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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Revelation 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

CHAPTER X.

THE SECOND AND THIRD GREAT ENEMIES Of THE CHURCH.

Revelation 13:1-18

WE have seen that the main purpose of chap. 12 was to introduce to our notice the dragon, or Satan, the first great enemy of the Church. The object of chap. 13 is to make us acquainted with her second and third great enemies, and thus to enable us to form a distinct conception of the powerful foes with which the followers of Christ have to contend. The two enemies referred to are respectively styled "a beast" (Revelation 13:1) and "another beast" (Revelation 13:11), or, as they are generally termed, the first beast and the second beast. To the word "beast" must be assigned in both cases its fullest and most pregnant sense. The two "beasts" are not only beasts, but wild beasts, strong, fierce, rapacious, and cruel, even the apparent softness and tenderness of the second being associated with those dragon words which can proceed only from a dragon heart. * (*, Revelation 13:11)

The first is thus described: -

"And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and even heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as though it had been slaughtered unto death; and the stroke of his death was healed: and the whole earth marveled after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon because he gave his authority unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast, and who is able to war with him? And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, even them that tabernacle in the heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slaughtered. If anyone hath an ear, let him hear. If any one leadeth into captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any one shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:1-10)."

The description carries us back to the prophecies of Daniel, and the language of the prophet helps us to understand that of the Seer. It is thus that the former speaks: "Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven brake forth upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in his mouth between his teeth: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things."l These particulars embody the prophet’s picture of the world-power in four successive phases of its manifestation, until it culminates in the "little horn;" and it is not possible to doubt that the Seer, while modifying them with characteristic freedom, finds in them the foundation of his figure. (*, Daniel 7:2-8)

In both cases there is the same origin, - the sea swept by strong winds from every point of the compass, until the opposing forces rush upon one another, mingle in wild confusion, send up their spray into the air, and then, dark with the reflection of the clouds above and turbid with sand, exhaust themselves with one long, sullen roar upon the beach. In both cases the same animals are referred to, though in the vision of Daniel they are separated, in that of St. John combined: the leopard, with his sudden, cruel spring; the bear, with his slow, relentless brutishness; and the lion, with his all-conquering power. Finally, in the case of both mention is made also of "ten horns," which are distinct from the lineal succession of the heads. So far, therefore, we can have little hesitation in affirming the conclusion arrived at by most commentators that in this beast coming up out of the sea we have an emblem of that power of the world which, under the guidance of "the prince of the world," opposes and persecutes the Church of Christ. Several particulars regarding it, however, still demand our notice.

1. The horns are not to be thought of as distributed among the heads, but rather as a group by themselves, constituting along with the seventh head a manifestation of the beast distinct from that expressed by each of the separate heads. In a certain sense the seventh head, with its ten horns, is thus one of the seven, for in them the beast expresses himself. In another sense it is like the "fourth beast" of the prophet Daniel: "diverse from all the beasts that were before it" and even more terrible than they.

2. The seven heads seem most fittingly to represent seven powers of the world by which the children of God had been persecuted in the past or were to be persecuted in the future. The supposition has indeed been often made that they represent seven forms of Roman government or seven emperors who successively occupied the imperial throne. But neither of these sevens can be definitely fixed by the advocates of the general thought; while the whole strain of the passage suggests that the beast which, in the form now dealt with, unquestionably represents a world-power conterminous with the whole earth, grows up into this form only in his seventh head and ten horns manifestation. The other heads are rather preparatory to the last than to be ranked equally along with it Making a natural beginning, therefore, with the oldest persecuting power mentioned in that Bible history of which the Apocalyptist makes such extensive use, and following the line down to the Seer’s time, the seven heads appear to represent the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman powers, together with that power, wider even than the Roman, which St John saw was about to rage in the hurried days of "the last time" against the simplicity, purity, holiness, and unworldliness of Christ’s little flock. Each of these powers is a "head." The last is the concentrated essence, the most universal, the most penetrating, influence of them all. Taken together, they supply, as no other interpretation does, what is absolutely essential to a correct understanding of the figure, - the idea of completeness.

3. By such a rendering also we gain a natural interpretation of the head beheld as though it had been slaughtered unto death; and the stroke of his death was healed. Other renderings fail to afford this, for no successive forms of government at Rome and no successive emperors furnish a member of their series of which it may be said that it is first slain and then brought back to a life of greater energy and more quickened action. Yet without the thought of death and resurrection it is impossible to fulfill the conditions of the problem. The head spoken of in Revelation 13:3 had not been merely wounded or smitten: it had been "slaughtered unto death;" and it was not merely his "deadly wound,"1 or even "his death-stroke: "2 it was the "stroke of his death" that had been healed. There had been actual death and resurrection from death, the contrast and travesty of that death and resurrection which had befallen the Lamb slaughtered arid raised again.3 Such a death and resurrection can only be fittingly applied to that system of worldly influence, or, in other words, to that "prince of the world," whose power over His people Jesus was not simply to modify, but to extinguish. The Redeemer of the world came, not to wound or weaken only, but to "bring to nought," him that had the power of death - that is, the devil - and to give perfect and eternal freedom to all who would allow the chains in which Satan had bound them to be broken.4 But the death, if we may so speak, of Satan in relation to them was accompanied by his resurrection in relation to the world, over which the great enemy of souls was thenceforward to exercise a more irresistible sway than ever. The time is that already spoken of in the previous chapter, when the devil went down into the earth, "having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short season."5 Nor is there any difficulty in determining to which of the seven heads of the beast the death and resurrection spoken of apply, for a comparison of Revelation 17:8-11 with the present passage shows that it is to the sixth, or Roman, head that St. John intends his language to refer. (1, Revelation 13:3, A.V 2, Revelation 13:3, R.V 3, Revelation 5:6; 4, Hebrews 2:14; 5, Revelation 12:12)

4. Particular attention must be paid to the fact that it is upon the beast in his resurrection state that we are to dwell, for the whole earth marvels after the beast not previously, but subsequently, to the point of time at which the stroke of his death is healed.1 In that condition, too, he is not thought of as raging only in the Roman empire. His influence is universal. Wherever men are he is: And there was given to him authority over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation.2 The fourfold division indicates absolute universality; and the whole earth - that is, all ungodly ones - worships the beast, even every one whose name has not been written in the Lamb s book of life.3 Thus raging with an extent of power never possessed by any form of Roman government or any emperor of Rome, he rages also throughout all time, from the first to the second coming of the Lord, for he has authority given to him to continue forty and two months4 the period so denoted embracing the whole Christian era from its beginning to its close. (1, Revelation 13:3-4; 2, Revelation 13:7; 3, Revelation 13:8; 4, Revelation 13:5)

5. Three points more may be noticed before drawing the general conclusion to which all this leads. In the first place, the beast is the vicegerent of another power which acts through him and by means of him. The dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority. The dragon himself does not directly act. He has his representative, or vicar, or substitute, in the beast. In the second place, the worship paid by "the whole earth" to the beast, when it cries, Who is like unto the beast? and who is able to make war with him? is an obvious imitation of the ascriptions of praise to God contained in not a few passages of the Old Testament: "Who is like unto the Lord our God, that hath His seat on high?"; "To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One;" "Hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel. . . . To whom will ye liken Me, and make Me equal, and compare Me, that we may be like?"1 In the third place, the beast opens his mouth, not only to blaspheme against God, but against His tabernacle, even them that tabernacle in the heaven,2 expressions in which the use of the word tabernacle M leads directly to the thought of opposition to Him who became flesh and tabernacled among us, and who now spreads His tabernacle over His saints.3 (1, Psalms 113:5; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 46:5; 2, Revelation 13:6; 3 John 1:14; Revelation 7:15)

The whole description of the beast is thus, in multi plied particulars, a travesty of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Head and King, the Guardian and Protector, of His people. Like the latter, the former is the representative, the "sent," of an unseen power, by whom all authority is "given" him; he has his death and his resurrection from the dead; he has his throngs of marveling and enthusiastic worshippers; his authority over those who own his sway is limited by no national boundaries, but is conterminous with the whole world; he gathers up and unites in himself all the scattered elements of darkness and enmity to the truth which had previously existed among men, and from which the Church of God had suffered.

What then can this first beast be? Not Rome, either pagan or papal; not any single form of earthly government, however strong; not any Roman emperor, however vicious or cruel; but the general influence of the world, in so far as it is opposed to God, substituting the human for the Divine, the seen for the unseen, the temporal for the eternal. He is the impersonation of that world of which St. Paul writes, "We received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God,"1 of which St. James speaks when he says, "Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God,"2 and in regard to which St John exhorts, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."3 This beast, in short, is the world viewed in that aspect in which our Lord Himself could say of it that the devil was its prince, which He told His disciples He had overcome, and in regard to which He prayed in His high-priestly prayer, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them out of the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."4 (1, 1 Corinthians 2:12; Comp. Galatians 6:14; 2, James 4:4; 3, 1 John 2:15-16; 4, John 14:30; John 16:33; John 17:15-16)

The influence of the beast here spoken of is therefore confined to no party, or sect, or age. It may be found in the Church and in the State, in every society, in every family, or even in every heart, for wherever man is ruled by the seen instead of the unseen or by the material instead of the spiritual, there "the world" is. "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."* (*, Ephesians 6:12)

Against this foe the true life of the saints will be preserved. Nothing can harm the life that is hid with Christ in God. But the saints may nevertheless be troubled, and persecuted, and killed, as were the witnesses of chap. 11, by the beast that had given unto him to make war with them, and to overcome them. Such is the thought that leads to the last words of the paragraph with which we are now dealing: If any one leadeth into captivity, into captivity he goeth; if any one shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. In the great law of God, the lex talionis, consolation is given to the persecuted. Their enemies would lead them into captivity, but a worse captivity awaits themselves. They would kill with the sword, but with a sharper sword than that of human power they shall themselves be killed. Is there not enough in that to inspire the saints with patience and faith? Well may they endure with unfainting hearts when they remember who is upon their side, for "it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict them," and to them that are afflicted "rest"* - rest with Apostles, prophets, martyrs, the whole Church of God, rest never again to be disturbed either by sin or sorrow. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (*, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

The second enemy of the Church, or the first beast, has been described. St. John now proceeds to the third enemy, or the second beast: -

And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight; and he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, the stroke of whose death was healed. And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men. And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given him to do In the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, who hath the stroke of the sword, and lived. And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead: and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name (Revelation 13:11-17)."

The first beast came up out of "the sea" (Revelation 13:1); the second beast comes up out of the earth: and the contrast, so strongly marked, between these two sources, makes it necessary to draw a clear and definite line of distinction between the origin of the one beast and that of the other. The "sea," however, both in the Old Testament and in the New, is the symbol of the mass of the Gentile nations, of the heathen world in its condition of alienation from God and true religious life. In contrast with this, the "earth," as here used, must be the symbol of the Jews, among whom, to whatever extent they had abused their privileges, the Almighty had revealed Himself in a special manner, showing "His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel."* The Jews were an agricultural, not a commercial, people; and upon that great high way along which the commerce of the nations poured they looked with suspicion and dislike. Hence the sea, in its restlessness and barrenness, became to them the emblem of an irreligious world; the land, in its quiet and fruitfulness, the emblem of religion with all its blessings. In this sense the contrast here must be understood; and the statement as to the different origin of the first and second beasts is of itself sufficient to determine that, while the former belongs to a secular, the latter belongs to a religious, sphere. Many other particulars mentioned in connection with the second beast confirm this conclusion. (*, Psalms 147:19)

1. The two horns like unto a lamb are unquestionably a travesty of the "seven horns" of the Lamb, so often spoken of in these visions; and the description carries us to the thought of Antichrist, of one who sets himself up as the true Christ, of one who, professing to imitate the Redeemer, is yet His opposite.

2. The words And he spoke as a dragon remind us of the description given by our Lord of those false teachers who "come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves,"1 as well as of the language of St. Paul when he warns the Ephesian elders that after his departing "grievous wolves shall enter in among them, not sparing the flock."2 (1, Matthew 7:15; 2, Acts 20:29)

3. The function to which this beast devotes himself is religious, not secular. He maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast; and, having persuaded them to make an image to that beast, it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed?* (*, Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:15)

4. The great signs and wonders done by this beast, such as making fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men, are a reminiscence of the prophet Elijah at Carmel; while the signs by which he successfully deceives the world take us again to the words of Jesus: "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect"1 St. Paul’s words also, when he speaks of the man of sin, make similar mention of his "signs:" "Whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved."2 (1, Matthew 24:24; 2, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

5. Finally, the fact that this beast bears the name of "the false prophet,"1 the very term used by St. John when speaking of the false teachers who had arisen in his day,2 may surely be accepted as conclusive that we have here a symbol of the antichrists of the first Epistle of that Apostle. Of the antichrists, let it be observed, not of Antichrist as a single individual manifestation. For there is a characteristic of this beast which leads to the impression that more than one agent is included under the terms of the symbol. The beast has two horns. Why two? We may be sure that the circumstance is not without a meaning, and that it is not determined only by the fact that the animal referred to has in its natural condition the rudiments of no more than two. In other visions of the Apocalypse we read of a lamb with "seven horns," and of a head of the beast with "ten horns," the numbers in both cases being symbolical. The "two horns" now spoken of must also be symbolical; and thus viewed, the expression leads us to the thought of the two witnesses, of the two prophets of truth, spoken of in chap. 11. But these two witnesses represent all faithful witnesses for Christ; and, in like manner, the two horns represent the many perverters of the Christian faith beheld by the Seer springing up around him, who, professing to be Apostles of the Lamb, endeavoured to overthrow His Gospel. (1Comp. Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; 2, 1 John 4:1)

These considerations lead to a natural and simple interpretation of what is meant by the second beast The plausible interpretation suggested by many of the ablest commentators on this book, that by the second beast is meant "worldly wisdom, comprehending everything in learning, science and art which human nature of itself, in its civilized state, can attain to, the worldly power in its more refined and spiritual elements, its prophetical or priestly class,"* must be unhesitatingly dismissed. It fails to apprehend the very essence of the symbol. It speaks of a secular and mundane influence, when the whole point of St. John’s words lies in this, - that the influence of which he speaks is religious. Not in anything springing out of the world in its ordinary sense, but in something springing out of the Church and the Church s faith, is the meaning of the Apostle to be sought. (*Fairbairn, On Prophecy, p. 328)

Was there anything then in St. John’s own day that might have suggested the figure thus employed? Had he ever witnessed any spectacle that might have burned such thoughts into his soul? Let us turn to his Gospel and learn from it to look upon the world as it was when it met his eyes. What had he seen, and seen with an indignation that penetrates to the core his narrative of his Master s life? He had seen the Divine institution of Judaism, designed by the God of Israel to prepare the way for the Light and the Life of men, perverted by its appointed guardians, and made an instrument for blinding instead of enlightening the soul He had seen the Eternal Son, in all the glory of His "grace" and "truth," coming to the things that were His own, and yet the men that were His own rejecting Him, under the influence of their selfish religious guides. He had seen the Temple, which ought to have been filled with the prayers of a spiritual worship, profaned by worldly traffic and the love of gain. Nay more, he remembered one scene so terrible that it could never be forgotten by him; when in the judgment-hall of Pilate even that unscrupulous representative of Roman power had again and again endeavored to set Jesus free, and when the Jews had only succeeded in accomplishing their plan by the argument, "If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar’s friend."* They Caesar’s friends! They attach value to honors bestowed by Caesar! O vile hypocrisy! O dark extremity of hate! Judaism at the feet of Caesar! So powerfully had the thought of these things taken possession of the mind of the beloved disciple, so deeply was he moved by the narrowness and bigotry and fanaticism which had usurped the place of generosity and tenderness and love, that, in order to find utterance for his feelings, he had been compelled to put a new meaning into an old word, and to concentrate into the term "the Jews" everything most opposed to Christ and Christianity. (*, John 19:12)

Nor was it only in Judaism that St. John had seen the spirit of religion so overmastered by the spirit of the world that it became the world’s slave. He had witnessed the same thing in Heathenism. It is by no means improbable that when he speaks of the image of the beast he may also think of those images of Caesar the worshipping of which was everywhere made the test of devotion to the Roman State and of abjuration of the Christian faith. There again the forms and sanctions of religion had been used to strengthen the dominion of secular power and worldly force. Both Judaism and Heathenism, in short, supplied the thoughts which, translated into the language of symbolism, are expressed in the conception of the second beast and its relation to the first.

Yet we are not to imagine that, though St. John started from these things, his vision was confined to them. He thinks not of Jew or heathen only at a a particular era, but of man; not of human nature only as it appears amidst the special circumstances of his own day, but as it appears everywhere and throughout all time. He is not satisfied with dwelling upon existing phenomena alone. He penetrates to the principles from which they spring. And wherever he sees a spirit professing to uphold religion, but objecting to all the unpalatable truths with which it is connected in the Christian faith, wherever he sees the gate to future glory made wide instead of narrow and the way broad instead of straitened, there he beholds the dire combination of the first and second beasts presented in this chapter. The light has become darkness, and how great is the darkness!l The salt has lost its savour, and is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill.2 (1, Matthew 6:23; 2, Luke 14:34-35)

In speaking of the subserviency of the second to the first beast, the Seer had spoken of a mark given to all the followers of the latter on their right hand, or upon their forehead, and without which no one was to be admitted to the privileges of their association or of buying or selling in their city. He had further described this mark as being either the name of the beast or the number of his name. To explain more fully the nature of this "mark" appears to be the aim of the last verse of the chapter: -

"Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty and six (Revelation 13:18)."

To discuss with anything like fullness the difficult questions connected with these words would require a volume rather than the few sentences at the close of a chapter that can be here devoted to it. Referring, therefore, his readers to what he has elsewhere written on this subject,* the writer can only make one or two brief remarks, in order to point out the path in which the solution of the problems suggested by the words must be sought. (*The Revelation of St. John: Baird Lectures published by Macmillan and Co., second edition, p. 142, etc., 319, etc.)

It is indeed remarkable that the Seer should speak at all of "the number" of the name of the beast; that is, of the number which would be gained by adding together the numbers represented by the several letters of the name. Why not be content with the name itself? Throughout this book the followers of Christ are never spoken of as stamped with a number, but either with the name of the Father or the Son, or with a new name which no one "knoweth" saving he that receiveth it.* Now the principle of Antithesis or Contrast, which so largely rules the structure of the Apocalypse, might lead us to expect a similar procedure in the case of the followers of the beast. Why then is it not resorted to? (*Comp. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 2:17)

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. It is not any name, any designation, by which the beast may be individualized, that will fulfill the conditions of his thought. No reader of St. John’s writings can have failed to notice that to him the word "name" is far more than a mere appellative. It expresses the inner nature of the person to whom it is applied. The "name" of the Father expresses the character of the Father, that of the Son the character of the Son. The Seer, therefore, might be satisfied in the present instance with his conviction that the name of the beast, whatever it be, must be a name which will express the inner nature of the beast; and he may have asked no more. Not only so. When we enter into the style of the Apostle’s thought, we may even inquire whether it was possible for a Christian to know the name of the beast in the sense which the word "name" demands. 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. Antichristian experience alone could teach the name of Antichrist, service of the beast the name of the beast; and such experience no Christian could have. 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. (*, Revelation 2:17. Comp. John 1:31; John 4:32)

2. From this it follows that not the "name," but the "number" of the name, is of importance in the Apostle’s view. The name no doubt must have a meaning which, taken even by itself, would be portentous; but, according to the artificial system of thought here followed, the "number" is the real portent, the real bearer of the Divine message of wrath and doom.

3. This is precisely the lesson borne by the number 666. The number six itself awakened a feeling of dread in the breast of the Jew who felt the significance of numbers. It fell below the sacred number seven just as much as eight went beyond it. This last number denoted more than the simple possession of the Divine. As in the case of circumcision on the eighth day, of the "great day" of the feast on the eighth day, or of the resurrection of our Lord on the first day of the week, following the previous seven days, it expressed a new beginning in active power. By a similar process the number six was held to signify inability to reach the sacred point and hopeless falling short of it. To the Jew there was thus a doom upon the number six even when it stood alone. Triple it; let there be a multiple of it by ten and then a second time by ten until you obtain three mysterious sixes following one another, 666; and we have represented a potency of evil than which there can be none greater, a direfulness of fate than which there can be none worse. The number then is important, not the name. Putting ourselves into the position of the time, we listen to the words, His number is six hundred sixty and six; and we have enough to make us tremble. Nay, there is in them a depth of sin and a weight of punishment which no one can "know" but he who has committed the sin and shared the punishment.

From all that has been said it would seem that there is no possibility of finding the name of the beast in the name of any single individual who has yet appeared upon the stage of history. It may well be that in Nero, or Domitian, or any other persecutor of the Church, the Seer beheld a type of the beast; but the whole strain of the chapter forbids the supposition that the meaning of the name is exhausted in any single individual. No merely human ruler, no ruler over merely a portion of the world however large, no ruler who had not died and risen from the grave, and who after his resurrection had not been hailed with enthusiasm by "every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation," can be the beast referred to. Whether St. John expected such a ruler in the future; whether this beast, like the " little horn " of Daniel, which had "eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things,"1 was not only bestial, but human; or whether in its individuality it was no more than a personification of antichristian sin and cruelty, is another and a more difficult question. Yet his tendency to represent abstract ideas by concrete images would lead to the latter rather than the former supposition. One thing is clear: that the bestial principle was already working, although it might not have reached its full development. The "many anti-christs"2 might be the precursors of a still more terrible Antichrist, but they worked in the same spirit and towards the same end. Nor are they to be less the object of alienation and abhorrence to the Christian now than when they may be concentrated in "the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of His coming." (1, Daniel 7:8; 2Comp. 1 John 2:18)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 13:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/revelation-13.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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