This chapter identifies the beast and its union with the second beast. Just like we saw in Rev 12, the beast had seven heads. The beast resembled different wild beasts, like the pagan powers of Daniel. This identifies it with Rome, the pagan power at the time of John’s prophecy. One of the heads had a mortal wound, but was healed, and the world worshipped the beast. During John’s time, the Roman Empire went through great turbulence and looked like it was going to fall. A review of the rulers and history of Rome in Flavius Josephus reveals this. When the beast survived, all the world wondered at its powers. Empower worship was common in John’s time, and blasphemy was a major trait of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire, under Nero in particular, embarked on a policy of persecution against the church. This is when the Christians were killed in sports events in the Roman public arenas, and they were burnt as touches to light the streets at night. As Rev 13 says, the Roman Empire was given authority over all people in the biblical world of that day and even the people who dwelt in the land of Israel, worshipped this beast.
The result of this was that Jerusalem fell. Many were taken captive, and many died by the sword. This impacted millions of people in Israel.
Then we see the second beast mentioned. This was Jerusalem. It rose out of the earth, not out of the sea. This sea beast is pagan Rome. The land beast rises out of the land of Israel. This is what the symbolism meant in those days. “Sea” for pagan lands and “land” (earth) for the promised land. This second beast had horns like a lamb. It pretended to be harmless, but wasn’t really of God, but was a false prophet and spoke from satan, of violence, greed and destruction.
This second beast used the first beast for its power. The signs that it performed was the power it had through Rome to destroy its enemies, even its enemies within Israel, like the zealots who wanted to reform the temple. They set up an image of the Roman beast, probably referring to some image of Roman power set up in the temple, probably also that which Paul referred to in Thessalonians. Again, Josephus gives some details on this in the history of that time.
“Giving breath to the image of the beast” meant that the people of Israel were able to see the great power of Rome in their land. The reward Rome received, for giving the leaders of Jerusalem its power support, was the subjugation of Jerusalem under Roman rule. Jerusalem then was a great city and very wealthy. Rome benefitted a lot from their arrangement with the corrupt leaders of Jerusalem. And the masses were impoverished.
The “mark of the beast” was allegiance to the Roman power. Most people in the Roman Empire had to worship the Caesar in the temples, by offering incense to him. The Jews were able to gain exemption from this, but still had to honour the Caesar in other ways, mainly by bowing the knee to Roman corruption in order the gain Roman support against the masses that the leaders of Jerusalem oppressed. The mark of the beast was this life of yielding to self-interest, the idolatry of self-worship, honouring the power of the day, rather than helping the weak. The mark was received in the forehead or forehand, which then represented the heart and actions of the people. They had given their lives over to reflect the image of self-centredness, of which Caesar was the patron god, rather than the image of the true God, through the merciful, selfgiving care of others.
This mark was discussed by Jesus, when he took a coin with Caesar’s image on it. The issue was whose image/ mark do we show? We are to be directed by God and to reflect his image of love to others, not the image of Caesar, of greed and love of mammon.
“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.” When John said, “this calls for wisdom,” he meant, “this is the interpretation, so you will know the person I am speaking of.” John wouldn’t have just call out his name, saying, “Nero.” This would have brought more trouble to the believers, already being persecuted. So, the Revelation was in code.
This shows that the beast was alive in the day in which John wrote.
John wrote to the seven churches and told them that they would know the person in their own day, by the number of his name. That is, the beast was a person who was alive when John wrote the Revelation. The beast wasn’t limited to this one person, it was the whole Roman empire and all its leaders, but the person John was identifying was the chief representative of the beast when John wrote.
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet had numeric value, just as the letters of the Latin alphabet did. The numeric value of the phrase Nero Caesar adds up to 666. The early Latin translation of the Revelation does not read 666, but 616. For many years people thought this was a translation error, until it was realised that the numeric value of Nero Caesar in the Latin alphabet is 616.