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by James Stuart Russell



Reuss on ‘the Number of the Beast.’ (Rev. 13:18)

The Parousia

It would form a very singular history were we to recount all that has been said by theologians with reference to the number 666 in the Revelation. This is not, however, the place to do so, and it is generally mere waste of time to refute palpable errors and absurd hallucinations. Our texts are so clear to those who have eyes to see and comprehend, that the simple statement of their true meaning ought at once to dissipate the clouds gathered round them by dogmatic prejudices, interested imaginations, and political pre-constructions.

The number of the beast, 666, is the number of a man, ariymov anyrwpou, says the prophet. It is the number of a name, he says again, and that name is written on the forehead of those who are the loyal subjects and worshippers of the beast. But the beast itself is a personal being—Antichrist, and does not stand for some abstract idea. From this it follows that the number 666 does not represent a period of ecclesiastical history, as is maintained in the interpretation of orthodox Protestant theologians and of pietistic chiliasts of the school of Bengel. Nor does it stand for a common name, and to characterise a power, an empire, as, for example, Roman Paganism, as Irenaeus sought to show with his Aateinov, which has been adopted by all subsequent interpreters who have failed to invent anything more inadmissible still, and which Protestants have eagerly made use of in the interest of their anti-papal polemics. The terms ‘Latium,’ ‘Latini,’ had no existence in the first century but in the poetry and local geography of the Campagna of Rome, and, as the name of a language, was utterly unknown in any form within apostolic sphere. (Luke 23:38 John 19:20)

The number 666 must, then, contain a proper name, the name of the political and historical personage who was to play the part of Antichrist in all the great revolutions awaiting the Judaeo-Christian world. After reading Daniel and the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians we know what is the subject. Our author finally proceeds to tell us of whom he speaks.

Here, then, is the difficulty (if difficulty it be) which has most often misled even those who have approached the problem with a spirit free from prejudice and illusion. The beast of the thirteenth chapter is not an individual, but the Roman Empire, regarded as a power. The writer himself tells us (Rev. 17) that the seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills on which his capital is built; and again, seven kings who have reigned, or still reign, there. This is quite true, but he tells us quite as plainly that this beast is at the same time one of the seven heads, a combination apparently inconceivable and more than paradoxical, but at the same time very natural, and even necessary. The idea of a power, especially of a hostile influence, always tends to assume a concrete form, to personify itself in the popular mind. The ideal monster becomes an individual; the principle assumes a distinct human shape, and under this personal form ideas become popularised, till individuals come in their turn to be the permanent representatives of ideas and influences which outlive themselves. To most men a proper name conveys more than a definition, and is more apt to excite warm and living feeling. The pagan power, idolatry, blasphemy, persecution, all that stirs the lawful antipathies of the church, all that inspires it with horror, and wrings from it the cry of woe, would naturally be individualised and concentrated in the person of him who, a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem, had filled up the measure of his crimes. The beast is, then, at once the Empire and the Emperor, and the name of the latter is on the lips of the thoughtful reader before we utter it. Let us, however, cast upon it all the light of historic science.

An attentive reading of Rev. 11. will have already brought us to the conviction that this book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The temple and its inner court, with the great altar, are the measured—destined, that is to say, to be preserved, (Zech. 2) while the rest of the city is given up to the Pagans and devoted to sacrilege. These passages could not have been framed in view of the state of things which existed after the year 70. But the indications given in Rev. 17. are still more decisive. We shall maintain that Rome is here spoken of till it can be shown that in the age of the apostles there existed another city built upon seven hills, urbem septicollem, in which the blood of the witnesses of Christ had been shed in torrents. (Rev. 17:6, 9) This city, or this empire, has seven kings. The revelations of Daniel, of Enoch, and of Esdras follow the same chronological plan, all counting successions of kings to put the reader upon the track of the dates. Of those seven kings five are already dead, (Rev. 17:10) the sixth is reigning at this very time. The sixth emperor of Rome was Galba, an old man, seventy-three years of age at his accession. The final catastrophe, which was to destroy the city and the empire, was to take place in three years and a half, as has already been noted. For this one simple reason the series of emperors will include only one after the then reigning monarch, and he will reign but a little while. The writer does not know him, but he knows the relative duration of his reign, because he knows that Rome will, in three years and a half, perish finally, never to rise again.

There shall come an eighth emperor, he is one of the seven, and is at the same time the beast that was, but at the moment, is not. This must refer, then, to one of the previous emperors, who is to come again a second time, but as Antichrist, that is, invested with all the power of the devil, and for the special end of fighting against the Lord. As it is said that, at the time the vision is written, he is not, but has already been, he must be one of the first five emperors. He has been already wounded to death, (Rev. 13:3) so that there is something miraculous in his reappearance. It cannot, then, be Augustus, Tiberius, or Claudius, who none of them came to a violent end, and who are further place out of the question by the fact that none of these stood in hostile relations to the church. This reason will also exclude Caligula. There remains only Nero; but everything concurs to point him out as the personage thus mysteriously designated. So long as Galba reigned, and even long after that, the people did not believe Nero to be dead; they supposed him hidden somewhere, and ready to return and avenge himself on his enemies. The Messianic ideas of the Jews, which had become vaguely diffused through the West (as we learn from Tacitus and Suetonius), blending with these popular notions, suggested to the credulous the idea that Nero would come again from the East, to regain his throne by the aid of the Parthians. Many false Neros appeared.1 These popular fancies spread also among Christians. Visions were of common occurrence, 2 and the Fathers of the church perpetuate the same tradition through several centuries later.3

Lastly, that nothing may be wanting to the full evidence, our book names Nero, so to speak, in every character. The name Nero is contained in the number 666. The mechanism of the problem is based upon one of the cabalistic artifices in use in Jewish hermeneutics, which consisted in calculating the numerical value of the letters composing a word. this method, called ghematria, or geometrical, that is, mathematical, and used by the Jews in the exegesis of the Old Testament, has given much trouble to our learned men, and has led them into a maze of errors. All ancient and modern alphabets have been placed under contribution, and all imaginable combinations of figures and letters have been tried in turn. It has been made to yield almost all the historical names of the past eighteen centuries, —Titus Vespasian and Simon Gioras, Julian the Apostate and Genseric, Mohomet and Luther, Benedict IX. and Louis XV., Napoleon I. and the Duke de Reichstadt, —and it would not be difficult for any of us, on the same principles, to read in it one another’s names. In truth, the enigma was not so hard, though it has only been solved by exegesis in our own days. It was so little insoluble that several contemporary scholars found the clue simultaneously, and without knowing anything of one another’s labours. The ghematria is a Hebrew ar. The number has to be deciphered by the Hebrew Alphabet: rOoq nwrn reads ‘Nero Caesar’:—

n 50 + r 200 + w 6 + n 50 + q 100 + o 60 + r 200 = 666

‘The most curious point is that there exists a very ancient reading which gives 616. This might be the work of a Latin reader of the Revelation who had found the solution, but who pronounced Nero like the Romans, while the writer of the Revelation pronounced it like the Greeks and Orientals. The removal of the final n gives fifty less.’4


Dr. J. M. Macdonald’s Life and Writings of St. John.5

This volume was ready for the press before the author had an opportunity of consulting the elaborate work of Dr. Macdonald of the Life and Writings of St. John. Though it cannot be said that Dr. Macdonald does for St. John what Conybeare and Howson have done for St. Paul, yet there is much that is valuable in his work. It is especially gratifying to the author to find that, on the difficult question of ‘the two witnesses,’ Dr. Macdonald has arrived at a conclusion almost identical with his own. It would seem, however, to be with Dr. Macdonald only a happy guess. Paley says, ‘He discovers who proves;’ and Dr. Macdonald has not gone deeply into the investigation of the problem.

On the question of the date of the Apocalypse Dr. Macdonald unhesitatingly pronounces for the early date; and his remarks on this subject are weighty and powerful. He sees, what indeed is obvious enough, that the internal evidence settles the question beyond all controversy.

But Dr. Macdonald has failed, as so many expositors have failed, to find the true key to the Apocalypse. He follows Moses Stuart closely in the interpretation of the latter portion of the Revelation, and sees in the harlot city, not Jerusalem, but Rome. There is an inconsistency in his statements respecting Babylon (the city on the Euphrates) which amounts to self-contradiction. At page 138 he represents the literal Babylon as a large and populous city in the time of St. Peter, and quotes with approval from J. D. Michaelis and D. F. Bacon to show that it had a large Jewish population and offered a most desirable field for the labours of that apostle. At page 225, however, he says: ‘The literal Babylon was no more. The prophecies in regard to it uttered by Isaiah had long since been fulfilled.’ Both these statements cannot be correct. We have the clearest evidence that in the apostolic age Babylon was a deserted city. Probably the province, Babylonia, is confounded with the city, Babylon.

The following extracts are interesting and valuable:—

Date of the Apocalypse.

‘The external evidence seems, on the whole, to be of comparatively little value in deciding the true date of the Apocalypse. The main reliance, it is clear, must be upon the argument from internal evidence. When it has been made to appear that Irenaeus says nothing respecting the time when the Book of Revelation was written, and that Eusebius ascribes its authorship to another John than the apostle, it is sufficiently evident that the remaining testimony of antiquity, conflicting as it is, or about evenly balanced between the earlier and later date, is of little account in deciding the question. And when we open the book itself, and find inscribed on its very pages evidence that at the time it was written Jewish enemies were still arrogant and active in the city in which our Lord was crucified, and that the temple and altar in it were still standing, we need no date from early antiquity, nor even from the hand of the author himself, to inform us that he wrote before that great historical even and prophetic epoch, the destruction of Jerusalem.’—Pp. 171, 172.

The Two witnesses. (Rev. 11)

If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans.... But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth. During the time the Romans were to tread down the Holy Land and the city, they were to prophecy. Their being clothed in sackcloth intimates the mourningful character of their mission. In their designation as the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks or lamps standing before God, there is an allusion to Zech. 4., where these two symbols are interpreted of the two anointed ones, Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, founder of the second temple. The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light. They possess the power of working miracles as wonderful as any of those performed by Moses and Elijah. What is here predicted must have been fulfilled before the close of the miraculous or apostolic age. All who find here a prediction of the state of the church during the ascendancy of the Papacy, or at any period subsequent to the age of the apostles, are of course under the necessity of explaining away all this language which attributes miraculous power to the witnesses. They were at length to fall victims to the war, or to the same power that waged the war, and their bodies were to lie unburied three days and a half in the streets of the city where Christ was crucified. Their resurrection and ascension to heaven must be interpreted literally; although, as in the case of the miracles they performed, there is no historical record of the events themselves. If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case; and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled. The wave of ruin which swept over Jerusalem, and wafted them up to heaven, erased or prevented every human memento of their work of faith, their patience of hope, and labour of love. The prophecy that foretold them is their only history, or the only history of the part they were to take in the closing scenes of Jerusalem. We conclude, then, that these witnesses were two of those apostles who seem to be so strangely lost to history, or of whom no authentic traces can be discovered subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. May not James the Less, or the second James (in distinction from the brother of John), commonly styled the Bishop of Jerusalem, have been one of them? Why should he not remain faithful at his post to the last? According to Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian historian, who wrote about the middle of the second century, his monument was still pointed out near the ruins of the temple. Hegesippus says that he was killed in the year 69, and represents the apostle as bearing powerful testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus, and pointing to His second coming in the clouds of heaven, up to the very moment of his death. There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these
witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God.’—Pp. 161, 162.


Bishop Warburton on ‘Our Lord’s Prophecy on the Mount of Olives,’ and on ‘The Kingdom of Heaven.’

The following observations by the learned author of ‘The Divine Legation’ are in remarkable accord with the opinions expressed in this work:—

‘The prophecy of Jesus concerning the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is conceived in such high and swelling terms, that not only the modern interpreters, but the ancient likewise, have supposed that our Lord interweaves into it a direct prediction of His second coming to judgment. Hence arose a current opinion in those times that the consummation of all things was at hand; which hath afforded a handle to an infidel objection in these, insinuating that Jesus, in order to keep His followers attached to His service, and patient under sufferings, flattered them with the near approach of those rewards which completed all their views and expectations. To which the defenders of religion have opposed this answer: That the distinction of short and long, in the duration of time, is lost in eternity; and with the Almighty, ‘a thousand years are but as yesterday,’ etc.

‘But the principle both go upon is false; and if what hath been said be duly weighed, it will appear that this prophecy doth not respect Christ’s second coming to judgment, but His first; in the abolition of the Jewish polity and the establishment of the Christian, —that kingdom of Christ which commenced on the total ceasing of the Theocracy. For as God’s reign over the Jews entirely ended with the abolition of the temple service, so the reign of Christ, ‘in spirit and in truth,’ had then its first beginning. This was the true establishment of Christianity, not that effected by the conversion or donations of Constantine. Till the Jewish law was abolished, over which the ‘Father’ presided as King, the reign of the ‘Son’ could not take place; because the sovereignty of Christ over mankind was that very sovereignty of God over the Jews transferred and more largely extended.

‘This, therefore, being one of the most important eras in the economy of grace, and the most awful revolution in all God’s religious dispensations, we see the elegance and propriety of the terms in question to denote so great an event, together with the destruction of Jerusalem, by which it was effected; for in the whole prophetic language, the change and fall of principalities and powers, whether spiritual or civil, are signified by the shaking of heavens and earth, the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars; as the rise and establishment of new ones are by processions in the clouds of heaven, by the sound of trumpets, and the assembling together of hosts and congregations.’6

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1.  Suetonius, Nero, 40, 57; Tacitus, History, bk. i. 2; bk. ii. 8, 9; Dio Cassius, chap. lxiv, 9; Zonaras, Vita Titus. p. 578; Dio Chrysostom, Orationes, xx. p. 3717

2.  Visio Jesaij Aethiopica. Libri Sibyll, iv. p. 116 and foll.; chap. v. p. 33; chap. viii.

3.  Sulpicius Severus, chap. ii. p. 367. Augustine, Civ. Dei, chap. xx. p. 19; Lactant, Mort. Pers. chap. ii. p. 2; Hieron, Ad Dan. 11:28; Ad Esaj. xvii. 13 Chrysostom, Ad. 2 Thess. 2:7.

4.  History of Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age. By Edward Reuss, professor of Theology, Strasburg.

5.  Life and Writings of St. John. By the Rev. J. M. MacDonald, D. D.

6.  Warburton’s Julian, bk. i. chap. i. p. 21.

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