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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
BEAST (in Apocalypse). In Revelation, particularly ch. 13, are symbolic pictures of two beasts who are represented as the arch-opponents of the Christians. The first beast demands worship, and is said to have as his number 666 a numerical symbol most easily referred to the Emperor Nero, or the Roman Empire. In the former case the reference would be undoubtedly to the myth of Nero redivivus , and this is, on the whole, the most probable interpretation.
If instead of 666 we read with Zahn, O. Holtzmann, Spitta, and Erbes, 616, the number would be the equivalent of Gaius CÃ¦sar, who in a.d. 39 ordered the procurator Petronius to set up his statue in the Temple of Jerusalem. This view is, in a way, favoured not only by textual variations, but by the fact that Revelation has used so much Jewish apocalyptic material. However this may be, it seems more probable that the reference in Revelation 17:10-11 , as re-edited by the Christian writer, refers to Nero redivivus , the incarnation of the persecuting Roman Empire, the two together standing respectively as the Antichrist and his kingdom over against the Messiah and His kingdom. As in all apocalyptic writings, a definite historical ruler is a representative of an empire. Until the Messiah comes His subjects are at the, mercy of His great enemy.
The present difficulty in making the identification is due not only to the process of redaction, but also to the highly complex and, for the modern mind, all but unintelligible fusion of the various elements of the Antichrist belief (see Antichrist).
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Beast (1)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/b/beast-1.html. 1909.