The Beast from the

The Roman Empire is symbolized in Revelation as a ravenous, ferocious animal, untamed and under the Curse. John says its appearance was like a leopard, a bear, and a lion

(Rev. 13:2)—the very animals used to describe the first three of the four great world empires in Daniel 7:1-6 (Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece; cf. Daniel's description of the same empires under a different symbol, in Dan. 2:31-45). The fourth empire, Rome, partakes of the evil, beast-like characteristics of the other empires, but it is much worse: "Behold, a fourth Beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns" (Dan. 7:7). The Beast of Revelation is clearly the Roman Empire.

This Beast, however, is not just an institution, but a person; specifically, as we shall see, the Emperor Nero. How could this symbol have referred to both the Empire and the Emperor? Because, in a sense (particularly the way the Bible looks at things), the two could be considered as one. Rome was identified with its leader; the Empire was embodied in Nero. Thus the Bible can shift back and forth between them, or consider them both together, under the same designation. And both Nero and the Empire were sunk in degrading, degenerate, bestial activities. Nero, who murdered numerous members of his own family (including his pregnant wife, whom he kicked to death); who was a homosexual, the final stage in degeneracy (Rem. 1:24-32); whose favorite aphrodisiac consisted of watching people suffer the most horrifying and disgusting tortures; who dressed up as a wild beast in order to attack and rape male and female prisoners; who used the bodies of Christians burning at the stake as the original "Roman candles" to light up his filthy garden parties; who launched the first imperial persecution of Christians at the instigation of the Jews, in order to destroy the Church; this animalistic pervert was the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth. And he set the tone for his subjects. Rome was the moral sewer of the world.

Let's consider what the Book of Revelation tells us about Nero/Rome, the Beast. First, John saw him "coming up out of the sea" (Rev. 13:1). In a visual, dramatic sense, of course, the mighty Roman Empire did seem to arise out of the sea, from the Italian peninsula across the ocean. More than this, however, there is the Biblical symbolism of the sea. At the original creation, the earth was a fluid, formless, uninhabitable mass of darkness, which the light of the Spirit "overcame" (Gen. 1:2; John 1:5). Obviously, there was no real conflict between God and His creation; in the beginning, everything was "very good." The sea is most fundamentally an image of life. But after the Fall, the picture of the raging deep is used and developed in Scripture as a symbol of the world in chaos through the rebellion of men and nations against God: "The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud" (Isa. 57:20; cf. 17: 12). Thus John is told later that "the waters which you saw . . . are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (Rev. 17:15). Out of this chaotic, rebellious mass of humanity emerged Rome, an entire empire founded on the premise of opposition to God.

Second, John saw that the Beast had "ten horns and seven heads" (Rev. 13:1), in the image of the Dragon (12:3), who gives the Beast "his power and his throne and great authority" (13:2). The ten horns (powers) of the Beast are explained in Revelation 17:12 in terms of the governors of the ten imperial provinces, while the seven heads are explained as the line of the Caesars (17:9-11): Nero is one of the "heads" (we will return to this in the following chapter).

Third, "on his heads were blasphemous names" (13:1). As we have already seen, the Caesars were gods. Each emperor was called Augustus or Sebastos, meaning One to be worshiped; they also took on the name divus (god) and even Deus and Theos (God). Many temples were erected to them throughout the Empire, especially, as we have seen, in Asia Minor. The Roman Caesars received honor belonging only to the one true God; Nero commanded absolute obedience, and even had an image of himself built, 120 feet high. For this reason Paul called Caesar "the man of sin"; he was, Paul said, "the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2 Thess. 2:3-4). John emphasizes this aspect of the Beast: "And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies. . . . And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His Name and His tabernacle, those who tabernacle in heaven" The Christians were persecuted precisely because they refused to join in this idolatrous Emperor-cult.

Fourth, John saw "one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed" (13 :3). Some have pointed out that, after Nero was killed, the rumor began to spread that he would rise again and recapture the throne; in some way, they suppose, John must be referring to that myth. This, it seems to me, is a very unsatisfactory method of dealing with Scripture. John mentions the Beast's "death-wound" three times in this passage (see v. 12, 14); clearly, this is much more than a casual symbol, and we should attempt a Biblical explanation for it.

The Beast, as we saw, resembles the Dragon. The fact that he receives a head wound should make us think of the scene in the Garden of Eden, when God promised that Christ would come and crush the Dragon's head (Gen. 3:15). Daniel had prophesied that in the days of the Roman rulers, Christ's Kingdom would crush the Satanic empires and replace them, filling the earth. Accordingly, apostolic testimony proclaimed that Christ's Kingdom had come, that the devil had been defeated, disarmed, and bound, and that all nations would begin to flow toward the mountain of the Lord's House. Within the first generation, the gospel spread rapidly around the world, to all the nations; churches sprang up everywhere, and members of Caesar's own household came into the faith (Phil. 4:22). In fact, Tiberius Caesar even formally requested that the Roman Senate officially acknowledge Christ's divinity. For a time, therefore, it looked as if a coup were taking place: Christianity was in the ascendant, and soon would gain control. Satan's head had been crushed, and with it the Roman Empire had been wounded to death with the sword (Rev. 13:14) of the gospel.

But then the tables were reversed. Although the gospel had spread everywhere, so had heresy and apostasy; and under per- "

by the Jews and the Roman State, great masses of Christians began falling away. The New Testament gives the definite impression that most of the churches fell apart and abandoned the faith; under Nero's persecution, the Church seemed to have been stamped out entirely. The Beast had received the head-wound, the wound unto death - yet it still lived. The reality, of course, was that Christ had defeated the Dragon and the Beast; but the implications of His victory still had to be worked out; the saints had yet to overcome, and take possession (Dan. 7:21-22; Rev. 12:11).

Fifth, "the whole Land wondered after the Beast; and they worshiped the Dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the Beast, saying, 'Who is like the Beast, and who is able to make war against him?' " (13:3-4). John is not speaking of the world following the beast; the word he uses here should be translated Land, meaning Israel. We know this because the context identifies his worshipers as those who dwell on the Land (Rev. 13:8, 12, 14) — a technical phrase used several times in Revelation to denote apostate Israel. In the Greek Old Testament (the version used by the early Church), it is a common prophetic expression for rebellious, idolatrous Israel about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Jer. 1:14; 10:18; Ezek. 7:7; 36:17; Hos. 4:1, 3; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Zeph. 1:8), based on its original usage in the historical books of the Bible for rebellious, idolatrous pagans about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Num. 32:17; 33:52, 55; Josh. 7:9; 9:24; Jud. 1:32; 2 Sam. 5:6; 1 Chron. 11:4; 22:18; Neh. 9:24). Israel had become a nation of pagans, and was about to be destroyed, exiled, and supplanted by a new nation. It is true, of course, that Nero was loved all over the Empire as the benevolent provider of welfare and entertainment. But it is Israel in particular which is condemned for Emperor-worship. Faced with a choice between Christ and Caesar, they had proclaimed: We have no king but Caesar! (John 19:15). Their reaction to Caesar's apparently victorious war against the Church (Rev. 11:7) was awe and worship. Israel sided with Caesar and the Empire against Christ and the Church. Ultimately, therefore, they were worshiping the Dragon, and for this reason Jesus Himself called their worship assemblies synagogues of Satan (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).

Sixth, the Beast was given "authority to act for forty-two months" (13: 5), "to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (13 :7). The period of 42 months (three-and-one-half years - a broken seven) is a symbolic figure in prophetic language, signifying a time of sadness, when the enemies of God are in power, or when judgment is being poured out (taken from the period of drought between Elijah's first appearance and the defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel). Its prophetic usage is not primarily literal, although it is interesting that Nero's persecution of the Church did in fact last a full 42 months, from the middle of November 64 to the beginning of June 68.

Seventh, John provided his readers with a positive identification of the Beast: "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the Beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is 666" (13:18). There are several significant aspects of this strange number; we will examine only two of them here.

The first point is that the Old Testament has already told us about 666. It is found in the books of the Kings and the Chronicles, surely some of the most neglected books of the Bible. Interestingly, however, John takes many of his symbolic numbers from them (for one example, compare 1 Chron. 24:1-19 with Rev.

These historical writings tell us that Solomon (a Biblical type of both Christ and the Beast) received 666 talents of gold in one year, at the height of his power and glory (1 Kings 10:14; 2 Chron.

That number marks both the high point of his reign and the beginning of his downfall; from then on, everything goes downhill into apostasy. One by one, Solomon breaks the three laws of godly kingship recorded in Deuteronomy 17:16-17: against multiplying gold (1 Kings 10:14-25), against multiplying horses (1 Kings 10:26-29), and against multiplying wives (1 Kings 11:1-8). For the Hebrews, 666 was a fearful sign of apostasy, the mark of both a king and a State in the Dragon> image.

The second point to consider about the number 666 is this. In both Greek and Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet is also a numeral (see the table of numerals at the end of this chapter). Thus, the "number" of anyone's name could be computed by simply adding up the numerical value of its letters. Clearly, John expected that his contemporary readers were capable of using this method to discover the Beast's name — thus indicating, again, the contemporary message of Revelation; he did not expect them to figure out the name of some 20th-century official in a foreign government. At the same time, however, he tells them that it will not be as easy as they might think: it will require someone "who has understanding." For John did not give a number that could be worked out in Greek, which is what a Roman official scanning Revelation for subversive content would expect. The unexpected element in the computation was that it had to be worked out in Hebrew, a language which at least some members of the churches would know. His readers would have guessed by now that he was speaking of Nero, and those who understood Hebrew probably grasped it instantly. The numerical values of the Hebrew letters in Neron Kesar (Nero Caesar) are:

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