Who Was the Beast? (Five Clues) – Long Island Conference Presentation


On March 25th I had the privilege of speaking for the second year in a row at the Blue Point Bible Conference in Long Island, New York. The theme of this conference, which was hosted by Pastor Michael Miano, was “Revelation Revealed.” It was a great weekend of fellowship, learning, encouragement, and discussion. I was also very glad to be able to bring my wife, Jasmine, along with me this year. My presentation revolved around five clues from the book of Revelation about the identity of the beast. Here’s the video, along with my written notes:

Introduction

The topic that I’m discussing is one that appears in eight out of 22 chapters in the book of Revelation. More space is given to this topic than to the harlot, the two witnesses, New Jerusalem, etc. So this topic is a key part of what John wanted to communicate to his first century readers. This topic is “the beast.”

In John’s day, the consequences for following the beast were very heavy, but the blessings for overcoming the beast were also very great. We see this contrast in Revelation 14 and 15, where one group received the full strength of God’s wrath and fiery torment, while the other group had the privilege of standing on the sea of glass and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb:

Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name’” (Rev. 14:9-11).

I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested’” (Rev. 15:2-4).

So there’s no doubt that the beast was a great enemy to the church, but who was this enemy? Was this enemy Roman? Or was it Jewish? Whoever or whatever it was, there are details about the beast in Daniel 7, and Revelation 11, 13 – 17, and 19 – 20 which all need to be reconciled. These details include:

  • 10 horns on the beast
  • a little horn coming up among the 10 horns
  • three horns that fell before the little horn
  • the little horn persecuting the saints for 3.5 years and changing time and law
  • a second beast that works very closely with the first beast
  • seven heads of the beast
  • a wounded head
  • the dragon, beast, and false prophet working together to gather people to a great battle
  • the beast and false prophet cast into the lake of fire

This presentation won’t cover all these details, but see the “Glossary of Terms” at the end of this article for some more details.

In my studies over the last six months or so, I’ve come to some very different conclusions than those I used to hold about the beast. Beginning in 2009, I believed that the beast was Rome (generally) and Nero (specifically). I did have unanswered questions, especially when it came to Daniel 7 and Revelation 19, but I kept those questions on the back burner. When I finally brought those questions to the forefront, I came to realize that Rome and Nero didn’t fit the visions that Daniel and John had about a beast that would oppose God’s people.

I’ve been putting together a series on this subject in chronological order, moving from Daniel 2 into Daniel 7 and on to Revelation 11, Revelation 13, and to the other chapters which at least mention the beast. In this presentation, though, I’d like to highlight certain pieces of evidence which I believe show that the beast was Israel, and in particular the Zealot movement in Israel that captured the loyalty of so many Jews in the first century. I’ve come to believe that the beast of Revelation wasn’t about emperor worship and persecuting those who wouldn’t worship the emperor Nero. Instead it was about:

  • extreme nationalism
  • idolizing and worshiping the kingdom of Israel
  • the persecution and killing of those who wouldn’t follow the war agenda of the Zealots and the Sicarii
  • a strong rejection of Jesus’ message that His kingdom isn’t of this world
  • a strong rejection of the Prince of Peace and His call to be peacemakers
  • clinging to Mount Sinai, the Jerusalem below, and the kingdom that could be shaken instead of embracing Mount Zion, the Jerusalem above and the kingdom that couldn’t be shaken (Galatians 4:21-31 and Hebrews 12:18-29)

Five Clues About the Beast’s Identity

In this presentation we will analyze five passages in Revelation in an effort to understand the beast’s identity:

1. The fifth bowl was poured out on the beast (Revelation 16:10-11).
2. The beast was given to the burning flame (Daniel 7:11; Revelation 19:20).
3. Who was killed by the sword AND went into captivity (Revelation 13:10)?
4. Who destroyed and burned the harlot (Revelation 17:16)?
5. How did the two beasts relate to “those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 13:3-15)?

1. The Fifth Bowl Poured Out on the Beast (Revelation 16:10-11)

The first piece of evidence I’d like to discuss has to do with the fifth bowl judgment. Here’s how Revelation 16:10-11 describes the pouring out of the fifth bowl:

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.”

Notice that this bowl is poured out on the beast’s throne and kingdom. I want us to consider this fact in light of an observation that a number of preterist teachers and websites have rightfully made. That observation is that the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls were opened, sounded, and poured out on 1st century Israel (Judea, Samaria, Galilee). For example, in the book, “Four Views on The Book of Revelation,” by Stanley Gundry and C. Marvin Pate, Kenneth Gentry represents the preterist view. He says this on page 72:

“John turns his attention to further judgments on the land [of Israel] by means of the three woes (14:6-21) and the seven bowls (chaps. 15-16).”

Kenneth Gentry, of course, is well-known for his books and DVDs which teach that the beast was Rome and Nero. I don’t mean any disrespect to him, but he contradicts himself here when he says that [1] all seven bowl judgments were for Israel and [2] Rome was the beast, and yet Revelation 16:10 says that the fifth bowl was to be poured out on the throne and kingdom of the beast. I used to be inconsistent on that point as well.

There are several reasons why it’s valid to say that Israel was the target of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. I’ll list two of them:

  • Concerning the seven bowls, Revelation 16:1 shows that their target is “the earth,” otherwise translated as “the land,” that is, the land of Israel (I’ll discuss this translation pattern more when we look at Revelation 13). Here’s what verse 1 says: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth’” (or ‘on the land’). So there was a specific land that the seven bowls would be poured out upon, and that land was Israel.
  • In Leviticus 26:18-28 God repeatedly warned Israel that a time would come when they would be punished “seven times” for their sins, as God would execute the vengeance of His covenant (verse 25). It’s no coincidence that the covenant imagery of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) appears in the opening of the seventh seal, the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and the pouring out of the seventh bowl (e.g. thunder, lightning, an earthquake, loud sounds, and smoke/fire).

Those seven-fold judgments of Leviticus 26 were reserved for Israel alone. They weren’t for both Israel and Rome. So it follows that when the fifth bowl judgment was poured out “on the throne of the beast,” it was Israel, not Rome, which experienced that darkness and pain. It was Israel that represented the kingdom of the beast. If the fifth bowl was poured out on Rome, then the bowls were only a six-fold judgment on Israel and “a one-fold judgment” on Rome, but that’s not the case. Leviticus 26 was completely, not partially, fulfilled.

Revelation 16:11 says that “pains” and “sores” would come upon the people who lived in the beast’s kingdom, and implies that further judgment would come upon this kingdom for refusing to repent. During the Jewish-Roman War did people throughout the Roman Empire experience “pains” and “sores,” or did this happen to the people of Israel? When we read Josephus’ descriptions of civil war, famine conditions, dead bodies lying unburied, etc., it’s easy enough to understand that Israel was plagued by “pains” and “sores” during that time, and this was especially true in Jerusalem. It was Israel that refused to repent, and it was upon Israel that more judgments were heaped.

2. The Beast Was Given to the Burning Flame (Daniel 7:11, Revelation 19:20)

The second point I’d like to bring up is the language of Daniel 7:11 and Revelation 19:20. Here’s what these two verses say:

“…I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame” (Daniel 7:11).

Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).

If the Roman Empire was the beast of Revelation, how was this empire captured, slain, destroyed, burned, and cast into the lake of fire? Rome actually came out of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66 -73) stronger than ever. History tells us that Rome was stronger in the second century AD than it was in the first century AD.

Someone might say that this applied to Nero, who is said to be the beast in a singular sense. Nero was indeed killed – with his own sword, but he was not captured and he was not burned. Nor did he go down at the same time as any false prophets who worked with him.

Furthermore, Revelation 19:21 suggests that it was the followers of the beast and the false prophet whose flesh was consumed by the birds. This further confirms that it was Israel that was captured, slain, destroyed, and burned – as we can see in great detail in “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus.

3. Who Was Killed by the Sword AND Went Into Captivity (Revelation 13:10)?

On a related note, in Revelation 13:10 we see a prophecy about the ultimate fate of the beast, and this prophecy was to be a comfort to the saints who were under persecution. John writes: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”

Some Romans were certainly killed in the Jewish-Roman War, but the end result was victory for Rome. On the other hand, there were mass casualties for Israel, the Zealots, and the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem from many nations but got trapped in the city when the siege began in April AD 70.

It’s important to take note of the first part of this verse: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity…” The Romans took people captive, but were they themselves taken captive? No, they weren’t. The Jewish Zealots also took people captive, especially their fellow Jews who wouldn’t go along with their war agenda. Were the Zealots themselves taken captive? Yes, they were. This prophecy was about them.

To point out a couple examples, the Zealot leaders John Levi of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora were both taken captive by the Romans in August or September AD 70, and both were humiliated in a parade all the way to the city of Rome. John was sentenced to life in prison and Simon was executed as “the general” of the revolt. See Wars 6.9.4, Wars 7.2.2, Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6.

4. Who Destroyed and Burned the Harlot? (Revelation 17:16)

Revelation 17:16 predicted what the 10 horns of the beast would do to the harlot:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

The harlot, of course, was the city of Jerusalem. As we see in Revelation 17:18 and elsewhere, the harlot was also called “the great city.” And when “the great city” was first mentioned in Revelation 11:8 it was said to be the place “where our Lord was crucified,” i.e. Jerusalem. So let’s consider how the writings of Josephus answer three details in this verse:

1. Who made Jerusalem desolate?
2. Who ate her flesh?
3. Who burned her with fire?

Was it Rome, or was it Israel under the Jewish Zealots? Josephus addressed all three of these questions repeatedly. For example, in Wars 5.1.1, 5 Josephus said that when the Zealots attacked the people of Jerusalem in February/March AD 68, this was the beginning of the city’s destruction. He also said that the Zealots were “like a wild beast grown mad” that was “eating its own flesh” and tearing the city into pieces:

“Now as to the attack the zealots made upon the people, and which I esteem the beginning of the city’s destruction, it hath been already explained after an accurate manner; as also whence it arose, and to how great a mischief it was increased. But for the present sedition, one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which, for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh… And now, as the city was engaged in a war on all sides, from these treacherous crowds of wicked men, the people of the city, between them, were like a great body torn in pieces.”

Josephus also said in Wars 5.6.1 that the Romans showed more kindness to Jerusalem than the Zealots did:

“…for they never suffered any thing that was worse from the Romans than they made each other suffer; nor was there any misery endured by the city after these men’s actions that could be esteemed new. But it was most of all unhappy before it was overthrown, while those that took it [i.e. the Romans] did it a greater kindness for I venture to affirm that the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition, which it was a much harder thing to do than to destroy the walls; so that we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people, and the just vengeance taken on them to the Romans…”

FIRE

So Josephus lays the blame upon the Zealots for Jerusalem’s destruction and also says that the Zealots consumed Jerusalem like a beast eating its own flesh. What about Jerusalem being burned with fire? In Wars 5.4.4, Josephus described how a number of key buildings in Jerusalem were burned and destroyed at the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War by “the robbers” and the “internal plotters,” meaning the Sicarii and the Zealots:

“But indeed it is not possible to give a complete description of these palaces; and the very remembrance of them is a torment to one, as putting one in mind what vastly rich buildings that fire which was kindled by the robbers hath consumed; for these were not burnt by the Romans, but by these internal plotters, as we have already related, in the beginning of their rebellion. That fire began at the tower of Antonia, and went on to the palaces, and consumed the upper parts of the three towers themselves.”

Before the Roman general, Titus, arrived and began the siege of Jerusalem in April AD 70, Josephus pointed out that John Levi and Simon Bar Giora, two main Zealot leaders, had already burned down “all the places” around the temple:

“[They] attacked the city also; as if they had, on purpose, done it to serve the Romans, by destroying what the city had laid up against the siege, and by thus cutting off the nerves of their own power. Accordingly, it so came to pass, that all the places that were about the temple were burnt down, and were become an intermediate desert space, ready for fighting on both sides of it; and that almost all that corn was burnt, which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years. So they were taken by the means of the famine, which it was impossible they should have been, unless they had thus prepared the way for it by this procedure” (Wars 5.1.4).

Then notice in Wars 4.6.3 what Josephus said they did to the temple itself:

“…these Zealots occasioned the fulfilling of those very prophecies belonging to their country. For there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews and their own hands should pollute the Temple of God. Now, while these Zealots did not disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment.”

So Josephus said that the Zealots were the instruments by which the temple was burnt. To confirm this, here’s what Titus said in his speech to the Zealots soon after the temple burned down:

“When I came near your temple, I again departed from the laws of war, and exhorted you to spare your own sanctuary, and to preserve your holy house to yourselves. I allowed you a quiet exit out of it, and security for your preservation; nay, if you had a mind, I gave you leave to fight in another place. Yet have you still despised every one of my proposals, and have set fire to your holy house with your own hands” (Wars 6.6.2).

In Wars 6.2.9, Josephus described how the Jews started the fire in the temple. At one point, they even let the fire spread on purpose, believing that it would give them an advantage:

“[T]he Jews were so distressed by the fights they had been in, as the war advanced higher and higher, and creeping up to the holy house itself, that they, as it were, cut off those limbs of their body which were infected, in order to prevent the distemper’s spreading further; for they set the north-west cloister, which was joined to the tower of Antonia, on fire, and after that brake off about twenty cubits of that cloister, and thereby made a beginning in burning the sanctuary; two days after which, or on the twenty-fourth day of the forenamed month, [Panemus or Tamuz,] the Romans set fire to the cloister that joined to the other, when the fire went fifteen cubits farther. The Jews, in like manner, cut off its roof; nor did they entirely leave off what they were about till the tower of Antonia was parted from the temple, even when it was in their power to have stopped the fire; nay, they lay still while the temple was first set on fire, and deemed this spreading of the fire to be for their own advantage. However, the armies were still fighting one against another about the temple, and the war was managed by continual sallies of particular parties against one another.”

After this a Roman soldier set fire to a window of the temple which ultimately led to the fire getting out of control and the temple burning to the ground. According to Josephus, the fire had already been started by the Zealots in the inner court of the temple, and they had even fought against those who tried to put the fire out:

“…now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages: it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Av,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the Holy House fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning in the inner court of the Temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the Holy House itself. 

At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the Holy House, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamour…” (Wars 6.4.5).

10 HORNS

How do we identify the 10 horns that John said would hate the harlot? Among those who say that the beast was Rome, I’ve generally seen the explanation that they were the 10 Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire. However, as far as I’m aware, neither Josephus nor the Roman historians of that time period (e.g. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius) ever said that those provinces assisted Titus in the siege of Jerusalem. Instead, Titus came with four legions (Wars 5.1.6).

The idea that the 10 horns were Roman provinces (or any land territories at all) really falls apart when we take note that Daniel 7:24-25 says that a little horn would arise and persecute the saints for 3.5 years AFTER the 10 horns arise. That little horn also had “eyes like the eyes of a man” (Daniel 7:8), which sure sounds like a human. So I believe the 10 horns were people rather than provinces, in the same way that the two horns of the ram in Daniel 8:20 were identified as “kings of Media and Persia” and the four horns on the goat (Daniel 8:8, 22) turned out to be four generals of Greece after the death of Alexander the Great.

Here’s my proposal about the 10 horns of the beast described in Daniel 7:7-8, 20-25 and Revelation 17:3, 7, 12-17. In December AD 66, Israel’s war effort was placed into the hands of exactly 10 generals (Wars 2.20.3-4). This decision was made after the Jews’ shocking victory over Cestius Gallus in late November AD 66. The Jews only lost a few men in that short battle, but they killed nearly 5,800 Romans (see Wars 2.19) in addition to the Romans they had already slaughtered at Masada and the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem. They knew it was only a matter of time before the Romans returned with a full-scale retaliation, and they needed to prepare.

Daniel provides a detail about the 10 horns which John never mentions in the book of Revelation. According to Daniel 7:8, 20, 24 three of the 10 horns would be “plucked out,” would fall, and would be subdued by a little horn. I believe those three horns were [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea, and [3] Joseph ben Gorion, who were among the 10 original generals. They were killed by the Zealots and the Idumeans during the Zealot siege of February/March 68 AD, and their deaths are recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1.

Were they later replaced? Josephus was one of those 10 generals, and he was captured by the Romans (Wars 3.8.8) only about a year into the war. So at least four of the generals needed to be replaced if Israel’s war effort was to remain in the hands of 10 generals. In any case, John spoke as if the same 10 horns worked together until the harlot was consumed and burned with fire, but Daniel said that three out of the 10 horns would be removed. So this is a point of difficulty regardless of how a person identifies the beast (as being Roman, Jewish, etc.).

There is evidence, though, that the Zealots chose leaders as they pleased. Josephus said in Wars 4.4.1 that the Zealots seized the power of the government during the Zealot siege of February/March AD 68 and that they “presumed to appoint governors as they themselves pleased.”

5. How Did the Two Beasts Relate to “Those Who Dwell on the Earth” (Revelation 13)?

According to Revelation 13:8, 11-12, 14-15, the beast would be worshiped by all who dwelt “on the earth.” This expression, “on the earth,” can also be translated as “in the land,” i.e. the land of Israel. In the following verses, please notice that the expression “those who dwell on the earth” appears four times:

(Verse 8) “And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

(Verses 11-12) “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.”

(Verses 14-15) “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

I want to briefly give some background on this expression (“on the earth” or “in the land”) before explaining why this is so significant when it comes to the identity of the beast and the close partnership between the two beasts that we see in Revelation 13. There are two Greek words that are typically translated as “earth” or “world” in the New Testament. These words are “ge” and “kosmos.”

Dr. Jonathan Welton has shown that “kosmos” appears in Revelation only three times, even though John used this word 57 times in his gospel account and 17 times in I John. Dr. Welton explains that this word “refers to the entire globe, the entirety of planet earth, and the heavens.” On the other hand, the word “ge” appears in Revelation 67 times (i.e. 22 times more often than “kosmos”). Dr. Welton says that this word “refers to a localized inhabited civilization or the land of a particular nation.”

Source: Dr. Jonathan Welton

John’s books Number of chapters in each book Number of times John uses the word “kosmos,” meaning the entire planet Number of times John uses the word “ge,” meaning a specific land
The Gospel According to John 21 57 3
I John 5 17 1
II John 1 1 0
III John 1 0 0
Book of Revelation 22 3 67

This pattern was already established in the Old Testament, where a word which is often translated as “earth” meant “a specific land” rather than the planet. This pattern can be seen especially in the book of Isaiah. Thomas Ice, a Dispensationalist Futurist, acknowledged this in a 2008 article published in the Pre-Trib Research Center. He pointed out that the phrase “earth dwellers” appears about 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and that “the overwhelming majority of times…it is rightfully translated as ‘land dwellers’ or ‘inhabitants of the land’ since the context references a localized area of land or country like Israel.”

Probably the clearest example of the word “ge” in the New Testament as a local (not global) reference is in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:23). There, Jesus is clearly speaking about Judea, yet some Bible versions translate this word as “earth,” while others translate it as “land”:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-23).

If you do a study of the various New Testament passages which use the word “ge,” you’ll find that one Bible version consistently translates this word as “land” instead of “earth,” and that’s (Robert) Young’s Literal Translation. You can also see this in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Albert Marshall.

In 1876 a book was published by the Biblical scholar, Alfred Edersheim, and was titled, “Sketches of Jewish Public Life.” Alfred wrote about the significance of the phrase “the land” to the Jewish Rabbis of the first century. “Palestine,” he said, “was to the Rabbis simply ‘the land,’ all other countries being summed up under the designation of ‘outside the land’” (p. 14). About 20 years before Edersheim’s book was published, P.S. Desprez made the following remarks in his 1855 book, “Apocalypse Fulfilled” (p. 13):

“[When the phrase ‘on the earth’ appears in the book of Revelation] in connection with the governing clauses ‘they that dwell’… Then they have, and can have, only one meaning; then they refer only to one land and to one people, and this land and this people must be the land and the people of Judea.

This exact phrase (“those who dwell on the earth”) is found in 10 verses in the book of Revelation (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12, 13:14, 14:6, 17:2, and 17:8). Here’s where we come back to why this is so important when looking at Revelation 13 and the close relationship between the two beasts. Four of these 10 instances are in connection with the beast (the verses in bold font above), and three of them are in Revelation 13 (verse 8, twice in verse 12, and verse 14). Revelation 13 speaks of two beasts, one that rises up out of the sea and one that comes up out of the earth (land). What we see is that both beasts demanded worship and loyalty from “those who dwell in the land,” and one beast acted as an enforcer for the other.

It’s very significant that all the activity described in Revelation 13 was centralized in Israel. According to verse 3, all the land followed the beast. According to verse 4, they also worshiped the beast and said, “Who is able to make war with him?” I believe this describes the response after the Zealots kicked the Romans out of Masada and Jerusalem in August/September AD 66, and after they achieved victory over Cestius Gallus and his army in November AD 66. The second beast, described in verses 11-17, was later called “the false prophet” (Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). According to verses 11-14, that beast exercised authority in the presence of the first beast, causing the people in the land of Israel to worship him, to make an image to him, etc.

A number of preterist authors have identified the first beast as Rome/Nero and the second beast as the religious leaders of Israel. In other words, the implication would be that religious leaders in Israel forced the people of Israel to give their loyalty and worship to Rome and to Nero. However, this is simply not possible. There was an extremely anti-Roman climate in Israel, especially once the Zealots took over. Anti-Roman feelings were already strong in Israel before the war, but they were the only feelings that the people were allowed to have once the war began. Josephus repeatedly described the Zealots killing anyone whom they even suspected of wanting peace with Rome.

In Wars 2.19.4, Josephus said this about Jerusalem in November AD 66: “Now as for the people, they were kept under by the seditious.” Clearly, then, Jerusalem was under the control of the Zealots and already off-limits to the Romans by that time. So any 3.5 year period featuring a deep partnership between Rome/Nero and false prophets from Israel would have ended by AD 66 (even earlier actually), and therefore would have begun by at least AD 62. However, there was no such time period, and preterists don’t even look for any time period as early as that to fulfill the 42 months of Revelation 13, as far as I’m aware.

I would like to submit that Revelation 13 describes a partnership between the Zealot movement (the first beast) and the false prophets in the land (the second beast). Let’s look at a few examples from the works of Josephus to see what this partnership looked like.

Jewish False Prophets Working with the Zealots

In Antiquities 20.8.6 Josephus wrote the following about numerous false prophets who deceived the Jews during the time of the Procurators Felix (52-58 AD) and Festus (59-62 AD):

“These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives…”

In Wars 2.13.4-6 Josephus wrote about various false prophets and deceivers who worked to persuade the people to revolt against the Romans and who killed those who refused to revolt:

“There was also another body of wicked men gotten together… These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty…

for a company of deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty, inflicting death on those that continued in obedience to the Roman government, and saying, that such as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from such their desired inclinations; for they parted themselves into different bodies, and lay in wait up and down the country, and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves, and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more blown up, till it came to a direct war.”

In Wars 6.5.1-2 Josephus talked about how, when the temple was burned down, the number of people killed in that blaze was especially high because so many people listened to the words of a false prophet. Josephus also revealed that this false prophet was one of many false prophets who had been hired by the Zealots to control the people and keep them from fleeing from their control:

“A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned [hired] by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting” (Wars 6.5.2).

Limitations of Nero’s Persecution

Some may ask, “Well, what about Nero’s persecution?” Revelation 13:5-7 says that the beast would have authority for 42 months (3.5 years) and would “make war with the saints” and overcome them. Didn’t Nero persecute Christians for 3.5 years, beginning in AD 64? Let’s quickly look at what historians say about why Nero persecuted Christians, where this persecution took place, and for how long it took place.

The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote that Nero punished Christians in Rome in order to “get rid of the report” that he had ordered Rome to be burned. Tacitus only mentions this happening in the city of Rome, but not elsewhere in the empire:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, Annals 15).

So Tacitus said that Christians in Rome were persecuted for “hatred against mankind” and as scapegoats for arson. This was an entirely different cause for persecution than what John saw taking place in Revelation 13:15. There John saw that persecution and death came from refusing to worship the image of the beast.

The “Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 6” says that Nero’s persecution of Christians “does not seem to have extended through all the provinces [of the Roman empire], but rather to have been restricted to Rome and the surrounding country” (p. 956). On the other hand, John saw persecution happening to those who were dwelling in the land (i.e. of Israel), carried out by the second beast (false prophet) that came up out of the land, and taking place in the presence of the first beast (verses 11-14).

Again, it’s quite impossible to imagine the false prophets from the land demanding that the people of Israel worship Nero, and sentencing to death those who refused, when those same people came under the tight control of the fanatically anti-Roman Zealots in AD 66, less than two years after Nero’s persecution began. (There was a heavy anti-Roman climate in Israel even well before AD 66, and Jews were killed for feeling otherwise before AD 66 as well.)

Another resource, “A Critical Study of the Sources of the History of the Emperor Nero,” written by John Nicholas Henry Jahn, notes that Nero’s persecution may not have lasted even two years. This is because Nero left Rome in late AD 66 and went to Greece, where he remained for more than a year (pp. 14-15). Jahn also agreed that it “is not likely that Nero ordered the persecution to be extended to the provinces” of the Roman Empire (p. 15).

So various sources indicate that Nero’s persecution, as severe as it was, did not match the motive, location, or duration spoken of in Revelation 13:5-8. It also needs to be pointed out that Daniel 7 shows the little horn of the beast persecuting the saints for 3.5 years all the way up until the very time that the kingdom would be stripped from that beast and given into the hands of the saints. This does not suggest that the persecution stopped in AD 68 when Nero died, but rather that it stopped when Israel was stripped of the kingdom (Matthew 21:43-44) at the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in April – September AD 70.

Revelation 20:4 elaborates on Revelation 13 and Daniel 7 by saying that those who refused to worship the beast and receive his mark were beheaded. Quite a number of times, Josephus spoke of the Zealots cutting the throats of Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere, especially those who talked about peace, showed disloyalty to their cause, or whom they suspected of wanting to escape to the Romans. The phrase “cut their throats” could very well mean beheading since the Zealots used swords and not just knives. Examples of this throat cutting from the fall of AD 66 through the summer of AD 70 can be seen in Wars 2.18.3, 4.4.3, 4.5.3, 4.6.3, 5.1.5, 5.8.1, and 5.10.1.

Conclusion

Among preterists, it appears that there has been a shift when it comes to the man of lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2. It used to be taken for granted that this man was Nero. In the Sibylline Oracles, dating to the end of the 1st century AD or the early 2nd century AD, Nero was depicted as the man of lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2:3-4 (Oracle 5, James Eason, “Nero As the Antichrist”). In the 4th century AD, Augustine, in his book “The City of God” (XX.19.3), also wrote that many thought Nero was the man of sin of II Thess. 2.

Now, however, a number of writers have concluded that the man of lawlessness was a Jew, one of the Zealots. I would like to suggest that this same shift is justified when it comes to the beast of Revelation.

Several early church fathers (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, St. Jerome, Augustine) seemed to hint that Nero was the beast of Revelation, but didn’t say it directly (source). From what I’ve seen, there were four different authors around the 1830s who were the first to directly say that Nero was the beast. Then this idea gained momentum with the publishing of “The Parousia” in 1878 by J. Stuart Russell, who shared this idea in his book. In any case, I’m hoping that a more critical analysis will be applied to the identity of the beast as some have done regarding the man of sin.

Takeaways

The primary message and agenda of the Zealots was war. They persecuted those who threatened that agenda or wouldn’t go along with it. The Zealots stood in total opposition to the message of Jesus, the new covenant, and the kingdom of God. They were determined to maintain, build, and spread their own kingdom. They were extreme nationalists, but ironically they destroyed their own nation and region fighting for that ideal.

The vision of the Old Testament prophets for the new covenant age was one of peace. That was true for the 1st century church during the Jewish-Roman War, and it’s true for the church now in the year 2017. Are there “beasts” even now trying to get us to follow some type of war agenda? How about the Christian Zionist movement with its open calls for war with Iran and any other perceived “enemies of Israel”? How about voices outside of Christianity, and unfortunately inside of Christianity as well, that want us to fight against refugees, Muslims, liberals, or other groups? N.T. Wright said this in his book, “Mark for Everyone” (p. 152):

“The word ‘brigand’ in Jesus day wasn’t a word for “thief” or “robber” in the ordinary sense, but for the revolutionaries, those we today would call the ultra-orthodox, plotting and ready to use violence to bring about their nationalist dreams. Part of Jesus’ charge against his fellow Jews was that Israel as a whole had used its vocation to be a light for the world as an excuse for a hard, narrow, nationalist piety and politics in which the rest of the world was to be not enlightened but condemned” (Source).

Let’s be careful not to go down the same type of path. Let’s be the peacemakers that Jesus called us to be.

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Glossary of Terms

(These are my suggestions. Please feel free to personally investigate these things.)

The beast: Judea/Israel and later Zealot-led Israel; referenced in Daniel 2, 7; Revelation 11, 13-17, and 19-20

A beast from the land: the false prophets (collectively) who worked with, and on behalf of, the Zealots/Sicarii; this beast was later called “the false prophet”; referenced in Revelation 13:11-17, 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10

10 horns: initially 10 Jewish generals chosen to lead Israel’s war effort (Wars 2.20.3-4) soon after the Jews’ surprising victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66 (Wars 2.19); later some of them were replaced as the Zealots pleased (Wars 4.4.1); referenced in Daniel 7:7, 20, 24; Revelation 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12-14, and 16-17

Three horns fell: [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea [3] Joseph ben Gorion; deaths recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1; referenced in Daniel 7:8, 20, 24

A little horn: most likely Eleazar ben Simon, Zealot leader from late AD 66 until April AD 70 whose headquarters was the temple, including the inner court; this person: [A] came up among the 10 horns [B] plucked out three of the first horns [C] had a mouth speaking pompous words [D] made war against the saints [E] was different than the other 10 horns [F] would “intend to change times and the law [G] and prevailed against the saints for 3.5 years until the coming of the Ancient of Days and the possession of the kingdom by the saints; referenced in Daniel 7:8, 11, 20-22, and 24-27

Seven heads: the family dynasty of “Hezekiah the Zealot” (killed in 47 BC), who Josephus called “the head of the robbers” (Wars 1.10.5); included “Judas the Galilean” (Acts 5:35-37), his three sons, his grandson (Menahem), and Eleazar ben Jairus (Menahem’s cousin), who led the final rebel holdout at Masada until AD 73; referenced in Revelation 13:1, 3; 17:3, 7, and 9-11

Wounded head: Menahem, the seventh head who only continued “a short time” (Revelation 17:10); in late August AD 66 he raided Herod’s armory at Masada, “returned to Jerusalem in the state of a king”, “became the leader of the sedition” (Wars 2.17.8), led the massacre of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem’s Antonia Fortress, and was killed a month later; Menahem is recognized as a Messianic figure; his sudden death was a great blow to the Zealot cause because he was their top leader and it happened so soon after the war began; referenced in Revelation 13:3, 12

Deadly wound healed: two months after Menahem’s death the Zealots defeated the armies of Cestius Gallus, and their followers rejoiced and came to believe they could defeat Rome; another Messianic figure, Simon Bar Gioras, emerged as a hero of that war, became a “king” (Wars 4.9.4), took possession of Jerusalem (Wars 4.9.12, Wars 5.7.3), and was “the general” of the war (Wars 7.5.1-7); referenced in Revelation 13:3, 12

The saints persecuted for 42 months: approximately late fall AD 66 – spring AD 70; this persecution was carried out and/or supervised by the little horn up until the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom; referenced in Daniel 7:21-27; Revelation 13:5-7

No one may buy or sell: The Zealots minted their own coins beginning in AD 66 to represent their independence from Rome and discontinued the use of other coins in Jerusalem, at Masada (60 miles away), and perhaps elsewhere; some were labeled “For the Redemption of Zion”; referenced in Revelation 13:17

Two witnesses: Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel, two former high priests who led a peace movement in opposition to the Zealots until they were killed during the Zealot Temple Siege of February/March AD 68; they had “the mastery” over those who opposed them (Wars 4.5.2) until the time came for them to be killed; their bodies remained unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; they were killed the day after a great earthquake; their enemies rejoiced over their deaths; referenced in Revelation 11:3-13

For a more detailed study on the beast of Revelation, please see my series titled “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel,” which is being developed here.

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Revelation 13:3 and the Wounded Head of the Zealot Movement


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

In the previous post we looked at Revelation 13:1-2. We considered how the beast in John’s day had Babylonian, Persian, and Greek traits. We also looked at how the Zealots and Jewish leaders in the first century followed the same pattern as Satan, who gave his power, throne, and authority to the beast. They frequently accused others, especially the brethren, just like Satan did (Rev. 12:10).

This post will examine Revelation 13:3 and the wounded head, and it includes an extensive overview of the Zealot movement and 12 key leaders of that movement. This is a long post, but even if you disagree that Zealot-led Israel was the beast of Revelation, I believe you’ll find it to be resourceful and informative.

Revelation 13:3

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.”

The seven heads of the beast are first mentioned in Revelation 13:1, and are later spoken of in more detail in Revelation 17:9-11. Here in verse 3, John tells his readers that one of those heads would be mortally wounded. Although I would prefer to wait until we reach Revelation 17 to discuss the seven heads, it’s necessary to do so at this point in order to try to identify the wounded head. It’s in Revelation 17 that John told his readers that:

  • five of the seven heads had already fallen;
  • one was;
  • one hadn’t come yet, and he would only “continue a short time”;
  • the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.”

An Overview of the Zealots/Sicarii

In this post I will propose that the seven heads were seven leaders of the Zealot movement, which Josephus also called “the Fourth Philosophy.” While examining an overview of the movement and its key figureheads, we will consider who the seven heads of the beast were. My proposal is that they all belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah (mid-1st century BC) which dominated the Zealot movement for 120 years. This post will discuss the following Zealot/Sicarii leaders (members of Hezekiah’s family dynasty are in bold font):

1. Hezekiah (mid-1st century BC)
2. Judas the Galilean (early 1st century AD; son of Hezekiah)

3. Zadok the Pharisee (early 1st century AD: worked with Judas)
4. Jacob (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
5. Simon (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
6. Jair (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
7. Eleazar ben Ananias (AD 66)
8. Eleazar ben Jair (AD 66-73)
9. Menahem (AD 66; son or grandson of Judas)
10. Eleazar ben Simon (AD 66-70)
11. John Levi of Gischala (AD 66-70)
12. Simon Bar Giora (AD 66-70; uncle of Eleazar ben Simon)

Ray Vander Laan is an author and a teacher who “has been actively involved in studying and teaching Jewish culture” since 1976. In his book, “Life and Ministry of the Messiah,” he includes the following outline of the Zealot movement’s key leadership (p. 130). Even though Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora held positions of great power in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War, Ray’s outline of the Zealot leadership is limited to the family dynasty of Hezekiah:

Here Ray lists seven Zealots, all within the family of Hezekiah, extending from 47 BC to AD 73, a period of 120 years:

  1. Hezekiah
    2. Judah (son of Hezekiah)
    3. Jacob (son of Judah)
    4. Simeon (son of Judah)
    5. Yair (son of Judah)
    6. Eleazar ben Yair
    7. Menahem

In 1961 Martin Hengel, a German historian and professor, published a book titled, “The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D.” Hengel listed these same seven Zealots on page 332 of his book, where he outlined “the dynasty that began with Hezekiah the ‘robber captain’”:

The Zealot movement is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

“The Zealots were originally a political movement in 1st century Second Temple Judaism which sought to incite the people of Judaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy Land by force of arms, most notably during the First Jewish–Roman War (66-70). Zealotry was the term used by Josephus for a ‘fourth sect’ during this period.”

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (a Jewish scholar, lecturer, author, and senior associate of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) gives the following summary of the political undercurrents which fueled the Zealots’ opposition toward Rome. This summary is adapted from his 1991 book, “Jewish Literacy,” and is archived at the Jewish Virtual Library:

No one could argue with the Jews for wanting to throw off Roman rule. Since the Romans had first occupied Israel in 63 B.C.E., their rule had grown more and more onerous. From almost the beginning of the Common Era, Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, whose chief responsibility was to collect and deliver an annual tax to the empire… Equally infuriating to the Judeans, Rome took over the appointment of the High Priest… As a result, the High Priests, who represented the Jews before God on their most sacred occasions, increasingly came from the ranks of Jews who collaborated with Rome…

The Jews’ anti-Roman feelings were seriously exacerbated during the reign of the half-crazed emperor Caligula, who in the year [AD] 39 declared himself to be a deity and ordered his statue to be set up at every temple in the Roman Empire. The Jews, alone in the empire, refused the command… Only the emperor’s sudden, violent death saved the Jews from wholesale massacre…

In the decades after Caligula’s death, Jews found their religion subject to periodic gross indignities, Roman soldiers exposing themselves in the Temple on one occasion, and burning a Torah scroll on another…

In the year 66, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and wiped out the small Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. But the Jewish insurgents routed them as well. This was a heartening victory that had a terrible consequence: Many Jews suddenly became convinced that they could defeat Rome, and the Zealots’ ranks grew geometrically…

When the Romans returned, they had 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack against the Jewish state’s most radicalized area, the Galilee in the north [in 67 AD]. The Romans vanquished the Galilee, and an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery… The highly embittered refugees who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold—Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who was not as radical as they. Thus, all the more moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt’s beginning in 66 were dead by 68—and not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews… The scene was now set for the revolt’s final catastrophe.

Zealots and Sicarii

The Sicarii were famous for hiding their daggers in their cloaks and using them to secretly target their enemies during the festivals (Antiquities 20.8.10). Some sources make a sharp distinction between the Zealots and the Sicarii, while others do not. It seems fair to say that the Sicarii were part of the Zealot movement, but not all Zealots were Sicarii. Thus, “Zealot” was an umbrella term for the revolutionaries who rebelled against Rome.

Some sources say that those who belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah were all Sicarii. Wikipedia designates the Sicarii as “a splinter group of the Jewish Zealots.” The Sicarii are mentioned in Acts 21:38, where Paul was asked if he was the Egyptian who had led 4000 assassins (or “dagger-bearers”) into the wilderness. According to Encyclopedia Judaica,

“The name [‘Sicarii’] derived from the Latin word sica, ‘curved dagger’; in Roman usage, sicarii, i.e., those armed with such weapons, was a synonym for bandits. According to Josephus, the Jewish Sicarii used short daggers, μικρἁ Ξιφίδια (mikra ziphidia), concealed in their clothing, to murder their victims, usually at religious festivals (Wars, 2:254–5, 425; Ant., 20:186–7). The fact that Josephus employs the Latin sicarii, transliterated into Greek as σικαριοι (sikarioi) suggests that he adopted a term used by the Roman occupation forces; his own (Greek) word for ‘bandit,’ which he more generally uses to describe the Jewish resistance fighters, is λησταί (lestai).”

Sicarii.” Encyclopaedia JudaicaEncyclopedia.com. 4 Mar. 2017.

Photo Source: Pinterest (Sicarii Dagger)

A classic article by the Israeli historian, Menahem Stern (1925-1989), “Zealots and Sicarii,” proposed a distinction between the Sicarii and the Zealots in terms of their loyalty:

“The Sicarii continued to be loyal to the dynasty of Judah the Galilean, their last leaders being Menahem and Eleazar b. Jair, who were scions of that house; in contrast the Zealots showed no particular loyalty to any house or dynasty.”

This article also pointed out that a “revolutionary government” was set up in Jerusalem near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), but lasted for only about six months. This was the same temporary government that, just after the Jews defeated Cestius Gallus in November AD 66, appointed 10 Jewish generals to lead the inevitable war with Rome (Wars 2.20.3-4):

“Just before the war, ‘a kind of enmity and factionalism broke out among the high priests and leaders of the Jerusalem populace’ who joined hands with ‘the boldest revolutionaries’ to carry out their high-level power feuds (Ant. 20:180, cf. Pes. 57a)… And significantly, the first revolutionary government formed in Jerusalem in 66 C.E. and lasting about six months was composed of high priests, noble priests, and lay nobility: the roster of noble rebels is long. These rebellious aristocrats joined the struggle for a variety of motives, including desire to protect their local power and influence, a feeling of genuine outrage at abuses by the Roman procurators, and infection by the messianic fervor and eschatological hopes pervading Judea before the war.”

This revolutionary government soon gave way to the Zealot leaders who seized control of Jerusalem over the following 3.5 years: Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora. Momentarily we’ll look at these three characters, but let’s start at the beginning and look at 12 Zealot/Sicarii leaders, beginning with Hezekiah.

Hezekiah

On page 313 of his book, “The Zealots,” Martin Hengel explained why a Jewish hero by the name of Hezekiah should be considered the first head of the Zealot movement:

“A historical outline of the Jewish freedom movement between the reign of Herod I and 70 A.D. has to begin at the point where Josephus speaks for the first time about Jewish ‘robbers,’ which is the most general term that he uses to include all the groups opposing foreign rule. We come across these ‘robbers’ quite abruptly in connection with the sending of the young Herod to Galilee as commander-in-chief.”

Hengel then cited the first occasion where Josephus spoke of these “robbers” in his works. In 46 BC Herod captured “the robber captain Hezekiah,” took him prisoner, and “had him put to death with many of his robbers” (see Josephus, Antiquities 14.9.2-3). In Wars 1.10.5, Josephus says that Hezekiah had “a great band of men.” It may be noteworthy that Josephus calls Hezekiah “the head,” the same term that John used in Revelation 13:1, 3; 17:3, 7, 9-11:

“Now Herod was an active man, and soon found proper materials for his active spirit to work upon. As therefore he found that Hezekias, the head of the robbers, ran over the neighboring parts of Syria with a great band of men, he caught him and slew him, and many more of the robbers with him; which exploit was chiefly grateful to the Syrians…”

Kaufmann Kohler, PHD, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth-El (New York) and President of Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, Ohio), also agrees that the Zealot movement began in the time of Herod the Great and Hezekiah. He says that the Zealots were an “aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada. The members of this party bore also the name Sicarii… The reign of the Idumean Herod gave the impetus for the organization of the Zealots as a political party.” (Jewish Encyclopedia: Zealots).

Menahem Stern also saw Hezekiah as the founder of a movement which eventually spread throughout the entire Jewish Diaspora:

“Hezekiah and his son were the founders of a dynasty of leaders of an extremist freedom movement, a dynasty which it is possible to trace until the fall of Masada… They, the proponents of the Fourth Philosophy, were the first to raise the standard of revolt…and preached rebellion throughout the length and breadth of the Diaspora.”

1st Century Jewish Diaspora (Jewish Virtual Library)

The following description of “Hezekiah (The Zealot)” in The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) reveals that his rebellion was in response to the actions of Pompey the Great, who conquered Judea in 63 BC. It also reveals that Hezekiah was beheaded:

He fought for Jewish freedom and the supremacy of the Jewish law at the time when Herod was governor of Galilee (47 B.C.). When King Aristobulus, taken prisoner by the Romans, had been poisoned by the followers of Pompey, Hezekiah (‘Ezekias’ in Josephus, ‘Ant.’ xiv. 9, §§ 2 et seq) gathered together the remnants of that king’s army in the mountains of Galilee and carried on a successful guerrilla war against the Romans and Syrians, while awaiting the opportunity for a general uprising against Rome. The pious men of the country looked upon him as the avenger of their honor and liberty. Antipater, the governor of the country, and his sons, however, who were Rome’s agents in Palestine, viewed this patriotic band differently. In order to curry favor with the Romans, Herod, unauthorized by the king Hyrcanus, advanced against Hezekiah, took him prisoner, and beheaded him, without the formality of a trial; and he also slew many of his followers. This deed excited the indignation of all the patriots. Hezekiah and his band were enrolled among the martyrs of the nation.”

Because many of the Jews were angry with Herod, an effort was made by the Sanhedrin to bring him to trial over what he had done to Hezekiah.

Judas the Galilean (Hezekiah’s son) and Zadok

Over the next half century, more robbers followed in Hezekiah’s trail throughout Galilee and Judea, but it was his son, Judas the Galilean, who took the movement to the next level. Kaufmann Kohler said this about the period after which Herod the Great repeatedly crushed the rebellions of Hezekiah and those who rose up after him:

“The spirit of this Zealot movement, however, was not crushed. No sooner had Herod died (4 C.E.) then the people cried out for revenge (“Ant.” xvii. 9, § 1) and gave Archelaus no peace. Judea was full of robber bands, says Josephus (l.c. 10, § 8), the leaders of which each desired to be a king. It was then that Judas, the son of Hezekiah, the above-mentioned robber-captain, organized his forces for revolt, first, it seems, against the Herodian dynasty, and then, when Quirinus introduced the census, against submission to the rule of Rome and its taxation.”

According to Josephus, “the Fourth Philosophy” was founded by Judas of Galilee. Martin Hengel, however, didn’t believe that Josephus provided evidence that Judas, rather than his father, was the founder. He pointed out that Josephus merely noted a “great increase” of robbers because of the exploits and teachings of Judas: “[All] that [Josephus] says of the founding of the fourth sect of philosophy by Judas the Galilean is that it led to a great increase in the scourge of robbers” (Hengel, p. 41).

Like the “robbers” before him, Judas seemed to concentrate his activities around Sepphoris (Antiquities 14.15.4 and Antiquities 17.10.5), the capital of Galilee which was not far from Nazareth. Here’s how Josephus described “the Fourth Philosophy” of the Zealots, and how Judas of Galilee laid the groundwork for this movement near the time of Jesus’ birth (Antiquities 18.1.1-6):

“1. NOW Cyrenius, a Roman senator… came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus’s money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of Joazar, who was the son of Beethus, and high priest; so they, being over-persuaded by Joazar’s words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it. Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc [Zadok], a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty;

…so men received what they said with pleasure, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height. All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another, and we lost our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great robberies and murder of our principal men. This was done in pretense indeed for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves; whence arose seditions, and from them murders of men, which sometimes fell on those of their own people, (by the madness of these men towards one another, while their desire was that none of the adverse party might be left,) and sometimes on their enemies; a famine also coming upon us, reduced us to the last degree of despair, as did also the taking and demolishing of cities; nay, the sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down by their enemies’ fire.

Such were the consequences of this, that the customs of our fathers were altered, and such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together; for Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we were before unacquainted withal, concerning which I will discourse a little, and this the rather because the infection which spread thence among the younger sort, who were zealous for it, brought the public to destruction.

2. The Jews had for a great while had three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects, although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now…

6. But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord… And it was in Gessius Florus’s time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans” (See also Wars 2.8.1).

The Jewish Virtual Library adds this about Judas:

“He had put himself at the head of a band of rebels near Sepphoris and had seized control of the armory in Herod’s palace in the city. According to Josephus, he had even aspired to the throne (Ant., 17:271–2; Wars, 2:56). Though the rebels were defeated, Judah apparently succeeded in escaping (Jos., Ant., 17:289ff).”

Judas is mentioned in Acts 5 by Gamaliel when he addressed the council of the high priests and elders concerning Peter and the other apostles:

And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed…’” (Acts 5:35-37; see Antiquities 20.5.1 for the account of Theudas, the magician).

Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950), a British scholar of rabbinical literature, made an interesting comparison between Mattathias of the Maccabean revolt (167 BC) and Judas of Galilee nearly 175 years later:

“There is no certain trace of the Zealots as a party until the end of the reign of Herod; but even at the beginning of his reign there were those whose actions were of a kind precisely like the deeds of the somewhat later Zealots. Hezekiah, whom Josephus called a robber-chieftain, was put to death by Herod at the beginning of his reign. His son was that Judas of Galilee who was the real founder of the Zealot party; but Hezekiah only did much what Judas did, and the so-called robber-chieftain, though he failed, sounded the first note of the rebellion, which became the great war of A.D. 66-70.

It is no doubt true that the Zealot party took definite shape as an organised body under Judas, about the year A.D. 6, when the census was taken by of Quirinius; but their origin can be traced to an earlier date, with considerable probability. The Maccabean revolt had begun, in 167 B.C., by the sudden call of the priest Mattathias to resist the agents of the tyrant who would compel the Jews to disown their religion and disobey their God. Mattathias cried, ‘Whoso is zealous for the Torah…let him follow me’ (I Macc. ii. 27).

The word translated ‘zealous’ is (in Greek as well as in English) practically the same as the word ‘zealot.’ Moreover the Hebrew name ‘Kannaim,’ which was the name of the party as organised by Judas of Galilee, is used in a law which dates from the Maccabean times. It would seem probable that Judas, when he organised the Zealots into a party, made it his object to repeat the exploits of the first Maccabeans, by violent measures against all who were disaffected in their adherence to the Torah and ready to submit to the heathen king. The rebellion begun by Judas Maccabaeus had led to the liberation of the people from the foreign yoke and the establishment of an independent kingdom. That kingdom had only passed out of Maccabean hands when Herod acquired the throne; and the fact that every later attempt to recover it by his descendants found support amongst the people, shows that the memory of what the Maccabeans had done was still able to fire the popular mind in the time of Judas of Galilee.

(Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period [London: The Lindsey Press, 1928], pp. 66-67)

Less information seems to be known about Zadok, the Pharisee, who worked with Judas in heading “a large number of Zealots.”

Jacob, Simon, and Jair (sons of Judas)

Judas the Galilean had three sons: Jacob (also called James), Simon (also called Simeon), and Jair (or Jairus or Yair). While Tiberius Alexander was the Roman procurator of Judea (AD 46-48), he had Jacob and Simon crucifed because of the rebellions they led:

“…the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified” (Antiquities 20.5.2).

It’s difficult to find information on Jair, but (as we will see) his son, Eleazar, was a prominent leader during the Jewish-Roman War who led the final rebel holdout at Masada until AD 73.

Zealots in Jesus’ Lifetime

One of the 12 disciples whom Jesus chose was a Zealot. Luke mentions “Simon called the Zealot” when he names the disciples (Luke 6:15), and “Simon the Zealot” is again included in his list of those who stayed in an upper room after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:13).

Barabbas was another Zealot. He was the “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who was released by Pilate instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:16). Barabbas and “his fellow insurrectionists” had recently “committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7) which took place in Jerusalem (Luke 23:19).

Some scholars believe that the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus were also Zealots. Mark 15:27 refers to them as “two robbers,” using the same term that Josephus often used to describe the Zealots. It’s also the same term that John used to describe Barabbas: “Now Barabbas was a robber” (John 18:40).

Herford believed that Judas Iscariot was also a Zealot. He pointed out that “the headquarters of the Zealots were in Galilee,” where Jesus spent a lot of His time and where He chose His first disciples: “Of all the types of Judaism…the Zealots are the only ones with whom Jesus would have much opportunity of coming in contact” when He was in Galilee (Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, p. 71). Gary J. Goldberg, editor of “The Flavius Josephus Home Page,” shares a similar idea: “Judas Iscariot is thought by some to have derived his name from the Sicarii, the terrorists prior to the war” (Goldberg, Causes of War).

Martin Hengel (p. 340) says that when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He apparently asked why He was being arrested as if He were a Zealot. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?’” (Mark 14:48).

Eleazar ben Ananias (AD 66)

Eleazar ben Ananias was not in the family dynasty of Hezekiah and Judas the Galilean, but he was the son of Ananias the high priest. When the Jewish-Roman War began, he was the governor of the temple, (Antiquities 20.9.3Wars 2.17.2), the second highest position in the temple other than high priest. It’s suggested that he obtained this position in 62 AD. This position was known as “segan” (Aramaic) or “sagan” (Hebrew). According to Rabbi Hanina Segan ha-Kohanim (40-80 AD), “In case the high-priest became unfit for service, the ‘Segan’ [Deputy] should enter at once to do the service” (Talmud, Tractate Sota 42a).

Eleazar’s father, Ananius ben Nedebaios, was the high priest from roughly 46-52 AD. He’s the one who commanded Paul to be struck on the mouth during his appearance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:2), prompting Paul to prophesy that Ananias would also be struck (verse 3). Ananius also gave evidence against Paul to the governor Felix at Caesarea (Acts 24:1). Ananias was pro-Roman, unlike his son, Eleazar.

When Albinus was the Roman Procurator of Judea (AD 62-64), Eleazar was kidnapped by the Sicarii and was eventually let go when their demand was met:

“But now the Sicarii went into the city by night, just before the festival, which was now at hand, and took the scribe belonging to the governor of the temple, whose name was Eleazar, who was the son of Ananus [Ananias] the high priest, and bound him, and carried him away with them; after which they sent to Ananias, and said that they would send the scribe to him, if he would persuade Albinus to release ten of those prisoners which he had caught of their party; so Ananias was plainly forced to persuade Albinus, and gained his request of him. This was the beginning of greater calamities; for the robbers perpetually contrived to catch some of Ananias’s servants” (Antiquities 20.9.3).

In the book, Final Decade before the End (p. 219), Ed Stevens says that Eleazar ben Ananias led a challenge against Roman troops in May AD 66. “When the Roman Procurator Gessius Florus brought his soldiers to Jerusalem to confiscate all the gold from the Temple,” Yosippon recorded the following:

“[Eleazar b. Ananius]… being a youth and very stout of heart, saw the evil that Florus did among the people. He sounded the shofar, and a band of youths and bandits, men of war, gathered around him, and he initiated a battle, challenging Florus and the Roman troops [Sepher Yosippon, ch. 59].”

In August AD 66 Eleazar made a decision which Josephus said marked “the true beginning” of the Jewish-Roman War. He put a stop to all the sacrifices and offerings of the Gentiles, something which had never been done since the days of Moses and Aaron:

“At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple” (Wars 2.17.2).

At that time, as this quote reveals, Eleazar was considered to be the chief leader of the temple guard and those in the temple complex who wanted to revolt against Rome. Josephus also mentioned that Eleazar and his colleagues hadbrought up novel rules of a strange Divine worship” (Wars 2.17.3).

He was mentioned again in Wars 2.17.5 as being among “the seditious” (the Zealots) who “had the lower city [of Jerusalem] and the temple in their power,” while “the men of power, with the high priests, as also all the part of the multitude that were desirous of peace, took courage, and seized upon the upper city [Mount Sion].” Under Eleazar, the seditious “joined to themselves many of the sicarii,” burned the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice as well as the house of Ananias the high priest, burned the contracts of creditors (“in order to gain the multitude of those who had been debtors”), drove the moderate leaders out of the upper city, and slaughtered the Roman garrison at the Fortress of Antonia (Wars 2.17.6-7).

Soon after this, Eleazar’s father, Ananius was killed by “Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean” (Wars 2.17.8-9). Menahem “became the leader of the sedition” in September AD 66, according to Josephus, but only for about a month. “Eleazar and his party” avenged his father’s death and killed Menahem. In December AD 66, Eleazar was named as one of the 10 generals for war against Rome, and he was assigned to Idumea, a region south of Judea (Wars 2.20.4). It appears that, after this, Josephus never mentioned him again.

Eleazar ben Jair (AD 66–73)

A different Eleazar also played a key role in the Zealot cause near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War. Eleazar ben Jair (or Jairus) was a grandson of Judas the Galilean, and part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. Josephus mentioned him for the first time in Wars 2.17.9 as one of the people who tried to defend Menahem (his relative) after he had killed Ananias:

“A few there were of them who privately escaped to Masada, among whom was Eleazar, the son of Jairus, who was of kin to Manahem, and acted the part of a tyrant at Masada afterward.”

However, Josephus later provided information which shows that Eleazar played a key role in the Zealot cause before Menahem rose to prominence. This is what Josephus said when he introduced the topic of Masada’s overthrow in AD 73:

“This fortress was called Masada. It was one Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant from that Judas who had persuaded abundance of the Jews, as we have formerly related, not to submit to the taxation when Cyrenius was sent into Judea to make one” (Wars 7.8.1).

Here’s how Josephus described the Sicarii’s successful assault upon Masada in August AD 66, which resulted in the deaths of the Romans who had been stationed there. By inference, this is where Josephus first spoke of Eleazar ben Jairus:

“And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war 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).

Fortress of Masada, Built by Herod I (Source: National Geographic)

So when Menahem stole arms from king Herod’s armory at Masada to use in Jerusalem [Wars 2.17.8.433-434], Eleazar had already captured Masada, which was located about 60 miles southeast of Jerusalem. After trying to defend Menahem in Jerusalem in September AD 66, and fleeing to Masada when their operation failed, Eleazar apparently remained there until he led hundreds of others in a mass suicide in AD 73.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that Eleazar succeeded Menahem “as master of Masada” and that he “took up the war of rebellion against Rome and carried it to the very end.” Masada was the final holdout in the Jewish-Roman War. Josephus said that the time came when “all the rest of the country was subdued” and “there was but one only stronghold that was still in rebellion,” i.e. Masada (Wars 7.8.1).

Eleazar built a wall around the entire fortress, and placed guards in various places (and later hastily built a second wall when the Romans were about to breach the first one). It was painful and difficult for Eleazar and his followers to obtain food and water (Wars 7.8.2), but they were determined not to surrender. However, the Roman commander, Silva, burnt down the second wall and Eleazar determined that all of them had to kill themselves rather than be captured, tortured, and killed by the Romans. His speeches to his followers are rather revealing, and can be seen in Wars 7.8.6-7, and the rather graphic details of how they committed mass suicide can be seen in Wars 7.9.1. Only a group of women, who had managed to hide themselves in an underground cavern, lived to tell the story of what happened at Masada (Wars 7.9.2).

Menahem (AD 66; grandson of Judas)

As we’ve already seen, Menahem was a relative (likely a cousin) of Eleazar ben Jairus. He was also a grandson* of Judas the Galilean and a part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. (*Josephus referred to him as “the son of Judas,” but scholars believe he was actually Judas’ grandson.) Menahem was first mentioned by Josephus in Wars 2.17.8, where it’s said that he raided Herod’s armory at Masada, “returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem” and became the leader of the Zealot revolt. This was in late August AD 66:

“In the meantime, one Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean, (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Cyrenius, that after God they were subject to the Romans) took some of the men of note with him, and retired to Masada, where he broke open king Herod’s armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also. These he made use of for a guard, and returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem; he became the leader of the sedition, and gave orders for continuing the siege.”

“The siege” was a reference to the Zealot/Sicarii assault on the Antonia Fortress, which began on the 15th of Ab (August) AD 66, resulting in the massacre of the Roman garrison that had been stationed there (Wars 2.17.7). Eleazar ben Ananias led the seditious in that attack, and they had also moved on to attack the very well-fortified palace and Agrippa’s soldiers.

Menahem, having taken over as leader, caught and killed many of Agrippa’s soldiers and set fire to their camp (Wars 2.17.8). He also overthrew “the places of strength” and killed the high priest, Ananias, and his brother. This puffed him up and made him “barbarously cruel,” so that “he thought he had no antagonists to dispute the management of affairs with him.”

Martin Hengel said that the revolution was greatly successful under Menahem and the Sicarii who followed him:

“The battle for Jerusalem was not decided until the Sicarii, who were tested in battle and were Menahem’s elite troops, had intervened. The entry of their lord into the city followed their initial successes. This was the sign that the revolution had really succeeded. The Zealots had worked for two generations towards and had now achieved their aim. Almost the entire population had joined in the Holy War against Rome” (The Zealots, p. 363).

However, Eleazar, the son of Ananias, plotted together with his party against Menahem. Part of Eleazar’s motivation was likely to avenge his father’s death, though Josephus gives other reasons (Martin Hengel also provides a good analysis on pp. 364-365 of “The Zealots”; a PDF of this book can be read or downloaded here). Eleazar and his men attacked Menahem while he was pompously worshipping in the temple, even though they knew their actions could cause the entire revolt to fail:

“They made an assault upon [Menahem] in the temple; for he went up thither to worship in a pompous manner, and adorned with royal garments, and had his followers with him in their armor. But Eleazar and his party fell violently upon him, as did also the rest of the people; and taking up stones to attack him withal, they threw them at the sophister, and thought, that if he were once ruined, the entire sedition would fall to the ground” (Wars 2.17.9).

Menahem and his men tried to resist, but they eventually fled and some were caught while others hid. Menahem was caught, taken alive and tortured, and then killed along with all of his captains. Many of the Sicarii were also caught and killed at this time, and other Sicarii fled to Masada where they were led by Eleazar ben Jairus. According to the Israeli historian, Menahem Stern,

“From this time on the Sicarii ceased to be the guiding factor in the events in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, they continued to exist and it was they who were destined to be the last to hold aloft the standard of rebellion… In addition, the considerable number of the warriors who fought under Simeon bar Giora at the time of the siege is easily explained on the assumption that many Sicarii were included in his army, since they felt themselves more in sympathy with him than with the other leaders in besieged Jerusalem. Their extreme social views bridged the gap between them and Simeon.”

Martin Hengel, author of “The Zealots” (p. 295), pointed out that Menahem’s “temporary stay as a leader in Jerusalem lasted barely four weeks,” from 15 Ab to 17 Elul in AD 66 (late August to late September). Indeed, Menahem’s quick rise to prominence and his death are recorded in just two consecutive small sections in Wars of the Jews (Wars 2.17.8-9). I believe that Menahem was the seventh king who had “not yet come” when John wrote Revelation, and who would only “continue a short time” (Revelation 17:10).

Seven Kings of Revelation 17:10 (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)

Martin Hengel said that it was evident Menahem “had both special authority and a position of power.” He added:

“He was probably not only the leader of one of the many ‘robber bands’ that were in control of the open country, but also the head of the Zealot movement in the whole of the country. His authority was based on his descent from the founder of the sect, Judas, on his own military power, which he had increased by his successful attack against Masada, and, last but not least, on his personal experience in battle and his own forceful personality” (The Zealots, p. 362).

Numerous sources say that Menahem was a Messiah figure, and even that he claimed to be the Messiah. Martin Hengel points out that, in the rabbinic Haggadah, Menahem was regarded as “the Messiah” (The Zealots, p. 295). This source also relates a legend in which a peasant heard Menahem’s mother say, “His omen is disastrous, because the Temple was destroyed on the day that he was born.” The peasant then answered, “We believe that, just as it (the Temple) was destroyed because of him, so too will it be rebuilt because of him.” Hengel interprets this legend as meaning that, to the Zealots who followed Menahem, the death of such a Messiah-figure in the temple was like sealing the doom of the temple itself.

According to the Dutch historian, Jona Lendering (at Livius),

“There is no need to doubt whether Menahem claimed to be the Messiah. He was a warrior, entered Jerusalem dressed as a king, quarreled with the high priest (who may have entertained some doubts about Menahem’s claim), and worshipped God in the Temple. We can be positive that Menahem wanted to be the sole ruler of a restored Israel.”

Kaufmann Kohler, Ph.D, a Rabbi and theologian, adds:

Rabbinical tradition alludes to Menahem’s Messiahship when stating that the Messiah’s name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah (Sanh. 98b); and according to Geiger (“Zeitschrift,” vii. 176-178), he is the one who went up with eighty couples of disciples of the Law equipped with golden armor and crying out: “Write upon the horn of the ox, ‘Ye [yielding Pharisees] have no share in the God of Israel!'” (Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77b).

In the immediate aftermath of Menahem’s death, the remaining Zealots “hoped to prosecute [the war] with less danger, now they had slain Menahem,” and the common people “earnestly desired” that they would stop attacking the Roman soldiers. Eleazar ben Ananias and his men made oaths to the soldiers that they would be spared, but it was a trick. After the soldiers laid down their swords and shields, the Zealots “attacked them after a violent manner, and encompassed them around, and slew them” (Wars 2.17.10).

Josephus adds that “men made public lamentation” when they saw this, and “the city was filled with sadness, and every one of the moderate men in it were under great disturbance.” At this time tragedies also came upon the Jews in Caesarea, Syria, Alexandria, and other places as cities and regions rose up against them. Soon, Cestius Gallus swept through Galilee in partnership with Agrippa and with thousands of soldiers, planning to capture Jerusalem and put down the rebellion. This plan was a terrible failure for Cestius Gallus, though, as we will see in the next post.

Was Menahem the wounded head of Revelation 13:3, 12? This question will be discussed at the end of this post.

Eleazar ben Simon (AD 66-70)

Eleazar ben Simon came from a priestly family (Wars 4.4.1.225), and was not part of the family dynasty of Hezekiah. He was the nephew of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 6.4.1), who will be discussed below. Eleazar was first introduced by Josephus in Wars 2.20.3 as a war hero in the victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66. According to Josephus, he “had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures.”

Soon after this victory, the rebels appointed 10 “generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4). Josephus speaks of Eleazar ben Simon as a natural choice for one of those positions due to his bravery and success in the battle against Cestius Gallus. Instead he was kept out of that office because of his terrible temper and the extreme loyalty of his followers, but he managed to become the main leader of the Zealots anyway:

“They did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office… because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper; and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the tricks by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3).

This was still true almost 1.5 years later, in early AD 68. Josephus said that among the Zealot leaders, he was “the most plausible man, both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon” (Wars 4.4.1). John Levi of Gischala, who will be discussed next, joined forces with Eleazar ben Simon at this time, and, after killing Ananus ben Ananus and other high priests in February-March AD 68 AD, together they seized control of the entire city of Jerusalem (Wars 4.4.1 – 4.6.3).

Eleazar made the temple his headquarters for nearly 3.5 years, from late AD 66 until his death in mid-April AD 70. Josephus said that it was “Eleazar, the son of Simon, who made the first separation of the zealots from the people, and made them retire into the temple” (Wars 5.1.2). Around December AD 67, Eleazar and the other Zealots made the sanctuary of the temple “a shop of tyranny” by casting lots to select a fake high priest named Phannias. He was chosen against his will from a village in the countryside, fitted with “a counterfeit face” and the sacred garments, and “upon every occasion [they] instructed him what he was to do” (Wars 4.3.6-8).

In the spring of AD 69, Eleazar “was desirous of gaining the entire power and dominion to himself” and he “revolted from John [Levi].” He and his followers “seized upon the inner court of the temple” and made use of the sacred things in there (Wars 5.1.2). At this time, he led one of three Zealot factions, with the other factions being led by John Levi and Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.1.1, 4; Revelation 16:19).

Source: Mark Mountjoy, New Testament Open University (June 9, 2015)

Eleazar ben Simon was killed by John Levi’s forces on April 14, AD 70, just as the Roman general Titus began his siege. This happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Eleazar opened the gates to the inner court of the temple

“and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor… These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two” (Wars 5.3.1).

John Levi of Gischala (AD 66-70)

John Levi was from Gischala in Galilee, and was not part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. Josephus wrote extensively about him in his book, “The Life of Flavius Josephus.” John was not a Zealot from the beginning. At one point, when the people of Gischala wanted to revolt against the Romans, John tried to restrain them and he urged them to “keep their allegiance to [the Romans]. However, Gischala was then attacked, set on fire, and demolished by non-Jews from neighboring regions. At that point, John became enraged, “armed all his men,” joined the battle, but also rebuilt Gischala “after a better manner than before, and fortified it with walls for its future security” (Life 10.43-45).

In Wars of the Jews, John was first mentioned in Wars 2.21.1 as “a treacherous person,” a “hypocritical pretender to humanity,” and as one who “spared not the shedding of blood” and “had a peculiar knack of thieving.” According to Josephus, John gathered together a band of four hundred men mostly from Tyre, who were greatly skilled “in martial affairs,” and they “laid waste all Galilee.” These things took place while Josephus was “engaged in the administration of the affairs of Galilee,” beginning around December AD 66, since he had been appointed as a general for the war (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Josephus said that John Levi became wealthy through an oil scheme, and he also wanted to “overthrow Josephus” and “obtain the government of Galilee” for himself. He had a number of “robbers” under his command. He spread a rumor that Josephus was planning to give Galilee to the Romans and engaged in other plots against him (Wars 2.21.2), including a murder attempt that Josephus barely escaped (Wars. 2.21.6).

The Encyclopedia Judaica summarizes John’s last unsuccessful plot against Josephus (Wars 2.21.6-8) and his failed attempt almost a year later to save Gischala from the Romans (Wars 4.2.1-5):

“John dispatched a delegation to Jerusalem, demanding that Josephus be dismissed from his position for failing to fulfill his tasks loyally. This request was acceded to, according to Josephus, as a result of John’s bribery and exploitation of his friendship with Simeon b. Gamaliel. Emissaries were sent to dismiss Josephus from his command and advise the citizens of Galilee to support John. Josephus ignored all this and went so far as to threaten John’s supporters…

John’s efforts to organize Galilee for war were unsuccessful and, with the exception of his native city, the whole province fell to the Romans. In the winter of 67, when Titus was at the gates of Giscala and offered terms of surrender, John seized on the intervening Sabbath as a pretext for delaying negotiations and escaped to Jerusalem.

John of Giscala.” Encyclopaedia JudaicaEncyclopedia.com. 3 Mar. 2017.

John escaped to Jerusalem in November AD 67, a year and three months after the Jewish-Roman War began. He and his followers immediately told tall tales about their fight with the Romans at Gischala:

Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis. But when they related to them the taking of Gischala, and their decent departure, as they pretended, from that place, many of the people understood it to be no better than a flight; and especially when the people were told of those that were made captives, they were in great confusion, and guessed those things to be plain indications that they should be taken also. But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but 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; but as to the more prudent part, and those in years, there was not a man of them but foresaw what was coming, and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone; and in this confusion were the people…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

Soon after this, Phannias was chosen by lots and installed as a fake high priest and a puppet of the Zealots (Wars 4.3.6-8). Ananus ben Ananus and the other priests shed tears as they watched this mockery take place. Ananus gathered a multitude of the people and gave a speech rebuking them for allowing the Zealots to fill the temple with abominations, plunder houses, shed the blood of innocent people, etc. Ananus said that nothing they could undergo from the Romans would be harder to bear than what the Zealots had already brought upon them. He urged them to rise up together against the Zealots, and said that he was willing to die leading them in that effort (Wars 4.3.10).

Ananus and his followers attacked the Zealots and tried to trap many of them in the temple complex (Wars 4.3.12). John Levi pretended to share their opinion and “at a distance was the adviser in these actions.” He consulted with Ananus and other moderate leaders every day and “cultivated the greatest friendship possible with Ananus, but “he divulged their secrets to the zealots.” His deceit became so great that “Ananus and his party believed his oath” to them, and “sent him as their ambassador into the temple to the zealots, with proposals of accommodation” (Wars 4.3.13).

John betrayed Ananus and falsely claimed that he had invited the Roman general, Vespasian, to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14). In response, the Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon and Zacharias ben Phalek, requested help from the Idumeans, who lived south of Judea, and the Idumeans quickly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders (Wars 4.4.2). The day they arrived (in late February AD 68) they were prevented from entering the city, but the next day they managed to hunt down and kill Ananus and Jesus (Wars 4.5.2). Their deaths marked a significant turning point for Jerusalem, according to Josephus:

“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city… to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived they had certainly compounded matters… And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was” (Wars 4.5.2).

After their deaths, the Zealots and the Idumeans “fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” Others endured “terrible torments” before finally meeting their deaths. At least 12,000 died in that massacre (Wars 4.5.3). Then one of the Zealots told the Idumeans that they had been tricked, and that Ananus and the high priests never did plot to betray Jerusalem to the Romans. So the Idumeans regretted their actions, saw “the horrid barbarity of [the Zealots who] had invited them,” and left Jerusalem (Wars 4.5.5). The Zealots, no longer hindered by the high priests or even the Idumeans, then increased their wickedness (Wars 4.6.1). John Levi began to tyrannize, didn’t want anyone to be his equal, and he gradually put together “a party of the most wicked” of all the Zealots and started his own faction (Wars 4.7.1).

By the time that there were “three treacherous factions in the city” (Wars 5.1.4), John had the second largest contingent of Zealot fighters (Wars 5.6.1):

[1] Simon Bar Giora: 10,000 men and 50 commanders; 5000 Idumeans and eight commanders
[2] John Levi: 6,000 men and 20 commanders
[3] Eleazar ben Simon: 2,400 men

As we’ve already seen, John’s forces tricked and killed Eleazar ben Simon in mid-April AD 70 (Wars 5.3.1), just as Titus was laying siege to Jerusalem. He then had access to the inner court of the temple and didn’t hesitate to commit sacrilegious acts during the siege (fulfilling Revelation 6:6):

“But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from those pouring vessels that were sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors did ever both honor and adorn this temple; whereas this man, who was a Jew, seized upon what were the donations of foreigners, and said to those that were with him, that it was proper for them to use Divine things, while they were fighting for the Divinity, without fear, and that such whose warfare is for the temple should live of the temple; on which account he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple, and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them” (Wars 5.13.6).

Toward the end of the siege, as Jerusalem was on fire, John joined “the tyrants and that crew of robbers” whose last hope was to hide “in the caves and caverns underground” (Wars 6.7.3; Revelation 6:15-17). Due to great hunger, he surrendered to the Romans, was taken captive, and was “condemned to perpetual imprisonment” (Wars 6.9.4). Among the captives who were carried off to Italy for a triumphal parade, John was considered to be their second leader, after Simon Bar Giora, “the general of the enemy” (Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6).

Simon Bar Giora (AD 66-70)

Simon Bar Giora was not a member of Hezekiah’s family dynasty, but it seems that he fit in with them better than the other Zealot leaders around the time of the war who were not part of this dynasty. Simon was the uncle of Eleazar ben Simon. In Wars 6.4.1 Josephus refers to Eleazar ben Simon as “the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant.” He was originally from Gerasa (Wars 4.9.3). Martin Hengel remarks:

“As his name indicates, Simon Bar Giora was the son of a proselyte. He came originally not from the Jewish motherland, but from Gerasa in the Hellenistic Decapolis. This was a town which had dealt with its Jewish inhabitants not by killing them, but by simply expelling them from its territory. We do not know when Simon left his home town” (The Zealots, p. 374).

Cecil Roth, a Jewish historian from Britain (Oxford), said this in a 1960 article about Simon’s name:

“The form of the name “bar Giora” derives not from Josephus but from Tacitus, who in his brief account of the war refers to him under this name, although confusing him with his rival John of Gischala (‘Ioannes, quern et Bargioram vocabant’) . Josephus speaks of him always as “son of Giora” or the like. ‘Bar Giora’ is of course the form in the Aramaic language, already at this time current in Palestine. Giora is never met with as a proper name, but in Aramaic it means ‘proselyte,’ equivalent to the Hebrew Ger.”

Simon Bar Giora was first mentioned by Josephus in Wars 2.19.2, where he was credited with ambushing the rear of Cestius Gallus’ army in November AD 66 as they retreated from a surprise attack by the Jews: “Simon, the son of Giora, fell upon the backs of the Romans, as they were ascending up Bethoron, and put the hindmost of the army into disorder, and carried off many of the beasts that carded the weapons of war, and led Shem into the city.”

Then in Wars 2.22.2 Josephus says that Simon Bar Giora ravaged the Accrabene Toparchy (at the border of Judea and Samaria), harassing the houses of rich men, tormenting their bodies, and “affecting tyranny in his government” (early AD 67). When an army was sent against him by Ananus ben Ananus (see Wars 4.9.3), he joined “the robbers” (the Sicarii) at Masada “and plundered the country of Idumea with them, till both Ananus and his other adversaries were slain.”

Simon wasn’t spoken of in any detail again until Wars 4.9.3 (early AD 69), with one small exception. In the spring of AD 68, the Idumeans liberated about 2000 people from the prisons in Jerusalem before themselves leaving the city. Interestingly, those prisoners “fled away immediately to Simon” (Wars 4.6.1). This indicates the extent of his fame and influence even when he wasn’t in Jerusalem.

Josephus says that when Simon first came to Masada, the Sicarii were suspicious of him, but they began to trust him when they saw that “his manner so well agreed with theirs.” So “he went out with them, and ravaged and destroyed the country with them about Masada.” Simon was “fond of greatness.”

When he heard the report that Ananus had been killed (late February AD 68), he went into the mountainous part of Judea and “proclaimed liberty to those in slavery, and a reward to those already free, and got together a set of wicked men from all quarters” (Wars 4.9.3). The Jewish historian, Cecil Roth, said that it was as if Simon tried to apply Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself the way that Jesus did in Luke 4:16-21, except that for Simon “the Day of Vengeance for the Lord” had already arrived. In any case, it’s interesting that Simon, located at Masada, cast off restraint upon the death of Ananus just like the Zealots in Jerusalem did (Wars 4.6.1).

Simon, with “a strong body of men,” overran villages and became a threat “to the cities.” He had men of power, slaves and robbers, and “a great many of the populace” who “were obedient to him as their king.” According to Josephus, it was no secret that he was “making preparations for the assault of Jerusalem” (Wars 4.9.4). The Zealots were afraid that he would attack them and so they attacked him first, but unsuccessfully. Simon had 20,000 armed men. Before heading to Jerusalem, he “resolved first to subdue Idumea” (Wars 4.9.5).

When Simon marched into Idumea, he began by capturing the city of Hebron. Then he made “progress over all Idumea, and did not only ravage the cities and villages, but laid waste the whole country.” At that point, he had 40,000 followers besides his 20,000 armed men. As a result, “Idumea was greatly depopulated; and as one may see all the woods behind despoiled of their leaves by locusts, after they have been there, so was there nothing left behind Simon’s army but a desert” (Wars 4.9.7).

The Zealots made the mistake of kidnapping his wife, thinking that he would lay down his arms, but Simon “vented his spleen upon all persons that he met with,” shed a lot of blood, and got his wife back (Wars 4.9.8-10). Then he returned to Idumea and “driving the nation all before him from all quarters, he compelled a great number of them to retire to Jerusalem; he followed them himself also to the city” (Wars 4.9.10).

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem there was an uprising against John Levi “out of their envy at his power and hatred of his cruelty.” So, surprisingly, “in order to overthrow John, they determined to admit Simon, and earnestly to desire the introduction of a second tyrant into the city.” Simon, “in an arrogant manner, granted them his lordly protection… The people also made joyful acclamations to him, as their savior and their preserver” (Wars 4.9.11). According to Josephus, Simon “got possession of Jerusalem” around April AD 69 (Wars 4.9.12). Before long, he had “in his power the upper city, and a great part of the lower” (Wars 5.1.3). As we’ve already seen, he had more commanders and armed men with him than John Levi and Eleazar ben Simon had combined (Wars 5.6.1).

In the book, “Simon Son of Man,” published in 1917, the authors (John I. Riegel and John H. Jordan) pointed out the great influence that Simon Bar Giora had during the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), even from its beginning. Although Josephus says that Simon only took control of Jerusalem in AD 69, it was his name that was printed on most of the coins issued by the Zealots beginning in 66 AD (pp. 256 – 259):

The study of Jewish numismatics throws much light upon the personality of Simon Bar Gi’ora and his relations with Eleazar and John during the siege of the Holy City… Of the 36 coins of the period of the great revolt illustrated in Madden’s History of Jewish Coinage, 29 bear the name of Simon. In so great a veneration was he held by his compatriots, even in their defeat, that during the reigns of Titus, Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian his fellow countrymen continued to strike coins bearing his emblems and his venerated name…

The prevailing form is the figure of a seven-branched date tree, with the name ‘Simon’ struck on the obverse, and a three-bunch cluster of grapes, or a similarly shaped tripartite vine leaf on the reverse, with the words ‘First’, ‘Second’ or ‘Third Year of the Deliverance of Israel.’ According to Josephus, Simon Bar Gi’ora did not enter Jerusalem until the third year of the war, yet we possess coins issued by Simon which bear the inscriptions, ‘Second,’ and even ‘First year of the Deliverance of Israel’

Josephus declares there was a bitter enmity existing between Simon Bar Gi’ora, Eleazar Son of Simon, and John, the three princes of the Jews during the siege. Yet, we have one silver coin bearing the name of Eleazar on the obverse and that of Simon on the reverse. This can only prove that Simon and Eleazar acted conjointly even to the extent of minting coins in common…

The coining of money is always the prerogative of the sovereign power in a state. The extant coinage issued in Jerusalem during the siege, struck from almost identical dies, shows how the sovereign power within was divided and mutually recognized. Of course, the number of extant coins bearing the name of Simon far outnumber those of his coadjutors in power, Eleazar and John, and in proportion as they do so they show the relative influence of each on the government of the state and how the sovereign power eventually became vested in the greatest of the three.”

Source: Simon Son of Man, Riegel and Jordan, p. 257

As the Roman siege began, John Levi was afraid of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.6.3). Sometime later, though, the two factions led by Simon and John decided to lay aside their differences and work together (with the result being that several times they “became too hard for the Romans” and Titus was even nearly killed):

“Both sorts, seeing the common danger they were in, contrived to make a like defense. So those of different factions cried out one to another, that they acted entirely as in concert with their enemies; whereas they ought however, notwithstanding God did not grant them a lasting concord, in their present circumstances, to lay aside their enmities one against another, and to unite together against the Romans. Accordingly, Simon gave those that came from the temple leave, by proclamation, to go upon the wall; John also himself, though he could not believe Simon was in earnest, gave them the same leave. So on both sides they laid aside their hatred and their peculiar quarrels, and formed themselves into one body” (Wars 5.6.4).

Simon and John worked together in the most sinister way, falsely accusing people of plotting against them, attempting to betray Jerusalem to the Romans, or attempting to flee to the Romans. Josephus says that they passed these victims back and forth between each other:

“For the men that were in dignity, and withal were rich, they were carried before the tyrants themselves; some of whom were falsely accused of laying treacherous plots, and so were destroyed; others of them were charged with designs of betraying the city to the Romans; but the readiest way of all was this, to suborn [hire] somebody to affirm that they were resolved to desert to the enemy. And he who was utterly despoiled of what he had by Simon was sent back again to John, as of those who had been already plundered by Jotre, Simon got what remained; insomuch that they drank the blood of the populace to one another, and divided the dead bodies of the poor creatures between them; so that although, on account of their ambition after dominion, they contended with each other, yet did they very well agree in their wicked practices” (Wars 5.10.4).

Yet the Jews had the highest regard for, and fear of, Simon. They were also very ready to take their own lives, if he would have given such a command: “Above all, they had a great veneration and dread of Simon; and to that degree was he regarded by every one of those that were under him, that at his command they were very ready to kill themselves with their own hands” (Wars 5.7.3).

Toward the end of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, John Levi and many others had already been captured by the Romans, but Simon was still underground and hoping to escape. Josephus recorded his bizarre behavior when he finally emerged dressed like a king, hoping to trick the Romans, but was captured and kept for the eventual celebration in Rome. Interestingly, he chose to come up out of the ground exactly where the temple had been:

“This Simon, during the siege of Jerusalem, was in the upper city; but when the Roman army was gotten within the walls, and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them some that were stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation, and as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, and let himself and all them down into a certain subterraneous cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine underground, and this in hopes that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from underground in a safe place, and by that means escape. But when they came to make the experiment, they were disappointed of their hope; for the miners could make but small progress, and that with difficulty also; insomuch that their provisions, though they distributed them by measure, began to fail them.

And now Simon, thinking he might be able to astonish and elude the Romans, put on a white frock, and buttoned upon him a purple cloak, and appeared out of the ground in the place where the temple had formerly been. At the first, indeed, those that saw him were greatly astonished, and stood still where they were; but afterward they came nearer to him, and asked him who he was. Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus who was left to command the army there, came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Caesar know that he was taken. Thus did God bring this man to be punished for what bitter and savage tyranny he had exercised against his countrymen by those who were his worst enemies; and this while he was not subdued by violence, but voluntarily delivered himself up to them to be punished, and that on the very same account that he had laid false accusations against many Jews, as if they were falling away to the Romans, and had barbarously slain them for wicked actions do not escape the Divine anger, nor is justice too weak to punish offenders, but in time overtakes those that transgress its laws, and inflicts its punishments upon the wicked in a manner, so much more severe, as they expected to escape it on account of their not being punished immediately. Simon was made sensible of this by falling under the indignation of the Romans. This rise of his out of the ground did also occasion the discovery of a great number of others of the seditious at that time, who had hidden themselves under ground. But for Simon, he was brought to Caesar in bonds, when he was come back to that Cesarea which was on the seaside, who gave orders that he should be kept against that triumph which he was to celebrate at Rome upon this occasion” (Wars 7.2.2).

Among the leaders of the captives taken from Jerusalem, Simon was listed first by Josephus (Wars 7.5.3). The Israeli historian Menahem Stern pointed out that the Roman historian, Tacitus, also listed him first:

“Both Simeon and John are mentioned side by side with Eleazar b. Simeon as the commanders in Jerusalem, not only by Josephus but by the Roman historian Tacitus, who enumerates Simeon first and Eleazar last. Titus also regarded Simeon bar Giora as the leading commander and it was he who was chosen by the Romans to exemplify an enemy commander and lead the triumphal procession in Rome.”


“Judaea Capta” coin from AD 71 (Source)

This triumphal procession is described in Wars 7.5.1-7. Simon was called “the general of the enemy” and his execution was in “the last part of this pompous show…at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.” A rope was put around his head and he was tormented as he was dragged along. All the people shouted for joy when it was announced that he had been killed (Wars 7.5.6). A Jewish Encyclopedia article written in 1906 by Richard Gottheil (Professor of Semitic Languages, Columbia University) and Samuel Krauss (Professor in Budapest, Hungary) states that he was hurled to his death from the Tarpeian Rock. However, Cecil Roth, the Oxford Jewish historian, stated in a 1960 article that Simon was “was dragged to the Mamertine Prison, where he was strangled in the subterranean chamber.”

A 2007 article in Encyclopaedia Judaica says the following about Simon and his likely “king messiah” role:

“From extant information it would appear that Simeon b. Giora was the leader of a clear eschatological trend in the movement of rebellion against Rome, and possibly filled the role of ‘king messiah’ within the complex of eschatological beliefs held by his followers. His exceptional bravery and daring, mentioned by Josephus, undoubtedly attracted many to him, and won him preeminence among the rebel leaders. In contrast to the bitter hostility that existed between him and John of Giscala, there was a measure of understanding between him and the Sicarii at Masada.”

Bar Giora, Simeon.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Encyclopedia.com. 3 Mar. 2017.

Martin Hengel, in The Zealots (pp. 290-298), agreed that Simon “made claims to Messianic dignity” (p. 297). According to Hengel, [1] Judas of Galilee [2] Menahem, and [3] Simon Bar Giora were all Messianic pretenders. He cited close similarities between Menahem and Simon Bar Giora in that they both marched into Jerusalem like kings, were both regarded by their followers as kings, and both dressed in royal garments when they were captured by their enemies.

Wounded Head

After this long overview of the Zealot movement and its various leaders, we come back to the question: “Who was the wounded head of Revelation 13:3?” Here, again, is what this verse states:

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.”

Several translations, by the way, including Young’s Literal Translation, say “all the earth marveled…” rather than “all the world marveled…” The Greek word for “the earth” (“ge”) can be translated as “the land.” That is, it was the land of Israel that marveled after the beast on account of its deadly wound being healed.

Almost 120 years after the uprising of Hezekiah, and 60 years after the uprising of Judas of Galilee, another head of the Zealot movement was crushed, which jeopardized the plans of the movement and destroyed its unity and momentum. That head was Menahem, who achieved victories at Masada, came into Jerusalem as a king, and became the leader of the Zealots, only to be killed about one month later. Martin Hengel says this about the ramifications of Menahem’s sudden death, which was especially untimely because it took place only about a month after the Jewish-Roman War officially began:

“This whole sequence of events led to a division in the ranks of the Zealot movement precisely at the moment when a consolidation of all its forces under a single leadership was required. It is probable that Menahem, the son of Judas, the founder of the sect, was the only man possessing the necessary authority and experience to organize a lasting resistance to the Romans based on the Zealot movement throughout the whole country

Menahem’s most faithful followers and especially the tribe of the Galilean Judas withdrew to Masada and took no further part in the subsequent course of the war… These men believed that the Temple had been desecrated by this bloody act [Menahem’s murder] and was therefore doomed to destruction. They remained faithful to their earlier views, however, and continued to follow Eleazar b. Ari (Jair), a grandson of Judas, as their leader until their mass suicide…in April 73 A.D. The groups of Zealots in the various parts of the territories settled by the Jews lost their common leader and therefore the bond that held them together. They consequently operated without any sensible plan and were deeply distrustful of the authorities in Jerusalem…

Menahem’s death had weakened the Zealots. Their weakness inevitably resulted in a strengthening in Jerusalem of the moderate forces inclined towards a compromise with Rome. There was therefore bound to be a renewed, intensified confrontation with the radical wing, which had been reinforced by the refugees from the frontier territories. The radicals, however, lacked leaders with universally recognized authority, with the result that there were struggles for power. These undermined the strength of the Jewish resistance.

The consideration of the Zealots as a solidly united party ends therefore with the murder of Menahem. It is true that Zealot ideas still persisted until the destruction of the city and even later, until the revolt of Bar Koseba. The ultimate aim of the sect, the ‘eschatological’ struggle of the entire people against Rome which had begun so promisingly, was, however, condemned to failure from the very beginning. The division of the movement into different groups at war with each other enabled Rome to achieve a victory even before the Holy War itself had properly commenced” (The Zealots, pp. 365-366).

The beast’s wound quickly began to heal when the Zealots achieved a surprise victory against Cestius Gallus about two months later in November AD 66 (Wars 2.19.1-9). The Zealots captured the military engines and other supplies from the Romans and “came back running and singing to their metropolis; while they had themselves lost a few only, but had slain of the Romans five thousand and three hundred footmen, and three hundred and eighty horsemen” (Wars 2.19.9). Eleazar ben Simon and Simon Bar Giora, nephew and uncle to one another, emerged as war heroes and played key roles in leading the revolt over the next 3.5 years. Martin Hengel remarks:

“Even though it would be wrong to place too high a value on the purely military success achieved against Syrian legions, which were notorious for their lack of discipline, the Jewish victory was nonetheless of decisive importance for the continuation of the fight for freedom. It led to even moderate groups of Jews either going over to the side of the war party or else leaving the city [Wars 2.20.1]. The radicals saw in this victory God’s confirmation of their cause and the beginning of the Holy War of annihilation against Rome. Typically enough, two of the new leaders who were, with their groups, to determine the fate of Jerusalem in the years ahead emerged for the first time during these battles before Jerusalem. The leader of a band, Simon Bar Giora, seized hold of the Roman baggage-train on the ascent of Beth-Horon and took it to Jerusalem, while a certain Eleazar b. Simon appeared as the leader of the radical and probably predominantly priestly ‘Zealots.’ To judge from the latter’s large share in the booty, he had played a leading part in the battle itself” (The Zealots, p. 369).

The Israeli historian, Menahem Stern, also emphasized the importance of Simon Bar Giora’s uprising for the Zealot movement after the sudden loss of Menahem and Eleazar ben Jair’s permanent flight to Masada. He saw Simon’s rise to the challenge as a satisfactory resolution after the Sicarii, the party of Hezekiah’s family dynasty, suddenly lacked “a recognized Sicarii leader in Jerusalem”:

“With the murder of Menahem and the departure of Eleazar b. Jair to [Masada, the Sicarii] had lost their traditional leadership. It is a fact that no less than 10,000 out of the 23,400 fighters who defended besieged Jerusalem were directly under the command of Simeon, and to them are to be added 5,000 Idumean soldiers who were associated with them, as against only 6,000 men under the direct command of John of Giscala and 2,400 Zealots who accepted the leadership of Eleazar b. Simeon (War 5:248–50). It thus emerges that under Simeon there were about two-thirds of the total of the defenders of Jerusalem, and the Romans were naturally justified in regarding him as the commander of the enemy forces.”

many of the Sicarii found it difficult to recognize the leadership of someone who did not belong to the family of Judah the Galilean. Nevertheless the differences were straightened out to some extent as a result of the absence of a recognized Sicarii leader in Jerusalem after the death of Menahem.”

Menahem was regarded as a king and a capable leader, but his sudden death came at a bad time for the Zealot movement and left a big hole in its leadership. The surprising victory over Cestius Gallus two months later brought healing to the movement. Before long, Simon Bar Giora brought further healing to the movement as he cozied up to the Sicarii, adopted their way of thinking, and had “men of power”, “slaves and robbers,” and “a great many of the populace” showing obedience to him “as their king” (Wars 4.9.4).
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In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:4, and why these questions were asked: “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

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

 

The Beast Empowered by the Dragon (Revelation 13:1-2)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here. So far in this series we have examined the four kingdoms of Daniel 2, the four beasts of Daniel 7 (and the little horn), and Revelation 11.

Revelation 13 is probably cited more often than any other chapter when it comes to “the beast” of Revelation, and rightfully so. As you may have noticed in the introduction to this series, 46 percent of the verses in the book of Revelation (16 out of 35) which speak of a beast are in Revelation 13. This chapter actually speaks of two beasts, [1] the one briefly introduced in Revelation 11:7 and [2] a second beast which works closely with the first beast and is later called “the false prophet” (Revelation 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

The first eight verses of this chapter (Revelation 13:1-8), as well as verse 18, describe “the beast.” We already saw that this beast was responsible for hunting down and killing the two witnesses in Jerusalem. Here we will see that this beast:

-rose up out of the sea
-had seven heads
-had 10 horns with 10 crowns
-had a blasphemous name
-had body parts of a leopard, a bear, and a lion
-received its power, throne, and authority from the dragon (Rev. 12)
-had a mortally wounded head that was healed
-received worship
-was admired for its victories in war
-had authority to continue for 42 months
-blasphemed God, His name, His tabernacle, and His saints
-warred against and overcame the saints
-had authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation
-worked closely with the second beast, later called “the false prophet
-was represented by an image, a mark, a name, and a number

Verses 11-17 describe a second beast that:

-came up out of the earth (also translated “land”)
-had two horns like a lamb
-spoke like a dragon
-worked in the presence of the first beast
-directed those in the land to worship the first beast
-performed great, deceiving signs
-oversaw the creation of an image to the first beast
-granted power to give breath to the image, which could speak and cause people to be killed
-allowed buying and selling only for those who had the mark, number, or name of the first beast

Revelation 13:1

Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.”

John was “on the island that is called Patmos” when he recorded his prophetic visions (Rev. 1:9). Patmos is in the Aegian Sea, which “is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea” (Wikipedia). Did John see the beast rise up out of that sea? Recall that Daniel saw “the Great Sea” stirred up (Daniel 7:2) and all four beasts coming “up from the sea” (Daniel 7:3). So Daniel clearly saw the beasts rising up out of the Mediterranean Sea. The Babylonian, Persian, and Greek kingdoms all formed to the east, north, and south of the Mediterranean Sea. The western border of the Judean kingdom was also the Mediterranean Sea.

The term “sea” can represent Gentiles or nations, as it does in Revelation 17:1, 15. (See also Psalm 65:7; Isaiah 17:12-13, 57:20, 60:5; Jeremiah 6:23; Luke 21:25.) As we saw in our study of Revelation 11:1-2, it was not only the Romans in John’s day who were “Gentiles.” The Idumeans and Galileans were also considered to be Gentiles. In Wars 4.3.2-4, Josephus spoke of large multitudes from various regions that “crept into Jerusalem” as the Jewish-Roman War was about to begin, and these multitudes followed the lead of the Zealot movement. The three main Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora, were Galileans. When Simon came to Jerusalem in April 69 AD, he brought an army of 40,000 with him, including many Idumeans (Wars 4.9.3-12).

Revelation 13:1 describes the beast as having seven heads. This is the same number of heads that the dragon (“called the Devil and Satan”) also had (Rev. 12:3, 9). John provides more details about the seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, and he singles out one of the heads in Rev. 13:3. So when we cover those verses we will explore who the heads were and what roles they played. I believe they were heads of the Zealot movement, some in the decades prior to the Jewish-Roman War and others during the war.

This verse also describes the beast as having 10 horns (Rev. 12:3). Again, this is the same number of horns that the dragon had. John likewise gives more details about the 10 horns in Revelation 17:12-17 than he does in Revelation 13, so we will have that discussion later in this series as well. In the meantime, please feel free to refer to a post I wrote in July 2016 in which I propose that the 10 horns were 10 Jewish generals who were given authority in December 66 AD (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Our study of Daniel 7 also discussed the three horns that were plucked out by the little horn – details that are not found in the book of Revelation. If you read that part of the series, you’ll recall that I proposed that the little horn was Eleazar ben Simon and that the three plucked horns were [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea, and [3] Joseph ben Gorion. Their deaths are recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1.

Revelation 13:2

Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.”

Here John describes the beast as having the traits of the first three beasts that Daniel saw come up from the sea in Daniel 7:3-6. There are a couple of things to notice about John’s description:

1. The animals are listed in reverse order compared to how they were listed by Daniel.
2. The leopard trait is most dominant, representing the beast’s body. Only the feet and the mouth of the beast are like a bear and like a lion.

leopard-lion-and-bear

Photo Source

In Daniel’s vision, the lion represented Babylon (Daniel 7:4), the bear represented Medo-Persia (Daniel 7:5; 8:20), and the leopard represented Greece (Daniel 7:6; 8:21-22). In John’s vision, these same animals are listed in reverse order, referring to Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon, respectively.

[The leopard = Greece]: As John saw the beast of his own time period, he also looked back into Israel’s history and first saw the kingdom which had most recently held dominion over Israel – Greece. That kingdom was represented in almost the entire body of the beast: “Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard…” It’s no surprise that the Greek trait was most dominant in the Jewish beast of John’s day, considering that Greece/Macedonia was the kingdom which had held dominion over Israel as recently as 323 BC – 142 BC. The Greek language was dominant in the Roman Empire, and was the language into which the Septuagint was translated and the language in which most of the New Testament was written.

A Greek influence was also seen near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War. When Vespasian captured part of Galilee in the summer of 67 AD, he “sat upon his tribunal at Taricheae, in order to distinguish the foreigners from the old inhabitants; for those foreigners appeared to have begun the war.” Some of those foreigners were from Hippos, which was “a Greco-Roman city” in the Decapolis that was “culturally tied more closely to Greece and Rome than to the Semitic ethnoi around” (Wikipedia). Josephus said that “the greatest part of [those foreigners] were seditious persons and fugitives, who were of such shameful characters that they preferred war before peace.” Most of the other foreigners were from Trachonitis and Gaulanitis, in the region of Batanea near Persia (Wars 3.10.10).

batanea

Photo Source

[The bear = Medo-Persia]: Only the feet of the beast were “like the feet of a bear.” It may be that the sicarii of John’s day best represented the Persian trait of the beast. The sicarii worked with the Zealots in rebelling, making war, and destroying Israel. As Josephus wrote about this group:

“And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles,] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon the villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire” (Antiquities 20.8.10).

As we saw in the section just above, a good number of the foreigners that “appeared to have begun the war” (Wars 3.10.10) were from the region of Batanea, very close to Persia.

[The lion = Babylon]: Only the mouth of the beast was “like the mouth of a lion.” Mark Mountjoy of Atavist Bible Church said the following in a conversation in New Testament Open University:

“The Babylonian trait can be seen in the mouth of the Lion and can be explained by extreme pride and arrogance (big and pretentious talk – Wars 4.3.1:121-124) around the architectural beauty and security of Jerusalem (and in Josephus this attitude is attributed to John of Gischala – see Wars 4.3.1:126-127).”

Pride is what marked the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Daniel 4:37). Here is the quote from Wars 4.3.1 that Mark referred to above, which describes what happened when John Levi escaped from Gischala (in Galilee) and came to Jerusalem in November 67 AD:

“Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis… But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but 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.”

In this regard, we can also note that Eleazar ben Simon, the Zealot leader who was in Jerusalem for the entire war (until he was killed in April 70 AD), was known for his “tyrannical temper” (Wars 2.20.3). A man like that may also very well have had a mouth like a lion.

Mark Mountjoy provides this summary of the Greek, Medo-Persian, and Babylonian traits of the beast (New Testament Open University; January 24, 2017):

“Here are some fascinating tid-bits: The Zealots correspond to the leopard traits of the beast. As thorough-going Hellenists they warred against each other just like Alexander’s generals fought tooth and nail after he died. Leopards hunt at night and are swift and stealthy. The Sicarii correspond to the bear traits. The small knife they carried and were infamous for (and even named after) came from Persia (the bear). Unlike the Zealots (who were swift and prone to infighting), the Sicarii were slow and, after the initial wins in Jerusalem, retired to Masada for the duration of the war. I would say that John Gischala and his initial leadership of the beast corresponds to the Babylonians. His boast about the Romans being unable to fly over the walls of Jerusalem even if they had eagle’s wings (Wars 4.3.1:121-127) makes one think of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride for the grand architecture and gardens of Babylon. And John Gischala, (like Belshazzar) went into the Holy Place and used God’s utensils and the priestly oil and wine in a sacrilegious way (Wars 5.13.6:562-565).”

[The dragon gave its power to the beast]: In the last part of verse 2 we see the statement that “the dragon gave him [the beast] his power, his throne, and great authority.” This statement takes us back to Revelation 12, where John saw “a great, fiery red dragon” that had seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads (Rev. 12:2) just like the beast (Rev. 13:1). That dragon had his own angels (Rev. 12:7), was kicked out of heaven (Rev. 12:8), and was cast to the earth (Rev. 12:9). He was also called “that serpent of old”, “the Devil,” and “Satan” (Rev. 12:9).

Notice that the dragon’s primary activity was accusing the brethren: “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down” (Rev. 12:10). This trait is another strong indication that the dragon gave his power, throne, and authority to a Jewish beast rather than to a Roman beast. The following Scripture passages demonstrate a repeated pattern among the Jewish authorities of accusing Jesus and His followers during the New Testament period (my thanks goes to Steven Haukdahl for initially sharing a similar list with me):

Matthew 12:10, 27:12, 27:37;
Mark 3:2, 15:3-4, 15:26;
Luke 11:54, 23:2, 23:10, 23:14;
John 8:6, 18:29;
Acts 22:30, 23:28-29, 24:2; 24:8, 24:13; 25:5, 25:11, 26:2, 26:7

Also note that Peter gave the following warning to his readers: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Interestingly, the prophet Zephaniah said this about Jerusalem in his day: “Her princes in her midst are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning” (Zephaniah 3:3). The Judaizers in Peter’s day, who were like “natural brute beasts,” apparently were known for bringing “a reviling accusation” against God’s people, which even the angels would not do (II Peter 2:11-12; Jude 8-10).

When the Zealots gained control of Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War, they displayed this same trait by frequently bringing accusations against the people, even killing those whom they merely suspected of having any sympathy toward Rome (Wars 5.1.5). During the Zealot siege of early 68 AD, the Zealots, with the help of the Idumeans, set up “fictitious tribunals and judicatures” to falsely accuse their enemies:

“And now these zealots and Idumeans were quite weary of barely killing men, so they had the impudence of setting up fictitious tribunals and judicatures for that purpose; and as they intended to have Zacharias the son of Baruch, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain, – so what provoked them against him was, that hatred of wickedness and love of liberty which were so eminent in him: he was also a rich man, so that by taking him off, they did not only hope to seize his effects, but also to get rid of a man that had great power to destroy them. So they called together, by a public proclamation, seventy of the principal men of the populace, for a show, as if they were real judges, while they had no proper authority. Before these was Zacharias accused of a design to betray their polity to the Romans, and having traitorously sent to Vespasian for that purpose. Now there appeared no proof or sign of what he was accused; but they affirmed themselves that they were well persuaded that so it was… So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias in the middle of the temple, and slew him…” (Wars 4.5.4).

After the Zealots eliminated the prominent men whom they considered to be threats, Josephus described how they suspected, targeted, and accused anyone and everyone:

“…and indeed there was no part of the people but they found out some pretense to destroy them; for some were therefore slain, because they had had differences with some of them; and as to those that had not opposed them in times of peace, they watched seasonable opportunities to gain some accusation against them; and if any one did not come near them at all, he was under their suspicion as a proud man; if any one came with boldness, he was esteemed a contemner of them; and if any one came as aiming to oblige them, he was supposed to have some treacherous plot against them; while the only punishment of crimes, whether they were of the greatest or smallest sort, was death” (Wars 4.6.1).

The Roman siege of Jerusalem began in mid-April AD 70. As it heated up, Simon and John worked together in the most sinister way, falsely accusing people of plotting against them, attempting to betray Jerusalem to the Romans, or attempting to flee to the Romans. Josephus says that they passed these victims back and forth between each other:

“For the men that were in dignity, and withal were rich, they were carried before the tyrants themselves; some of whom were falsely accused of laying treacherous plots, and so were destroyed; others of them were charged with designs of betraying the city to the Romans; but the readiest way of all was this, to suborn [hire] somebody to affirm that they were resolved to desert to the enemy. And he who was utterly despoiled of what he had by Simon was sent back again to John, as of those who had been already plundered by Jotre, Simon got what remained; insomuch that they drank the blood of the populace to one another, and divided the dead bodies of the poor creatures between them; so that although, on account of their ambition after dominion, they contended with each other, yet did they very well agree in their wicked practices” (Wars 5.10.4).

Josephus recorded many other instances of the Zealots and Jewish leaders accusing their enemies, including the following examples: Wars 1.5.3; 1.9.2; 1.10.1; 1.12.4-5 (“accused the brethren”); 1.16.7; 1.22.3; 1.23.1, 3, 4; 1.24.6, 8; 1.26.2-5; 1.27.1-3, 5-6; 1.29.2-3; 1.32.4, 6; 1.33.4; 2.2.1, 4-6; 2.6.1-2; 2.9.5-6; 2.14.3, 5; 2.21.2, 7; 4.4.3; 4.5.4; 4.6.17.2.1; 7.3.3; 7.10.1; and 7.11.1-3.

In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:3, the mortal wounding of one of the beast’s seven heads, and the healing of that wound. I will also present an overview of the Zealot movement, the movement which I believe was led by those seven heads.

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

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 4: Nero’s Beastly Character)


REVELATION 13 (Part 4: Nero’s Beastly Character)

Adam Maarschalk: October 22 & 29, 2009

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

We have now reached the fourth 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 the third post we examined 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. In this post we will look more closely into the character of Nero and the atrocities he committed, and in doing so we will see that the term “beast” fits him well.

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In the first post on chapter 13 we saw a number of details regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution from November 64 AD – June 68 AD (42 months). Some of these details will be quickly summarized here, as this contributes to our understanding of his beastly character. First, we are told by numerous early church writers (e.g. Eusebius, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus) that Nero was the first emperor to persecute the saints, with Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) saying that Nero targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.”

These tortures included being “wrapped in the hides of wild beasts…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); Nero’s vast garden was lit at night so he could provide raunchy entertainment of all kinds. Some believers were beheaded (Paul), others were crucified (Peter), while others were “thrown to the lions, exposed to the cold, drowned in rivers, thrown into cauldrons of boiling oil, daubed with pitch and burned for torchlights” (David S. Clark).

This persecution came about after Nero’s Jewish wife persuaded him to blame the Christians for the burning of 10 of Rome’s 14 city divisions. Legend has it that Nero “fiddled while Rome burned,” with some ancient historians affirming this account (Suetonius, Cassius Dio) and others (e.g. Tacitus) calling it into question. Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD], Tertullian [160-220 AD], Augustine [354-430 AD], and Jerome [347-420 AD] are among the early church writers who stated their belief that Nero was the beast foretold in the book of Revelation, and Jerome even stated that there were “many” in his time who shared this view because of Nero’s “outstanding savagery and depravity.” The following information (in maroon-colored font) is taken from a term paper I wrote several months ago:

Richard Anthony (The Mark of the Beast, 2009) shares more details about Nero’s life and character, all of which is substantiated by Suetonius (in his book Nero) and other historians who lived during the first two centuries AD:

According to Suetonius, he [Nero] murdered his parents, wife, brother, aunt, and many others close to him and of high station in Rome. He was a torturer, a homosexual rapist, and a sodomite. He even married two young boys and paraded them around as his wives. One of the boys, whose name was Sporus, was castrated by Nero. He was truly bestial in his character, depravity, and actions. He devised a kind of game: covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound at stakes. He also initiated the war against the Jews which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

At one point, writes Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, 2002), Nero divorced his first wife, Octavia, in order to marry Poppaea, his mistress. Poppaea then gave orders to have Octavia banished to an island, where in 62 AD she was beheaded. Three years later, when Poppaea was pregnant and ill, Nero kicked her to death. For entertainment, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero “compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena.” The Roman historian Tacitus (55-117 AD) knew Nero as the one who “put to death so many innocent men,” and Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) called Nero “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world” (p. 52).

In Revelation 13:2 the beast is described as having a mouth “like a lion’s mouth.” It’s most revealing that the apostle Paul describes his deliverance from the emperor Nero as being “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (II Timothy 4:16-17). Also fitting is this quote from Apollonius of Tyana (15-98 AD), a Greek philosopher:

In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. …And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.

[Source: A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster (1976), p. 235. This quote was taken from Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, Oxford Press, 1912, p. 38.]

Apollonius was not the only contemporary of Nero to refer to him as a “beast.” Josephus and Suetonius also did so, according to David Lowman, an author and a pastor in Colorado Springs. Lowman adds that Nero schemed with his mother to kill his father and half-brother, and then attempted at least seven times to kill his mother. He also “executed one of his two closest advisers and forced the other to commit suicide.” Regarding again Nero’s persecution of the saints, Lowman notes that Nero had some “drawn and quartered”; others tied to the tusks of elephants which then were made to charge each other; others disemboweled while alive; and still others “sawn in two with palm branches – a very long lasting and brutally painful penalty.” Lowman wrote the following concerning Nero’s “garden parties”:

The most horrific stories of Nero’s brutality involved the lighting of His garden parties. It was known that in order to light his three and four day garden parties he would have Christian impaled with large wooden posts, and while still alive, struggling for breath, would have them covered in flammable tar and oil and light them on fire. He would place the posts along the outskirts of the large palace garden and along the roads to light the way for his guests. Quite often the events listed above would be done in front of rather large audiences in the arena. he would end these events with tortuously long musical performances that attendees could not leave under the penalty of death, including the ruling Senators of Rome.

Under Nero, John was tarred and feathered, boiled in oil (yet he miraculously survived), and then exiled. This is according to the testimony of early church writers such as Tertullian and Jerome, as I wrote here.

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The next and final post on Revelation 13 (Part 5 of 5) will feature a comparative chart showing 10 prophecies regarding the beast from the sea and their non-coincidental fulfillment by Nero and the Roman Empire which he led, represented, and personified.

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.

Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 2: Verse 11; Identity of beast #2)


REVELATION 13:11 (and identity of beast #2)

Adam Maarschalk: October 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:11-18

This is now the second post on Revelation 13. In the first post, which can be found HERE, we looked at the first 10 verses in this chapter. We saw that Nero fit the description of this beast in the specific sense, with his 42-month reign of persecution from November 64 – June 68 AD (vss. 5-7), with his death by the sword [even as he had used the sword to cause death] (verse 10), and with his demand for worship (vss. 4, 8). We also saw that first-century Rome fit the description of this beast in the general sense, with its identification as the fourth beast in Daniel’s similar vision (Daniel 7:1-8), and with the healing of the mortal wound suffered by one of its heads (vss. 1-3; cf. Rev. 17:7-10). In this post we will be introduced to its main advocate, a second beast.

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A brief study on “the Antichrist”: This 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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B. The Beast from the Land—the Second Beast (Rev. 13:11-18)

Verses 11-12: We are now told of a second beast coming up “out of the earth.” Thus far in the book of Revelation it seems that references to “the earth” (or “land”) refer to the nation of Israel. Is this the case here?** Preterists are divided on this point, and on the identity of this second beast. There does seem to be consensus, though, that this second beast is one and the same with the “false prophet” spoken of in Rev. 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10. This second beast exercises the authority of the first beast (identified in the previous post as Nero). It does so “in its presence” (or “on its behalf,” as stated in a footnote in the ESV). It makes “the earth” (i.e. Israel) to worship the first beast. The following section will examine four different views regarding the identity of this second beast.

**[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.]

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VIEW #1 (The Roman Concilia/”Cult of the Emperor”): Steve Gregg comments (pp. 292, 294), “The most frequently encountered view [among preterists] suggests that this beast is a symbol for ‘the cult of the emperor,’ that is, that organized force within the [1st century Roman] empire that sought to enforce the worship of the Caesars. The second beast’s two horns like a lamb (v. 11) suggest a religious nature more than a political one.”[1] David S. Clark and Jay Adams hold to this position, as did Ray Summers in his 1951 book entitled Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville, TN: Broadman Publishing, pp. 174-175). Summers identified the second beast as the Roman Concilia, a government entity whose job it was in ancient times to regulate all details related to emperor worship. This entity had the authority to impose economic sanctions on individuals who would not prove their willingness to worship the emperor.

VIEW #2 (A Jewish Leader/Governor): J. Stewart Russell, on the other hand, believes this beast must be confined to Israel because it comes “out of the earth.” For him, the reason the second beast has only two horns in contrast with the 10 horns of the first beast is because of its smaller “sphere of government” (pp. 294, 296). Says Russell, “He can be no other than the Roman procurator or governor of Judea under Nero, and the particular outbreak must be sought at or near the outbreak of the Jewish war.” Russell points to Gessius Florus, who was hands down the worst and most oppressive governor of the Jewish province, ruling from 64-66 AD. Josephus says he was also the primary cause for the Jewish revolt which led to the Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 AD. Russell acknowledges that Josephus and other historians don’t specifically record that Gessius Florus enacted “compulsory enforcement of homage to the emperor’s statue and the ascension of miraculous pretensions” (which we see in verses 12-17). But he adds that “the image of the beast is clearly the statue of the emperor.” Russell also notes that we know historically that “the test by which the martyrs [of this period] were tried was to adore the emperor, to offer incense before his statue, and to invoke the gods” (Steve Gregg, p. 298).

VIEW #3 (Judaism and Jewish Leadership): A somewhat alternative view is taken up by David Chilton, who, according to Steve Gregg, sees the second beast as representing “the Jewish religious system and leadership collectively as a false agent of God.” Chilton says,

The Jewish leaders, symbolized by this Beast from the Land, joined forces with the Beast of Rome in an attempt to destroy the Church (Acts 4:24-28; 12:1-3; 13:8; 14:5; 17:5-8; 18:12-13; 21:11; 24:1-9; 25:2-3, 9, 24)… The Book of Acts records several instances of miracle-working Jewish false prophets who came into conflict with the Church (cf. Acts 8:9-24) and worked under Roman officials (cf. Acts 13:6-11); as Jesus foretold (Matt. 7:22-23), some of them even used His name in their incantations (Acts 19:13-16).

One blogger, who holds to this view, wrote the following, after citing John 19:15-22, where the chief priest declared “We have no king but Caesar“:

Not only did the religious leaders reject their true King, they also pledged their allegiance to Rome. The book of Acts also tells of both Jewish false prophets who performed signs and wonders (e.g. Simon the Magician, Acts 8:9-24) through magic, and of the allegiance between Rome and Jewish false prophets and leaders. Both of these come together in Acts 13:6-11, where a false prophet and magician named Bar-Jesus is with the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, as well as Elymas the Magician. The role of the second beast was to point back to the first beast, working with the first beast against the Church. This is exactly what we see apostate Jewish leaders doing throughout the Gospels, and Acts. By the time of the Neronic persecution, this only intensified. So, just as the Roman Empire, under the rule of Nero, fits the description of the first beast, the apostate Jewish leaders who point away from the true King towards Rome and the Caesar fit into the description of the second beast. They were certainly “from the land,” worked in accordance with the Roman Empire, pledging allegiance to their “king,” and opposed the church. They also performed signs and wonders and were considered false prophets, just as the second beast is called throughout Revelation.

As noted in the previous post, even during the time of Christ, Israel as a nation had shown devotion to the Roman government (John 19:15 is probably the most blatant example). Kenneth Gentry also records that “since the times of Julius Caesar, Israel had benefited from certain special privileges from Rome that were not allowed to other of its subjects.” This included the ability of the Jews to gather freely for their special religious meetings, contrary to Roman policy (Josephus, Antiquities 14:10:8), and “to maintain its strict monotheism” (pp. 281-282). It’s quite likely that this relationship is what was symbolized by the harlot woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Rev. 17:3). The Jews enjoyed even more favor when Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina, became intensely interested in Judaism.[2]

Gentry adds, “The Jews responded to the favors of Rome…by offering ‘sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people’” (Josephus, Wars 2:10:4; cf. Daniel 11:31, 12:11). This offering in honor of Caesar, however, was stopped in the summer of 66 AD, which Josephus says led to the Jewish-Roman War:

Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans: for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account: and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon.

VIEW #4 (Vitellius, Rome’s 9th Emperor): This is the view that I was personally leaning toward when I wrote a term paper a few months ago on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. I now favor view #3 above, but I will post this excerpt anyway, especially because it says much about the level of worship that Nero demanded during his reign and the consequences for failing to do so. These details are excellent background, in any case, for Rev. 13:12-17. The excerpt which follows is taken from here:

Vitellius, the ninth emperor, [was very devoted] in his worship of Nero. It is said that he “greatly pleased the public by offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit in the Campus Martius [Latin for Field of Mars, a 2 sq km public square in Rome], making all the priests and people attend.” These were his “funerary offerings to Nero” and this left “no doubt in anyone’s mind what model he chose for the government of the State” (Suetonius, Vitellius 11:2). The actions of Vitellius appear to fulfill what was written in Revelation 13:11-12 of a second beast, referred to later as the false prophet. This text states: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence [or on its behalf], and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” Vitellius had such a rabid fascination with Nero that Vespasian had to “make a determined effort to check the growth of the Nero cult when he came to power.”

Paul Kroll (1999) writes the following about the prospect of Vitellius, or someone like him, fulfilling the role of the false prophet in Nero’s time:

The false prophet sends out a universal order to “set up an image in honor of the beast” (verse 14)… Strangely enough, the false prophet gives the inanimate image breath so that it can speak. Thus, the second beast has power to animate the image of the first beast. In the time Revelation was written, this was not an alien idea. The ancients believed that statues spoke and performed miracles. It was thought that the gods and demons used statues as conduits to communicate with humans and work miracles. For example, the heretic Simon Magus is said to have brought statues to life (Clementine Recognitions 3.47; Justin, Apologia 1.26; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.23). In ancient times, that was precisely the point of having idols. People thought that the life of the person or being was actually in the idol.

In their book, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (1999), the authors (Brown, Bowersock, Grabar) write about the common sight of images of Roman emperors in the third and fourth centuries. These images took prominent places throughout the empire and were literally worshipped. This was ordinary in the first century as well:

Those who beheld Constantine in his golden raiment were said by Eusebius to be “stunned and amazed by the sight—like children who have seen a frightening apparition.” But away from court and capital, emperors rarely appeared in person. In the provinces, their presence was represented by statues and other images. Municipal squares were dominated by imperial statues; the portraits of emperors hung in official buildings, shops, theaters, and public porticoes… In their range and variety, imperial images made emperors omnipresent…the crowd applauded not only the emperor but also his image as it was paraded around them, surrounded—like the emperor himself—by the imperial bodyguard… These mirror images of majesty not only made permanent the transitory messages of imperial ceremonial, but were designed to blur the distinction between emperors and their representations… [There was] a rigid insistence on the performance of the same rituals and ceremonies before imperial images as before the emperor himself. Those approaching an emperor’s statue were required to prostrate themselves “not as though they were looking at a picture, but upon the very face of the emperor.” A proper atmosphere of sanctity was to be maintained at all times (pp. 173-174).

As expected then, statues of Nero’s likeness already existed in the Roman Empire during his lifetime, even from early in his reign. In 55 AD, the second year of his reign, the Roman senate erected a statue of Nero in the Temple of Mars that stood between 110 and 120 feet high. “The emperor’s brow was crowned with rays, suggesting a comparison or identification with the Sun-god” (Kenneth Gentry, 2002). His portrait appeared on coins at the time as Apollo playing the lyre. “He appears with his head radiating the light of the sun on copper coins struck in Rome and at Lugdunum.” Even his mother, Agrippina, was hailed by provincial coins “as goddess and the parent of a god.” Inscriptions found in Ephesus called Nero “Almighty God” and “Savior,” and inscriptions found in Cyprus called him “God and Savior” (pp. 80-81). The behavior of the highly-revered Augustus Caesar (27 BC-14 AD) was very modest compared to the worship Nero demanded for himself. Dio Cassius writes of an incident in which a regional king was compelled to worship both Nero and his image. This occurred in 66 AD when Tiridates, King of Armenia, paid Nero a visit:

Indeed, the proceedings of the conference were not limited to mere conversations, but a lofty platform had been erected on which were set images of Nero, and in the presence of the Armenians, Parthians, and Romans Tiridates approached and paid them reverence; then, after sacrificing to them and calling them by laudatory names, he took off the diadem from his head and set it upon them…Tiridates publicly fell before Nero seated upon the rostra in the Forum: “Master, I am the descendant of Arsaces, brother of the kings Vologaesus and Pacorus, and thy slave. And I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mithras. The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine; for thou art my Fortune and my Fate” (Gentry, p. 82).

“By this action this king actually worshiped ‘the image of the Beast’ (Rev. 13:15),” says Gentry. One senator, though, failed to worship Nero and his “Divine Voice,” and Dio Cassius records that he was executed: “Thrasaea was executed because he failed to appear regularly in the senate…and because he never would listen to the emperor’s singing and lyre-playing, nor sacrifice to Nero’s Divine Voice as did the rest.” Nero was even deified in Greece, where he spent a significant amount of time in 67 AD as a musician and actor in the Grecian festivals. There he was proclaimed as “Zeus, Our Liberator,” and his statue was set up in the temple of Apollo where he was called “The new Sun, illuminating the Hellenes.” When he returned to Rome in early 68 AD, the entire population was made to come out and greet him with these words: “Hail, Olympian Victor! Hail, Pythian Victor! Augustus! Augustus! Hail to Nero, our Hercules! Hail to Hero, our Apollo! The only Victor of the Grand Tour, the only one from the beginning of time! Augustus! Augustus! O, Divine Voice! Blessed are they that hear thee” (Gentry, p. 83).

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Our study of Revelation 13 (Part 3 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.


[1] Futurists also tend to agree that the second beast functions in more of a religious role, while the first beast is political in nature.

[2] Edward Gibbon, a foremost authority on ancient Rome, asserts that Poppaea was one of the Jews’ “powerful advocates in the palace,” and that it was she who incited Nero to blame the Christians for the fire in Rome in July 64 AD. Source: Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1. Page 459. Modern Library, New York.

Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 1: Verses 1-10)


REVELATION 13:1-10

Adam Maarschalk: October 22, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-10

A. The Beast from the Sea—the First Beast (Rev. 13:1-10)

Introduction/Disclaimer: In this five-part discussion, it will be suggested that the beast spoken of in this chapter is Nero, who ruled Rome from 54-68 AD. This premise flies in the face of the rather popular view that Revelation was written in 95 or 96 AD, so if this is new or troublesome to the reader, it may be helpful to first take a look at some compelling evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD: [1] External evidence [2] Internal evidence (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Other internal evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation has been presented in our previous Revelation studies (chapters 1-12), all of which can be found here.

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Verse 1: We are introduced now to a beast which John describes as “rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.” The red dragon in Rev. 12:3 is also said to have “seven heads and ten horns,” and we know that this dragon is Satan (12:9), so this beast here in chapter 13 is clearly empowered by Satan. Additionally, it seems that “the sea” where mentioned elsewhere in this book refers to Gentiles [See the Appendix (D) in this post here, for a more detailed explanation of this pattern]. So this reference here is very likely a way of telling the first century reader that this beast is a prominent Gentile figure. This is similar to one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3).

We will be told more about this beast, here in chapter 13 and also in chapter 17, including details about its 10 horns and seven heads. Before proceeding, though, I think this is an appropriate place to note the twofold nature of the beast. The following quote is a helpful one, from Kenneth Gentry in his book “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998, p. 310):

…John allows some shifting in his imagery of the Beast: the seven-headed Beast is here conceived generically as the Roman Empire, there specifically as one particular emperor. It is impossible to lock down the Beast imagery to either one referent or the other. At some places the Beast has seven-heads that are seven kings collectively considered (Rev. 13:1; Rev. 17:3, 9-10). Thus, he is generically portrayed as a kingdom with seven kings that arise in chronological succession (cf. Rev. 17:10-11). But then again in the very same contexts the Beast is spoken of as an individual (Rev. 13:18), as but one head among the seven (Rev. 17:11). This feature, as frustrating as it may be, is recognized by many commentators [emphasis added].

So the beast in Revelation is sometimes spoken of as an individual (specific sense) and sometimes as a kingdom (generic sense). It’s not surprising that the beast is interchangeably an individual and a kingdom, if ancient Rome is in view here. As Gentry also notes, the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-18AD) once wrote regarding the emperor Augustus, “The state is Caesar.”

We will now look ahead briefly to the passage referred to in Revelation 17:9-10, where John speaks of this same beast and explains what the seven heads are. The following information is taken from a term paper I wrote earlier this year, entitled, “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD,” and can be found here:

More compelling evidence for an early date is found in John’s reference to seven kings in Revelation 17:9-10, which states, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” This description of the seven kings lines up well with historical data showing the emperors who reigned in the Roman Empire up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, which is as follows:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, and rather designate him as one who played a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), however, was one who did, and the above list reflects his own list in his writing titled Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18 and 19). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree. Among these were Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC, so his inclusion in such a list would not have been strange.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, making him a good candidate to be the one who “must remain only a little while.”

The chart above indicates that there were more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

We know that the imperial persecution initiated by Nero ceased with his death in 68 AD. Gentry makes the point that if it can be accepted that Revelation was written prior to that time, then “the enumeration of the ‘kings’ covers all of imperial history up until John’s time and the events ‘shortly’ to follow [a reference to the word ‘shortly’ in Rev. 1:1]… For then it would be the case that in John’s day only six emperors had ascended the imperial throne.”

Regarding the reference to seven mountains, there should be no doubt that this is speaking of Rome, and even Futurist scholars generally concede this point (although they may anticipate a revival of the Roman Empire). Gentry also notes that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

Revelation 13:1 also depicts the beast as having 10 horns, which John says in Rev. 17:12-13 are “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated. Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 empirical (senatorial) provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints, which Scripture refers to as “war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Acts 9:5 where Paul, as an unbeliever, also made “war on the Lamb”).

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

empire2a

Photo credit: http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/corinthians/empire.stm (Original source: David Camden)

David Sielaff of Associates for Scriptural Knowledge answers the Futurist supposition that the beast will be a revived Roman empire, somehow corresponding with the European Union. He shows how this is impossible, since the borders of the EU are very much unlike the boundaries of the old Roman empire:

It is important to consider how the Roman Empire was constituted. It was a vast empire that spread from Britain in the north to south of Egypt, from Spain and North Africa in the west to the borders of Parthia (Iran today) in the east. In the 1st century, when the New Testament was written, the border of the Roman Empire in Europe stopped at the Rhine and Danube Rivers. It never included any significant portion of Germany or Eastern Europe. The center of the Roman Empire was never Gaul (France today). The heart of the Roman Empire in the 1st century were the great cities of Rome itself, Alexandria in Egypt, and the great Greek cities, with the great cities of Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem that were inland from the Mediterranean coast.

Source: David Sielaff, The Ten Nations and the Roman Empire, http://www.askelm.com/news/n040724.htm, 2004.

Verse 2: The beast is now described in such a way that it incorporates the traits of all four beasts that Daniel saw in a vision in his day (Daniel 7:1-8): that of a leopard, a bear, a lion, and having ten horns. Bible scholars seem to be in general, if not full, agreement that the beasts in Daniel’s vision represented the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Steve Gregg remarks (in his book, Revelation: Four Views [A Parallel Commentary], pp. 280, 282), “It is interesting that, when Paul was discussing his release from imprisonment under Nero, he remarked, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17).

Q: Whose power, throne, and authority were given to this first beast?
A: The beast’s power, throne, and authority came from “the dragon,” whom we know to be Satan from Revelation 12:9.

Certain preterists, according to Steve Gregg, believe that “the concern of the Apocalypse has now shifted from the doom of Jerusalem to the judgment of Rome. Others, such as Milton Terry, think Rome is only brought into the picture as a chief agent of the judgment that came upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” I agree with Milton Terry, who adds that “we have before us the Roman empire as a persecuting power…conceived as the organ of the old serpent, the Devil, to persecute the scattered saints of God” (p. 280).

Verses 3-4: John now observes that one of the beast’s seven heads had what appeared to be a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, causing the whole earth [or “land,” a common reference to Israel, as we have seen in previous posts] to worship the beast. This will be brought up again when we come to verse 12, but two theories regarding this mortally wounded head are that it refers to the survival of the Roman Empire after the stunning deaths of [1] Julius Caesar or [2] Nero. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, Steve Gregg comments (p. 282):

Even if Nero is the head mortally wounded, it is not he who personally survives the wound, but the beast that survives the wounding of one of its heads. At the death of Nero, the Roman Empire was thrown into violent convulsions of civil war and anarchy, in which three emperors succeeded one another within a single year. Historians consider it astonishing that the empire stabilized and survived this period that might easily have spelled the end of the imperial rule. Thus the recovery of the empire under Vespasian was a marvel to all—the beast of the empire had survived the mortal wounding of one of its heads (Nero).

[Surprisingly, several Futurist writers agree with this interpretation, including John Walvoord, Robert H. Mounce, G.B. Caird, and James Moffat, who (despite being a late-date scholar) even attributes this passage to the “terrible convulsions which in 69 A.D. shook the (Roman) empire to its foundation” (Gentry, p. 315). Walvoord believes the “wounding of one of the heads” to be “a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire as such seemingly died and is now (in the future) going to be revived” (Gregg, p. 285).

It’s only fair to point out that some partial-preterists view the healed mortal wound as a reference to the survival of the Roman empire, not after the death of Nero (in 68 AD) but after the death of Julius Caesar (44 BC). Arthur M. Ogden, for example, in his book “The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation” (Ogden Publications: Pinson, AL, 1985), tied this prophecy to events during the nearly 30 year “transfer of power from the (Roman) republic to the empire (61 BC—31 BC).” He writes:

“(Julius Caesar) wore the purple robe of royalty, but the old prejudice against kings denied him the title and crown. Yet he was made dictator for ten years, and then became censor and high priest for life… All responsible authority centered in himself as monarch of the Roman Empire… From the chief executive power in the State, the Senate was degraded to the place of an advisatory council” (Joy, James Richard, Rome and the Making of Modern Europe, [New York; Flood and Vincent, 1893], page 100)…

The smoldering fires of anger among the degraded senators erupted into full flame when, on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 members of the Senate attacked him on the Senate floor. With daggers in hand they inflicted 23 wounds which insured his death. With cries of “Liberty is restored” they celebrated what they thought was the end of Imperialism, but “his deadly wound was healed” (cf. Rev. 13:3) and the empire survived.]

Is it a surprise that the Jews** (“the whole earth”; verse 3) would worship the beast? Do we see any indication in the gospels of their willingness to do so? Steve Gregg (p. 286) reminds us of an instance where the Jews not only refused to give allegiance to Christ, but they clearly expressed their allegiance to Caesar instead:

Given the opportunity to own Christ as their king before Pilate, the Jews proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). Alfred Edersheim writes: “With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide.”

As a side note, in this example from John’s gospel, we see that the rulers of Rome were not only called “emperors,” but also “kings.” This brings further light to the text of Revelation 17:10, where the seven “kings” can easily be understood as Roman emperors. Here in Revelation 13:4, we see not only the Jews’ adoration of Rome’s incomparable power and stamina (“Who is like the beast…?”), but also their sense of being powerless to oppose Rome in any way (“…and who can fight against it?”).

**[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 5-7: The beast, who John told us has a mouth like a lion, begins to speak “haughty and blasphemous words.”

Q: What type of blasphemies did the beast speak?
A: He spoke blasphemies against God’s name, God’s “dwelling,” and against those who dwell in heaven.

Q: What was the extent of the authority granted to the beast?
A: He was allowed to make war on the saints and conquer them, but only for 42 months. He had authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” This can be seen to refer to the known world at the time, or to the Roman Empire (See Luke 2:1 to observe how “all the world” clearly referred to the Roman Empire).

The following information is taken from my term paper on 70 AD, with this specific portion coming from here:

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, 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.[1]

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.

Verse 7: God allows the beast “to make war on the saints and conquer them.” We saw in chapter 12 how the dragon (Satan) became enraged with “the woman” and “went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (Rev. 12:17). This is clearly a reference to persecution of the Church, for “her offspring” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” At this point, the Jewish believers have escaped from Jerusalem (Rev. 12:13-16; also the post on Revelation 7), but the believers in general throughout the Roman Empire are targeted for persecution and many are martyred. (Note the language in 12:17, which says “And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea.”) John records that authority is given to the beast, not just over Israel, but “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” Steve Gregg (p. 288) quotes from David S. Clark, who writes regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution,

Rome becomes the Devil’s agent. History tells us of the persecutions of Rome; how Paul was beheaded, and Peter crucified head downwards; how the Christians were thrown to the lions, exposed to the cold, drowned in rivers, thrown into cauldrons of boiling oil, daubed with pitch and burned for torchlights; how every conceivable torture was inflicted on them; how all the might and power of the Roman empire were exerted to extirpate them, till the church at length conquered its persecutor.

Regarding the 42 month limit for the beast’s intense persecution of the Church, Jay Adams tells us why it was important for John’s first-century readers to know this detail:

Since many were about to face a period of great persecution, they are encouraged to endure by the comforting revelation that though it will be severe, it will be short. The time of the dragon’s authority to overcome the saints is only 42 months (Steve Gregg, p. 288).

Here I would like to quote again from what I wrote in my term paper a few months ago. This is takenfrom the following post:

Numerous church fathers and leaders during the first several centuries identified Nero as the beast of the book of Revelation, or speculated that it was he. These include Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD], Tertullian [160-220 AD], Augustine [354-430 AD], and Jerome [347-420 AD] who stated the following in his commentary on Daniel 11:27-30:

As for the Antichrist, there is no question but what he is going to fight against the holy covenant, and that when he first makes war against the king of Egypt, he shall straightway be frightened off by the assistance of the Romans. But these events were typically prefigured under Antiochus Epiphanes, so that this abominable king who persecuted God’s people foreshadows the Antichrist, who is to persecute the people of Christ. And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.

C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr. (1995) point to historical details from the reign of Nero to show how he fit the Biblical description of the beast introduced in Revelation 13 (pp. 41-42, emphasis added):

The blasphemous worship demanded by the beast distinctly reminds one of the imperial cult of the first century, and the war the beast wages on the saints cannot help but recall the intense persecutions Nero, and later Domitian, inflicted on Christians because they did not worship Caesar.  Nero’s persecution of Christians from November AD 64 [when he blamed the Christians for the massive fire he started] to June AD 68 could account, in part, for the forty-two months (or 3 ½ years) of oppression mentioned in Rev. 13:5. The reference in Revelation 13:11-15 to the beast of the land securing worship for the beast from the sea (Rome was across the sea from the place of the writing of the Apocalypse, Asia Minor) reminds one of the local priests of the imperial cult in Asia Minor whose task was to compel the people to offer a sacrifice to Caesar and proclaim him Lord.  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].

Verses 8-10: All of national Israel (note the phrase “all who dwell on earth”), worshipped the beast, except for those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

Verse 10 is stated quite differently in the [1] ESV (English Standard Version) than it is in the [2] New King James Version: [1] “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” [2] “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”

Without attempting to do a Greek study to see which translation is more accurate, suffice it to say that this appears to be a clear prophecy regarding how the beast (in the singular sense) would be slain. Verse 14, in fact, speaks of “the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218) and others believe this prophecy pointed to Nero’s impending death. This was to be taken as a comforting fact, helping the believers in Nero’s day to endure through intense persecution in light of this prophecy. Nero martyred thousands (including Paul) by the sword, and Kenneth Gentry reminds us that “Tertullian [145-220 AD] credits ‘Nero’s cruel sword’ as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218).  It’s a historical fact that Nero also met his own suicidal demise at the hand of a sword. He did indeed live and die by the sword. It was this event in June 68 AD which brought an end to this most intense period of persecution against the Church.

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In the next post (part 2 of 5), we will be introduced to the beast’s main advocate, a second beast.

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


[1] 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.