Ladd re: The Nature of the Beast

As the beast of Revelation 13:1-10 arises from the sea, we have so many questions.  Is this beast a government, an empire, or just one person?  What is the nature of this beast?  It is my view that this beast represents past empires, the present empire in John’s day, and a future empire through which a wicked end-times ruler will persecute the church.  But in many places this beast is spoken of in ways that seem like it represents that wicked end-times ruler only.  So which is it?  Instead of choosing one or the other, the answer is both.  Sometimes this beast refers to the governmental framework through which Satan tries to dominate the world, and other times it refers to the wicked end-times ruler, also known as the antichrist.  So satisfy my curiosity, I wanted to know what George Ladd wrote on the subject.  I turned to his commentary on the book of Revelation and found two sections worth studying.  The first is his commentary on Revelation 13 and the wound which the beast suffers.  The second is from Revelation 17 which explains the heads and horns of the beast.  So feast your eyes on this prophecy scholars.  Bold and italics are his.  First from chapter 13.

 

Verse 3. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth followed the beast with wonder. The wording of the English may be a bit misleading; it does not mean to say that one of the heads looked as though it was mortally wounded but really was not. The words are the same as those used of the Lamb in 5:6 who actually had been slain. Here, one of the heads is wounded to death, but the death wound is healed.

Many interpreters understand John to mean that one of the Roman emperors was killed and later brought back from the dead as the embodiment of satanic evil. Support for this view has been sought in the so-called myth of Nero redivivus. The Emperor Nero came to death by his own hand in A.D. 68, but the story arose that he was not really dead but had escaped to the East and would return in triumph. In the years 69, a pseudo-Nero appeared in Asia but came to naught; and in 88, another pretender appeared in Asia declaring that he was Nero and had been in hiding.

This myth was indeed used in certain circles of Christian apocalyptic where the return of a triumphant Nero is pictured, sometimes as the Antichrist (ascension of Isaiah 4:1-14; Sibylline Oracles 4:119; 5:363; 8:70). The fatal objection to this view is that it is not only one of the heads of the beast which is slain, but the beast himself which received the mortal wound (13:12, 14). Later, it is spoken of as “the beast that …was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit” (17:8). The murder or suicide of a Roman emperor might lead to a period of chaotic unrest, but it in no way interrupted the continuity of the empire itself. The fact that both one of the heads and the beast himself received the mortal wound suggests that the beast is in some way to be identified with his ten heads. The beast is the embodiment of all that was expressed in the four beasts of Daniel 7, and the seven heads are concrete embodiments of this imperial power. (See further notes on 17:8-12.) The beast himself, in the person of one of its heads, was slain but later revived. In this vision, John radically reworks the materials in Daniel 7.

 

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Now from chapter 17.

 

The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is seated.  Most modern commentators see here a positive and inescapable identification of the great harlot with first-century Rome, because Rome was widely known as the city that was built on seven hills.  As one writer says, “The local allusion is too plain to be doubted.”  However, John immediately goes on to say in the next verse that “they are also seven kings.”  It is difficult to see any connection between the seven hills of Rome and seven of its emperors.

 

It is a biblical commonplace that a hill or mountain is a symbol of power or rule.  In Dan. 2:35, the stone cut out without hands smites the nations of the world and in turn grows to become a great mountain.  God said to Babylon, “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain… which destroys the whole earth” (Jer. 51:25).  “In the latter days, the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills” (Isa. 2:2).  God’s servant “shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and… make the hills like chaff” (Isa. 41:15; see also Ps. 68:15-16; Hab. 3:6).  It is easier, therefore, to understand the seven hills to stand for seven empires and the rulers who headed them. 

 

It may be objected that John says the hills are also seven kings, not seven kingdoms; but this is biblical language.  The four beasts of Dan. 7 were said to represent four kings (Dan. 7:17) when, more precisely, Daniel means the kingdoms over which they rule.  The great harlot sits upon a succession of empires.  She found her embodiment in historical Babylon, in the first century in historical Rome, and at the end of the age in eschatological Babylon.  This may well be what John intended in speaking about the “mystery of the woman” (vs. 7).  No simple identification with any single historical city is possible.  The woman has formed an adulterous connection in every epoch of her history with the then existing world power.

 

Verse 10.  They are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.  This is one of the most debated verses in the book of Revelation.  Preterist interpreters usually apply the verse to the succession of Roman emperors.  Five emperors have reigned and passed from the scene; John is writing his Revelation during the rule of the sixth emperor.  John expects this sixth ruler also to pass from the scene, to be followed by the seventh and last emperor, who will be the Antichrist in the person of Nero redivivus.

 

The problem with this apparently simple solution is that the dates simply do not work out.  The Roman emperors were as follows:

 

Augustus     27B.C.-A.D.14

Tiberius       A.D. 14-37

Caligula        A.D. 37-41

Claudius       A.D. 41-54

Nero             A.D. 54-68

Galba           A.D. 68

Otho            A.D. 69

Vitellius

Vespasian     A.D. 69-79

Titus              A.D. 79-81

Domitian       A.D. 81-96

 

Accordingly, the five kings who have fallen should be those from Augustus to Nero; Galba was the reigning emperor in the day when John wrote, and Otho was expected to be the last.  This interpretation doesn’t make sense, for Galba, Otho, and Vitellius all experienced very short reigns and were relatively unimportant in political and religious history.  For this reason, many scholars suggest that they be left out of the reckoning, and Vespasian be seen as the sixth king, and Titus the seventh.  Such a procedure is arbitrary, for Galba, Otho and Vitellius, unimportant as they may have been, were bona fide emperors and were recognized as such by ancient historians.

 

However, this rather violent way of treating history does not really solve the problem, for nothing happened in the reign of Vespasian to disturb the Christian church and cause it to fear a time of fierce persecution, such as might give rise to the eschatological views of the Revelation and to the writing of the book.  Furthermore, Vespasian did not promote the emperor cult.

 

All sorts of speculative solutions to the problem have been suggested.  Some have suggested that this passage was an oracle written in the time of Vespasian which John incorporated into his book without modification; others that John deliberately projects himself back into the time of Vespasian; others that John began his reckoning with Caligula, as the first emperor who openly showed himself to be an enemy of God.  No method of calculation satisfactorily leads to Domitian as the reigning emperor, and some scholars have given up any effort to relate the seven heads to specific kings but find in the number seven the ideal number that represents the completeness of imperial power.

 

This problem is altogether avoided if John does not mean to designate a succession of individual kings or emperors, but a succession of kingdoms.  This finds some support in the statement, “five… have fallen.”  Several interpreters have pointed out that the word “fallen” is much better applied to the fall of a kingdom than to the death of an emperor (H. Alford, Th. Zahn).  The great harlot who seduces the nations and persecutes the saints finds her support from the beast who appears in history in a succession of secular, godless kingdoms; five belong to past history; a sixth kingdom – Rome – ruled the world when John wrote.  However, Rome is not Antichrist; a seventh kingdom is expected which will have only a short reign.  This interpretation of the beast and its seven heads is supported by the verse that follows.

 

Verse 11.  As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition.  Three times in 17:8-11, John has said that the beast does not exist in the present, and twice that the beast will appear in the future.  The beast has already once existed (he was); he does not now exist (he is not), but he will come up again out of the abyss (11:7; 17:8, 11).  John has also said that the beast had seven heads, one of which was wounded unto death and then healed (13:3).  He has also said that the beast itself received the mortal wound but was healed (13:12, 14).  Now he adds a new fact: the beast is an eighth head, yet it belongs to the seven heads.  The symbolism is made difficult by the fact that the beast is sometimes identified with his heads, but is sometimes differentiated from them.  The solution to this involved symbolism lies in the interpretation that the beast is the Antichrist, and yet he is not the Antichrist; he is the Antichrist in two of his heads only.  As the Antichrist, he has already appeared in history (he was); he does not exist in the present, but he is yet to arise in an embodiment of satanic power.  This is why John can say that one of the heads was wounded to death, but the death wound was healed; and also that the beast itself had received a death stroke and had come to life again.  In other words, the beast is identified with two of its heads more closely than with the other five.  In one of the heads, the beast had himself appeared in history; this head – and the beast himself – had been slain (i.e. had disappeared from history) but is to be revived in a final appearance, which will be a more complete manifestation of the beast than the first (i.e. he shall ascend from the abyss).  Still, the other five heads are also heads of the beast, yet it is not identified with them as with the two.  The heads are successive manifestations of the worldly kingdoms at enmity with God through all the changes of history.  The beast, then, has a twofold meaning: broadly, it is the anti-God worldly power; narrowly, it is one particular kingdom which has a twofold manifestation.  Five of the heads are manifestations of the worldly kingdoms as such; two of the heads are specific embodiments of the beast himself.  The clue to the understanding of this is the prophecy of Daniel, on which John draws for his symbolism of the beast (see notes on 13:2).  In Daniel, the great enemy of God’s people is Antichrist, who has previously been manifested in history in the person of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 8:9, 21).  In typical prophetic manner, these two figures are sometimes blended together so that they seem to be practically one (see p. 13).  The beast that you saw was (vs. 8), i.e., it was embodied in Antiochus Epiphanes; it is not, i.e., it does not now exist in this same malevolent form; it is to ascend from the abyss (vs. 8) in the person of Antichrist.

 

John adds a further specific detail about the last appearance of the beast – the Antichrist: “the beast… is an eighth, but it belongs to the seven.”  This is difficult language.  The second and final manifestation of the beast is in an eighth king; but it is not the eighth king for there are only seven; it is an eighth king which is one of the seven.  This suggests that one of the seven is to experience two stages of his existence.  This apparently is why John says that the seventh king “will remain only a little while” (vs. 10).  He will be shortly followed by an eighth, who is the seventh in his full antichristian manifestation.  John means to say that the eighth is like the seven, but yet is different from them.  It belongs to the seven in that it succeeds them in world domination; but it stands apart in that it ascends from the abyss as the full satanic embodiment of the beast.

 

Verse 12.  John now explains the ten horns.  They are ten kings who are to receive authority as kings for a very short period of time – for one hour – and are to be the colleagues and supporters of the beast.  Modern commentators who accept the Nero redivivus theory of the Antichrist usually understand these ten kings to be ten Persian satraps who will return in revived Nero’s retinue to help him regain his empire.  However, John expressly says that they have not yet received royal power.  They are not yet kings; they will receive their power when the beast appears.  This clearly casts John’s thought into the future.  It is idle to speculate as to the identity of these kings, or to understand them, as some do, as ten European kingdoms of a revived Roman empire.  The idea of ten kings is based on Dan. 7:7, 24 where the fourth beast has ten horns who are ten kings, out from whom emerges a final king who fills the role of Antichrist.  It is very possible that the number ten is meant to be symbolic designation the fullness of Antichrist’s power and is not intended to be taken literally.  The ten kings are purely eschatological figures representing the totality of the powers of all nations on the earth which are to be made subservient to Antichrist.

 

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

 

-The Orange Mailman

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