In chapter 12 we are introduced to the dragon. It becomes obvious that this is a vision of Satan. We learn that he is a determined enemy of another person—a shadowy figure who is the man-child of a larger-than-life woman. It becomes obvious that the man-child is Christ. Eventually, Satan, in frustration, turns his anger toward the “other children” of the woman; these other children are described in terms that identify them as Christians. So, with this background of the hatred of Satan for Christians, we enter chapter 13. In chapter 13 we are introduced to two more persons, who are called “beasts.” The first becomes known simply as “the Beast” and is described in 13:1-10. The second we eventually know as the “False Prophet,” and he is described in the second part of the chapter. These two beasts are the henchmen of Satan and are his means of carrying out war on Christians.
In this post, I have changed my format somewhat. I have collected all of the summaries of commentators at the end of the post, rather than inserting them verse-by-verse. I also have added summaries from the Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, which I shall introduce in the commentaries section.
Thanks to you, reader, for finding this website. Special thanks to you loyal readers who have come back to me after my inexcusably long absence.
ESV = English Standard Version (including the Study Bible): Most Scripture quotations come from this.
NIV = New International Version (including the Study Bible)
John had seen a woman and a threatening dragon in heaven (12:1-4); now he sees a “beast” (or “animal”) rising out of the sea. The sea represents chaos and the world’s people. The Beast does not come from the People of God (as represented by the woman of chapter 12), but from the “Gentiles” or “Nations”—the pagans who do not worship the true God. That the Beast is rising out of the sea implies that he is approaching shore. The Beast has 10 horns and seven heads. The hideous image adds to the repugnance and horror that this entity creates in us. The seven heads and ten horns are explained in 17:9ff. Briefly it should be said that they represent an amalgamation of the power of the nations. That power is the power to use the sword, the iron fist, the dungeon, the stake (for a burning), as well as political power that comes from demagoguery, intrigue, bribery, and threats. It was the power of Rome, which conquered nations and then developed the political power of those nations for its own ends. The Beast has “crowns” (NIV) or “diadems” on its horns—a strange image. The diadem generally is a symbol of royalty, which contrasts with the “stephanos,” which is usually the symbol of triumph or reward. These diadems are symbols of the royalty of the nations—those persons who, by birth, have the power and authority to rule. Yet, those birthrights have been caught up in the horrific conspiracy of evil that is represented by the Beast. The heads do not bear diadems, but rather they bear blasphemous names. “Blasphemy” is often translated (NIV and ESV) as “slander.” However, in a number of cases (for example in accusations against Jesus), its context calls for the traditional idea—the idea of something so evil in concept as to sully the holiness of God. That this Beast has on its heads affronts to the holy God confirms to us its ugly reality. This Beast is going to be (at least in one aspect) the most popular man in the world, admired, worshiped, and feared by all. No matter what people think of him, his reality is that he is in deep rebellion against God.
The vision of the Beast now abandons the imagery of a seven-headed monster for simpler images from the world of animals. He has an over-all look of a leopard—suggesting swift, graceful movement that ends with a pounce on its prey. His feet are like a bear’s—suggesting enormous strength. And its mouth is like a lion’s—suggesting frightening incisors that shred and powerful molars that crush and a chilling roar that stills the entire jungle. Daniel had a dream, which he describes in Daniel 7. This dream envisioned four beasts coming out of the sea (as in Revelation 13:1). These beasts were, in order, a lion with the wings of an eagle, a bear with three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a final beast. The final beast was not like any known animal but was very frightening. It had iron teeth that devoured everything and it trampled what was left, and it had ten horns. Among those horns comes a little horn that spoke “great things.” Ultimately this final beast is judged and burned up. We see some striking similarities between Daniel 7 and Revelation 13:1-2. Notice that the beast of Revelation partakes of characteristics of the three animals of Daniel 7. Notice also that the beasts of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation 13 all come from the sea. Notice the ten horns on the fourth beast of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation 13. Notice the “great things” that are spoken by the little horn of Daniel 7 and the blasphemous names on the seven heads of the beast of Revelation 13. It seems that we can conclude that, first of all, all of these beasts have a common spiritual nature. It is a nature that comes from the pagan world of unbelief, a nature that relishes power and authority, and a nature that is an affront to the holiness of God. Second, the fourth beast of Daniel is connected to Rome as is the Beast of Revelation 13 (see Revelation 17:9ff). Third, the little horn is most likely the Antichrist/Beast—who is prefigured by Antioches Epiphanes—and is equated with the Beast whose description is developed in Revelation 13.
The second part of verse 13:2 makes a direct connection between the Beast and the dragon of chapter 12. The dragon gives to this Beast what Jesus refused to take (see Matthew 4:8-10 and Luke 4:5-8). He gives the Beast his power. This is raw, supernatural power that enables the Beast to do all sorts of demonic things—much of which is no doubt manifested in the physical world. For example, the devil lures people into hate, war, and oppression, and the Beast no doubt will persuade people to engage in such things. Second, the dragon gives the Beast his throne. This represents an exaltation above people. We see all sorts of people getting exalted, having their 15 minutes of fame. The reality of world-wide communication through television and the internet make the possibility of instant fame possible. When this is combined with the willingness of Satan to share his rulership, then we can imagine an individual (very likely part of some sort of coalition) ascending to a place of total rule over the world. Added to this is “great authority.” Authority is that prerogative that comes with the throne and the raw power. This person will not answer to anyone except the one who gave him his throne—the devil himself.
This verse moves the narrative about the Beast forward. Verse 13:1 describes the Beast coming out of the sea and begins a description of the Beast. Verse 13:2 continues the description and also adds the narrative about the impartation of power and authority from the dragon. If we think of 13:1-2 as a narrative, it begins with the rise of the Beast from the sea. It is possible that the many-headed monster is a coalition of human powers originating among the nations. The narrative continues with the impartation of power and authority from the dragon. It is possible that this impartation should not be thought of as a separate event from the rising of the Beast. It may be that the impartation of power makes possible the rising up of the Beast.
Nevertheless the next event, in 13:3, is the suffering of a mortal wound. It is possible this represents a literal, physical wound—an assassination attempt, perhaps. It is also possible that it represents some sort of political crisis that threatens the continued functioning of the Beast.
The fact that it occurs in only one of the heads creates some questions. Is this set of heads a coalition of powers? If that is true, does this wound represent a threat to only one of those powers? I believe that those questions are answered in 17:8-13. Hopefully, I shall be able to analyze that passage in detail when I consider chapter 17. Briefly, I believe that the Beast is a single person who is allied with multiple nations and their leaders. Although the imagery of multiple heads and multiple horns seems to contradict that view, the interpretation that is given in chapter 17 supports the idea of a single person as the Beast. The multiple heads and horns serve to symbolize the coalition that the Beast leads and also the connection of the Beast to the Roman Emperors.
The narrative goes on to say that the wound is healed. And then we are told that the whole earth “marveled as they followed the beast.” The implication seems to be that it is the recovery from the wound that creates the marvel. This is not necessarily the case, but the tight juxtaposition of the the recovery and the marvel seems to imply causation. It is possible that this event—the recovery—is akin to a resurrection. Lots of people recover from serious injury, but usually people marvel at “modern medicine” or “the skill of the surgeon.” People may rejoice and applaud a person’s recovery. They may consider the person to have faced his or her condition with courage. But, in these cases, people consider the patient to have recovered because they cooperated with their doctors. Such persons are not considered to have effected their own recovery. Yet, this person—this head within the Beast—recovers and earns the amazement of the whole world. Such a development would require some sort of supernatural event that draws the whole world into amazement. This event appears to be a key element in development of the world-wide popularity of the Beast.
Now, the Beast’s position in the world is elevated even further as people progress from marveling to worship—of the dragon and the Beast. The logic of the worship of the dragon, who is Satan, is that he is to be worshiped because he gave authority to the Beast. So, because the Beast is the center of world admiration, the power behind that centerpiece is deemed worthy of worship. The logic of the worship of the Beast seems to be twofold. First, he is worthy of worship because of his unique person: “Who is like the beast?” Second, he is worthy of worship because of his power: “Who can fight against it [i.e. the Beast]?”
One question that I have as I consider the plausibility of this narrative is this: Would the mass of humankind worship Satan as Satan? I expand the question in this way: Most people do not believe Satan exists, but they do know of the idea of Satan as an evil supernatural being. Even in a condition of extreme degradation, would people self-consciously worship an evil being? Has not worship of false gods been based on a conception of the god as a good being? I would consider two possible answers. One is that Satan would disguise himself as a beneficent being who is worthy of worship. The second is that people would devolve to such a corrupt condition that they would be willing to worship Satan as the evil being that he is. In either case the indication is that worship of Satan is tied to worship of the Beast. This implies that the Beast is so attractive to people that they willingly worship the power behind the Beast.
I regularly consult NIV and ESV. The first part of the verse is translated as follows. NIV: “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies…” ESV: “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words…” My own translation: “And there was given to him a mouth that spoke great things and blasphemies…” Note that “proud words” in NIV and “haughty…words” in ESV are taken from the bland “great things,” but they might be warranted. The Beast was “given…a mouth.” The passive voice and the use of “given” sometimes indicates that something is given by God. In this case it is ambiguous whether the “mouth” comes from Satan or from God. I think we should understand that the mouth comes from Satan, but with God’s permission. The “mouth” of the Beast is really, of course, a product of the mind and spirit that lies behind it. There are any number of motivations and factors that combine to produce such a “mouth.” Pride, hatred, desperation, corruption, along with spiritual deception can combine to motivate people to speak things that are shocking and hurtful and impudent. Often there is in such a “mouth” a boastful defiance of authority.
In addition to the “mouth,” authority was given to the Beast to act for forty-two months. Both NIV and ESV, I believe, ignore the grammar of the Greek sentence.
NIV: “The beast was given…to exercise his authority for forty-two months.”
ESV: “it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.”
Mine: “there was given to him authority to act for forty-two months.”
I believe that mine is a literal translation of the Greek. The word for “authority” is nominative and is thus the subject of the passive verb “was given.” The word for “him” is dative and functions as the indirect object. The word for “act” is an infinitive of purpose (why authority was given). The authority—as is true of the mouth—comes from Satan, under God’s permission. NIV and ESV consider “authority” as an entity which is to be exercised for 42 months. This is, I think, an inaccurate translation. The “authority” is a prerogative over the time-frame. The thrust of the verse is the time-frame: the Beast received authority to act for 42 months.
This time frame is one that we see repeated several times in Revelation as well as Daniel—in some cases as 42 months, in others as the equivalent 1,260 days or “time, times, and dividing of times” (3 1/2 years). See Revelation 11:2, 11:3, 12:6, 12:14, 13:5 and Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. This time frame, I think, is a literal time frame, but it is also a symbolic designation of the last days. It signals to the reader that the Tribulation period is being referred to.
The Beast now uses the mouth that he was given so that he can utter blasphemies. His basic intention is to “blaspheme against God.” This intention is carried out by blaspheming God’s “name” and His “dwelling place.” The name of God is sacred and represents God’s person. It is both a designation for God and a representation of His reputation. To sully His name is to attack God and to denigrate His character. What would such blasphemy look like? It could take several forms. It could associate God with vile activities. It could associate God with paganism and the deities of the pagans. It could reduce God to vague philosophies or sentimentality. It could do things that our minds cannot even imagine. As an alternative, see the commentaries below, where most understand the Beast’s declaration of himself as God to be the blasphemy that is mind.
Not only does the Beast blaspheme God’s name, but also he blasphemes His dwelling place or tabernacle. The next items that are blasphemed are those who dwell in heaven. The word for “dwelling place” or “tabernacle” is skene. The word that is used for “dwell” is the verb form of skene. Thus, there could be a connection intended between “dwelling place” and “those who dwell in heaven.” NIV does not make the connection, but ESV does. The latter translation makes the clause, “those who dwell in heaven” to be an appositive to “dwelling place.” That is to say: God’s dwelling place is among His people in heaven. Certainly we know that God dwells in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit—both corporately as the church (I Corinthians 3:16—“you” is plural) and individually (I Corinthians 6:19—they are addressed plurally, but reference is to individuals).
I think that it is significant that another word for “dwell” or “reside” is generally not used for the saints of God in Revelation. This other word is katoikeo. It is generally connotes a permanent condition of residence. In Revelation it is used eleven times in the phrase “those who live on the earth” (or variations, depending on tense, etc.) In a twelfth use, it refers to the residence of the church at Pergamum. Its residence is also the residence of Satan (2:14) and the place of persecution. In this sense, it is a neutral word, but when it is part of the phrase for the “earth-dwellers,” it becomes a technical term for those who have chosen the way of the world. On the other hand, the saints who dwell in heaven are described with the verb form of skene in 12:12 and the present verse, 13:6. Whether the intention is to contrast this group of saints with the earth-dwellers is not certain. It is possible that these saints include those who are on earth but whose citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20).
In this verse, the enormous power and authority of the Beast is described. First, he has free reign to make war on the saints and to conquer them. Most, including myself, would understand the term “war” to be aggressive persecution. The saints are not understood to constitute a country with borders, cities, government, and an army. They are persons scattered throughout the nations who profess Jesus Christ. They are, I believe, the same persons with whom the Dragon chose to “make war on” in 12:17—those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” The wording for “make war on” in 12:17 is exactly the same as in 13:7. We must assume that this authority comes from Satan with the permission of God. God has permitted a certain degree of persecution throughout history. Not only is the Beast allowed to make war, but he is allowed to conquer them. We would understand that the form of his victory would be to deprive the saints of life and liberty. We understand that even in death the saints are victorious because they possess eternal life. Their ultimate victory is pronounced in verse 12:11: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
Not only does the Beast have authority to run roughshod over the saints, but also he is given authority over the whole world—over every “tribe and people and language and nation.” I note that the word “authority” is used. It is not that he simply is the big kid on the block, but he has legal power or right (from an old dictionary) to do whatever he pleases in all the world to whomever he pleases. This legal power, of course, is within the Satanic legal system of the world. That system is a perversion of true righteousness and justice. Therefore, in the book of II Thessalonians this same world dictator is called the “man of lawlessness.” (II Thessalonians 2:2ff)
But the Beast’s spectacular power and authority goes beyond his governance. He becomes an object of worship. All the earth-dwellers worship him. He has become a god. The passage in II Thessalonians 2 also refers to this: He “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (II Thessalonians 2:4) This appears to be a singular event that sets off the cult of Beast-worship around the world. The events and descriptions in 13:1-8 are not exactly a straight-line sequence of events. I do take it that a time-sequence is implied, but there is possibly some doubling-back. I would infer the following time-sequence:
- The Beast rises out of the sea: he comes on the scene, perhaps as a “rising star” of public attention (13:1)
- The dragon gives him power and authority (13:2)
- He suffers a mortal wound and recovers; the world marvels (13:3)
- The world worships the Dragon, or Satan (13:4a)
- The Beast is given a “mouth”—a boldness to speak horrendous things; he also begins his 42 month reign of terror (13:5)
- The Beast utters blasphemies (13:6)
- The Beast begins to persecute the saints and rises to complete power over the world (13:7)
- The Beast declares himself god and the world begins to worship him (13:8, II Thessalonians 2:4)
The fact that worship of the Beast is mentioned also in verse 13:4 may imply one of two things. It may be that there begins a spontaneous worship of the Beast before he actually declares himself god. It is also possible the “worship” in this case is intense adoration similar to “worship” of rock stars and other celebrities. Putin, the leader of Russia, enjoys this status among many in Russia.
The worshipers of the Beast are those who have been identified by the technical term, “those who dwell on the earth”—or “earth-dwellers.” These are identified as doomed to judgment throughout the book. In this chapter, they become known as falling under the spell of the Beast. They are identified also in this verse (13:8) as those who names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This “Book of Life” is mentioned also in 3:5, 17:8, and 20:12 and 20:15. Two forms of the Greek for “book” are used—one in 13:8 and 17:8 and the other in 3:5 and 20:15. There is no word for “book” in 20:12; the expression is literally “of life,” with “book” implied. Little or no explanation is given for this book. People infer a great deal, but I shall defer that until the discussion of chapter 20 (the final judgment). It is certain that the earth-dwellers are doomed people (see 20:15). Whether they worship the Beast because they are doomed people or they become doomed because of their worship of the Beast is not certain.
There is some controversy about the expression “from the foundation [or creation] of the world.” The NIV attaches this expression to the description of the “Lamb who was slain,” so that the Lamb is understood to have been slain from the foundation or creation of the world. The ESV attaches the expression to the fact that the names of the earth-dwellers is not written in the Book of Life, so that their names were not written in the Book from the foundation of the world. The ESV Study Bible justifies this by referring to 17:8, which has the description of the earth-dwellers in which their names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world. There is no mention of the Lamb who was slain in the latter verse. This, I believe, is strong justification for the ESV interpretation. It makes life difficult for Wesleyan-Arminians like myself, but it is a faithful translation. In brief, if we consider that the description of the earth-dwellers as people whose names are not in the Book of Life is another way of saying that they are not Christians, then we can say that the non-Christians world-wide will worship the Beast as god.
Verse 9 is a brief verse that introduces the material of verse 10. It is the imperative that is often used in Scripture to remind us to be attentive. (See chapters 2 and 3.)
Verse 10 seems to be two tautologies. However, the final sentence makes clear that it is a warning or prediction directed to the saints. They need to know that some of them are destined for captivity (imprisonment) and some are destined for death. They must steel themselves to these possibilities. After all, it has already been stated that the Beast will make war on and conquer the saints (verse 13:7). The response that is called for is “endurance and faith.”
There is controversy about this verse because of conflicting manuscript evidence. NIV gives a footnote that changes the meaning of the second part: (using the NIV wording): “If anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.” See the commentaries section for more discussion.
SUMMARY: John experiences a vision of a Beast coming out of the sea. The Beast, with ten horns, seven heads, and ten crowns, seems to be a coalition of nations. However, further description reveals that this Beast is also a single person who leads the coalition. This Beast has many correspondences with the vision in Daniel 7. The Beast is empowered by Satan, who gives him authority and power and rulership. The Beast somehow recovers from a mortal wound and this, together with his enormous power, make him an object of worship for the whole world. The Beast blasphemes God and His people and conducts brutal persecution against the saints.
13:1 This commentator in The Interpreter’s Bible reasons that the “picture language” that describes the Beast signals to us that this is a representation of the Roman Empire. He uses the following reasoning: Daniel 7:6 pictures a leopard with four heads, which represent the four Persian Emperors. Three heads of an eagle in II Esdras represent Roman emperors. Therefore, the seven heads of the Beast represent the Roman emperors, as is the case in Revelation 17:10. His interpretation of the four heads of the leopard as four emperors of Persia has been disputed, and the case can be made that the four heads represent the four successors to Alexander. Nevertheless it is true enough that there is a close relationship between the Beast and the Roman Empire. He points out a textual dispute over whether the Beast has a blasphemous name (singular) or names (plural). The latter would imply that each head had a blasphemous name. This is the interpretation NIV gives. Rist prefers the singular. He speculates it could refer to the designation of emperors by names that refer to their divinity—which would be blasphemy against God and Christ.
13:2 The parallels between the animals of this verse and those in Daniel 7 prompt Rist to give a synopsis of Daniel 7 from his own perspective—one that I do not share. The following is a summary of his thinking (no doubt shared by many scholars): Daniel 7 describes a series of animals coming out of the sea—a lion, a bear, a leopard with four heads, and a fourth terrible beast with ten horns. The lion is Babylon, the bear is Media (the Medes), the leopard is Persia, and the terrible beast is the “Greco-Syrian Empire.” Among the ten horns is a little horn that represents Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel predicted that after three and a half years (42 months), the persecutor would die and the end of the present age would take place. “The apocalyptic prediction of Daniel was not fulfilled…” says Rist. Although the Maccabees won independence, eventually Rome conquered the Land and “the fourth beast was reinterpreted to apply to Rome…” He quotes Jewish sources to support this. There are problems with this interpretation. A major problem is that it is unwarranted to separate the Medes and Persians. To do so makes the scheme work out if one ends Daniel’s vision with the Syrian domination. However, the four-headed leopard is much more likely the division of Alexander’s empire. The final empire was intended to be Rome in the first place. To posit this requires an acceptance of Daniel as true prophetic insight and not simply interpretation of history. There have been strong arguments to support this understanding of Daniel, some of which I have described in a previous post. Antiochus Epiphanes certainly fulfilled some of the characteristics of the “little horn” in Daniel 7. He, in fact, is a precursor to the Beast/Antichrist. But when the “little horn” of the end of history arises and is defeated by the Second Coming of Christ, then Daniel’s “apocalyptic prediction” will be fulfilled.
Rist contrasts the view in Revelation 13:2 of the Beast as “satanic in character…almost Satan incarnate” with the view of Paul that the “empire is of God” (Romans 13:1-7) and of I Peter, in which Christians are to subject to the emperor (I Peter 2:13-16). Warren Carter discusses the passage in Romans 13 in the total context of Paul’s theology and eschatology. He notes that it contrasts with much else that Paul writes about—such as the ultimate triumph of God over a corrupt world system. He describes Romans 13:1-7 as “flattering” to Rome and encouraging the church at Rome to be loyal subjects. He believes that the church may have been in an unusual situation that created the need to keep their heads low. He says that a number of scholars agree but can only speculate on what the circumstances might have been.
I think that the views of Paul and Peter are not necessarily contrasting with what we see in Revelation. Paul suffered persecution both from the Jewish zealots and from pagans (Acts 13:50, 14:4 14:19, 16:19ff, 19:28). Peter addresses persecution in I Peter 4:12-16 even though he, like Paul, advocates submission to authority. I think that both Paul and Peter understand submission to authority—even to an empire that is evil—is an integral part of Christian ethics. Note that Peter says: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” (I Peter 2:13) It is “for the Lord’s sake” that submission brings honor to the Lord’s people. From the days of Daniel, the people of God generally have lived among the empires of the world. They have lived upright and have even served in high positions in those empires (as did Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai). Yet, Daniel’s visions revealed that the ultimate Kingdom of God would smash the empires and fill the earth (see Daniel 2:44-45). The worldly kingdoms generally serve a godly purpose in maintaining order, but they are not full-fledged agents of God’s Kingdom as was the Davidic Kingdom, the prophets, and the church. (Rist, 460-461)
13:3 Verse 3 is considered by Rist to be “unintelligible” except by interpretation in the light of the “Nero redivivus” myth. Therefore he devotes space in explaining the myth. The following is a summary. Nero was condemned to die by the Senate “for his misrule and crimes.” Instead, he fled Rome and committed suicide. However, many did not believe he had died, but was hiding in the east and would return to conquer with a Parthian host. Some believed that he did die but would come back to life (“redivivus") and lead the Parthians against Rome. Rist believes that Revelation is applying this rumor/myth to the Beast/Antichrist: “Nero…would return to life to plague the empire and as the Antichrist to persecute the Christians.” (Rist, 461)
13:4 The worship of the Beast Rist considers to be “the most explicit reference to the imperial cult, which for John was so evil an institution that Satan alone could have devised it.” (Rist, 462)
13:5-7 He considers verses 13:5-7 together. He believes that the “phraseology and the idea” in these verses is taken from Daniel 7 and that “John had Daniel before him” as he wrote. He believes that Daniel’s description was of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, “an earlier Antichrist.” He notes that John gives the same time frame (42 months or 3 1/2 years) as is found in Daniel. He believes that John has transferred the description of Antiochus Epiphanes to “the beast symbolizing Rome.” I agree that the narrative, phrases, time frame, and other elements in Daniel and Revelation correspond. Although some of what is found in Daniel does correspond to Antiochus Epiphanes and some of what is found in Revelation corresponds to Rome, both books also refer to end-time events and to the final Beast/Antichrist. For example, Daniel 7:26-27 describes the complete triumph of the Kingdom of God and the eternal reign of God. This takes place when the fourth beast of Daniel (and the Beast of Revelation 13) is defeated. (Rist, 462)
13:8 He considers that the statement is “justifiable hyperbole.” He also asserts that all in the Empire worshiped the emperors except the Jews and Christians. Rist terms the description of Christians as “deterministic,” since it says their names have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. This follows the interpretation that the phrase “from the foundation of the world” refers to when the names were written and not to when the Lamb was slain. (Rist, 463)
13:9-10 He understands this to be a paraphrase of Jeremiah 15:2, which is a prediction of the slaughter of apostate residents of Judah. It is obviously changed by Revelation to predict the persecution that is coming (which Rist understands would take place in the days of the Roman Empire). It also is a warning that the persecutors would also be killed by the sword—“presumably by the two-edged sword projecting out of the mouth of…Christ…(19:15).” He comments that persecution calls for “endurance and faith” [Revised Standard Version]. These, he says are “two necessary prerequisites for martyrdom…” (Rist, 463)
13:1 He introduces the chapter by affirming that: “It is accepted throughout the New Testament that in the last days there will be a special outbreak of evil. Sometimes this is associated with an individual who may be called the antichrist (1 Jn. ii. 18) or ‘the man of lawlessness’ (2 Thes. ii. 3 RSV).” He considers that many modern scholars consider this as a reference to the Roman Empire. He replies, “This seems too simple…there is much more to the beast than ancient Rome.” (Morris, 165)
The sea in verse 1 may represent, as he quotes Swete, “the seething cauldron of national and social life, out of which the great historical movements of the world arise.” He notes that that the Beast combines the “horrors” of the four beasts of Daniel 7. He notes that the dragon “remains very much in the background” in the chapter as his evil is manifested in the work of people. He refers to Hendrickson, who understands the multiple heads to represent the various forms of worldly government, such as Babylon, Rome, etc. The 10 crowns on the horns stresses the “dominion of the Beast. (Morris, 165-166)
13:2 He comments that the description, using the animals of Daniel 7, is a “composite beast” that “becomes indescribably horrible.” Since the animals in Daniel represent various empires, the Beast of Revelation 13 “stands for a final empire in which will be concentrated the frightfulness of all its predecessors.” The combination of Satan’s throne and authority means that the Beast is a “formidable foe.” (Morris 166-167)
13:3 He notes that the passage emphasizes the deadliness of the wound and the Beast’s recovery—and does not detail how the wound came about. This, he says, “is one of several places in which the evil one is pictured as parodying Christianity.” He refers to speculation that this is either a reference to the Nero “redivivus myth” or to Caligula. He answers that the text only says the Beast was healed, not that the head was restored. He then gives a rather spiritualizing interpretation: There is evil from Satan that cannot be slain. “Though wounded it rises again and will do so to the end of time, to the astonishment of men (all the world wondered).” Morris’ use of spiritualizing interpretation is surprising to me. (Morris, 167)
13:4 He notes the close relationship between Satan and the Beast, so that worship of one leads to worship of the other. He quotes Swete, who notes that brute power of the Roman Empire brought about emperor worship. Morris, without much comment, compares this verse to Exodus 15:11, which does ask who is like the Lord. However, the Exodus verse refers not only to God’s power in overcoming the Egyptians but also to His majesty, holiness, and glory—which cannot be mimicked by the Beast. (Morris 167-168)
13:5 He points out that the Beast receives his power from Satan, but “it is God who determines the limits within which he operates.” Specifically, the time limit is 42 months. (Morris, 168)
13:6 He mentions that the “and” before “those who are in heaven” is omitted in some manuscripts. He believes that this is warrant to consider that “God’s dwelling is equated with God’s people. The blasphemy is then directed against God and those in whom God dwells.” He declares that emperor worship—which implied the supreme position of the state—“was not a permissable opinion but the supreme blasphemy.” (Morris, 168-169)
13:7 He notes that the phrase “was given” is used four times in verses 13:5-7 and that it implies that “even the antichrist can function only by divine permission.” This permission comes from “the God the little Christian church worships.” He interprets a direct causation between the war on the saints and the authority of the Beast over all peoples. He considers that this persecution, which is implied to be world-wide—is not the Neronic persecution, since it was not world-wide. (Morris, 169)
13:8 Morris notes that the “significant thing is that their [the earth-dwellers] names are not written in the book of life.” The facts that they are opponents of God and that they worship the Beast are important, but not in the long run. Morris states that the book assures “the little handful of persecuted Christians” that, once their names are written in the Book of Life, they will not be forgotten.
Morris takes the opposite view to Rist and the ESV Study Bible regarding the phrase “from the foundation of the world.” He believes it “should be taken with slain.” He justifies this by referring to I Peter 1:19-20. The following quotes those verses together with parts of verses 18 and 21:
[Y]ou were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God…
Note, however, that these verses describe Christ as being known before the foundation of the world and not slain from that time. Morris does nod to the other opinion and cites support for that view in Ephesians 1:4, which states that God “chose us in” Christ “before the foundation of the world.” “Either way,” says Morris, “God’s eternal purpose is in view and is contrasted with the fleeting might of the powers of evil.” (Morris, 169-170)
13:9-10 He is notes that there are “textual difficulties” for verse 10 as I have mentioned above. He sides with the Revised Standard Version, which states that those who kill by the sword will be killed (New Revised Standard Version retains this). The King James Version, NIV, and ESV all use the other version that understands this to say that those who are destined to die by the sword will die that way. (Morris, 170)
13:1 He refers to the same understanding of the symbolism of the sea as was described by Swete (see comments from Morris above). He notes the similarity of the descriptions of the Beast (chapter 13), the dragon (chapter 12), and the fourth beast of Daniel 7. Ladd believes the “crucial exegetical question is what the seven heads are intended to represent.” He considers the “easiest solution” is that the Beast is the Roman Empire. However, he thinks that trying to link the seven heads to seven Roman emperors leads to “exegetical difficulties.” He points to “early Christian eschatology” that understood the Antichrist/Beast would appear at the end of the age. Also, he considers that some of the “features” of the Beast and the second beast (13:11-17) are “in no way consonant with Rome’s rule.” He concludes that the Beast is the “eschatological Antichrist who was foreshadowed…[by] Rome…and…other totalitarian states…”
Ladd understands the “blasphemous name upon its heads” to be when “the beast wears the name of deity upon his heads, demanding the worship of men…” He cites parallels in Daniel 7:25, Matthew 24:15, and II Thessalonians 2:4. He describes some of the “precursors” of this “self-deification,” especially among the Roman emperors. This reached its most blatant form in the first century in the emperor Domitian, who “demanded that he be addressed as [Lord and God].” I do not believe that the “blasphemous name” or “names” on the Beast necessarily are claims to deity. They may be some sort of slogan or catch-phrase or logo that contradicts the Judeo-Christian world view and understanding of God. It may be the kind of phrase that will contribute to the popularity of the Beast as he climbs his way to the top. Yet, within its ability to draw people to this man, there is an implicit rebellion against God. (Ladd, 177-178)
13:2 He notes the combination of the four beasts of Daniel 7 all in the singular Beast of Revelation 13. Thus, the Beast has the “characteristics which have been manifested in successive world empires.” Regarding the second part of the verse, he remarks that the Beast not only has political and military power, but it also “is the embodiment of satanic evil.” (Ladd, 178)
13:3 He considers the “redivivus myth” that is mentioned above in reviews of other commentators. Ladd rejects the view that this verse is an reference to that myth. His reason is quite involved, and he explains it further (but not much more clearly) in comments on chapter 17. “The fatal objection to this view [that verse 13:3 refers to a dead Roman emperor who is brought back to life] is that it is not only one of the heads of the beast which is slain, but the beast himself…” I must confess uncertainty in my interpretation of Ladd. My best guess is the following: Those who say that verse 13:3 refers to a dead Roman emperor are assuming the seven heads of the beast represent the succession of Roman emperors. Then, a single wound to a single head would mean the death of a single emperor. However, the fact that entire Beast of the symbolic system is killed means that there was not a single component of the symbol (a head) that was killed. Rather, the entire symbolic system is pictured as dying and being revived. This would mean the entire Roman Empire would die. This is not consistent with the history of the first and second centuries. (Ladd, 178-179)
13:4 He says that the first part of the verse reveals the ultimate “character and purpose of the beast.” That purpose is “diverting” people from worshiping God. He understands that Beast-worship is the focus and the outcome is Satan worship. In other words, he does understand from this verse two separate, conscious kinds of worship, one of the Beast and one of Satan. (Ladd, 179)
13:5 He points out that the mouth “was given” to the Beast. This suggests his power was not his own but was given to him by the dragon. The 42-month period is “symbolic” of the “entire period” of persecution of the church, but especially of the great tribulation. (Ladd, 179-180)
13:6 He defines blasphemy, first, by denying it is to “curse.” Rather, it is “here…the exaltation of a human claim over the claim of God upon man’s loyalty and worship.” Although this is a possible interpretation, which various interpreters seem to hold, I think that it dismisses the notion that this person could have more than one sin. Certainly his self-exaltation and claim to be God is blasphemy, but such a person may also utter also sorts of insults toward God. He defines those who dwell in heaven as “those whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).” (Ladd, 180)
13:7 He asserts that the primary purpose of the Beast is to “turn men away from Christ, which he attempts by fierce persecution.” His victory over the saints is not in succeeding at “apostatizing them.” Rather, he is successful in his fierce campaign of persecution. Ladd cites 15:2 as proof that, in fact, the saints’ “martyrdom was their victory.” Ladd denies that the Roman Empire fulfills the description of the Beast’s “world-wide sovereignty.” In his justification, he refers to the fact that the persecution by first-century emperors was of “limited scope.” However, it seems that Ladd’s focus ignores the point of the statement in the verse. That point appears to me to be that the Beast exercises world-wide military and political power, not world-wide persecution. Yet, Ladd focuses on whether the emperors’ persecutions were world-wide. (Ladd, 180-181)
13:8 He points out that Jews were exempt from emperor worship. He uses this to justify his contrast of the Roman emperors with the Beast, since the Beast demands all to worship him. Ladd seems to be very conscious of the Preterists in his comments. Ladd accepts the understanding that “before the foundation of the world” modifies “written” and not “slain.” The statement is assurance to the saints of the “keeping providence of God” in the face of persecution. He notes that the reference to Jesus as “slain” points to His redemptive work but also to the fact that He “has led the way” to the cross and persecution. (Ladd, 181-182)
13:9-10 He notes the various translations and their consequent meanings. He favors the idea that the latter part declares that those who “take up the sword against the people of God will meet their retribution…” However, endurance is needed to hold to “unswerving faith that God is still God…” (Ladd, 182)
13:1 He describes the chapter as presenting “two of Satan’s agents,” who, along with the dragon “comprise a counterfeit trinity.” The Beast of 13:1-10 “symbolizes the Roman Empire, which in John’s day was the embodiment of Antichrist.” (Metzger, 75)
13:6 He believes that emperor worship in the Roman Empire is the blasphemy of the Beast. (Metzger, 75)
I am introducing a new commentary (see the list of references) in this post (new to me). It is a compendium of ancient commentaries. Most of these commentators lived and wrote in the first five centuries of the church. His book is part of a series under the general editorship of Thomas Oden. It is a collection of comments from ancient writers. I have given brief summaries below of those who made comments on chapter 13. I find that some of these writers view the chapter, not as eschatology but rather as a commentary on evil. In some cases they employ extreme allegorical methods of interpretation. More than one interpreter understands the Beast of 13:1-10 to be the devil. One, in fact, considers the “devil” to be a demonic being subservient to Satan, who he sees as the chief instigator of evil. Others approach the chapter with an eschatological viewpoint. They consider the first Beast of the passage as the future antichrist. In the following summaries, the dates (all AD) are sometimes the span of the person’s life and sometimes a rough time of the flourishing of the author.(Weinrich, 197-203)
Andrew of Caesarea (525): This commentator interprets the chapter eschatologically. He recognizes the correspondence between elements of the chapter to elements of Daniel.
13:1 He cites Hippolytus (222-235) and Methodius (311) as considering the Beast of 13:1-10 as the “antichrist who comes from the tumultuous and rough sea of this life.” The ten horns “signify the division of the earthly government at the end of time into ten [parts].”
13:2 He follows Daniel 7 to identify the symbolism of the various animals. The leopard symbolizes the Greeks, the bear symbolizes the Persians, and the lion symbolizes the Babylonians. He believes that the antichrist will be “a king of the Romans…and will destroy their empires…” He refers to the vision/dream in Daniel 2, which is a statue of a man with feet of clay and iron: the feet represent the “weak and brittle kingdom” of the Romans which the antichrist will destroy.
13:3-4 He believes that the wound in one of the Beast’s heads means “one of his lieutenants, having been put to death, deceptively seems to be raised again by him through his sorcery…similar to Simon the magician…” Alternatively, he proposes that the verse refers to a division in the Roman Empire that is healed by a “unified rule…”
13:5-6 He understands the 42 months to be the period during which the antichrist is allowed to “blaspheme God and to harm the saints.” The dwelling of God is the “Word in the flesh,” who is Christ “as well as his repose among the saints…” against whom the antichrist will direct his blasphemy.
13:9-10 He believes that a person who means harm to his neighbor “will be captured by the devil and will undergo the death of his soul by the satanic sword.”
Caesarius of Arles (470-543): For the most part he interprets the chapter as a commentary on the evils the church faces, especially heresy. He does, however, recognize the 42 months as the period of the last persecution.
13:1 The Beast “signifies all impious who are the body of the devil.” That is, just as the church is the body of Christ, the impious are the body of the devil.
13:2 The animals he interprets as the following characterizations of the devil: the leopard represents the “variety of nations”; the bear is the devil’s maliciousness and madness; and the lion represents the “strength of his body and the haughtiness of his mouth.” He turns his focus from the antichrist of the last days to the heretics of his own day, “who have the power of the devil [in this case, the dragon].”
13:3-4 He believes the mortal wound “seems” to be there because the heretics appear to believe. He also proposes an alternative theory that the heretics are the ones who are wounded by the “catholics” “for they are suppressed by the testimonies of the Scriptures.” He cites as evidence that the dragon gave authority to the beast the fact that the “heretics possess power, especially the Arians.”
13:5-6 He believes the 42 months are the period of the last persecution. The blasphemy he believes comes from false believers within the church who “openly blaspheme” when persecution comes. The dwelling of God represents the church.
Irenaeus (135-202): The comments from this very early church father are quite limited. He does recognize the antichrist as an eschatological person: He quotes the entire chapter as a description of the antichrist (see footnote 3 in Weinreich, 197). The antichrist “concentrates in his own person the apostasy…sitting in the temple of God, his dupes will adore him as the Christ. Therefore he shall deservedly ‘be cast into the lake of fire’…” He also references II Thessalonians 2:11-12.
Oecumenius (c. 550): He creates an extensive interpretation of the chapter which ignores eschatological implications. He believes that there are “three beasts.” The leader is the dragon of chapter 12. He is the leader of the “devil,” which is described in 13:1-10. Finally, the third beast (about which he says little) is the antichrist, which is described in 13:11ff. He interprets the career of the “devil” largely in the past tense (see 13:3-4 below).
13:1 He identifies the dragon as Satan and the beast of 13:11ff as the antichrist. The second beast—of 13:1-10—he identifies as the “devil.” The “devil” ascends out of the sea, which represents “the troubled, unstable life of people who have elected him to be their master.”
13:2 The dragon is referred to as the “apostate dragon” who is “the instigator and the teacher of his work [that is, those of the devil—a lesser demonic being in this understanding].” He believes the various animals symbolize characteristics of the devil. The leopard symbolizes its “ability to turn quickly…to form devious plans.” The bear represents the devil’s “sturdy and steadfast” characteristics. The lion refers to the description of the devil in I Peter 5:8.
13:3-4 The demonic creature (the devil of 13:1-10), he says, was wounded in one of his heads when Israel was worshiping reverently. When Israel turned to idolatry, this healed his wound.
13:5-6 He believes the “mouth” was given to the Beast by those who worshiped him. He refers to the arrogance described in Isaiah 14:12ff. Isaiah “here is lampooning him…” The 42 months “indicates a short time.” The dwelling of God he considers to be the “holy angels, since God dwells among them.”
13:7-8 In his commentary on these verses, it becomes clear that he is seeing the activity of the “devil” throughout history. So, the universal worship of the Beast, or devil, is a development of history. The exceptions to the universal worship were a few, “such as Job…Melchizedek, and from Israel the holy prophets and they who gave a pious witness in the Old Testament.” These had their names written in heaven. The protection of God over them is “the significance of the fact that the book is sealed.” He cites Luke 10:20 as a reference to this book.
13:9-10: He states that whoever brings people into captivity will be “captured by the beast and will desert willingly to him.” And the murderer “will die a spiritual death by worshiping the devil.”
Primasius (550): His comments are limited (see below). He has a somewhat eschatological approach. He also displays some bizarre exegetical techniques.
13:5-6 He understands the 42 months to be the “quality of the present age.” He also believes it stands for the “final persecution.” His exegesis to prove this is rather contrived, as follows: There are 10 commandments and four major directions; multiply these together to get forty. Add the “two commandments of love” to get 42. The church is protected by these commandments as an eagle, which carries the church into the desert for 1,260 days, or 42 months. He concurs with some others that the dwelling of God is the church. He proposes another theory that the dwelling or temple of God refers to the “glorified trophy of the body of Christ.”
13:7-8: The antichrist hopes to supplant Christ by force or fraudulent means. He asks the question: why is it surprising for Christ—who temporarily gave power to his persecutors—to allow evil persons to attack the church?
Tyconius (330-390): He has limited comments on this passage. He does have an eschatological approach.
13:1 “The beast that rises from the sea refers to the body of the devil…” His body appears to be the group of people who follow him.
13:3-4 He believes the antichrist will feign or claim that he has been resurrected. As a consequence all earth-dwellers follow him. He understands the earth-dwellers to be those who are “earthly.”
Victorinus of Petrovium (300): His approach is eschatological. Note in his comments on 13:3-4 below that he subscribes to the Nero redivivus theory.
13:2 He understands the passage refers to “that time,” the last days and that the Beast of 13:1-10 refer to the antichrist or his kingdom. The leopard represents “the variety of nations,” The bear is a “strong and filthy beast,” the lion is “armed by teeth intended for blood,”
13:3-4 He believes the healing of the mortal wound is a reference to Nero. He thinks that he will be received by the Jews as their Messiah. He will “pose as a defender of the law” to them, but only demand circumcision of the Christians.
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