Before Thomas Witulski informs readers of the details of events in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian and how they enable a contemporary interpretation of Revelation 13 he analyses the meanings of different parts of the chapter itself. I cannot possibly cover every detail of his exegesis (especially the grammar and usage of certain Greek words) but will try to cover the main highlights. Keep in mind that these highlights are only preparatory to a discussion of the historical events Witulski identifies as the real subject of the apocalypse.
Revelation 13 introduces two beasts that act as representatives of a dragon who, having failed to destroy the “woman who brought forth the manchild” in chapter 12, turns his wrath on Christians.
And I 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 that one of his heads was, as it were, wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world wondered after the beast.
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?”
The dragon gives incomparable power and rule to a beast. People show cultic-religious reverence to that beast because of its overwhelming power and possibly also because one of its heads (or the beast itself) was miraculously revived. Readers are probably meant to think of Nero since we know that long after Nero’s death we encounter evidence of hopes (especially in the eastern regions of the Roman empire) that Nero would eventually return and take back his imperial power. (Notice at the same time the antitheses that our author sets up between both beasts and the Christ as the slain but revived lamb.)
The word for “worship”, προσκύνησις, denoted the kissing of a hand along with other bodily gestures that were long reserved only for deities in the western part of the Mediterranean, but after Alexander’s conquests of the east, it came to be offered to human rulers in Greece and finally, Rome. It is also significant that the author describes this worship of the beast in the same context as he has described the heavenly worship of God.
The power of the beast is so great that we read not of its defeating enemies, but of no one even daring to go to war against it.
11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon.
12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him; and he causeth the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
The second beast appears alongside the first beast. It is the first beast that gives authority to the second so that the second beast acts with the permission of the first. Specifically, the second beast appears in public as a propagandist of the first beast and initiates the public worship of that first beast. Continue reading “The Two Beasts of Revelation 13; and the Image, Mark and Number of the First Beast”