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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Revelation 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

Revelation 13:1-18

A beast rise up out of the sea.

The domain of antichrist

I. It has a manifold development. In the commerce of the world, in the government of the world, in the campaigns of the world, in the literature of the world, in the religions of the world, antichrist appears in aspects as hideous, and in a spirit as savage and blasphemous as the monsters depicted in this vision.

II. It has one master-spirit.

1. He is endowed with tremendous power.

2. His grand pursuit is moral mischief. He promotes--

3. His sphere is co-extensive with the world. Wherever falsehood, dishonesty, impurity, revenge are, there he is. And where are they not?

4. However great his influence, he is under a restraining law.

5. His mission will ultimately prove self-ruinous. In every act the devil performs, he is forming a link in that adamantine chain that shall bind him, not merely for a thousand years, but for ever. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The two wild beasts; or, the world and its wisdom

I. The antichristian world answers to the first of the wild beasts of which we here read. See the resemblance. Rome and Nero’s were not more exact.

1. It has assumed successive forms. “Seven heads” we read of, and they denote the multiplication and succession of hostile powers arrayed against the Church of God.

2. And it has ever had immense strength. “Ten horns,” and these encircled with diadems, telling how the world spirit has ever made use of the princes and potentates of earth to work his will.

3. And it has ever raged against the Church as a wild beast. Under all its forms it has hated the people of God. From Pharaoh even to the last of the persecutors it has been the Same.

4. And its deadly wounds heal (Revelation 13:3). If its dominion be overthrown in a given locality, or in your heart, do we not know how the evil spirit, who has left for a while, comes back?

5. It is popular. “All the world wondered after,” and “worshipped.”

6. And it blasphemes still, It claims Divine power.

7. And it wages war and wins (Revelation 13:7). Let families, Churches, congregations, tell how this war has been waged in their midst, and how some, often many, of their most hopeful members have fallen.

8. And none but those who are really Christ’s withstand (Revelation 13:6). Yes, we are sent forth as sheep amid wolves.

II. The wisdom of this world answers to the second “beast.” St. James tells us that “this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” This monster (verse 11) is seen to ascend from “the earth,” as St. James tells. In Revelation 19:20 it is called the “false prophet.”

1. It is said to have “deceived.” It deceives--

2. Its falsity may be detected. See, then--

His deadly wound was healed.--

His deadly wound was healed

Who would have suspected this inference from these premises? But is not this the lively emblem of my natural corruption? Sometimes I conceive that, by God’s grace, I have conquered and killed, subdued and slain, maimed and mortified the deeds of the flesh: never more shall I be molested or buffeted with such a bosom sin: when, alas! by the next return the news is, it is revived and recovered. Thus tenches, though grievously gashed, presently plaster themselves whole by that slimy and unctuous humour they have in them; and thus the inherent balsam of badness quickly cures my corruption--not a scar to be seen. I perceive I shall never finally kill it, till first I be dead myself. (Thomas Fuller, D. D.)

All the world wondered after the beast.--

Admiration of the beast

Can you not hear the words coming across all these centuries from the lips of two Roman youths, talking with each other, as they lounge together in the Forum? They had noble thoughts once; they had heard of the deeds of their fathers; they had dreamed that there might be some possible good for their age. But they had become sottish, licentious, gamblers. And one more gigantically sottish, licentious, gambling than themselves has become their ideal of what is desirable and possible. Who is like to him? Who can make war with him? These two youths fairly represent the age on which they have fallen. There is no originality in them. They think what every one else thinks., Their private opinion is the public opinion of the city and of the world. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)


Verses 1-18

Revelation 13:1-18

A beast rise up out of the sea.

The domain of antichrist

I. It has a manifold development. In the commerce of the world, in the government of the world, in the campaigns of the world, in the literature of the world, in the religions of the world, antichrist appears in aspects as hideous, and in a spirit as savage and blasphemous as the monsters depicted in this vision.

II. It has one master-spirit.

1. He is endowed with tremendous power.

2. His grand pursuit is moral mischief. He promotes--

3. His sphere is co-extensive with the world. Wherever falsehood, dishonesty, impurity, revenge are, there he is. And where are they not?

4. However great his influence, he is under a restraining law.

5. His mission will ultimately prove self-ruinous. In every act the devil performs, he is forming a link in that adamantine chain that shall bind him, not merely for a thousand years, but for ever. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The two wild beasts; or, the world and its wisdom

I. The antichristian world answers to the first of the wild beasts of which we here read. See the resemblance. Rome and Nero’s were not more exact.

1. It has assumed successive forms. “Seven heads” we read of, and they denote the multiplication and succession of hostile powers arrayed against the Church of God.

2. And it has ever had immense strength. “Ten horns,” and these encircled with diadems, telling how the world spirit has ever made use of the princes and potentates of earth to work his will.

3. And it has ever raged against the Church as a wild beast. Under all its forms it has hated the people of God. From Pharaoh even to the last of the persecutors it has been the Same.

4. And its deadly wounds heal (Revelation 13:3). If its dominion be overthrown in a given locality, or in your heart, do we not know how the evil spirit, who has left for a while, comes back?

5. It is popular. “All the world wondered after,” and “worshipped.”

6. And it blasphemes still, It claims Divine power.

7. And it wages war and wins (Revelation 13:7). Let families, Churches, congregations, tell how this war has been waged in their midst, and how some, often many, of their most hopeful members have fallen.

8. And none but those who are really Christ’s withstand (Revelation 13:6). Yes, we are sent forth as sheep amid wolves.

II. The wisdom of this world answers to the second “beast.” St. James tells us that “this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” This monster (verse 11) is seen to ascend from “the earth,” as St. James tells. In Revelation 19:20 it is called the “false prophet.”

1. It is said to have “deceived.” It deceives--

2. Its falsity may be detected. See, then--

His deadly wound was healed.--

His deadly wound was healed

Who would have suspected this inference from these premises? But is not this the lively emblem of my natural corruption? Sometimes I conceive that, by God’s grace, I have conquered and killed, subdued and slain, maimed and mortified the deeds of the flesh: never more shall I be molested or buffeted with such a bosom sin: when, alas! by the next return the news is, it is revived and recovered. Thus tenches, though grievously gashed, presently plaster themselves whole by that slimy and unctuous humour they have in them; and thus the inherent balsam of badness quickly cures my corruption--not a scar to be seen. I perceive I shall never finally kill it, till first I be dead myself. (Thomas Fuller, D. D.)

All the world wondered after the beast.--

Admiration of the beast

Can you not hear the words coming across all these centuries from the lips of two Roman youths, talking with each other, as they lounge together in the Forum? They had noble thoughts once; they had heard of the deeds of their fathers; they had dreamed that there might be some possible good for their age. But they had become sottish, licentious, gamblers. And one more gigantically sottish, licentious, gambling than themselves has become their ideal of what is desirable and possible. Who is like to him? Who can make war with him? These two youths fairly represent the age on which they have fallen. There is no originality in them. They think what every one else thinks., Their private opinion is the public opinion of the city and of the world. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)


Verse 7-8

Revelation 13:7-8

To make war with the saints.

War with the saints

Observe--

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. But really do the saints overcome him by their patience under sufferings, and by adhering to the truth.

2. The large extent of the beast’s power that was given him, namely, over all kindreds, tongues, and nations. Christ’s flock is a little flock, compared with antichrist’s herd: how wrong a note then is multitude of the right Church?

3. That as the power of the beast is universal, so is the worship also. “All that dwell on the earth shall worship him.”

4. We have a number excepted, “Whose names are written in the book of life.” Christ has His number of faithful ones, who are not defiled by antichrist’s pollutions; a number whose conversations are in heaven.

5. The title here given to our Lord Jesus Christ, He is styled “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (W. Burkitt, M. A.)

The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.--

Christ sacrificed in eternity

I. The things that are to happen in the universe in the most distant future are to God as facts already accomplished.

1. God’s intelligence is infinite.

2. God’s purposes are unfrustrable.

II. The principle of self-sacrificing love is an eternal principle in the creation.

1. It is the root of the universe.

2. It is typified in all material existences.

3. It agrees with the moral constitution of the soul, which is so formed--

III. Redemption is no afterthought in the arrangements of the universe.

IV. Our planet was probably formed for the special purpose of becoming the theatre of God’s redemptive love to man. Small in bulk as our planet is, compared with that of other orbs that roll in splendour under the eye of God, it has a grand moral distinction. Its dust formed, its fruit fed the body of the Son of God. Here He lived, laboured, suffered, and was buried, and here His grand work is being carried on. If it be moral facts that give importance to places, is there a more important spot than this earth? (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Eternal atonement

The prevalent opinion no doubt has been that the atonement is simply an historic fact, dating back now some fourteen hundred years; and that only the purpose of it is eternal. But Johann Wessel, the great German theologian, who died only six years after Martin Luther was born, got hold of the idea that not election only, but atonement also is an eternal act. And this, it seems to me, is both rational and Scriptural. Eternal election, profoundly considered, requires eternal atonement for its support. Both are eternal, as all Divine realities are eternal. And so the relationship of God to moral evil stands forth as an eternal relationship. Not that evil is itself eternal; but God always knew it and always felt it. It may help our thinking in this direction to remember that there is a sense in which creation itself is eternal; not independently eternal, but, of God’s will, dependently eternal. There must nothing be said, or thought, in mitigation of the ethical verdict against moral evil. The hatefulness of it, no matter what its chronology may be, is simply unspeakable. Wrong doing is the one thing nowhere, and never, to be either condoned or endured. Nor should any attempt be made to get at the genesis of moral evil. The beginning of it is simply inconceivable. The whole thing is a mystery, and must be let alone. Moral evil is not eternal; or there would be two infinities. Nor is it a creature of God; or God would be divided against Himself. And yet it had the Divine permission, whatever that may be imagined to have been. Practically, historic sin finds relief in historic redemption. Apparently, there was little, if any, interval between the two. But the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world suggests a far sublimer theodicy. We are taken back behind the human ages, behind all time, into awful infinite depths, into the very bosom of the Triune God. Trinity is another name for the self-consciousness, and self-communion of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are vastly more than the revelation of God to man; they are the revelation of God to Himself, and the intercourse of God with Himself. They suggest infinite fulness and richness of being. Our scientific definitions of God do not amount to much. What we need is to see God in the life, both of nature and of man. God creates, governs, judges, punishes, redeems, and saves; but love is the root of all. This yearning, grieved, and suffering God is the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Son of God, Son of Mary. This sinless child should have had no sins of His own. His sorrows could have been only those old eternal shadows of permitted sin. The Cross on which He died, flinging out its arms as if to embrace the world, lifted up its head toward the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Our hearts now go back to Calvary; and from Calvary they go up to God. One word more. This stupendous idea of eternal atonement carries with it the idea of universal atonement. Whatever it was, and is, it must needs have been infinite. No magnitude of sin, no multitude of sinners, can bankrupt its treasury of grace. “God so loved the world,” is its everlasting refrain. “He that will, let him take the water of life freely.” (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)

The Lamb slain

I. The designation here given to the Saviour. He is called “the Lamb.” This is a most appropriate title, since we look upon a lamb as the emblem of innocence, gentleness, and submission; qualities of goodness in which the blessed Redeemer was pre-eminent, and fairer than the children of men.

II. The slaughter. “The Lamb slain.” The slaughtered Lamb was a prominent element in the Jewish ritual, and a standing type of the Lamb of God, whose obedience unto death procured the life of the world. There were three remarkable instances of this under the Old Testament dispensation. The first is the case of Abraham in offering his son Isaac. St. Paul tells us that this was a figure of the death and resurrection of Christ. The second distinct instance of the typical allusion, is the paschal lamb. This is shown by the observation of St. Paul, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast. The third instance in which this animal is used as a type of Christ was on the daily sacrifice.

III. The date of this transaction--“from the foundation of the world.” How is this to be understood?

1. He was slain in the purpose of God. Contingency with man is certainty with God. Purpose and accomplishment are the same with Him.

2. Not only in purpose but in type is the doctrine true.

3. He was so in effect. (American National Preacher.)

The place of the Cross in the world

The Lamb is said to have been slain from the foundation of the world. It was not the result of an accident; it was not the result of an emergency; it was something involved in the plan of the creation itself--a design of its being. Its first stone was laid with a view to the development of the sacrificial life. Was St. John, then, an optimist, or a pessimist? In the worldly sense of these words he was something different from either, and something which admitted a truth in both. On the one hand he holds with the worldly optimist that all things do work for the highest good; the universe is to him the product of love. But on the other hand, just because it is the product of love, he could never admit that it is a field for self-gratification. He found in it a sphere that, from the beginning to the end of the day, disappointed every selfish hope, wrecked every ship that sailed only for its own cargo. And why so? Because to him the essence of God was love. If God be love, the highest good must be to be made in the image of love. St. John asked himself how that could be done on the Greek principle of self-indulgence, or the Jewish principle of s physical Messiah. He felt that if the end of life were simply to wear purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, and if life itself were amply suited to such an end, then life was incompatible with love. This world, in short, is to St. John a development and an upward development; but it is a development of self-sacrifice. The Apocalypse has been called a sensuous book; it is to my mind the least sensuous book in the Bible. It describes the process of the ages as a process of self-surrender. This, then, is the meaning of the passage, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It means that Christ was all along the goal of creation, and that creation is a making for Christ. More particularly, it means that the line of this world’s progress has been a development of self-sacrifice. It seems to me that in this last point the writer of the Apocalypse has come nearer to a philosophy of history than all who went before him. If you take any other line of progress you will fail, in my opinion, to prove that there has been an advance in the march from the old to the new. Shall we take intellect? Do we feel that the amount of mind force is greater in the modern Englishman than it was in the ancient Greek? It would be difficult to feel it, and it would be impossible to prove it: are Plato and Aristotle inferior to the best intellects among us? Shall we take imagination? Have we reached the architectural conception which planned the pyramids? Have we outrun the triumphs of Greek sculpture? Have we surpassed the poetry of Homer? Have we sustained the fame of the mediaeval painters? Have you ever considered how much of invention is itself due to the spread of the unselfish principle? Why have the great ages of discovery been the ages after Christ? Is it not just because Christ has been before them? Is it not because the spirit of sacrifice has awakened man to the wants of man? The times of self-seeking were not the times of invention. St. John says creation is moving toward a type--a lamb slain, and it is moving toward that type in a straight line--the line of sacrifice. It is climbing to its goal by successive steps which might be called steps downward--increasing limitations of the self-life. To what extent did St. John see this? He saw in visible nature a series of gospel pictures; everything seemed to live only by losing itself. He saw the waves of the sea of Patmos passing into waves of light; he beheld the waves of light passing into eddies of the sea. It seemed to him that even in that lonely spot God had inscribed upon the walls of nature the image of a cross. By and by, before the eyes of the seer there flashed a higher order of creation, and it was clothed in the same garb--the robe of sacrifice. He passed from the pictorial representation of sacrifice in nature to its actual, though involuntary, representation in animal life. The very reference to a slain lamb is a reference to an animal sacrifice. How did St. John reconcile himself to that spectacle of an involuntary sacrifice of the animal life prescribed by the Old Testament? He said it was a type of Christ. If sacrifice be the law of the highest being, it is desirable to reach it. You can only reach anything by a repeated experience of it. There passed before him the natural sacrifices of the human heart. I believe that the cares of the heart prevent every man from living the full amount of his natural years. What is the difference, then, between the sacrifice of the animal and the sacrifice of the man? It is an inward difference; the obligatory has become the voluntary. What has made it voluntary? It is love, a force to which in the animal world nothing exactly corresponds, a force which adds to the sacrifice, and at the same time helps to bear it. And yet merely natural love is far from having reached the goal. It is noble; it is beautiful; but it is not the topmost triumph. The mother’s love, the brother’s love, the husband’s love, the son and daughter’s love, are each and all the search for something kindred to ourselves. St. John looks out for a vaster type--a love that can come where there is no kindred, no sympathy. He seeks a love that shall strive for the survival of the unfittest--the blood of a spotless soul that can wash the sins of the absolutely impure. This is to John the perfect type of altruism--the Lamb that was slain. It is the progress towards this type that constitutes to St. John the philosophy o| history. (G. Matheson, D. D.)


Verse 10

Revelation 13:10

He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity.

Retribution on the enemies of the Church

Observe here--

1. That this acclamation, “It any man have an ear, let him hear,” is added in Scripture when something required s spiritual understanding to discern the meaning. Let him consider what is here revealed concerning this beast, and take heed that he be not found amongst the number of the worshippers of it.

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 (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.

3. The end and design of God in suffering antichrist’s rage to break forth against the Church; it is for the trial of the Church’s faith and patience. Note--


Verse 11-12

Revelation 13:11-12

Another beast coming up out of the earth.

The second beast

The antichrist, though an individual, is not alone. He not only has the ten sovereignties working into his hand with all “their power and strength,” but he has a more intimate and more potent companion, hardly less remarkable than himself, duplicating his power, and without whom he could not be what he is. This second beast has “two horns like a lamb.” Horns are the symbols of power; but these horns have no diadems, and are like the horns of a gentle domestic animal. Political sovereignty, war, conquest, and the strength of military rule are therefore out of the question here. This beast is a spiritual teacher, and not a king or warrior. His power has a certain softness and domesticity about it, which is sharply distinguished from the great, regal horns of the first beast, although in reality of the same wild beast order, and belonging to the same dragon brood. What, then, are we to understand by these two lamblike horns or the twofold power of this beast? Taking the whole history of all religions, true and false, from the beginning until now, and searching for the elements of their hold on men’s minds, their power, it will be found to reside in two things, which, in the absence of better terms, we may call naturalism and supernaturalism, that is, the presence of revelations, or what are accepted as revelations, from the superior powers, and held to be Divine and binding; or conclusions of natural conscience and reason, deemed sacredly obligatory because believed to be good and true. It is difficult to conceive on what other foundation a religion can rest; and analysis will show that on one or the other of these, or on both combined, all religions do rest, and must rest. Here is the seat of their strength, their power, whether true or false, the horns by which they push their way to dominion over the hearts and lives of men. They are just two, and no more. As a religionist, therefore, this beast-prophet could have but two horns. But he has two horns, and hence both the two only powers in a religion; therefore he is at once a naturalist and a supernaturalist--a scientist and a spiritualist--a rationalist, yet asserting power above ordinary nature and in command of nature. In other words, he claims to be the bearer of the sum total of the universal wisdom, in which all reason and all revelation are fused into one great system, claimed to be the ultimatum of all truth, the sublime and absolute universeology. And professing to have everything natural and supernatural thus solved and crystallised as the one eternal and perfect wisdom, he must necessarily present himself as the one absolute apostle and teacher of all that ought to command the thought, faith, and obedience of man. The same helps to a right idea of the further particular concerning this beast, to wit, that, though having but the two horns like a lamb, he yet speaks like a dragon. He is lamb-like in that he proposes to occupy only the mild, domestic, and inoffensive position of spiritual adviser. What more gentle and innocent than the counselling of people how to live and act for the securement of their happiness! But the words are like the dragon, in that such professions and claims are in fact the assumption of absolute dominion over the minds, souls, consciences, and hearts of men to bind them irrevocably, and to compel them to think and act only as he who makes them shall dictate and prescribe. Only to the eternal God belongs such a power; and when claimed by a creature is, indeed, the speech of the devil, the spirit of hell usurping the place and prerogatives of the Holy Ghost. Hence, also, in so far as this beast is able to maintain and enforce these prophetic claims, “he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast.” There is no more complete or exalted dominion under the sun than such a sway over the intellect and will of universal humanity. The first beast, in all his imperial power, has no greater authority than the common acknowledgment of such claims would give. When this is exercised all the authority of the first beast is exercised. But the first beast is quite willing that his hellish consociate should assert and press these claims; for the two are but different persons in the same infernal trinity, the second witnessing to the first as the Spirit witnesseth to the Son. And a most efficient minister does this false prophet prove to be. Eight times it is written of him that “he causeth.” First, we have the statement that “he causeth the earth and those that dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose stroke of death was healed.” They are induced to accept the beast as the deity, and to worship him as God. It seems like a fable. But, with all the weird strangeness of the record, the literal realisation of it is neither impossible nor improbable. There is nothing in it to which depraved human nature is not competent, and even predisposed and prone. The King of Parthia, kneeling before Nero, said to him, “You are my god, and I am come to adore you as I adore the sun. My destiny is to be determined by your supreme will,” to which Nero replied, “I make you King of Armenia, that the whole universe may know it belongs to me to give or to take away crowns.” It may be said that these were ancient, pagan, and benighted times, and that such abominations can never again be palmed upon mankind. But they were the times which produced our classics. The same has also occurred in later days with far less reason or apology, and among those who claimed to be the most advanced and enlightened of mortals. How was it in the comparatively recent period of the French Revolution? How was it with those world-renowned savants, whose boast was to dethrone the King of heaven as well as the monarchs of the earth? Did they not sing halleluias to the busts of Marat and Lepelletier, not only in the streets of Paris and Brest, but in many of the churches all over France? How came it that Robespierre was named and celebrated as a divinity, a superhuman being, “The New Messiah!” Can we blot out what Alison and Lacretelle and Thiers have written, that “Marat was universally deified,” that the churches received his statues as objects of sacred regard, and that a new worship was everywhere set up in their honour? Is it to be ignored how the foremost men of the nation, in state ceremony, conveyed a woman in grand procession to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, unveiled and kissed her before the high altar as the Goddess of Reason, and exhorted the multitude to cease trembling before the powerless thunders of the God of their fears, and “sacrifice only to such as this”? (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

He spake as a dragon.--

Speaking as a dragon

The words remind us of the description given by our Lord of those false teachers who “come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (W. Milligan, D. D.)

His speech is as a dragon

Not as the former beast-the mouth of a lion, and “speaking great things”--but rather with subtlety and feigned persuasion, as the old serpent in paradise. “For he would not be like a lamb,” says Tichonius, “if he spake openly; he feigns Christianity.” (Isaac Williams, B.D.)


Verses 13-18

Revelation 13:13-18

Deceiveth … by the means of those miracles.

Miracles: a counterfeit supernaturalism

Miracles have ever been the chief evidence of the presence of what is worshipful and Divine. It is by these especially that men’s faith is begotten and controlled. It is by seeing and experiencing what is manifestly above and beyond all natural human power, and what cannot be accounted for on natural principles, that the human mind is forced to a conviction of the presence of some great and worshipful potency superior to Nature. And this arch-prophet of falsehood knows well how needful and mighty is the force of miracles to establish his credit, and to secure belief in his claims. The religion of God is a religion of miracles, and to make his infernal deception appear the only true and rightful religion he needs to mimic and counterfeit all that supernaturalism on which the true faith reposes. To this, therefore, he sets himself, and becomes one of the greatest workers of signs and wonders the earth has ever seen. Nor need we be surprised at this. There is a supernatural power which is against God and truth, as well as one for God and truth. A miracle, simply as a work of wonder, is not necessarily of God. There has always been a devilish supernaturalism in the world running alongside of the supernaturalism of Divine grace and salvation. “The magicians of Egypt also did in like manner with their enchantments; for they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents.” Here was devil miracle in imitation of the Divine. The test of a miracle is its supernaturalness; the test of its source is the doctrine, end, or interest for which it is wrought. If in support of anything contrary to God and His revealed will and law, it is no less a miracle; but in that case it is a work of the devil, for God cannot contradict Himself (1 John 4:1-3). It is also plainly intimated in the Divine Word that, in judgment upon the wicked world for its refusal of Christ, and its setting at naught of all the Divine miracles, the present bonds and limitations of satanic power will be relaxed, the devil and his demons allowed freer range upon this planet, and those in love with falsehood and unrighteousness given over to delusions then so much stronger than ever before (1 Kings 22:18; 1 Kings 22:22; 2 Chronicles 18:18; 2 Chronicles 18:22; Isaiah 6:9-10; Ezekiel 14:9; Romans 1:21; Romans 1:25; Romans 1:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)


Verse 16

Revelation 13:16

He causeth all … to receive a mark.

Soul-marks

The words “he causeth” clearly ascribe this operation to the second beast. If it had been the first we might imagine that some outward mark or sign was meant, for that beast deals with the visible and outward. But this one stamps an image on the souls of men; this writes a name on all their inward thoughts, which afterwards expresses itself in their common daily acts. Men fancy, when they read and talk of some great tyrant-power which has established itself in their country or their age, that they are reading and talking of something which is far off from them. They can comment upon it, measure its effects, calculate the chances of its continuance or of its fall. If any complain of it as bad in its origin or immoral in its practices, wise persons will whisper, “But it does not hurt you. You can buy and sell happily under the shadow of it. Your gains are not seriously lessened. You incur no great risks of loss.” And all the time these wise persons are not aware that they themselves, as well as those with whom they are conversing, have received the mark of this power on their foreheads and their right hands; that the image of it is graven in their hearts; that they are showing in these very discourses of theirs that they bear the name and character of that which they are excusing. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Animalism: the mark of the beast

The question that I want to ask is this, Whoever the beast is, what makes him a beast? What is the bestial element in him, whoever he be? And the answer is not far to find, Godless selfishness, that is “the mark of the beast.” Wherever a human nature is self-centred, God forgetting, and therefore God-opposing (for whoever forgets God defies Him), that nature has gone down below humanity, and has touched the lower level of the brutes. Men are so made as that they must either rise to the level of God, or certainly go down to the level of the brute. And wherever you get men living by their own fancies, for their own pleasure, in forgetfulness and neglect of the sweet and mystic bonds that should knit them to God, there you get “the image of the beast and the number of his name.” And besides that godless selfishness, we may point to simple animalism as literally the mark of the beast. He who lives not by conscience and by faith, but by fleshly inclination and sense, lowers himself to the level of the instinctive brute-life, and beneath it, because he refuses to obey faculties which they do not possess, and what is nature in them is degradation in us. Look at the unblushing sensuality which marks many “respectable people” nowadays. Look at the foul fleshliness of much of popular art and poetry. Look at the way in which pure animal passion, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the love of good things to eat and plenty to drink is swaying and destroying men and women by the thousand among us. Look at the temptations that lie along every street in Manchester for every young man after dusk. Look at the thin veneer of culture over the ugliest lust. Scratch the gentleman and you find the satyr. Is it much of an exaggeration, in view of the facts of English life to-day, to say that all the world wanders after and worships this beast? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The number of his name.--

The number of the name

It is indeed remarkable that the seer should speak at all of “the number” of the name of the beast. Why not be content with the name itself?

1. St. John may not himself have known the name. He may have been acquainted only with the character of the beast, and with the fact, too often overlooked by inquirers, that to that character its name, when made known, must correspond. No reader of St. John’s writings can have failed to notice that to him the word “nam” is far more than a mere appellative. It expresses the inner nature of the person to whom it is applied. No man could know the new name written upon the white stone given to him that overcometh “but he that receiveth it.” In other words, no one but a Christian indeed could have that Christian experience which would enable him to understand the “new name.” In like manner now, St. John may have felt that it was not possible for the followers of Christ to know the name of antichrist. But this need not hinder him from giving the number. The “number” spoke only of general character and fate; and knowledge of it did not imply, like knowledge of the “name,” communion of spirit with him to whom the name belonged. (W. Milligan, D. D.)


Verse 18

Revelation 13:18

Six hundred three score and six.

Sixes and sevens

I. The beast whose number is 666. The beast is not one, but three. It is evident the last verse sums up the two chapters, and gives its total number like the answer in an addition sum.

1. The first beast is the “great red dragon” of chap. 12. He has “seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” He appears in heaven in open revolt against all authority, and with special enmity against the man child. Who is this daring, determined fiend who disturbs heaven’s peace, and is thirsty for the blood of the saints? In Revelation 12:9 we are told he is “that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan.” That point is clear enough at any rate; we have heard of him before.

2. The second beast rises up out of the sea, and is Daniel’s four beasts (Daniel 7:1-8) rolled into one. Unto this beast the “great red dragon,” the devil, “gave his power, his throne, and great authority.” A throne means kingship and a kingdom. He takes up the rebellion against God, heaven, and the saints, and extends his authority over all kindreds and tongues and nations. “The prince of this world.” A title thrice given by Jesus Christ to His adversary.

3. The third beast rises up out of the earth, and in many respects differs from its fellow beasts. Instead of being a combination of terrors, it is meek and gentle in its appearance. Its mild and innocent looks are belied by its words, which carry its real character; they are fierce, treacherous, and cruel. This lamb-like dragon has no throne, neither does it rule over conquered peoples. It is the servant of the beast-royal. It is zealous for his honour, wields his authority, works miracles for his glory, makes men worship his image, and rejoices to lose itself in the splendour and glory of its lord.

4. Here, then, we see “the great red dragon,” and two beasts, varying in form and sphere of operation, but one in nature and purpose. And their relationship to each other is such as to suggest at once the evangelist’s conception of a trinity of evil in deadly conflict with the Divine and holy Trinity of good.

II. What is the significance of his number 6 6 6? The numbers are signs, and must be taken, not in their literal or numerical value, but in their symbolic sense. They stand for something altogether outside arithmetic. For instance, three is a number of mysterious sanctity, and refers to deities; four represents the earth in all its four corners; and six is everywhere the unlucky number. The Jew dreaded it, and to this day there linger many superstitions about the sixth day (Friday), the sixth hour, etc. The reason given is that it falls fatally below seven, the emblem of completeness, perfection, totality. Six is nearest to seven, but always falls one short of completeness.

III. The highest possible point of attainment, apart from God, is 666. This admits that without God six can be reached. In Church life we can do a great deal without God. Crowded Churches and overflowing coffers are no infallible sign of the Divine Presence. In individual reform much can be done without God. I have known men give up drink, gambling, lust, swearing, and almost every form of vice, and reform so completely that they have been held up in “reports” as miracles of grace; and afterwards they have confessed there was no grace in it, they had never prayed, nor sought help from God. Science has wrought wonders in the last fifty years. If any one had told our grandfathers of the achievements of steam and electricity they would have thought him mad But wonderful as science is, its number is only 6. Coming from America in the Augusta Victoria, a clever fellow with whom I had had several talks came up to me on Sunday morning. Seeing I was reading my Bible, he expressed surprise that I read “that book.” I told him I was surprised to hear him say so. “Oh!” he said, “the world has grown out of that long since.” “Indeed,” I replied; “and into what has it grown?” Then he extolled the work of science. And I asked him the simple question, “Whence did you and I come?” And he took me through the mysteries of evolution, performing two or three intellectual somersaults in the course, and at last put his finger on the first form of organic life, and said proudly, “That’s where we began!” “Indeed,” I said, “and where did it begin?” Then he said, “We come now to what is variously described as the First Cause, Eternal Force, and the Unknowable.” “It won’t do,” I said; “your explanation does not explain.” His science was only 6. I turn to my Bible, and I find the missing link. “In the beginning God!” Life has no explanation with Him left out. So long as He is absent the “one thing needful” is lacking. It is the same with philosophy. It is only 6. It needs God to tell me whence I came, what I am, and whither I go. He alone can supply what lies between “6” and “7.” The modern gospel without God is only 6. Reform is popular. Politicians of all grades vie with each other in their zeal for the uplifting of society. All this is very well as far as it goes; but its number is only the number of the beast. The gospel of to-day, apart from Christ, is expressed in three words: economics, sanitation, education. I believe in all three. I have been too long in the ranks of the toilers not to sympathise with their struggle for better conditions of work and life. But when you have given the workman the eight-hours day and the living wage, who is going to give him a pair of legs that will carry him past the first public-house? So also with sanitation. By all means let us have clean dwellings, pure air, and good drains. But good sanitation does not make saints. It is not the stye that makes the pig, but the pig that makes the stye. As a reforming power sanitation is good as far as it goes; but it gets no farther than the skin and the sewer. Its number is only 6. Education touches the man more directly; but experience has amply proved how insufficient it is to effect such radical change in men as will make them just and good. The fact is, this generation has fallen in love with the social conditions of the kingdom of Christ. It has become the great ideal--the age’s utopia. But it has not adopted Christ’s method to bring it about. It wants a shorter cut. Christ’s method is: make men good, and the “new creature” will produce a new social order and a new world. But to make men good is such slow, hopeless work; so we will try making the world good, and then surely men must be good. It did not work in the garden of Eden. Neither will it now. Jesus Christ is still the only Saviour. He will reconstruct society by regenerating the individual; and the host of Christian workers, despised preachers of the gospel, Sunday-school teachers, and old-fashioned people, who still go to prayer meetings, are, after all, the best social reformers this world has. They have the one complete gospel; all others are but 6 6 6.

IV. What is your number? Apply this to your own life. What is your number? Is it 6 or 7.? You can get a good deal out of a life of sixes. You may get a lot of real pleasure out of life without religion. But the best of the world’s pleasure is only 6. The provoking thing about it is that there is always something short. It never quite satisfies. Jesus Christ said of it, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again”; and the more he drinks the more he thirsts. But He gives the water of life that leaves no thirst; and, after all, you never know what happiness is till you drink of that stream. In character, too, you may be good without Christ. I admit it. But your goodness is only 6. A fine specimen of the “6” order came to Jesus one day. He had kept the commandments; he was greatly respected; so excellent was he that when Jesus saw him “He loved him.” But He said unto him, “One thing thou lackest.” Only one, but it was the one thing needful. (S. Chadwick.)

The number of the beast

The opening words of this verse, “Here is wisdom,” seem almost ironical in the light of the subsequent treatment that the verse has received, for it has been chosen as one of the favourite spots where sober understanding shall be forgotten. The people that have been busiest in reckoning up the number of the beast have, far from revealing the wisdom of which the passage speaks, only served to show us how foolish and fantastic even some good and earnest men can be. The name of anything, when used in the ideal and symbolic way in which it is used in this passage, is used to denote its real and essential being, The ideal function of a name is to express accurately and completely what the thing is. In actual life names are very far from doing this, but symbolic pictures deal with the ideal, and not the actual. So the name of the beast denotes its true nature, its living collection of qualities. The number of the name gives mystic indication of the fate that lies hidden in and for such a character. It is the destiny of the life written in the name. Therefore, while it is called “the number of the name of the beast” in one verse, it is simply called “the number of the beast” in another. It is not an external label, an arithmetical puzzle, but is vitally related to the life and character of the beast. Now, I don’t think there can be the slightest doubt that the “beast” is a general expression for the kingdom of evil. The aptness of the term needs no exposition. Ferocity and baseness and all else that is included in brute-force serve well to symbolise the fierce and lawless power of evil.

I. The kingdom of evil, though apparently strong, is essentially weak, This is the first truth symbolised by the number 666. It is eternally incapable of becoming 777, and therefore eternally incapable of imperilling the supremacy of God.

II. The height of its power is the certain hour of its downfall. How vividly the symbols point out this! 666 almost the summit of attainment; but when it seems almost on the point of scaling the heavens and seizing the throne, out flash the fierce lightnings from the heart of regnant truth and purity, and the black mass is scattered to the earth crushed and impotent. It is the curse of evil that it cannot stop, that it must go on trying to swell itself out into the dimensions of God, and because it has eternal incapacity for reaching such a magnitude, it necessarily follows that after it has swollen to a certain point, like the frog in the fable, it bursts and collapses. Just like a bubble, the more it swells the nearer it is to destruction. The larger its dimensions, the less power it has to hold itself together. The most effectual way of crushing a weak and ambitious man is to load him with power and responsibility, for the weak spirit will not be able to sustain the burden, and will fall under it. Then his inherent weakness will be made manifest, and the number of his name be revealed. So beastism, or the kingdom of evil, can go so far and no further. It is fatally flawed by the fact that its own power is its own destruction. (John Thomas, M. A.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 13:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/revelation-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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