Revelation has a couple of important characters and we have already introduced the harlot, but there are a couple more that we must be introduced and one of them is the beast. This guy comes on the stage in Revelation. 13:1.
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” (Rev. 13:1).
The beast has a characteristic that I know many fear even today, 666. If anyone has a little fun of “tagging” some people as “the beast”, there are others who are more in earnest and are serious enough. Many politicians and prominent people have unfortunately been tagged as the animal; Ronald Reagan, Michael Gorbatjov, the Rothschild family, Putin, the Pope(s) plus many more, although it has been proven to be none of them.
I think we need to stop labeling people as “the beast” of revelation, even if someone were to behave like an animal. The beast described in Revelation is the Roman Empire, and Nero, or more specifically, the animal is collective the Roman Empire and specific Nero, the Roman ruler. The “beast” in Revelation is something that has been.
We must not forget what time John was in when he wrote the revelation and to whom he wrote to, which I explain in “Revelation Part 1.” We see that the time of the Roman Empire and Nero, as the beast, fits into that time frame, but are these the beast? Let’s look at this. first the location.
The location of the beast, I would say also fits well. John “stands upon the sand of the sea” (Revelation 13:1) in a vision, which means that he is standing on a beach. The beast will probably emerge from the sea at the most favorable place for an attack on Jerusalem and the temple, which is precisely the shores of the Mediterranean. Rome, which is the seat of the Roman Empire, is located northwest of Israel, just across the Mediterranean. The argument here is that it was not any other threat to Israel from any other area, when most of the surrounding areas were under the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire also had a great political power, which John describes that the animal had horns “… having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns on,…” (Rev. 13:1).
This is a image language that you can find in OT. Horn of animals is often illustrated as a political force or military force. Let’s look at some:
“His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” (Deut. 33:17) (Other is: Ezek. 34:21, Dan. 7:7 og Lev. 24:8)
In Rev. 17:9-10 we will find more information that indicates that the beast is Rome and the Roman Empire. We read:
“And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” (Rev. 17:9).
This verse is an explanation that comes with the angel to John when he probably is a bit confused by what the angel had told him earlier regarding the harlot (verse 7). These seven mountains are known as the mountain where the city of Rome is built on, even today. The mountains are: Mount Esquiline, Viminale mountain Caelian mountain, Mount Aventine, Qurinal mountain, Mount Palatine and Capitol mountain.
Seven (7) mountain, it is where the woman sitting on and they also represent seven kings. This series of kings who the angel tells John, is also consistent with the Roman Empire in that time. As it appears, five of them have already fallen. These represent the first five emperors of Rome: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius and Claudius. When John wrote Revelation, these emperors was dead, “fell”. The sixth king reigns at this time, because he is “the one”, Nero Caesar who reigned for over thirteen years. The seventh king has not come yet, and when he enters the scene, only to reign for a short time. Galba was the seventh Roman Emperor who reigned only six months – from June 68 AD to January 69 AD. Up to then the shortest reigning emperor.
The beasts likeness to the Roman Empire is striking, not least the sixth emperor, Nero. Nero was the first emperor who persecuted the Christian church but also the one who gave general Vespasian mission to attack and destroy Jerusalem.
As I mentioned above, we can probably see people as “animals” when we see one that is possessed by an evil character, but here we have the character of the beast in Revelation:
“And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.” (Rev. 13:2).
Today these animals are disturbing enough if we were to meet them but perhaps even more to those who were aware of the Roman arena where men and women were cruelly thrown to the lions and other animals. Nero was a cruel man with an animal-like character. He killed his own mother, brother, aunt and wife. He killed many of the prominent citizens of Rome and he tied slaves to poles, covered himself with lion skins and attacked them.
He was blasphemous as we read in Revelation 13.5-6, 8 He imitated intentionally the sun god Apollo and coined a coin with a picture of his own head which shone rays of the sun. A tribute to him was set in Athens with an inscription: “all mighty Caesar Nero Sebastor, a new Apollo”. The king of Armenia, Tiridates faced Nero worshiping as if he were God, this we can read from the historian Dio Cassius.
But what the most famous mark of the beast, as mentioned above, is the number 666.
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” (Rev. 13:18).
I have some books in my bookcase of great Christian writers and brothers who have tried to calculate the number of the beast. Some come to the same answer and others come up with various “solutions”. Some say that the BAR code representing the number, where the code begins with 6, the middle section represents 6 and ending with 6. Others agian are in favor of a chip that is implanted in your hand, and other say Ronald Wilson Reagan’s three (3) name represents six letters each, which is quite close but not close enough as we will see.
There are also people who are afraid of numbers at all; the number on credit cards, ID number and membership numbers.
I do not think John is trying to point out that the animal’s mark involves a series of sixes. In the Greek text of Rev. 13:18 is the number written: six hundred sixty and six, (600, 60, 6), and not six and six and six. Many English versions have translated this in letter form and made it easier to see, among others, KJV, NASB, and NRSV.
In those days, they used the letters as a numbering system as well, and considering that John was a Jew and he described the judgment of God upon the Jews, the Revelation is also the most Hebrew book in the NT with many visual images taken from the OT. By transferring the Hebrew imagery to Greek became a bit broken Greek, according to many theologians and historians today. They say that Revelation was written in a “very Hebrew form of Greek.” If we use the Hebrew language as a base, we will see that the beasts name was Nrwn Qsr, pronounce Nerone Kaiser, as some archaeological documents from the first century also shows the spelling of Nero. Number valuation of this spelling is as follows:
n = 50 — r = 200 — w = 6 — n = 50 — q = 100 — s = 60 — r = 200
This gives a sum of 666.
The Latin text of Revelation gives us a proof that the Emperor Nero is the beast. The Latin text has the number 616 instead of 666, but in Latin the Néron Kaiser is spelled Nrw Qsr, which provides 616. This confirming that the number points to Nero as the beast in other languages as well.
But what about the animal will force the mark on the people?
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” (Rev. 13:16-17).
This is probably no more literal than that God puts mark on the foreheads of the elect in Rev. 14:1. That the beast requires worship is to show his divine claims and a mark on his right hand and on the forehead is like a negative image of God demands of His law in His own people as we find in the OT.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: …And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” (Rev. 6:6, 8).
Another thing who confirms Nero as the beast in revelation is his persecution and cruel acts against the Christians. In Rev. 13:5, 7 we read that he was given the power to do so and even speak words of blasphemy, for forty-two (42) months.
“And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. …Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;” (Rev. 13:5, 7).
I have already mentioned it was the Jews who persecuted the Christians and Paul confirms this in many places. He even appeals his case the Jews had against him, to Caesar in Acts. 25:11-12. There was also this time Nero reigned, but this was going to change quickly when Nero was suspicious and leave the responsibility to the Christians of having started the deadly fire that burned down most of Rome in 64 AD. Tacitus writes:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” (Ann. 15:44).
In this way Nero’s persecution fits to the beast, and we shall also see that the pursuit lasted for 42 months. The fire started in Rome 19. July 64 AD., and the rumor was that Nero himself had started it all. After a while, it became hard to stand up to this rumors and he could not afford to wait any longer. Then in November 64 AD the fierce persecution broke out over the innocent Christian community when he accused them of this fire. This went on for some years and also the Peter and Paul were killed during this period (either 67 or 68 AD). The pursuit ended at last by Nero’s death, 9. June 68 AD, 42 months or 3.5 years after the persecution began.
Our dear friend, Clemment of Rome, was one who lived in Rome during this time and saw all what happened. He notes that there were many of the saints who paid with their life:
“To these men who spent their lives in the practice of holiness, there is to be added a great multitude of the elect, who, having through envy endured many indignities and tortures, furnished us with a most excellent example.” (1. Clem. 6).
It is not just the “mark” that fits with Nero, but also the persecution of Christians and the period of 42 months who was given him.
Now, there will probably be some question whether Nero rose from the dead, because in verse 3 of Revelation 13 says that the deadly wound was healed.
“Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Rev. 13:3).
Here I must refer to what I wrote above, that “the beast” is two-folded and can switch between the Roman Empire as collective and the Roman ruler as specifically.
A few weeks before Nero’s death, the Roman civil war broke out, and general Galba was trying to conquer him. Nero takes his life and the empire is now in a complete mess. Again, Tacitus is very helpful with his information about this time and I refer the same from Tacitus as I did in Eschatology in the Bible 4: War and disasters.
“I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul (France, Luxemburg, Belgium and Swiss) wavered in its allegiance; Britain (England) was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi (Portugal) and the Sarmatae (Area north of the Black sea) rose in concert against us; the Dacians (Big area in and around Romania) had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia (Northeast Iran) were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero.” (Hist. 1:1, Tacitus) (My own explanation in parenthesis).
We can read such passages in several places in Tacitus and also Josephus. The Roman Empire was at the rim, that each area during the Roman empire was restless and weak. After Nero dies by his own sword (wounds), it emerges that the Roman Empire is dying, which John describes as the beast has been inflicted a mortal wound (one of his heads).
What is happening now is that the Roman Empire goes in to the “year of three emperors”, all are killed and now Vespasian from the Flavian family emerge. From Flavius Josephus book “Wars of the Jews” we read:
“So upon this confirmation of Vespasian’s entire government, which was now settled, and upon the unexpected deliverance of the public affairs of the Romans from ruin, Vespasian turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea. However, he himself made haste to go to Rome, as the winter was now almost over, and soon set the affairs of Alexandria in order, but sent his son Titus, with a select part of his army, to destroy Jerusalem.” (War. 4:11:5, Josephus).
After a time of painful civil war, the empire wakes up, quite surprising for the world which again goes under the Roman domination.
“Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.” (Rev. 13:3-4).
I do not know how to make this clearer without adding even more pages of historical and biblical facts. Nero/Rome fits like a hand in a glove as the “beast” in Revelation.
What do you think?
Bible verses are taken from the KJV.
War = War of the Jews, Flavius Josephus.
Ann. = Annals, Cornelius Tacitus.
Hist. = History, Cornelius Tacitus.
1.Clem. 6 = Clement of Rome. (from the Early Church Fathers).