperor’s of Rome; and we shall find it, Revelation 13:2, so answering Daniel’s vision of the four monarchies, that I cannot but think the Roman emperors, after the time of Theodosius, are meant, several of which were Arians, as also were the Goths and Vandals, (many of them), who from the year 402 invaded the empire, and were not beaten out till 564, little above forty years before Boniface was confirmed in his primacy.

And upon his heads the name of blasphemy: the Arians denying the eternal existence of Christ as God, may well be said to have the name of blasphemy upon them, or upon their heads: but whether by these ten heads be meant the ten sorts of governors made use of in the empire, or the ten governments into which the Goths and Vandals divided the empire, is not easy to determine, nor, possibly, much material. There are other notions about this beast: some would have it to be the devil, but he is plainly distinguished, Revelation 12:2,4, from the dragon. Some would have it to be the Turk; but we read of the worshipping of this beast, which is what we read not done to the Turkish emperors, who also began not till above the year 1200, (though indeed the Saracens began five hundred years before), but Rome, which never was the Turk’s seat, is made the seat of this beast. Some would have it to be idolatry itself; this was Grotius’s notion: see the reasons against it in Mr. Pool’s Synopsis Latina. Some would have it the pagan empire of Rome; but John never saw the first rise of that. This is a beast that rose after the dragon was cast down; which must be the Roman empire under the dominion of the papacy, in which respect only it is now one beast again; for otherwise in civil respects it is divided into ten crowned horns, i.e. distinct, independent kingdoms or principalities.


Verse 2

Daniel, in his vision of the Chaldaic, Persian, Grecian, and Roman monarchies, by which the world was successively ruled from his time to St. John’s, and many years after, had the first represented to him by a lion, for its nobleness and fierceness; the second by a bear, for its cruelty; the third, by a leopard, for the smallness of its bulk, the swiftness of its conquests, its strength, &c.; the fourth, by a beast (not named) strong, and exceedingly terrible, that had great iron teeth, that devoured, and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue under its feet. This beast is certainly here described, which had several forms: John saw it at first under the representation of a red dragon, which signified that empire, while pagan, for three hundred years after Christ; in which time the old serpent could prevail nothing against the church. Then (after a rest to the church of a few years, which ended with Theodosius about the year 380 or 400) he saw it under the form of

a leopard, ruled by Arian emperors till near 600. This beast had

the feet of a bear and

the mouth of a lion. These emperors, with the Goths and Vandals that were Arians, were as cruel to true Christians as the pagan emperors had been. Gitimer, king of the Vandals, Anno 530, and the Goths under Totilas, 540, made miserable havoc amongst the Christians.

And the dragon gave him his power; these together inherited both the power of the heathen emperors, and their seat, and Rome, which was their seat, or throne, and exercised there

great authority. All this was done in the form of a leopard, not so terrible as that of a dragon; for the Arians disclaimed paganism, and the worship of pagan idols. All this while the papacy was creeping up, but till the year 552, or thereabouts, the Goths and Vandals, and other barbarous nations, were not driven out of Italy. Totilas (who took Rome Anno 547) was then killed, and Thejas succeeded him, who was the last king of the Goths in Italy, who about twenty years after was beaten by Narsetes, and driven out, after the Goths and. Vandals had reigned in Italy about seventy-seven years.


Verse 3

And I saw one of his heads; that is, the leopard’s head.

As it were wounded to death: the seven heads of this beast are interpreted by the Spirit of God himself, to be

seven kings, Revelation 17:10, i.e. seven forms of sovereign government in the Roman state, and these successive one to another; for it is said there:

Five are fallen, and one is, and the other is yet to come: so that this head must be either that then in being, or that to come; it cannot be that to come, because that does not receive its fatal blow and deadly wound till the final dissolution of the Roman (as the fourth metal) monarchy; therefore it must be that head then in being, viz. that of the pagan emperors: and the wounding of this head to death, is the conquering the pagan emperors, and the abolishing of paganism and idolatry, and putting a stop to persecution by the Christian emperors;

and his deadly wound was healed; and consequently this wound was healed when idolatry (for substance the same with the heathenish, though in a new dress) and persecution was restored (gradually) by the doctrine and practice of the Romish Church.


Verse 4

And they worshipped the dragon: by the dragon, here, is to be understood the devil.

Which gave power unto the beast; who gave power to these emperors; not that they did so directly, but interpretatively; they worshipped idols, which ordinarily in Scripture are called devils.

And they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Possibly worshipping in this latter clause is not to be understood of a Divine adoration, but a civil subjection; people, upon the driving out of these their enemies, generally gave themselves up to the obedience of their emperors and the bishops of Rome, commanding them idolatrous worship; and admired these two, as those by whom they had been delivered from those enemies who had plagued them so long.


Verse 5

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies: by him here must be meant antichrist, (as appears by the forty-two months, his period, being the same with one thousand two hundred and sixty days), both the secular power of the emperors of Rome at this time, and the ecclesiastical power of the bishops of Rome concurred to make one antichrist. God permitted, and the devil influenced, this beast to speak great things, as Daniel 7:11, which is interpreted by the term blasphemies. Blasphemies against God signifies strictly any reproachful speeches against him, whether attributing to him the creature’s imperfections, or denying him the perfection proper to him, or giving to the creature what belongs to God only, which blasphemy must be in all idolatry; for adoration is due unto God alone, and when this is given to any creature, there is both blasphemy in the doctrine which teacheth the lawfulness of it, and idolatry in the practice of it.

And power was given unto him to continue forty and two months: these forty-two months are (as hath been before showed) the same term of time with one thousand two hundred and sixty days, and must be the term of antichrist, which was given him to tread down the outward court in; so as the beast here spoken of must be the antichrist, who began in the civil power of the Roman empire, but was quickly metamorphosed into the ecclesiastical power of the bishop of Rome; in comparison of whose power (after he had obtained the primacy) indeed the emperor’s power was very small.


Verse 6

That is, antichrist opened his mouth to blaspheme God. Mr. Mede noteth well, that antichrist’s time must not be counted from his beginning to persecute, but from his beginning to blaspheme, either by maintaining pernicious doctrine, or setting up idolatrous worship; for till the year 1206, when the Inquisition was set up, (the doctrine of transubstantiation having been about that time decreed by Innocent the Third, and confirmed by the council of Lateran), the persecution was not great. It is also the observation of the same learned author, that the threefold idolatry of the Church of Rome is here described to us; their blaspheming the Lord’s name, by giving Divine adoration to images; their blaspheming the human nature of Christ, (which he thinks is here to be understood by the Lord’s tabernacle, ) by their doctrine of transubstantiation, giving every mass-priest power to make it of a piece of bread; and their putting the glorified saints in the place of the pagan demons, by their invocation of saints. The observation is very ingenious, but whether the sense of this text I doubt; for we are now about the period when antichrist began to reign, which we suppose to be soon after the year 600. The blasphemies here mentioned, were his first-fruits: but the doctrine of transubstantiation, though it might be broached one hundred years before, yet was made no doctrine of their church of six hundred years after the first beginning of the papacy; and therefore cannot well be reckoned amongst antichrist’s first blasphemies. But whoso is acquainted with the history of the church after the year 606, will find enough to justify this text, though we do not restrain their blasphemy to these three things.


Verse 7

God showeth John, that after antichrist had gone on blaspheming the name, and tabernacle, and saints of God, some years, the devil should influence him also

to make war against God’s holy ones, and he would suffer him

to overcome them; and he should have a

power over all the nations of that part of the world, where God had his church. This was eminently fulfilled after the year 1200, when the doctrine of transubstantiation was established. The Inquisition was set up in Spain, 1206; the number of those murdered by it was exceeding great. But yet this was too slow a work, the pope quickly raised vast armies against the Albigenses, first under the conduct of his legate, then of Simon de Montford. Perionius (one of their own) saith, that more than a million were slain in these wars of these poor people, merely for not complying with the Church of Rome in her apostacy. But what were these to those slain in the valleys of Piedmont, Provence, Calabria, Alsatia, Bohemia, before the year 1517, when the Reformation began in Germany? What slaughters have been since made in Germany, Hungary, Flanders, Ireland, &c., every one knows. The latter clause was eminently verified until the year 1517, there being no nation in Europe but was subject to the pope of Rome, so as he had a

power over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. The poor Albigenses thought themselves concerned in this prophecy; for when the popish general, Simon de Montford, had made a vast slaughter of them, and the archbishop of Tholouse interceded for those that survived, upon condition that they would embrace the Romish faith, they boldly refused, sending the archbishop word, that they were the overcome servants of Jesus Christ; and all died comforting themselves with the prophecy of this text.


Verse 8

God here showed his prophet the general subjection that would be of all people to the papacy, except some few, whom he had chosen to eternal life and salvation, whom Christ had redeemed with his blood, and would preserve from this pollution.


Verse 9

Either, let him hear what hath been already said, and take heed that he be not one of those that worship the beast; or, let him hear what followeth concerning the ruin of antichrist and his adherents: but from the usage of this phrase in other scriptures, where it is oft made use of to stir up attention to some remarkable thing, it seemeth rather to be applied to what went before. The phrase also further lets us know, that (comparatively) the number of those who should refuse to worship the beast would be very small, as indeed it proved.


Verse 10

As it was God’s manner by the prophets of old, when he had denounced judgments against his people, to comfort them by a prediction of the ruin of their enemies; so here, by this his New Testament prophet, he assureth his church, that antichrist also should have his period, and have the same measure meted to him which he had meted out to others, by leading into captivity, and killing with the sword: and indeed, there are no sins which God doth so ordinarily punish by retaliation, as sins against justice and mercy, (of which nature persecutions are the most eminent), Isaiah 33:1,2.

Here is the patience and the faith of the saints; that is, there is a time for God’s people to exercise their faith and patience: patience, because they are like to wait for deliverance a long time, and to suffer many sharp things in the mean time; and faith, because their deliverance will be a thing out of sight, of which they will have no security but from the promise of God.


Verse 11

There are great disputes about this other beast, who is represented or signified by it. The popish writers say it is some eminent impostor, who shall appear in the world before the coming of antichrist. Others would have it to be magic practised by Apollonius Thyaneus, the vanity of which notion Dr. More hath sufficiently demonstrated. The generality of protestant writers agree it to be antichrist himself, the same beast which was before spoken of, only in another form. The design, and time, and power of both is the same; neither hath this other beast any other figure assigned to him; and in the end of this chapter we shall find mention but of one beast, the mark, name, and number of the beast, mentioned Revelation 13:16-18, is but of one beast; and we shall find the power of both to be the same; only he is called another, because appearing in another form, or under another type. The former beast typified the civil power of antichrist; this, his ecclesiastical power. He is said to have come up out of the earth; either because he was of a meaner extraction than the other, or because he stole upon the world insensibly. The pope and the clergy are judged by the best interpreters to be here meant.

And he had two horns like a lamb; he pretends to the power of Christ, as his vicar, and therefore is said to ha

ve horns like a lamb.

And he spake as a dragon; but he should speak terribly; or his doctines should be such as the apostle calls doctrines of devils; or his words and practice should be like those of the great red dragon.


Verse 12

The power of the first beast was to speak great words and blasphemies, and to make war with, and overcome the saints, Revelation 13:5,7. This power also should be exercised by the papacy, (according to this prophecy), and time hath witnessed the truth of it. And as, before he arrived at the height of power, he had persuaded the latter emperors to establish idolatry and superstition; so having now the power in his own hands, and being by the first beast made head of the church, he now vigorously causeth all under his power to obey the edicts, decrees, and commands of that nature, which those emperors had published; choosing rather to do this in the name of others, than from himself; that in case of the non-compliance of any, he might charge them with sedition or disobedience to the imperial laws, or dissenting from antiquity, &c. Hence he

causeth them to worship the first beast rather than himself.


Verse 13

And he doeth great wonders; lying wonders, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, such as, by God’s permission, false prophets might do, Deuteronomy 13:1,2. Prophets were to be judged true or false, not from any signs or wonders which they did, but from the doctrine they taught, and would by those signs establish.

So that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men; wonders as great as those which Elijah wrought.


Verse 14

The Lord showeth his prophet by what means the papacy should cheat the world, viz. by pretences of miracles, which it had a power to work, (the doctrines of the Church of Rome to this are sufficiently known), all which are done

in the sight of the beast, that is, to his honour, and to gain him a reputation. As God gave his prophets and apostles a power to work true miracles for the confirmation of their mission from him, and of the doctrines which they brought; so he permitted others to work lying wonders for the confirmation of their false doctrine. The apostle therefore describeth the coming of antichrist to be with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousess, 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10.

Saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live: these words show the design of this last mentioned beast, viz. to make an image to the beast which had the wound by a sword. Mr. Mede’s notion here seemeth best to me, that by the beast which had the wound by a sword, is to be understood the dragon, of whose wound we read, Revelation 6:1-17. He was the type of the pagan emperors, whom God rooted out. Antichrist’s design was to make an image of that old beast, in which it might again live; which he did by his setting up the veneration of images, and the invocation of saints; the pagan idolatry lying chiefly in their adoration of persons (who had been famous amongst them) when they were dead, making them their mediators to their supreme gods, and in the veneration of their images and statues. The making the image of this beast, was the restoring of the same idolatry, changing only the names of princes and great soldiers, whom the pagans worshipped after their death, into the names of saints; in which image the dragon lived again: and it is sufficiently known how the Romish clergy deceiveth people into this idolatry by their stories of miracles done by such saints.


Verse 15

The beast, mentioned Revelation 13:11, had power to give life unto this new formed idolatry, conformable to that of the pagans, in which the old beast again lived: he gave life to it by his decrees and bulls, and canon laws, and by his excommunications and censures of those that would not comply with his idolatry as heretics; after which the persons so adjudged were delivered up to the secular power to be put to death.


Verse 16

No particular character is here to be understood, but only the general imposition of the Romish faith upon all sorts of persons. His mark was nothing else but either the profession of his faith and religion, or a vowed subjection to his commands, which we know is the practice of the papacy where it obtaineth in any country.


Verse 17

And that no man might buy or sell: this the popish church effects by its excommunications; it was begun in the council of Lateran, anathematizing all who entertained any of the Waldenses, or traded with them; and the late learned bishop of Armagh, in his book Deu Successione Ecclesiae, hath given us an account of such a canon of a synod in France, which in express terms forbade any commerce with heretics in buying or selling. Paraeus tells us Pope Martin the Fifth hath best interpreted this prophecy, in his bull added to the council of Constance, where he prohibits Roman Catholics to suffer any heretics to have any dwellings in their countries, or to make any bargains, or use any trades, or to perform to them any civil offices.

Save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name: there have been great disputes about the name and number of the beast. I must profess myself not able to distinguish between the mark, name, and number of the beast; they may all signify the same thing, viz. the profession of the Romish religion. Some think the number is contained in the name, and that the name is DATEINOS, in which the number six hundred and sixty-six is contained; of which we shall speak more by and by.


Verse 18

Here is wisdom; that is, Herein is the wisdom, the unsearchable wisdom, of God seen in the trial of his church; or, (which is more probably the sense), this is a point will exercise the wisdom of men.

Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; let him that is spiritually wise count the number of the beast.

For it is the number of a man; it is such as may be numbered after the way men use to number.

And his number is Six hundred threescore and six: what this meaneth hath exercised the wits of the greatest divines in all ages. A late learned and valuable writer thinks that 666 doth not signity a certain definite number, but an indefinite number, and that not of years, but of pernicious errors, by the broaching and upholding of which antichrist may be known. But the most interpreters think a number, and that a definite, certain number, of years is to be understood here: but they are again divided; some thinking them determining the time of the fall of this beast; others judging them to determine or define the year or time of his beginning to reign, the time from whence his period and term of forty-two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty years, commenceth: most of those who think this number determinative of the time when he should fall, understood by it the year 1666, which raised the expectation of many good and some learned men (though we see in this thing they were deceived) upon that year. A countryman of our own, who hath written an English Dissertation about the Name, Number, and Character of the Beast, hath with much more probability judged this number definitive of the time when he began to reign under the title of "universal bishop," which was about the year 606; but there seemeth to be a want then of sixty years; to answer which objection, the aforesaid author (N. Stephens) undertaketh to make out, that the year which according to our account was 606, was according to Daniel’s chronology 666; for it is the six hundred and sixty-sixth year of the Roman monarchy, which, saith he, is to be counted from the time when that empire first invaded the church, which was when Cicero and Antonius were cousuls, about sixty years before Christ; for then the Romans first subdued the Jews, the ancient church of God. As to this notion, there is nothing to be proved, but that 666 must be counted from that epocha; for admitting that, the time of the beast’s reign, as to the beginning of it, fell much about the year 666. I shall only say of it, that I do not judge it a contemptible notion. This makes this prophecy a prediction of the time when this beast should begin to show his power, and therefore it is called the number of his name (name in Holy Scripture often signifying dominion and power). But there is yet another notion, which is the most learned Dr. Potter’s, in his book called The Interpretation of the Number Six Hundred and Sixty-six; a book justly valuable both for the great wit and learning in it, and much magnified both by Dr. More, and Mr. Mede, whose judgment of it is prefixed to it; in which he saith: It is the happiest tract that ever yet came into the world, —and though at first he read the book with much prejudice, yet when he had done it, it left him possessed with as much admiration. The foundation on which he goeth is, that this number is to be interpreted by the opposite number of 144, Revelation 21:17, as the measure of the wall of the new Jerusalem; which is to be understood of square measure, as he proveth, Revelation 6:1-17; for the wall could not be 144 cubits high, nor 144 cubits broad; but in square measure so much, that is 12 cubits high and 12 cubits broad (for the length cannot be understood); it being impossible that a wall 144 cubits long, should encompass a city 91 furlongs about. In like manner he thinks 666 ought to be counted by the square root of that number, which is 25??? Hence he concludeth, that as 12, the square root of 144, is God’s number, so 25 is the square root of antichrist’s number 666; and by this enigmatical expression we are taught that antichrist should be a political body, that should as much affect the number of 25, as God seemeth to have in his church affected the number of 12. Under the Old Testament God built his church upon twelve patriarchs, it was made up of twelve tribes: Jerusalem, mentioned by Ezekiel, Ezekiel 48:31, and in this book, Revelation 21:12, had twelve gates; Revelation 21:21, these were twelve pearls; at the gates, Revelation 21:12, were twelve angels; the wall, Revelation 21:14, had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles; Revelation 21:16, the measure of the city was twelve thousand furlongs; Revelation 22:2, the tree of life had twelve manner of fruits: by all which it appears that 12 was the number God affected to use with reference to his church, and the square root, both of the 144 cubits, which were the measure of the wall, Revelation 21:17, and likewise of the 144 thousands, mentioned in the next chapter as the number of Christ’s retinue. On the contrary, 25 is the square root of 666, (adding the fraction), which is the beast’s number; and that learned author proves, that the pope and his clergy as much affected the number of 25 in their first forming their church, as God did the number of 12. They at first divided Rome into 25 parishes, (instead of the old 35 tribes), over which they set 25 cardinals, (which were their first number), who had 25 churches: they made 25 gates to the city; at last they also brought the articles of their creed to 25. This that learned author abundantly proveth, Ezekiel 17:1-20:49 22:1-31, He also, Ezekiel 24:1-26:21, showeth how in a multitude of things of lesser moment they affected this number of 25. This seemeth a very probable notion. I further refer my reader to the learned author’s book, where he enlargeth upon these things with great wit and learning. In this variety I shall positively determine nothing, but have shortly mentioned the senses I think most probable, as to this mysterious number 666.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/revelation-13.html. 1685.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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