Adam Maarschalk: October 29, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:11-18
This is now the third post on Revelation 13. The first post looked at the first 10 verses in this chapter, showing that Nero fit the description of the first beast in the specific sense and that first-century Rome fit the description of this same beast in the general sense. In the second post, we were introduced to its main advocate, a second beast, and we considered four different views regarding the identity of this second beast. In this present post we will see more about the healing of the first beast’s mortal wound, the mark of the beast, and the fact of its identification with the famous “666” symbol.
Verse 12: We read again about the “mortal wound” of the first beast having been healed. Before examining what this might refer to, it’s good to remember that we have already seen that the first beast is manifested as both an individual (Nero) and an empire (Rome). Many Futurists gravitate only toward the idea of “the Antichrist” dying from an assassination attempt, but returning to life all the more demon-possessed. It’s often not considered that it could be the Roman Empire which survived, rather than the mortally wounded “head” (verse 3). In my 70 AD term paper, I presented two popular Preterist views regarding this healing, and I will again present these here. The following information can be found here (excerpts are in maroon-colored font):
The first possibility is that the wounded head did, in a sense, come back to life as Nero’s successors tried to keep his image, his policies, and his memory very much alive. It’s already been noted how far Vitellius went in deifying Nero in the eyes of the Roman populace. Vitellius, who reigned only eight months, was the third emperor to reign after Nero’s demise, before he was murdered. The first, Galba, reigned only six months and then was murdered. After him, Otho reigned four months before he committed suicide like Nero. It is said of Otho that he paid Nero “all public honors.”
The historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Zonaras affirm that after Nero’s death proclamations continued to be published in his name as if he was still alive, and that his image was frequently placed upon the rostra (large speaker’s platforms in Rome) “dressed in robes of state.” Even Jewish and Christian writers began to foretell that Nero was back from death as the dreaded Beliar demon. Paul Kroll (1999) adds the following details:
Nero committed suicide in June of AD 68. However, a rumor arose and persisted that he had not died but had fled across the Euphrates river to Rome’s arch-enemy, Parthia. It was said that one day Nero would return at the head of Parthian armies to destroy Rome. This became the so-called “Nero redivivus” myth. In fact, during the decades following Nero’s death, several pretenders did come forth claiming to be Nero (Tacitus, Histories 1.78; 2.8; Suetonius, Nero 57). By the turn of the first century a further twist was added to the Nero legend. It was said he would actually rise from the dead, return to Rome and seize the empire… This myth of Nero’s return so captured the popular fancy that it found its way into Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings. Here the triumphant Nero was sometimes even pictured as the antichrist (Ascension of Isaiah 4:1-14; Sibylline Oracles 4:119-124; 5:137-154, 361-374)…
Otho also allowed himself to be hailed as “Nero” or “Otho Nero,” and he used Nero’s name in official letters to provincial leaders as well as in official letters to Spain. He reinstated the procurators and other government officials who had ruled during Nero’s reign, and in many ways took on the persona of Nero (See Kenneth Gentry, pp. 309-309). Gentry also notes (p. 303), “In the pagan literature, references to the expectation of Nero’s return after his fall from power can be found in the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Xiphilinus, Zonaras, and Dion Chrysostom.”
A second possibility is that it was the beast in the form of the Roman empire which dramatically recovered from the mortal wound of one of its seven heads (Nero). This is in fact what happened in first century Rome. Upon Nero’s demise [in June 68 AD], the Roman Empire immediately fell into chaos and civil war… What followed was the “Year of the Four Emperors,” the reigns of Galba (six months), Otho (four months), Vitellius (eight months), and Vespasian (beginning in December 69 AD)…
Nero’s death by the sword is the type of mortal wound that John said the beast would receive (Revelation 13:12, 14). Richard Anthony (2009) and Kenneth Gentry (1998) postulate that the healing of this wound can perhaps be seen in what took place in the Roman Empire immediately following Nero’s death. Upon his death, the Roman Empire’s founding family suddenly had no representative. “The blood line that had given birth to, extended, stabilized, brought prosperity to, and had received worship from the Roman Empire was cut off forever” (Gentry, p. 311). The “Julio-Claudian House” became extinct. The empire was plunged “into civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions” and Rome appeared ready to topple.
The general Vespasian pulled back from the wars he was committed to, including the siege on Jerusalem, because of the turmoil on his own home front. Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all recorded that Rome at this time was brought near to utter ruin, with Josephus saying that “every part of the habitable earth under them [the Romans] was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2). It wasn’t until Vespasian took the throne in December 69 AD, initiating the Flavian Dynasty, that stability was restored.
Verses 13-15: This second beast is said to perform great signs on behalf of the first beast, and in this way deceives “those who dwell on earth” (Israel).** The common people are compelled to create an image for the first beast (Rome) “that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” This particular activity would have taken place, then, between 68-70 AD. The details in View #3 and View #4 (see previous post) say much about what took place in the Roman empire, and also in Israel, during this time.
**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]
Verses 16-17: Selling and buying was limited only to those who bore the mark, i.e. “the name of the beast or the number of its name.” David Clark comments, “This was to boycott or ostracize the Christians, and deprive them of the common rights of citizens, or the common rights of humanity. The pressure of economic distress was to be laid on them to compel them to conform” (Steve Gregg, p. 304). David Chilton adds, “Similarly [the Jewish leaders] organized economic boycotts against those who refused to submit to Caesar as Lord, the leaders of the synagogues ‘forbidding all dealings with the excommunicated,’ and going as far as to put them to death.” [Here Chilton partially quotes from Austin Farrer in his 1964 work entitled The Revelation of St. John the Divine (p. 157).] Richard Anthony (2009) speaks further of the allegiance required by Nero during his lifetime:
All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, “Caesar is Lord”. Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a “libellus”, which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of “buying or selling” without this mark (emphasis added).
In the first post for chapter 13 we also saw a quote from C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr., from their 1995 book entitled Doomsday Delusions, in which they said,
Megalomaniac that he was, Nero had coins minted in which he was called “almighty God” and “Savior.” Nero’s portrait also appears on coins as the god Apollo playing a lyre. While earlier emperors were proclaimed deities upon their deaths, Nero abandons all reserve and demanded divine honors while still alive (as did also Caligula before him, AD 37-41). Those who worshipped the emperor received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16 [the famed mark of the beast].
In verse 16, were John’s original readers meant to understand that the followers of the beast would receive a literal and visible mark on their hands or forehead? If so, then the two quotes above lend credence to the idea that such a thing occurred in Nero’s day. Or did the language John used primarily hearken back to classic Old Testament metaphors of the hand representing one’s deeds and the forehead representing one’s thoughts? Perhaps this is a reference to Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel that they were to bind the words of God “as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8). Only, in this case, the apostate followers of the beast would not be symbolically marked with the words of God, but with their allegiance to the one who stood opposed to God and His people.
Verse 18: John appeals to the wisdom and understanding of the reader here, regarding the “number of the beast.” While the beast has so far been portrayed as an empire, it’s clear in this instance that the beast is also an individual, indicated by the words “it is the number of a man.”
Q: Did John expect his original audience to be able to calculate the beast’s number, and thus know his identity?
A: Yes, by the language he used, he clearly did. Therefore, it is good to re-emphasize the point that John was not referring here to a 21st century Antichrist.
Hank Hanegraaff agrees, as he remarked in his 11/21/2004 broadcast on Voice of Reason, “John is saying to his readers [living in his own generation] that with wisdom and understanding they could discern the number of the Beast and the number of his name. If, in fact, the Beast was not around at that time, he would have been giving them false information… The beast is singularly Nero” (Source). Steve Gregg comments (p. 302):
John obviously did not expect his readers who had understanding (v. 18) to have any difficulty in identifying the beast, since they could simply calculate the meaning of this cryptogram. Here using English characters, the Hebrew form of “Caesar Nero” is Nrwn Qsr (pronounced “Neron Kaiser”). The value of the seven Hebrew letters is 50, 200, 6, 50, 100, 60, and 200, respectively. The total is thus 666. This is the solution advocated by David S. Clark, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gentry, David Chilton, and most others [i.e. partial-preterists].
Most likely, the code utilized the Hebrew form rather than the Greek or Latin form of the name to avoid detection from Roman authorities, who would know both Latin and Greek, but not Hebrew. The readers of the book, however, knew considerable Hebrew, judging from the many symbols taken from the Old Testament and also John’s use of Hebrew words like Armageddon, amen, hallelujah, Satan (a Hebrew name, used in addition to the Greek word for devil), and Abaddon (in addition to its Greek counterpart Apollyon). The Hebrew language has exerted so great an influence over the writing of Revelation, in fact, that some scholars have even speculated that John originally wrote it in Aramaic (his native tongue and a cognate of Hebrew).
Don Walker concurs, saying, “Let us remember that John is writing from the isle of Patmos, where he has been imprisoned. This letter would have been, in all likelihood, carried off the island by Roman soldiers. John had to send his message in ‘code’ lest his captors understand his reference to the emperor. Instead of openly stating who the ‘Beast’ was, he left them a clue that every Hebrew could easily discern.” I also wrote the following in my term paper, here:
John revealed the identity of the beast to his readers in a coded manner, Richard Anthony (2009) says, using the system of Gematria which assigned numerical values to the alphabet: “John used this puzzle to reveal Nero without actually writing down his name. Remember, the early churches were being persecuted during this time—not only from the Jews, but also from the Romans.” The following chart shows the Hebrew letters in ‘Nero Caesar’ (NRWN QSR):
Don Walker also adds,
Another interesting factor to consider is what is called the “textual variant.” If you consult a Bible with marginal references you will find something quite intriguing. Regarding Revelation 13:18, your reference may say something to the effect: “Some manuscripts read 616.” The fact is that the number 666 in some ancient manuscripts is actually changed to 616… The difference surely is no accident of sight made by an early copyist. The numbers 666 and 616 are not even similar in appearance — whether spelled out in words or written in numerals. As textual scholars agree, it must be intentional.
A strong case has been made for the following probability. John, a Jew, used a Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name in order to arrive at the number 666. But when Revelation began circulating among those less acquainted with Hebrew, a well meaning copyist who knew the meaning of 666 might have intended to make its deciphering easier by altering it to read 616. It is certainly no mere coincidence that 616 is the numerical value of “Nero Caesar,” when spelled in Hebrew by transliterating it from its more widely familiar Latin spelling. Such a conjecture would explain the rationale for the deviation: so that the non-Hebrew mind might more readily discern the identity of the Beast.
David Chilton, in his 1987 book “Days of Vengeance,” said the following on this matter:
The form Neron Kesar (1) is the linguistically “correct” Hebrew form, (2) is the form found in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings, and (3) was used by Hebrews in the first century, as archaeological evidence has shown. As F. W. Farrar observed, “the Jewish Christian would have tried [tested] the name as he thought of the name – that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as ‘Neron Kesar,’ and this gives at once . . . 666″ (The Early Days of Christianity, Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1882, p. 540). Of some related interest is the fact that if Nero’s name is written without the final n (i.e., the way it would occur to a Gentile to spell it in Hebrew), it yields the number 616 — which is exactly the variant reading in a few New Testament manuscripts. The most reasonable explanation for this variant is that it arose from the confusion over the final “n.”
Kenneth Gentry (p. 205) quotes Robert H. Mounce, a Futurist author who says, “John intended only his intimate associates to be able to decipher the number. So successful were his precautions that even Irenaeus some one hundred years later was unable to identify the person intended.” Gentry rightfully notes the irony of Mounce’s statement, in that he admits that John’s original 1st-century audience knew who he was speaking about in Rev. 13:18, yet Mounce believes that John was prophecying about a figure who was to live some 2000 years later. In other words, Mounce would have us believe that John intended for his first-century readers to discern that the beast was (let’s say, for example) a 21st-century leader of the European Union.
The manuscript bearing the number “616” is almost non-existent today, but it was already a factor before Irenaeus lived (130-200 AD). Kenneth Gentry (p. 197) notes that in his work Against Heresies 5:30:1, Irenaeus writes regarding this matter:
I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one. Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their experience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.
The “Nrwn Qsr” rendering is the ancient Hebrew or Aramaic spelling of “Nero Caesar,” as attested to by the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings, says Gentry (p. 199). Being that John was primarily addressing believers who “were of Hebrew extraction,” his code of “666” appealed to this very rendering. The “616” variant was apparently copied this way intentionally by a well-meaning translator, who did so “by transliterating it from its Latin spelling” (p. 203). This does nothing to harm the theory that John meant “666” to refer to Nero, and in fact it serves to further confirm it. “Neron Caesar” written in Hebrew characters is equivalent to “666” and “Nero Caesar” in the Latin form is “616.” Nero’s identity is confirmed by both the common rendering as well as the obscure textual variant.
Our study of Revelation 13 (Part 4 of 5) continues here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.