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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Revelation 13

Verse 1
And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy.

A beast coming up out of the sea ...
We reject the futurist interpretation that, "We are now in the time of the end." F29 In this vision the true meaning of the persecuting Roman power was revealed for the information and encouragement of the suffering saints of John's day, and not merely for their benefit, but for ours also, and for those of all times and places to come. This beast is always ready and waiting to be summoned as an ally of the devil whenever times and circumstances permit it.

The sea ...
"Both the sea and the earth here (in this chapter) are expressions equivalent to the whole world." F30 Earle pointed out the diverse explanations of the beasts in this chapter thus:

Preterists say they are the Roman power (the empire), and the pagan priesthood supporting emperor worship, particularly in the province of Asia.
Historicists find here the Roman empire and the Roman Catholic church (the papacy).
Futurists identify the first beast as Antichrist, and the second as the false prophet. F31

Our own interpretation is not like any of these. See discussion under the chapter heading, above.

Having ten horns and seven heads ...
These seven heads are the symbols of seven great world empires: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and another future from the time when John wrote. "The symbolism is analogous to that of Dan. 7, where we find the key to the interpretation. The seven heads are symbols of universal dominion, and the horns are the type of power." F32 The horns also represent the multiple kingdoms that succeed the fatal wounding of the sixth head. See under Rev. 17:12ff.

And upon his heads the names of blasphemy ...
The universal dominions indicated here ascribed all honor and glory to themselves, as when Nebuchadnezzar required all people to worship a golden image of himself (Daniel 3:4,5), and as when Roman Caesars required their subjects to burn incense to Caesar's image, or address them as "Lord and God." "This beast is a symbol of idolized power." F33 The identity of this beast is extensive, occupying a major portion of all world history; but the phase of the beast's operation in view here concerned the persecuting power of the Roman empire. The blasphemous titles of the Roman emperor were exhibited everywhere, in the pagan temples, in the coinage, at the imperial court, everywhere. Despite the particular phase in view here, "This sea-born beast symbolizes the persecuting power of Satan embodied in all the nations and governments of the world throughout history." F34 "It is coterminus with the whole earth." F35 "Like the other chaotic forces of evil, it is thrown up by the cosmic deep (Daniel 7:2)." F36

Verse 2
And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragons gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.

Like a leopard ... bear ... lion ...
The significance here is that this one beast is a composite of all those named by Daniel, and having the effect of requiring a historical view of what is here prophesied. "The application is not the Roman empire, namely, but the aggregate of the empires of the world as opposed to Christ and his kingdom." F37 "All that is so frightful about three of Daniel's beasts is combined in this one beast of Revelation." F38 Caird discerningly addressed the problem discussed under "The Christian View of the State" in the chapter introduction, pointing out that, "The beast is not actually government, but the abuse of government." F39 Therefore, we should say, not that the beast is Rome, but Rome captured by satanic forces and perverted as an instrumentality of the devil. "Only when the state acts within the limits of its God-given authority can the believer freely submit to its regulations." F40

And the dragon gave him his throne and great authority ...
From this, are we to conclude that even though Satan had been thrown out of heaven that he still had a throne and great authority? No. "Satan's authority goes only so far as men allow it. If he is called the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), or the prince of this world (John 12:31), it is only because men are blind enough to acknowledge him as such." F41 Another excellent comment on this verse is that of Roberson:

The dragon (Satan) gave the beast his throne and power. He works through the beast as his agent; and it is to his interest that he disguises his working under the forms of the world. At present, he has actually persuaded many to deny his existence. F42

Verse 3
And I saw one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed: and the whole earth wondered after the beast;

Smitten unto death, and his death-stroke was healed ...
See in the chapter introduction under "The Fatal Wound that Did Not Kill," for a complete discussion of this. As Lenski said:

The fact that only one of the heads suffered the death-stroke must not mislead us. Thereby the beast itself was slain. F43

These seven heads were seven successive world dominions, and the death of any one of them would have been the death of the beast. Pagan Rome perished in 476 A.D.; and that is when the death-stroke fell upon the sixth head of the sea-beast. The "healing of this" occurred when the land-beast, the religious beast with the two lamb's horns (closely resembling Christianity) succeeded the sixth head which was killed, restored all the old forms, and went right on exercising the worldwide persecuting power that pertained to the beast prior to the mortal wound sustained by the sixth head of it.

It is almost universally agreed among commentators that the Roman empire must be understood in one way or another as the sea-beast; but the thing that defies all comprehension is how so many of them report Nero's suicide as the "fatal blow"! "The mortal wound is evidently an allusion to the myth that Nero, who died of a wound in his throat, would return to life to plague the empire." F44 Ridiculous! Was Nero the only emperor that died? How could the mere death of any emperor, or a dozen emperors in succession, be viewed as a fatal blow to the Roman empire? The scholars are simply not thinking in their acceptance of such nonsense. As for the so-called myth that Nero would rise from the dead, there is no evidence that any such myth ever existed; but even if it existed (which we deny), no apostle of Jesus Christ would ever have paid the slightest attention to it. "The Roman empire (not one of its scores of emperors) was smitten to death; but it is the resurrection state of it with which the world still has to deal." F45 Supporters of the notion that the death of Nero is meant here try to make it out that the seven heads are "seven kings," which, of course, they are in Rev. 17:9; but that is a different vision. John used the same symbols for different things in different visions.

And the whole world wondered after the beast ...
"The grand sweep through history of this "resurrected beast" is inherent in a statement like this.

Verse 4
and they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? and who is able to make war with him?

And they worshipped the dragon (Satan) ...
Thus, it was no innocent thing to sprinkle a few grains of incense upon Caesar's altar. It was the same thing as worshipping the devil who was behind the entire operation. The fact of mankind's general acceptance of such worship was enforced, "not by the moral greatness of the beast, but by the awesome power of his might. The authority he wielded was that of Satan himself." F46

Verse 5
and there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months.

And it was given to him ...
The principle in this is that all authority in the final sense is God's. The beast cannot operate, except under the restrictions of the permissive will of God. See under article on "The Christian View of the State" in the chapter introduction.

To continue forty and two months ...
This time period must surely be identified with "the whole time the woman was in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6), that is, the whole Christian era, from its beginning to its close." F47 "The forty-two months is a symbolic number for the entire period of the persecution of the church." F48 This is why the sea-beast is more than the Roman empire and why the land-beast is more than the emperor cult. Both beasts will be in operation throughout the time of Christians living upon earth. Plummer thought the forty-two months signified "the period of the earth's existence," F49 but it is more logical to understand it as a reference to this whole dispensation.

These great blasphemies against God and against all that is holy must not be thought of as merely the anti-Christian actions of human governments. The beast is busy in every sector. The anti-Christian power fills people's souls with uncounted blasphemies. As Lenski said:

A thousand avenues pour out arrogant contradictions to God's word. The point to remember here is that this blasphemy is over the whole world for all time until the very end. F50

John's vision is here signaling the church of God that, "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

Verse 6
And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven.

For blasphemies against God ...
Blasphemy is speaking against either God or man. The negative aspect of the opposition is evident in its being against both. Note that the blasphemous use of God's name is the same as speaking against God.

And his tabernacle ...
"Christians are themselves God's tabernacle, because he is in the midst of them (Revelation 21:9)." F51 Speaking against Christians is a primary activity of the "beast." The guilt of his doing so is no less than that of speaking against God himself. In fact, the great campaign against God is focused in the attack upon Christians. The hatred and opposition to God's people is exactly "where the rubber meets the road" in the satanic conflict with the purpose of God.

Even them that dwell in heaven ...
There are two possible meanings here, compounded by an element of uncertainty with reference to the true text; but fortunately it is true both ways. "It is possible that John means angels ... but the more attractive meaning is that he means that those dwelling in heaven are men whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20)." F52 Dummelow also preferred this understanding of it: "Christians are here said to dwell in heaven, because they belong to the kingdom of God on earth, and because 'in Christ' they have begun to live the heavenly life (Ephesians 2:6)." F53 The whole thrust of this passage was summarized thus by Mounce:

To regard the state as supreme (and to offer divine honors to the emperor as was demanded in the first century) was not a permissible opinion but the supreme blasphemy. John's words must have come home to his first readers with tremendous force. F54

Verse 7
And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.

And there was given to him ...
The importance of this is seen in its repetition, this or a similar clause being used twice in this verse, once in Rev. 13:5, and in Rev. 13:14 and Rev. 13:15. The truth behind this is that God is still the sovereign in his universe. People, in the stubborn and willful pursuit of their own selfish desires, and in following their own free will to do whatever comes into their minds, provide the tools from which the work of Satan prospers; and God "gives" to Satan and to the beast the right of exploiting whatever opportunities may be afforded them through the disobedience and wickedness of people. Neither Satan nor his beast, nor any other creature, can harm the one who loves God (Romans 8:31-39).

Authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation ...
Some authors view this as merely an indication of the worldwide extent of the Roman empire; but much more than that is said here. "The fourfold enumeration, applied to the earth, denotes the universal character of the description." F55 This means that there is no place on earth where sin does not dwell, no place where the authority of the beast is totally absent. Despite this, people are not predestined to be delivered into his hands; that can happen only when people choose to follow Satan rather than Christ.

Verse 8
And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.

Whose name hath not been written ... in the book of life ...
New Testament references to the book of life are: Philp. 4:3, and Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27. An Old Testament reference is Deut. 32:32,33. Here the book of life is said to be "of the Lamb that hath been slain," indicating Christ as the owner of the book. The reason this is said is that, "It is through his sacrifice that life is possible (Revelation 5:9,10)." F56

From the foundation of the world ...
The ASV translation which places this phrase as a modifier of "written" is undoubtedly incorrect. The KJV is right in rendering it, "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

It may be safely said that no group of translators would have come to such a decision (as that in the ASV) were it not for the statement in Rev. 17:8. The phrase in question immediately follows the Lamb that was slain, and normally one would not question the application of the phrase to that antecedent. F57

Thus, this just happens to be a case in which the ASV translators indulged in commentary instead of translation. Caird stressed the fact that the mere fact of John's using this phrase to modify "book of life" in Rev. 17:8 is no proof at all that he could not have used it to modify "the Lamb slain" here. "That is no reason why he should not be allowed to say something complementary here. F58 Lenski also favored the KJV in this verse; F59 and Morris was emphatic: "From the foundation of the world should be taken with slain (1 Peter 1:19f) rather than with written." F60 All of God's great purpose of redemption was formulated "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). Many have vainly tried to get rid of this plain New Testament teaching, but as Bruce said:

Whatever be the interpretation of Gen. 1:2, it is certain that [Greek: katabole] can mean nothing but "laying down" in the sense of "establishing" or "founding"; the phrase used in Eph. 1:4 and in ten other New Testament passages is unambiguous and denotes the creation of the universe. F61

Verse 9
If any man hath an ear, let him hear.

The contemporary equivalent of this is, Now hear this! It occurs in each of the seven letters (Rev. 2:7,11,17; Rev. 3:6,13,22) and recalls the familiar expression of Jesus, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9). It alerts the reader to the importance of what follows. F62

Morris also thought the alert here "regards what follows in stead of what precedes. F63 This makes verses Rev. 13:9,10 a solemn warning "against any effort on the part of the church to return evil for evil." F64

Verse 10
If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth ...
This means, "Whatever is involved in following Christ, the Christian must accept." F65

The different translations of this passage give different meanings, thus:

KJV: "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity. He that killeth with the sword must be killed by the sword."

This, of course, makes the meaning applicable to the persecutors. The nations that persecute God's people shall themselves be destroyed; and there are many historical examples of this happening.

RSV: "If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; If any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain."

It is by the device of construing this as a pair of parallel statements that the RSV makes the meaning of both parts the same; the Christian must accept either captivity or death.

ASV: In this version, the first half teaches Christian submission to whatever befalls him; and the second part is a warning against resisting the persecuting power by means of the sword, thus:

If any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed ...
This means that, "Christianity can never be defended by force; the man who takes the sword perishes by the sword." F66 Ladd interpreted the passage to mean that, "There is divine retribution; the last word is not with the persecutor." F67 Dummelow thought it means, "Christians are not to fight against the persecutors, but are to submit to God's will." F68 In this interpretation Dummelow (1937) anticipated the RSV. Caird likewise accepted this view, basing it on the final clause. F69 Lenski was equally certain that KJV is correct, adding that, "This is not a warning for saints to let the sword alone." F70 He thought the passage was given as a comfort to Christians, the comfort coming from this revelation of, "Where their enemies are going and how those enemies must end." F71 Of these various views, this writer favors those of Ladd and Lenski.

Here is the patience and the faith of the saints ...
The knowledge that right shall finally triumph, that evil may indeed win the battle but can never win the war, the absolute certainty of the ultimate triumph of righteousness - these are the considerations which, alone, can establish the hearts of Christians when the skies are clouded with the smoke of their burning. Of course, the principle that it is wrong for the church to take up carnal weapons in its own defense is true; but this was not the place for emphasizing such a truth. Where could the comfort have been if that had been John's meaning here?

Verse 11
And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

Another beast coming up out of the earth ...
This monster is the character later called the false prophet. Satan, the sea-beast, and the land-beast are the unholy trinity of evil. Eller's facetious comment is included here for its humor:

The dragon made his entrance out of the air (as it were, falling on his tail out of heaven); the sea-beast rose out of the garbage-can sea. Number three now comes out of ground (he's the dirty one); and his, obviously, is intended as a counter-description of the Holy Spirit. F72

For more on this beast, see under "The Beast Out of the Earth" in the chapter introduction. He is identified as the institution, or organization, of false religion opposed to God's truth and persecuting God's people.

No doubt the pagan priests of the various heathen gods of John's day were a manifestation of this beast; but something far greater, more enduring, and better organized is also included. "The commune of Asia" mentioned by Caird, F73 was no doubt an evil in the character of this beast; but all such things, including the proconsul often mentioned in this context, were evil enough; but they were the slaves of the sea-beast. This land-beast was the ally of the beast! This absolutely forbids the view that the "emperor cult" was represented by this land-beast. The difference is between the sea-beast's slave and his ally. The power visible in this land-beast was a partner of the sea-beast, not his servant, as were the pagan priests, communes, and proconsuls who recognized the Caesars as their masters. It is the whole organized structure of false religion, especially as manifested in the hierarchical apparatus of the Roman Catholic church, and in many other nominally Christian churches also. It is the human control of sacred office perverted to serve secular, worldly, material; political, and other unchristian ends. He is that beast who was already working in Paul's day (2 Thess. 2) and has continued ever since, and who will continue until the end of time. It is a shortsighted mistake indeed that would limit this to any particular church or to some specific time in history.

And he had two horns like unto a lamb ...
A literal lamb has two horns; and the big thing here is the resemblance of the land-beast to the Lamb of God. As Summers said, "The lamb was a religious symbol." F74 We might add, "A Christian religious symbol." Therefore, it cannot be the pagan priesthood symbolized by this beast, but a perverted religion of Christ.

And he spake as a dragon ...
Disregard what he looked like; this beast spoke as a dragon, there being times during the Middle Ages when kings trembled at the dragon's voice. The persecuted saints of an entire millennium were tormented by this dragon voice of the false lamb. In our own times, this beast's dragon voice has been considerably modulated and toned down, only because the beast recognizes his limitations. One may only be amazed at the scholars who seem to know all about false religion in John's day, when Revelation was written, and absolutely nothing at all about it now. Are we to suppose that this religious beast died somewhere along the historical road the world has traveled? If so, it would be wonderful to hear all about it. "He that hath an ear, let him hear."

Verse 12
And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.

And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight ...
"This is the head of the beast wounded and restored." F75 The wounded head was the beast in his sixth worldwide manifestation; namely, the Roman empire. Therefore, this beast is a successor to the sea-beast, being a worldwide dominion over the whole world, "every tribe and people and tongue and nation." Only thus could this beast have exercised "all" the authority of the first beast, i.e., all the authority of Rome, the sixth head, being itself the seventh head," but diverse from the others, i.e., being religious instead of solely secular. By having its operations on the same seven mountains (Rome) where the first beast was centered, and by its imposition of a religious authority over all the world, it was true in a remarkable sense that the slain beast (the sixth head) lived again in the seventh!

This can have no reference at all to some little deputy of the Roman emperor in Asia Minor 1,900 years ago, who never, in any sense, exercised the extensive worldwide authority of the Roman empire. No! A worldwide, ongoing, institutional organization is symbolized here, and one that continued to operate in the same kind of time-frame that pertained to the other six heads of the sea-beast: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and appearing in the sequence as, in some spectacular manner, a reincarnation of Rome. We believe it is intellectually impossible to make this seventh head to be anything small. Nothing less than a worldwide dominion will fit.

In his sight ...
This probably refers to the location of the seventh head's operations. It was in the same city of seven hills; and as the sixth head was already dead when the seventh succeeded to the worldwide authority it could hardly mean anything else, unless it is understood as the growth and development of the great religious authority during the century or so leading up to the final death of the sixth head in 476 A.D.

The current fad among commentators which interprets the land-beast's exercise of worldwide authority equal to that of the sea-beast as a reference to the "promoters" of the cult of the emperor" F76 is illogical and contradictory of the truth that the mortal wound of the sixth head took place before the seventh head succeeded to that great authority. When the mortal wound occurred (476 A.D.), the emperor cult had been out of business for generations, their temples closed, their sacrifices severely prohibited, their whole pagan religion outlawed and proscribed by the Roman Senate under the leadership of Theodosius. See Edward Gibbon's entire chapter xxvii (vol. ii) entitled, "The Final Destruction of Paganism. F77 Neither the so-called emperor cult, nor the pagan priesthood, nor the institution of paganism itself, continued until the time of the mortal wounding of the sixth head and most certainly could not have been instrumental in the healing of the mortal wound, nor in continuing afterwards as the reincarnation of the beast in the form of the seventh head.

And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed ...
The big things here are: (1) The new beast, a worldwide religious empire, was very successful. All nations continued to look to Rome; the ancient adoration accorded the pagan emperors was transferred to the enthroned bishop of Rome, and even many of the blasphemous titles were applied to him. (2) The actual change in all this, however, was more apparent than real; worship was still lavished upon a man, a mere human being; and such worship was the exact equivalent of the worship of man under the pagan system. The text before us called it "the worship of the first beast." There had been a change of certain externals, but the essential ingredients were exactly the same as before. Thus the religious apostasy became the seventh head of the beast out of the sea, being, in effect, a reincarnation of the old head, ROME.

This writer would enthusiastically welcome a better understanding of this dreadful chapter which forces some very difficult conclusions, but where is it? Certainly, the ridiculous Nero redivivus myth explains nothing. No explanation at all is far preferable to the unreasonable, awkward, and contradictory postulations of that alleged interpretation! The key thing to remember in seeking the truth here is that, "It was not merely one of the heads which was wounded to death and then healed. The beast himself (Rome) received a mortal wound and then was restored to life." F78 The true answer has to be Rome reincarnated with the new incarnation exercising "all the authority of the first" (Revelation 13:12), "over every tribe and people and tongue and nation" (Revelation 13:7). If it could possibly be anything other than what we have pointed out, let someone identify it! In the meanwhile, the view presented here is the only one known to this writer which does not violate either the rules of logic or the true principles of Biblical exegesis. We absolutely refuse to make this sacred prophesy of Revelation a myth in order to avoid it!

Verse 13
And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men.

And he doeth great signs ... fire from heaven ...
Here is the apocalyptic equivalent of Paul's man of sin sitting in God's house, setting himself forth as God, and exhibiting "all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). See discussion of that whole passage in my Commentary on 2 Thessalonians pp. 97-117. Paul referred to the great signs as "lying wonders"; and from this, we may be certain that the apostate power did not actually do what is mentioned here. Every year during the Easter season, the newspapers carry stories of miracles, visitations, and phenomena alleged to be miraculous. There are images bleeding, bloody robes with the image of Christ, etc. Admittedly, we have not seen any fire come down from heaven yet; but, who knows, we might get that next Easter! "Men still claim the power to perform miracles, but their message is not in harmony with God's word, and therefore we can be certain that God is not the source of their power." F79 In this connection, Hinds appropriately mentioned such alleged miracles as "changing the bread and wine of the communion into the literal body and blood of Christ." F80

Verse 14
And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given unto him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword and lived.

And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth ...
The vast majority of mankind will accept at face value the claims of false religion. The purpose of the deception was to produce the worship of the beast. "Its function is again seen to be religious, not secular; it is a system and not a person." F81 Moffatt also discerned the same truth: "This figure is not any individual like Simon Magus, etc., but a personification of some order or institution." F82

That they should make an image to the beast ...
A literal image? No. What is the image of a great worldwide state? It is a little state, made after the pattern of the big one. The Vatican City State of Rome is surely such an "image," whether it is the one meant here or not. It is complete with soldiers (The Swiss Guards), a diplomatic apparatus reaching to the ends of creation, and having its own laws, government, and all the other trappings of a worldly empire (in miniature, an image), and all this from the alleged followers of him who said, "My kingdom is not of this world."

Verse 15
And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

And it was given to him to give breath to it ...
Yes indeed! That little thumbnail image of a worldwide empire is very much alive, and it carries an incredible clout with every national government on earth, even our own. This is not a reference to some clown of a pagan priest pulling some kind of a shenanigan to make a crass literal statue utter a few words. No! The deception in view in this passage deceived the whole world.

The image should speak ...
First, there was the relevance of this for John's generation. The pagan temples were full of idols that, by various ingenious devices were made to speak, the purpose of the perpetrators of such deceptions being that of compelling Christians to worship the image of Caesar; and all of the scholars stress this; but that is certainly not all that this passage means. If so, Revelation, in large part, is irrelevant to this age, a proposition which we cannot accept. What is the "speaking image" today? Tune in any of the papal encyclicals broadcast on world radio and TV regarding economics, politics, morals, etc. But this "image," the little copy of the big state, is itself worshipped.

As many as should not worship the image should be killed ...
The first application of this was the sentence of death executed upon Christians who would not worship Caesar's image; but the relevance of this did not perish with the Edict of Theodosius banning paganism. The relevance of it to the martyrs of the Middle Ages was that the persons who would not bow before the rules of the papacy were put to death, a fact well attested by the long bloody record of the Medieval Church which slaughtered thousands who would not worship them and their little image of the beast, with its "Throne of St. Peter," and its universal apparatus culminating in the Spanish Inquisition and a hundred other horrors. That is all prophesied in this verse whether some scholars are able to see it or not!

Verse 16
And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead;

The language of this and the following verses is that of economic sanctions and boycotts, the universality of their enforcement being indicated by'

Small and great, rich and poor ...
This means that all people everywhere were to be subjected to the most serious economic sanctions unless they were recognized as servants of the persecuting power, and as supporters both intellectually and physically (head and hand) of the wicked establishment.

A mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead ...
The obvious meaning of this "head and hand" identification is that both mental and physical cooperation was the price of "belonging." There is no likelihood that anything literal is meant by this "mark." It is true, of course, that some of the pagan gods were worshipped by their devotees having themselves branded with an ivy leaf, or some other symbol of the god's religion; and that pagan custom probably colored the language which John adopted here in a figurative sense, as Paul did in Gal. 6:17. See in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 113, 114. No Christian of John's times, however, could have failed to read this "head and hand," "heart and hand" compliance with the persecutor's will, through confessions or deeds. Christians could prove themselves worshippers of Caesar, either by denouncing Christ, or by offering incense upon Caesar's altar, or by both. The point is, that if they were unwilling to do this they were boycotted, or even put to death.

But is this no longer true? Organized false religion in many guises still exercises this merciless and unchristian device against nonconformists, as for example, in the following:

An advertisement in Salt Lake City's leading newspaper carries an offer of an apartment to LDS only.
A Catholic priest who was baptized in Italy could not find employment in the entire nation.
The Amish cult of Pennsylvania consistently "shuns" those who disobey them or renounce any tenet of the cult.

Eller extended the meaning of this, as follows; and, without agreeing fully with his comment, we include it:

Buying and selling is the world's big operation. The world has set up the game, defined the rules, and is manning the tables; and never forget it, the beast is "the lord of this world." You won't get very far at these tables, then, John is saying, unless you can show proof that the boss has okayed you. You'll never win unless you play according to the ways of the world. F83

Despite Eller's view, we believe that there are many great merchants and businessmen who have played the game by Christian rules, and yet have won. Yet there is much truth in what Eller said.

Verse 17
and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.

That no man should be able to buy ... sell ... save he have the mark ...
We cannot believe that there is any reference whatever here to any physical mark. The only thing indicated is that a victorious economic boycott will be launched against all who do not "belong" to the beast. The description here regards the method of his enforcing his will; and that method would no doubt vary according to times and circumstances. The very use of such a device defines the wickedness of the boycotting powers. An economic boycott says, "Do as we say, or we will starve you to death." That an alleged "church of God" should do such a thing defines it as a church of Satan.

Even the name of the beast, or the number of his name ...
The consistent use of "or" both here and in Rev. 13:16 is interesting. Either the name of the beast or the number of his name would suffice; and it might be either in the forehead or in the right hand. It must be confessed that no fully satisfactory explanation of this has been encountered by this writer. Perhaps it indicates the diversity and variableness of the manner of the beast's exercising his sanctions. The purpose of the mark, however, is clear enough; it is that of distinguishing between the beast's followers and those who are not his followers. "Probably the passage is a figurative and unqualified expression for conspicuous loyalty. F84 Anything, therefore, that would indicate such conspicuous loyalty would fill the bill of what is meant.

Verse 18
Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six.

Here is wisdom ...
This remark seems to indicate that no little study will be required in order to understand it!

The number of the beast ... the number of a man ... Six hundred and sixty and six ...
More people probably know about this verse than of any other verse in the whole book; and the theories of what it means are almost unlimited. This writer is not at all certain of what it means, beyond the cautious conclusion given under the preceding verse. Its identification with the second beast is certain, and probably also with the first beast as represented in his "image."

The ancient science of numerology seems to have influenced a number of passages in this prophecy; and perhaps the most probable meaning relates to the symbolic value of the number itself. Seven is the number of perfection. Six is the number of imperfection, of falling short, of forever being below what is perfect. The number 777 is said to be "the number of God, Christ, grace and salvation for men." F85 The number 666 is therefore the crowding out of perfection "in Christ," and the contradiction of all that is indicated in 777. Many scholars have stressed this line of thought. Our own conviction is that this "number" is not a literal number at all, but the symbol standing for a "spiritual likeness."

We note some of the "explanations" that are offered:

The position of the Seventh Day Adventist religion is that Sunday, or the observance of it as a day of worship, is the mark of the beast. As Pieters said, "For vicious denominationalism, this is unsurpassed." F86

"Preston and Hausen suggest that the mark of the beast was a parody of the practice of making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the new Christian." F87

The making of the "sign of the cross" by "crossing one's self" was once thought to be the mark; and this accounts for the omission of that practice in the Protestant Reformation. In some ways, this seems to fit, but not in others.

The interpretation of the number by gematria has yielded all kinds of answers. Gematria is the assignment of numerical values to certain letters of the alphabet, as for example: M, D, C, X, L, and I have commonly recognized values as used on clocks. Both the Greek and Hebrew languages, as perhaps also others, used similar systems; and these were diverse, the same letter having one value in one language and another value in another language. This, of course, led to many names having a numerical value; and the attention granted to this type of thing was evidently extensive when John wrote; and this could have caused him to adopt this reference to it as a symbol of the reality depicted. Roberson believed that it was actually this gematria calculation that John had in mind, F88 but that it is now impossible for us to know what it was, or to whom he referred. He pointed out, for example, that it is simply unknown what specific values were assigned to certain letters in that period. As we have the number, and following the common values often assigned, "There are an indefinite number of names that will yield it; and there are too many which are plausible for any one to be the probable meaning." F89

Earle, like so many others, called attention to the imperfect "six" as related to the perfect "seven," and identified 666 as the full symbol of imperfect, fallible, and sinful man. "This 666 indicates that this age will end in the worship of man, instead of the worship of God." F90 The 666 might not mean this, but it appears to be true anyway.

Roberts, like so many, found Nero in the number 666, F91 but even if he did, Nero is the wrong answer. Nero was not the beast; he was not the wounded head; he did not rise from the dead; and it is absolutely untenable to interpret this prophecy as predicting any such thing as that! The device of getting "Nero" out of this number is as devious and illogical as anything ever resorted to in order to bolster a false theory. Caird explained how they do it: "They start with the hypothesis that Nero is the name." F92 This derives from their conviction that a myth is the basis of this chapter. "The name Nero in Greek (the language in which John wrote) adds up to 1005! F93 So they translate it into Latin, and that does not work either, so they transliterate it into Hebrew (leaving out the vowels because Hebrew has no vowels); and then, by leaving out a lot of the letters and throwing in Nero's title of Caesar, and misspelling that, they force it to yield 666! It is truly amazing that any Christian scholar could be brainwashed into receiving any such alleged explanation. That's certainly going a long way around to get the wrong answer. Bruce's comment on this shenanigan was:

The three rules for making any name yield the desired 666 are: (1) if the proper name itself will not yield it, add a title; (2) if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Latin, or Hebrew; (3) if that does not work, misspell it! F94

Dummelow's explanation is sound Scripturally, whether or not it is "correct":

The number of Jesus in Greek in 888, and the meaning is that the beast falls so far short of seven (perfection and holiness) as Jesus goes beyond it. F95

The late, highly respected Frank L. Cox took a similar view:

The number 666 represents worldliness at its zenith, "expressing all that is possible for human wisdom and power, when directed by an evil spirit, to achieve." This man cannot be identified as an individual, but as a type, a kind. F96

The scholars, of whom there are a large number, who worked "Nero" out of this number should take a look at two or three other "solutions" which are quite natural, unforced, open, and plainly demonstrable. We include them here because, at least, they do apply to the beast, which is what the number is said to identify:

1. Stauffer took the full title of one of the emperors (Domitian) in Greek: AUTOKRATOR KAISAR DOMETIANUS GERMANICUS, as abbreviated on Roman coins; and it duly yields 666. However, no single coin has ever been discovered on which the entire abbreviation occurs, although coins with each part of it have been found. F97

2. The Latin expression VICARIUS FILII DEI, meaning "in place of the Son of God" and said to be one of the titles used by certain popes, was cited by Ray Summer:


It will be noted that U is counted as V, after the archaic manner, as it is still used in inscriptions. For example, over many Court Houses, the title reads: COVRT HOUSE. Summers stated that "It is reported that this expression encrusted injeweled letters on the pope's crown is used in his ceremony of coronation." F98

3. A third explanation was first proposed by Irenaeus, being the oldest calculation on this subject that has come down through history. He used the letter-values assigned in Greek, which explains the difference from those cited in 2, above. It is based on a word which means "The Latin Kingdom": F99

30 +1+300+5+10+50+70+200=666

This is a favorite explanation by the historical school of interpreters, and fits well the Catholic apostasy idea of this group. F100 It must be admitted that "the Latin kingdom" describes a salient feature of the apostasy; namely, the public services in Latin all over the world throughout the ages.

These three "explanations" cited here are a hundred times more logical and reasonable than the contrived application of the 666 to Nero; but our reluctance to affirm any certainty on this point derives from the inherent difficulty of the verse itself. Rist thought that John intended it to be "something of an enigma"; F101 and so it has remained whether or not John so intended it.

Affixing the meaning of this 666 to any man is wrong, for it is primarily the number of the beast (Revelation 13:17). The notion that Nero, or any man, is meant could not possibly be correct. The number has been confidently assigned by scholars to literally dozens of historical persons, by far the most reasonable of such assignments being the three cited above, because they, at least, have the quality of being connected with the beast. However, any confidence that even these, or any one of them, is "the answer" fails because of the problem involved in every person following the beast also having the number in his forehead or his right hand. For awhile, in his early ministry, this writer accepted number 2, above, as the true explanation; but while true enough that it applies to a prominent feature of the apostasy; namely, the blasphemous title of the popes, nevertheless, that was not a number or title worn by all of his followers in either head or hand. Furthermore, there is the additional light on what is meant here which comes from the truth that the very next verse in this prophecy (Revelation 14:1) speaks of God's name being written on the foreheads of his followers. Can that be a literal number? No! Therefore this is not a literal number. What must be meant is "a spiritual likeness" to the beast in his followers and a "spiritual likeness" to God among his followers. Any thought of absolute certainty on this question is disclaimed.

Footnotes for Revelation 13
: Ibid.
1: James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 429.
2: George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 179.
3: James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 430.
4: Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 214ff.
5: Ibid., p. 218.
6: William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 179.
7: William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 89.
8: A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 334.
9: J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 112.
10: Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 410.
11: George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 183.
12: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 389.
13: R. H. Charles, Revelation of St. John, Vol. I, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), p. 349.
14: Ibid.
15: Carl August Auberlen, The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John, Viewed in their Mutual Relation (Andover: W. F. Draper, 1857), pp. 298, 304.
16: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 394.
17: Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 220.
18: Ibid.
19: J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1900), Vol. II, p. 452.
20: Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 223.
21: Ibid.
22: John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 191.
23: Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1961), p. 171.
24: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 112.
25: G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 171.
26: James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 432.
27: Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 259.
28: Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 461.
29: George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 176.
30: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 390.
31: Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 578.
32: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 330.
33: Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 85.
34: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 176.
35: Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305, 1957), p. 92.
36: F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 652.
37: Alford as quoted by A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 331.
38: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 392.
39: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 164.
40: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 252.
41: G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 209.
42: Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 92.
43: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 393.
44: Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 461.
45: Frank L. Cox. op. cit.. p. 85.
46: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 254.
47: Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 94.
48: George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 180.
49: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 332.
50: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 397.
51: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1083.
52: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 167.
53: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1083.
54: Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 20. The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 168.
55: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 333.
56: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 256.
57: G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 214.
58: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 168.
59: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 400.
60: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 169.
61: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 28.
62: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 256.
63: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 170.
64: Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 95.
65: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 97.
66: Ibid.
67: George Eldon Ladd, op. cit, p. 182.
68: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1083.
69: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 170.
70: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 402.
71: Ibid.
72: Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 132.
73: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 171.
74: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 178.
75: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 92.
76: G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 216.
77: Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Five Volumes (Philadelphia: Henry Caotes and Company).
78: George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 183.
79: James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour, and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 177.
80: John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 198.
81: Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 98.
82: James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 432.
83: Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 133.
84: James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 433.
85: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 412.
86: Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 212.
87: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 262.
88: Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 101.
89: Ibid.
90: Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 578.
91: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 115.
92: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 174.
93: Ibid.
94: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 653.
95: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1084.
96: Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 87.
97: Stauffer as quoted by Caird, op. cit., p. 175.
98: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 176.
99: John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 204.
100: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 176.
101: Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 466.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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