THE KING BEAST
Who is the Beast? Better yet, in chapter 13 we might ask, “Who are the Two Beasts?” Growing up in the eighties I heard Mikhail Gorbachev could be the Antichrist, due to the birthmark on his forehead and being that he was leader of the Soviet Union, who was depicted as being “the enemy” of America. I also heard Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States could be this “man of perdition” because he had six letters in each of his names. In my own ignorance of the fact that the Book of Revelation was an allegorical writing, I too had sadly attributed that dishonor to some other men of whom I wasn’t very fond, and I have since repented. That is slander. God hates slander and never intended this allegorical figure, who is representative of the “spirit of Antichrist” to be attributed to any one person that He died for.
But who is this Beast rising from out of the sea, and who is this Beast rising from out of the earth? And what is the difference between the two?
THE BEAST FROM THE SEA
“Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.”
At the end of Revelation 13 we are confronted with the imagery of the Mark of the Beast. But Revelation 13 opens with Two Beasts: One rising from the sea (13:1-10) and another rising from the earth (13:11-18).
So we have a beast from the sea and characteristics of all four of Daniel’s beasts are blended together in this one final Beast. Babylon was the first beast in Daniel. But now the name Babylon is spiritually reapplied to all the beasts blended together in this sort of future Babylon. Of course as in Daniel, after the beast comes the Son of Man and his Kingdom. The Beast here in verse one is described like the Beast of chapter 12. This upcoming Beast with the same appearance is the offspring of that Beast that we know as Satan. This offspring is Satan’s kingdom, through which he operates and deceives. So in essence, you have THE Beast (Satan), the Beast’s offspring (the world system), and the Beast’s prophet of deception (the false church).
In Jewish tradition, Daniel’s fourth beast was Rome, and in this period they were very adamant about that, because it was the fourth empire to subdue Israel (4 Ezra 12). From Patmos, Ephesus, or Judea, Rome comes from the sea. Rome came from the sea in 4 Ezra 11. The sand of the seashore in verse one represents the nations over whom the beast rules, which is explained in Revelation 20:8. The sea, as we covered in chapter 12, is the location of the allegorical mythical beast that God slew in the Exodus narrative, called Leviathan; a beast (in that case Egypt) that sought to destroy God’s covenant people of that day. Rome was the beast of the period here in the first century. Metaphor and hyperbole are dominant tools use by the biblical authors in biblical writings. When you see a devout, literalistic interpretation of these, you are witnessing deception and spiritual blindness in those who do.
4 Ezra 12:11-13 “The eagle which you saw coming up from the sea is the fourth kingdom which appeared in a vision to your brother Daniel. But it was not explained to him as I now explain or have explained it to you. Behold, the days are coming when a kingdom shall arise on earth, and it shall be more terrifying than all the kingdoms that have been before it.”
Artifact of an Imperial Roman Eagle
“Blasphemous names” speaks of the arrogance and boasting of God’s enemies in Daniel 7:8, 20, much like the slander against God and the saints we will see in Revelation 13:6. This same language was used for early enemies of God, even though they weren’t called “Antichrists”, they were still the same spirit embodied, such as the aforementioned Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero Caesar, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Domitian, and the like. John wrote in his other work of 1 John that, “you have heard that an Antichrist is coming, but even now there are many Antichrists.” On Roman coins Caesar was called “Son of God” and “God.” Domitian demanded to be referred to as “Lord” and as “God.”
John tells us that this “Antichrist” is merely any person operating in the spirit of Antichrist. Anyone can operate as such, but the narrative is more specifically referring to world leaders. Why? Because the Beast is a representation of the world system and the Antichrist figure is representative of its leaders. Although all world leaders are worshiping the beast, because Jesus made it clear we cannot serve God and a world financial system, not all are bent on doing harm to God’s people. I can only think of one in the history of my country who in very recent years displayed that kind of ferocity for Christ’s people. The Dragon has those people, but he needs a false prophet to deceive those who seek Christ, to lure them into a trap of serving “another Jesus” of his making. (Galatians 1)
Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.
The Beast of the Sea is evocative of Daniel 7:3-8, where we have 4 beasts from the sea:
1) a winged lion, (known as a griffin in antiquity)
2) a hungry bear
3) a winged leopard,
4) a ten-horned beast more fierce than all others.
The Beast personified here differs from Daniel’s prophesied fourth beast, Rome. This beast John sees is a composite of all of Daniel’s beasts, implying an ongoing culmination of the attributes of these ancient empires that he sees combine to persecute the followers of Christ in the last days. Apart from the ten horns in verse 1, which are metaphorical for its oppressive power, with seven heads alluding to the completeness of it, in verse 2 it has attributes like a leopard, a bear, and a lion; symbols of the three powers that overtook Israel before Rome.
Composite descriptions in ancient writing were used to amplify glory, like we see with the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:10, but were also used to amplify hideousness, such as we saw with the demon locusts and again here with the Beast. In the Old Testament, the sea beast. Leviathan. represents not merely oppressing nations, but the system of spiritual evil standing behind the nations, and manifesting itself in successive world empires. Dan. 7:12 notes that when each of the first three world empires was defeated, their evil spiritual life continued to exist in the kingdom that followed: “As for the rest of the beasts [the first three], their dominion was taken away, but an “extension of life” was granted to them.”
So here, even though we identify the beast of John’s day with Rome, the inference of the allegory here is that this Beast is the spirit of evil empires, with Satan behind it all. It is an ongoing spirit bent on persecuting the people of God, which in the New Covenant includes only those who accept Jesus Christ and follow His commands.
And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the Beast.
This head (ruler) with a mortal wound refers to the fact that these kingdoms will rise and fall until Christ returns. The mortal wound in John’s day could be seen in Nero Caesar’s assisted suicide, which he committed after learning he had been tried and condemned to death as a public enemy, to be beaten to death by orders of the Senate.
As an armed horseman approached Nero’s place of hiding, he couldn’t kill himself and so forced his secretary, Epaphroditus to kill him. When the horseman entered and saw Nero dying, he attempted to stop the bleeding, but Nero perished.
Nero Caesar would light hundreds of Christians on fire at night to light up his imperial gardens to be seen, (as you can read about in Tacitus’s Annals 15:44.) He forced Poppaea Sabina to leave her husband to become his second wife. When he impregnated her, he went into a rage and kicked her to death. He would tie up noblemen and sexually assault them at will. He went out at night marauding and murdering for fun. He even killed his own mother, who was a demonic woman herself that had killed her husband and helped Nero obtain his throne. Nero even killed his mentors, Seneca and Burrus. Actually, he forced Seneca to commit suicide for having been a part of an assassination attempt on him. And Nero favored his older, cruel and calloused mentor, and homosexual boyfriend, Tigellinus. Tigellinus is believed to be the major influence behind Nero’s vicious antics, which has a historical record of extreme violence on innocent people without conscience himself.
But when it came to Christians, Nero would make it nearly impossible for anyone to earn a living and to have opportunity to pay for necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, if they would refuse to compromise Jesus Christ’s commands, and to serve his whims, and bow to the image in which he portrayed himself as god, or the son of god. Hence, this is where the imagery of the “Mark of the Beast” comes from. We will look at it more closely in the verses ahead.
After Nero’s death, first century Jews, Christians, and others sincerely believed Nero would return from the dead. When Domitian took power, they believe he was Nero risen, as his cruel behavior was just like Nero’s. Nero was the first imperial persecutor of Christians in his reign. Therefore he is the allusion used by John to embody the traits of the spirit of Antichrist. But the implications extend beyond Rome in the allegorical narrative. The point rendered is that this spirit will emerge in rulers from the time Jesus ascended, and Satan was confined to the earth, until Jesus returns at the Last Day (John 6:54).
So we see that there was an expectancy among people that Nero was still alive, or resurrected. This mortal wound “healed” is symbolic of this expectancy, and the fact that a successor indeed would arise continuing in the spirit of Nero, which was an unadulterated hatred for all things Christendom. This type of language was common to Rome. Claudius was referred to as another Germanicus, Tiberius another Augustus, and so on. In the New Testament writing, John the Baptist was another Elijah, based on certain perceived attributes. We see the same idea in the Jewish culture of the day where people are seen suggesting that Jesus was one of the old prophets, John Baptist, or Elijah as well. So it was a culturally associative train of thought.
There were actually two false Nero impersonators who arose between the death of Nero and the reign of Domitian. One of these impostors even conned the Parthians into following him into battle. So the expectancy of Nero’s return was extremely high among such superstitious cultures in that region. But again, John’s intended message was that this Antichrist spirit was present then, and will continue to be in the world, and appear in many wicked leaders until Christ returns. It is said that in the Armenian language to this day that “Nero Caesar” is a term used for the Antichrist. Though likely and possible that another world leader could rise up, as there has been one or many in nearly every generation since Christ ascended, I do believe there may possibly be a more intensified onslaught against the people of God just prior to Christ’s return. But that is not the intended point of the Book of Revelation. There doesn’t have to be anything more than what has been common, just a greater frequency of it leading up to His return.
So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”
This resurrected beast is a parody of the resurrected Lamb, and the ten horns of the beast a parody of the seven horns of the Lamb. “Who is like the Beast?!?!” the people cry here in verse 4, echoing Exodus 15:11, in a mockery of God…..
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
And they arrogantly ask, “Who is able to make war against him?!?” That answer is an obvious One: The King of kings and Lord of lords, which we’ll see more of in the comings chapters.
The compromising with paganism seen in the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 is alluded to here, as these people are “bowing to the Beast in worship.” This denotes symbolism of partaking in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life, in following suit and going along with the hustle and bustle of this world system and its pleasure, prosperity, and distractions. “Bowing to the Beast” in the light of scripture, means to not die to ourselves, this life, and its trappings. It means to not come out from among the world and be consecrated to Yahweh, as He has defined. It means to not give ourselves to doing the things of God, obeying the commands of God, and not being doers of the Word and work of God. In other words, doing what our culture dictates and letting it lead our thoughts, actions, finances, parenting, and time to serve everything but what is eternally rewarded. And as we will see, this Beast has a Messenger that he empowers to deceive many. The Dragon (Satan) has empowered the Sea Beast (the evil world kingdom) and it has in turn empowered the “Priest Beast” that has risen from out of the earth, as we will see in verses 11-18.
You see, it says that they worship not only the “Beast”, but the “Dragon”. In Imperial Rome, the people not only worshiped the emperor but also sacrificed unto their pagan deities on the emperor’s behalf. In the background of all of this stands something demonic: Helel, known as Satan. So the language is alluding to this kind of Roman parallel. We saw in chapters 2 and 3 what compromising to the culture looked like in this day. When we understand their context, then and only then can we rightly interpret the application to our own.
Revelation 13:5 And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.
This Beast was given an arrogant, blasphemous mouth. We foreshadowed this slanderous, blasphemous imagery in chapter 12 verse 15. And this Beast was allowed to exercise authority over the people of God for “42 months”, “1260 days”, ….”time, times, and half a time”, and so on and so forth. Again John uses Daniel’s reference of three and a half years in a non-literal, allusional reapplication.
Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.
Desecrating the Temple was something Caligula, an emperor in the 40’s A.D. was intent on accomplishing, but was prevented by his own assassination. Domitian’s elder brother Titus not only desecrated the Judaic Temple, but he destroyed it exactly as Christ had prophesied it would be done. But as we have already seen, application of the “Temple” under the New Covenant refers to the heavenly, new Temple: “the people of God”. So we see this Sea Beast, the world system slandering God’s people, which are His dwelling.
It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.
God permits and the Beast wars against God’s people for a period. Emperors portrayed themselves as great military leaders. But instead of warring against true external threats from other nations and empires, here they make war against a meek people who aren’t even fighting back? Yet Yahweh is Sovereign. Even the Antichrist image depicted in the book ends up being a pawn in his own defeat. This is a tactic that God uses repeatedly throughout the scripture, such as where the principalities, or evil gods were overthrown by Christ, through God setting up the gods of this world to kill Jesus on Calvary’s Hill. Paul said…..1 Corinthians 2:7-8
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
They walked into a trap and beat themselves!
Only God could allow the Devil to rule the nations. Revelation 17 tells us that it is God who puts it in his heart to do so. Daniel 4:32 says that it is God who gives out the kingdoms. It was God who gave all seventy nations of Genesis 10 to lower elohim (gods) to rule them, because of their unbelief and rebellion. God allows people to do the harmful things that they choose to do, but they’re still on a proverbial leash. God only allows things to extend so far. God authorizes agents of judgment, as we saw in chapter 6:8. The Beast is limited by God to a period of “forty-two months”, which as we saw is symbolic of the time of this age known as the Great Tribulation, or “Last Days.” But nevertheless, God limits his time. Every empire in history had a day of reckoning, and ultimately this final Beast empire of the Antichrist spirit will have its day of reckoning at the return of Jesus Christ.
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Remember the “Mark of the Beast” versus the “Seal of God” imagery in the chapters prior? Who worships the Beast? All who do not live according to Jesus Christ’s commands for His people, and in how He intended them to be interpreted. Only those loyal to Yahweh in denying to follow the flow of this life, are not among the numbers listed here. Whoever is not found written in the Book of Life are beast worshipers. In the Old Covenant we saw the “Book of Life”, but here in the New Covenant it is the Lamb’s Book of Life. There is an element of predestination spoken here, but does that mean God has chosen who goes to heaven and hell already? Of course not. It means that it has never been His intention for anyone to perish without Christ, but as verse 9 denotes, there is a personal responsibility to make our calling and election sure. We respond in faithfulness and loyalty to His kingdom way. We must follow. This Book of Life is kept by the Lamb who was foreordained to redeem humankind before man was ever created, as a precaution for the frailty of free will. Remember, the angel who became the dragon that we see alluded to in this book? He too had free will. He fell, and God knew beforehand that man too could fail.
The imagery of this perceived unity of the Beast System is temporal. It is short lived, as we will see in chapter 17 in the days ahead. Evil empires seek to force conformity. We see it clearly in Daniel 4, in many other scriptural examples, and even still in the world today in nations who oppress their people. Beast “unity” is achieved through propaganda, saying that it “owns the whole world.” Rome portrayed that in John’s day, but as history obviously declared, the kings of the east; the Parthians, didn’t belong to Rome. After all, if it were really true that Rome owned the world, why were they always on guard against such invaders? But people then and now allow themselves to be told what to believe and swallow the image portrayed by their own world leaders in their respective world countries, and more often than not are deceived. Church is no different.
But isn’t it all the “world system?” Does any of it surrender to Christ as He has commanded? Sure many name His name, but do we bear the fruit of His Spirit? No one can serve two masters. He will either love this world system, or deny it, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. There is no middle ground!
Revelation 13:9 – “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”
He that is able to hear the voice of God, let him understand what the Spirit is communicating. In other words, whomever Yahweh is still willing to speak to, because they fear his Word, let him heed the Word spoken.
He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
This is a paraphrase of Jeremiah 15:2 and Jeremiah 43:11 and a passage highly debated.
15:2- “And it will come to pass, if they say unto you, Whither shall we go forth? then you shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity”
43:11- “And when he comes, he will smite the land of Egypt, and deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword.”
Jeremiah prophesies here to Israel that God has destined them to go into “captivity” and to suffer from the “sword” as a penalty for their unbelief and sin. This obviously is not applicable to the saints of the New Testament. So John has reapplied this verse, as he has many others, to signify this book. The verse following Jeremiah 15:2, verse 3, mentions “beasts of the earth“, which gives a greater context that John may be drawing from, being that Revelation 13 is regarding plural beasts. “Beasts of the earth” are referenced in Ezekiel 14 as well, and alluded to in Revelation 6, the original dual idea of punishing unbelievers, and yet refining believers through suffering.
Throughout scripture we see God allow the suffering of His people through oppressive, evil empires. It produced holiness in His children and a dependency on Yahweh. At the same time he used this suffering of His faithful to bring defeat upon their enemies. Jesus Christ didn’t defeat Satan through retaliation in carnal warfare. He defeated Hell, Death, and the Grave through humble martyrdom. He used the hatred of the evil kingdom to blind them to His plan of redemption for mankind, the nations, and the earth back to Himself. In the ultimate chess move, Jesus Christ declared checkmate the moment that the spiritual princes of this world crucified him through the servants of fallen men.
THE PRIEST BEAST
In chapter 13 verses 1-10 we looked at the Beast from the Sea, the “king beast”, or the world Antichrist system, that was empowered and given its throne by the dragon, Satan. That beast is the dragon’s kingdom. But in verses 11-18, this beast comes from the earth. It is the beast’s priest, sort of an imperial priesthood or vehicle for its message of compromise to humanity, and more specifically God’s people. Being depicted from the “earth”, it would denote localized, indigenous paganism, and a personification of pagan cultic practices, rather than the Sea Beast, which in that day was the overall kingdom, Rome.
As we covered in prior chapters, Rome, the fourth Beast of Daniel, was the first Beast to persecute the church of Jesus Christ, under Nero Caesar. It was the most vicious of all of Daniel’s beasts. But John’s reapplication of Old Testament imagery is creating an allegorical mosaic of the final Beast, a compound of all prior empires, for the final age known as the last days, or the Great Tribulation. This time spans from Christ’s ascension to His return at the last day to set up His millennial Kingdom. We have seen the dragon, Satan, who is the hidden prince ruler behind the beast from the sea, his kingdom, the world system that is the opposite of Christ’s Kingdom. But here we see the priest of the beast system, and his message of compromise thru the rejection, or dilution of Christ’s living Word. The priest beast represents the voices in the world calling for even the slightest denials of Jesus. The message of Jesus to these Seven Churches was emphatic in saying: “DO NOT COMPROMISE TO THE CULTURE MACHINE. DO NOT LOVE YOUR LIVES, EVEN UNTO DEATH, AND I WILL RAISE YOU AT THE LAST TRUMPET.”
A large part of the world system’s false ministry is accomplished through a False Church speaking false doctrine. This is the priest of the beast, an allegorical character summating everything subtle and false. Just like we saw in chapters two and three, with the Churches, there were voices, not only in the outside culture of the church, but within it. A woman called “Jezebel”, which denoted people within that city church preaching compromise to the pagan culture around them. And we saw a group called the Nicolaitans who were teaching God’s people that “God was understanding of their hardships, and if they went along to get along with the culture, God would understand, because He knows they really don’t mean it in their hearts, they were just keeping peace in compromising to satisfy the pressures of the Beast system.”
All of it is lies and deception. Jesus commanded to be separate from the world, and not compromise, even if it meant death. And the picture Revelation is painting to the seven churches is for an example to every generation thereafter until He returns. Stand for Christ, even if it means losing everything!!!
“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.”
What is clear here is that there again is parody involved. In verse 11, this beast is said to have two horns “like a lamb.” The “two horns” allude to the ram in Daniel 8:3-
I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.
But here it is said to be like a lamb, yet this “lamb” speaks like a dragon. John is using allusion to the features of two opposite kingdom rulers: The Lamb, Christ, and the dragon, Satan. This horned lamb is a fake lamb that seeks to deceive by presenting itself as The Lamb. But its message gives it away when put in contrast to the true Word of God, who we see in Revelation 19:13…..
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
The True Lamb died in weakness and was resurrected by God’s power. But this fake lamb promotes a different resurrection message, declaring that the first (king) beast, Rome, has come back to life. Some people perceive the dragon and the two beasts as a type of satanic trinity.
“It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.”
The imagery of “worshiping the image of the beast” is familiar. Pliny, (also known as Pliny the Younger), governor of Bythinia in the early 2nd century, noted that Christians who refused to offer incense to the emperor were to be executed for what he called their “arrogance.” Also Domitian’s eight meter tall statue was erected in Ephesus around the year 90 A.D., and was a familiarity to those in Asia Minor. Nebuchadnezzar’s image was worshiped by all people in the book of Daniel, and probably serves as the best imagery here as to what the writer means by “image worship.” What is the contrast in the Word of God concerning such images for God’s people?
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
But unlike in Daniel’s story where his friends were supernaturally protected by God in the fiery furnace, many Christians died for refusing to bow to these images of the beast. This beast makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the image of the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. In 1st century context, it would have been Nero and Rome. But this system of Antichrist will continue to resurrect in world leaders until Christ returns.
“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”
Carving of Glycon, one of the the signs and lying wonders of Alexander the False Prophet in the days of Lucian of Samosata
We know there are true signs depicted in the book of Revelation. But here we are shown that there are also false signs, and deception, so discernment is an absolute must. In antiquity, sorcery was common, including trying to make statues move. We have a noted example from the early 2nd century, where Lucian of Samosata, a cynic philospher, tells of the false priest of Asclepius, Alexander of Abonoteichus, who made a “false god” speak by having something hidden behind a screen pumping air into the skin of a large African snake that he had fashioned a fabricated, realistic looking human head upon, and used horse hairs in which to wire the tongue and mouth to move, much like a modern ventriloquist doll. Just like charismaniacs today in some churches, Alexander’s deceived spectators gulped it down as “a move of god” when this concoction appeared to speak and declare to the people that Alexander was Zeus’s grandson. According to Lucian’s writings, the people stirred themselves up to believe before they ever arrived at the meeting. Alexander’s cult succeeded his death for nearly one century. History also tells us that some emperors used machines to simulate thunder and lightning before their people as an allusion that they were themselves, gods.. But in any case, this imagery is based on parody of God’s people. In Revelation 11, they had fire proceeding from their mouths, so John is depicting that the enemy uses imitation of God’s attributes to deceive men. But here in verse 13, the priest beast is depicted as calling down fire from heaven; mimicry of God’s power by false illusion. The priest beast projects an image, as if the first beast is revived from the dead. But notice there is no image to Christ being revived, because He has already risen and is seated at the right hand of power. He doesn’t have to “project” a power He doesn’t have, because He is the Almighty.
“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,”
The mark of the beast theories today are taken way out of context. To lay some background for how marks were used in the Old Testament, Ptolemy IV Philopater, according to 3rd Maccabees, branded Jews with the ivy leaf, Dionysus’ symbol. But more importantly there is a contrast with the righteous in chapter 7:3, and in Ezekiel 9:4-6, where the mark was meant to protect them from judgment. We see a mark like that in Genesis 4 that God placed upon Cain. Though Cain had been judged by God, God set a spiritual mark upon him to protect him from being killed by others for his crime in murdering his brother, and proudly rejecting God’s salvation. But these were symbolic marks only seen by God and angels, like we see in Ezekiel.
But why on the hand? In Ezekiel, it is only on the head. But the imagery here is again a parody of the Jewish practice of wearing the tefillin on the head, and on the left hand, as a symbol of loyal allegiance to the covenant. (image below)
Other symbolism that John uses the “mark” to depict is the economic incentives of that day, so people could buy and sell. In the mid third century there were “certificates of sacrifice” that had to be obtained to show that one had sacrificed to the emperor or the gods. Many Christians in that day did not want to do this, so they bribed officials for false documents, whereas others refused to do even that and boldly died for their faith. Other common opportunities of the pagan culture surrounding Christians was trade guild meetings, where food sacrificed to idols was presented. Christians could not participate in those trade guilds, being that it would be a denial of Jesus Christ before men. But withdrawal from such events, if those kinds of people were your contemporaries, could mean economic suicide. We’ll go into more detail in verse 18 on what the mark represents.
“so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
The world, or those who deny Christ, consent to the beast culture, and do it for security. They conform with the world system and follow what the beast commands, refusing to stand out from the masses and to take a truly set-apart stance for the true Christ. Every other mention of the mark of the beast in Revelation invites judgment, as we’ll see in chapters 14, 16, 19, and 20, within which we get the eternal perspective: “It is not worth it” in the light of eternity, to give in to the world’s lusts of the eyes, lusts of the flesh, and pride of life.
“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
666? Who is this man whose number is the number of the beast? Well Martin Luther said it was the Pope and the Pope said it was Martin Luther. Some Democrats suggested it was Ronald Wilson Reagan as we said earlier, due to having six letters in his first, middle, and last names. Republicans have variously suggested different Democratic candidates for the not-so-high honor, and likewise. But Revelation also reapplies other symbols current in its day, including the 666. But hey, you can make anything 666 if you wanna make up the calculation rules as you go along. Just choose a number and times it by another and add this or that and eventually you can make the number appear,right? People have done it with many things. They’ve even done it with Barney the Dinosaur. Yes, I’m serious. (face-palm)
But in the first-century there were specific rules for getting a number from a name. Each Greek and Hebrew letter had a number specific to it. For example, Alpha was 1, Beta was 2, and so on. The same applies with Aleph and Beit in Hebrew. Someone played with Nero’s name in Greek by using the numbers associated with each letter of Nero Caesar. It came out as a certain number. And incidentally, it came out to the same number using the same method with Greek letters, with the sentence, “He killed his mother”, which Nero in fact did. But the number of his name in Greek was not 666. Yet if you spell Nero Caesar in Hebrew letters [neron qasar], (as in the above image), it does come out to 666. Also John mentions “the number of the beast.” If you take the Greek word for beast (θηρίον = תריון) and translate its letters back to Hebrew letters, it again renders 666. Could that be a coincidence? It’s possible it could be. But notice that Revelation 13 also speaks of a “head wounded to death and then revived.” To the early church at the time of this writing, they would have recognized that as a parody on Christ’s death and resurrection. It may also be relevant that when Nero died on June 9th in the year 68, both Romans and Jews of that day expected Nero to return. And as we’ve discussed, some impostors even arose claiming to be Nero. One of which even got the Parthians to follow him and invade the Roman province of Western Asia Minor. This occurred approximately 5 years before the Book of Revelation was written!
So people were expecting a “new Nero.” Likewise Revelation 17:9-10 warns of the coming evil emperor of seven kings. “One was, but is not, but is to come.” Perhaps the most important comment about that is that it too is a parody on the “One Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.” But also it says that this king was one of the seven who preceded, and is not the current king (who likely was Domitian.) It’s not Domitian, but one of the seven before him, who is now dead.
Well if you count back from Domitian by seven, skipping the three interims who were usurpers, and who weren’t really counted as emperors in eastern Mediterranean, Nero would be one of the seven. Revelation says that this king who was, and is not, is coming back. So does this mean we need to look for a literal Nero? No. No more than John the Baptist was literally Elijah, or that we should look for a literal Sodom or Egypt in Revelation 8. Also it is not a literal Enoch and Elijah, or Moses and Elijah in chapter 11. But rather, the two faithful witnesses are really allegorical representations of the scriptural witness command for all things to be established by two (or three) witnesses, which is symbolic of the Church; Christ’s witnesses in the earth. And it’s certainly not the literal plagues of Moses’s day in Egypt that are happening again in the future. Symbolism people! It’s what’s for dinner! LOL.
Rather, John was simply saying, that the Nero successor is going to be like Nero, or coming in the spirit and power of Nero. It was Domitian, and many more since, and more to come.
As we have seen, Nero burned Christians alive in bundles to light his imperial gardens at night, and in the dead season to burn away the chaff. And so this entire allegorical narrative of the Book of Revelation is a summons to grow strong in faith. The imagery is declaring that, “If you love Jesus you better be prepared to die for him.”
There is a church in the world that is claiming to preach Christ, but the message is different. Protestants point fingers at the Catholics and the Catholics at the Protestants…but this Beast Priest is any Church speaking a Jesus that is not the One whom Paul and the Apostles preached. Any messenger not preaching dying to self, taking up our crosses daily, and following Him is a part of the Beast Church. The Prosperity Gospel is a message of the Beast, in how “God” wants you living abundantly in the world system, rather than divesting from it for His honor. It’s damning.