Scholars have long noted that the two beasts of Rev. 13 are a recapitulation of the Leviathan and Behemoth motif found in the Old Testament and intertestamental literature. These beasts are symbols of chaos and evil and form bookends capping the Israelite view of history. At the beginning of history, they represent the chaos which God overcame when He established the ordered cosmos. In the course of history, their continued subjugation by God serves to remind humans of God’s power, and their own weakness. At the end of history, they are destroyed in the eschatological battle and judgement: their death represents God’s final act to judge and annihilate evil from His kingdom; they are served as food for His saints at the marriage-supper of the Lamb.
St John took this motif primarily from Daniel, but it can be found in the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and elsewhere. The precise meaning of the images in Daniel and John’s reworking of them has plagued interpreters since they were first penned. Some have come to the conclusion that they are generic symbols of spiritual and human evil, without specific identification.
We can, nonetheless, draw some conclusions about what St John was saying, while also asking questions about how we approach the interpretation of this passage. The broad brushstrokes tell us that the beast from the sea is a political and military entity that oppresses Christians, while the beast from the earth is a religious figure. Preterists have understood the first beast as Nero and the Roman Empire, while they have interpreted the second beast as the priests of the imperial cult, since the second beast promotes worship of the first beast.
This analysis leads to some important exegetical questions. Are there historical figures which these beasts represent? Does a historical interpretation exclude a futurist one? Do both of the beasts represent specific human figures? There have been disagreements regarding the last question: some have seen the first beast as symbolic only of an empire(s), with the second beast being the Antichrist figure, while others have seen the first beast as representing both the Antichrist and his empire, with the second beast representing a religious figure who supports him.
Many adherents of the “Islamic Antichrist Theory” identify the first beast as a revived caliphate, led by the Mahdi, while they see the second beast as an imposter, pretending to be the “Muslim Jesus”, i.e. the Jesus of the Qur’an and Hadith, rather than the Jesus of the Bible. For more information on this theory, see The Islamic Antichrist, Mideast Beast, and Mystery Babylon, by Joel Richardson.
The text seems to indicate that an empire and/or its ruler is revived: “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (v. 3, KJV). Some preterists have argued that this is a reference to “Nero redivivus”, the popular myth that Nero had survived his downfall and the imposters who claimed to be “Nero alive again”. Others have interpreted this as a resurrection (or resurrection stunt) perpetrated by the Antichrist as his challenge to the true Christ.
Some have taken the beast from the earth as the revival of the first beast, understanding the earth as a reference to the grave or “abyss” from which the empire re-emerges. While this reading is certainly possible, verse 12 seems to indicate that the two beasts are simultaneous, not sequential: “And [the second beast] exercises all the power of the first beast in its presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell on it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.”
I could go on, but I wish to end this post by discussing its application and relevance.
- Evil may appear triumphant, but it will be destroyed: the Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire.
- Christians face persecution from the state, but also religious seduction. Sometimes this comes from other religions, sometimes this comes from within Christianity.
- Sometimes Christians must die for their faith – particularly when the alternative is apostasy. Unrepentant apostates will end up in Hell (Rev. 14:9-10).
- There is a spiritual dimension to our struggle: Satan gives authority to the Beast and lying miracles for the False Prophet to perform.
- The woes of the Middle East are not going away anytime soon: scholars have always identified the beasts of Dan. 7, which John fuses as the composite beast of Rev. 13, as empires of the Middle East, viz.: Babylon; Medo-Persia; Alexander and his successors.
Bosco the Immaculate said:
I used to firmly believe4 the Beast was the Catholic church. Why, because its wound was healed and the world wondered after the Beast. Fourtytwo months it killed the saints.Fourtytwo months is 1260 days. A day being a year in bible talk. Help me with the math……somewhere around 350 AD the CC had some council that formally established the CC, and it wore out the saints(bible believers) for exactly 1260 yrs to the day that good brother Napoleon had the Pope arrested and brought to France where he died. The Pope was arrested in 1798. From the founding of the CC in 350 give or take a few yrs, to 1798 is 1260 yrs. The CC was a paper tiger at that point. It was finished, dead, kaput. Its wound was healed in 1929 by Mussolini when he gave the CC back its autonomy, the ownership of Vatican ground. It was its own country again.
But re reading the book of Rev, which I do regularly, ive changed my mind. I am convinced that chapter 13 hasn’t happened yet. its for the future. That’s why we are having trouble deciphering it. Its impossible to understand it because its in the future and events that happened haven’t happened.
Those, like good brother Mark Shea, think Nero is the subject. Vain attempt to get the CC off the hook. Too bad….God says, thru John, that the book and its goings on is for the end times. Nero was 2000 yrs ago, silly ninnys.
Years ago I came across the theory of the 1260 days being the Catholic supremacy up to Napoleon, but as soon as I saw it was advocated by 7th Day Adventists, I threw it out. I don’t see the Catholic Church as one of the “bad guys” in Revelation. I am firmly convinced that the woman riding the beast in Revelation 17-18 is (Saudi) Arabia. I will change my mind if someone can persuade me, but this analysis fits best. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you read Mystery Babylon by Joel Richardson. Besides, you should support his ministry, he supports evangelism in the Middle East.
Bosco the Immaculate said:
I tossed the catholic supremacy because the Beast rules the whole world, not just Europe. But don’t worry, the Vatican is described with deadly accuracy later on.
Ill search Joel Richardson and see what he has to say. I heard some rumblings about the Arab stated, UAR in particular, might be where the Beast and the man of Sin originate. But, its anyones guess. If one is alive when this goes down, your goose is cooked. The saints(the body of Christ) has been taken from the earth befor the start of all this. It will be a much different world after that event.
Well, I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to live through some of those horrors, but somebody has to. Our job is to preach the Gospel until Christ returns.
Bosco the Immaculate said:
Our job is to preach the Gospel until Christ returns
That’s it. That’s the job of the saved. be watchmen. Sound the alarm. Preach the everlasting gospel. Tell the good news.
yes, many, nay, most of the people alive now will go thru the trib. yet there is one way for salvation. That is to be arrested and beheaded. And to take the Mark bans one from salvation. Older people and young families will take the Mark in order to buy and sell and work. Those who happen to know taking the mark will damn them will trust the Lord to feed them. But they will have to be beheaded. Im not sure if each and every new believer has to be beheaded. Bible isn’t clear on that. The 144,000 jews will continue to preach the gospel during the trib. This is all to much to fathom. I cant even begin to see how this all will look. But the earth will be plunged into old testament times. This is whats called the “70th Week of Daniel” Im glad the the people who imagine a vain thing will drink of the cup of the Wrath of the Lamb. Some reading my words will live to drink of this cup.
Bosco, thank you so much for showing why the Eastern Church refused to accept Revelation as canonical. It did so because it was convinced that it could lead the mentally unstable astray and that they would come up with weird theories – your ones are certainly that.
I have lost count, historically, of the number of nut-cases who thought they would live to see the Second Coming. No one but the Father knows, Jesus told us that, and yet in defiance of his clear word you indulge in futile speculation and thing mere numbers will tell you what Jesus told you is hidden from all except the Father.
You claim to believe the Bible, and yet you clearly don’t believe Jesus when he says no one but the Father knows the hour. You and every other nut-case for centuries think you know better than Jesus. You don’t, and I can only hope for your sake that after death you don’t get too nasty a shock.
Bosco the Immaculate said:
Uh, thanks, I think.
I was brought up in the movement (Stayed there till I was 21) that is credited with inventing dispensationalism with its secret rapture theory, following which the Jews (It is said) will preach the gospel (One old church member thought it would be like 144,000 Billy Grahams at that time). It was then popularized through the Scofield Reference Bible.
I do not give any thought to trying to apply current affairs to the prophecy of Revelation. An example is some past foolishness about Revelation 9:10. Commentaries have said the locusts with tails that sting like scorpions were the Italian warplanes that had rear guns; previously they were the guns of the Turks being towed and pointing backward (I guess the British guns were excluded for some other reason).
The number of the Beast 666 (Greek) or as in some texts 616 (Latin) numerically equalling Nero is too much of a coincidence I think.
The friend that mentored me is currently writing a commentary on Revelation. I rather like an analogy he has used. “When you throw a stone into a pond you get immediate local ripples but they spread till they reach the edge of the pond.”
His meaning is that there was a more localized historic meaning and probably and end of the age interpretation encompassing the whole world. Elaborating on this we can think of Christ the stone that enters our world causing initial violent opposition this may well be a worldwide phenomenon before we enter into the consummation in the age to come.
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I agree, it is always good to look at the historical context in which a book was composed. I would be interested to read your friend’s book when it comes out. There are a lot of commentaries out there, and it can be difficult to find one that is scholarly and readable.
The commentary is being written by Roger Forster who initiated the Ichthus movement in London. He did his theology initially in Cambridge. He is now in his 80s leaving his writing till later in life having been through life (and continuing) concentrating on church planting and training church planters,. I will keep you informed about the book.
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Thanks Rob. Have you ever considered writing a book on missional matters?
No, I think there are other much more able. I see myself as just a very ordinary Joe blog Christian.
I am much more at home talking off the cuff. When Ido so I mingle many experiences along with scripture and other have told me I should write about the experiences. Just do not know how to structure that what theme to build around. It’s all been God’s grace with many failures, trials, stresses, and family disappointments, besides a depressive breakdown for 8 years included. But some remarkable events of the Lord’s activity.
I feel there was much greater potential that I failed to take up due to personal insecurity.
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