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§ 101. The Apocalypse.

On the Lit. and life of John, see §§ 40 and 41 (this vol.); on the authorship of the Apoc. and the time of composition, § 37 (this vol.); § 41 (this vol.); and § 84 (this vol.)

1. Modern Critical, works of German and French scholars on the Apocalypse: Lücke (Voltständige Einleitung, etc., 2d ed., 1852; 1,074 pages of introductory matter, critical and historical; compare with it the review of Bleek in the "Studien and Kritiken" for 1854 and 1855); DeWette Com., 1848, with a remarkable preface, 3d ed. by Möller, 1862); Bleek (Posthumous Lectures, ed. by Hossbach, 1862); Ewald (Die Johann. Schriften, vol. II, 1862; besides his older Latin Com., 1828); Düsterdieck (in Meyer’s Com., 3d ed., 1877); Renan (L’Antechrist, 1873); Reuss (1878). A. Sabatier, in Lichtenberger’s "Encyclopédie," I. 396–407. E. Vischer: Die Offenb. Joh. eine Jüd. Apok. in christl. Bearbeitung, Leipz., 1886. F. Spitta: Die Offenb. Joh. untersucht, Halle, 1889.

2. For Doctrinal and Practical exposition, the Commentaries of Hengstenberg (1849, spoiled by false prophecies and arbitrary fancies) Auberlen (on Daniel and Revelation, 2d ed., 1854); Gaussen (Daniel le prophète, 1850); Ebrard (in Olshausen’s Com., 1853); Luthardt (1861); J. C. K. Hofmann (1844 and 1862); J. L. Füller (follows Hofmann, 1874); Lange (1871, Am. ed. enlarged by Craven, 1874); Gebhardt (Lehrbegriff der Apok., 1873); Kliefoth (1874). Comp. also Rougemont: La Révélation de St. Jean expliquant l’histoire (1866). Godet: Essay upon the Apoc., in his Studies on the N. T., translated from the French by W. H. Lyttleton, London, 1876, 294–398.

3. English Com.: E. H. Elliott (d. 1875, Horae Apoc., 5th ed., 1862, 4 vols.); Wordsworth (4th ed., 1866); Alford (3d ed., 1866); C. J. Vaughan (3d ed., 1870, practical); William Lee (Archdeacon in Dublin, in the "Speaker’s" Com. N. T., vol. iv., 1881, pp. 405–844) E. Huntingford (Lond., 1882); Milligan (1883 and 1886 the best). Trench: The Epistles to the Seven Churches (2d ed., 1861), and Plumptre:Expos. of the Epp. to the Seven Ch. (Lond. and N. Y., 1877).

4. American Com. by Moses Stuart (1845, 2 vols., new ed., 1864, with an Excursus on the Number of the Beast, II. 452); Cowles (1871).

5. Of Older Commentaries, the most important and valuable are the following:

(a) Greek: Andreas of Caesarea in Cappadocia (5th cent.; the first continuous Com. on the Apoc., publ. 1596, also in the works of Chrysostom; see Lücke, p. 983); Arethas Of Caes. in Cappad. (not of the 6th cent., as stated by Lücke, p. 990, and others, but of the 10th, according to Otto, and Harnack, in Altchristl. Liter., 1882, pp, 36 sqq.; his σύνοψις σχολική, ed. by J. A. Cramner, in his Catenae Graec. Patr. in N. T., Oxon., 1840, vol. VIII.; and in the works of Oecumenius); 0ecumenius (10th cent., see Lücke, p. 991).

(b) Rom. Cath.: Lud. Ab Alcasar (a Jesuit, 1614); Cornelius A Lapide (1662); Bossuet (1690, and in Oeuvres, vol. III., 1819); Bisping (1876).

(c) Protestant: Jos. Mede (Clavis Apocalyptica, Cambr., 1632; Engl. transl. by More, 1643; a new transl. by R. B. Cooper, Lond., 1833); Hugo Grotius (first, 1644); Vitringa (1705, 1719, 1721); Bengel (1740); Bishop Thomas Newton (in Dissertations on the Prophecies, 8 vols., 1758).

This list is a small selection. The literature on the Apocalypse, especially in English, is immense, but mostly impository rather than expository, and hence worthless or even mischievous, because confounding and misleading. Darling’s list of English works on the Apocalypse contains nearly fifty-four columns (I., 1732–1786).

General Character of the Apocalypse.

The "Revelation" of John, or rather "of Jesus Christ" through John,12431243    Ἀποκάλυψισ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Rev. 1:1. The oldest inscription in Cod. א is αποκαλυψις ιωανου. Later MSS. add τοῦ ἁγίου and τοῦ θεολόγου, etc. appropriately closes the New Testament. It is the one and only prophetic book, but based upon the discourses of our Lord on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, and his second advent (Matt. 24). It has one face turned back to the prophecies of old, the other gazing into the future. It combines the beginning and the end in Him who is "the Alpha and the Omega." It reminds one of the mysterious sphinx keeping ceaseless watch, with staring eyes, at the base of the Great Pyramid. "As many words as many mysteries," says Jerome; "Nobody knows what is in it," adds Luther.12441244    "Tot verba, tot mysteria."—"Niemand weiss, was darinnen steht." Zwingli would take no doctrinal proof-text from Revelation. No book has been more misunderstood and abused; none calls for greater modesty and reserve in interpretation.12451245    The amount of nonsense, false chronology, and prophecy which has been put into the Apocalypse is amazing, and explains the sarcastic saying of the Calvinistic, yet vehemently anti-Puritanic preacher, Robert South (Serm. XXIII., vol. I., 377, Philad. ed., 1844), that "the book called the Revelation, the more it is studied, the less it is understood, as generally either finding a man cracked, or making him so." The remark is sometimes falsely attributed to Calvin, but he had great respect for the book, and quotes it freely for doctrinal purposes, though he modestly or wisely abstained from writing a commentary on it.

The opening and closing chapters are as clear and dazzling as sunlight, and furnish spiritual nourishment and encouragement to the plainest Christian; but the intervening visions are, to most readers, as dark as midnight, yet with many stars and the full moon illuminating the darkness. The Epistles to the Seven Churches, the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the anthems and doxologies12461246    Rev. 4:11; 5:8-14; 7:12-17; 11:15; 14:13; 15:3; 19:1, 2, 6, 7. which are interspersed through the mysterious visions, and glister like brilliant jewels on a canopy of richest black, are among the most beautiful, sublime, edifying, and inspiring portions of the Bible, and they ought to guard us against a hasty judgment of those chapters which we may be unable to understand. The Old Testament prophets were not clearly understood until the fulfilment cast its light upon them, and yet they served a most useful purpose as books of warning, comfort, and hope for the coming Messiah. The Revelation will be fully revealed when the new heavens and the new earth appear—not before.12471247    Herder: "How many passages in the prophets are obscure in their primary historical references, and yet these passages, containing divine truth, doctrine, and consolation, are manna for all hearts and all ages. Should it not be so with the book which is an abstract of almost all prophets and Apostles?"

"A prophet" (says the sceptical DeWette in his Commentary on Revelation, which was his last work) "is essentially an inspired man, an interpreter of God, who announces the Word of God to men in accordance with, and within the limits of, the divine truth already revealed through Moses in the Old Testament, through Christ in the New (the ἀποκάλυψις μυστηρίου, Rom. 16:25. Prophecy rests on faith in a continuous providence of God ruling over the whole world, and with peculiar efficacy over Israel and the congregation of Christ, according to the moral laws revealed through Moses and Christ especially the laws of retribution. According to the secular view, all changes in human affairs proceed partly from man’s power and prudence, partly from accident and the hidden stubbornness of fate; but according to the prophetic view, everything happens through the agency of God and in harmony with his counsels of eternal and unchangeable justice, and man is the maker of his own fortunes by obeying or resisting the will of God."12481248    Zur Einleit. in die Offenb. Joh., p. 1. The translation is condensed.

The prophecy of the Bible meets the natural desire to know the future, and this desire is most intense in great critical periods that are pregnant with fears and hopes. But it widely differs from the oracles of the heathen, and the conjectures of farseeing men. It rests on revelation, not on human sagacity and guesses; it gives certainty, not mere probability; it is general, not specific; it does not gratify curiosity, but is intended to edify and improve. The prophets are not merely revealers of secrets, but also preachers of repentance, revivalists, comforters, rebuking sin, strengthening faith, encouraging hope.

The Apocalypse is in the New Testament what the Book of Daniel is in the Old, and differs from it as the New Testament differs from the Old. Both are prophetic utterances of the will of God concerning the future of his kingdom on earth. Both are books of the church militant, and engage heaven and earth, divine, human, and satanic powers, in a conflict for life and death. They march on as "a terrible army with banners." They reverberate with thunderings and reflect the lightning flashes from the throne. But while Daniel looks to the first advent of the Messiah as the heir of the preceding world-monarchies, John looks to the second advent of Christ and the new heavens and the new earth. He gathers up all the former prophecies and sends them enriched to the future. He assures us of the final fulfilment of the prophecy of the serpent-bruiser, which was given to our first parents immediately after the fall as a guiding star of hope in the dark night of sin. He blends the glories of creation and redemption in the finale of the new Jerusalem from heaven.

The Apocalypse, as to its style of composition, is written in prose, like Daniel, but belongs to prophetic poetry, which is peculiar to the Bible and takes there the place of the epic poetry of the Greeks; God himself being the hero, as it were, who rules over the destinies of man. It is an inspired work of art, and requires for its understanding a poetic imagination, which is seldom found among commentators and critics; but the imagination must be under the restraint of sober judgment, or it is apt to run into fantastic comments which themselves need a commentary. The apocalyptic vision is the last and most complete form of the prophetic poetry of the Bible. The strong resemblance between the Revelation and Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah is admitted, and without them it cannot be understood.

But we may compare it also, as to its poetic form and arrangement, with the book of Job. Both present a conflict on earth, controlled by invisible powers in heaven. In Job it is the struggle of an individual servant of God with Satan, the arch-slanderer and persecutor of man, who, with the permission of God, uses temporal losses, bodily sufferings, mental anguish, harassing doubt, domestic affliction, false and unfeeling friends to secure his ruin. In the Apocalypse it is the conflict of Christ and his church with the anti-Christian world. In both the scene begins in heaven; in both the war ends in victory but in Job long life and temporal prosperity of the individual sufferer is the price, in the Apocalypse redeemed humanity in the new heavens and the new earth. Both are arranged in three parts: a prologue, the battle with successive encounters, and an epilogue. In both the invisible power presiding over the action is the divine counsel of wisdom and mercy, in the place of the dark impersonal fate of the Greek drama.12491249    Prof. Godet compares the Apocalypse with the Song of Songs, viewed as a dramatic poem, and calls it "the Canticle of the New Testament," as the Song of Songs is "the Apocalypse of the Old." But I cannot see the aptness of this comparison. Eichhorn treated the Apocalypse as a regular drama with a prologue, three acts, and an epilogue.

A comparison between the Apocalypse and the pseudo-apocalyptic Jewish and Christian literature—the Fourth Book of Esdras, the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Sibylline Oracles, etc.—opens a wide field on which we cannot enter without passing far beyond the limits of this work. We may only say that the relation is the same as that between the canonical Gospels and the apocryphal pseudo-Gospels, between real history and the dreamland of fable, between the truth of God and the fiction of man.12501250    See Lücke, pp. 66-345; Lange, pp. 6 sqq.; Hilgenfeld, Die jüdische Apokalyptik (1857); Schürer, N. T’liche Zeitgeschichte (1874), pp. 511-563.

The theme of the Apocalypse is: "I come quickly," and the proper attitude of the church toward it is the holy longing of a bride for her spouse, as expressed in the response (Rev. 22:20): "Amen: come, Lord Jesus." It gives us the assurance that Christ is coming in every great event, and rules and overrules all things for the ultimate triumph of his kingdom; that the state of the church on earth is one of continual conflict with hostile powers, but that she is continually gaining victories and will at last completely and finally triumph over all her foes and enjoy unspeakable bliss in communion with her Lord. From the concluding chapters Christian poetry has drawn rich inspiration, and the choicest hymns on the heavenly home of the saints are echoes of John’s description of the new Jerusalem. The whole atmosphere of the book is bracing, and makes one feel fearless and hopeful in the face of the devil and the beasts from the abyss. The Gospels lay the foundation in faith, the Acts and Epistles build upon it a holy life; the Apocalypse is the book of hope to the struggling Christian and the militant church, and insures final victory and rest. This has been its mission; this will be its mission till the Lord come in his own good time.12511251    Godet (p. 297): "The Apocalypse is the precious vessel in which the treasure of Christian hope has been deposited for all ages of the church, but especially for the church under the cross." Dr. Chambers (p. 15): "The scope of this mysterious book is not to convince unbelievers, nor to illustrate the divine prescience, nor to minister to men’s prurient desire to peer into the future, but to edify the disciples of Christ in every age by unfolding the nature and character of earth’s conflicts, by preparing them for trial as not a strange thing, by consoling them with the prospect of victory, by assuring them of God’s sovereign control over all persons and things, and by pointing them to the ultimate issue when they shall pass through the gates of pearl never more to go out."

Analysis of Contents.

The Apocalypse consists of a Prologue, the Revelation proper, and an Epilogue. We may compare this arrangement to that of the Fourth Gospel, where John 1:1–18 forms the Prologue, John 21 the Epilogue, and the intervening chapters contain the evangelical history from the gathering of the disciples to the Resurrection.

I. The Prologue and the Epistles to the Seven Churches, Rev. 1–3. The introductory notice; John’s salutation and dedication to the Seven Churches in Asia; the vision of Christ in his glory, and the Seven Churches; the Seven Epistles addressed to them and through them to the whole church, in its various states.12521252    Comp. § 50, (this vol.).

II. The Revelation proper or the Prophetic Vision of the Church of the Future, 4:1–22:5. It consists chiefly of seven Visions, which are again subdivided according to a symmetrical plan in which the numbers seven, three, four, and twelve are used with symbolic significance. There are intervening scenes of rest and triumph. Sometimes the vision goes back to the beginning and takes a new departure.

(1) The Prelude in heaven, Rev. 4 and 5. (a) The appearance of the throne of God (Rev. 4). (b) The appearance of the Lamb who takes and opens the sealed book (Rev. 5).

(2) The vision of the seven seals, with two episodes between the sixth and seventh seals, 6:1–8:1.

(3) The vision of the seven trumpets of vengeance, 8:2–11:19.

(4) The vision of the woman (the church) and her three enemies, 12:1–13:18. The three enemies are the dragon (12:3–17), the beast from the sea (12:18–13:10), and the beast from the earth, or the false prophet (13:11–18).

(5) The group of visions in Rev 14: (a) the vision of the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1–5); (b) of the three angels of judgment (14:6–11), followed by an episode (14:12, 13); (c) the vision of the harvest and the vintage of the earth (14:14–20).

(6) The vision of the seven vials of wrath, 15:1–16:21.

(7) The vision of the final triumph, 17:1–22:5: (a) the fall of Babylon (17:1–19:10); (b) the overthrow of Satan (19:11–20:10), with the millennial reign intervening (20:1–6); (c) the universal judgment (20:11–15); (d) the new heavens and the new earth, and the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem (21:1–22:5).

III. The Epilogue, 22:6–21. The divine attestation, threats, and promises.

Authorship and Canonicity.

The question of authorship has already been discussed in connection with John’s Gospel. The Apocalypse professes to be the work of John, who assumes a commanding position over the churches of Asia. History knows only one such character, the Apostle and Evangelist, and to him it is ascribed by the earliest and most trustworthy witnesses, going back to the lifetime of many friends and pupils of the author. It is one of the best authenticated books of the New Testament.12531253    See the testimonies in Charteris, Canonicity, pp. 336-357; also Lücke (pp. 419-887), Alford (iv. 198-229), Lee (pp. 405-442), and other commentators.

And yet, owing to its enigmatical obscurity, it is the most disputed of the seven Antilegomena; and this internal difficulty has suggested the hypothesis of the authorship of "Presbyter John," whose very existence is doubtful (being based on a somewhat obscure passage of Papias), and who at all events could not occupy a rival position of superintendency over the churches in Asia during the lifetime of the great John. The Apocalypse was a stumbling-block to the spiritualism of the Alexandrian fathers, and to the realism of the Reformers (at least Luther and Zwingli), and to not a few of eminent modern divines; and yet it has attracted again and again the most intense curiosity and engaged the most patient study of devout scholars; while humble Christians of every age are cheered by its heroic tone and magnificent close in their pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. Rejected by many as unapostolic and uncanonical, and assigned to a mythical Presbyter John, it is now recognized by the severest school of critics as an undoubted production of the historical Apostle John.12541254    This is the almost unanimous opinion of the Tübingen critics and their sympathizers on the Continent and in England.

If so, it challenges for this reason alone our profound reverence. For who was better fitted to be the historian of the past and the seer of the future than the bosom friend of our Lord and Saviour? Able scholars, rationalistic as well as orthodox, have by thorough and patient investigation discovered or fully confirmed its poetic beauty and grandeur, the consummate art in its plan and execution. They have indeed not been able to clear up all the mysteries of this book, but have strengthened rather than weakened its claim to the position which it has ever occupied in the canon of the New Testament.

It is true, the sceptical critics who so confidently vindicate the apostolic origin of the Apocalypse, derive from this very fact their strongest weapon against the apostolic origin of the fourth Gospel. But the differences of language and spirit which have been urged are by no means irreconcilable, and are overruled by stronger resemblances in the theology and christology and even in the style of the two books. A proper estimate of John’s character enables us to see that he was not only able, but eminently fitted to write both; especially if we take into consideration the intervening distance of twenty or thirty years, the difference of the subject (prospective prophecy in one, and retrospective history in the other), and the difference of the state of mind, now borne along in ecstacy (ἐν πρεύματι) from vision to vision and recording what the Spirit dictated, now calmly collecting his reminiscences in full, clear self-consciousness (ἐν νοΐ).12551255    Comp. Rev. 1:10; 1 Cor. 14:15. See, besides the references mentioned at the head of the section, the testimony of Dr. Weiss, who, in his Leben Jesu (1882), I. 97-101, ably discusses the difference, between the two books, and comes to the conclusion that they are both from the same Apostle John. "Yes" (he says, with reference to a significant concession of Dr. Baur), "the fourth Gospel is ’the spiritualized Apocalypse,’ but not because an intellectual hero of the second century followed the seer of the Apocalypse, but because the Son of Thunder of the Apocalypse had been matured and transfigured by the Spirit and the divine guidance into a mystic, and the flames of his youth had burnt down into the glow of a holy love."

The Time of Composition.

The traditional date of composition at the end of Domitian’s reign (95 or 96) rests on the clear and weighty testimony of Irenaeus, is confirmed by Eusebius and Jerome, and has still its learned defenders,12561256    The great majority of older commentators, and among the recent ones Elliott, Alford, Hengstenberg, Ebrard, Lange, Hofmann, Godet, Lee, Milligan, and Warfield (in Schaff’s "Encycl." III. 2035). I myself formerly advocated the later date, in the Hist. of the Ap. Church (1853), pp. 418 sqq but the internal evidence strongly favors an earlier date between the death of Nero (June 9, 68) and the destruction of Jerusalem (August 10, 70).12571257    The early date is advocated or accepted by Neander, Lücke, Bleek, Ewald, DeWette, Baur, Hilgenfeld, Reuss, Düsterdieck, Renan, Aubé, Stuart, Davidson, Cowles, Bishop Lightfoot, Westoott, Holtzmann, Weiss; and among earlier writers by Alcasar, Grotius, Hammond, Abauzit, and John Lightfoot. This helps us at the same time more easily to explain the difference between the fiery energy of the Apocalypse and the calm repose of the fourth Gospel, which was composed in extreme old age. The Apocalypse forms the natural transition from the Synoptic Gospels to the fourth Gospel. The condition of the Seven Churches was indeed different from that which existed a few years before when Paul wrote to the Ephesians; but the movement in the apostolic age was very rapid. Six or seven years intervened to account for the changes. The Epistle to the Hebrews implies a similar spiritual decline among its readers in 63 or 64. Great revivals of religion are very apt to be quickly followed by a reaction of worldliness or indifference.

The arguments for the early date are the following:

1. Jerusalem was still standing, and the seer was directed to measure the Temple and the altar (Rev. 11:1), but the destruction is predicted as approaching. The Gentiles "shall tread (πατήσουσιν) the holy city under foot forty and two months" (11:2; Comp. Luke 21:24), and the "dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). The existence of the twelve tribes seems also to be assumed in 7:4–8. The advocates of the traditional date understand these passages in a figurative sense. But the allusion to the crucifixion compels us to think of the historical Jerusalem.

2. The book was written not long after the death of the fifth Roman emperor, that is, Nero, when the empire had received a deadly wound (comp. 13:3, 12, 14). This is the natural interpretation of 17:10, where it is stated that the seven heads of the scarlet-colored beast, i.e., heathen Rome, "are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come, and when he cometh, he must continue a little while." The first five emperors were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, with whom the gens Julia ingloriously perished. Next came Galba, a mere usurper (seventy-three years old), who ruled but a short time, from June, 68, to January, 69, and was followed by two other usurpers, Otho and Vitellius, till Vespasian, in 70, restored the empire after an interregnum of two years, and left the completion of the conquest of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem to his son Titus.12581258    Suetonius, Vespas. c. 1 "Rebellione trium principum et caede incertum diu et quasi vagum imperium suscepit firmavitque tandem gens Flavia." Vespasian may therefore be regarded as the sixth head, the three rebels not being counted; and thus the composition of the Apocalypse would fall in the spring (perhaps Easter) of the year 70. This is confirmed by 13:3, 12, 14, where the deadly wound of the beast is represented as being already healed.12591259    So Bleek (p. 121), Lücke (in the second ed.), Böhmer, Weiss, Düsterdieck (Introd. pp. 55 sqq. and Com. on Rev. 13:3, and 17:7-14). But if the usurpers are counted, Galba is the sixth head, and the Revelation was written in 68. In either case Julius Caesar must be excluded from the series of emperors (contrary to Josephus).

Several critics refer the seventh head to Nero, and ascribe to the seer the silly expectation of the return of Nero as Antichrist.12601260    So Ewald, Reuss, Baur, etc. See NOTES below. In this way they understand the passage 17:11: "The beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth and is of the seven." But John makes a clear distinction between the heads of the beast, of whom Nero was one, and the beast itself, which is the Roman empire. I consider it simply impossible that John could have shared in the heathen delusion of Nero redivivus, which would deprive him of all credit as an inspired prophet. He may have regarded Nero as a fit type and forerunner of Antichrist, but only in the figurative sense in which Babylon of old was the type of heathen Rome.

3. The early date is best suited for the nature and object of the Apocalypse, and facilitates its historical understanding. Christ pointed in his eschatological discourses to the destruction of Jerusalem and the preceding tribulation as the great crisis in the history of the theocracy and the type of the judgment of the world. And there never was a more alarming state of society. The horrors of the French Revolution were confined to one country, but the tribulation of the six years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem extended over the whole Roman empire and embraced wars and rebellions, frequent and unusual conflagrations, earthquakes and famines and plagues, and all sorts of public calamities and miseries untold. It seemed, indeed, that the world, shaken to its very centre, was coming to a close, and every Christian must have felt that the prophecies of Christ were being fulfilled before his eyes.12611261    Comp. ch. vi., pp. 376-402, and especially the most graphic description of those terrible years by Renan, in L’Antechrist, ch. xiv., pp. 320-339, which I would like to transcribe if space permitted. His facts are well supported by heathen and Jewish testimonies especially Tacitus, Suetonius, Strabo, Pliny, Josephus, etc.

It was at this unique juncture in the history of mankind that St. John, with the consuming fire in Rome and the infernal spectacle of the Neronian persecution behind him, the terrors of the Jewish war and the Roman interregnum around him, and the catastrophe of Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy before him, received those wonderful visions of the impending conflicts and final triumphs of the Christian church. His was truly a book of the times and for the times, and administered to the persecuted brethren the one but all-sufficient consolation: Maran atha! Maran atha!


The different interpretations are reduced by English writers to three systems according as the fulfilment of the prophecy is found in the past, present, or future.12621262    See Alford, Com. iv., 245 sqq.; Elliott, 4th vol.; Sam. Davidson, Introd. to the N. T., first ed. III. 619, revised ed., vol. II. 297, and Lee, Com. p. 488. Davidson adds a fourth class of "extreme," as distinguished from simple "Futurists," who refer the entire book, including Rev. 2 and 3, to the last times. Lee substitutes with Lücke the term "Historical" for "Continuous," but Historical applies better to the first class called "Preterists." Lee adds (491), as a fourth system, the "Spiritual system," and names Augustin (his "City of God," as the first philosophy of history), J. C. K. von Hofmann, Hengstenberg, Auberlen, Ebrard as its chief defenders. It is the same with what Auberlen calls the reichsgeschichtliche Auslegung.

1. The Preterist system applies the Revelation to the destruction of Jerusalem and heathen Rome. So among Roman Catholics: Alcasar (1614), Bossuet (1690). Among Protestants: Hugo Grotius (1644), Hammond (1653), Clericus (1698), Wetstein (1752), Abauzit, Herder, Eichhorn, Ewald, Lücke, Bleek, DeWette, Reuss, Renan, F. D. Maurice, Samuel Davidson, Moses Stuart Cowles, Desprez, etc. Some12631263    So Herder, in his suggestive book ΜΑΡΑΝ ΑΘΑ, das Buch von der Zukunft des Herrn, des N. Testaments Siegel, Riga, 1779. He was preceded in the anti-Jewish explication by Abauzit of Geneva (1730), who assigned the book to the reign of Nero, and Wetstein (1752), and followed by Hartwig (1780) and Züllig. The last, in a learned work on the Apocalypse (Stuttgart, 1834, 2 vols., 1840), refers it exclusively to the Jewish state. refer it chiefly to the overthrow of the Jewish theocracy, others chiefly to the conflict with the Roman empire, still others to both.

But there is a radical difference between those Preterists who acknowledge a real prophecy and permanent truth in the book, and the rationalistic Preterists who regard it as a dream of a visionary which was falsified by events, inasmuch as Jerusalem, instead of becoming the habitation of saints, remained a heap of ruins, while Rome, after the overthrow of heathenism, became the metropolis of Latin Christendom. This view rests on a literal misunderstanding of Jerusalem.

2. The Continuous (or Historical) system: The Apocalypse is a prophetic compend of church history and covers all Christian centuries to the final consummation. It speaks of things past, present, and future; some of its prophecies are fulfilled, some are now being fulfilled, and others await fulfillment in the yet unknown future. Here belong the great majority of orthodox Protestant commentators and polemics who apply the beast and the mystic Babylon and the mother of harlots drunken with the blood of saints to the church of Rome, either exclusively or chiefly. But they differ widely among themselves in chronology and the application of details. Luther, Bullinger, Collado, Pareus, Brightman, Mede, Robert Fleming, Whiston, Vitringa, Bengel, Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, Faber, Woodhouse, Elliott, Birks, Gaussen, Auberlen, Hengstenberg, Alford, Wordsworth, Lee.

3. The Futurist system: The events of the Apocalypse from Rev. 4 to the close lie beyond the second advent of Christ. This scheme usually adopts a literal interpretation of Israel, the Temple, and the numbers (the 31 times, 42 months, 1260 days, 3 1/2 years). So Ribera (a Jesuit, 1592), Lacunza (another Jesuit, who wrote under the name of Ben-Ezra "On the coming of Messiah in glory and majesty," and taught the premillennial advent, the literal restoration of the ancient Zion, and the future apostasy of the clergy of the Roman church to the camp of Antichrist), S. R. Maitland, De Burgh, Todd, Isaac Williams, W. Kelly.

Another important division of historical interpreters is into Post-Millennarians and Pre-Millennarians, according as the millennium predicted in Rev. 20 is regarded as part or future. Augustin committed the radical error of dating the millennium from the time of the Apocalypse or the beginning of the Christian era (although the seer mentioned it near the end of his book), and his view had great influence; hence the wide expectation of the end of the world at the close of the first millennium of the Christian church. Other post-millennarian interpreters date the millennium from the triumph of Christianity over paganism in Rome at the accession of Constantine the Great (311); still others (as Hengstenberg) from the conversion of the Germanic nations or the age of Charlemagne. All these calculations are refuted by events. The millennium of the Apocalypse must he in the future, and is still an article of hope.

The grammatical and historical interpretation of the Apocalypse, as well as of any other book, is the only safe foundation for all legitimate spiritual and practical application. Much has been done in this direction by the learned commentators of recent times. We must explain it from the standpoint of the author and in view of his surroundings. He wrote out of his time and for his time of things which must shortly come to pass (1:1, 3; 22:20), and he wished to be read and understood by his contemporaries (1:3). Otherwise he would have written in vain, and the solemn warning at the close (22:18, 19) would be unintelligible. In some respects they could understand him better than we; for they were fellow-sufferers of the fiery persecutions and witnesses of the fearful judgments described. Undoubtedly he had in view primarily the overthrow of Jerusalem and heathen Rome, the two great foes of Christianity at that time. He could not possibly ignore that great conflict.

But his vision was not confined to these momentous events. It extends even to the remotest future when death and Hades shall be no more, and a new heaven and a new earth shall appear. And although the fulfilment is predicted as being near at hand, he puts a millennium and a short intervening conflict before the final overthrow of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. We have an analogy in the prophecy of the Old Testament and the eschatalogical discourses of our Lord, which furnish the key for the understanding of the Apocalypse. He describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the general judgment in close proximity, as if they were one continuous event. He sees the end from the beginning. The first catastrophe is painted with colors borrowed from the last, and the last appears as a repetition of the first on a grand and universal scale. It is the manner of prophetic vision to bring distant events into close proximity, as in a panorama. To God a thousand years are as one day. Every true prophecy, moreover, admits of an expanding fulfilment. History ever repeats itself, though never in the same way. There is nothing old under the sun, and, in another sense, there is nothing new under the sun.

In the historical interpretation of details we must guard against arbitrary and fanciful schemes, and mathematical calculations, which minister to idle curiosity, belittle the book, and create distrust in sober minds. The Apocalypse is not a prophetical manual of church history and chronology in the sense of a prediction of particular persons, dates, and events. This would have made it useless to the first readers, and would make it useless now to the great mass of Christians. It gives under symbolic figures and for popular edification an outline of the general principles of divine government and the leading forces in the conflict between Christ’s kingdom and his foes, which is still going on under ever-varying forms. In this way it teaches, like all the prophetic utterances of the Gospels and Epistles, lessons of warning and encouragement to every age. We must distinguish between the spiritual coming of Christ and his personal arrival or parousia. The former is progressive, the latter instantaneous. The coming began with his ascension to heaven (comp. Matt. 26:64: "Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven") and goes on in unbroken succession of judgments and blessings (for "the history of the world is a judgment of the world"); hence the alternation of action and repose, of scenes of terror and scenes of joy, of battles and victories. The arrival of the Bridegroom is still in the unknown future, and may be accelerated or delayed by the free action of the church, but it is as certain as the first advent of Christ. The hope of the church will not be disappointed, for it rests on the promise of Him who is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).


The Number 666.

The historical understanding of the Apocalypse turns, according to its own statement, chiefly on the solution of the numerical riddle in the thirteenth chapter, which has tried the wits of commentators from the time of Irenaeus in the second century to the present day, and is still under dispute. The history of its solution is a history of the interpretation of the whole book. Hence I present here a summary of the most important views. First some preliminary remarks.

1. The text, Apoc. 13:18: "Here is wisdom: he that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man (ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν), and the number is six hundred and sixty-six " χξς̓ orἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἓξ ).

This is the correct reading in the Greek text (supported by Codd. א, A, B (2), P (2), Origen, Primasius, and Versions), and is adopted by the best editors. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. v. 30, quoted also in full by Tischendorf in his edition VIII. critica major) found it "in all the most approved and ancient copies" (ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς σπουδαίοις καὶ ἀρχαίοις ἀντιγράφοις), and "attested by those who had themselves seen John face to face." There was, however, in his day, a very remarkable variation, sustained by Cod. C, and "some" copies, known to, but not approved by, Irenaeus, namely, 616. (χις̓, i.e., ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἓξ) In the Anglo-American revision this reading is noted in the margin.

2. "The number of a man" may mean either the number of an individual, or of a corporate person, or a human number (Menschenzahl), i.e., a number according to ordinary human reckoning (so Bleek, who compares μέτρον ἀνθρώπου, , "the measure of a man," Rev. 21:17, and Isa. 8:1). Just because the number may be counted in the customary way, the writer could expect the reader to find it out. He made the solution difficult indeed, but not impossible. Dr. Lee (p. 687) deems it not inconsistent with a proper view of inspiration that John himself did not know the meaning of the number. But how could he then ask his less knowing readers to count the number?

3. The mystic use of numbers (the rabbinical Ghematria, γεωμετρία) was familiar to the Jews in Babylon, and passed from them to the Greeks in Asia. It occurs in the Cabbala, in the Sibylline Books (I. 324–331), in the Epistle of Barnabas, and was very common also among the Gnostic sects (e g., the Abrasax or Abraxas, which signified the unbegotten Father, and the three hundred and sixty-five heavens, corresponding to the number of days in the year).12641264    α = 1, β = 2, ρ = 100, α = 1, ξ = 60, α = 1, ς = 200; total, 365. A vast number of engraved stones, called " Abraxas-gems," are still extant. The origin of Abraxas is usually ascribed to Basilides or his followers. It arose from the employment of the letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets for the designation of numbers. The Hebrew Aleph counts 1, Beth 2, etc., Yodh 10; but Kaph (the eleventh letter) counts 20, Resh (the twentieth letter) 200, etc. The Greek letters, with the addition of an acute accent (as α’, β’), have the same numerical value in their order down to Sigma, which counts 200; except that ς’ (st) is used for 6, and Φ’ (an antiquated letter Koppa between πand ρ) for 90. The Hebrew alphabet ends with Taυ= 400, the Greek with Omega = 800. To express thousands an accent is put beneath the letter, as,α, = 1,000; ,β, = 2,000; ,ι, = 10,000.

4. On this fact most interpretations of the Apocalyptic puzzle are based. It is urged by Bleek, DeWette, Wieseler, and others, that the number 666 must be deciphered from the Greek alphabet, since the book was written in Greek and for Greek readers, and uses the Greek letters Alpha and Omega repeatedly as a designation of Christ, the Beginning and the End (1:8; 21:6; 22:13). On the other hand, Ewald and Renan, and all who favor the Nero-hypothesis, appeal against this argument to the strongly Hebraistic spirit and coloring of the Apocalypse and the familiarity of its Jewish Christian readers with the Hebrew alphabet. The writer, moreover, may have preferred this for the purpose of partial concealment; just as he substituted Babylon for Rome (comp. 1 Pet. 5:13). But after all, the former view is much more natural. John wrote to churches of Asia Minor, chiefly gathered from Gentile converts who knew no Hebrew. Had he addressed Christians in Palestine, the case might be different.

5. The number 666 (three sixes) must, in itself, be a significant number, if we keep in view the symbolism of numbers which runs through the whole Apocalypse. It is remarkable that the numerical value of the name Jesus is 888 (three eights), and exceeds the trinity of the sacred number (777) as much as the number of the beast falls below it.12651265    I = 10 + η = 8 + σ = 200 + ο = 70 + υ = 400 + σ = 200, total ἰησουσ = 888. Comp. Barnabas, Ep. c. 9; and the Sibylline Books, I. 324-331.

6. The "beast" coming out of the sea and having seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 13:1–10) is the anti-Christian world-power at war with the church of Christ. It is, as in Daniel, an apt image of the brutal nature of the pagan state. It is, when in conflict with the church, the secular or political Antichrist; while "the false prophet," who works signs and deceives the worshippers of the beast (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), is the intellectual and spiritual Antichrist, in close alliance with the former, his high-priest and minister of cultus, so to say, and represents the idolatrous religion which animates and supports the secular imperialism. In wider application, the false prophet may be taken as the personification of all false doctrine and heresy by which the world is led astray. For as there are "many Antichrists," so there are also many false prophets. The name "Antichrist," however, never occurs in the Apocalypse, but only in the Epistles of John (five times), and there in the plural, in the sense of "false prophets" or heretical teachers, who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (1 John 4:1–3). Paul designates the Antichrist as, "the man of sin," the son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God" (2 Thess. 2:3, 4). But he seems to look upon the Roman empire as a restraining power which, for a time at least, prevented the full outbreak of the "mystery of lawlessness," then already at work (2:6–8). He thus wrote a year or two before the accession of Nero, and sixteen years or more before the composition of the Apocalypse.

The beast must refer to heathen Rome and the seven heads to seven emperors. This is evident from the allusion to the "seven mountains," that is, the seven-hilled city (urbs septicollis) on which the woman sits, 17:9. But not a few commentators give it a wider meaning, and understand by the heads as many world-monarchies, including those of Daniel, before Christ, and extending to the last times. So Auberlen, Ganssen, Hengstenberg, Von Hofmann, Godet, and many English divines.

7. The numerous interpretations of the mystic number of the beast may be reduced to three classes:

(a) The figures 666 represent the letters composing the name of a historical power, or of a single man, in conflict with Christ and his church. Here belong the explanations: Latinus, Caesar-Augustus, Nero, and other Roman emperors down to Diocletian. Even such names as Julian the Apostate, Genseric, Mohammed (Maometis), Luther (Martinus Lauterus), Joannes Calvinus, Beza Antitheos, Louis XIV., Napoleon Bonaparte, the Duke of Reichstadt (called "King of Rome"), Napoleon III., have been discovered in the three sixes by a strange kind of imposition.12661266    These pious absurdities are surpassed by the rationalistic absurdity of Volkmar, who (in his Com. on the Apoc., 1862, p. 197) carries the imaginary hostility of John to Paul so far as to refer "the false prophet" (Rev. 16:13; 19:20) to the Apostle of the Gentiles, because he taught (Rom. 13) that every soul should be subject to the then reigning Nero (ie., the beast)! Even Hilgenfeld (Einleit. p. 436) and Samuel Davidson (I. 291), while agreeing with Volkmar in the Nero-hypothesis, protest against such impious nonsense.

(b) The number is chronological, and designates the duration of the life of the beast, whether it be heathenism, or Mohammedanism, or popery.

(c) The number is symbolical of Antichrist and the anti-Christian power.

We now proceed to the principal interpretations.

Latinus or the Roman Empire.

Lateinos (Λατεῖνοςfor λατῖνος,Latinus), i.e., the Latin or Roman empire. This is the numerical value of 666 in Greek: λ= 30 +α= 1 + τ= 300 + ε = 5 + ι= 10 + ν= 50 + ο= 70 + σ= 200 = total 666. The Greek form Λατεῖνοςis no valid objection; for ει often represents the Latin long i, as in Ἀντονεῖνος, Παυλεῖνος, Παπεῖρος Σαβεῖνος, Φαυστεῖος.J. E. Clarke shows that ἡ Λατινὴ βασιλεία, "the Latin empire," likewise gives the number 666.12671267    See Lee, Com. p. 687. Adam Clarke regarded this unanswerable.

This interpretation is the oldest we know of, and is already mentioned by Irenaeus, the first among the Fathers who investigated the problem, and who, as a pupil of Polycarp in Smyrna (d. 155), the personal friend of John, deserves special consideration as a witness of traditions from the school of the beloved disciple. He mentions three interpretations, all based on the Greek alphabet, namely Εὐανθας(which is of no account), Λατεινος(which he deems possible), and Τειταν, i.e., Titus (which he, upon the whole, prefers), but he abstains from a positive decision, for the reason that the Holy Scripture does not clearly proclaim the name of the beast or Antichrist.12681268    Adv. Haer., v. 30, §§3 and 4. Josephus, from prudential regard to his patrons, the Flavian emperors, withheld the interpretation of the fourth beast and the stone cut out of the mountain in Daniel’s vision. Ant. x. 10, § 4. On which Havercamp remarks: "Nor is this to be wondered at that he would not now meddle with things future; for he had no mind to provoke the Romans by speaking of the destruction of that city, which they called the eternal city."

The interpretation Latinus is the only sensible one among the three, and adopted by Hippolytus, Bellarmin, Eichhorn, Bleek, DeWette, Ebrard, Düsterdieck, Alford, Wordsworth, Lee, and others.

Latinus was the name of a king of Latium, but not of any Roman emperor. Hence it must here be taken in a generic sense, and applied to the whole heathen Roman empire.

Here the Roman Catholic divines stop.12691269    If they go farther, they discover the anti-Christian beast in the mediaeval German (the so-called "Holy Roman") empire in conflict with the papacy, in the Napoleonic imperialism, the Russian Czarism, the modern German empire (the anti-papal Cultur-Kampf ), in fact in every secular power which is hostile to the interests of the Roman hierarchy and will "not go to Canossa." This would be the very reverse of the old Protestant interpretation. But many Protestant commentators apply it also, in a secondary sense, to the Latin or papal church as far as it repeated in its persecuting spirit the sins of heathen Rome. The second beast which is described, Rev. 13:11–17, as coming out of the earth, and having two horns like unto a lamb, and speaking as a dragon, and exercising all the authority of the first beast in his sight, is referred to the papacy. The false prophet receives a similar application. So Luther, Vitringa, Bengel, Auberlen, Hengstenberg, Ebrard, and many English divines.

Dean Alford advocates this double application in his Commentary. "This name," he says, "describes the common character of the rulers of the former Pagan Roman Empire—'Latini sunt qui nunc regnant,’ Iren.: and, which Irenaeus could not foresee, unites under itself the character of the later Papal Roman Empire also, as revived and kept up by the agency of its false prophet, the priesthood. The Latin Empire, the Latin Church, Latin Christianity, have ever been its commonly current appellations: its language, civil and ecclesiastical, has ever been Latin: its public services, in defiance of the most obvious requisite for public worship, have ever been throughout the world conducted in Latin; there is no one word which could so completely describe its character, and at the same time unite the ancient and modern attributes of the two beasts, as this. Short of saying absolutely that this was the word in St. John’s mind, I have the strongest persuasion that no other can be found approaching so near to a complete solution." Bishop Wordsworth gives the same anti-papal interpretation to the beast, and indulges in a variety of pious and farfetched fancies. See his Com. on 13:18, and his special work on the Apocalypse.


The Apocalypse is a Christian counterblast against the Neronian persecution, and Nero is represented as the beast of the abyss who will return as Antichrist. The number 666 signifies the very name of this imperial monster in Hebrew letters, רסַקִ ןוׄׄנֵׄ , Neron Kaesar, as follows: נ (n) = 50, ר (r) = 200, (o) = 6, ן (n) = 50, ק (k) = 100, ס (s) = 60, ר (r) = 200; in all 666. The Neronian coins of Asia bear the inscription: Νερων Και̑σαρ. But the omission of the ִי(which would add 10 to 666) from רסיק = Καῖσαρ, has been explained by Ewald (Johanneische Schriften, II. 263) from the Syriac in which it is omitted, and this view is confirmed by the testimony of inscriptions of Palmyra from the third century; see Renan (L’Antechrist, p. 415).

The coincidence, therefore, must be admitted, and is at any rate most remarkable, since Nero was the first, as well as the most wicked, of all imperial persecutors of Christianity, and eminently worthy of being characterized as the beast from the abyss, and being regarded as the type and forerunner of Antichrist.

This interpretation, moreover, has the advantage of giving the number of a man or a particular person (which is not the case with Lateinos), and affords a satisfactory explanation of the varians lectio 616; for this number precisely corresponds to the Latin form, Nero Caesar, and was probably substituted by a Latin copyist, who in his calculation dropped the final Nun (= 50), from Neron (666 less 50=616).

The series of Roman emperors (excluding Julius Caesar), according to this explanation, is counted thus: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba. This makes Nero (who died June 9, 68) the fifth, and Galba the sixth, and seems to fit precisely the passage 17:10: "Five [of the seven heads of the beast] are fallen, the one [Galba] is, the other [the seventh] is not yet come; and when he cometh he must continue a little while." This leads to the conclusion that the Apocalypse was written during the short reign of Galba, between June 9, 68, and January 15, 69. It is further inferred from 17:11 ("the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition"), that, in the opinion of the seer and in agreement with a popular rumor, Nero, one of the seven emperors, would return as the eighth in the character of Antichrist, but shortly perish.

This plausible solution of the enigma was almost simultaneously and independently discovered, between 1831 and 1837, by several German scholars, each claiming the credit of originality, viz.: C. F. A. Fritzsche (in the "Annalen der gesammten Theol. Liter.," I. 3, Leipzig, 1831); F. Benary (in the "Zeitschrift für specul. Theol.," Berlin, 1836); F. Hitzig (in Ostern und Pfingsten, Heidelb., 1837); E. Reuss (in the "Hallesche Allg. Lit.-Zeitung" for Sept., 1837); and Ewald, who claims to have made the discovery before 1831, but did not publish it till 1862. It has been adopted by Baur, Zeller, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Hausrath, Krenkel, Gebhardt, Renan, Aubé, Réville, Sabatier, Sam. Davidson (I. 291); and among American commentators by Stuart and Cowles. It is just now the most popular interpretation, and regarded by its champions as absolutely conclusive.

But, as already stated in the text, there are serious objections to the Nero-hypothesis:

(1) The language and readers of the Apocalypse suggest a Greek rather than a Hebrew explanation of the numerical riddle.

(2) The seer clearly distinguishes the beast, as a collective name for the Roman empire (so used also by Daniel), from the seven heads, i.e., kings (βασιλεῖς) or emperors. Nero is one of the five heads who ruled before the date of the Apocalypse. He was "slain" (committed suicide), and the empire fell into anarchy for two years, until Vespasian restored it, and so the death-stroke was healed (Rev. 13:3). The three emperors between Nero and Vespasian (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) were usurpers, and represent an interregnum and the deadly wound of the beast. This at least is a more worthy interpretation and consistent with the actual facts.

It should be noticed, however, that Josephus, Ant. XVIIII. 2, 2; 6, 10, very distinctly includes Julius Caesar among the emperors, and calls Augustus the second, Tiberius the third, Caius Caligula the fourth Roman emperor. Suetonius begins his Lives of the Twelve Caesars with Julius and ends with Domitian, including the lives of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. This fact tends at all events to weaken the foundation of the Nero-hypothesis.

(3) It is difficult to conceive of a reasonable motive for concealing the detested name of Nero after his death. For this reason Cowles makes Nero the sixth emperor (by beginning the series with Julius Caesar) and assigns the composition to his persecuting reign. But this does not explain the wound of the beast and the statement that "it was and is not."

(4) A radical error, such as the belief in the absurd heathen fable of the return of Nero, is altogether incompatible with the lofty character and profound wisdom of the Apocalypse, and would destroy all confidence in its prophecy. If John, as these writers maintain, composed it in 68, he lived long enough to be undeceived, and would have corrected the fatal blunder or withheld the book from circulation.

(5) It seems incredible that such an easy solution of the problem should have remained unknown for eighteen centuries and been reserved for the wits of half a dozen rival rationalists in Germany. Truth is truth, and must be thankfully accepted from any quarter and at any time; yet as the Apocalypse was written for the benefit of contemporaries of Nero, one should think that such a solution would not altogether have escaped them. Irenaeus makes no mention of it.

The Emperor of Rome.

Caesar Romae, from ׃ מוֹר רסיק So Ewald formerly (in his first commentary, published in 1828). But this gives the number 616, which is rejected by the best critics in favor of 666. In his later work, Ewald adopts the Nero-hypothesis (Die Johanneischen Schriften, Bd. II., 1862, p. 202 sq.).


From Γάιος Καῖσαρ. But this counts likewise 616.


The Greek Τεῖταν. Irenaeus considers this the most probable interpretation, because the word is composed of six letters, and belongs to a royal tyrant. If we omit the final ν(n), we get the other reading (616). The objection is that Titus, the destroyer of Jerusalem, was one of the best emperors, and not a persecutor of Christians.

Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.

Wetstein refers the letters to Titus Flavius Vespasianus, father and sons (Titus and Domitian). He thinks that John used both numbers, 616 in the first, 666 in the second edition of his book. "Eleganter" he says in his notes, et apposite Joannes Titum Flavium Vespasianum patrem et filios hoc nomine designat ... Convenit secundo nomen. Τειτάνpraenomini ipsorum Titus. Res ipsa etiam convenit. Titanes fuerunt θεομάχοι, tales etiam Vespasiani." Nov. Test., II., p. 806; comp. his critical note on p. 805.


Diocletian, Emperor, in Roman characters, Diocles Augustus, counting only some of the letters, namely: DIo CLes aVg Vst Vs.12701270    D = 500 + I = 1 + C = 100 + L = 50 + V = 5 + V = 5 = 666. Diocletian was the last of the persecuting emperors (d. 313). So Bossuet. To his worthless guess the Huguenots opposed the name of the "grand monarch" and persecutor of Protestants, Louis XIV., which yields the same result (LVDo VICVs).

The Roman Emperors from Augustus To Vespasian.

Märcker (in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1868, p. 699) has found out that the initial letters of the first ten Roman emperors from Octavianus (Augustus) to Titus, including the three usurpers Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, yield the numerical value of 666. Düsterdieck (p. 467) calls this "eine frappante Spielerei."

Caesar Augustus.

Καισαρσεβαστον(for-ς, suited to the neuter θηρίον), i.e., the "Caesar Augustan" beast.12711271    The numerical value of Καισαρσεβαστον is = 20 + 1 + 10 + 200 + 1 + 100 + 200 + 5 + 2 + 1 + 6 + 70 + 50, in all 666. The official designation of the Roman emperors was Καίσαρ Σεβαστός(Caesar Augustus), in which their blasphemous apotheosis culminates. In support of it may be quoted "the names of blasphemy on the heads of the beast," Rev. 13:1.

This is the conjecture proposed by Dr. Wieseler in his book: Zur Geschichte der Neutest. Schrift und des Urchristenthums, 1880, p. 169. It is certainly ingenious and more consistent with the character of the Apocalypse than the Nero-hypothesis. It substantially agrees with the interpretation Lateinos. But the substitution of a final ν for ςis an objection, though not more serious than the omission of the yodh from קירס

The Chronological Solutions.—The Duration of Antichrist.

The number 666 signifies the duration of the beast or antichristian world power, and the false prophet associated with the beast.

(1) The duration of Heathenism. But heathen Rome, which persecuted the church, was Christianized after the conversion of Constantine, a.d. 311. The other forms and subsequent history of heathenism lie outside of the apocalyptic vision.

(2) Mohammedanism. Pope Innocent III., when rousing Western Europe to a new crusade, declared the Saracens to be the beast, and Mohammed the false prophet whose power would last six hundred and sixty-six years. See his bull of 1213, in which he summoned the fourth Lateran Council, in Hardouin, Conc., Tom. VII. 3. But six hundred and sixty-six years have passed since the Hegira (622), and even since the fourth Lateran Council (1215); yet Islam still sits on the throne in Constantinople, and rules over one hundred and sixty million of consciences.

(3). The anti-Christian Papacy. This interpretation was suggested by mediaeval sects hostile to Rome, and was matured by orthodox Protestant divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the fresh impression of the fearful persecutions which were directly instigated or approved by the papacy, and which surpass in cruelty and extent the persecutions of heathen Rome. It is asserted that the terrible Duke of Alva alone put more Protestants to death in the Netherlands within a few years than all the heathen emperors from Nero to Diocletian; and that the victims of the Spanish Inquisition (105,000 persons in eighteen years under Torquemada’s administration) outnumber the ancient martyrs. It became almost a Protestant article of faith that the mystical Babylon, the mother of harlots, riding on the beast, the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (Apoc. 17:5 sqq.), is none other than the pseudo-Christian and anti-Christian church of Rome, and this view is still widely prevalent, especially in Great Britain and North America.

Luther struck the key-note of this anti-popery exegesis. He had at first a very low opinion of the Apocalypse, and would not recognize it as apostolic or prophetic (1522), but afterward he utilized for polemic purposes (in a preface to his edition of the N. T. of 1530). He dated the one thousand years (Rev. 20:7) with Augustin from the composition of the book, and the six hundred and sixty-six years from Gregory VII., as the supposed founder of the papacy, and understood Gog and Magog to mean the unspeakable Turks and the Jews. As Gregory VII. was elected pope 1073, the anti-Christian era ought to have come to an end a.d. 1739; but that year passed off without any change in the history of the papacy.

Luther was followed by Chytraeus (1563), Selnecker (1567), Hoe v. Honegg (1610 and 1640), and other Lutheran commentators. Calvin and Beza wisely abstained from prophetic exposition, but other Reformed divines carried out the anti-popery scheme with much learning, as Bibliander (1549 and 1559), Bullinger (1557), David Pareus (1618), Joseph Mede (the founder of the ingenious system of synchronism, in his Clavis Apocalyptica, 1627), Coccejus (1696), Vitringa (a very learned and useful commentator, 1705, 3d ed. 1721), and Joh. Albrecht Bengel (in his Gnomon, his Ordo Temporum, 1741, and especially his Erklärte Offenbarung Johannis, 1740, new ed. 1834). This truly great and good man elaborated a learned scheme of chronological interpretation, and fixed the end of the anti-Christian (papal) reign at the year 1836, and many pious people among his admirers in Würtemburg were in anxious expectation of the millennium during that year. But it passed away without any serious change, and this failure, according to Bengel’s own correct prediction, indicates a serious error in his scheme. Later writers have again and again predicted the fall of the papacy and the beginning of the millennium, advancing the date as times progress; but the years 1848 and 1870 have passed away, and the Pope still lives, enjoying a green old age, with the additional honor of infallibility, which the Fathers never heard of, which even St. Peter never claimed, and St. Paul effectually disputed at Antioch. All mathematical calculations about the second advent are doomed to disappointment, and those who want to know more than our blessed Lord knew in the days of his flesh deserve to be disappointed. "It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority" (Acts 1:7). This settles the question.

Mystical and Symbolical Interpretations.

The number is neither alphabetical nor chronological, but the mystical or symbolical name of Antichrist, who is yet to come. Here we meet again with different views.

Primasius, the African commentator of the Apocalypse (a pupil of Augustin), mentions two names as giving the general characteristics of Antichrist: Ἀντεμοςand ἀρνουμε, the former honori contrarius the other from ἀρνέομαι, to deny, by which the Antichrist is justly described, "utpote per duas partes orationis, nominis scilicet et verbi, et personae qualitas et operis insinuatur asperitas." Utterly worthless. See Lücke, p. 997. Züllig finds in the figure the name of Bileam. Not much better is Hengstenberg’s explanation: Adonikam, i.e., "The Lord arises," a good name for Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:4)! He bases it on Ezra 2:13: "The children of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty-six." Ezra gives a list of the children of Israel who returned from the captivity under Zerubbabel. What this has to do with Antichrist is difficult to see.

Von Hofmann and Füller think that the number implies the personal name of Antichrist.

Another view is this: the number is symbolical, like all other numbers in the Apocalypse, and signifies the anti-Christian world-power in all its successive forms from heathen Rome down to the end. Hence it admits of many applications, as there are "many Antichrists." The number six is the number of human work and toil (six days of the week), as seven is the number of divine rest. Or, six is the half of twelve—the number of the church—and indicates the divided condition of the temporal power. Three sixes signify worldliness (worldly glory, worldly wisdom, worldly civilization) at the height of power, which with all vaunted strength is but weakness and folly, and falls short of the divine perfection symbolized by the numbers seven and twelve. Such or similar views were suggested by Herder, Auberlen, Rösch, Hengstenberg, Burger, Maurice, Wordsworth, Vaughan, Carpenter, etc.

The Messiah of Satan.

To the class of mystical interpretation belongs the recent view of Professor Godet, of Neuchatel, which deserves special mention. This eminent commentator sees in 666 the emblematic name of The Messiah of Satan in opposition to the divine Messiah. The number was originally represented by the three letters χξς’. The first and the last letters are an abridgment of the name of Christ, and have the value of 606 (ξ= 600 + ς= 6); the middle ξis, in virtue of its form and of the sibilant sound, the emblem of Satan, and as a cipher has the value of 60. Satan is called in the Apocalypse the old serpent in allusion to the history of the temptation (Gen. 3). This explanation was first suggested by Heumann and Herder, and is made by Godet the basis of an original theory, namely, that Antichrist or the man of sin will be a Jew who will set up a carnal Israel in opposition to the true Messiah, and worship the prince of this world in order to gain universal empire.12721272    In the essay above quoted, p. 388, and in the article Revelation in Johnson’s "Cyclopaedia," III. 1606 sqq. Corruptio optimi pessima. Renan says: "Nothing can equal in wickedness the wickedness of Jews: at the same time the best of men have been Jews; you may say of this race whatever good or evil you please, without danger of overstepping the truth." In blasphemy, as well as in adoration, the Jew is the foremost of mankind. Only an apostate can blaspheme with all his heart. Our Gentile Voltaires are but lambs as compared with Jews in reviling Christ and his church. None but Israel could give birth to Judas, none but apostate Israel can give birth to Antichrist. Israel answers precisely to the description of the apocalyptic beast, which was and is not and shall be (Rev. 17:11), which was wounded to death, and is to be miraculously healed, in order to play, as the eighth head, the part of Antichrist. Godet refers to the rising power of the Jews in wealth, politics, and literature, and especially their command of the anti-Christian press in Christian countries, as indications of the approach of the fulfilment of this prophecy.

Godet holds to the late date of the Apocalypse under Domitian, and rejects the application of the seven heads of the beast to Roman emperors. He applies them, like Auberlen, Hengstenberg, and others, to as many empires, before and after Christ, but brings in, as a new feature, the Herodian dynasty, which was subject to the Roman power.

According to his view, the first head is ancient Egypt trying to destroy Israel in its cradle; the second is the Assyro-Babylonian empire which destroyed the kingdom of the ten tribes, and then Jerusalem; the third is the Persian empire, which held restored Israel under its authority; the fourth is the Greek monarchy under Antiochus Epiphanes (the little horn of Daniel 8, the Antichrist of the Old Testament), who attempted to suppress the worship of God in Israel, and to substitute that of Zeus; the fifth is the Jewish state under the Herods and the pontificates of Annas and Caiaphas, who crucified the Saviour and then tried to destroy his church; the sixth is the Roman empire, which is supposed to embrace all political power in Europe to this day; the seventh head is that power of short duration which shall destroy the whole political system of Europe, and prepare it for the arrival of Antichrist from the bosom of infidel Judaism. In this way Godet harmonizes the Apocalypse with the teaching of Paul concerning the restraining effect of the Roman empire, which will be overthrown in order to give way to the full sway of Antichrist. The eighth head is Israel restored, with a carnal Messiah at its head, who will preach the worship of humanity and overthrow Rome, the old enemy of the Jews (Apoc. 18), but be overthrown in turn by Christ (Rev. 19 and 2 Thess. 2:8). Then follows the millennium, the sabbath of humanity on earth after its long week of work, not necessarily a visible reign of Christ, but a reign by his Spirit. At the end of this period, Satan, who as yet is only bound, shall try once more to destroy the work of God, but shall only prepare his final defeat, and give the signal for the universal judgment (Rev. 20). The terrestrial state founded on the day of creation now gives place to the now heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21), in which God shall be all in all. Anticipating the sight of this admirable spectacle, John prostrates himself and invites all the faithful to cry with the Spirit and the spouse, "Lord, come—come soon" (Rev. 22). What a vast drama! What a magnificent conclusion to the Scriptures opening with Genesis! The first creation made man free; the second shall make him holy, and then the work of God is accomplished.


A very ingenious interpretation, with much valuable truth, but not the last word yet on this mysterious book, and very doubtful in its solution of the numerical riddle. The primary meaning of the beast, as already remarked, is heathen Rome, as represented by that monster tyrant and persecutor, Nero, the very incarnation of satanic wickedness. The oldest interpretation (Lateinos), known already to a grand-pupil of St. John, is also the best, and it is all the more plausible because the other interpretations which give us the alphabetical value of 666, namely, Nero and Caesar Augustus, likewise point to the same Roman power which kept up a bloody crusade of three hundred years against Christianity. But the political beast, and its intellectual ally, the false prophet, appear again and again in history, and make war upon the church and the truth of Christ, within and without the circle of the old Roman empire. Many more wonders of exegetical ability and historical learning will yet be performed before the mysteries of Revelation are solved, if they ever will be solved before the final fulfilment. In the meantime, the book will continue to accomplish its practical mission of comfort and encouragement to every Christian in the conflict of faith for the crown of life.

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