The Four Main Views of Revelation 13:1-4

 

The Preterist view: They see the dragon in this passage as an invading power looking for allies in its evil quest. That power is Rome as it invades Israel. Some in this camp see this as the looming judgment against Rome for its slaughter of the righteous and invasion of Jerusalem. Others see this as Satan’s role influencing Rome. The sea is seen as the Gentile world or the pagan empires of Daniel. Most see this as the characteristics of an individual antichrist figure such as Nero or Rome. The healed wound is seen as the Nero resurrection myth being mocked, or the various emperors; others see this as the results of Rome’s violent wars and insurrections, and attempts of civil war. Some even speculate that Rome was wounded by the spread of Christianity and its assault on evil and its oppressive ways and/or the victory of Christ on the cross (Phil. 4:22). The worship of the beast and dragon is seen as Satanism, emperor worship, and the false gods of Rome. 

The Futurist view: They see this passage as a parallel to Daniel chapter seven, and an amalgamation of Daniel’s four beasts, meaning the Gentile nations and their collaboration and future attack on Israel.  The sea is seen as confusion and/or the great masses of humanity. Others see this as a European or Mediterranean power. The beast is the antichrist and he revives the Roman Empire. The characteristics are seen as the false charm and charisma of the antichrist as he deceives the masses. In addition the lion, bear, etc. describe the various empires coming together and their influence and hedonism. Most see these events as happening after the Tribulation. 

The Idealist view: They see this passage as a collection of the succession of political and social evils coming together for evil purposes in various times and places. The characteristics, such as the lion and bear, are seen as the activity of Satan and legislative actions of evil, persecutions, oppressions, or the rise of Satan against the world and the Church; some see this as corruption in the Church, or false religions, or both. The sea is seen as the Gentile world, corruption and paganism versus faithfulness and God (Is. 17:12; 60:5). The wound is seen as Rome and other evils recovering from the backlash of faithfulness and the rise of the Church, and/or the death of Nero. “Who is able to make war with him” is seen as the recovery and resilience of evil in Rome by the rise of Domitian. 

The Historicist view: They see this passage as an allegory involving the four beasts of Daniel, chapter seven, who blaspheme holiness and those who are faithful. The beast is seen as Roman paganism and the priests who propagated it. Others have seen this as the Catholic Papacy and/or oppressive ecclesiastical power, or perhaps the emperors of Rome. The sea is seen as the Gothic invasions; others as the various kingdoms of Rome. The seven heads are seen as the saying that Rome was built on seven hills.  The wound is seen as the hurts from paganism or the wounds to the Church because of apostasy, and the death of the beast, seen later, is the last of these pagan emperors, Julian, when he was killed.

Exegetical look into Revelation 13:1-4

 

  • Dragon stood…shore of the sea coming out of: Meaning a vicious, killing monster and refers to the attempt of Satan to mock God by attempting to create His creation. This is also an image of summoning a powerful demon. Satan brings his representation out of the chaos of the sea counter to God’s creation out of the chaos of nothing. It is interesting to note that Satan cannot create matter or bring something from nothing; he can only recruit, manipulate, and deceivingly use what God has already made, turning it into bad (Gen. 1; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 11:7, 12:9,17; 13:15).
  • Beast coming out of the sea: This is meant to represent a messianic figure. Sea is a Jewish metaphor for what is frightful and terrible; it was also a colloquialism (saying) for a dwelling for monsters and things inexplicable and/or hostile (Job 7:12; 41:1; Psalms 74:13; 89:9-10; Is. 27:1).
  • Beast was a maxim meaning a persecuting power and/or a people who are demonic and evil. This term does not denote a singular person being an antichrist although the theme as John uses in 1 John does apply as opposing Christ. These two metaphors, beast and sea put together in this literature type refer to the tenacity, fierceness, and repulsiveness of this beast. In John’s time this also represented the Romans or any secular, pagan authority because Rome was birthed near the sea in its Mediterranean location as compared to the inland Asia Minor churches. Also, a symbol of Rome was an eagle with 12 wings and three heads coming out of the sea (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 11:7; apocryphal book 4 Ezra 11).
  • Ten horns … seven heads … ten crowns: Each of these is a metaphoric parallel to the nature of Christ. For example, horns means leadership, power, and authority; head is wisdom and position as well as domination; ten crowns is counter to Christ’s many crowns (Ex. 6:14; Num. 1:16; 27:2; Jos. 6:4; 1 Kings 1:49-51; Rev. 19:12). The beast is acting like the counterfeit of Christ—who is the image of God; the beast is as an image of Satan in his character seeking to trick people into believing that the real God is obtuse, when in fact the devil is. Seven heads was also a saying that Rome is a city built on seven hills (Psalm 2:7; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:3).
  • Blasphemous name: Infers that his name is not worthy, whereas in contrast, Christ is worthy. Roman emperors had a tendency to take the  titles of deities for their title, such as Domitian, who took it to an extreme (perhaps a contemporary of John, if a late date is in view of his penning of Revelation), was addressed as Dominus et Deus noster meaning “Our Lord and God” (John 1:14; Phil 2:9-11; Col. 2:9; Rev. 19:12).
  • Leopard…bearlion: John is drawing images and characteristics from Daniel’s four beasts. Leopard also meant “being swift” and “military conquest;” bear meant “ferocious strength” and “stability;” and a lion meant “power” and “dominion” (Dan. 7:2-7; Rev. 12:3; 17:8-11).
  • Dragon gave the beast his power: Satan empowers the beast whereas in contrast God empowers and is Christ, who empowers us (John 5:21-23; Rev. 3:21; 5:12-13; 12:10).
  • Fatal wound…been healed: A counterfeit theme to the Resurrection of Christ that is the proof and means for evangelism, but Satan can’t duplicate it so some how it is imitated or faked. Some see this as the recovery power of the beast. This is also of the theme of Nero.
  • Was astonished: Somehow, this is the means that the beast uses (trickery) so people become amazed with and are attracted to be followers, going away from God and goodness (Rev. 17:8).
  • Men worshiped: This is also a counterfeit to true worship whereas, in contrast, people worshiped what is wrong and evil. People are attracted to the conniving and scheming of evil rather than to the centrality of Christ (John 5:23).
  • Who is like the beast: A counterfeit of praise, taking praise that is meant for God, twisting and perverting it (Ex. 15:11; apocryphal book Judith 6).
  • Who can make war against him? This may be an expression of the tenacity, persistence, recovery, and resilience of evil, as we say now, “you can’t fight city hall.”

Revelation 13:1-4: What are the Contexts?

During this time in history, Nero died (in 68 A.D.) by either suicide or murder, and a rumor was instituted that he would come back in vengeance on the aristocracy to destroy them and all those who doubted or came against him. Many Romans were in fear of his expected return. Then, during Domitian’s reign (81-96 AD), a cult leader, claiming he was Nero, rose in power in Asia Minor where these seven churches were, so this imagery was already in people’s minds through literature and circumstances. This person also made an allegiance with the Parthians, making himself the perfect antichrist figure. He was hunted down and executed. The Jews wrote oracles predicting that Nero would return to terrorize the Christians and prevent Jewish conversions just as some Christian groups used Hitler, Russia, and other groups to make their point and create fear. The early Christians greatly feared Nero, who had thousands of Christians put to death, and the prospect that he might come back was terrifying (called the Nero redivivus myth, Latin for “renewed or “living again”). 

In fact, Nero’s name was used as a term for the antichrist, which we will see later in this chapter. This image was so terrifying that for hundreds of years, most all of the great early scholars, including Augustine, Jerome, and many modern scholars too like Barclay and F.F. Bruce, believed that Nero was to whom John was referring and was the antichrist. Perhaps, John is borrowing from the news of his day or popular myths and this form of apocalyptic literature to make his point and show us how Satan works so we do not buy into his game. By the way, antichrist means anyone who opposes Christ, as a term it is found in First and Second John but nowhere else including in Revelation, although it can be argued that the theme of antichrist is found here. This is why we are to look at what the symbolisms refer to or are pointing to and not the meaning in English or what symbols themselves may mean in our day, else we get caught in vain speculation and miss the point that Christ has for us. 

Even though this passage is about the contrasts of Satan, many commentators have seen this figure of the beast as the person of the antichrist. However, there are some severe interpretive problems with this view. For one, the passage does not say it is the antichrist; nowhere in Revelation is there an antichrist personality other than representations of those who oppose Christ and fight His people. This points us to an antichrist in purpose but not a specific personality. (The Greek word for antichrist means “opponent to the Messiah;” in Scripture, it means anyone who opposes Christ, not necessarily a specific person – 1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7. In 2 Thess 2:3, “man of lawlessness” refers to rebellion, but again, not to a specific person. What some commentators have done is take several passages out of their context and string them together to create their position). In this way, anyone who opposes Christ is an antichrist as it is defined elsewhere in Scripture and by John. Thus, many read into the passage their views rather than seeing what this actually says in the original language and what would be understood by John’s readers in this type of literature and images.

Revelation 13:1-4

Introduction 

The First Beast 

This passage is about the contrasts of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ. Satan seeks to counterfeit and mock God. This is about the forgery of making what is evil and hideous seem attractive. The beast demands our worship and declares war upon the faithful! This passage is cut from its verse references to its context, as it really starts at the close of chapter 12, where Jesus asks us to trust Him as the dragon stands on the shore of the sea. John now sees another vision—a beast rising out of the depths of the sea. This beast had seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns on each of its horns. There were blasphemous names written on it. This beast looked like a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. This beast gets its power from the Dragon. One of the heads was wounded but then was healed. The world marvels and worships this beast, deceived by its power and presence. 

John draws from Daniel’s four beasts (Dan. 7: 3-7) which represented four succeeding empires. Most scholars assume they are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon/ Persia and Alexandrian Greek/Roman, while others give them other orders, meanings and speculations. These refer to idolatrous kingdoms that persecute the faithful. In John’s time, they were in the age of Rome, the fourth period. Thus, it is a composite of domineering evil that also means worldly oppression, so that John’s readers could know what was evil and what was not of the character of God. We see this as an invading force whose wickedness and debauchery is unprecedented as the world is duped into worshiping Satan and or his evil ways; however, ignorance is no excuse. 

  1. How would you contrast the character of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ? How and why does Satan seek to counterfeit and mock God? How have you seen this done?
  1. Why did the people worship this beast while at the same time, be callous and uncaring of the real, Holy God? How do we do this in the church today?

Research insights into the Date of Revelation, Part VI

Did the Early Church Fathers give credence?

Some of the other Early Church Fathers give credence to a late date. Jerome, Sulpicius Severus, and Hippolytus all thought that John was exiled to Patmos under Domitian, where he saw the visions and wrote the Apocalypse. Another was Clement of Alexandria, who was an “Ante Nicene Father.” In his work, “Who is the rich man that shall be saved? XLII,” he gives credence to a late date too. So say many Futurist scholars. But, when the text is examined,

the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit…

The key is how you translate the phrase the tyrant’s death, because it could be Domitian as this theory argues, but it could be someone else like Nero. Jerome also stated in his Book of Illustrious Men that during the final reign of Domitian, he instigated the biggest persecution of all, even greater than Nero’s. Therefore, this sets up the situation for Revelation. However, these statements can easily be cross-examined and refuted because of contextual issues similar to the Irenaeus refute. Thus, these late date theories may come out of interpretative errors by their scholars, from reading into a theory and grasping for any evidence, or that the historians just could not recognize how Christ’s statements applied to the audience as he said they did.

The other main theory for a late date is when the events recorded in the book of Revelation take place in Domitian’s reign (81- 96 AD), the contention is that it is in the future after the date of around 82 to 96 A.D. This is backed up by the early church historian, Eusebius (A.D. 300-340), who actually did not state the date but just gave a general connection between John and Domitian, which could just mean John was still alive in Domitian’s reign.

Keep in mind that a Futurist view will require that the date for Revelation be after 70 A.D.

When I originally wrote this fifteen years ago, I was seeking to research and perhaps prove a late date, but the investigative study proved to have too many holes. However, as I said in the beginning, Revelation does not come with a date and time stamp, so scholars and Bible students need to make a reasonable, logical investigation before an assumption can be made about the date and views. Although I personally lean toward an early date now, I am not an advocate of it nor am I totally convinced. Why? Because Revelation has more to do with how we live than what will come. Thus, having a Preterist or Future view or even something else is not as important as what the beasts in our lives are, as well as in whom and where our hope is (which is more of a Spiritualist view, but I can’t hold to that—I am Reformed! lol)

Research insights into the Date of Revelation, Part V

A late date after 70 A.D.?

Most modern, historical, and biblical scholars tend to state that Revelation was written between 95 and 96 A.D. with the major exceptions of McGuiggan, Jay Adams, Philip Schaff, and some others who contended for an early date of 70 A.D., specifically in the spring, during Vespasian’s reign, thus making an argument for an early date steps one out of the herd into the presumption of pride or a theological agenda; of course, the majority can be wrong too. If the later date is true, then the Preterist position cannot stand up well—if at all. The majority of the prophecies were fulfilled (except Christ second coming). Keep in mind that the key to this position is Jesus’ own words in Matthew 24.

Most scholars contend that the date of Revelation was around 95-96 A.D. near the end of the Domitian’s evil reign. How, and why?

Iraneaus is the main spokesmen to this date. He lived in the second century A.D., a principal “Early Church Father” who made a statement in 185 A.D. that the apostle John “saw the revelation…at the close of Domitian’s reign (A.D. 81-96). (Ref: Contra Haereses 5.30.3; ANF, 1:559-60 also called in the fifth book of his work “Against Heresies”.) The argument against this is that in context, his statement is not clear, rather ambiguous, but can be implicit in various ways.

Here it is: We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.

There are at least four main problems with this statement. 1. It is actually a “second hand” account, which he quotes from Polycarp. Thus, it is not a direct quote from Irenaeus. 2. In context, this quote referred to Polycarp’s remembrance (also referred to by Eusebius) “that” sometime toward the end of Domitian’s reign there will be an antichrist (which simply means anyone who opposes Christ; here in a grand scale). 3. It is not clear from this statement to what Polycarp was referring or what he meant by “that was seen.” It could have been referring to Revelation or to a coming antichrist that was also implied by John. 4. Irenaeus suffers from credibility issues and/or textual and scribal errors. He also wrote when he was very old and/or made major mistakes. For example, in the same work as the aforementioned quote, he states that Jesus was crucified when he was fifty years old. Thus, the principle source for the late dating of the Book of Revelation has some significant holes.

Research insights into the Date of Revelation, Part IV

Textual redaction considerations:

• The “Syriac version” of the New Testament, which dates back to the second century A.D., states that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero making a date of 64-68 A.D.

• The “Muratorian Fragment,” dating back to 170-190 A.D., states that this work of John was written during the reign of Nero.

• The “Aramaic Peshitta” version has a remark that places its date prior to 70 A.D. The title page of Revelation states this work of John was written right after the reign of Nero.

• The “Monarchian Prologues,” that dates back to 250-350 A.D., claims that Paul also wrote to these seven churches (possibly Romans which was a “circular letter,” it went out to many addressees) following John’s Book, thus, placing the book even before some of the other Pauline epistles.

•A quote, arguably attributed to Papius (130 AD), states that John the Apostle was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Roman law of exile:

Nero Caesar exiled John on the island of Patmos. Nero died in 68 AD, and according to Roman law, those banned by a prior Caesar would be released by the succeeding Caesar. Thus, John would have been released from Patmos around 68 AD. (John himself mentions he was at Patmos when he received the Revelation).
The condition of the Church in Asia Minor:

John is clearly writing to the seven churches and consequently to people being persecuted by Rome. Rome was a bloodthirsty, pagan empire that oppressed its people, especially Christians, who were considered criminals and slaves and used for sadistic entertainment.

Peter also wrote to the Christians in Asia Minor around the same time for an early date or a few years before John (1Pet. 1:1-6; 4:12; 5:9). He notes that they were in extreme persecution, suffering, and in dire anguish. This is similar to John’s language and situation (Re 2:9; 3:9) and similar situations recorded by Paul in Acts 13:50; 14:5,19; 17:5-8,13; 18:12. Thus, the severity of the persecution is consistent with an early date.

Keep in mind that a Preterist view would require that the date for Revelation be prior to 70 A.D.