The Beast of Revelation FAQ
By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry
Published September 2008
An outline of the interview answers in Real to Reel’s interview with Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry (11/11/99) for the video:
The Beast of Revelation: IDENTIFIED
1. What is the THEME of Revelation? Isn’t it the Second Coming of Christ according to Rev. 1:7?
The theme is the judgment of the Jews for crucifying their Messiah. Although 1:7 appears to speak of the Second Advent, it actually refers to AD 70. Note the following evidence.
(1) Immediately before 1:7 John specifically declares the events of Revelation are near, not thousands of years distant. He also concludes the book with the same expectation:
Rev. 1:1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,”
Rev. 1:3: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Rev. 22:6: “Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.”
Rev. 22:10 “And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.”
(2) “Coming on the clouds” is an OT image for historical, divine judgment. For example:
Isaiah 19:1 “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”
(3) This “coming” is against those “who pierced him.” The NT blames the crucifixion on the Jews:
Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—  this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Acts 3:13-15 “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered up, and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.  “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
Acts 5:30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross”.
Acts 7:52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;
Acts 10:39 “And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.
1 Thes. 2:14-15 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,  who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men.
(4) This “coming” is against “the tribes of the earth/land.” The word GE means either “land” or “earth.”
(5) The phrase “every eye shall see him,” indicates the public nature of the judgment.
(6) Thus Revelation presents God on the throne (Rev 4) holding forth a divorce decree (Rev 5). God judges his wife for adultery (6-19), then takes a new bride, the church (21-22).
2. You make a interesting case for the Beast’s number 666 equaling the Hebrew spelling of Caesar Nero, but hasn’t the same the same been done for one of the Popes? Are there other evidences that John was referring to Nero specifically?
(1) Theoretically, the numerical value could fit many names. But the fit must be relevant.
(2) John specifically declares the events of revelation “must shortly take place” (1:1; 22:6) because “the time is at hand” (1:3; 22:10). The papacy arose hundreds of years later.
(3) John is writing to seven historical, first-century churches (1:4, 11; chs. 2 and 3) who are presently undergoing trials (1:9). One of the cries in Revelation is “how long” (6:10). The answer: “a little while longer” (6:11).
(4) The numerical value fits in both the textual form (666) and the important variant (616). One using a Hebrew spelling (in a very OT oriented book composed with an Hebraic grammar); the other using a Latin spelling (apparently to help non-Hebrew readers to understand it).
3. In Revelation 13 there are two Beasts — one from the land and one from the sea. You said the beast from the sea was Rome? Who was the beast from the land?
(1) According to commentators of all stripes (dispensational, reformed, liberal), the first Beast must be understood both generically and specifically. That is, as the Roman imperial government and as the particular emperor on the throne, much like the “body of Christ” can be either generic (the Church) or specific (Jesus himself). So the first beast is fulfilled in Nero Caesar as he exercises his imperial powers.
(2) The second beast is a subordinate of the first: (a) He exercise the authority of the first beast in his presence, and makes men worship the first beast (13:12). (b) He only has two horns (v.10) rather than ten (v. 1), thus a more limited authority. © He arises from the “earth/land” (v11) and operates there; the first beast arises from the sea (v.1) and has authority over all nations (v.7).
(3) The identity of this beast is not as clear cut as the first beast. But it would seem that it refers to the imperial authority of Rome exercised in the Land, i.e., the Procurator. In light of the circumstances of Revelation and the time-frame, this would appear to be Gessius Florus who cruelly oppressed the Jews and goaded them to revolt against Rome. This causes the historical judgments of Revelation.
4. What about the Battle of Armageddon? Is it past or future?
Given the time-frame of Revelation (“soon”/ “near”) and the focus on Israel’s judgment in AD 70, the Battle of Armageddon (16:16) is an OT image applied to AD 70. This battle results in the collapse of “the great city” (16:19), which is earlier called “the place where their Lord was crucified” (11:8), i.e., Jerusalem.
5. What’s the “Mark of the Beast”? Isn’t it at all curious to you that for the first time in human history — with microchips, retinal scanners, a growing one-world economy — that the technology exists to make the “Mark of the Beast” a reality?
(1) It is no more a literal mark than the mark of the Lamb in the next few verses (14:1).
(2) Such a mark is a metaphor for dominion and control. In Rev 13 no one may buy or sell without the mark.
(3) The beast who imposes it has divine pretensions, forcing his worship on the world (13:4, 8). This speaks of emperor worship by Nero Caesar.
(4) This very OT oriented book is using the mark on the right hand and forehead as a negative reflection on God’s requiring his Law on his people (Dt 6:8).
(5) Any present day mark goes against John’s time-frame (near), relevance (persecuted churches), and theme (judgment of Israel).
6. In Revelation 11, the Gentiles are given the power to trample the city of Jerusalem under foot for 42 months. When does this occur?
(1) This refers to the siege of Jerusalem from Spring AD 67 to the fall of the Temple in Sept 70. Vespasian enters the Land in Spring 67, but Jerusalem does not fall until 70.
(2) It clearly refers to the Jewish temple which existed when John wrote, and which was the subject of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and many of his parables.
7. Who are the two witnesses who appear in Jerusalem during the 42 months?
(1) This is recognized on all hands to be one of the more difficult identifications in Revelation.
(2) Somehow these witnesses relate to Moses and Elijah in that imagery from their ministries appear in the passage (water to blood and drought, v6).
(3) They also related to Zechariah’s prophecy of the gold lampstand and two olive trees in Zech 4:2-3, which speak of the rebuilding of the OT temple under Joshua (priest) and Zerubbabel (governor).
(4) In both allusions we have reference to the original founding of Israel as a nation and the re-establishment of it after the Babylonian exile.
(5) Thus, the two witnesses represent the founding of a new order for Israel upon the ruins of the old, earthly Israel. This is the church of Jesus Christ. Remember: Jesus said he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. (Mt 21:43). Despite the persecution of Christianity it shall arise from apparent defeat.
8. How can you possibly suggest that Revelation was fulfilled in the first century? Where is one-third of mankind killed? Where are the 200,000,000 mounted troops? The stars falling from the sky and the moon as blood? Where was there a river of blood that reached up to horses’ bridles? Don’t you have to stand scripture on its head to present these thing as fulfilled?
(1) I would respond, first, with: How could anyone possibly project these events 2000 years into the future, when John strongly asserts their temporal proximity? And since the book deals with the trials of the first century church?
(2) We must remember, also, that Revelation is extremely symbolic and based on OT imagery:
(a) It was sent a “signified” (1:1).
(b) No one interprets all its images literally:
Creatures filled with eyes (Revelation 4:6)?
Locusts w/faces of men, teeth of lions, crowns of gold, and tails like scorpions (9:6)?
Lion-headed, scorpion-tailed horses belching fire and smoke (9:17)?
Fire breathing prophets (11:5)?
A seven-headed red dragon with ten horns and seven crowns who pulls stars down from heaven (12:3-4)?
A woman with eagles’s wings standing on the moon (12:14)?
A serpent vomiting a river of water (12:15)?
The seven-headed beast compounded of four carnivores (13:2)? Frogs coming out of the mouth of a dragon (16:13)?
A prostitute riding the 7-headed beast while drunk on blood (17:6)?
Christ returning w/a sword in his mouth and on horse from heaven (19:15)?
A city: 1500 mile high cube floating down out of heaven (21:10, 16)?
© John gives clues on how to interpret some of the images.
1:20 stars = angels; lampstand are churches.
5:6 eyes are spirits.
5:8 bowls of incense = prayers.
12:9 dragon = Satan.
17:9-10 heads = mts.
17:12 horns = kings.
17:15 waters = peoples.
(3) But how do I understand these particular images mentioned?
(a) The one-third of men killed in Rev 9, is one-third of those in “the earth/land” (9:1,3), Israel. You really need to read Josephus, Wars of the Jews books 4-6, for a gruesome report of the devastation. Josephus records deaths of 1.1 million in Israel.
(b) The 200 million is a symbolic figure portraying the enormous opposition against Israel. Her doom is sure. The figure is no more literal than “the sand of the seashore” (Rev 20:8:). “Sand” is often used of large, but not exact numbers: The Canaanite army opposing Israel (Josh 11:4), the Midianite army (Jdgs 7:12), the Philistines (1 Sam 13:5).
© The stars falling and the moon as blood. These are common images from the OT signifying the collapse of governments under divine judgment. In Isa 13:10 this applies to Babylon (13:1, 17). In Isa 34:4 this applies to Edom (34:5). Even the BKC recognizes this. Stars are created to “govern” day and night, thus they serve as images of government (as in our own flag).
(d) The river of blood to horses bridles. This refers to the blood bath resulting from the Jewish War.
Wars 3:10:9: [B]ut as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore as were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled.
Wars 4:7:6: Now this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and Jordan could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the lake Asphaltitis was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river.
9. Who is the “Great City” in Revelation?
The “Great City” is called a harlot and named Babylon (17:5). Given the time-frame and theme of Revelation, this Great City must be Jerusalem:
(1) The FIRST mention is in 11:8, where “the great city” is the place where Jesus was crucified. She is “great” due to her covenantal status in biblical history (cf. Lam 1:1; Jer 22:8).
(2) The OT backdrop to the prostitute designation is Jer 3. There God calls Israel an adulterous prostitute and threatens her divorce (just as in Revelation). Jeremiah mentions Israel has the “forehead” of a prostitute (Jer 3:3), just as John mentions the forehead of the harlot in Revelation is (17:5).
(3) Revelation’s harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:21, 24): “And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:24). This perfectly parallels Jesus’ statement about Israel:
“Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matt. 23:34-35).
(4) The prostitute’s array reflects the Jewish priestly colors of scarlet, purple, and gold (Exo. 28; Rev 17). Her inscription on her forehead reminds us of the high priest’s tiara on his head (Exo 28:36-38).
(5) The NT contrasts the “Jerusalem below” with the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:24ff; Heb 12:18ff), just as John does: when the “great city” collapses she is replaced by the “new Jerusalem from heaven” (Rev 21). The new Jerusalem is apparently replacing the old.
(6) John parallels the Babylonian Harlot and the Heavenly Jerusalem to show that one is the negative image of the other: they must be related as old to new:
Revelation 17:1: “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, ‘Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters.’
Revelation 21:9: “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’”
Revelation 17:3: “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast.”
Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”
10. Does history record the merchants of the world mourning after Jerusalem was sacked, because no one buys their cargo? (Rev. 18)
Those who mourn are the “merchants of the earth,” i.e., the merchants of the Land.
11. Your position seems to write off the importance of the re-emergence of Israel as a nation. Even worse, by identifying it as the Whore of Babylon, as the ones who crucified the Lord, doesn’t your position lend itself to an anti-Israel and even an anti-Semitic position?
(1) Israel as a nation.
(a) Yes, it does write of the significance of Israel’s nationhood – as far as biblical prophecy goes. This may be an interesting political event of great joy to Jewish people, but it is without prophetic significance.
(b) Those who deem it prophetically significant also expect a future return to an OT like sacrificial system, which the NT dogmatically declares fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice – never to return (Heb. 8:13).
(a) Anti-semitism is a moral charge that speaks of the persecution and suppression of Jews. The preterist view deals only with the historical interpretation of events from 2000 years ago. No evangelical preterist would call for persecuting the Jews. In fact, my postmillennial eschatology expects that they will one day be converted to Christ, praise God.
(b) The popular dispensational view is different in that it looks to a future, soon-coming judgment of the Jews wherein 2/3 of them will be destroyed. I would think the preterist view more hopeful for the Jews than the dispensational one!
© Evangelicals need to be careful with this charge of anti-Semitism. The major sociological analyses of anti-Semitism actually declare that Christianity per se is anti-Semitic because it claims that only those who believe in Jesus will enter heaven.
In fact, the leading analyses of anti-Semitism blames the NT writers themselves for anti-Semitism: John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (1995) and Dan Cohn-Sherbock, The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism (1992, esp. p. 12). qv.
12. Your view of Revelation — that it was to be a warning and an encouragement to the early Church that was about to face the wrath of Nero and the Roman armies — would make little or no sense unless the church at that time understood it as such. Is there any evidence that they did?
(1) Ironically this question exposes the error of the futurist viewpoint. It recognizes the need of Revelation’s relevance to its first century audience, which preterism fits perfectly.
(2) This type of question could answered in the negative with no harm done to the preterist view. For we learn from the Gospels that the disciples constantly misunderstood Jesus’ own teaching and were even surprised that he died and even more so that he was resurrected. Even within Revelation Jesus chastises the churches for not having “ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” He chastens them for their dullness of hearing and for their falling away from their first love. Spiritual dullness does not negate the validity of divine revelation. The Jews as a whole missed the entire coming of the Messiah, even though the Old Testament clearly prophesied it. Subjective apprehension does not determine objective reality.
(3) Revelation’s warning about Rome and the coming Jewish War are not just matters found only in this book. We find these issues in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24), the parables of Jesus (Mt 20-23), and various warnings of impending judgment elsewhere in the NT (2 Thessalonians; Hebrews; James; 1 Peter). The question could be legitimately be asked whether Christians understood those references too. Grammatical exegesis leads us to the proper interpretation, not historical understanding by the early Christians.
(4) Unfortunately, due to the chaos produced by the events of the destruction of Jerusalem we have very few records of Christianity in the era of the Jewish War and just after. So we really have no documents from that time period which inform us as to what they believed. We do know, however, from later sources that the early Christians understood the coming judgment upon Israel and Jerusalem. Eusebius particularly mentions their escaping as the Jewish War broke out. And we have some later, though ancient, comments on Revelation indicating knowledge that its events refer to the Jewish War (the Syriac versions of Revelation mention it was written under Nero; Andreas and Arethas of Capadocia, etc.)
(5) The purpose of Revelation includes more than immediate warning to escape Jerusalem, but also presents other important matters:
(a) It explains the collapse of Jerusalem, which was the headquarters of the Church (Acts 8; 15).
(b) It demonstrates God’s concern for his people: he will both vindicate them and protect them through trials and tribulations. Thus, his enemies are warned and his people encouraged.
13. If John’s revelation was written after the fall of Jerusalem, your entire argument seems to me to fall to pieces. What do you do with the famous passage by Irenaeus, the great Church father who was alive when some of John’s disciples were alive, who dates John’s exile to the isle of Patmos during the reign of Domitian, over 20 years after the fall of Jerusalem.
Irenaeus’ statement is: “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” Irenaeus was writing about A.D. 180.
(1) The “was not seen” is grammatically ambiguous: it could mean either: John was seen alive at that time, or: John saw the Revelation at that time. The context suggest John was seen. After all, what difference would it make when Revelation was received by John? The point is: John was alive and people could have asked him about the identity of the Antichrist. John could have distinctly revealed the identity in question in Revelation itself – regardless of when it was written.
(2) Elsewhere Irenaeus deals with the problem that some mss have “666” and others “616”: “Now since this is so, and since this number is found in all the good and ancient copies.” How could he call copies of Revelation “ancient” if the original was written “almost in our day”?
(3) Irenaeus claims on the same sort of evidence (references by those who knew John” that Jesus ministered for fifteen years until after the age of 50: “the age of 30 years is the first of a young man’s mind, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, everyone will allow: but after the fortieth and fiftieth year, it begins to verge towards elder age: which our Lord was of when He taught, as the Gospel and all the Elders witness.” So even if we interpret Irenaeus to mean John wrote Revelation toward the end of Domitian’s reign, the fact it Irenaeus made mistakes.
14. You’ve made some very interesting and persuasive points. Could it be that the book of Revelation works on a number of different levels? That it was, on one level, speaking to the first century church about some things that were about to happen — but that it could be just as precisely speaking to us today about things that are about to take place? Is there such a thing as a “dual fulfillment” of the prophecies in Revelation?
No, for at least two deadly reasons:
(1) The book itself claims the events are “near.” Who are we to say, “Yes, but”? An angel commands Daniel to “seal up” his prophecy for later times (Dan. 12:4), but commands John to “not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Rev. 22:10) If you adopt a dual-fulfillment view, you are doing so on the basis of theological desperation, not exegetical conclusions.
(2) Are we to believe that all of the details of Revelation occur twice? Two six sealed scrolls? Two beasts? Two groups of 144,000? Two “two witnesses”? Two Armageddons? Two Millenniums? On and on we could go.
15. What about the binding of Satan? (Rev. 20) Are you going to try and tell us that Satan has been bound?
Yes, Satan was bound in the first century, as Scripture teaches:
(1) Jesus teaches this: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matt. 12:28-29).
(2) Christ binds Satan for a well-defined purpose: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore” (Rev. 20:3b). In the Old Testament only Israel knows the true God (Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:2; Luke 4:6; Acts 14:16; 17:30). But Christ’s incarnation changes this as the gospel begins flowing to all nations (e.g., Isa. 2:2-3; 11:10; Matt. 28:19; Luke 2:32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47).
3) The NT speaks of the restriction of Satan under various images: He falls from heaven (Lk10:18); he is cast out (Jn 12:31); he was crushed under our feet (Ro16:20); he was disarmed (Col 2:15); he was rendered powerless (Hb2:14); he works were destroyed (1 Jn 3:8).
All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible. Loeb’s Classical Library version is used for Josephus citations.
Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?
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