Commentary on Revelation 12-13

Notes (NET Translation)

12:1 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars.

The sign of the woman is “a great sign” while the sign of the dragon is just “another sign” (12:3). This verse echoes the dreams of Joseph (Gen 37:1-9; T Naph 5:1-7; Philo, Dreams 2.113) with its mention of the sun, moon, and stars. The radiance of the sun, moon, and stars were used elsewhere to describe faithful Israel (Isa 60:19–20; Test Abr B 7:4–16; Midr Rab Exod 15.6; Midr Rab Lev 30.2; Midr Rab Num 2.4, 13-14; Midr Pss 22.11–12; Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 42; Tanna debe Eliyyahu, Pirke Hay-Yeridot, S, p. 56; Sifre Deut 10, 47; Pesikta de Rab Kahana, Piska 22). In 12:17 the children of the woman are said to “keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.” Therefore, the woman represents the people of God in both the Old and New Covenants. The woman being clothed with the sun denotes majesty (Ps 104:2). The moon symbolizes beauty (Song 6:10; Isa 24:23; 30:26) and the fact that it is under her feet denotes her dominion. The crown of stars symbolizes the victory and glory God has given his people (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 4:4, 10; 14:14). The number twelve may allude to the twelve tribes or the twelve apostles, but ultimately it points to the entire people of God.

2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth.

The labor pains symbolize the messianic woes of the community and Christ. “Thus, there is a double meaning here, the birth of the Messiah and the messianic woes of the people of God throughout history as they tried to give birth to the messianic age” (Osborne 458).

3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns.

Throughout the ancient Near East the dragon/serpent was associated with evil, death, and chaos. This dragon is identified as Satan in 12:9. The color red symbolizes bloodshed and slaughter (6:4; 17:3-6). The numbers seven and ten represent completeness. To the human eye Satan can look very appealing. The crowns symbolize the political authority wielded by the dragon and the horns also symbolize power, especially military power.

4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.

Since stars often represent angels it is possible that verse 4a alludes to a war in heaven that is described in more detail in 12:7-9. Another possibility is that the stars represent the people of God (12:1) being persecuted by Satan (cf. Rev 9:10, 19). The child is Jesus Christ so this verse provides an image of Satan trying to kill Christ (cf. Mt 2:18).

5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Verse 5a alludes to Psalm 2:7-9. The verb translated “rule” could also mean “shepherd” and the “iron rod” could also refer to the “shepherd’s rod”. “This ambiguity is appropriate for the kingly Lamb, whose action can be experienced either as careful shepherding or terrifying judgement (cf. 2:27; 19:15)” (Boxall 180). The child suddenly being caught up to God refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (Acts 4:23; 13:33; Rom 1:4; Col 1:18; Heb 1:2-6; 5:5; Rev 1:5). The details of Christ’s life are largely omitted because Christ’s destiny to rule is linked primarily to his ascension and exaltation. “The significant point is that the evil designs of Satan were foiled by the successful completion of Christ’s messianic ministry, which culminated in his ascension and exaltation (cf. Phil 2:5-11)” (Mounce loc. 4422-4423). Here the wilderness is a place prepared by God where the woman, symbolizing the people of God, would be taken care of. As noted previously in Revelation, the forces of evil can only persecute the saints for a limited period of time (1,260 days) (11:2-3).

7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.

Verses 7-12 form a heavenly counterpart to verses 1-6.

In John’s narrative this responds directly to verse 5, where the Messiah has been exalted to heaven. Thus “her child was snatched up to God and to his throne . . . and war broke out in heaven.” Nonetheless, even though the narrative that follows in this case necessarily succeeds the imagery of Christ’s ascension, it is ultimately more cosmic in its overall scope. So John begins by using imagery that assumes time past (after all, the snake was present in the garden of Eden); but in the present narrative everything hinges on Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. The awkwardness is simply a natural result of our being time-bound, and necessarily seeing everything in temporal terms with one moment succeeding another. But from the divine perspective in which John is here seeing things, the ultimate defeat of Satan took place through the death and resurrection of the Slain Lamb—and that is the perspective from which the reader is expected to understand the present imagery. (Fee 168)

8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels.

9 So that huge dragon – the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world – was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.

The “ancient serpent” refers to the serpent in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 (cf. Wis. 2:24; 3 Bar. 9:7; b. Sota 9b; b. Sanhedrin 29a). “Devil” means “slanderer” and “Satan” means “adversary”. Satan’s primary weapon is deceit. The passive (“was thrown down”) suggests that ultimately God expelled Satan from heaven. This expulsion from heaven may have occurred at the dawn of creation, at Christ’s death and resurrection, or prior to the end-time punishments.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down.

The loud voice in this verse refers to the multitude of saints since it mentions “our brothers”. The term “salvation” (he soteria) can refer to “deliverance” or “victory”, which may be more appropriate in this verse. Jewish texts portray Satan as accusing the saints of unfaithfulness and implying they do not deserve God’s salvation or blessings (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1-10; Jub. 1:20; 17:15–18:13; 48:9–19; 1 En. 40:7; Test. Levi 5:6; Test. Dan 6:2).

But by virtue of the death of Christ he is unable successfully to lodge a charge against God’s elect (Rom 8:33-34). The accuser is hurled down to earth. Although John depicts the battle between Michael and Satan in military terms, it is essentially a legal battle between opposing counsel in which the loser is disbarred. (Mounce loc. 4503-4505)

11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.

The angels and saints overcome Satan first and foremost by the blood of the Lamb. It is through their testimony that the saints maintain their identification with Christ.

12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you! He is filled with terrible anger, for he knows that he only has a little time!”

At present, however, though the heavens may now be free of satanic activity, the same cannot be said of the earth, where God’s people currently find themselves, nor of the sea, from where the newest threat is about to arise (at 13:1). The expulsion from heaven is a reason to celebrate, not simply for the heavens themselves, but also for you who shelter there. This expression directly parallels the negative ‘those who make their home on the earth’ (i.e. those hostile to God and his Messiah on account of their disordered priorities). It therefore describes not those specifically located in heaven, such as the angels, or the souls under the altar, but those—including those living on earth—whose lives are oriented toward God and who experience his sheltering presence (cf. 11:1; John 1:14). These have good reason to celebrate, for they ultimately belong to that realm from which Satan has been ejected and over which he has no more control (cf. 11:10, where ‘those who make their home on the earth’ celebrate the deaths of the two witnesses). Earth and sea, however, are warned that the devil has come down in a furious rage, knowing that he has little time left! This echoes the Jewish apocalyptic notion of the ‘messianic woes’, according to which the approach of the End will see heightened activity on the part of the powers of evil, as their control begins to slip away (probably reflected in Mt. 6:13; cf. Mk 13:20). (Boxall 184)

Note that Satan is aware of his eventual defeat. This may be a reason for his “terrible anger”.

We should note finally that the phrase “his time is short” has caused no little concern to those of God’s people who live some nineteen centuries after these words were written. But this is a case where “short” is in the eye of the beholder, as it were, for here an adverb that ordinarily means “brief” is most likely intended to indicate “limited,” with emphasis not so much on its brevity as on the fact that Satan’s time has divinely set limits. In any case John’s immediate concern is that Satan is not omniscient, as God alone is. What Satan knows is that God has set boundaries to his time, and thus his “fury” is about to be poured out on the generations that succeed John’s. And that is what will be played out dramatically in the scene that follows. (Fee 173)

13 Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

Verse 13 picks up where both verses 6 and 12 left off. Satan (the dragon) is now pursuing/persecuting the people of God (the woman). It is their link to Christ (the male child) that causes Satan to persecute the saints.

It is interesting that the dragon “saw” or realized that he had been cast down to earth. This hints that the expulsion was the instantaneous act of a vastly superior force (God and Michael in 12:9). One minute Satan was in heaven fighting against Michael, the next minute he found himself on earth. (Osborne 481–482)

14 But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of – away from the presence of the serpent – for a time, times, and half a time.

Verse 14 largely summarizes verse 6. The “time, times, and half a time” corresponds to three and a half years. The reference to the wings of an eagle alludes to OT images of God as an eagle protecting Israel (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 1:31-33; 32:10-12) and Israel mounting the wings of an eagle in a second exodus (Isa. 40:31). “So God will strengthen and nourish the church in its exodus wanderings through the wilderness of the world” (Beale 670).

15 Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, 16 but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.

The image of a flood symbolizes the serpent’s attempt to wipe out the saints (cf. 2 Sam. 22:5; Pss. 18:4, 16; 46:3; 66:12; 69:1–2, 14–15; 124:4–5; 144:7–8, 11; Isa. 43:2).

Therefore, OT and Jewish use of the flood waters metaphor and the use of mouth metaphors in the Apocalypse indicate that the image of the flood proceeding from the serpent’s mouth portrays his attempt to destroy the church by deception and false teaching (see further below). V 15 presents the devil continuing to attempt to “deceive” the church, as he does “the whole inhabited earth,” in keeping with his intrinsic trait (so 12:9, and as demonstrated in Matt. 24:24; Luke 22:31; John 13:2; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:3, 13–15; 1 Tim. 2:14; Jub. 1:20; 1 En. 69:4). V 9 traced the first expression of this trait to Eden by calling the devil “that ancient Serpent … the one who deceives.” This is picked up again in v 15 by the repeated reference to the devil as “the serpent.” This name emphasizes the activity of deception here and further confirms that deception is the figurative focus of the picture of the river spewed forth by the serpent. Just as the serpent deceived the first woman with words, so he attempts to deceive the latter-day woman with a flood of words. Satanic agents — false teachers, compromisers, and demons — infiltrate the church to deceive her and contribute to her demise (cf. 2:14–16, 20–22; 3:15–17; cf. Rom. 16:17–20; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:15; 2 Tim. 2:23–26). Chs. 2–3 have revealed that the churches to which John was writing had already begun to experience the devil’s flood of deception (2:2, 14, 20), false accusations (2:9; 3:9), temptations, and persecution (2:10, 13). It is beyond coincidence that wherever chs. 2–3 mention these problems, the devil is mentioned as having his “synagogue” (2:9; 3:9), “throne” (2:13), or “deep things” (2:24) in those cities. The remainder of the book after ch. 12 will also focus on the problem of Satan’s persecution and deception carried out by his agents, the beast (13:14; 19:20) and the Babylonian harlot (18:23; cf. also 13:11–17; 16:13; cf. generally chs. 13, 17–18). (Beale 673)

The swallowing of the river by the earth alludes to the swallowing of the Egyptians in Ex. 15:12 and the swallowing of the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in Num. 16:12-14, 30-33 (cf. Deut. 11:6; Ps. 106:17).

In both instances, God caused the earth to open and swallow that which opposed the establishment and welfare of his people. The allusion in Revelation figuratively refers to God’s protection of the church in establishing it and maintaining its welfare. He protects the church from temptations to compromise in the face of persecution and seductive teaching, which originate from the devil. Dathan and Abiram opposed the prophetic authority of God by “lying” about God’s truth, by “blaspheming” God, and by “misleading the Israelites” about the matter (Midr. Rab. Num. 18.10, 12, 20; b. Baba Bathra 74a). In like manner the dragon inspires opposition to the prophetic truth of the gospel. (Beale 675)

17 So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.

How verse 17 connects with what came before it is a matter of scholarly dispute. G. K. Beale argues that the woman in verses 6, 13-16 depict the suffering of the ideal church from the heavenly perspective while verse 17 depicts the suffering of the church on earth. At times the woman is viewed as in heaven or in heavenly attire (12:1-2) while at other times she is viewed as on earth with her children (12:6, 13-17). On this interpretation the point of v. 17 is that the one heavenly church being persecuted on earth cannot be destroyed because it is ultimately spiritually inviolable, even though many of the saints will undergo physical suffering.

As Michaels (1997: 153 note on 12:17) and Aune (1998a: 708) note, σπέρμα (normally used of the male line) is found only here in the book and alludes to Gen. 3:15, where God curses the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The early church saw this fulfilled in themselves, as in Rom. 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Osborne 485)

18 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.

The reason the dragon stood on the seashore is to call forth his agents, the beasts of ch. 13.

13:1 Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name.

In 11:7 the beast ascends from the abyss while in 13:1 it ascends from the sea. The abyss/sea is a realm of evil (cf. 17:8). The beast coming up from the sea alludes to the four beasts coming from the sea in Dan. 7:3. Like the dragon (12:3) the beast has ten horns and seven heads. “That the diadems are on the horns of this beast indicates that while the dragon is the king of the evil empire, the beast is the military arm of the king, a parody of the ‘seven horns’ of the Lamb in 5:6” (Osborne 490). The blasphemous name on the heads of the beast alludes to the little horn of Dan. 7:25. The blasphemous name may also allude to the titles of divinity attributed to the Roman emperors of John’s day.

The beast is that spirit of imperial power which claims a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority. It is a “counterfeit power” that is self-centered, behaves as if it were fully autonomous, and demands total allegiance and excessive praise. (Mounce loc. 4631-4636)

2 Now the beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority to rule.

The animal imagery draws on the four beasts in Dan. 7:4-7 but combines the imagery into one hideous beast. This beast is a composite of all the empires throughout history that have stood against God and his people. Elsewhere in Revelation God gives power and authority to others, but here the dragon imitates God by giving power and authority to the beast. The “throne” symbolizes the beast’s dominion.

3 One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?”

In imitation of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (2:8; 5:6) one of the beast’s heads was killed (by a sword, 13:14) but then healed. G. K. Beale argues that the Greek more naturally means the head really was killed, not that it merely appeared to have been killed. Elsewhere in Revelation the Greek term translated “wound” refers to a plague from God and therefore the wound in this verse can also be seen as ultimately from God. A “sword” is the symbol of Christ’s judgment on his enemies in both the present (1:16; 2:12, 16) and the future (19:15, 21). Satan was defeated at Christ’s death and resurrection (12:10-12). Hence 13:3 can be seen as noting that Satan was ultimately defeated at the cross but also that he has some time before the final judgment to persecute the saints. The following verses detail this persecution. While Christ really did conquer death at the resurrection, the beast has not truly avoided defeat.

The amazement at the beast caused the “whole world” (the earth-dwellers in opposition to God) to follow the beast. The question “Who is like the beast?” is a blasphemous parody of the acclamation of the incomparability of God (Ex. 8:10; 15:11; Deut. 3:24; Ps. 35:10; 71:19; 86:8; 89:8; 113:5; Isa. 40:18, 25; 44:7; 46:5; Mic. 7:18). The second question, “Who is able to make war against him?”, has already been answered in 12:7ff.

5 The beast was given a mouth speaking proud words and blasphemies, and he was permitted to exercise ruling authority for forty-two months.

The mouth of the beast alludes to the mouth of the little horn in Dan. 7:8, 25; 11:36 who spoke arrogant things. Once again the forces of evil are given a limited time period to act (cf. 12:6, 14).

6 So the beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God – to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

To blaspheme the name of God means to usurp his place (13:8). Once again the people of God are viewed as the dwelling place of God (11:1-2; 12:12; 21:3).

7 The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them. He was given ruling authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation, 8 and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.

While the beast can persecute the saints he can only ultimately influence the unredeemed. This is a parody of the Son of Man in Dan. 7:14. The “book of life” contains a list of the true people of God (3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). Hence no one who worships the beast is a true follower of God.

It is highly debated whether ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (apo katabolēs kosmou, from the foundation of the world) modifies “the book of life written” (KJV, REB, NIV, Swete, Caird, Johnson, Sweet, Chilton, Aune) or “the slain Lamb” (NRSV, NLT, R. Charles, Morris, Harrington, Beasley-Murray, Mounce, Wall, Michaels, Beale). The word order favors “slain” as the antecedent, but the parallel in 17:8 favors “written” (“whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world”). If it were to modify “the book of life written,” it would provide a major predestinarian statement like Eph. 1:4–5, and indeed that is the message in Rev. 17:8. But it is better here to respect the word order and recognize that it is God’s redemptive plan that has been established “from the foundation of the world.” That is the message of 1 Pet. 1:18–20 (“You were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect … chosen before the creation of the world”). This does not demand a supralapsarian view of divine history (God decreed the fall because he had already predestined his Son to die on the cross), for “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” is based on God’s knowledge of the fall rather than his predestining the fall. This phrase occurs ten times in the NT and refers to a wide variety of things that are at the heart of salvation history: the final kingdom (Matt. 25:34), the hidden mysteries (Matt. 13:35), the blood of the prophets (Luke 11:50), the Father’s love for the Son (John 17:24), the chosen believers (Eph. 1:4), the book of life (Rev. 17:8), and the suffering and death of Christ (Heb. 4:3 [“his work”]; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). (Osborne 503–504)

9 If anyone has an ear, he had better listen!

The reader is to pay special attention to what must be done in the face of deception and persecution.

10 If anyone is meant for captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed by the sword, then by the sword he must be killed. This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints.

This verse echoes Jer. 15:2 (cf. Jer. 43:11).  But, while Jeremiah dealt with punishment for unfaithfulness to God, Revelation deals with persecution for faithfulness to Christ.

11 Then I saw another beast coming up from the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but was speaking like a dragon.

This beast is a parody of Christ the Lamb (5:6). It has two horns to correspond to the two witnesses, the two lampstands, and the two olive trees of 11:3-4 (cf. Dan. 8:3).  It has fewer horns than the beast from the sea to indicate that it is subordinate to that beast. This beast is said to speak like a dragon because it too speaks with the devil’s authority. This is a parody of Christ, who speaks with the voice of the Father (John 5:25-30; 7:16-18). This beast has a religious role as a false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). This brings to mind Christ’s warning that wolves in sheep’s clothing would arise (Matt. 7:15). Such a beast could be alluring even to the saints.

12 He exercised all the ruling authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and those who inhabit it worship the first beast, the one whose lethal wound had been healed.

The first beast gives the second beast authority.

13 He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven in front of people 14 and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived.

This beast mimics the activity of the two witnesses in 11:5-6. He poses as a spokesman for truth but is, in fact, a false prophet.

15 The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

The passive “was empowered” indicates that Satan is the ultimate source of this power. In giving the image of the first beast the ability to speak, the second beast makes it plausible to believe the first beast is really divine. The death sentence on those who do not worship the image of the beast echoes Nebuchadnezzar’s command in Dan. 3.

Like Daniel’s three friends, Christians are being pressured by the latter-day Babylon, Rome, to pay homage to the image of Caesar. Some are being killed, while some are suffering in other ways, as vv 16–17 reveal (e.g., see also on 1:9; 2:9–11). In the light of the exhortation in 13:9–10, the implication is that Christians are to persevere as did Daniel’s friends in the fire. As in Daniel 3, but on an escalated scale, the reward for endurance will be deliverance from eternal torment and exaltation with Christ. Similarly, early Jewish writings employed the fiery furnace episode of Daniel 3 as a model encouraging saints that if they endure persecution, they will be delivered through death to a heavenly existence and to resurrection (4 Macc. 13:9–18[17]; 16:21–25; cf. pseudo-Philo 6:16–18, which applies the Daniel 3 account to Abraham’s suffering and physical deliverance). Consequently, 3 Macc. 6:6ff. records a prayer that God will deliver Jews enduring suffering for their faith just as he delivered “the three comrades in Babylonia who … gave their life to the fire rather than serve idols.” (Beale 712)

Note that the death sentence is a possibility and therefore does not mean every Christian will, in fact, be executed.

16 He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead.

The exact allusion the mark on the hand or forehead is making is uncertain. It could allude to the mark on a slave and thus denote ownership. Or it could allude to the mark on a soldier or religious devotee and thus denote the person as a faithful follower.

The Jewish John would probably also detect a demonic parody of contemporary Jewish practice, whereby phylacteries containing words of the Shema were bound on the forehead and the left hand (Charles 1920: I, 362). The mark imposed on the worshippers of the monster is the antithesis of the true worship of Israel’s One God. Nor does it distinguish between social or economic groupings; all of rebellious humanity is affected: the little ones and the great, the rich and poor, freedmen and slaves. The irony of the last doublet is that freedmen find themselves once again under slavery, though this time of a more pervasive and far-reaching kind. (Boxall 196)

17 Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast – that is, his name or his number.

This parallels earlier warnings of economic persecution (2:9, 12-29; 6:5-6). That the mark of the beast contains his name parodies the mark given to the saints (7:3-8; 14:1; 22:4). Since the mark on the believers is spiritual we can see the mark of the beast as spiritual as well. The main point in both cases is with who a person is spiritually identified with, God or Satan.

18 This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666.

Wisdom and insight are needed to understand the beast’s true nature. The differing opinions on the meaning of this verse over the centuries may suggest its meaning was only known by its first readers. The phrase “for it is man’s number” indicates the number applies to humanity in general and not to an individual. The beast epitomizes fallen humanity. The fact that other numbers in Revelation are symbolic strongly suggests this number is also symbolic and does not refer to a specific individual by means of gematria. The number 7 symbolizes completeness and therefore the number 6 symbolizes incompleteness. While Satan attempts to be perfect like God he is never able to attain such perfection. The unregenerate man falls short of the perfection found in Christ.


Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.


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