Rev. 17:7 – Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again. (HCSB)
The meaning of the woman and the beast
The angel sees John’s bewilderment and remarks, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her” (v. 7). The term “secret meaning” is musterion in Greek and refers to what may be known only by divine revelation. John’s questions – and ours – are about to be answered.
The angel begins with the beast (v. 8): “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again.”
This description harks back to that of the beast from the sea in Rev. 13. He has 10 horns and seven heads upon which are written blasphemous names. These creatures from Revelation 13 and Revelation 17 are one in the same, and their description makes it clear they are affiliated with the dragon, who also is depicted with seven heads and 10 horns (Rev. 12:3).
We are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John. You may read the commentary to date by clicking here.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapter 13. If you missed the link to notes on chapters 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10, 11, or 12, links are provided as well.
Rev. 13:18 – Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (HCSB)
Here is wisdom
Few verses in all of scripture attract such attention and spur such debate as Rev. 13:18. John writes, “Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666.” The Greek word for “calculate” is psephizo and means “to use pebbles in enumeration” – that is, to count.
John’s charge to use cautious deliberation has not prevented the wildest of speculations over the centuries. Here’s a short list of proposed Antichrists: Ronald Wilson Reagan (six letters in each of his names); the pope (pick one); Charlemagne (tried to rebuild the Roman Empire); Napolean (same reason); late 19th-early 20th century male witch Aleister Crowley (so evil that his nicknames were “the beast” and “666”); the Roman Emperor Nero (read on); 20th century contemporary world leaders Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini (grumpy bedeviler of the West); Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church (and self-proclaimed Messiah of the Second Advent); Louis Farrakhan (who called the Jewish faith a “gutter religion” and claimed to be the true Jesus); and Barney the Dinosaur (because he matches the apostle John’s description of a “fiery red dragon”).
While there are many proposed solutions to this riddle, two explanations would make good sense to the first-century audience receiving John’s message. The first is gematria, or the practice of transforming names into numbers. This is common in antiquity. According to the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, each letter has a corresponding number. The first 10 letters carry a value of one through 10. To use an English example, a=1, b=2, c=3, and so on. After the first 10 letters, the 11th letter is valued at 20, the 12th letter 30, and so on until 100. The 20th letter is valued at 200, and each subsequent letter gains an additional 100.
Rev. 13:15 – He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (HCSB)
He was permitted to give a spirit to the image
In verse 15 John writes of the false prophet, “He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
Note first that the false prophet is permitted to give life to the image of the beast. His power comes from Satan; his permission comes from God. Thusly armed, he gives a “spirit” to the image. The Greek word pneuma is used more than 300 times in scripture and may be translated “spirit,” “breath” or “breeze.” It also may refer to the human spirit or rational soul; an angel, demon, or the Holy Spirit; or even a ghost. Here it appears to be best translated “breath” or “life,” for the image speaks and acts.
This is a stunning miracle, for it convinces many to worship the first beast. It’s quite possible that the false prophet uses sleight-of-hand tricks to make it appear the image is speaking. However, it could be that demonic forces are at work. In confronting the Corinthians with the truth about hand-carved idols, Paul pulls back the veil to expose the truth that those who offer sacrifices to idols – which cannot speak or act – are in fact sacrificing to demons, which the idols represent (1 Cor. 10:20). But in Revelation, John depicts the idol as being alive – or apparently so. Whether animated by demons or creative illusions, the image of the beast inspires both wonder and terror in the hearts of people, for he pronounces death sentences on those who hold fast their allegiance to Christ.
Rev. 13:13 – He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived.
He also performs great signs
In verses 13-14 we read of the second beast: “He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived.”
The beast from the earth is a miracle worker, but his purpose is deceitful. His goal is to cause all people to turn away from the one true and living God to a false god, and even to his image. What a contrast to Jesus, whose miracles confirm His deity, and to the apostles, whose signs and wonders establish them as Christ’s anointed representatives. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The signs of an apostle were performed with great endurance among you – not only signs but also wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Further, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “[H]ow will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will” (Heb. 2:3-4).