- Table of Contents
- About the Author
- Preface to the Book
- The Last Words in Old Testament Prophecy
- PART I. - The Parousia in the Gospels
- Parousia in the Synoptical Gospels
- Prophetic Intimations of the approaching Consummation of the Kingdom of God:
- The Prophecy on the Mount examined:
- Our Lord's declaration before the High Priest
- Prediction of the Woes coming on Jerusalem
- Prayer of the Penitent Thief
- Apostolic Commission, the
- The Parousia in the Gospel of St.John.
- Appendix to Part I
- PART II. The Parousia in the Acts and the Epistles.
- In the Acts of the Apostles.
- In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians
- In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
- In the First Epistle to the Corinthians
- In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians
- In the Epistle to the Galatians
- In the Epistle to the Romans
- In the Epistle to the Colossians
- In the First Epistle to Timothy
- In the Second Epistle of Timothy
- In the Epistle to Titus
- In the Epistle to the Hebrews
- In the Epistle of St. James
- In the First Epistle of St. Peter
- In the Second Epistle of St. Peter
- In the First Epistle of St. John
- In the Epistle of St. Jude
- Appendix to Part II
- Part III. The Parousia in the Apocalypse.
- Summary and Conclusion
- Appendix to Part III.
- Afterword by Russell
- All the Comparative Scripture Charts Combined
by James Stuart Russell
The Fourth Vision
VISION OF THE SEVEN MYSTIC FIGURES.
Rev. 12 — Rev. 13 — Rev. 14
The catastrophe of the trumpet vision lands us in the very same crisis as the catastrophe of the seven seals. They are both different representations of the same great event. But there is still room for fresh representations; and the next vision ushers in a completely different set of symbols, though belonging to the same period and relating to the same events. Its place, between the seven trumpets and the seven vials, enables us very distinctly to define its limits; and it closes, like the other visions, with a very marked catastrophe. It differs from them, however, in not being so expressly characterised by the number seven, though it is not difficult to see that it really consists of that number of principal figures or characters, all of them being symbolical representations. These are, —
1. The woman clothed with the sun;
2. The great red dragon;
3. The man-child;
4. The beast from the sea;
5. The beast from the land;
6. The Lamb on Mount Sion;
7. The Son of man on the cloud.
We call this vision, therefore, the vision of the seven mystic figures. It occupies the next three chapters—Rev. 12, Rev. 13, Rev. 14. It is of the utmost consequence for the correct interpretation of these apocalyptic visions that we keep stedfastly in mind the limits of the area to which we are restricted by the terms of the Book. It is only a point in historical time and geographical space, —the consummation of the Jewish age. The theatre of action, and the greater number of dramatis personae, must always be sought at the central spot, where is the focus of the interest, —Jerusalem and Judea. It is rarely that we have to travel beyond this region, although occasionally remoter elements are introduced, when they have a special relation to the principal theme.
1. The Woman clothed with the Sun.
Rev. 12:1, 2—‘And there appeared a great wonder [sign] in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.’
Rev. 12:5—‘And she brought forth a man child, who shall rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.’
It is not surprising that this representation of the woman who brings forth a man child destined to rule all the nations, who is caught up to God and to His throne, etc., should at the first view suggest the Virgin Mother and her Son, who was no sooner born than He was persecuted by the murderous jealousy of Herod, ‘who sought the young child to destroy him;’ and who ascended to the throne of God. Nevertheless, such an interpretation at once breaks down, being wholly incompatible with the subsequent representations in the vision. There is nothing in the history of Mary corresponding to the persecution of the woman by the dragon; to her flight into the wilderness after the ascension of her Son; to the flood of water cast out by the serpent to destroy her; and to the war made upon ‘the remnant of her seed.’
There is another objection which is fatal to this interpretation. It is outside the bounds which the Apocalypse itself expressly draws around its scene and time of action. It is not among the things ‘which must shortly come to pass.’ If we were taken back to look at symbolical representations of the birth of Christ, we should not be upon apocalyptic ground. To leave this ground is to travel out of the record, to forsake the terra firma of historical fact, and to launch out upon a shoreless sea of conjecture, without a compass or a guiding star.
We have no difficulty, therefore, in accepting the common opinion that the woman clothed with the sun is representative of the Christian church. But his alone is too vague a statement. It is the persecuted church, the apostolic church, the church of Judea, that is here symbolised. That is to say, it is the Hebrew-Christian church in the closing days of the Jewish age.
The emblems with which the woman is adorned will not seem incongruous or extravagant when we remember the lofty language in which the prophet Isaiah addresses Israel: ‘Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee,’ etc. (Isa. 60) That the apostolic church should be resplendent as the sun, that the moon should be beneath her feet, is only in keeping with all that is spoken in the New Testament of the dignity and glory of the bride of Christ.
But that which identifies the woman in the vision as the Hebrew-Christian church is the crown of twelve stars upon her head. That this is emblematic of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel seems beyond question; and it therefore fixes the reference of the vision to the church of Judea.
2. The great Red Dragon.
Rev. 12:3, 4—‘And there appeared another wonder in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.’
There is no possibility of doubt respecting the identity of this symbol. The dragon is ‘that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan,’—the ancient and inveterate foe of God and of His people. He is represented as possessing vast authority and power; ‘having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads;’ for he is ‘the god of this world,’ ‘the prince of the power of the air;’ ‘the accuser of the brethren;’ ‘the deceiver of the whole world.’ This malignant enemy of the cause of Christ stands ready to devour the child of which the woman is about to be delivered.
3. The Man Child.
Rev. 12:5—‘And she brought forth a man child, who shall soon rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up to God and to his throne.’
Alford affirms that ‘the man child is the Lord Jesus Christ, and none other.’ He further says that ‘the exigencies of this passage require that the birth should be understood literally and historically of that birth of which all Christians know.’1 And yet he holds that the mother is ‘the church;’ that ‘the Blessed Virgin cannot possibly be intended.’ These two suppositions are incompatible, and mutually destructive. It seems indeed natural at first sight to assume that Christ must be intended, but further consideration will show that it cannot be so. The church is never said to be the mother of Christ, nor Christ to be the Son of the church. The church is the bride, the wife, the body, the house of Christ, but never the mother. Christ is the King, the Head, the Husband of the church, but never the Son or Child. He is the Son of God, and the Son of man; but never the Son of the church. There would be an incongruity and impropriety in such a figure from which the sense of fitness revolts.
We believe the key to this symbol is to be found in Isa. 66, which is the original source from which the figures are derived. Jerusalem is there represented as a woman in travail, who is delivered of a man child: (Rev. 12:7, 8) ‘Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.’ It is impossible to believe that the resemblance between these passages is merely casual; and we are therefore greatly assisted in the interpretation of the vision by the analogous representations in the prophecy. As the man child, or the children of Zion, in the prophecy, signify the faithful in the land, or in Jerusalem, so the man child born of the persecuted woman in the Apocalypse denotes the faithful disciples of Christ in Judea, or even in Jerusalem itself. This explanation harmonises the seeming incongruities of the passage, and gives an intelligible and reasonable sense to the whole representation. The Hebrew-Christian church is personified as the persecuted parent of a persecuted offspring; she gives birth to a man child, but a man child that is also a nation, according to the words of the prophet. This man child is destined ‘to rule the nations with a rod of iron, and is caught up unto God, and to his throne.’ These are statements which seem to many only applicable to the Son of God Himself; but they are in truth affirmed in the Apocalypse to be the privilege and reward of every faithful disciple: ‘To him that overcometh will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron’; (Rev. 2:26, 27) ‘To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne’. (Rev. 3:21) It is therefore not unwarrantable to apply these expressions, lofty as they are, to the faithful disciples of Christ.
The safety of her offspring being thus secured, provision for the persecuted mother is made by God.
Rev. 12:6—‘And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.’
This anticipatory of the fuller statement in Rev. 12:13-16, where we are told that ‘to the woman were given the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.’
This allusion to the period of time during which the woman is preserved furnishes a clue to the interpretation of this part of the vision. It will be seen that it is the same space of time during which Jerusalem is trodden under foot by the Gentiles, and during which the two witnesses utter their prophecy. That is to say, these different designations of time, —forty-two months, a thousand two hundred and threescore days, and a time, and times, and half-a-time, are all equivalent to three years and a half, which is known to have been the duration of the Jewish war. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that these different events coincide with the period of the Jewish war, and cover the same duration, being contemporaneous events. Is there then, it may be asked, any historical fact corresponding to the symbols in the vision, namely, the persecuted woman, the mother of the man child, fleeing into the wilderness from the face of the dragon, and preserved in safety there during a space of time equal to three years and a half? We think there is; and we shall endeavour to present the veritable facts which, as we believe, answer to the symbolic representation.
Our Lord distinctly forewarned His disciples that when they saw certain specified signs of the approaching catastrophe, especially when they saw ‘Jerusalem compassed about with armies,’ and ‘the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place,’ they should, without loss of time, escape from the doomed city, and ‘flee to the mountains.’ So hasty was to be their flight that they were even to disregard their property, and only care for personal preservation. (Matt. 24:15-18) We have the testimony of Josephus also that many of the Jews at the commencement of hostilities with Rome abandoned Jerusalem as they would a sinking ship. It is presumable that the Christian population, who had been so expressly warned of what was coming, would quit the city; and there appears to be no reason to question the fact that as a body they did retire, and sought refuge in Peraea, beyond the Jordan, a district which we are informed by Josephus is generally desert, and might therefore be properly styled ‘the wilderness.’2
This, then, is how the symbols shape themselves into history. The church of Jerusalem, the mother church as it may well be called, and the fruitful mother of a multitude of spiritual children, is subjected to severe and grievous persecution, stirred up by Satan, the malignant adversary of Christ and of His people. Whether the man child caught up to God and to His throne symbolizes the martyred sons of the church referred to in Rev. 12:11, who, ‘though condemned by men in the flesh, were justified and crowned by God with life eternal in their spirit’, (1 Pet. 4:6) we will not decide, though we think it probable. The mother church, however, though deprived of her first-born, is still persecuted by the dragon. Never was the persecution hotter than when the period of the Jewish revolt arrived and the army of Rome appeared before the gates of Jerusalem. Warned of God, the church of Jerusalem abandoned the city, and fled as on eagle’s wings into the wilderness beyond the Jordan, where a safe retreat was found during the period of the war and the siege. Baffled in his attempt to crush the cause of Christ in Jerusalem, the dragon vents his rage by discharging a flood of malignant wrath after the fugitive Christians, —which, however, does them no harm, —and then turns to molest and persecute ‘the remnant of the woman’s seed,’ or disciples in other parts of the earth or the land.
If it be said that there is an incongruity in representing the persecuted Christians of the church of Jerusalem by the double figure of the woman and the man child, one of whom is caught up into heaven, while the other flies for refuge to the wilderness, we answer, that it is an incongruity inseparable from the use of such symbols. Zion and her children in the prophecy of Isaiah are virtually identical; and the same is true of the woman and the man child. We speak of England and her people when we really mean the same thing by both expressions; and it would be an over-fastidious criticism that would object to such language, which, if not logically correct, adds greatly to the dramatic and poetical effect of the description.
Alford, although he feels quite perplexed about the interpretation of the vision as a whole, gives his opinion in favour of our explanation of a very important part of the symbols. His words are, —
‘I own than, considering the analogies and the language used, I am much more disposed to interpret the persecution of the woman by the dragon of the various persecutions by Jews which followed the ascension, and her flight into the wilderness of the gradual withdrawal of the church and her agency from Jerusalem and Judea, finally consummated by the flight to the mountain on the approaching siege, commanded by our Lord Himself.’3
Strange that, having found one historical fact that so well corresponded with the symbol, the critic did not seek in the same quarter for more, which would no doubt have resulted in a luminous exposition of the whole; but he is led away by the ignis fatuus of a syllabus of universal church history in the Apocalypse, unaccountably ignoring the express statements of the book itself with reference to the very restricted period within which its visions must be fulfilled.
We come next to the conflict between the dragon and the champion who appears in defence of the persecuted woman:—
Rev. 12:7-9—‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’
It does not appear that this transaction, —the conflict between Michael and the dragon, —was represented to the Seer in vision. It is not introduced by the usual formula in such cases, ‘And I saw, and behold’ [eidon kai idou], but related more in the manner of a historian. Nor are we informed of the particular time or occasion of the conflict being fought. Indeed, the whole transaction is mysterious, and outside the range of earthly things; the scene of it is ‘in heaven;’ the combatants are spiritual beings, —‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places;’ although it is reasonable to suppose that the event has an intimate bearing upon the history of the apocalyptic period which is the subject of the vision. It is evidently introduced to explain the intense hostility of the dragon against the church of Christ; and this circumstance seems to imply that the casting out of Satan here referred to took place shortly before the outbreak of persecution against the Christians. It is important to remember that ‘Michael’ is in all probability to be identified with the Son of God. The reader is referred to the satisfactory proof of this identity adduced by Hengstenberg.4
We are not to conceive of this conflict as one of physical force, like Milton’s battles in ‘Paradise Lost,’ but rather as a moral and spiritual victory gained by truth over error, by light over darkness, by the Gospel over sin and unbelief. Probably there is an intimate connection between the casting out of Satan here referred to and the words of our Lord to His disciples when they brought back the report of their successful mission as evangelists, —‘I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven’; (Luke 10:18) and, again, ‘Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out’; (John 12:31) and, again, ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil’.(1 John 3:8) Translating the symbols into common language, they appear to signify that the progress of Christianity in the land aroused the hostility of Satan and his emissaries, and led to more active persecution of the disciples of Christ.
The victory Michael and his angels is celebrated by a triumphant proclamation in heaven, which does come within the purview of the vision.
Rev. 12:10, 11—‘And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast out, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.’
In all this we have the expression of the general truth that, in the long and deadly conflict with Jewish enmity, intensified by satanic malice, Christ fought for His persecuted disciples and foiled the attacks of their adversaries. How distinctly St. Paul recognised the presence and activity of an infernal power in the malignant hostility which opposed the Gospel may be seen in his remarkable words, ‘We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’. (Eph. 6:12) Divested of its symbolical imagery, the vision shows that the efforts of Satan to crush the truth of God were foiled and defeated, and only led to the more signal and decisive triumph of the kingdom of Christ.
Satan, balked of his prey and knowing that ‘he hath but a little while,’ for the consummation is now very near, departs, as we have seen, to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, ‘who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus’. (Rev. 12:17)
4. The First Wild Beast.
Rev. 13:1-10. —‘And he stood upon the sand of the sea. And I saw a wild beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. 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 it were the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world [land] wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon because he gave the power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.’
We now enter upon an investigation full of interest, but also full of difficulty; though that difficulty is greatly mitigated by the known limits of the area within which we are restricted, and where we must look for the personage now introduced upon the scene, and who plays so important a part in the sequel.
The true reading of the first verse is now admitted to be estayh [he stood], namely, the dragon. This is not unimportant. The dragon, foiled in his attempt to destroy the woman and her seed, stations himself on the sands of the sea, looking out for a potent auxiliary enlisted in his service.
Nor is he long in making his appearance. A portentous monster is beheld coming up out of the sea, —he is designated yhrion [a wild beast], already named by anticipation in Rev. 11:7. The description of this monster is very minute, so that his identification ought to be easy. Let us note the particulars of the description:—
- The beast comes from the sea.
- He has seven heads, and ten horns, with ten diadems upon his horns.
- He bears names of blasphemy upon his heads.
- He unites the characteristics of all the beasts seen by Daniel. (Dan. 7)
- He is invested by the dragon with his delegated power.
- One of his heads is mortally wounded; but the deadly would is healed.
- He receives the homage of the whole world.
- Divine honours are paid to him.
- He blasphemes God, and wars against the saints.
- The duration of his power is limited to forty-two months.
- His number is ‘the number of a man,’ and is declared to be ‘six hundred threescore and six.’ (In Rev. 17. other particulars are added, which complete the description of the beast, although it must be confessed they do not tend to make the discovery of his identity easier.)
- He was, and is not, and shall again come. (Rev. 17:8)
- He ascends out of the abyss, and goes into perdition. (Rev. 17:8)
- He is a king: one of seven, and yet the eighth. (Rev. 17:11)
It would be strange if such a number of marked and peculiar characteristics could be applicable to more than one individual, or if such an individual could be so obscure as not to be immediately recognised. He must be sought among the greatest of the earth; he must be the foremost of his day, the observed of all observers; he must fill the highest throne and rule the mightiest empire. His period, too, is fixed: it is in the last days of the Jewish polity, close upon the final catastrophe. The mystery stands revealed even by its own self-solution. This portentous wild beast, this potentate of the world, this plenipotentiary of Satan, can be no other than the master of the world, the Emperor of Rome, ‘the man of sin,’—NERO
Let us now see how the particulars of the description agree with the character of Nero.
- None will dispute his claim to the title ‘wild beast.’ If ever man deserved that name it was the brutal monster that disgraced humanity by his infamous cruelties and crimes. St. Paul gives him a similar designation: ‘I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion’.(2 Tim. 4:17)5
- By his rising out of the sea is probably meant that the beast is a foreign power. We are to regard him from a Jewish point of view; and in Judea Nero would of course be a transmarine sovereign.
- The seven heads and ten crowned horns of the beast are the symbols of his plenary power and universal dominion.
- The names of blasphemy inscribed upon his heads signify the assumption of the prerogatives of deity.
- The union of the characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel’s vision indicates that the dominion of the beast embraces the kingdoms represented in that vision.
- The possession of the delegated power of the dragon implies the subserviency of the beast to the interests of Satan. He is the dragon’s legate.
- One of his heads being wounded to death implies the violent end of the individual symbolised by the beast.
- As a matter of course, it would be true of the Roman emperor that he received the homage of the whole world, and idolatrous worship would be paid to him.
- History tells us that Nero was the first of the emperors who persecuted Christians.
- The duration of that first and bitter persecution accords with the period of forty and two months, or three years and a half, mentioned in the vision. (If we adopt the reading of the Codex Sinaiticus, ‘it was given unto him to do what he will for forty and two months,’ it would evidently imply that his cruel policy of persecution would be limited to that period. Now, as a matter of fact, the persecution by Nero began in November A.D. 64, and ended with his death in June A.D. 68, that is as nearly as possible three years and a half.)6
Postponing for the moment the consideration of the next and crucial question, —‘the number of the beast,’ we may here pause to observe how precisely all this tallies with the character of Nero. We might, at first, be disposed to think, with Bossuet, that the visionary beast signifies ‘the Roman Empire, or more properly Rome herself, the mistress of the world, —Rome pagan, and the persecutor of the saints.’ But as we proceed we are satisfied that it is not an abstraction, but a real person, that is here described, or, at least, the Imperial power embodied in the most ferocious and brutal of its representatives, the Emperor Nero. Every point of the description identifies the criminal. It was this execrable tyrant who first let loose the hell-hounds of persecution on the unoffending Christians of Rome. More like a wild beast than a man, he glutted his bloodthirsty propensities with the murder of his brother, his mother, and his wife. The incendiary of his own capital, he falsely imputed his crime to the innocent Christians, whom he put to death in vast numbers and with unheard-of barbarities. Wielding the mightiest power on earth, he used it for the indulgence of the basest vices, and made himself the slave of the most brutal passions. He arrogated to himself the prerogatives of deity, and claimed and received the worship due to God. His inordinate vanity made him greedy of admiration; it led him to perform as an actor on the stage, to drive as a charioteer in the circus, to contend in the Olympic games. ‘The world wondered after the beast.’ We are told that he received no less than eighteen hundred crowns for his victories. Dio Cassius relates that he entered Rome in triumph, and was hailed with acclamations by the senate and people, who offered him the most abject adulation. He was greeted with shouts of ‘Victories Olympic! Victories Pythian! Thou August! Thou August! Nero the Hercules! Nero the Apollo! Sacred Voice! Eternal One!’ [Eiv ap aiwnov]7
Much more obscure is the apparently paradoxical statement respecting the deadly wound of the beast which was nevertheless healed. Of course, if it was healed it was not deadly; and if it was deadly it could not really be healed. To require a literal fulfilment of an impossibility would manifestly be unreasonable, yet the explanation ought to reconcile the seeming contradiction. Now, it is a curious fact that a plausible explanation of the paradox has been given. Nero died a violent death, —died by a wound from a sword, inflicted either by his own hand or by that of an assassin. It is needless to say that the wound was mortal; but there was undoubtedly a very general belief at the time that he did not die, but was somewhere in concealment, and would ere long reappear, and recover his former power. Tacitus alludes to the popular belief (History, chap. ii. 8), as does also Suetonius (Nero, chap. lvii.). There is nothing improbable in the supposition that such a note of identity, embodying the general belief, might be employed as it is in the vision; at all events, no other explanation supplies so reasonable and satisfactory a solution of the problem.8
The Number of the Beast.
We now come to the question which has exercised the ingenuity of critics and commentators almost since the day it was first propounded, and which even yet can hardly be said to be solved, viz. the name or number of the beast. Without wasting time on the various answers that have been given, it may suffice to make one or two preliminary remarks on the conditions of the problem.
- It is evident that the writer considered that he was giving sufficient data for the identification of the person intended. It is also presumable that he meant not to puzzle, but to enlighten, his readers.
- It is equally evident that the explanation does not lie on the surface. It requires wisdom to understand his words: it is only the man ‘who hath understanding’ that is competent to solve the problem.
- It is plain that what he intends to convey to his readers is the name of the person symbolised by the beast. His name expresses a certain number; or, the letters which form his name, when added together, amount to a certain numerical value.
- The name or number is that of a man, —i.e. it is not a beast, nor an evil spirit, nor an abstraction, but a person, a living man.
- The number which expresses the name is, in Greek characters, cc e v, or in numerical value six hundred threescore and six.
We have already, on entirely independent grounds, arrived at the conclusion that by the apocalyptic beast is intended the reigning emperor, Nero. It is his name, therefore, that ought to fulfil, not indeed obviously, nor without some research, yet satisfactorily and conclusively, all the conditions of the problem. That emperor’s name would be written in three ways, according as it was expressed in one or other of the three languages, the Latin, the Greek, or the Hebrew: in Latin, Nero Caesar; in Greek, Nerwn Kaisar; in Hebrew, roqnwrn.
St. John was not writing to Romans, nor in the Latin tongue, so that the first form may be at once set aside. He was writing, however, in Greek, and to readers well acquainted with Greek, though most of them probably of Jewish blood. It is probable that most of them would at once, and instinctively, pronounce the dreaded name. If so they would feel at a loss, for the Greek letters Nerwn Kaisar would not make up the numbers required.
But if this had been all that was necessary, the name would have lain upon the surface, patent and palpable to the dullest apprehension. It would have required neither wisdom nor understanding to read the riddle. The reader must try another method. St. John was a Hebrew, and though he wrote in Greek characters, his thoughts were Hebrew, and the Hebrew form of the Imperial name and title was familiar to him and to his Hebrew-Christian friends both in Asia Minor and Judea. It might not unnaturally occur to the reflecting reader to calculate the value of the letters which expressed the emperor’s name in Hebrew. And the secret would stand disclosed:—
The numerical value of Nero Caesar in Hebrew
Here, then, is a number which expresses a name; the name of a man, of the man who, of all then living, best deserved to be called a wild beast: the head of the Empire, the master of the world; claiming to be a god, receiving divine honours, persecuting the saints of the Most High; in short, answering in every particular to the description in the apocalyptic vision. If it should be asked, Why should the prophet wrap up his meaning in enigmas? Why should he not expressly name the individual he means? First, the Apocalypse is a book of symbols: everything in it is expressed in imagery, which requires translation into ordinary language. But, secondly, it would not have been safe to speak more plainly. To have openly stated the name of the tyrant, after describing and designating him in the manner employed in the Apocalypse, would have been rash and imprudent in the extreme. Like St. Paul when describing ‘the man of sin,’ St. John veils his meaning under a disguise, which the heathen Greek or Roman would probably fail to penetrate, but which the instructed Christian of Judea or Asia Minor would readily see through.
It is a strong confirmation of the accuracy of this interpretation that we have another enigmatical description of the very same personage from the hand of St. Paul. We have already seen the proof that ‘the man of sin’ delineated in 1 Thess. 2 is no other than Nero, and the comparison of the two portraitures shows how striking is their resemblance to one another and to the original. This correspondence cannot be a curious coincidence merely; it can only be accounted for by the supposition that both apostles had the same individual in view.10
5. The Second Wild Beast.
Rev. 13:11-17—‘And I saw another wild beast coming up out of the earth [land]; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast in his presence, and causeth the land and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he worketh great wonders, so that he even maketh fire to come down from heaven to the earth in the sight of men, and he deceiveth them that dwell in the land by means of those miracles which he had power to work in the presence of the beast; saying to them that dwell in the land, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life [breath] to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should even speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be slain. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or on their forehead; and that no men might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.’
If our conclusions respecting the identity of the first beast are correct, it ought not to be difficult to discover who is intended by the second beast. It will be observed that in many respects there is a strong resemblance between them: they are of the same nature, though one is supreme and the other subordinate; but there are also points of difference. It will be proper, however, in this case also, to bring into one view the various particular characteristics which assist to identify the individual intended:—
- The second beast rises up from the land.
- He has only two horns, and they are like a lamb’s.
- He speaks like a dragon.
- He is clothed with the delegated authority of the first beast.
- He compels men to pay homage, or worship, to the beast.
- He pretends to exercise miraculous powers.
- He rules with tyrannical force and cruelty.
- He excludes from civil rights all who refuse abject submission to the beast.
Looking at these characteristics it becomes at once perfectly clear that we must seek the antitype to this symbolic figure in a man kindred character with the monster Nero himself. He is evidently the alter ego of the emperor, though his proportions are drawn on a smaller scale.
- His rising out of the land, while the first beast rises out of the sea, denotes that the second beast is a domestic or home authority, ruling in Judea; while the other is a foreign power.
- His having two horns like a lamb, while the first beast has ten, denotes that his sphere of government is small, and his power limited, compared with the other.
- That he speaks as a dragon, or serpent, denotes his crafty and deceitful character.
- His being clothed with the authority of the first beast indicates that he is the official representative and delegate of Nero in Judea.
At this point the individual is revealed to us. He can be no other than the Roman procurator or governor of Judea under Nero, and the particular governor must be sought at or near the outbreak of the Jewish war; and here the history of the time throws a flood of light upon the inquiry.
There are two names which may vie with each other for the bad pre-eminence of the original of this picture of the second beast, —Albinus and Gessius Florus. Each was a monster of tyranny and cruelty, but the latter outdid the former. Before Gessius Florus came into office the Jews counted Albinus the worst governor who had ever ground them by his oppression. After Gessius Florus came they thought Albinus almost a virtuous man in comparison. Florus was a miscreant worthy to stand by the side of Nero: a fit servant of such a master.
The reader will find in the pages of Josephus the story of the enormous and incredible profligacy, fraud, treachery, and tyranny of this last and worst of all the governors who represented the Imperial authority in Judea, and will see how the historian traces to the misrule of this infamous man the ruin that fell upon the nation. It was his intolerable and Draconic oppression that goaded the unhappy Jews into rebellion, and was the proximate cause of the war which ended in the utter overthrow of Jerusalem and her people. Josephus, indeed, has not preserved all the facts, which, if we had them, would no doubt vividly illustrate all the particulars in the apocalyptic portraiture of the second beast. But we scarcely need them. Force, fraud, cruelty, imposture, tyranny, are attributes which too certainly might be predicated of such a procurator as Florus. Perhaps the traits most difficult to verify are those which relate to the compulsory enforcement of homage to the emperor’s statue and the assumption of miraculous pretensions. Yet even here all we know is in favour of the description being true to the letter. Dean Milman observes:—
‘The image of the beast is clearly the statue of the emperor;’ and he adds: ‘The test by which the martyrs were tried was to adore the emperor, to offer incense before his statue, and to invoke the gods.’ (See Review of Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine.)’
Dean Alford’s remarks are also deserving of notice:—
‘The Seer is now describing facts which history substantiates to us in their literal fulfilment. The image of Caesar was everywhere that which men were made to worship: it was before this that the Christian martyrs were brought to the test, and put to death if they refused the act of adoration...’
‘If it be said, as an objection to this, that it is not an image of the emperor, but of the best itself, which is spoken of, the answer is very simple, —that as the Seer himself, in Rev. 17:11, does not hesitate to identify one of the ‘seven kings’ with the beast itself, so we may fairly assume that the image of the beast, for the time being, would be the image of the reigning emperor.’11
To the same effect are the following observations of Dean Howson, which are the more striking as being written without any reference to the passage before us:—
‘The image of the emperor was at that time [under the Empire] the object of religious reverence: he was a deity on earth (‘Das aequa potestas’—Juv. iv. 71), and the worship paid to him was a real worship. It is a striking thought that in those times (setting aside effete forms of religion) the only two genuine worships in the civilised world were the worship of a Tiberius or a Nero, on the one hand, and the worship of Christ on the other.’12
We are now in a position to ask the verdict of every candid and judicial mind on the question of identity which has been argued, as well as the complete congruity and correspondence in all points between the symbols in the vision and the historical personages whom, in our opinion, they represent. The time, the place, the scene, the circumstances, and the dramatis personae are all in full accord with the requirements of the Apocalypse. It is the eve of the great catastrophe, the final ruin of the Judaic polity. The predicted persecution of the people of God, which was to usher in the end, has broken out. A terrible triumvirate of evil is in league against Christ and His cause. The dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land, —Satan, the Emperor, and the Roman procurator, are in active hostility against ‘the woman and the remnant of her seed.’ Their time, however, is short; the hour of retribution is at hand; and the very next scene discovers the champion and avenger of the faithful, and shows the security and blessedness of His people.
6. The Lamb on Mount Sion.
Rev. 14:1-13—‘And I saw, and behold, the Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written in their foreheads, etc.’
This portion of the vision scarcely needs an interpreter; it speaks for itself. There is a striking contrast between the wild beast that rules as vicegerent of the dragon and the Lamb that governs in His Father’s name. There can be no doubt that the hundred and forty and four thousand, having the name of Christ and the Father inscribed on their foreheads, are identical with the hundred and forty and four thousand out of all the tribes of the children of Israel, who have the seal of God on their foreheads, who are alluded to in Rev. 7. They are the elect Hebrew-Christian church of Judea, possibly of Jerusalem, and are represented as standing with the Lamb on the Mount Sion, redeemed, triumphant, glorified; no longer exposed to danger and death, but gathered into the fold of the Great Shepherd. Of course the representation is proleptic—an anticipation of what was now imminent; in fact, a repetition of the glorious scene described in Rev. 7:9-17. Is it possible to believe that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews had not this vision in his thoughts when he wrote that noble passage, ‘Ye are come unto mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,’ etc.? The points of resemblance are so marked and so numerous that it cannot possibly be accidental. The scene is the same, —Mount Sion; the dramatis personae are the same, — ‘the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven,’ corresponding with the hundred and forty and four thousand who bear the seal of God. In the epistle they are called ‘the church of the first-born;’ the vision explains the title, —they are ‘the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb;’ the first converts to the faith of Christ in the land of Judea. In the epistle they are designated ‘the spirits of just men made perfect;’ in the vision they are ‘virgins undefiled, in whose mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.’ Both in the vision and the epistle we find ‘the innumerable company of angels’ and ‘the Lamb,’ by whom redemption was achieved. In short, it is placed beyond all reasonable doubt that since the author of the Apocalypse cannot be supposed to have drawn his description from the epistle, the writer of the epistle must have derived his ideas and imagery from the Apocalypse.
Events are now hastening rapidly towards the consummation. The Seer beholds three angels fly in succession across the field of vision, each bearing a prophetic announcement of the approaching catastrophe. The first, who is charged with the proclamation of the everlasting Gospel, in the first instance to them that dwell in the land, and next to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, crises with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give glory to him; because the hour of his judgment is come’. (Rev. 14:7) There is a manifest allusion here to the fact predicted by our Lord that, before the coming of ‘the end,’ the Gospel of the kingdom would first be preached in all the world [oikonmenh] ‘for a witness to all the nations’. (Matt. 24:14) This symbol, therefore, indicates the near approach of the catastrophe of Jerusalem, —the arrival of the hour of Israel’s judgment.
A second angel swiftly follows, and proclaims the fall of Babylon, as if it had already taken place, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, which made the all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ This is plainly another declaration of the same impending catastrophe, only more distinctly indicating the doom of the guilty city—the great criminal about to be brought to judgment. We shall presently have occasion to discuss the identity of the great city here and elsewhere designated as Babylon.
A third messenger succeeds, who denounces, in awful language, the wrath of God upon all idol worshippers:—
Rev. 14:9-11—‘If any man worship the beast and his image, or receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb,’ etc.
In striking contrast to this is the message which a heavenly voice brings to the faithful disciples of Christ ‘who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.’
Rev. 14:13—‘And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.’
All this is clearly indicative of the near approach of the final catastrophe. There is one expression, however, in the last quotation which calls for explanation, viz. the announcement respecting the blessedness of the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth. This ‘henceforth’ [ap arti] is the emphatic word in the sentence, and must have an important significance. It is not simply that the dead in Christ are safe or happy, but that, from and after a certain specified period, a peculiar blessedness belongs to all those who thenceforth die in the Lord.
It is not unreasonable in itself, and it appears, moreover, to be the distinct teaching of Holy Scripture, that the great consummation which closed the Jewish age had an important bearing upon the condition of all who subsequently to that period, ‘die in the Lord.’ We have seen (See remarks on topic 107) that previously to the redemptive work of Christ the state of the pious dead was not perfect. They had to await the accomplishment of that great event which constituted the foundation of their everlasting felicity. The saints of the old dispensation ‘obtained not the promise.’ They died in faith, but did not possess the inheritance. ‘God provided something better for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.’ So wrote the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews on the verge of the great consummation. The plain meaning of this is that the Parousia marked the introduction of a new epoch in the condition of the departed saints and the prospects of all who after that epoch commenced should die in the Lord. ‘Blessed are such’ from henceforth. That is to say, they should not have to wait, as their predecessors had, the arrival of the period when the promise should be fulfilled. They should enter at once into ‘the rest which remaineth for the people of God.’ The way into the holy place has now been made manifest; there is immediate rest and reward for the faithful departed; ‘they rest from their labours; for their works do follow them.’
7. The Son of Man on the Cloud.
Rev. 14:14-20—‘And I saw, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sitting like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle and reap: because the time to reap is come; because the harvest of the land is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud cast his sickle on the land; and the land was reaped.’
‘And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over the fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the land; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel cast his sickle on the land, and gathered the vine of the land, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God. And the wine-press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even to the bits of the horses, for a thousand six hundred furlongs.’
We now come to the seventh and last of the mystic figures of which this fourth vision consists, and to the denoument, where we may expect to find the catastrophe of the whole. Nor are we disappointed; for nothing can be more distinctly marked than the catastrophe under this symbol, the interpretation being so self-evident that it can hardly be misunderstood.
The scene opens with the apparition of ‘one like unto the Son of man seated on a white cloud,’ wearing a golden crown on his head and holding a sharp sickle in his hand. The weapon which he holds is the emblem of the transaction which is about to take place. It is the time of harvest, for ‘the harvest of the land is ripe; and he that sat on the cloud cast his sickle on the land; and the land was reaped.’
There can be no misunderstanding this act. We have the original draught of the picture in our Lord’s parable of the wheat and the tares. ‘In the time of harvest [the end of the age, sunteleia tou aiwnov], I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn’. (Matt. 13:30)
The parable of the tares and the wheat is also followed in the vision in the separation of this final judicial transaction into two parts—the wheat harvest and the vintage, except only in the transposition of the order of the events. The harvest corresponds with the reaping of the wheat and its safe gathering into the barn; in the other words, it is the fulfilment of the prediction, ‘The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds’, (Matt. 24:31-34) an event which was to take place before the passing away of that generation. The destruction of the tares corresponds with the ‘vintage of the land.’ It will be observed that the vintage is wholly of a destructive character. As the ‘harvest of the land’ denotes the salvation of the faithful people of God, so the ‘vintage of the land’ denotes the destruction of His enemies. It is worthy of remark that while the Son of man is represented as the reaper, the angel in the vision is the agent in the cutting down of the vine. It is scarcely necessary to point out the peculiar fitness of the imagery employed in the latter impressive scene. ‘The vine of the land’ is Israel, according to the well-known emblem in Ps. 80:8, ‘Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt,’ etc. The vintage is now come, for ‘her grapes are fully ripe;’ that is to say, the nation is ripe for judgment. The angel commissioned to destroy does not gather the clusters, but cuts down the vine itself, and casts it altogether into the ‘great wine-press of the wrath of God.’ The wine-press is trodden; and this is represented as taking place outside the city, as the sin-offering was burned outside the camp, and as the criminal was executed outside the gate, being accursed. (Heb. 13:11-13) Blood comes out of the wine-press, and in such torrents that it is like a river in flood, rising to the horse-bridles, and reaching a distance of ‘a thousand and six hundred furlongs.’
This is terrible in symbol, yet almost literal in its historic truth. It was a people that was thus ‘trampled’ in the fury of divine wrath. Where was there ever such a sea of blood as was shed in the exterminating war of Vespasian and of Titus? The carnage, as related by Josephus, exceeds all that is recorded in the sanguinary annals of warfare. Jerusalem, and her children within her, were trodden in the great wine-press of the wrath of God. Then were fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah, ‘The Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a wine-press’. (Lam. 1:15) There is fact as well as figure in the ghastly scene which represents the invading cavalry as swimming in blood up to the horses’ bits; and there is probably an allusion to the geographical extent of Palestine in the ‘thousand and six hundred furlongs,’ so that we may regard the symbolical description as equivalent to the statement that from one end to the other the land was deluged with blood.
In all this the prophecy and the history fit each other like lock and key; and if we had not the testimony of an eyewitness, who certainly could have no interest in exaggerating the ruin of his people or defaming their character, it would scarcely be possible to believe that these symbols were not overcharged. But no one can read that tragic story without recognising there the transactions which are here written in symbol, and which amply attest the reality and truth of the prophecy.
Such is the distinctly marked catastrophe of the vision of the seven mystic figures. Like the other catastrophes it is an act of judgment, presenting the great consummation in a different aspect. If any doubt should still be felt as to the principle which underlies our whole system of interpretation, viz. that the Apocalypse is a sevenfold representation of the same great providential drama, it must be dispelled by the next series of visions, which conclusively demonstrates this feature of the book.
CommentsNo comments yet.
1. Greek Testament, in loc.
2. Jewish Wars, bk. iii. Chap. iii. sect. 3.
3. Greek Testament Notes on Rev. 12:14.
4. See Christology of the Old Testament, vol. iv. pp. 301-306. Also Commentary on the Apocalypse, in loc.
5. See Josephus, Antiquities, bk. xviii. chap. vi. 10. and Whiston’s Note.
6. See Stuart’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, chap. xiii. 5.
7. Dio Cassius, quoted by Stuart, Commentary on the Apocalypse, in loc.
8. It is remarkable that this belief in the recovery and return of Nero maintained itself in the Christian church for centuries. Sulpicius Severus, in his Historia Sacra, writes: ‘Nero, the basest of all men, and even of monsters, was well worthy of being the first persecutor. I know not whether he may be the last, since it is the current opinion of many that he is yet to come as Antichrist.’—Historia Sacra, ii. 28. Again: ‘It is uncertain whether he [Nero] destroyed himself.... whence it is believed that though he may have pierced himself with a sword, yet he was saved by the cure of his wound, in accordance with that which is written, (in Rev. 13:3) "And his deadly wound was healed."’ This testimony is important, as proving that for the first three centuries the apocalyptic beast was understood to signify Nero.
9. The name of Nero as given above occurs in the Talmud, and in other Rabbinical writings. It may be proper to add, for the information of the general reader, that in both the Hebrew and the Greek language the letters of the alphabet are used as figures or numerals, and the letters of the Hebrew form of the words ‘Nero Caesar’ have the value of 666. For a more full investigation of this subject see Stuart on the Apocalypse, Excursus iv. ‘On the Number of the Beast.’
10. See Note A, Part iii. Reuss on the Number of the Beast.
11. Greek Testament, in loc.
12. Life and Epistles of St. Paul, chap. i. Note.