Anthony W. Brooks
No doubt, many see this subject as thrilling and terrifying. This is mostly due to the majority of Americans (and possibly evangelicals around the world) holding to a dispensational view of eschatology. The futurism of the majority of mainstream evangelicals paired with the Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind have turned the question of the Beast of Revelation and His Mark (666) into a superstition instead of an exegetically answerable question.
Possible answers to the question
I will be leaving out the Futurist point of view. Mainly that they don’t offer answers to the question at hand but conjecture. The two typical camps that do offer answers are the Historicist and Preterist camps. Lets define terms:
Known Postmillennialist, Doug Wilson, provides accurate and short definitions for these two terms in his “Primer on Eschatology”.
Historicism– A historicist is one who believes the prophecy of Revelation was fulfilled, and is being fulfilled down through church history.
Preterism– A preterist is one who believes that the prophecy of Revelation was largely fulfilled in the first century.
So with these two definitions in mind we are ready to reveal our case for a fulfilled prophesy for the Beast of Revelation and His Mark (666).
Revelation 11: 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
This is the first mention of the beast of Revelation. Here you have the witnesses pouring out their testimony over the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt which we assume is the Earth. The witnesses have fire proceeding from their mouths that devour their enemies. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. The beast rises from the pit and makes war on the witnesses to conquer and kill them. Their bodies lay in the street of the city where their Lord was Crucified. It is obvious that the Lord killed here is our Savior Jesus. And this symbolically makes the city mentioned here Jerusalem. Typically we can apply a larger and more current context of this city here being the world. In other interpretations this is significant because of verse two. 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. This is either foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD or the persecution of the Church under Nero Caesar. Our next text will open this up more.
Revelation 13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
The beast rising out of the sea is representative of his persecuting power. He was like a leopard with feet like a bear, and a mouth like a lion. This is an obvious parallel to the Book of Daniel 7:1–8, 17–27. The dragon gave authority to this beast and the people worshipped the dragon and the beast. This beast could be the governments of Asia who persecuted the churches in Asia. The beast was allowed to exercise his authority 42 months, again, this could be the persecution under Nero Caesar for the 42 months of his reign which could make him the dragon mentioned here. Also this passage mentions that if anyone slays any with the sword then he will be slain with the sword. Nero persecuted the church greatly from 64 AD to June of 68 AD (42 months). This is too exact to miss. And Nero committed suicide with the sword in 68 AD.
This parallel gets more interesting in our next passage.
Revelation 13:11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 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. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 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. 15 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. 16 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, 17 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. 18 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.
We have another persecuting beast rising out of the land. This beast had two horns like a lamb. This beast could be a false prophet who points people toward a false messiah. This is even more likely when we see the mortal wound of the first beast healed. This beast had committed a false miracle like the Resurrection of Christ to deceive the nations. Next we see the mark of the beast. Exactly who the beast is that represents this mark is uncertain as of yet, but we can assume who the mark historically belongs to. The common belief was that this is the numeric value of Nero’s name in Hebrew. נרון קסר or “nrvn qsr” is the normal way of numericizing it. The value of Nero’s name in Hebrew characters is 666. There is a textual variant of 616 which can also be numericized into Nero’s name. “נרו קסר” or “nrv qsr”. Either way it is clearly Nero. Nero is also hypothesized to be the beast of the sea. Namely because he has a resurrection legend that would mirror the healing of the mortal wound.
Revelation 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
This is interesting. There is a prostitute sitting on the waters. All the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, probably better to say fornication sense she is a prostitute. The dwellers of the earth have become drunk. There is another woman sitting on a scarlet beast. This beast had 7 heads and 10 horns. This woman held a golden cup full of abominations and impurities of her sexual immoralities. Her forehead had the inscription that called her Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes and of Earth’s abominations. She was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs. This probably means she was responsible for the martyrdom and persecution of the church.
When I saw her, I marveled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
The beast is called “was, and is not, and is”. This phrase makes a deliberate statement that this is symbolic language. About to rise from the bottomless pit. This is connecting this beast with the beast of chapter 11. The people of the earth who are not the saints of Christ will marvel at this beast and probably idolize him. John makes an exceptional statement here… This calls for a mind with wisdom… This means that John is deliberately inviting us to interpret what he says next. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. So the seven heads of the beast represent 7 mountains upon which one woman sits. Rome is known as that city that sits on 7 hills so this woman is Rome. Why do I say this? Well, because if John is asking for the mind of wisdom to interpret this in a first century context it makes perfect sense to say it is Rome, the imperial power of their day. They are also seven kings… as in emperors of that great city, Rome. Five of whom have fallen… In the context of Rome this could be Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius, Nero (one is), and Galba is the other has not yet come. Also, Galba fits the bill in the next phrase “and when he does come he must remain only a little while”. This is because he only ruled Rome for seven months in between Nero and Otho in the year 69 (which was known as the year of four emperors). It goes on to mention the ten horns that have yet to receive power as rulers. These will give authority to the beast and will make war on the Lamb (Christ).
15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
The water is explained for us in the text as peoples, multitudes, and languages. The beast and the horns hate the prostitute. It is the will of God from all eternity for them to rise up and destroy her. This has been assumed to be the destruction of Jerusalem, but could also be the sacking of Rome or Constantinople (depending on whether you use a preterist or historicist interpretation)
The futurist interpretation does not take into account the obvious historical evidences that the Christians of that day would have pointed to for understanding of this book. The evidences of Rome being the city on seven hills. The seven heads of the beast being the 7 emperors. It is rather evident that john was inviting his immediate readers to reason the meaning of these things (Revelation 17:9a). In the immediate context of these statements, Rome was the only city on seven hills, the value of Nero’s name in Hebraic characters is 666 or 616 (which to anyone familiar with the language and its quantities would have been aware of).
Of course, this is just one possible interpretation. There are many others that are possible senarios to view this passage. Eschatology is not a monolith… there has to be limits, but there can be disagreements. Apocalyptic literature can be tiring and confusing. A beast can have seven heads in one passage and ten in another. A woman can sit on land in one section and water in the other. There is a mortal wound in one verse and it is healed in the next. Keeping up with it all is confusing but exhilarating. But let’s not come away with anything novel without realizing the implications of historical theology.
Soli Deo Gloria!