Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 28 - The Beast of the Abyss and the Beast of the Earth (ch. 13)

The Book of Revelation was to make known “things which must shortly come to pass.” To the First Century Christian much in the vision of chapter 12 would appear to come under that description: the casting down of the third part of the stars of heaven and the flight of the woman into the wilderness had their fulfilment in the overthrow of Judaea by Titus and the scattering of Jewry through all parts of the Roman Empire. To the First Century observer what would not be so evident would be the interpolation of a big time gap before the “war in heaven” and the victory of God’s kingdom.

Similarly, there are features in the vision of chapter 13, which to the First Century searcher of this Scripture would seem to have special relevance to his own day. Here was a mighty and ferocious Beast, easily identifiable with the pagan power of Imperial Rome. To this Beast there was given power unlimited. Especially there was power to command the worship of the masses. Its very strength and invincibility made it an object of worship. This Beast turned against the saints of God and, blaspheming the God they worshipped, brought all possible forms of persecution against them, no matter what country they were found in.


To saints of John’s day all this would have a most grim appropriateness. The Roman Caesars had supreme power throughout the Empire. It is frightening to think of the extreme despotism, which was then concentrated in the hands of one man in Rome. Since the time of Augustus the Caesars had been deified. Every city had its temple dedicated to the worship of the Emperor. And even as John was writing, the contemporary Caesar - Nero - was inflicting the first really fierce widespread persecution, which Christians had to face. The entire machinery of the Roman state was being geared up to a systematic persecution of Christians, in Rome especially, but also in the provinces, as 1 Peter 3:14 18; 4:12-19; 5:8-10; Revelation 1:9; 2:10, 13 bear witness. Consequently it would be almost impossible for John’s brethren to read this Scripture without some conviction that it related to their own present dire experiences.

One detail in particular suggests that this vision was so understood in the early church. The number of the Beast is given as 666. Out of many possible solutions to this enigma, a very plausible one is N E R O N K A I S A R. But a number of the old manuscripts preserve a different reading: 616, a number which would be yielded if the alternative form of the name were used: N E R O K A I S A R. The point is significant.

The vile use Nero made of his power need not be detailed here. Some Christians he crucified (e.g. Peter); others he killed with the sword (e.g. Paul); others provided a sanguinary spectacle in the arena for the entertainment of the sated Roman crowd; some even became human torches to light up Nero’s garden parties.


The second Beast of chapter 13, having two horns like a lamb and directing and organizing the elaborate worship of the first Beast, would readily fit the role played by the priesthood of the Emperor worship. By these men every resource of trickery, deceit, and “magic” was employed to the full to hoodwink the superstitious masses and maintain the popularity and dominance of the Imperial religion. And against those who failed to conform to this state worship it was possible to marshal a wide variety of political and economic sanctions so that life became uncomfortable and almost impossible. In the later reign of Hadrian this acceptance of worship of the Emperor became the standard test applied to every Christian under scrutiny. He need only offer a pinch of incense at the Imperial altar and in a few formal words execrate Christ, and he was discharged from court without a stain on his character.

Thus from many aspects this vision of the two Beasts would come with special force to the persecuted saints of the A.D. 60’s. This view harmonizes also with the exposition suggested earlier of Seals and Trumpets where also, besides the climactic fulfilment in the Last Days, there is a First Century fulfilment to be considered. But to stop here with chapter 13 is obviously inadequate. There are sufficient indications in this vision also to require a more complete reference to the Last Days.


The sequence of the prophecy from the end of chapter 12 requires this. The second half of Revelation 12 unquestionably belongs to the time of the establishment of the Kingdom, and the link-up between Dragon and Beast of the Abyss (13:2) requires continuity.

At the same time, it is a mistake frequently made to assume that because chapter 13 comes after chapter 12, the first of these must have a completed fulfilment before the next can ensue. The student of Revelation needs to be constantly warning himself against the expectation of chronological sequence in these prophecies. There is, in fact, a clear intimation that the Beast of the sea prophecy must refer to a time preceding chapter 12:9, when the dragon is cast out: “The dragon gave him (the Beast) his power, and his throne, and great authority” (13:2). After the war in heaven the dragon had none of these.

Another point of importance: this Beast is undoubtedly to be identified with the power of the Little Horn of Daniel’s Fourth Beast (Daniel 7:20-25).

The general description, the blasphemy against the most High, the persecution of the saints, and the precise duration of this wielding of ferocious power are details common to both prophecies. If this may not be taken to indicate identity there is an end to all interpreting of Scripture by Scripture. Daniel 7:21, 22, 26 makes clear that the power of the Little Horn is to be exercised with rigour in the Last Days immediately before the manifestation of Messiah and the setting up of the Kingdom. Then must not a similar conclusion be reached regarding Revelation 13? These are events, which happen at or immediately before the coming of Christ.

Comparison with the Beast of Revelation 17 yields a similar, and if possible, more decisive conclusion. They both come out of the abyss, both have seven heads and ten horns, and are full of names of blasphemy, both are associated with persecution of saints; and the Beast of Revelation 17, like that of Daniel 7, meets with destruction at the hands of the Messiah himself. The additional details of Revelation 17 positively demand reference to the Last Days. So it seems altogether logical to give chapter 13 a similar reference.

It is necessary, then, to seek out identification of this Beast out of the abyss with some great persecuting power which will withstand Christ in the Last Days. This is no easy matter; nor is it one where conclusions may be stated with confidence. It is needful to identify also the ten kings, corresponding to the ten crowned horns, who give their power and strength to the Beast.


In “The Last Days,” Chapter 4, and in “The Time of the End,” Chapter 12, reasons have been advanced for regarding application to the Roman Church in the Twentieth Century as inadequate. All present indications are that the political power of the Church of Rome is as good as finished. Fantasies about a political union between Rome and Communism are ventilated from time to time, but these lack even a vestige of Biblical support, and politically they certainly do not belong to the world of reality. Even if such a monstrosity were to be begotten, the time required for its gestation would be far longer than the contemporary political scene in the Middle East allows of. Something of that sort could only come about given a more considerable span of years than seems at all possible.

The identification of the Beast with the great power of Russia has much more to commend it. Of all the powers now in existence in the political world, none is closer in character to the Roman Empire of John’s day than Russian Communism, “full of names of blasphemy.”

The ten kings allied to this Beast are traditionally subdivisions of political Europe. This is the main line of orthodox Protestant exposition of Daniel 2, 7; Revelation 13,17. It has exercised too strong an influence. Is it likely that men wildly astray on many a basic fundamental of the gospel have been endowed by God with extraordinary power of elucidation of these more abstruse mysteries of prophecy?


A better hint comes from Revelation 11, where the Beast of the Abyss is associated with others who “dwell in the Land” and who rejoice inordinately over the death of the Two Witnesses. This suggests identification of the ten kings with the ten Arab states, all now in close alliance with Russia, who may be counted on to accept yet closer alliance with that power in any campaign against the people of God in the land of Israel.

If, as has been suggested elsewhere (“The Time of the End,” Chapters 3, 4, 7, 8) the overthrow of the state of Israel comes about through Arab invasion strongly supported by Russian resources, there is here the kind of political combination which would explain both Revelation 13 and 17. Even so there are some details where the interpretation is none too certain.

The deadly wound of the Beast healed to the wonderment of all the world, might well be the complete run-down of Russia in the Second World War, and its fantastic recovery within a few short years to become the dominant influence in world politics. “Who is like unto the Beast? Who is able to make war with him?”


The “forty and two months” of oppression, making war with “the saints” corresponds with the “three days and an half” of the death of the witnesses (11:9, 11) - a period of three and a half years during which (“The Last Days,” Chapters 5, 6, 7) the state of Israel is under the heel of its enemies. The description “saints” is doubly appropriate since it describes Israel as God’s “holy people” (as in Daniel 8:24), and also especially those in Israel who are brought to repentance (“The Time of the End,” Chapter 2) through their traumatic experiences and the appeal of God’s Elijah-prophet manifest among them (Malachi 4:5, 6). Hence also the description: “blasphemy against God, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven,” i.e. Jews who are once again in the covenant of God’s Promises and no longer cast off.

“Power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” is obviously not to be taken with complete literalness. The words probably indicate all the nations (Arab mainly) round about Israel,[55] though there may also be intimation that the campaign against Israel is only part of a much more extensive struggle among the world powers, with big success attending the Russian chess-playing.


There follows (13: 10) a passage which is puzzling both in its phraseology and in the manuscript reading behind it. The ancient texts offer a bewildering variety of readings here, but happily doubts are resolved by the Old Testament original in Jeremiah 15:2: “Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.” It is a prophecy of Israel’s tribulation. And the next verse proceeds: “I will appoint over them ... the beast of the earth to devour,” thus strengthening the connection with Revelation 13.

Thus the words of 13: 10 imply the finality of Israel’s opportunity of repentance. Another Old Testament prophecy chimes in here with the same meaning. In Hosea 13:13 there is reference to Israel, reproved and afflicted by their God as a travailing woman in the wilderness (Revelation 12:2, 6): “Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe (i.e. stalk) them; I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them” (v. 7, 8). Here is the composite Beast of the Abyss (13:2) brought in judgement against the people of Israel. Yet in the end (v. 14), “I will ransom them from the power of the grave (the resurrection of the witnesses?), I will redeem them from death: O death, I will by thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” These words Paul applies to the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:54).


The interpretation of the two-horned Beast out of the earth, and the details which describe it, involve a fair element of uncertainty, chiefly because of a marked lack of Old Testament connections in this half of Revelation 13. Two different possibilities present themselves. Both will be submitted here for the reader’s judgement.

The primary application of this prophecy to Nero Caesar and the imperial religion of Emperor-worship suggests a counterpart in the Last Days. The state religion associated with Russia is Communism. Scores of modern writers have commented on the religious character of the Marxist Creed. At least one has catalogued resemblances between Communism and Catholicism. Each has its Pope and bench of cardinals. Each has its sacred books (the writings of Marx and Engels) and priesthood (the praesidium and party members). Each wields an iron discipline and an economic control over the brain-washed masses. With each there is the worship of pictures and symbols. Each exercises a far-reaching influence in the internal affairs of other countries.

The lamb-like cry of Communism has been a constant bleat of “Peace, peace,” yet all along its policy has been one of inexorable aggression and stark militarism.

“No man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” The ability of Communist organizations to bring economic paralysis by strikes and subversion seems to match these words.

The great signs involving fire from heaven (the miracle that Jesus forbade: Luke 9:54, 55) might well be marvels of nuclear destruction or the bouncing of laser beams off satellites put into space specifically for such purposes Here one is left speculating. But probably before much time has elapsed disciples of this generation will be startled by the shouting correspondence between many dramatic happenings in the world, and the details written in Revelation - unless by that time civilization has already been reduced to such a state of chaos that news-comn1unication has completely broken down.

This lamb-like Beast is appropriately described elsewhere as the False Prophet (13: 14; 19:20). Fire from heaven was one of the signs of Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10, 12). Jesus issued special warning against false prophets working signs and wonders (Matthew 24:5, 11, 24). And it will be recalled that it was a false vision of a true prophet coming up out of the earth which deceived Saul in the end of his lamentable reign (1 Samuel 28:13).


The alternative interpretation to the one attempted just now is identification with the religion of Islam, which will certainly be fully re-instated in Jerusalem when the Arabs, with their Russian ally, overrun Israel. This is the religion of the False Prophet. And there is appropriateness about the description of this Beast coming up out of the earth - the Land - for Mohammedanism has had roots in Palestine for long centuries. The oppression of Jews both religiously and economically by this False Prophet would be axiomatic. But the rest of the details seem to imply an even closer identification of Islam with Russia than it is possible to envisage at present. However, the suggestion is perhaps worth bearing in mind.

There is another interpretation of the Beast of the sea, which would harmonize marvellously well with the Islam suggestion just made. This, which has been in the mind of the present writer for several years as a distinct possibility, is that the Beast represents the resurgence of the Palestinians to a position of dominance in Arab anti-Jewish politics. It will be recalled that the little horn of Daniel 7, the equivalent of this beast of Revelation 13, uproots three of the ten horns. It will be a test of the validity of this interpretation if the Palestinian movement takes over three Arab states - Jordan, Lebanon, Syria? From this point of view the deadly wound which is healed would signify the astonishing rise to world significance of the wretched, helpless refugees from the three wars between Jews and Arabs, or, even more likely, King Hussein’s ruthless repression of the Palestinians in 1971. At the time of writing it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions. One can only bear in mind the possibilities and keep a watchful eye on developing events.

One clear Old Testament linkage is, alas, indecisive in its help at identification of the Beast of the Earth: “And they (Israel) shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the Land (the earth) devour; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:28). “And I will make with them a covenant of peace and will cause evil beasts to cease out of the Land” (verse 25). If anything this passage points to the second of the two identifications suggested, but can hardly be recognized as decisive.


Nor does the number of the Beast offer any dependable means of reaching a conclusion. The gematria solutions for 666 are just about so numerous. Besides that already suggested, there is the familiar L A T E I N O S (using Greek letters), and R O M I I T H (using Hebrew). In the Second World War M E I N K A M P F was another popular solution, now as dead as the dodo. Even the name of the present writer (in Hebrew) can be made to yield 666.

Is it possible that this kind of approach is somewhat off course? The number of the Beast is “the number of M A N” - 666 makes a triple emphasis on falling short of perfection, whereas the gematria of J E S U S (in Greek) yields 888, which puts triple emphasis on the fact that he is risen from the dead on the eighth day, a new Beginning, the Firstborn of God’s New Creation.

One other suggestion on these lines is perhaps worth mentioning. 666 is written , which is (the stock abbreviation in the New Testament manuscripts for “Christ”) plus , the symbol of the serpent. In other words, here is Satan’s Messiah, the False Christ.

[55] Cp. the idiomatic usage of “all nations” in a restricted sense in 2 Chronicles 32:23; 1 Chronicles 14:17; 18:11; Psalm 118:10; Isaiah 29:7, 8, 17:12-14; 14:26; 34:2, 6; Jeremiah 27:7; Joel 3:2.
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