Who Can Make War with the Beast? (Revelation 13:4)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

Review of Rev. 13:3

In the previous post we looked at Revelation 13:3 and the deadly wound of one of the beast’s heads. That post included an extensive overview of the Zealot movement and 12 key leaders of that movement, and I proposed that the seven heads belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot.

There are also seven kings. Five have fallen 1. Hezekiah (47 BC)
  2. Judas of Galilee (led rebellion from AD 6-8)
  3. Jacob (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  4. Simon (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  5. Jair (son of Judas; father of Eleazar)
one is 6. Eleazar ben Jair (rebel leader from AD 66-73)
and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time” (Rev. 17:10). 7. Menahem (rebel leader for only a month in AD 66)

I also proposed that the wounded head was Menahem, who came “in the state of a king to Jerusalem” in late August AD 66 and quickly became the leader of the Jewish revolt (Wars 2.17.8). Menahem masterminded a series of victories for the Zealots, had the support of most of Jerusalem’s population (Martin Hengel, The Zealots, p. 363), and was probably “the only man possessing the necessary authority and experience to organize a lasting resistance to the Romans” (Hengel, p. 365). However, he was killed only a month later and many of his followers left Jerusalem and went to Masada. Menahem’s death weakened the Zealots and strengthened the moderate forces who wanted to compromise with Rome.

The Beast’s Great Recovery

Here is what Revelation 13:3-4 says about the healing of the beast’s head wound and the dramatic reaction throughout the land of Israel (note that some translations say “earth” or “land” rather than “world”):

3 “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’”

Verse 3 begins with the devastating death of one of the beast’s heads, but ends with a dramatic recovery that amazes the people and solidifies their loyalty to the beast. Before Menahem’s death the Zealots boldly carried out the following acts of war:

  • The massacre of the Roman garrison at Masada by the Zealots
  • The massacre of the Roman garrison at the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem by the Zealots

Such acts certainly invited the retaliation of the Romans. This was no time for the Zealots to lose their most capable leader, Menahem, but that’s what happened. Then two months later their movement received new life when the following took place:

  • The Zealots achieved a stunning victory over the forces of the Syrian general, Cestius Gallus, who was commissioned by Rome to crush the Jewish rebellion.
  • Eleazar ben Simon and his uncle, Simon Bar Giora, emerged as war heroes – especially Simon Bar Giora who was regarded by many as “their king” (Wars 4.9.4; Wars 7.2.2) just like Menahem was.

Why does Revelation 13:4 apply to Israel so much better than it could possibly apply to Rome? Here’s what we see when we look at the big picture:

1. The beast would be recognized as a victor of war. “Who is able to make war with him?” (Rev. 13:4).
2. The beast would then receive authority to continue for 42 months and overcome the saints (Rev. 13:5-7).
3. The beast would then be captured and killed by the sword (Rev. 13:10).
4. The beast would ultimately end up in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20) and the birds would be filled with the flesh of his followers (Rev. 19:21).

If we examine any historical overview of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66 – AD 73), what will we see? Who started out victorious but ended up in misery and defeat? Was it Rome, or was it Israel? The reality is that Rome was embarrassed at the beginning of the war, but was thoroughly victorious in the end. Israel shocked everyone at the beginning with its victories, but was brutally destroyed in the end. Israel, not Rome, followed the pattern outlined above. Let’s take a closer look now at those initial victories.

Romans Massacred at Masada and Jerusalem

According to Josephus, the war officially began in August AD 66 when the governor of the temple, Eleazar ben Ananias, “persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner.” At the same time, 60 miles away from Jerusalem, the Zealots “made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it” (Wars 2.17.2). Days later they joined with the Sicarii and burned the house of the high priest (Ananias), the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice, and the city archives (Wars 2.17.6). The next day “they made an assault upon Antonia, and besieged the garrison which was in it two days, and then took the garrison, and slew them, and set the citadel on fire” (Wars 2.17.7). These things took place before the death of Menahem.

On the same day that Menahem was killed, the Zealots tricked the remaining Roman soldiers in Jerusalem into laying down their weapons, taking an oath to spare their lives. As soon as the Romans were unarmed, the Zealots violently murdered all of them, except for one person who promised to become a Jew and be circumcised (Wars 2.17.10). This was in September AD 66. For the first time since 63 BC, when Pompey the Great invaded Judea, Jerusalem had no Roman presence. Except for the brief appearance of Cestius Gallus’ armies two months later, it would remain that way for the next 3.5 years until Titus arrived in April AD 70.  

The Shocking Defeat of Cestius Gallus

In the two months that followed the death of Menahem, some of the surrounding nations and cities turned on the Jews who lived among them. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in Caesarea, Alexandria, Scythopolis, Syria, and other places (Wars 2.18.1-9). The Syrian general Cestius Gallus also came into Galilee with the 12th legion and other Roman forces and began to subdue that nation (Wars 2.18.9-2.19.1). He then approached Jerusalem while the Feast of Tabernacles was taking place. This was in November AD 66 and by this time the people of Jerusalem “were kept under by the seditious” (Wars 2.19.4), meaning that they were under the control of the Zealots.

While Cestius Gallus and his forces were still about six miles from Jerusalem, some of the Jews left the feast and preemptively attacked the Romans, killing 515 of them. Only 22 Jews were killed in that battle. Simon Bar Giora also attacked the Roman armies from behind while they were retreating and he “carried off many of the beasts that carded the weapons of war” (Wars 2.19.2).

Three days later Cestius Gallus launched an attack against Jerusalem. According to Josephus, he had at least two opportunities to capture the city and end the revolt, but he failed to do so. Five days later, Cestius Gallus retreated from the city “without any reason in the world” (Wars 2.19.7) and the Zealots chased after his armies. They attacked the rear “and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen” before chasing them much further and scoring additional victories. The ancient history site, Livius, gives this summary of what happened:

“In October 66, the governor of Judaea, Gessius Florus, needed military support to regain control of Jerusalem. The Twelfth [Roman Legion Fulminata] (supported by subunits from IIII Scythica and VI Ferrata) came, saw, and returned, when its commander saw that his force was not strong enough. On his way back, he was defeated by one of the leaders of the Jewish Zealots, Eleaser son of Simon. Humiliation was added to the disgrace: the legion lost its eagle standard.”

In the end the Zealots “themselves lost a few only,” but killed 5,680 of the Romans. They captured the war engines of the Romans “and came back running and singing to their metropolis,” i.e. Jerusalem (Wars 2.19.9). This is when they “got together in great numbers in the temple, and appointed a great many generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4), and 10 main generals in particular.

After this defeat, Cestius Gallus sent men to Nero, who was in Achaia (Greece) “to inform him of the great distress they were in” (Wars 2.20.1). In his Preface to Wars of the Jews (Preface 8.21), Josephus wrote that “Nero, upon Cestius’s defeat, was in fear of the entire event of the war,” and in Wars 3.1.1 he said that “when Nero was informed of the Romans’ ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror, as is usual in such cases, fell upon him.”

In another book, Josephus wrote that the Zealots “were so far elevated with this success that they had hopes of finally conquering the Romans” (Life 6.24). Similarly, he said this in Wars 3.2.1:

“Now the Jews, after they had beaten Cestius, were so much elevated with their unexpected success, that they could not govern their zeal, but, like people blown up into a flame by their good fortune, carried the war to remoter places.”

Like a Return to the Maccabean Era

To those hungry for war, it apparently seemed as if they had entered a new “Maccabean Era,” and that they were about to relive the time when the Maccabees gained full independence for Israel. Perhaps the greatest moment in the Zealots’ victory over Cestius Gallus and his armies occurred at the Bethoron Pass, where the Zealots trapped the Romans and attacked them at both ends of the pass. According to Josephus, they even could have “taken Cestius’s entire army prisoners” if the sun hadn’t set (Wars 2.19.8). About 230 years earlier, a similar battle had been fought at the same location with the Maccabees emerging victorious. The Jewish Encyclopedia, in a 1906 article written by Kaufmann Kohler, pointed out this same parallel:

“…the Romans were everywhere over-powered and annihilated, Simon bar Giora being one of the heroic leaders whom none could resist. The whole army of Cestius, who had brought twelve legions from Antioch to retrieve the defeat of the Roman garrison, was annihilated by the Zealots under the leadership of Bar Giora and Eleazar ben Simon the priest. The Maccabean days seemed to have returned; and the patriots of Jerusalem celebrated the year 66 as the year of Israel’s deliverance from Rome, and commemorated it with coins bearing the names of Eleazar the priest and Simon the prince

The year 67 saw the beginning of the great war with the Roman legions, first under Vespasian and then under Titus; and Galilee was at the outset chosen as the seat of war. The Zealots fought with almost superhuman powers against warriors trained in countless battles waged in all parts of the known world, and when they succumbed to superior military skill and overwhelming numbers, often only after some act of treachery within the Jewish camp, they died with a fortitude and a spirit of heroic martyrdom which amazed and overawed their victors.”

Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Hashem

Another parallel to the Maccabees may connect directly with the words John used in Revelation 13:4 (“Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”). Eliezer Segal, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, writes about an explanation behind the name “Maccabee” which is commonly taught in Jewish education:

“…many of us were taught in school that the name Maccabee is an acronym for the Biblical verse Mi kamokha ba’elim Hashem, ‘Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!’ As generations of schoolteachers have told the story, Judah [Maccabee] carried these inspiring words upon his standard as he marched off to battle.”

Rabbi Ken Spiro, a licensed tour guide with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, adds that this expression is both an acronym for “Maccabee” and “the battle cry of the Jewish people.” Attributed to Judah Maccabee around 165 BC, this expression is strikingly similar to the expression used in Revelation 13:4 concerning the beast. It’s very possible that Revelation 13:4 reflected the excited hope that the Zealots were about to obtain full independence for Judea the way the Maccabees did about 230 years before their time.

A year after the victory over Cestius Gallus, another Zealot leader breathed more life into the idea that Israel and Jerusalem were invincible and that it was a matter of time before independence would be theirs once again. In November AD 67 John of Gischala came to Jerusalem after escaping his town of Gischala, which was captured by the Romans, and he soon became a main leader of the Zealots there. John pretended that he and his men had not fled from the Romans, but that they had merely intended to join the fight for Jerusalem. John then gave many of the Jews hope that the Romans were weak, ignorant, and unskilled, and that they barely managed to capture the villages of Galilee. John proclaimed that the Romans could never fly over the walls of Jerusalem and capture their city:

“But for John, he…went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls. These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

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In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:5-8 and the 42 months that the beast made war with the saints and had authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

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