William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Revelation 13:1 - 13:18

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William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Revelation 13:1 - 13:18

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Revelation Chapter 13

The next chapter unfolds the plans that Satan adopts to accomplish his long-cherished design of supplanting (not only gospel and church as now, but) all testimony on earth to the coming kingdom of God. It is the apostasy: Old and New Testaments are alike denied. Of two especial methods he will avail himself, suited to catch a twofold class of men never wanting in this world. Many natural men like power, others like religion. It is clear that man's heart runs either after intellect and power, or, if conscience be active, into religious form to quiet it. The devil will therefore put forward two main instruments as leaders of systems that express human nature on either side, exactly suiting what man's heart seeks and will have.

Satan has designed from the beginning to set up himself in man as God. For he too will work by man, as God Himself is pleased to develop all His wondrous ways and counsels in man. As the Lord Jesus is not only a divine person, but the expression of the divine glory no less than of His grace in man; and as the church is the object of Christ's love in heavenly blessedness, and Israel for the earth; so the enemy (who cannot originate but only corrupt the truth, and lie by a sort of profane imitation of the counsels of God) will have his Beasts no less certainly than God has His Lamb. In Revelation 13 this is made plain. There are to be two Beasts or imperial powers; the first distinctively political, the second religious, both of them apostate and allies.

"And I* stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like a leopardess, and his feet as of a bear, and his mouth as a lion's mouth. And the dragon gave to him his power and his throne and great authority. And one of his heads [I saw] as slain unto death, and his death-stroke was healed, and the whole earth wondered after the beast. And they did homage to the dragon because he gave the authority to the beast, and they did homage to the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? and who can make war with him? And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and authority was given him to act forty-two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, [and] those that tabernacle in the heaven. And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority was given to him over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall do homage to him, whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain. If any one hath an ear, let him hear. If any is for [or, leadeth into] captivity, into captivity he goeth. If any one shall kill by sword, by sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."

* The true reading is uncertain, as it turns on a letter easily added or dropped. The three best uncials, two cursives, and most of the ancient versions support the third person; BP, the mass of cursives, the Memph., etc., the first person. Here Tisch. even in his last edition yields to the weight of the internal grounds in deciding for the latter.

The Beast that was beheld emerging from the then revolutionary state of the world is just adapted for the dragon to energise in opposition to God's purpose and will. In Rev. 12 the dragon was seen similarly characterised as the beast. Both have the forms of power peculiar to the Roman empire. But there is a difference also: "And upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy." The dragon has the diadems on his heads; the Beast shows us more the final fact - the horns diademed. The dragon represents the enemy of Christ in his political employment of the Roman empire generally. It is the principle; and the heads or successive forms of power are crowned. The horns as a fact are only developed a little before its history closes in perdition. On the other hand, in the first Beast we see, not merely the hidden spirit of evil making use of the power of Rome in its various changes, but the empire in its final state when the deadly wound done to the imperial head is to be healed, and Satan shall have given to it thus revived his power, his throne, and great authority. Now this is the very time when the ten horns receive authority as kings; they are to reign simultaneously and continuously with the Beast, as Rev. 17 informs us. Hence the horns of the Beast are seen diademed (not the heads, as in the dragon's case originally).

Further the Beast is described afterwards, though with remarkable points of difference if we examine the Beasts, as at first made known to Daniel (7). "And the beast which I saw was like a leopard (or, panther), and its feet as of a bear, and its mouth as a lion's." Here we have, not the territories, but certain qualities that resemble all the three first-named Beasts of the prophet Daniel. Satan does not originate, but adopts whatever will suit of that which has been. Hence he endeavours by this most singular amalgamation to bring out in its final phase the Beast or fourth empire (for there is none to succeed), so as to show pretension to everything known of old, as well as evil without parallel.

What is meant by "the Beast"? The imperial system of Rome revived. All the empires refused to recognise God above. Man was made to own Him, and he alone does as taught of God. Man alone of all beings in the earth was made to look up to One above, and is responsible to do the will of God. A beast does not look up but down; it has no sense of an unseen superior, no conscience toward God. "The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God." In principle this is true of every unrenewed man; but here it is the more tremendous, because an empire ought to be the reflection of the authority that God in His providence conferred on it. No empire has avoided the moral sentence implied in the symbols: expediency has ever guided, not God; but this Beast will go beyond all that have gone before in lawless contempt of God and in blasphemies (vers. 5, 6).

When John wrote, the fourth Beast was in power; but the prophet was given to see that out of a state of political convulsion, just before the last three years and a half, and connected with Satan's expulsion from heaven by the power of God, a Beast rises up out of the sea answering to the old Roman empire. That is, there will be a state of total confusion in the west, and an imperial power will rise up. "And I saw one of its heads as wounded to death; and its deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." There are sufficient grounds for gathering that the wounded head was the imperial form of power. After having been long extinct, it reappears in the latter day. But there is a great deal more than simply the revival of imperialism, which draws out the astonishment of the world. They had thought it all over with the Roman empire. They could easily understand a new empire; a French, or a Teutonic kingdom, or any other of large space and population; but the revival of the Roman empire will take the world by surprise. The grounds of this assertion, however, depend on Rev. 17, which will appear in its place. Vers. 5, 6 define its character and duration.

It is not simply that the empire had the distinctive heads and horns of the Roman empire, with qualities by-and-by that belonged to the previous empires; it was marked by the revival of imperialism at the close under Satan's authority. For "they did homage to the dragon, because he gave the authority to the beast: and they did homage to the beast, saying, Who [is] like the beast, and who is able to war with him?" It is evident from the context that an apostate and idolatrous state appears in the world. The dragon and the Beast are alike set up against God. This first Beast represents the western empire. The religious chief will not be in the west but in Jerusalem, and becomes, as we learn elsewhere, a special object of worship in the temple of God there at the close, as 2 Thessalonians 2 indicates, as well as Dan_11:36-38. He is the second Beast of our chapter.

This is a difficulty to some, because it is distinctly said that the man of sin will not tolerate any other object of worship. But these wicked personages work together, and are allies. To worship the one is pretty much to worship the other; just as, in regard to the true God, there is no worship of one person in the Godhead without the same homage due to the others. It is in vain for any to pretend to honour the Father without the Son, and he that worships the Father and the Son can only pay it in the power of the Holy Ghost. When we worship God as such, when we say "God," not Father only is meant, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So precisely is this awful counterpart, the fruit of the energy of satanic craft and power at the close. The worshipping of the dragon and of the Beast seems, therefore, consistent with divine worship paid to the man of sin, the contrast to "Jesus Christ the Righteous." They are, as has often been said with justice, the great counter-trinity, the trinity of evil creatures as opposed to the Trinity of the Godhead. The devil is clearly the source of it all; but the public leader of his power politically is the first Beast; and the grand religious agent, who works out crafty plans and even miracles in its support, is the second Beast of this chapter, or the man of sin in the great prophetic Epistle.

This appears to be the true and mutual bearing of all, if we bow to these scriptures. Differences of thought exist here as in almost everything else. But in a world of doubt objection to it has no force. The only question is, What best satisfies the word of God? what most faithfully answers not merely to its letter but its grand principles? So far from any real obstacle in the fact of these three different objects being alike honoured in worship, the force and awful nature of the case cannot well be understood unless this is seen as the revealed truth.

At this time it is evident that there is a people in heaven removed from exposure to the power either of Satan or of the public instruments of his malice in the world. There are also saints here below fully exposed to his hatred. The tabernacle above may be blasphemed, and those that dwell there Satan may revile, but cannot even accuse them longer before God. He turns therefore to deadly persecution on the earth. "And it was given him to make war with the saints" (clearly these are not in heaven), "and to overcome them; and authority was given him over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation. And all that dwell upon the earth shall do him homage." There is an invariable distinction between the Gentiles at large in the world, and "those that dwell on the earth." The difference is that the former class is a broader term, embracing the world generally; whereas by the latter is meant the narrower sphere, whose character of earthliness is the more decided, because they had heard and hated the heavenly testimony of Christ and the church. Names and forms might be still held; but apostate hearts deliberately preferred earth to heaven, and would surely have their portion in neither, but in the lake of fire.

It is solemn to see that this is what Christendom hastens to become: infidelity and superstition are rapidly working toward it now. The stream flows forward to this earthly and godless issue. Never since the gospel was preached were men more thoroughly settling down in the endeavour to make earth their paradise. They consequently forget heaven day by day, only thinking of it as a necessity when they die, and cannot avoid leaving the world. But as for habitually turning to heaven, as a hope full of joy or glory, still less as in faith a present home for the affections, whenever was it less livingly kept in the minds and hearts of men? One lack accounts for it all: Christ is not all, but the heart is divided between the first man and the Second. Such unbelief prepares for the designation given to the people that did hear of heaven, but deliberately at last give up all its hopes to settle down on the earth. They dwell on the earth. The others are "every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation," who have heard comparatively little about the gospel. The Beast will endeavour to deal with both. Alas! "all that dwell upon the earth shall do homage to him, whose name is not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain."

Carefully bear in mind that "from the foundation of the world" belongs not to "slain," but to the writing of the name. The Lamb was not slain from the foundation of the world, though there was the eternal purpose; but the name was written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain. Compare Rev_17:8, where the omission of the slain Lamb makes the true connection plain and certain.

"If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that is for captivity, into Captivity he goeth." It is a statement to guard the saints from taking power into their own hands. They might cry to God, they might ask Him to arise and judge the earth; but they were not to resist evil. As the Beast would take power, so should he suffer the consequence. He might; lead into captivity, but into captivity he goes. He might kill with the sword, but so he must be killed himself: indeed his would be a far more awful doom. Patience, with this retributive sanction annexed, is put as a general principle, and stated in such a form as to apply to any one. It was surely and particularly meant to guard the saints from mistake only too natural. "Here is the patience and faith of the saints" This gives the application.

In the latter part of the chapter we have a second Beast. "And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and it had two lamb-like horns, and it spoke as a dragon. And it exerciseth all the authority of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and those that dwell in it to do homage to the first beast, whose death-wound was healed. And he worketh great signs, that he should cause even fire to come down out of the heaven unto the earth in the sight of men. And he deceiveth those that dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to work before the beast, saying to those that dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast that hath the stroke of the sword and lived. And it was given him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not do homage to the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bondmen, that they should have a mark given them on their right hand or upon their forehead, and that no one should be able to buy or sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is a man's number, and his number [is] six hundred [and] sixty-six."

This calls for more attention, because there is danger of some confusion and difficulty on this subject. Let it be observed that the second Beast more particularly resembles in wickedness what the Lord Jesus is in goodness. It is indeed a "Beast"; that is, he affects to be a composite system of power, though outwardly on a far smaller scale than the first Beast. Still it is a Beast, and not merely a horn; he has two, indeed, of peculiar character. "He had two horns like a lamb." There was the pretence of resembling the Messiah, and it would appear, not in priestly but in prophetic and kingly power. But "he spoke as a dragon." There was really the expression of Satan. - "And he exercises all the authority of the first brass in his presence." Thus the second Beast is the more energetic of the two, and the active instrument of the darkest evil, the man of sin who denies the Man of righteousness, Christ Jesus.

So it has been when enormous wickedness has been forged for this world. Its promoters, the persons that exercise the influence (sometimes unseen, sometimes publicly), put religion forward as the rule. The religion of the earth is the prolific source of all the worst evil done under the sun. How different the wisdom that cometh down from above to form in Christ the service and the worship of the saints! The devil could not accomplish his plans if there was not such a thing as earthly religion. Is not this an awful and solemn fact for those that have the smallest connection with it?

The second Beast or Antichrist does not come out of the sea, or the turbulent state of the nations, but out of the earth. It is a more settled state of things when this Beast appears. Then he exercises all the authority of the first Beast before him, that is, in his presence, and with his full sanction. And he makes the earth and those that dwell in it to do homage to the first Beast. For there is a full understanding between them. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we do not hear of this, but that he claims worship, and is himself worshipped as God. No priest as such affects any claim of the sort. He arrogates no less to himself, sitting down in the temple of God and showing himself that he is God.

It makes the whole matter plain, if we remember that the first Beast leads the Roman empire, but as revived with a seat restricted to the west. On the other hand, the second Beast, though in league with the first Beast he may mislead men far and wide, claims for himself the land of Palestine with a Jewish form of glory. If one look into 2 Thessalonians 2 it is clear that we are in view of what will be in the land of Judea, and not in Rome. It is "the temple of God" that is particularly seen, where the man of sin sets himself up as an object of worship. Only we must take care to read scripture with scripture. If one treat 2 Thessalonians 2 as giving all that the Bible tells about the man of sin, scripture is foreclosed, and one must have an imperfect account. On the other hand, if we take only Revelation 13, we shall want certain elements necessary for completing the sketch. All this is arranged with consummate wisdom by God, because He does not wish us to read only one part of His word, but that we should thoroughly search into every other. He does not give a proper understanding of holy writ, unless we confide therein and value all that He has given us. Consequently it is only by putting together these scriptures, as to which there is ample light for our guidance, that we can in our measure enter into His mind.

As the first part of the chapter brings before us a mighty external power identifiable with the Roman empire, equally certain is it that 2 Thessalonians 2 describes not a merely civil system so much as a religious power. An utterly lawless personage is the man of sin, but still essentially a religious power with the highest claim. It arrogates to itself Christ's place and the reverence that belongs to God. Now this is precisely what characterises the second Beast. It had two horns. Their character is connected with the whole testimony of John. For any one who has looked into his Gospel will see that, even as to our blessed Lord Himself, its general bent is to trace what He was on earth, rather than what He is in heaven, where is His proper and unquestionable priesthood for the heavenly saints, in contrast with Aaron's on earth for the earthly people. There are exceptional passages, no doubt; but while Paul's object directs us to Christ in heaven as the special character of his witness, John on the contrary draws particular attention to what He was on earth.

This is not without importance for the meaning of these two horns. The Lord Jesus was the great prophet on earth; and assuredly He will reign as king over all the earth. But what lies between? He is priest; but He is priest in heaven (Heb_8:4). Accordingly it is not the place of John but of Paul to bring out the heavenly priesthood of Christ. John never directly treats of Christ above as Priest or as Head. He dwells on His advocacy there (which has an aim quite distinct from His priesthood) in Rev. 13, and again on His coming to take us above in Rev. 14, as parts of Rev. 17 and 20 too are exceptions. But the general teaching of John is on Christ manifesting God here below; as no less clearly Paul's doctrine is man in Him glorified above.

But when the Antichrist appears, he does not take the place of priest; far higher will be his assumption. He sets up to be the Prophet that should come, and the great King, imitating what Messiah was expected to be for Israel. He has two horns, not seven. It is a lame imitation; he has not at all the full power of Christ. In the Lord we saw perfection of power and fulness of wisdom for government. In the Antichrist there is the pretension to what belonged to Christ connected with the earth, with the most marked absence of what pertains to Him in heaven.

This is no mean evidence, by the way, that the idea of finding in the papacy its full meaning is a mistake; for the essential feature of the papacy lies in its assumption to be a living earthly representative of Christ's priesthood. It is the corruption of what is heavenly, not Messianic. Popery is much more the antichurch than the Antichrist. But when Revelation 13 is fulfilled, no question can be of the church here any longer. The Christian body will be no more seen on earth; the saints of the high places who had been here will then be on high.

Accordingly it is not a mere sham clothing with the priestly power of Christ which the Antichrist puts on, but a false assumption of His prophetical place which was on the earth, and of His kingly sphere which will also be thereon. This personage with two horns like a lamb is active in the performance of great signs and wonders. He has a double activity. First of all, he borrows the controlling influence of the Roman empire, exercising all the authority of the first Beast in his sight. Besides this, he does a vast deal on his own account which the Roman emperor could not do. He imitates the power not only of Christ but of God. He claims to be the Jehovah God of Israel. Just as Jesus is Jehovah as well as Messiah, so this vessel of Satan's power in Jerusalem will emulate what God did by Elijah to disprove the claims of Baal. Fire then came down and consumed the sacrifice of old, God demonstrating as clearly that Baal was not God as that Jehovah is so. So the second Beast will do wonders, if not really, "before men." Thus he deceives them that dwell on the earth by reason of those signs which it was given him to work before the Beast. The signs were in their sight.

All this marks the Antichrist. The first Beast works no miracles whatever; he astonishes the world by reviving the long dead western empire: but this is a different thing, and cannot properly be called a sign. It may and will amaze men, but is no proper miracle. The Beast out of the earth, who is incomparably more subtle than the first, works great signs; no doubt it is by Satan's energy, but still he works them. The consequence is that he deceives those that dwell on the earth, saying to them especially "to make an image to the beast, which hath the stroke of the sword, and lived." More than this, we read that "it was given him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." Whatever shame be the boast of liberty, as at the first French Revolution, the real future will be the most ruthless and despotic oppression to death over all who do not bow down, not only to the Beast, but to his image that is made by diabolical power or trickery to pronounce sentence like a judge.

The various guesses made respecting the number of the Beast are inadequate. It may be one of those secrets that cannot be unravelled until the person appears, when at least "the wise" shall understand. That we are to understand it now is more than we ought to assume. What moral profit could it serve? Assuredly everything that can edify and refresh the soul, all that can be used by the Holy Ghost for real blessing in separating us from the world and attaching us to heaven, and above all to Christ, we may gather now from the Revelation rightly understood. Indeed we ought thus to gather more than those who are to be in the circumstances can reap in their day. But there may be points of minute application kept back by the wise reserve of God, who does not indulge mere curiosity, as this would be. Such knowledge will be of practical importance only when the time comes; and therefore this may be just one of those points in which the Lord does not now gratify men's minds. Many explanations which have been offered entirely and obviously fail; for instance, "apostasy" and such like. "Apostasy" is not the number of a man; nor for similar reasons can "apostate" stand, nor perhaps "the Latin man."