Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 5: Ten Fulfilled Prophecies)


REVELATION 13 (Part 5: Ten Fulfilled Prophecies Regarding the Beast)

Adam Maarschalk: October 22 & 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-18

By way of reviewing the previous four posts, the following is a chart indicating what was foretold regarding “the beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and 17, and how these things were true of Nero and the empire he led, represented, and personified. In some cases it would be possible for another entity aside from Nero to fulfill one of these prophecies (being identified with “666,” for example), but the fact that each one of these prophecies fits Nero and first-century Rome makes for a very compelling case that the fulfillment of Revelation 13 is past and not future. Keep in mind, as we noted in Part 1 of this Revelation 13 series, that the beast is seen in both the singular and the general sense (i.e. as an individual, and at the same time as an empire).

10 PROPHECIES REGARDING THE BEAST FROM THE SEA

FULFILLMENT BY NERO/THE ROMAN EMPIRE

1. The beast was to have ten horns, which would carry it, give to it their own power and authority, persecute the saints, and finally turn on the “great prostitute” to the point of burning her with fire (Rev. 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12-14, 16-17).

The Roman Empire contained 10 Senatorial Provinces, and the governors of each one granted their authority to Rome and also exercised authority on its behalf (See Part 1). This included aiding in Nero’s persecution of the saints, and carrying out the Roman war against Israel which resulted in the burning of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

2. The beast had seven heads. To John it was explained that the seven heads represented not only the “seven mountains on which the woman is seated,” but also “seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is [in John’s day], the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while” (Rev. 13:1; 17:3, 7, 9-10).

Rome is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains, and first-century Rome celebrated the feast of the “seven-hilled city.” According to Josephus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and other historians, the first five Roman emperors (or “kings”; cf. John 19:15) were [1] Julius Caesar [2] Augustus [3] Tiberius [4] Caligula, and [5] Claudius. The sixth was Nero (54-68 AD), and the next emperor was Galba, who reigned for only six months before he was murdered (Again see Part 1).

3. The beast was to have a mouth like a lion (Rev. 13:2).

The apostle Paul, referring to his trial before Nero, testified that he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (II Timothy 4:16-17).

4. One of the beast’s heads was to receive a mortal wound, but the beast’s wound would be healed, causing the whole earth to marvel “as they followed the beast” (Rev. 13:3, 12).

Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD, bringing an end to the blood line that had sustained Rome since it had become an empire. His death was followed by chaos and civil war, causing the empire to nearly collapse, and Josephus testified that “every part of the habitable earth” under the Romans “was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2). The next three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) each reigned considerably less than a year, each tried desperately to resurrect Nero’s image and authority, and it was only when Vespasian came to power in December 69 AD that Rome stabilized and became more powerful than ever (See Part 2 and Part 3).

5. The “whole earth” would worship the beast, extolling it as incomparable and overwhelmingly powerful to any who would dare to oppose it. Only those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain” would not worship the beast (Rev. 13:4, 8; 17:8).

See Part 2 for the very pronounced and extravagant worship demanded by, and received by, Nero during and after his reign. This included offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit in the public square even after his death. One statue of Nero stood more than 110 feet high, and coins and other inscriptions hailed him as “Almighty God” and “Savior.” He was hailed as Apollo, Hercules, “the only one from the beginning of time,” and even rulers from other lands had to publicly worship both Nero and his images which were set up on lofty platforms. As for the reference to “the whole earth,” this can either be understood as referring to the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1), or to Israel (See my 3-part study outlining nearly 20 cases in Revelation where the context seems to demand that the expressions “the earth” and “those who dwell on the earth” be understood as dealing with the land of Israel/Palestine rather than to the entire planet [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

6. The beast was to be given authority “to make war on the saints and to conquer them” for a period of 42 months. The scope of his authority would be “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:5-7).

It’s a historical fact that Nero began to persecute the Christians throughout the Roman Empire in mid-November 64 AD. This intense persecution only ended when Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD. Thus he made war on the saints for a period of exactly 42 months. See Part 1.

7. The saints were called to endure and remain faithful in light of the fact that the beast who so often wielded the sword would himself be killed by the sword (Rev. 13:10, 14).

In June 68 AD Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, in part because he realized that his popularity had waned and also because of an attempted coup (See Part 1). Nero lived by the sword, and died by the sword. Tertullian [145-220 AD] credited “Nero’s cruel sword” as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church. At one point he urged his readers to “consult your histories; you will find there that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect.”

8. The beast from the sea would be given much support from a second beast (“from the earth”), which would compel “the earth and its inhabitants” to worship the first beast. An image of the first beast would be given breath, so that it might “even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Rev. 13:11-15).

Paul Kroll (1999), of Grace Communion International, notes that early church writers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (among others) wrote of Simon Magus (mentioned in Acts 8:9-24) being able to bring statues to life in the first century AD. Kroll remarks that it was common during this era for statues to be deemed able to speak and perform miracles. The Roman historian Dio Cassius records in detail how a foreign king, Tiridates, literally and publicly worshipped Nero and his images in one particular conference. A number of ancient and modern historians insist that those who refused to do so, both during and after Nero’s reign, were executed.

David Chilton (quoting from Austin Farrer’s 1964 work) points out that these executions were carried out not only by Roman authorities, but also by Jewish authorities aligned with Rome: “[The Jewish leaders] organized economic boycotts against those who refused to submit to [Nero] Caesar as Lord, the leaders of the synagogues ‘forbidding all dealings with the excommunicated,’ and going as far as to put them to death” (See Part 3).

Much more is written on this in Part 2 (See especially View #3, as the reference to “the earth” here again likely indicates that Israel was in view).

9. No one would be able to buy or sell unless he had the mark of the beast on his right hand or forehead, “that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev. 13:16-17).

C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr. (1995) record that those who worshipped Nero “received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16.” Richard Anthony (2009) adds these details: “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).” See Part 3.

10. John’s first-century readers, if they had wisdom and understanding, were to be able to identify the beast by calculating his number, which was “666.” John wrote this as if the beast was already in power as he was putting these things down in writing (Rev. 13:18).

In Hebrew gematria, which John’s readers would have been familiar with (given the vast number of Hebrew references in Revelation), Nero’s name (NRWN QSR) = 666. The values of these seven Hebrew letters are 50, 200, 6, 50, 100, 60, and 200, respectively, adding up to 666. John’s code would have utilized the Hebrew language rather than Greek or Latin in order to avoid detection from Roman authorities, being that he had been exiled to Patmos (a Roman prison island) by Rome.

Nero’s name also adds up to “616,” which some early manuscripts refer to as the number of the beast because of a later transliteration into Latin. In this case “Nero Caesar” = 616 in Latin just as “Neron Caesar” = 666 in Hebrew, so Nero’s identity is confirmed by both renderings. See Part 3.

It is likely that even more prophecies concerning the beast will be seen to have been fulfilled in Nero’s day once we examine Revelation 17 in more detail. For now, though, I would like to close out this series on Revelation 13 by re-posting the “brief study on the Antichrist” which appeared in Part 2:

Revelation 13 seems to be the first passage one thinks of when considering the person popularly known in American church culture as “the Antichrist.” Other passages which are rightly or wrongly said to speak of “the Antichrist” are II Thessalonians 2 (“the man of sin”), Daniel 9:24-27 (the 70 Weeks Prophecy), and Daniel 11:36ff. However, it’s most interesting to note that none of these passages even mention the term “Antichrist.” This term can only be found in two books, both written by John, but neither of them being the book of Revelation. Here are the passages where this term is found: [1] I John 2:18 [2] I John 2:22 [3] I John 4:3 [4] II John 7.

In these passages, which hardly any Dispensationalist will go to in a discussion of the Antichrist, John makes the following points: [1] His readers had heard that “antichrist is coming.” [2] Many antichrists had come, indicating that it was the last hour (in John’s day). [3] Anyone who denies the Father and the Son, or that Jesus is the Christ, is “the antichrist.” [4] The “spirit of the antichrist” was in the world in John’s day, and was characterized as denying that Jesus is from God. [5] “The antichrist” is anyone who does not “confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Such a person is a deceiver, and many such persons existed in John’s day.

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Our study of Revelation 14 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 3: Verses 12-18)


REVELATION 13:12-18

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.

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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):

Nero 666Don 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.

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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.

PP6: Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Revelation)-Part 3


This is now the sixth part in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. The first segment included the Title Page, Outline, Introduction, and a brief introduction to Partial-Preterism. The second segment consisted of the References page, and the third segment was a discussion of the external evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation. These segments can be found here:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/

We then turned to a discussion of the internal evidence for an early date. In Part 1 we discussed the inclusion of Jerusalem, the temple, Babylon the Great, and a great city in the book of Revelation. Part 2 dealt with the seven kings mentioned in Revelation 17:9-10 and the identity of the beast of the book of Revelation. These posts can be found here, and it is recommended that they be read first:

[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/

Part 3 will address Nero’s campaign of persecution against the saints, as well as his prophesied demise.

Adam Maarschalk

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II. Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Part 3)

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast with seven heads (mountains), the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2).[1]

Prior to Nero’s persecution, writes Kenneth Gentry (2002), persecution against Christians had come largely from the Jews. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, which was a “legal religion.” Gentry notes, “Earlier Paul had safely appealed to Nero Caesar (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) and in A.D. 62 had been acquitted and released.” Herbert Workman, in his 1906 work, Persecution in the Early Church, said that Rome didn’t make a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism until 64 AD (pp. 62-63).

Kenneth Gentry takes note of the testimonies of early historians regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution against Christians (pp. 54-55, 64-66). Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) said that it targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.” Eusebius (260-340 AD) pointed out that Nero was “the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion,” and Lactantius (240-320 AD) agrees by saying of Nero, “He it was who first persecuted the saints of God.” Sulpicius Severus (360-420 AD) said that he was “the basest of all men, and even of wild beasts, [showing himself] in every way most abominable and cruel…he first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” Sulpicius devoted two chapters to Nero’s reign of terror in his Sacred History, but only three sentences for Domitian. In 1854 church historian John Laurence von Mosheim added these thoughts:

Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation [minimizing], but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took Diace by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November,[2] in the year of our Lord 64. This dreadful state of persecution ceased with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until A.D. 68, when he put an end to his own life.[3]

Tacitus, the Roman historian who lived from 56-117 AD, wrote in detail of Nero’s move to persecute the saints soon after the fire that raged through Rome, destroying 10 out of 14 city divisions:

But by no human contrivance, whether lavish contributions of money or of offerings to appease the gods, could Nero rid himself of the ugly rumor that the fire was due to his orders. So to dispel the report, he substituted as the guilty persons and inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians…wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

The most remarkable detail about Nero’s campaign of persecution is that it lasted just over 42 months, which Revelation 13:5-8 records is the length of time that would be given to the beast to war against and conquer the saints. The persecution ended when Nero died on June 9, 68 AD. In this context, Revelation 13:10 was a comfort to the saints. Not only were they already told that the beast would only be allowed to persecute them for 3.5 years, but they were also told how their persecutor would be removed: “…he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.” Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, when he realized that his popularity had waned and that a coup was in the making.

Upon Nero’s demise, the Roman Empire immediately fell into chaos and civil war, and rooting out Christians became less of a priority for Rome. 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). When the empire stabilized more than a year later under Vespasian, Nero’s successors did not carry on his campaign of religious persecution. As The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary notes, “There is no solid evidence that Christians suffered persecution by the Roman state under Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian” (p. 67).

Nero’s death by the sword is the type of mortal wound that John said the beast would receive (Revelation 13:10, 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. He was the one who oversaw the destruction of Jerusalem the following year. Perhaps in this sense the beast’s “mortal wound was healed,” i.e. the beast as corporately considered.

Herbert W. Benario (2006) and others show how this question might also be viewed from an additional angle. Benario writes, “Nero’s popularity among the lower classes remained even after his death. His close friend, and successor to Galba, Otho paid him 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)…

With these details, we can begin to see how Nero could have fulfilled what was written of the beast in Revelation 17:11. This text states: “As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” Kenneth Gentry (1998) notes the following about Otho, the eighth emperor of Rome:

Upon presenting himself to the Senate and returning to the palace, it is said of Otho: “When in the midst of the other adulations of those who congratulated and flattered him, he was hailed by the common herd as Nero, he made no sign of dissent; on the contrary, according to some writers, he even made use of that surname in his commissions and his first letters to some of the governors of the provinces” [Suetonius, Otho 7]. Tacitus, too, speaks of Otho’s predilection for Nero: “It was believed that he also brought up the question of celebrating Nero’s memory with the hope of winning over the Roman people; and in fact some set up statues of Nero; moreover on certain days the people and soldiers, as if adding thereby to Otho’s nobility and distinction, acclaimed him as Nero Otho.” Dio Cassius mentions the same idea: “But men did not fail to realize that his rule was sure to be even more licentious and harsh than Nero’s. Indeed, he immediately added Nero’s name to his own” (pp. 308-309).

Gentry adds that Otho reinstated Nero’s procurators and freedman to the offices they had vacated during Galba’s 6-month reign, and a court historian claims that Otho even used Nero’s title and name in official dispatches to Spain. So Otho, in many ways, took on the persona of Nero, and perhaps in this way Nero was “an eighth” king who also belonged to the seven kings (Revelation 17:10-11). Gentry, though, leans even more to the idea that the revived Roman Empire, under the new dynasty initiated by Vespasian, could be what is meant by the beast that “is an eighth” but also belongs to the seven.


[1] W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, 2002, p. 63).

[2] Moses Stuart (1845), a historian contemporary to von Mosheim, wrote that this persecution began at the end of November.

[3] I Clement 6:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:25:2-3; Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 2:2; Severus, Sacred History 2:29; John L. von Mosheim, History of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (New York: Converse, 1854) 1:138-139.