Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 13

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Apocalypse 13

Supplemental Commentary:

IV.  THE SEVEN SIGNS  12, 1 -- 15, 4 (continued)

13, 1-10:  The Beast of the Sea.    1.  A beast: the image is based on Dan. 7, 4 ff.  It combines in itself all the power and defects of the first three beasts mentioned by Daniel.    3 f.  All the earth: earthly men.  Their wonder at the beast leads to their worshipping it.

5.  The beast received this power either from the dragon or from God.  In the latter case it was His permission.  Forty-two months: cf. 11, 2; 12, 6.  This establishes a close relation between all these visions.  The indefinite time in all extends to the Second Coming of Christ.  During this time the beast will torment the saints, but though it will conquer their bodies it will not overcome the constancy of their souls (Matt. 10, 28).    9.  The Apostle closes the section with a solemn warning: the Church must not oppose violence with violence, but suffer with the faith and patience of the saints.

13, 11-18:  The Beast of the Earth.  Another beast: resembling the first in having horns, in being wild, and in being inspired by the dragon; but the second beast is less monstrous, has only two horns, and apparently only one head.  Its power lies in deception as well as in violence, and it seems to have more preternatural power.  The whole of its work is directed to magnifying the first beast.

Many interpreters, both ancient and modern, have seen in this first beast the figure of Antichrist, his person, his kingdom and his power.  The figure is borrowed from Dan. 7.  According to the context, and on the analogy of the beast in Daniel, this beast is not an individual but a collective person, an empire or empires, i.e., a political power.  The key to its identification is given in 17, 10: the pagan and persecuting Roman Empire---but not exclusively, as will be seen.  When he speaks of the "head" of the beast he seems to identify it with one of the Roman Emperors.  But in 13, 12-14 the head is identified with the beast.  There is thus a fluctuation in the symbolism between a determined individual and the empire he represents.  Nero best fits the details, when an individual is in view.  He concentrated within himself all the wickedness of the beast; and the image may have been suggested to John by the legend of Nero redivivus.  But it is probable that John's intention is to show that the evil of Nero will return in one of his successors.  This continual renaissance of the beast-Antichrist has been witnessed in every historical epoch, and will be witnessed until the forty-two months have run their course.

18.  The name of the beast is a number: six hundred and sixty-six.  The meaning of this number has perplexed interpreters.  Perhaps the Christian of Patmos and Asia understood it, for John would hardly have presented them with a conundrum.  If a traditional understanding of it existed it was lost before the time of Irenaeus.  John hints that a special wisdom is required to know the meaning of the name.  Some have thought that Nero is referred to, since the numerical value of the letters of his name, in Hebrew characters, is six hundred and sixty-six.  Others, on the same basis, but using Greek letters, think of Titus.  Still others hold it is Caligula.  There are other opinions.  But what is certain is that John warned the Christian Church that the beast, incarnated at first in the Roman Empire, would always act as Nero had acted, that its power would be very great, and that it would continue under various forms until the Second Coming of Christ.

The Second beast is a supporter of the first beast, but its power is the moral and intellectual order.  In 16, 13; 19, 20; 20, 10, John gives it the name of False Prophet.  It represents the Roman power in the provinces, and especially in Asia Minor.  This power was both civil and religious.  The pagan priesthood flattered the civil authorities.  Its marvels are worked before the beast, i.e., before the Emperors; incense is burned before the beast, i.e., before the statues of the Emperors.  The wrath of the priesthood of the official cult was directed against the Church, and Christians could neither buy nor sell because they did not bear the mark of the beast, i.e., did not worship the Emperor.  Though the times have changed, the Church is still persecuted because it does not carry the mark of the beast and does not bow down before the would power or its false prophets.  This will continue until the Day of the Lord.

Confraternity Bible:

The Beast of the Sea  1* And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon its horns ten diadems, and upon its heads blasphemous names.  2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, and its feet were like the feet of a bear, and its mouth like the mouth of a lion.  And the dragon gave it his own might and authority.  3 And one of its heads was smitten, as it were, unto death; but its deadly wound was healed.  And all the earth followed the beast in wonder.  4 And they worshipped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, "Who is like to the beast, and who will be able to fight with it?"

5 And there was given to it a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to it authority to work for forty-two months.  6 And it opened its mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  7 And it was allowed to wage war with the saints and to overcome them.  And there was given to it authority over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation.  8 And all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it whose names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain from the foundation of the world.

9 If any man has an ear, let him hear.  10* He who is for captivity, into captivity he goes; he who kills by the sword, by the sword must he be killed.  Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

The Beast of the Earth  11 And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and it had two horns like those of a lamb, but it spoke as does a dragon.  12 And it exercised all the authority of the former beast in its sight; and it made the earth and the inhabitants therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  13 And it did great signs, so as even to make fire come down from heaven upon earth in the sight of mankind.  14 And it leads astray the inhabitants of the earth, by reason of the signs which it was permitted to do in the sight of the beast, telling the inhabitants of the earth to make an image to the beast which has the wound of the sword, and yet lived.  15 And it was permitted to give life to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause that whoever should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.  16* And it will cause all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, to have a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and it will bring it about that no one may be able to buy or sell, except him who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18* Here is wisdom.  He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and its number is six hundred and sixty-six.


1: The picture of the first beast is based on the seventh chapter of Daniel.  This beast is the figure of the kingdoms of the world, kingdoms founded on passion and selfishness, which in every age are antagonistic to Christ and seek to oppress the servants of God.  Imperial Rome represents this power.

10: The weapons of the saints are faith and patience; they must accept sufferings and persecution as Christ did His cross.

16: Mark: as slaves received a brand or a mark in their flesh, indicating to whom they belonged, so in the spiritual conflict there is on the side of good and of evil a brand or mark.  St. Paul spoke of such marks in his own body that proved him a slave of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6, 17).  So the false prophet seeks to impress a mark on all.  Just what this mark is we do not know.

18: Six hundred and sixty-six: the most probable interpretation of the number is that it represents the name Caesar Neron, which in Hebrew characters make up the number 666.  It symbolizes extreme imperfection, for each digit is one short of seven, the number that signifies perfection.