Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation: A Critical Examination

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“This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.”

-         Revelation, 13:18

The Book of Revelation is undoubtedly one of the most influential and controversial books in Christendom.  Since its inception, it has inspired Christians with hope and fear of the “end of days” or “Armageddon”.[1]  Throughout history, many Christians have attempted to predict the end of the world,[2] inspired in part by the mysterious passages found in Revelation,[3] and modern-day Christians are no different.[4]  But does Revelation really contain prophecies about the future?  Or is it simply a product of its own time?  Are Christians correct in applying the cryptic prophecies found in Revelation to modern-day events or are they misinterpreting the historical context, just as their predecessors did?  In this article, we will discuss these issues.  After some background information and a brief summary, we will analyze the text of Revelation.  Through the evidence presented, it will be shown that the Book of Revelation has been erroneously applied by Christians to the modern world, and that while it was indeed originally written to warn its readers of a coming apocalypse, the historical context demonstrates that the apocalypse was supposed to have occurred shortly after the time the book was written, and not thousands of years later.
Revelation – Background
            Before we discuss the content and historical context of the Book of Revelation, it is prudent to mention some background information. 
The author identified himself as “John”,[5] and Christian tradition holds that this was none other than John the disciple of Jesus.  According to Robert H. Mounce:
“…it cannot be disputed that the Apocalypse was widely accepted by the second-century church as the work of John the apostle.”[6]
However, there was still significant resistance to ascribing authorship to John.  As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) concedes:
“Although he never claims to be John the apostle, whose name is attached to the fourth gospel, he was so identified by several of the early church Fathers, including Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Hippolytus. This identification, however, was denied by other Fathers, including Denis of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, and John Chrysostom. Indeed, vocabulary, grammar, and style make it doubtful that the book could have been put into its present form by the same person(s) responsible for the fourth gospel.”[7]
Furthermore, Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman explains that Eusebius stated that some people believed that the book had been written:
“…by a heretic named Cerinthus, who forged the account in order to promote his false teaching that there would be a literal future paradise of a thousand years here on earth.”[8]
Moreover, even as late as the 4th-century, many Christians either rejected the book of Revelation outright in favor of yet another “apocalypse” known as the Apocalypse of Peter, or believed that they should both be included in the canon.[9]  Hence, even though the book may have been “widely accepted” by the 2nd-century as being written by John the apostle, controversy surrounding its “acceptance” raged for centuries.[10] 
            Given the uncertain authorship of the book of Revelation, the issue of the approximate date it was written is also a matter of debate.  According to the USCCB, the date of the composition of the book “in its present form” was around the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81-96 CE.[11]  However, according to Mounce, it has also been dated as early as the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-54 CE), and as late as Trajan (98-117 CE), though he notes that the “majority of scholars” place its authorship “either during the reign of Domitian…or toward the end or immediately after the reign of Nero…”[12]  On the other hand, Mack argues that neither the reign of Nero nor the reign of Domitian can serve as the inspiration for John’s book, but he still acknowledges a date of “around the turn of the first century”.  He states:
“Nero’s ‘persecution’ in 64 C.E. doesn’t work because (1) it was not a persecution but an ad hoc, localized, scapegoating strategy that everyone understood to be the action of a madman, and (2) in any case was highly exaggerated by Tacitus, who reported it in order to discredit Nero.  The second ‘persecution’ under Domitian…won’t do either, although it was then that early Christian legend dated John’s Revelation.  Modern scholars cannot find any evidence for a Domitian persecution.”[13]
Thus, it seems prudent to date the composition somewhere around the late 1st-century to the early 2nd-century, with the time period during the reign of Domitian being a strong candidate, in spite of the lack of evidence of any “persecution” during his reign.[14]
Revelation – Summary
            Revelation begins with the author’s claim that he had been shown the visions by an angel and that those who listened to the revelation were “blessed”, since the time for the events he had seen was “near”.[15] 
He then addressed the “seven churches in the province of Asia”,[16] which were identified as the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.[17]  The author related his vision of “someone like a son of man”, an obvious reference to Daniel 7:13,[18] who was certainly Jesus.  According to the author, Jesus said to him:
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.  The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”[19]
What followed were words of encouragement to each church as well as warnings to some people in those congregations.  For example, the church in Pergamum was commended for persevering in the faith despite persecution in the city “where Satan lives”,[20] but some in the congregation were also warned to repent for eating “food sacrificed to idols”, committing “sexual immorality”  and for following the teachings of the “Nicolaitans”.[21]  Similarly, the church in Thyatira was commended for its “deeds” but reprimanded for its tolerance of a false prophetess named “Jezebel”, who was enticing people to commit sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.[22]
After the addresses to the seven churches, the author described the incredible visions which make Revelation the most enigmatic book in the New Testament.  First, the author described his vision of God’s throne in Heaven, surrounded by twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four “elders” seated upon them,[23] and “four living creatures” each of which had “six wings and was covered with eyes all around…” and which were worshiping God.[24] 
Next, the author described            seeing a “scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals”.[25]  But the only one “worthy” to open the scroll was the “lamb” (Jesus).[26]  As he broke each of the first four seals, the legendary “four horsemen” were released one after the other.[27]
The breaking of the fifth seal released “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God…”[28]  According to the author, the souls asked God how long it would be until He would judge the “inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood”, to which God replied that they had “to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants…were killed just as they had been”.[29]
As the sixth seal was broken, the author described natural disasters striking the earth, including a “great earthquake” and “stars” falling to the earth.[30]  Also, “the sun turned black” and “the whole moon turned blood red”,[31] and “every mountain and island was removed from its place”.[32]
Next, the author described seeing “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth”, who “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God”, who numbered 144,000 people “from all the tribes of Israel” (12,000 from each of the twelve tribes).[33]  The author also reported seeing a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” that stood before God’s throne and the “lamb”, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.[34]  One of the “elders” identified this “multitude” as “they who have come out of the great tribulation”.[35]  
Finally, the seventh seal was opened, but initially “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour”, but then an angel took a “censer” filled with fire and “hurled it on the earth”, which caused “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake”.[36]
Next, seven angels began sounding their trumpets.  The first trumpet sound caused “hail and fire mixed with blood” to fall to the earth, causing a third of the earth, trees and grass to be burned up.[37]  The second trumpet caused “something like a huge mountain” to fall into the sea, causing a third of the sea to be turned into blood, and killing a third of all sea-life and destroying a third off all ships.[38]  The third trumpet caused a “star” known as “Wormwood” to fall on a third of all rivers and springs, causing the water to turn “bitter” and killing many people who drank the water.[39]  The fourth trumpet caused a third of the sun and moon and a third of all stars to turn dark.  As a result, “a third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night”.[40]
But this was just the beginning, as the more severe disasters were yet to be unleashed.  According to the author, he heard an eagle call out in a loud voice:
“Woe!  Woe!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels.”[41]
            When the fifth trumpet was blown, a star fell from the sky and opened the “Abyss”, from which rose smoke which darkened the sky.[42]  Also coming out of the “Abyss” were locusts which were commanded to torture “people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads” for a period of five months.[43]
            The sixth trumpet released four angels, which had been bound at the Euphrates River, to kill “a third of mankind”.[44]  They were accompanied by 200,000,000 “mounted troops”,[45] whose “horses” expelled fire, smoke and sulfur from their mouths.  Unfortunately, the survivors of these three demonic “plagues” still refused to repent of their sins (which included “worshiping demons” and “idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood”, murder, “magic arts”, “sexual immorality” and theft).[46] 
            Before the seventh trumpet was sounded, the author stated that he was told to “measure the temple of God and the altar”, but to exclude the “outer court” because it was under “Gentile” control.[47]  It was also foretold that the Gentiles would “trample” Jerusalem for 42 months, and that “two witnesses” would torment the unbelievers with droughts and plagues during that time.[48]  But the “beast that comes up from the Abyss” would eventually kill them, and the unbelievers who suffered under them would rejoice for three and a half days,[49] after which time, the “witnesses” would be resurrected and ascend to heaven.[50]  Following this miraculous event, a powerful earthquake would strike the city, killing 7,000 people and the survivors would finally praise the “God of heaven”.[51]         
            Finally, the seventh trumpet was sounded and “God’s temple in heaven was opened”, with the Ark of the Covenant inside, and there was lightning, earthquakes and hail.[52]  Following this event, the author described seeing a pregnant woman “clothed with the sun”, giving birth to a male child.[53]  As she gave birth, a “red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads” attempted to “devour” her son,[54] but failed to do so, as the child was “snatched up to God and to his throne”.  Meanwhile, the woman sought refuge in the “wilderness” for a period of 1260 days.[55]    
            Following these signs, the author described a war in heaven between Michael and his fellow angels and the dragon and his angels.[56]  The dragon and his cohorts were defeated and fell to earth, and the dragon then pursued the woman.  But, having failed once again to destroy her, he turned his attention towards her “offspring”, the people “who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus”.[57] 
            Next, the author described the emergence of one of the most terrifying and controversial figures in the Bible, the “beast”.  According to the author, it had:
“…ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.”[58]
This “beast”, which came out of the sea,[59] was joined by another “beast” which came out of the earth and “had two horns like a lamb”.[60]  The second beast made the people of the earth to worship the first beast by performing false miracles, such as causing fire to rain down from heaven and creating an image of the first beast which could speak and kill all who refused to worship it.[61]  All people received a “mark”, without which they could not buy or sell.[62]  This “mark” was “the name of the beast or the number of its name”, which was “666”.[63] 
            But soon, the time for judgment came.  The author described seeing the “son of man” using a “sickle” to “harvest” the earth and an angel using a sickle to gather the earth’s “grapes”.[64]  The “grapes” were thrown into “the great winepress of God’s wrath” and “blood flowed out of the press” for a great distance.[65]
            But this was not the end, and seven more plagues struck the earth.  The first plague caused sores to break out on those people who had worshiped the “beast” and had received its mark.[66]  The second plague turned the sea into blood and killed all marine life (or what was left after the previous plagues).[67]  The third plague turned all rivers and springs into blood.[68]  The fourth plague brought intense heat from the sun to burn people, but they still refused to repent.[69]  The fifth plague brought darkness to the beast’s kingdom.[70]  The sixth plague dried up the Euphrates River to allow the “kings from the East” to march with their armies and gather at Armageddon.[71]  The seventh and final plague caused an earthquake more terrible than the world had ever seen to strike the earth, causing great destruction.[72]
            Finally, a rider on a white horse descended to earth followed by the “armies of heaven” to meet the armies of the “beast” in a final battle between good and evil.[73]  As a result of the battle, the “beast” was captured and along with the “false prophet” (the second beast) was “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur”.[74]  Also, the army of the beast was completely destroyed and “all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh”.[75]
            As for the “dragon”, he was bound in the “Abyss” for 1000 years.[76]  Meanwhile, the souls of those who had died for their “testimony about Jesus” were brought back to life so they could reign with Jesus for the thousand-year period.[77]
            After the end of the thousand-year period, Satan was once again released so he could lead the people of “Gog and Magog”, whose number was “like the sand on the seashore”.[78]  But this army was also destroyed and Satan was finally thrown into the “lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever”.[79]  
            Finally, the final judgment took place.  All souls were judged according to their deeds.[80]  Death and Hades were then thrown into the fire as well as any person “whose name was not found written in the book of life”.[81]  As for the righteous souls, they would dwell with God in the “new Jerusalem” for eternity, and there would be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain”.[82]
            Having recounted his vision, the author finished his work with the warning:
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon’.”[83]
Revelation – Analysis and Historical Context
            Having summarized the content of the Book of Revelation, let us now conduct a analysis of its controversial “visions” about the “end times”.  There is little doubt that devout Christians believe every word of Revelation, and thus, it is not a surprise that, throughout history, many of them have used the text to try to pinpoint the exact time when the “prophecies” would be fulfilled.  Some have even attempted to identify the “beast” (the “Antichrist”) and accused certain people of being the “Antichrist”!  As Tom Sine, an Evangelical Christian, states:
“One of the favorite guessing games during the last two millennia has involved the attempt to identify the real Antichrist.  Many early Christians identified the Roman emperors (especially Nero) with this consummately evil figure.  During the period of the Crusades, many nominated Saladin, the head of the Muslim forces at this time.  Other Crusaders identified the Jewish people as a whole with the Antichrist and, with that justification, slaughtered thousands of them as they made their way out of Europe to the Holy Land to battle Saladin and his ‘demonic’ forces.”[84]
Thus, given the strong influence that Revelation has on Christians, an examination of its content is worthwhile.  Through this analysis, we can discover undeniable evidence that those Christians who believe that the events described in Revelation will eventually come true (and in doing so, resort to silly theories about the Antichrist and the “end of days”) are barking up the wrong tree.  
            We can begin our discussion by analyzing how Revelation actually begins.  The first few chapters provide a major clue as to the context in which the book needs to be interpreted.  As stated in the summary, the author addressed the “seven churches in the province of Asia”, and offered words of encouragement and warning to the people in those churches.  Some were commended for their faith in trying times, while others were warned of severe punishment for their sins.  However, it needs to be stated that even though the author directly addressed these seven churches, he was probably also addressing all Christian congregations in general.[85] 
            So what can the address to these churches tell us about the actual purpose of the book?  It seems clear that the author was concerned about the syncretism of Roman and Christian practices that was being observed among some people in these churches.  As Professor Craig R. Koester of the Luther Seminary states:
“Three of the seven churches – Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira – were dealing with internal conflicts over acceptable and unacceptable forms of Christian faith and practice. […] John opposed those who encouraged Christians to eat meat offered to idols and practice immorality, urging Christians to maintain a distinctive identity.”[86]
Hence, the author’s opposition to the mixing of Roman and Christian practices probably served as one reason for writing his book.  Why else did he threaten the sinners in these churches with divine punishment?  In fact, the warnings to repent were crystal clear:
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”[87]
Would it be fair to claim that this prophecy will be fulfilled in modern times?  Of course, the answer is “no”.  The churches were warned that if they did not cease their abominable practices, they would suffer punishment during the second coming of Jesus.  Indeed, the phrase “with the sword on my mouth” was used again by the author in reference to the final battle between the “armies of heaven” and the armies of the “beast” (Revelation 19:15, 21).  Therefore, the warning to the churches was of the impending return of Jesus.  To the author of Revelation, the Christians who were practicing immoralities were followers of the “beast”, and were doomed to imminent destruction.  Of course, this never occurred.       
            One of the first visions of the coming tribulation that the author recounted was the emergence of the “four horsemen”.  As with the other figures of Revelation (like the Antichrist), the “four horsemen” have been the subject of much speculation by some Christians.[88]  Yet, the reality is far less interesting.  Scholarly analysis, rather than mindless fear-mongering, shows that the author of Revelation was simply borrowing an already widely-known Biblical concept, albeit with some changes.  As Robert Mounce explains:    
“The imagery comes from Zechariah’s visions of the variously colored horses in 1:8-17 and 6:1-8.  As usual, John modifies his sources with great freedom.  In Zechariah the colors (red, sorrel, white, black, and dappled gray) appear to have no special significance.  In Revelation they correspond to the character of the rider and symbolize conquest (white), bloodshed (red), scarcity (black), and death (pale, livid).  In Zechariah they are sent out to patrol the earth, while in Revelation their release brings disaster to the earth.”[89]
Furthermore, some scholars have also identified possible parallels in the imagery of the “four horsemen” with the ancient Egyptian “rite of the driving of the calves”.[90]  According to John H. C. Pippy:
“The colors of the four horses – white, red, black and grey – would have special significance to the ancient Egyptians in that they would remind them of the annual rite of the driving of the calves…”[91]
On the other hand, some scholars simply see a link between the “four horsemen” and Roman imperial power.[92]  In short, whichever way we look at them, the horsemen were used by the author of Revelation as symbols of the coming tribulation (which never came), but they were not at all a new concept.  Moreover, those who attempt to apply these symbols to modern times are only misinterpreting the author’s actual intention.     
            Moving on, what about the visions of disasters striking the earth due to humanity’s refusal to glorify God?  Revelation speaks of locusts, earthquakes, stars falling from the sky and other terrible catastrophes striking mankind for refusing to believe in the Christian message.  Were they too just borrowed by the author from previous ancient documents?  The answer is a definite “yes”.  For example, the Roman poet Ovid (d. 17 C.E.) used similar imagery in his famous work Metamorphoses,[93] as Professor Bruce Louden of the University of Texas at El Paso explains:
“…Ovid employs a considerable number of traditional motifs, also used in Revelation, frightening omens and eerie events.  Trumpets sound in the heavens to presage the assassination of Julius Caesar…much as in the later Revelation the seven trumpets sound to mark the onset of various disasters (Rev. 8:2-9:21, 11:15-19).  Each episode has an earthquake...a crime that is seen as a religious outrage…a bloodied moon…divine tablets that have a record of human events decreed by fate…and a Caesar who transcends death…”[94]
Hence, the portents of doom in Revelation were simply “motifs” that were commonly used in the ancient world.  The author did not actually have an actual vision which was meant to give him some “secret” knowledge from Jesus. 
            Another example of the author’s use of ancient “motifs” is the sign of the “woman clothed in the sun” and the “red dragon”, as described in Revelation 12.  As previously mentioned, the “woman” is most certainly a reference to the Church and not to Mary.  Of course, the “child” that she gave birth to was the Messiah (i.e. Jesus), and the “dragon” that tried to “devour” him was Satan.  Yet these “signs” were most probably based on the author’s knowledge of ancient pagan myths.  For example, many scholars point to the similarities between the imagery of Revelation 12 and the myth of the birth of the pagan god Apollo.  As Professor Pheme Perkins of Boston College explains:
“The ‘woman clothed with the sun’ would easily remind the audience of the Roman use of the story of the sun god, Apollo.  […]  The Apollo myth said that Python was seeking to kill Leto, who was pregnant with Apollo, Zeus’ son.  Zeus has the north wind rescue Leto by carrying her off to an island.  Poseidon, the sea god, then contributes to rescuing the woman by covering the island with waves.”[95]
Similarly, John Pippy sees parallels between Revelation 12 and the “woman clothed with the sun” and Egyptian mythology regarding the goddess Nut.  He states:
“Nut plays an important role, not only in events surrounding the daily birth of the sun-god at sunrise, but also in the sun-god’s struggle against evil forces which strive to destroy him before he can complete his reign in the daytime sky…”[96]
Those people who are expecting the fulfilment of these “signs” in modern times are likely to be disappointed.  Indeed, as mentioned above, Revelation was addressed to the Christian communities in the author’s time and thus, the “motifs” that spoke of disasters befalling the earth were supposed to be fulfilled in the time and locality of the author.  This fact can be readily seen by the clear parallels to Roman myths.  Additionally, the practice of Roman paganism is also hinted at in the text.[97]  For example, as previously mentioned, Revelation 9 prophesied the release of 200,000,000 demon horsemen from the Euphrates River, who would be allowed to kill one-third of mankind for their sins of demon and idol worship, sexual immorality, magic and theft.  The references to Roman paganism are hard to miss.[98]    
            An even clearer reference to Rome can be seen in the description of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in Revelation 11.  In his vision, the author claimed that he was told to measure the Temple but to avoid measuring the outer court because it was “given to the Gentiles”.  This is significant because it was only during the Roman occupation of Jerusalem (before 70 CE), when the Temple still existed and functioned as the center of Jewish religious practice, that there were clear divisions between Jewish and Gentile activities in the Temple.  The “outer court” was accessible to all people, regardless of religion, whereas only Jews were allowed in the inner courts.[99] 
In addition, Revelation 11:2 referred specifically to the Jewish-Roman War (“[t]hey will trample the holy city for 42 months”).  As Dr. Duncan McKenzie states:
“The siege of Jerusalem ended in early September of AD 70, resulting in the shattering of the power of the Jews.  If you count back 1,290 days (43 months) from the beginning of September AD 70, it takes you to February AD 67.  This was the time that Titus marched his forces up from Egypt through the length of the Holy Land to rendezvous with his father in Ptolemais.”[100]
In other words, the author of Revelation was utilizing “retrospective prophecy”, to use Louden’s terminology (see note #94), to “predict” the Roman attack on Jerusalem and the subsequent occupation.[101]  This “prophecy” will simply not be fulfilled in modern times, as fanatics so energetically maintain!                 
            Up to this point, we have seen ample evidence of the historical context in which the Book of Revelation must be interpreted.  References to the Roman Empire and the particular circumstances facing the Christian communities are undeniably present in the text, and the only reasonable conclusion is that the book was written for that time and locality.  It has no relevance to modern times.  Based on this undeniable conclusion, we could end our discussion here, but no discussion of the Book of Revelation would be complete without an examination of the most famous (or infamous) and terrifying figure in Revelation: the “beast” of the sea, better known as the “Antichrist”.
            As has already been mentioned, the Antichrist has been the subject of much speculation and finger-pointing by fanatical Christians for centuries.  Catholic popes,[102] American presidents and other world leaders,[103] Jews,[104] and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him),[105] have all been accused at one time or another of being the Antichrist.  But given the evidence seen thus far of Revelation’s clear historical context, the reality is that while the finger-pointing by Christians is definitely foolish and absurd, the fact is that the real “Antichrist” (at least as far as 1st-century Christians were concerned) was indeed an actual historical figure.  This figure was none other than the Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (reigned 54-68 CE).[106] 
            Nero was infamous even in Roman sources for his alleged excesses and tyrannical behavior.  Many Romans blamed him for the great fire of Rome in the year 64, and historians like Tacitus and Suetonius alleged that he shifted blame for the fire on the Christians, who at that time were a relatively little-known religious movement.[107]  As a result, the first official Roman act of persecuting Christians began.[108]  However, it is interesting to note that the Jewish historian Josephus accused other historians of greatly exaggerating the stories of Nero’s merits and abuses, due to their own biases.  While acknowledging that Nero had killed his wife Octavia and his mother Agrippina, Josephus wrote:
“But I omit any further discourse about these affairs; for there have been a great many who have composed the history of Nero; some of which have departed from the truth of facts out of favor, as having received benefits from him; while others, out of hatred to him, and the great ill-will which they bare him, have so impudently raved against him with their lies, that they justly deserve to be condemned.”[109]
Whatever the merits and abuses of Nero actually were, the fact remains that in the last years of his reign, he had become very unpopular and revolts had broken out against his rule.  According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero eventually committed suicide by stabbing himself in the throat.[110]
            As for the evidence in Revelation that points to Nero being the Antichrist, the first clue is found in Revelation 13, when the “beast” emerges from the sea.  As mentioned in the summary, the author of Revelation described the beast as having ten horns and seven heads, and each head had a blasphemous name.  Moreover, one of the heads had a “fatal wound” which had been healed.  We will come back to this shortly. 
The second clue is found in Revelation 17, where an angel explained to the author the “mystery” of the seven heads of the beast.  The angel explained that the heads are “seven hills” on which the “great prostitute” sits, but they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen.  One head was currently ruling and the other had yet to come.  Also, an eighth king would come, who “belongs to the seven”.[111]
            Though scholars disagree as to the identities of the seven heads of the beast, they all agree that the heads represent the Roman Empire in one way or another.  Some scholars identify each head with successive emperors (such as Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero and Vespasian),[112] but as Mounce observes, this theory has some flaws (emphasis in the original):
“It regards Augustus as the first emperor although his predecessor, Julius Caesar, took the title Imperator, and was reckoned by many writers (both Roman and Jewish) as the first emperor.  A second problem is the omission of the three rival emperors who ruled briefly between Nero (A.D. 54-68) and Vespasian (A.D. 69-79).”[113]
Instead, Mounce posits the theory that the use of the number seven is actually symbolic, and represents the “the power of the Roman Empire as a historic whole”, and not specific emperors.[114]  Even so, he acknowledges:
“Certainly the terrors of the Neronian persecution in A.D. 64…would be a more likely historical expression of Antichrist.”[115]
Thus, even if the seven heads do not specifically refer to individual emperors, it is clear that the Roman Empire was the intended target of the author’s caricature.  This provides support for the Nero/Antichrist connection, as we will now see.
There can be little doubt that the “wounded” head refers to Nero, who was known to have committed suicide by stabbing himself in the neck.  Also, the miraculous healing which the head of the beast had undergone has clear links to a Roman myth regarding the reappearance of Nero, known as “Nero redivivus” (“resurrected”).[116]  As Louden explains:
“For a number of reasons, there was strong popular belief that Nero would return from the dead.”[117]
In addition, he states:
“Popular belief, supported by the three stories of the Returned Neros, contributed to the expectation that he would come back.”[118]
            Another aspect of the myth was that Nero would return with an army from the east, originating from Parthia.[119]  In fact, two of the “Returned Neros” (i.e. impostors who had claimed to be the revivified Nero) had actually managed to win the support of Parthian rulers.  As Professor Ben Witherington of the Asbury Theological Seminary explains: 
“…Terentius Maximus, who was the impostor in A.D. 80, actually managed to win the support of a pretender to the Parthian throne.  But…the most important of these impostors is the one who arose during the reign of Domitian in about A.D. 88-99 (Suetonius, Nero 57.2) and appears to have won the support of the Parthian king Pacorus II.”[120]
So, the myth of a revivified Nero coming to conquer Rome with Parthian support was commonly believed around the time Revelation was written.  Thus, it is not surprising that Revelation contains a clear “prophecy” of armies from the east coming to fight for the beast:
“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.”[121]
Commenting on this verse, Mounce states:
“…the historical context of John’s imagery favors the interpretation of the kings as Parthian rulers.”[122]
In fact, the myth of Nero leading an army from Parthia was widely known even to non-Romans and invariably found its way into Jewish and Christian circles as well.  Scholars have long known that the myth of “Nero redivivus” is found in apocryphal works like the Sibylline Oracles and the Ascension of Isaiah.[123]  As for the former, Mounce explains that (emphasis in the original):
“The tradition that Nero, although dying by his own hand, would return from the East leading a great army of Parthian warriors is preserved in the Sibylline Oracles (4:115-39).”[124]
Even if apologists could somehow prove that a Parthian army led by Nero was not what the author of Revelation had in mind, but rather some Russian or Middle Eastern (Islamic) army in modern times, they must still ask themselves some logical questions: what modern army would need the Euphrates River to dry up first before it could advance on the Holy Land?  What modern army, using technology like helicopters and airplanes, would be held back because of a river, as the Book of Revelation claims?  The fact is that when the Book of Revelation was written, the Euphrates River served to separate the Roman Empire from the Parthian Empire.  It was a natural barrier which served to keep Rome safe from a Parthian invasion.[125]  Hence, given that the first two clues provide strong evidence of the Nero myth in Revelation, there is little doubt that the author of Revelation had Nero in mind.
            But there is one more clue which identifies Nero as the Antichrist and it is found in arguably the most famous verse of Revelation:
“This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.  That number is 666.”[126]
Christians have struggled to decipher the meaning of the number “666”, but it has come to symbolize pure evil, so much so that even random occurrences of the number have led some people to make drastic, life-altering decisions![127]  But as with most other concepts in Revelation, the mystery of “666” is grounded in the historical context in which the book was written, so the fear and apprehension that it generates among some Christians is simply the result of ignorance.  Scholars have known for some time that the number is actually the result of “Gematria” which, as Witherington explains, is:
“…the practice of assigning numerical values to letters of the alphabet, a favorite practice not only of Jews but also of people in the Greco-Roman world.”[128]
Thus, the number represents a man’s name, as stated in Revelation 13:18.  Who was this man?  There is virtually unanimous agreement among scholars that it was clearly Nero.  As Koester explains:
“Given the allusions to Nero in Revelation 13, it seems likely that 666 corresponds to Nerōn Kaisar, which is the Hebrew form of the name Nero Caesar.”[129]
This fact can be easily demonstrated and leaves no doubt that the author of Revelation had Nero in mind.  Koester demonstrates how scholars have calculated the “mark of the beast” from Nero’s name:
“When written in Hebrew letters the name is nrōn qsr.  The calculation is as follows: nun (50) + resh (200) + waw (6) + nun (50) + qof (100) + samech (60) + resh (200) = 666.”[130]
The link with Nero is made even stronger when we consider that some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation state that the number of the beast is not “666” but “616”.[131]  While this variant form of the beast’s number is only found in a small number of manuscripts, scholars have suggested a possible reason for its usage.  As Witherington explains (emphasis in the original):
“…if the Latin of Nero rather than the Greek form (Neron) is transliterated into Hebrew, the numerical value of the name becomes 616.”[132]
Thus, the third clue in Revelation is most likely referring to Nero.  And when examined together, all of the clues we have discussed point in the direction of Nero being the Antichrist.  Moreover, Nero’s status as the Antichrist further strengthens the argument that Revelation was written from the viewpoint of late 1st-century Christians, and has no relevance to modern times.  Those Christians who try to interpret the Book of Revelation in the context of modern times are barking up the wrong tree.
            In this article, we have discussed the Book of Revelation, its influence in Christian circles and the enigmatic prophecies it makes.  For almost 2,000 years, it has been the subject of speculation, fear and hope, as well as foolish and vain attempts to determine when the events foretold will occur (the latter has inevitably led to childish finger-pointing and the demonization of non-Christians).  However, in our discussion, it has been demonstrated that the Book of Revelation was written in the context of its own time and thus cannot be interpreted in a different time, thousands of years later.  The “prophecies” contained therein were meant to be fulfilled in the time and locality of the Roman Empire and not in modern times.  Hence, fanatical Christians like Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey and Joel Richardson, like their predecessors, are engaged in a silly “guessing-game” which they will eventually lose.  These pseudo-scholars simply play on the ignorance and fears of their congregations, and will probably continue to do so until the end of time (whenever that will be).[133]  In a way, one could argue that these so-called “men of God” are the ones who represent the spirit of the “Antichrist”, since they engage in lies and deception,[134] which in the end only serves to mislead their own followers (and sell many books)!  The truth of the matter is that the Book of Revelation has no relevance to modern times.  The author’s “prophecies” never came true.  The Roman Empire was never destroyed by Jesus (in fact, it did not fall for another 300 years).  Nero, the “Antichrist”, never returned with an army from Parthia, and the 1,000-year reign of Jesus never occurred.  Those Christians who still remain hopeful that these events will occur in the future are bound to be disappointed.
And Allah knows best!

[1] The word “Armageddon” appears once in the Book of Revelation (16:16), and is actually a combination of two Hebrew words (Har and Meggiddon), the latter of which is the town of Megiddo.  The phrase means “Mount Megiddo” and is thus a reference to the actual site of the final battle between good and evil, and not a term to signify the end of the world as used in modern parlance (

[2] As Bart Ehrman states:

“What most of the millions of people who believe that Jesus is coming back soon, in our lifetime, don’t realize is that there have always been Christians who thought this about their own lifetimes.  This was a prominent view among conservative Christians in the early twentieth century, in the late nineteenth century, in the eighteenth century, in the twelfth century, in the second century, in the first century – in fact, in just about every century.  The one thing that all those who have ever thought this have had in common is that every one of them has been demonstrably and irrefutably wrong” (Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, (New York: HarperOne, 2011), p. 106).

[3] Other sources used by Christians include the books of Ezekiel, Zechariah and Daniel.  In fact, the author of Revelation borrowed much of the “symbolic and allegorical language” from these books (

[4] Two examples should suffice.  First, the prominent fundamentalist Christian Hal Lindsey who, in the 1970s, wrote the best-selling book “The Late, Great Planet Earth”, warned fellow Christians that a nuclear war involving the Soviet Union, China, the European Union and the United States was imminent and would occur before the end of the 1980s (Ehrman, op. cit, p. 105). 

Second, the controversial televangelist Pat Robertson predicted in May 1980 that the end of the world would occur by the end of 1982.  According to author David John Marley:

“According to his calculations, by 1980 the Antichrist was at least twenty-seven years old.  Also, based on his understanding of the Old Testament, the battle of Armageddon would start in 1982, and seven years of intense suffering would follow” (Pat Robertson: An American Life, (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.), p.62).

[5] Revelation 1:1, 1:4 and 1:5.

[6] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 12.

[8] Ehrman, op. cit., p. 21.

If this is true, then Christians have inadvertently accepted a book written by a Gnostic Christian into their canon!  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Cerinthus was:

“A Gnostic-Ebionite heretic, contemporary with St. John; against whose errors on the divinity of Christ the Apostle is said to have written the Fourth Gospel” (

[9] Ehrman, op. cit., p. 64.

[10] As Burton Mack explains:

“…the Revelation of John of Patmos was associated with the writings of the Johannine school solely because of the common name.  And even after it was blessed for posterity by inclusion in Athanasius’ list of apostolic writings, there were doctors of the church who questioned its authenticity and groused about its theology” (Who Wrote the New Testament?  The Making of the Christian Myth, (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995), p. 197).

[12] Mounce, op. cit., pp. 15-16.

[13] Mack, op. cit., p. 196.

[14] However, as we will see, even though Nero’s reign was probably not the backdrop for the composition of the book, the infamous emperor still served as a source of inspiration and had a role to play in the prophecies, especially concerning the advent of the Antichrist. 

[15] Revelation 1:1-3.

[16] Revelation 1:4 (New International Version).

[17] Revelation 1:11. 

[18] Revelation 1:13.

[19] Revelation 1:19-20. 

[20] Revelation 2:13.

[21] Revelation 2:14-15.

The Nicolaitans were apparently a heretical sect, but not much is known about them.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states that they were:

“…a sect mentioned in the Apocalypse (2:6-15) as existing in Ephesus, Pergamus, and other cities of Asia Minor, about the character and existence of which there is little certainty” (

[22] Revelation 2:19-20.

[23] Revelation 4:4.  The identity of these “elders” has puzzled scholars.  According to Mounce:

“Since no exact counterparts are to be located in Jewish literature, it seems best to take the twenty-four elders as an exalted angelic order who serve and adore God as the heavenly counterpart to the twenty-four priestly and twenty-four Levitical orders (1 Chron 24:4; 25:9-13)” (Mounce, op. cit., pp. 120-121).

[24] Revelation 4:6-8.  The first creature was “like a lion”, the second creature was “like an ox”, the third creature “had a face like a man” and the fourth creature was “like a flying eagle”.  According to Mounce, they were “angelic beings” and it is clear that the author was referring to the “seraphim” of Isaiah 6:2 (Mounce, op. cit., p. 125).
[25] Revelation 5:1.

[26] Revelation 5:12.

[27] Revelation 6:1-8.  The first horseman rode a white horse and “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest”.  The second horseman rode a red horse and “was given power to take peace from the earth”.  The third horseman rode a black horse and “was holding a pair of scales in his hand”.  Finally, the fourth horseman rode a pale horse and “was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him”, and “they were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth”.  See the analysis section for a discussion of these “horsemen”. 

[28] Revelation 6:9.

[29] Revelation 6:10-11.

[30] Revelation 6:12-13.

[31] Revelation 6:12.

[32] Revelation 6:14.

[33] Revelation 7:1-8.

[34] Revelation 7:9.

[35] Revelation 7:14.

[36] Revelation 8:1-5.  A “censer” is defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia as:

“A vessel suspended by chains, and used for burning incense at solemn Mass, Vespers, Benediction, processions, and other important offices of the Church” (

[37] Revelation 8:7.

[38] Revelation 8:8-9.

[39] Revelation 8:10-11.  According to the NIV, “Wormwood” is a “bitter substance” (

Mounce describes “Wormwood” as follows:

“It is called Wormwood after the strong bitter taste of the plant of that name.  In the OT wormwood was used as a symbol of bitterness and sorrow” (Mounce, op. cit., p. 181).

Also, he states:

“Although wormwood itself is not poisonous, its bitter taste suggests death” (Ibid.).

In other words, it seems that the “star” known as “Wormwood” would contaminate the drinking water, causing death when consumed.

[40] Revelation 8:12.

[41] Revelation 8:13.

[42] Revelation 9:1-2.

[43] Revelation 9:3-5.  The “king” of these locusts was identified as “Abaddon” in Hebrew and “Apollyon” in Greek, the meaning of which is “the Destroyer” (Revelation 9:11).

[44] Revelation 9:13-15.

[45] Revelation 9:16:

“The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number.”

These soldiers of death are not human but rather “demonic horsemen” (Mounce, op. cit., p. 194).

[46] Revelation 9:20-21.

[47] Revelation 11:1-2. 

[48] Revelation 11:2-6.  According to Mounce, these “witnesses” are not two individuals but rather represent “a symbol of the witnessing church” (Mounce, op. cit., p. 217).

[49] Revelation 11:7-10.

[50] Revelation 11:11-12.

[51] Revelation 11:13.  This would signal the end of the “second woe”, but the “third woe” was yet to come (Revelation 11:14).

[52] Revelation 11:19.

[53] Revelation 12:1-2, 5.  The woman gave birth to the Messiah, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter”.  However, scholars view the woman to be symbolizing “the messianic community, the ideal Israel” instead of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Mounce, op. cit., p. 231).

[54] The dragon is Satan (Revelation 12:9).

[55] Revelation 12:6.

[56] Revelation 12:7.

[57] Revelation 12:17.

[58] Revelation 13:1.  As we will see later, the “beast” provides clear evidence of the historical context in which the Book of Revelation must be interpreted. 

[59] Revelation 13:1.

[60] Revelation 13:11.

[61] Revelation 13:12-15.

[62] Revelation 13:16.

[63] Revelation 13:17-18.  The number 666 is assumed by many Christians to be a literal mark of the “Antichrist”, but as we will see later, it is actually a “code word” that the author of Revelation used to refer to an actual historical figure which his congregation would have easily identified.

[64] Revelation 13:16-18.

[65] Revelation 13:19-20. 

[66] Revelation 16:2.

[67] Revelation 16:3.

[68] Revelation 16:4.

[69] Revelation 16:8-9.

[70] Revelation 16:10.

[71] Revelation 16:12, 15.  See note #1 for the meaning of “Armageddon”.

[72] Revelation 16:17-18.

[73] Revelation 19:11-19.

[74] Revelation 19:20.

[75] Revelation 19:21.

[76] Revelation 20:2-3. 

[77] Revelation 20:4.  The rest of the dead were not to be resurrected until the end of the thousand-year period (Revelation 20:5).

[78] Revelation 20:7-8.

[79] Revelation 20:9-10.

[80] Revelation 20:12-13.

[81] Revelation 20:14-15.

[82] Revelation 21.

[83] Revelation 22:20.

[84] Tom Sine, Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America’s Culture Wars (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 55.

Even in contemporary times, this “guessing game” has continued, with many fanatics even accusing the current president of the United States, Barack Obama, of being the Antichrist!  See the following:

Another contemporary example is the current popularity among some Christians of the “Muslim Antichrist” theory, propounded by authors like Joel Richardson.  See the following:

It seems that these lunatics have not learned from their own history.  It does not require much foresight to see that they too will be proven wrong eventually! 

As we will see shortly, however, while the majority of Christians who engage in these “guessing games” are always (not surprisingly) wrong, it is clear that the early Christians who identified the Roman emperor Nero as the Antichrist were actually right, because the author of Revelation was clearly pointing to him.  The internal evidence from the Book of Revelation makes this undeniable.  

[85] Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 136.

It is also possible that the author specifically referred to these seven churches “because of some specific relationship to emperor worship” (Mounce, op. cit., p. 45).

[86] Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), p. 57.

[87] Revelation 2:16.

[88] Just like some fanatics have accused world leaders, both past and present, of being the “Antichrist”, others have attempted to link them to the “four horsemen”.  For example, conservative author David Harsanyi has claimed that the “horsemen” actually represent the “debt”, “dependency”, “surrender” and “death” that have become ubiquitous with Barack Obama’s reelection as the President of the United States (

[89] Mounce, op. cit., p. 140.

[90] John H. C. Pippy, Egyptian Origin of the Book of Revelation (Raleigh: Lulu Enterprises Inc., 2011), pp. 212-214.

[91] Ibid., p. 213.

[92] Mounce, op. cit., p. 140.  This is probably the best explanation, since much of the imagery in Revelation can be shown to correspond to the Roman Empire.

[93] Ovid’s Metamorphoses is available online:

[94] Bruce Louden, “Retrospective Prophecy and the Vision in Aeneid 6 and the Book of Revelation.”  International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 16, no. 1 (March, 2009): 15.

Comparing the Book of Revelation to the Roman poet Virgil’s (spelled Vergil by Louden) Aeneid, Professor Louden identifies the literary techniques known as “retrospective prophecy” and “the vision”.  The former, according to Louden:

“…implicitly divides time into three different periods:

1.  the period of time which serves as the present for the narrative’s characters (but is past time for the author and his audience);

2.  the period of time which is in the future from the perspective of the narrative and its characters (but is still in the past time for author and audience);

3.  the period of time which is in the future from the perspective of the author and his original audience (as well as for the narrative and its characters” (Ibid., p. 7).

The latter is defined by Louden as:

“…a genre of myth in which the protagonist is removed from the mortal plane, an otherworldly guide accompanies him, who reveals to him a larger truth, the ‘big picture,’ previously unknown to him.  He is a transformed man as a result” (Ibid., p. 3).

Louden’s conclusion is that, like the “retrospective prophecies” in Aeneid 6, the “prophecies” of disasters and the end of the world in Revelation were meant to occur in the immediate future of the audience, even though most of the book was concerned with events that had already occurred (beginning with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem as a result of the Jewish Revolt). This, he concludes, allows for a “responsible” interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Ibid., p. 16).  Thus, Christian fanatics like Pat Robertson and Joel Richardson, who try to apply the prophecies in Revelation to modern times in a vain attempt to demonize those who do not believe in their religion, are hopelessly misguided and are bound to be proven wrong, as were their predecessors.
[95] Pheme Perkins, “Revelation”, in The Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989), p. 1265.

The story in Revelation 12 is remarkably similar.  The woman gives birth to the Messiah, and is pursued by the dragon.  The child is saved by divine intervention and the woman finds safe haven in the wilderness and is protected by miraculous occurrences (i.e. the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the water released by the dragon).

Of course, there were variations of the pagan myth.  See the entries under “Apollo” and “Leto” in Pierre Grimal, A Concise Dictionary of Classical Mythology, ed. Stephen Kershaw (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1990), pp. 48-51, 244.

[96] Pippy, op. cit., p. 339.

It is also interesting to note that, according to Pippy, Nut was sometimes depicted with twelve sun-disks (which represented the hours of the day) and sometimes with stars and solar-disks (Ibid.).  The parallels with the woman in Revelation 12 are obvious. 
[97] In addition to standard paganism, the Roman Empire also encouraged the worship of the emperors, which is also condemned by the author of Revelation.

[98] This is one reason why attempts by some modern Christian fanatics to link the events of Revelation to the Islamic world fail miserably.  Muslims simply do not worship idols!  In fact, it could be argued that Muslims are more opposed to idolatry than Christians, since the presence of statues of Jesus, Mary and saints is tolerated in many churches. 

[99] Reza Aslam, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013), pp. 5-6.

Specifically, there were three courts: the outer court or the “Court of Gentiles”, the “Court of Women” (which was the furthest Jewish women were allowed to go), the “Court of the Israelites” (which was the furthest Jewish men could go) and the “Court of Priests” (which was restricted to priests and Temple officials).  Beyond the “Court of Priests” was, of course, the “Holy of Holies” where only the High Priest could go.

Mounce claims that the outer court was a reference to the Church, and thus, not a reference to the Temple divisions prior to the outbreak of the Jewish-Roman War (Mounce, op. cit., p.214).  However, there is no support within the text for this claim.  Rather, it is clear that the outer court is a reference to the “Court of Gentiles”. 

[100] Duncan W. McKenzie, The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, Vol. 1: Daniel and 2 Thesslanonians (USA: Xulon Press, 2009), p. 224.

McKenzie notes that the one additional month was due to Titus and Vespasian’s month-long stay at Ptolemais where they were gathering their forces for the eventual assault on Jerusalem (Ibid.).

[101] Louden, op. cit., p. 13.

The reference to the 42-month “trampling” is, according to Louden:

“…a specific reference to the duration of the Jewish Revolt”.

In fact, retrospective prophecy is also clearly utilized with reference to the “fall” of the dragon and his “angels” to earth (Revelation 12:9) after a battle with the archangel Michael.  Since the fall had already occurred thousands of years earlier, how could it then occur in the future?  The answer is “retrospective prophecy”.   

[104] Sine, op. cit., p. 55-58.   

[108] The subsequent persecutions by later emperors tended to vary in severity and length.  In fact, in some cases, while Christian versions of history allege great acts of persecutions, no historical evidence of any actual persecution can be found.  This is true in the case of the emperor Domitian, whose reign probably coincided with the writing of the Book of Revelation.  As Professor Paul Trebilco of the University of Otago, New Zealand states:

“In particular, there is no evidence that Domitian demanded greater divine honours than his predecessors, and there is no evidence for widespread oppression and persecution of Asian Christians by Domitian” (The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 343).

Of course, the practice of worshiping the emperors would have been anathema to Christians as well as Jews, and it is not surprising that writings from both groups severely condemned this practice.  In this regard, Muslims would be on the side of the Christians and the Jews.  To worship any being other than God would be the most atrocious of sins.  Similarly, the one who accepted such worship would be condemned by God to eternal damnation in Hell. 

[109] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:8:3. 

Of course, it could be argued that Josephus himself was guilty of his own biases.  After all, his primary benefactors (Vespasian and Titus) were loyal to Nero during his reign.

[111] Revelation 17:11.

[112] Chris Sandoval, Can Christians Prove the Resurrection? A Reply to the Apologists (Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2010), p. 292.

If Vespasian was the “current” emperor, then the Book of Revelation must have been written during his reign (69-79 CE), but as we noted above, most scholars place the composition of the book during the last years of the reign of Domitian.  Although the theory that each head represents a specific emperor is probably erroneous (see note #113 for clarification), Sandoval is correct when he refers to an eight emperor who was to rise from the seven, as per Revelation 17:11.  This can only be referring specifically to Nero, even if the seven heads do not necessarily represent a specific emperor starting from Augustus (the successor of Julius Caesar).
[113] Mounce, op. cit., p. 316. 

However, Mounce does acknowledge that if the line of emperors starts with Caligula, who was the first Roman emperor to “[provoke] a crisis over emperor worship…”, and skipping the three minor emperors between Nero and Vespasian, we would arrive at the reign of Domitian as the sixth emperor (one more was to come, and the eight was to be one of the seven).  Also, Mounce cites the theory posited by J.H. Ulrichsen, that since the ten horns of the beast also represent Roman emperors, then it is possible to arrive at Domitian’s reign by starting with Caligula and including the three minor emperors (Ibid., fn. 42).  Since it is generally accepted that the Book of Revelation was written around Domitian’s reign, and not of Vespasian, this theory is plausible.

Incidentally, Mounce also refutes the theory that the seven heads represented seven kingdoms (such as Egypt, Nineveh (Assyria), Babylon, Persia and Greece, with Rome being the present kingdom), since the Greek word in question is used throughout the New Testament as referring to a “king” and not a “kingdom” (Ibid., p. 317).   Not surprisingly, Christians have posited the “seven kingdoms” theory from time to time.  Even in the present-day, some believe that the “reformulated” Soviet Union will be the “revived head” of the beast (!  Other Christian fanatics, not wanting to be outdone by the sheer stupidity of their brethren, have proposed that the “revived head” will be an Islamic kingdom (!

[114] Ibid., p. 317.

So, to Mounce, the “seven kings” of Revelation:

“…represent the entire period of Roman domination regardless of the exact number of emperors.  The important point is that the end is drawing near.”

This interpretation is also posited by Professor Brian K. Blount, of the Union Presbyterian Seminary:

“…the seven heads are the seven hills and the seven emperors (17:9).  The beast therefore is not one emperor as such but, as seven represents completion, the entire sense of Roman rule…” (Revelation: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 246).

[115] Mounce, op. cit., p. 318.

“…it is Nero who had been "wounded to death" but "his deadly wound was healed" and he still lived (13:3)—Nero redivivus.”

According to Sandoval:

“Nero actually committed suicide when he was overthrown in 68 AD, but many believed he was still alive and would one day return to retake Rome with the help of an army from Parthia (Tacitus, History 2.8ff; Suetonius, Nero 57)” (Sandoval, op. cit., p. 292).

[117] Louden, op. cit., p. 11.

However, some scholars have argued that the term “redivivus” is actually incorrect, since it was more commonly believed that Nero had not actually died.  Hence, these scholars prefer the term “Nero redux” (David Andrew Thomas, Revelation 19 in Historical and Mythological Context (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2008), fn. 25, p. 99).  In any case, it is clear that it was widely believed that Nero, alive or dead, would return to reclaim the throne of Rome.  This was the backdrop for Revelation’s caricature of the “beast”.

[118] Ibid., p. 13.

[119] Louden, op. cit., p. 14; Mounce, op. cit., p. 298; Sandoval, op. cit., p. 292.

[120] Ben Witherington, Revelation (Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2003), p. 178.

[121] Revelation 16:12.  The armies would then gather at the place known as “Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16).  See note #1 for an explanation of the meaning of this word.

[122] Mounce, op. cit., p. 298.

[123] Louden, op. cit., p. 14; Mounce, op. cit., p. 298.

[124] Ibid.

The Ascension of Isaiah also refers to Nero, specifically identifying him with “Belial”.  As such, Louden states:

“Revelation thus draws on these earlier traditions, combining them together, in figuring Nero as fully demonized” (Lounden, op. cit., p. 14).

For the text of the Sibylline Oracles, Book 5, see the following:

For the Ascension of Isaiah, see the following:

For a discussion of the references to Nero in the latter, see the following:

[125] Mounce, op. cit., p. 298.

[126] Revelation 13:18.

[128] Witherington, op. cit., p. 176; See also Louden, op. cit., p. 10.

[129] Koester, op. cit., p. 133.

[130] Ibid., fn. 3.

Incidentally, Pippy is of the view that the number 666 corresponds to the Egyptian god Seth.  (Pippy, op. cit., p. 98).  But this theory seems unlikely, as it makes far more sense for the author of Revelation to target a Roman emperor who was infamous in Christian circles rather than a god of the Egyptian pantheon.

[131] Koester, op. cit., fn. 3, p. 133; Mounce, op. cit., p. 262; Witherington, op. cit., p. 177.

One such manuscript is a late 3rd/early 4th-century fragment known as P. Oxy. LXVI 4499.  See:

[132] Witherington, op. cit., p. 177.

Gary Demar offers a possible scenario for how “616” crept into some manuscripts:

“A Latin copyist might have thought that 666 was an error because Nero Caesar did not add up to 666 when transliterated into Latin.  He then changed 666 to 616 to conform to the Latin rendering since it was generally accepted that Nero was the Beast.  In either case, a Hebrew transliteration nets 666, while a Latin spelling nets 616.  Nero was the ‘man’ and 666 was his number” (Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction (Powder Springs: The American Vision, Inc., 2009), p. 147).

On the other hand, Mounce posits that neither “666” nor “616” were specifically meant to represent Nero, though this view seems to be in the minority.  In his view, the author “intended only his intimate associates to be able to decipher the number” (Mounce, op. cit., p. 262).  Of course, if the meaning of the number was only meant to be known to the author’s “associates”, it has no relevance to modern readers and the secret has gone with the author to his grave!

But as stated, this is the minority view and most scholars agree that the Antichrist was Nero.  As Witherington puts it:

“The gematria does not merely assert that Nero is the Beast: it demonstrates that he is” (p. 177).

[133] Of course, according to Revelation, it should have already occurred!

[134] According to John 8:44, Satan is the “father of lies”.

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