Quoting Dustin Smith <kggospel@...
> I'm still curious how the saints in the 90s would respond to the
> Nero reference in 15:2.
Dustin, sorry to take so long with this response. You got me thinking
and I had to re-examine some things, plus life issues intervened.
I think the reference to the beast in 15:2 is not specifically Nero or
even Rome. My reasons have to do primarily with more of the sequences,
progressions, and relationships that I like to examine, this time
about the various beasts (beast from the sea, beast from the land, and
"the" beast). 15:2 is right in the middle of these progressions, so
they may cast some light on the beast at that point in the narrative.
Here are some of my observations and thoughts about the various
beasts, their relationships with each other, their similarities and
commonalities as well as the things that distinguish them from each
other, and also about the sequence and progression of how Revelation
gradually reveals all this information to us, how John of Patmos
gradually elucidates the nature of the beast and concurrently updates
and expands on Daniel 7 from different viewpoints in time and from
successively longer historical perspectives. (There's a lot of my own
explanation of what the sequences and relationships mean--you may have
to ignore any of that that doesn't fit for you.)
The beast from the sea (13:1-10):
The lion, leopard, bear, 10 horns, and 42 months are obvious
references to Daniel 7. However, John makes a significant change from
Daniel. This *single* beast from the sea is like *all* of Daniel's
separate beasts, lion, leopard, and bear. John combines all of
Daniel's separate beasts representing separate oppressive empires into
a single beast, a composite of all those oppressive empires that
dominated Israel, Judea, and (if you see Daniel's fourth beast as
Rome) early Christianity. This is John's first step in taking a longer
historical perspective than Daniel: John is shifting from emphasis on
specific evil empires of the moment to a more general perspective on
the whole human institution of evil empires and oppressive nations and
governments, but that won't be completely clear until later when he
talks about "the" beast.
The seven heads on this beast are somewhat similar to the four heads
of Daniel's third beast, but Revelation changes and expands on the
idea. The seven heads is an expansion on Daniel because later,
beginning in 17:10, John tells us that one meaning of the seven heads
is seven kings/kingdoms, each head being a different kingdom/empire.
Daniel talked about only four kings; now Revelation is talking about
seven. What are the extra ones in Revelation? John won't tell us until
the later part at 17:10.
However, knowing that the seven heads of the beast from the sea are
Daniel's four plus some more, we can easily solve the apparent
oxymoron of the fatal wound that heals. "I saw one of his heads as if
it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed" (13:3).
Notice that the fatal wound is to one of the heads, not to the beast
itself. The Babylonian/Chaldean empire was conquered, is dead and
gone; the Chaldean head of the beast suffered a mortal wound, but the
beast itself survived, to live on as the succession of other evil
empires. For later reference, we can note now that the very same logic
solves the other apparent oxymoron about the beast in 17:8, "the beast
that was, and is not, and yet is." The Chaldean empire/head existed in
the past but in John's time, exists no more; it "was and is not." Yet
the larger beast itself lives on, as Rome in John's time; it "is." The
two apparent oxymorons, one about the sea beast and one about "the"
beast, both turn out to be riddles posing as oxymorons, and both have
the same solution. They show that the sea beast and "the" beast are,
at least in some sense, the same; in chapter 17, John will clarify
One key point about this beast from the sea is that, since it includes
all Daniel's beasts, it is not specifically about Rome. Nothing in the
narrative about this beast points specifically to Rome; it is all
about the composite of evil empires. On the other hand, the beast from
the land is the one that is specifically about Rome. The land beast is
also a significant transitional figure.
The beast from the land (13:11-18):
The land beast is Rome for all the reasons that people typically think
so--616/666; fire alluding to the great fire in Rome; needing the
mark, name, or number of the beast to buy or sell (the emperor's name
and image on money). Notice also that this beast is the only one of
the three that doesn't have seven heads--that's because Rome is one of
the heads of the other beasts and so it obviously doesn't have the
heads that correspond to the various other empires. Identifying the
land beast as Rome also makes clear the meaning of the odd statement
in 13:12, "he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his
presence." Of course, he does; during the time when Rome is the
current manifestation of the greater beast of evil, oppressive
empires, Rome exercises all the authority that oppressive empires have.
However, two things to notice about this beast: First, many of the
things that it does are not unique to Rome but actually apply equally
or nearly as well to the other empires of the greater beasts. For
example, they had been doing signs and wonders in royal courts since
pharaoh's court magicians. Nebuchadnezzar required people to worship
the image that he constructed. Even still today, most of the world's
money has images of ruling or former monarchs or presidents.
Second, nearly everything that the land beast does is described as in
relation to either "the first beast" (the sea beast) or "the beast."
In 13:11-18, only verses 11 and 13 don't describe the land beast as
being or acting in relation to one of the other beasts. There is also
a transition in there as John switches from talking about the land
beast in relation to "the first beast" to talking about him in
relation to "the beast." The first reference here to "the beast" in
verse 14 seems to be clearly about the sea beast, but as John
continues using "the beast" instead of "the first beast," it becomes
unclear whether he still means the first one or whether he has already
made the transition to "the beast" which he will talk about more
clearly later in chapter 17.
Dustin, since 15:2 is after this discussion of the sea and land beasts
and before chapter 17 where John more clearly elucidates "the" beast,
this uncertain situation with the meaning of "the beast" is what we
have in looking at 15:2. It does seem clear (well, to me anyway) that
"the beast" of 15:2 is not solely the land beast (Rome); however, for
your purpose, from the point of view of early Christians, it might as
well be the land beast because that is the one that is the current
manifestation of the greater beasts and is the one that they have to
deal with in their time. Yeah, I know. That doesn't help your question
much, but maybe it provides some additional context for you to ponder.
It also shows that Revelation is addressing a broader audience than
only the early Christians under persecution since victory over the
beast is a more general concept than victory over Rome.
In a sense the land beast is a connecting figure which connects the
past-oriented beast from the sea (primarily Daniel's historical
beasts) and the future-oriented "the" beast. (Shortly, I'll show how
"the" beast is largely about the future, from John's point of view in
time.) After 13:18, neither the sea beast nor the land beast are
mentioned again. Also any of the things specific to the sea beast and
Daniel's now-old prophecy (lion, leopard, bear, 42 months) are not
mentioned again; that's because to the future viewpoint that John will
take later, all those things about Daniel's four kingdoms are ancient
history. While the things specific to Daniel are ancient history,
John's new innovations (the image, mark, and number of the beast) and
John's extended meanings (7 heads and 10 horns) about the beast will
continue to have relevance.
One final point, really a question, about the land beast and the
number of the beast, 616/666. In 13:18, John tells us about two
numbers, the number of the beast and the number of a man, and the two
numbers are the same. Most attention goes to "the number of a man"
aspect, but could John be suggesting here that there is another
calculation (maybe by gematria, maybe something else) involving the
more general identity of the beast that comes out to 616/666? If so,
it would be more important than the number of Nero, since the beast is
of greater importance than a single historical man.
I don't have any good candidates for such an identity or calculation,
but I suspect that finding one might shed light on a question that
troubles me about the whole beast issue: Was John of Patmos an
anarchist? After all, 13:7 says that the beast has authority over
*every* tribe, tongue, and nation--does he mean that all nations and
all governments are necessarily evil? Or perhaps he just perceived the
truth of Lord Acton's "power corrupts"? Or something else.
"The" beast (chapter 17):
The final elucidation of the beast occurs in chapter 17, intertwined
with the discussion about Babylon. There are two major aspects of this
discussion of the beast: 1. John combines his own separate beasts (sea
beast, land beast, and even partially the dragon) into a composite,
"the" beast, just as he earlier combined all Daniel's separate beasts
into one composite, the sea beast. 2. John updates and expands on
Daniel again (as well as on his own earlier expansion of Daniel) and
projects into the future (and incidentally gives us a big surprise).
First, here is how John shows us that "the" beast includes each of the
other beasts in one composite beast.
Land beast: In 17:9, he tells us that the beast's seven heads are
seven mountains, referring to Rome, the land beast, because Rome is
the city built on seven hills.
Dragon: The dragon of chapter 12, the sea beast, and "the" beast all
have seven heads and ten horns. The dragon is the only one of the
earlier beasts that is red, and the beast that the woman Babylon sits
on is scarlet, so it seems to be the dragon. However, the dragon is a
bit different from the others because, while the sea beast and land
beast are never mentioned again after chapter 13, the dragon continues
to have a separate existence and does appear again later. It is only
partially absorbed into "the" beast.
Sea beast: 17:10 starts a long discussion of the seven heads as seven
kings/kingdoms, which could mean the sea beast and/or the dragon. One
additional detail shows that the sea beast meaning is definitely
included. That detail is the apparent oxymorons (fatal wound that
heals, was and is not and yet is), one about the sea beast and one
about "the" beast which both have the same solution. The two beasts
with the two oxymorons that are actually the same are really the same
So it seems clear to me that "the" beast is a composite of all John's
earlier beasts, except that the dragon is only partially absorbed into
the composite beast.
Second main point about "the" beast of chapter 17, that John updates
and expands on his own earlier update and expansion on Daniel and
projects into the future: The long discussion of the seven heads and
ten horns in 17:10-18 shows us that John is now speaking of a future
time, after the Roman Empire will have fallen, as all empires do
eventually. Here's how he shows that.
To this point in the story, we have seen either four or five evil,
oppressive empires, depending on how you view Daniel--Daniel's four
(sea beast) plus Rome (land beast) is five, or else Daniel's four
including Rome is four. In 17:10 John says that "five have fallen," so
he is talking about a future time and the future perspective from that
time after Rome and possibly even another succeeding evil empire have
fallen. Then he gives us the bad news: "one is." Oh, no! Even after
Rome, there's going to be another evil, oppressive empire. And more
bad news: "the other has not yet come." After Rome falls, there will
be another evil empire in a now-growing list, and after that one,
another and maybe yet another. Then in 17:11, there is yet another
evil empire, an eighth. But wait! There's more! Then there are ten
more. John of Patmos knew in the first or early second century that
the world wasn't going to end soon and that the long historical march
of evil empire after oppressive nation was not going to end any time
soon. That seems obvious enough to us now from our historical
perspective, but it would probably have been an unsettling idea to any
early Christians who saw this meaning in Revelation.
One final point about the beast: While chapter 17 gives us John's
final elucidation of the beast, the beast isn't even the main subject
of chapter 17. Babylon is. Then as the Revelation story proceeds in
chapter 18, Babylon is the only subject and the beast isn't even
mentioned there any more. John makes another transition, moving his
attention from the beast to Babylon. Since Babylon sits on the beast
(seeming to dominate and control him as a rider controls a horse) and
Babylon reigns over the kings of the earth (i.e., reigns over the
beast!), perhaps we should put more of our attention on overcoming
Babylon than on overcoming the beast because if we overcome Babylon,
we overcome the beast.
And one final general point about Revelation: I think that all these
intertwined progressions in meaning and gradual elucidations of issues
show that Revelation is more organized, sensible, rational, and much
more sophisticated as a literary work than people give it credit for.