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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 13

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-4

The Seven-Headed Beast of Blasphemy and the Two-Horned Beast of Deceit.

The description of the first beast:

v. 1. And I stood upon the sand of the sea and saw a beast rise up out of the sea having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

v. 2. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power and his seat and great authority.

v. 3. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed; and all the world wondered after the beast.

v. 4. And they worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?

Luther writes of this whole chapter: "There comes, then, in the thirteenth chapter, after the trumpeting of the last of the seven angels, who sounds his trumpet at the beginning of the twelfth chapter, the business of that seventh angel, the third woe, namely, papal imperialism and imperial popery. Here the papacy gains the power also of the worldly sword, and now rules not only with the booklet in the second woe, but also with the sword in the third woe. Just as they boast that the Pope has both the spiritual and also the temporal sword in his power. Here, then, are the two beasts; the one is imperial power and dignity; the other, with the two horns, is the papacy, which has now also become a worldly kingdom, though with a bold show of the name of Christ."

The explanation is certainly plausible, as a closer examination of the text shows: And I stood on the shore of the sea, and saw ascending out of the sea a beast having ten horns and seven heads, and on the horns ten diadems, and on his heads names of blasphemy; and the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet resembled those of a bear, and his mouth resembled the mouth of a lion. If we compare this picture with those found in the prophecies of Daniel, there can be little doubt that this beast is the Roman Empire. It arose out of the ocean of nations, gradually, but surely, until it had power over practically the entire world. Seven heads the beast had; for the city of Rome, the capital of this great empire, is built on seven hills; and ten horns were seen by John, which refers to the ten provinces of the old empire. Names of blasphemy the beast had on his heads; for blasphemous idolatry and heathenism was practiced in the city and empire, and enmity against Christ and the Christian religion has always been rampant in its capital. That the entire appearance of the beast, finally, was like a leopard, but with the feet of a bear and with the mouth of a lion, indicates that the Roman Empire combined in itself all the qualities of the former world empires as they are described in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel.

We are told still more concerning this beast: And to him the dragon gave his own power and his throne and great authority. This shows that Satan would rule and exert his power on earth especially through the Roman Empire, and that its emperors, princes, and governors would act as his representatives in carrying out his designs against the Church of Christ. The result was all that the devil might have desired: And one of his heads appeared to have been wounded to death, but his deadly wound was healed; and all the earth marveled after the beast and worshiped the dragon, because he gave authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast, and who can battle with him? The great empire and power which the beast represents received a temporary setback, a wound which looked like a deadly wound. This may refer to the end of the Roman Empire as such, which came to an end in the year 476. But Rome retained its power in spite of all that, for the worldly authority of the Pope dates from about that time. Satan is still wielding his power through Anti-Christ, and it is a sad fact, but a fact nevertheless, that practically all the world, both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, have been giving honor to the Pope, many of them stating openly that the power of the papacy is such as to make this attitude the best policy.

Verses 5-10

The power of the first beast:

v. 5. And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.

v. 6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

v. 7. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and power was given him over all kindreds and tongues and nations.

v. 8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

v. 9. If any man have an ear, let him hear.

v. 10. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

From these words it is plain that the old heathen Roman Empire is continuing in the form of the papacy, for the description is so clear and unmistakable: And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and there was given to him power to do so forty-two months; and he opened his mouth for blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name and His dwelling, those that dwell in heaven; and there was given to him to wage war with the saints and to conquer them, and there was given to him power over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. Here the rise of Anti-Christ's kingdom is depicted in a few masterful strokes. For it is characteristic of him that he speaks great and vaunting blasphemies, not only with regard to his own position in the Church, but also in the doctrines which place him in the temple of God as a god, and give him power over the Godhead Himself, as in the Mass, where the priest is said to have power to create the person of Christ by his blessing of the bread. By God's permission, Anti-Christ had only a limited time for the unrestricted indulgence in this behavior, but he made the most of this time. The blasphemies which are contained in the official declarations of the Roman Church, especially as to the power of the Pope, are such as to make a Bible Christian shudder. There can incidentally be no greater folly than to underestimate the power which Anti-Christ possessed in the past and which he wields today. Not only does he wage war against the saints, the believers, but he also had overcome untold thousands, getting them into his power and poisoning their souls with his idolatrous poison. Not only over a single city, state, or nation does his authority extend, but his officials are found in all tribes and peoples and tongues and nations. The power of Anti-Christ is a scourge of God visited upon the nations, and many a person that did not want to accept the simple doctrine of the atonement of Christ, of the justification of a poor sinner without the deeds of the Law, by grace alone, has been enmeshed in the net of Rome and in the blasphemous doctrine of salvation by works.

For that reason St. John continues: And there will worship him all those that dwell upon the earth, every one whose name is not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world. The power of Anti-Christ is not confined to those that actually are members of His Church. There are thousands and millions outside of his kingdom that secretly or openly worship him, because they admire the wonderful perfection of the system which he has built up in the last fifteen centuries, or because they fear his power. But by the grace of God such worshipers are only those whose names are not written in God's Book of Life, that is, in that of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, whose death for all sinners was a fact established by the counsel of God from the foundation of the world. In the very first prophecies and types Christ was revealed as the Savior of the world, Genesis 3:15-21; Exodus 12:6; 1 Corinthians 5:7. This is such an important thought and it must be kept in mind so continually by all Christians that the seer calls out: If anyone has ears, let him hear. And he adds the warning: If anyone leads into captivity (or: is destined for captivity), he leads into captivity (or: into captivity he goes); if anyone kills with the sword, by the sword he must be killed; here is the patience and the faith of the saints. These words contain a warning for the enemies and a consolation for the believers. The latter must expect martyrdom: that is inevitable where enemies of Christ come into power. But the wrath of God will find these and will give them the punishment which their transgression merits. But he who loses liberty and life for the sake of Christ will at the same time gain eternal liberty and life. It is here that the patience and the faith of the saints, of the true believers, come into their own; for they will inherit the promise through the grace of God, Hebrews 6:12.

Verses 11-14

The second beast:

v. 11. And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

v. 12. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

v. 13. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men

v. 14. and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast, saying to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound by a sword and did live.

That there is a close connection between the two beasts of this chapter is here again evident: And I saw another beast ascending out of the earth, and it had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon, and the full authority of the first beast he exerts before him; and he causes the earth and those that dwell on it that they worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. It would be foolish to attempt an interpretation of all the details of this picture, but the general trend seems to be clear. This beast is also a great kingdom or power exerted like that of a king or emperor, although with a lamblike aspect. This beast is the successor of the first beast and takes his place in every respect, differing from him only in form. He succeeds above all in making men worship the first beast, to overlook the wound which had really struck a vital spot, which had laid open the real nature of the first beast.

To this end the second beast shows great activity: And he performs great signs, so that he also causes fire to come down from heaven to the earth before men; and he seduces those that dwell upon the earth through the signs which were granted to him to perform before the beast, saying to them that dwell upon the earth to make images to the beast which has the wound from the sword and still lived. In this beast is fulfilled what St. Paul had prophesied, namely, that his coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10. It would be foolish to ascribe all the so-called miracles that are performed by antichristian prophets to superstition; for the devil knows how to use the forces of nature to his ends if God gives him permission. So great was the influence of this beast that he even succeeded in making men set up the first beast as an idol, as a god in the midst of God's true temple, and to give him divine worship.

Verses 15-18

The mark of the second beast:

v. 15. and he had power to give life unto 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.

v. 16. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their foreheads,

v. 17. and that no man might buy or sell save he that had the mark or the name of the beast or the number of his name.

v. 18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.

There is a remarkable show of authority which is here described: And there was granted him to give spirit 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 die; and he obliges all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, that they impress upon them a mark upon their right hand or upon their foreheads, that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name. So far the power of the beast goes by God's permission, to this extent he is God's scourge upon those that will not accept the salvation through Christ. Even the image, the copy of the first beast, this second beast caused to have the ability to speak and to exert great might in the world. He does not confine himself to any special class of people: powerful or without influence, rich or poor, free or in slavery, the beast will try to get them all into his power and to control them according to both body and soul. To do this, he sees to it that his mark is impressed, either upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. The word here used by John originally designated the imperial stamp on documents and merchandise, a red seal with the emperor's name or effigy. The mark on the hand was to indicate that the wearer would faithfully conform all his acts to the will of his master; and that on the forehead indicated that the wearer openly proclaimed himself a servant of the beast. So far did the power of the beast go at certain times that the very commerce of states and nations was controlled by it, and men could buy and sell commodities only with his permission.

So far as the explanation of this picture is concerned, the seer writes: Here is wisdom: he that has understanding, let him compute the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his name is six hundred sixty-six. Here indeed the gift of interpretation is needed if one would make absolute assertions. A great many commentators have tried to make the characteristics here given fit some individual historical person, Nero, who probably served as a type, Napoleon, and others. But if we take the features of the picture as a whole, the most probable conclusion is the following. As the first beast pictured the Roman Empire, continued in the kingdom of Anti-Christ as he showed himself mainly before the Reformation, so the second beast represents him as he has appeared since that time. Before the Reformation he exerted his power in an open and unrestricted manner; since that time he has assumed a lamb-like aspect, which has deceived thousands of people. The image of the first beast is still there, the detailed hierarchical organization modeled after that of the Roman Empire, as it has been strengthened by the Jesuits. There is a Pope, there are cardinals, there are archbishops and bishops and priests and deacons and subdeacons and a great many other officials, all fitting in with the system. There is the matter of the Inquisition, which developed its greatest power since the Reformation. There are the signs and wonders, which make such a great impression upon men. There are the two swords, the temporal and the spiritual, which the Pope still claims for himself. There are the many cases of interdict, or spiritual boycott, when congregations, cities, and states were suspended from the means of grace. There are the cases of indulgences, when the forgiveness of sins was made a matter of traffic and bargaining. There are the cases of special commercial privileges granted to individuals and to communities by papal dispensation or permission. There are many other features which apply with peculiar force to Anti-Christ and his kingdom.

Luther writes about this chapter and the preceding one: "What abominations, woe, and damage this imperial papacy has committed cannot be related now. For in the first place, the world through his book has been filled with idolatry, with monasteries, institutions, saints, pilgrimages, purgatory, indulgences, lack of marriage, and innumerable other specimens of human doctrine and works. In the second place, who is able to tell how much bloodshed, murder, war, and misery the Popes have been the cause of, both with their own wars and by provoking emperors, kings, and princes?"


In the pictures of two beasts the prophet pictures the kingdom of Anti-Christ in its two phases, before and after the Reformation, showing its great power both in gaining worshipers and in bringing misery and death upon those that refused to accept Anti-Christ's doctrines.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 13". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/revelation-13.html. 1921-23.
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