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.
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.
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.
4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
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.
6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
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.
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.
9 If any man have an ear, let him hear. …
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.
In Revelation 13, we read of a terrible Beast who rises up from the sea. He has great political power, and wields unparalleled military might.
The Beast is known by the cryptic number, which is six hundred threescore and six, or, 666 (Rev. 13:18).
Who is “The Beast” whose number is 666?
At the time of the Reformation, the most popular figure to fit the Biblical description was the pope, at least for Protestants.
In Germany, Martin Luther held that every Pope was Antichrist.
In Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin agreed (Institutes 4.8. 25).
In England, the Separatist Baptist followed the Presbyterian divines (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25:6), by identifying the pope as the antichrist in their own formal credal articles of faith.
“neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (London Baptist Confession, Chapter 26 paragraph 4).
Because of corruption in the papacy, because the Pope claimed to be the Vicar of Christ, or the Lord’s substitute on earth, the idea of the pope being the Antichrist found fertile theological soil to grow in.
But then, the identity of the Antichrist shifted.
Because of the evil they did, political and military figures emerged to be called the Antichrist.
In Europe, during the 19th century, many came to believe Napoleon was the Antichrist.
In the 20th century, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini (Il Duce), and Joseph Stalin have each been set forth as the Antichrist.
In more modern days, Secretary of State Henry Kessinger, President Ronald Reagan, the Libyan dictator, Sadam Hussein, and Prince Charles of Wales, have been written about as the Antichrist.
As passionate as prophetic pundits are in identifying the Antichrist, an earlier, and better leading historical candidate for antichrist, is Nero.
Keep in mind that when the New Testament was written, and the idea of the Antichrist first appeared, Paul noted that the Mystery of Iniquity, or the Man of Lawlessness, was already at work (2 Thess. 2:7).
The spirit of Antichrist was also in the world, denying that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh (1 John 4:3). Christians became afraid.
There were difficult times for the Church in the first century.
The Jews persecuted the Christians, and then the Romans persecuted the believers.
Among those leading the violent hostility against the Church, in the AD 60’s of the first century, was Nero.
The mad emperor was making war on the saints.
One reason for the persecution of Christians, was the need for a political scapegoat.
On July 19, AD 65, a Great Fire broke out in Rome, near the chariot stadium, Circus Maximus.
The fire raged for six days before being brought under control. By then, much damage had been done.
Someone needed to be held responsible for the destruction of so much of Rome.
Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. After all, the Christians did teach that the “heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).
To please the people, and distract attention from himself, Nero executed the two great leaders of the early Church, Peter and Paul (c. AD 67 / 68).
Paul died by beheading.
Peter died by crucifixion.
By this time, the blood lust of the emperor was not satiated.
It was while Nero held a garden party that he burned Christians alive, by using them as human torches to light up the festivities. He was a Beast.
Even in the ancient world among the pagans, Nero distinguished himself for the evil he did, and the wickedness he displayed.
His life was a life of debauchery, violence, and bloodshed.
Nero murdered several of his own family members, including his mother, Julia Agrippina, who had schemed to make him emperor after the death of her third husband, the emperor, Claudius.
Nero castrated a boy named Sporus, and then officially “married” him.
Nero brutally murdered his own wife while she was pregnant, by kicking her to death.
According to the Roman historian Suetonius (c. AD 69 – AD 122), Nero devised a kind of game in which, covered in the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage, and attacked the private parts of men and women bound to a stake, to satisfy his sexual urges.
Because the bloodshed and violence were not enough, Nero demanded to be worshipped as a god, as Caligula (reigned, AD 37 – 41) had been honored.
Nero believed he was equal to Apollo, and other gods. He had a massive statue of himself erected in Rome.
Those who did not worship The Beast were punished. Special coins were minted. Stamped on the coins was the emperor’s head.
Conscientious Jews, and Christians, could not, they would not buy or sell with the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:17). They would not honor, or worship The Beast by using his money.
Nero was a tyrant, determined to be recognized by all.
The Roman historian Tacitus (born, c. AD 56, died, AD 120), spoke of Nero’s cruel nature.
Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher (AD 23/24 – Oct. AD 79), spoke of Nero as the Destroyer of the Human Race, and the Poison of the World.
Apollonius of Tyana (born, c. 15 BC in Cappadocia, or modern Turkey), specifically says in his writing, that the favorite nick name for Nero was, “The Beast.”
“In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen man, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. …
And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet” (“The Mark of the Beast”, Richard Anthony).
So, the Beast gorged himself on the blood of his family, and political foes, while making war on the saints through persecution.
There is something else said about The Beast of Revelation 13.
He could be identified by a number.
“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” (Rev. 13:18).
John wrote that the number “is the number of a man’s name; and his number is 666.”
This tells us that those who received the “mark” were actually in allegiance with a “man,” an actual person of the first century.
By using the words, “six hundred, threescore, and six (666)”, John was using a code called gematria, in which numbers are used to represent certain letters.
We should be able to understand this concept, for when we see Roman Numerals, we are looking at Latin letters.
The Latin letter “X”, has the numerical value of “10”.
The Latin letter “V”, has the numerical value of “5”.
The Latin letter “L”, has the numerical value of “50”.
The Latin letter “M”, has the numerical value of “1000”.
In Latin, the 2020 Superbowl is numbered LIV, or Superbowl 54”.
John used the puzzle of a gematria to reveal The Beast, without actually writing down his name.
Perhaps it is no accident that the numerical values of the Greek letters in the title of Caesar Nero, are 666.
Also, of intertest, is the popular Nero Redivivus legend stating that Nero would return to life.
Nero had begun his reign at age 17 on October 13, AD 54. His reign of terror ended by suicide on June 9, AD 68. The death of Nero ended 13 years and 8 months of madness and terror.
However, people could not believe Nero was really dead. It was too good to be true. So, as John noted prophetically, The Beast lived. “And his deadly wound was healed” (Rev. 13: 3).
After Nero’s suicide in AD 68, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead, and somehow would return (Suetonius, LVII; Tacitus, Histories II.8; Dio, LXVI.19.3).
Suetonius (XL), relates how court astrologers had predicted Nero’s fall, but that he would have power in the east.
And, indeed, at least three false claimants did present themselves as Nero redivivus, or resurrected.
In the end, what is certain is that the Roman world described Nero as, The Beast.
What is certain, is that the Roman world believed Nero would die, and live again.
What is also certain, is that John employed encrypted language in the Revelation to conceal, and to reveal important spiritual truth.
By way of practical application, John would have the Church to know that God’s people do not need to ultimately fear any political, or religious power, that comes against it.
The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church. Soli Deo Gloria!