The Beast of Revelation and the Destruction of Jerusalem
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Two blogs ago I put forward evidence that the Apocalypse envisioned by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation may have been seen and written down earlier than is often estimated. I suggested (as have others) that it was written not in the 90s CE but in the 60s, under the reign of Nero before his death in 68 CE. If this is the case, then we should consider that many parts of the apocalyptic vision might be foretelling the most catastrophic event in the Judeo-Christian culture that was about to happen—the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This blog is the second in a series to explore what aspects of the Apocalypse seem to have uncanny parallels to that destruction and the years leading up to it.
The number 666 and the title Antichrist have become synonymous today with an evil ruler whose reign will lead to the destruction of the world in the "end times". These symbols come from passages in the New Testament, especially from the book of Revelation. Many preachers and authors today have conjured up imaginative scenarios on how these things might all come to pass in the near future. Sensationalism sells. But a lot of the details surrounding them in Revelation fit much better to the first century than to the twenty-first century.
Many will be surprised at the fact the word “Antichrist” does not appear in Revelation. The Apostle John mentions it in his letters but not in Revelation. In contrast, what most people mean by “Antichrist” is a beast portrayed in the John’s vision:
"And behold I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads,
with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.”
This passaged is complemented later by a second one which adds understanding to the first:
" There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous
names and had seven heads and ten horns. . . . This calls for wisdom. The seven heads
are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen,
one is, and the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only
a little while.”
It is hard to imagine the seven hills refer to anywhere but Rome. Therefore the kings seem to represent Roman kings—or emperors. But how many were there at this point in time (mid 60s CE)? Who were the five who were fallen, and sixth who is? And why ten horns as well as seven heads? I always thought this odd that there would be one creature with ten horns and seven heads. How does that work? Does one head have four horns and the other six heads one horn each? What an odd-looking hydra monster! But it all begins to make sense when you look at the list of first Roman emperor-dynasty:
1. Dictator Julius Caesar reigned from 49-44 BCE
2. Emperor Augustus Caesar reigned from 27-14 BCE
3. Emperor Tiberius Caesar from 14 BCE – 37 CE
4. Emperor Caligula (Gaius) Caesar 37-41 CE
5. Emperor Claudius Caesar 41-54 CE
6. Emperor Nero Caesar 54-68 CE
Acting Emperor Galba 68-69 CE
Acting Emperor Otho 69 CE
Acting Emperor Vitellius 69 CE
7. Emperor Vespasian 69-79 CE
There had been five emperors of Rome, if we include Julius Caesar. He was not technically an emperor, but was the first sole dictator—and father of the dynasty that followed through Nero. That makes Nero is the sixth on the list, and the head who “now is”. Following Nero’s suicide three tried unsuccessfully to claim and hold the emperor’s throne during the “Year of the Four Emperors”. Vespasian finally succeeded as the seventh established emperor. Jerusalem was destroyed during his reign. This succession seems to have been predicted by the prophet Daniel as he was discussing a fourth beast, an empire that would follow the Persians, Medes, and Greeks:
“I was considering the ten horns it had, when suddenly, another, a little horn sprang out
of their midst, and three of the horns were torn away to make room for it.”
As the passage above in Revelation continues, the beast appears again in view, suggesting this line of seven Roman emperors, during which there was a brief pause, would continue on with an eighth king:
“The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven
and is going to his destruction.”
Emperor Vespasian was followed to the throne by his son Titus, who was the general who destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. Emperor Titus’ met his end prematurely after (as many claimed) being poisoned by his younger brother Domitian. The ten horns are now shown as a continuation of the line of emperors who will wage war against the people of God:
“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for
one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose
and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the
Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them . . .”
Revelation 18, 12-13
If we look into the future from 70 CE, Christians were persecuted off and on by Roman emperors. The list comes to ten, including Titus the eighth king of Revelation:
8. Emperor Titus reigned from 79-91 CE
9. Emperor Domitian from 81-96 CE
10. Emperor Trajan 98-117 CE
11. Emperor Marcus Aurelius 138-161 CE
12. Emperor Septimus Severus 193-211 CE
13. Emperor Maximus Thrax 235-238 CE
14. Emperor Decius 249-251 CE
15. Emperor Valerian 253-260 CE
16. Emperor Aurelian 270-275 CE
17. Emperor Diocletian 294-305 CE
The list completes the seven heads and ten horns. Finally, Emperor Constantine I ended this by making Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire, to be supported rather than fought against. He was baptized on his death bed.
THE MARK OF THE BEAST
Popular Western culture has made much of the number 666. It is now widely recognized as the mark of the antichrist, the beast of Revelation. Back in the 1970s and 80s what I remember was a rumor about digital banking set up by a one world (evil) government would somehow use implants in people’s hands and foreheads, and without these you could not buy or sell. They would scan them just like they were starting to scan groceries. Today the newest rumor is that the Covid vaccination is somehow the mark of the beast. People seem to have no lack of imagination, only a lack of context. Let’s go back to Revelation to see what was really said—and meant:
“ It (the beast) also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to
receive a mark on there right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or
sell unless they had the mark, which is the same of the beast or the number of his name.
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 six hundred and sixty six.”
The number represents not a government, but a man. And the number is somehow tied to the man’s name, and a calculation using that name can somehow result in a value of six hundred and sixty-six, not three digits in a row 6-6-6, by the way. It is well known that Greek and Hebrew writings at the time represented numbers using letters, not numerals like in Latin or Arabic or English today. Thus, the letters in any word can also be added up to yield a total number represented by those letters. It has been known for a long time now that the only name or title of a Roman emperor that adds up to 666 is Emperor Nero, written as Caesar Nero. For more details one can Google Nero and 666 or Number of the Beast.
The final issue here is what the hand and forehead represent. I often thought this odd after hearing about digital scanning in the 20th century. What possibly could first century people be thinking about with marks on hands and foreheads? Was there any context for this at that time? Yes, I realized in Judaism there definitely is. The pious would put boxes on their hands and foreheads that contained scriptural passages. They are called phylacteries. They are still used by some ultraorthodox men during morning prayers. They signify a total allegiance to God and a reminder to keep his laws. If the mark of the beast is signified in this fashion, it suggests a total allegiance to the Emperor instead. The passage is a warning to give your allegiance to God, not the emperor. The emperors of Rome frequently made claims of being divine. They (Nero included) would put out proclamations requiring the devotion of, if not worship from, all in the empire. This is the context of the mark of the beast and 666—in spite of our modern tendencies to cast it into some type of futuristic dystopian society.
Cry For Jerusalem is a series of historical fiction books covering the seven years leading up to the burning of Herod’s Temple and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Author Ward Sanford gives this period of history new depth in Cry For Jerusalem and showcasing the works of eyewitness historian Flavius Josephus in a new way with this fictional yet fact-based dramatization.
In the CFJ blog section Ward covers subjects to do with the vast amount of research that went into the CFJ novel series, including Ancient Jerusalem, the Roman Empire, and Biblical topics and the writings of Josephus.