Joseph Benson’s Commentary On Revelation 13

This Revelation Timeline Decoded Bible study gives the Bible commentary on Revelation 13 from  Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments.

One of the most eminent of the early Methodist ministers in England, Joseph Benson was born at Melmerby, in Cumberland, Jan. 25, 1748. At sixteen he became a Methodist and was converted. In 1766 Mr. Wesley appointed him classical master at Kingswood School. He devoted himself closely to philosophy and theology, studying constantly and zealously.

Joseph Benson became a Methodist circuit rider in 1771. A close associate of Wesley, he was chosen to be a member of the Legal One Hundred who governed the Conference at Wesley’s death and he was president of the Conference two times. As one of post-Wesley Methodism’s most popular preachers, he sometimes addressed crowds of over twenty thousand.

Wesley established an extensive organization, including the circuit riding system and a media or press to showcase books, pamphlets, and a monthly magazine. After the death of John Wesley, Joseph Benson took over the Methodist/Wesleyan movement and the organization that Wesley created.

Revelation 13:1-4

And I stood upon the sand of the sea, &c. — Here the beast is described at large, who was only mentioned before, Revelation 11:7; and a beast, in the prophetic style, is a tyrannical idolatrous empire.

The kingdom of God and of Christ is never represented under the image of a beast.

As Daniel (Daniel 7:2-3) beheld four great beasts, representing the four great empires, come up from a stormy sea, that is, from the commotions of the world; so St. John (Revelation 13:1) saw this beast in like manner rise up out of the sea.

He was said before (Revelation 11:7) to ascend out of the abyss, or bottomless pit; and it is said afterward, (Revelation 17:8,) that he shall ascend out of the abyss, or bottomless pit; and here he is said to ascend out of the sea; so that the sea and abyss, or bottomless pit, are in these passages the same.

No doubt is to be made that this beast was designed to represent the Roman empire; for thus far both ancients and moderns, Papists and Protestants, are agreed: the only controversy is, whether it was Rome, pagan or Christian, imperial or papal.

St. John saw this beast rising out of the sea, but the Roman empire was risen and established long before St. John’s time; and therefore this must be the Roman empire, not in its then present, but in some future shape and form; and it arose in another shape and form after it was broken to pieces by the incursions of the northern nations. The beast hath seven heads and ten horns.

Which are the well-known marks of the Roman empire, the seven heads alluding to the seven mountains whereon Rome was seated, and to the seven forms of government which successively prevailed there; and the ten horns signifying the ten kingdoms into which the Roman empire was divided.

It is remarkable that the dragon had seven crowns upon his heads, but the beast hath upon his horns ten crowns.

So that there had been, in the mean while, a revolution of power from the heads of the dragon to the horns of the beast, and the sovereignty, which before was exercised by Rome alone, was now transferred and divided among ten kingdoms; but the Roman empire was not divided into ten kingdoms till after it was become Christian.

Although the heads had lost their crowns, yet still they retained the names of blasphemy — In all its heads, in all its forms of government, Rome was still guilty of idolatry and blasphemy.

Imperial Rome was called, and delighted to be called, The eternal city; the heavenly city; the goddess of the earth; the goddess: and had her temples and altars, with incense and sacrifices offered up to her: and how the papal Rome likewise hath arrogated to herself divine titles and honours will be shown hereafter.

As Daniel’s fourth beast (Daniel 7:6) was without a name, and devoured and brake in pieces the three former; so this beast (Revelation 13:2) is also without a name, and partakes of the nature and qualities of the three former;

having the body of a leopard — Which was the third beast, or Grecian empire;

and the feet of a bear — Which was the second beast, or Persian empire;

and the mouth of a lion — Which was the first beast, or Babylonian empire: and consequently this must be the same as Daniel’s fourth beast, or the Roman empire.

But still it is not the same beast, the same empire entirely, but with some variation. And the dragon gave him his power — δυναμιν, or his armies; and his seat — ορονον, or his imperial throne; and great authority — Or jurisdiction over all the parts of his empire.

The beast, therefore, is the successor and substitute of the dragon, or of the idolatrous heathen Roman empire: and what other idolatrous power hath succeeded to the heathen emperors in Rome, all the world is a judge and a witness.

The dragon, having failed in his purpose of restoring the old heathen idolatry, delegates his power to the beast, and thereby introduces a new species of idolatry, nominally different, but essentially the same, the worship of angels and saints, instead of the gods and demigods of antiquity.

Another mark, whereby the beast is peculiarly distinguished, is, (Revelation 13:3,) one of his heads as it were wounded to death.

It will appear hereafter, that this head was the sixth head, for five were fallen (Revelation 17:10) before St. John’s time: and the sixth head was that of the Cesars, or emperors, there having been before, kings, and consuls, and dictators, and decemvirs, and military tribunes, with consular authority.

The sixth head was as it were wounded to death, when the Roman empire was overturned by the northern nations, and an end was put to the very name of emperor in Momyllus Augustulus; or rather, as the government of the Gothic kings was much the same as that of the emperors, with only a change of the name, this head was more effectually wounded to death, when Rome was reduced to a poor dukedom, and made tributary to the exarchate of Ravenna.

But not only one of his heads was, as it were, wounded to death, but his deadly wound was healed.

If it was the sixth head which was wounded, that wound could not be healed by the rising of the seventh head; the same head which was wounded must be healed: and this was effected by the pope and people of Rome revolting from the exarch of Ravenna, and proclaiming Charles the Great Augustus and emperor of the Romans.

Here the wounded imperial head was healed again, and hath subsisted ever since. At this time, partly through the pope, and partly through the emperor, supporting and strengthening each other, the Roman name again became formidable: and all the world wondered after the beast; and (Revelation 13:4) they worshipped the dragon, which gave power unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?

No kingdom or empire was like that of the beast; it had no parallel upon earth; and it was in vain for any to resist or oppose it; it prevailed and triumphed over all; and all the world, in submitting thus to the religion of the beast, did in effect submit again to the religion of the dragon, it being the old idolatry with new names. For the worshipping of demons and idols is in effect the worshipping of devils.

Revelation 13:5-8

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things — This expression seems to be taken from the description of the little horn in Daniel’s vision, (Daniel 7:8,) and is explained, Revelation 13:11, by the voice of the great words which the horn spake.

It must be observed, however, that it is of the secular empire that this is spoken, which empire is here considered as under the influence of the ecclesiastical power of Rome, and as being merely its agent, and especially the agent of the pope, the speaking image of the beast.

And it is well known what blasphemous and extravagant claims of authority and power have been made by him, who has been styled, His Holiness — Infallible — Sovereign of kings and kingdoms — Christ’s Vicegerent — yea, God upon earth. Power also has been given unto him to continue — Greek, ποιησαι, to practise, prevail, and prosper, forty and two months.

It doth not follow from this that the beast is to continue to exist for no longer a term, but he is to practise, to prosper, and prevail, for that term: as the holy city (chap. Revelation 11:2) is to be trodden under foot of the Gentiles forty and two months, which are the twelve hundred and sixty days, or years, of the reign of antichrist. But if by the beast were understood the heathen Roman empire, that empire, instead of subsisting twelve hundred and sixty, did not subsist four hundred years after the date of this prophecy.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemy, &c. — This newly-erected government of Rome used the authority it had obtained in making and publishing constitutions for the establishment of idolatry, in contempt of God and his true worship, and by all methods of oppression and persecution, forcing the church to comply with them, and yield obedience to them.

“Any acts of idolatrous worship,” says Lowman, “may well be expressed by blaspheming God and his name, as they deny to the true God his distinguishing honour, and give it to creatures, whether to images, saints, or angels.

The church, as it is called the temple of God, the place of God’s presence, is properly also called his tabernacle.” By them that dwell in heaven, Grotius understands all saints, all Christians, whose conversation is in heaven.

The Christian Church is called, the Jerusalem which is above, Galatians 4:26; and the governors of it are styled angels, Revelation 1:20. To blaspheme them, therefore, that dwell in heaven, will signify the contempt and injurious manner with which the new government of Rome shall treat the true worshippers of God, as well as God himself and his name.

So much for his blasphemies; nor are his exploits less extraordinary. It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.

The power of this new Roman government became so great, by divine permission, that it prevailed against the worshippers of God, either to force them to a compliance with the corruptions established by its authority, or to persecute them for their constancy; and this oppressive power was extended far and wide, even over all, or many, kindreds, and tongues, and nations.

Even in all the countries of the western Roman empire. And who can make any computation, or even frame any conception of the numbers of pious Christians who have fallen a sacrifice to the bigotry and cruelty of Rome, or this new Roman government? Mede, upon the place, hath observed from good authority, that in the war with the Albigenses and Waldenses, there perished of these poor creatures in France alone a million!

From the first institution of the Jesuits to A.D. 1580, that is, in little more than thirty years, nine hundred thousand orthodox Christians were slain. In the Netherlands alone the duke of Alva boasted that within a few years he had despatched to the amount of thirty thousand persons, and those all by the hands of the common executioner.

In the space of scarce thirty years, the inquisition destroyed, by various kinds of torture, one hundred and fifty thousand Christians.

Sanders himself confesses that an innumerable multitude of Lollards and Sacramentarians were burned throughout all Europe, who yet, he says, were not put to death by the pope and bishops, but by the civil magistrates; which perfectly agrees with this prophecy, for it is of the secular beast that it is said, He shall make war with the saints, and overcome them.

No wonder that by these means he should obtain a kind of universal authority over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. Let the Romanists boast, therefore, that theirs is the catholic church, and universal empire: this is so far from being any evidence of the truth, that it is the very brand infixed by the Spirit of prophecy.

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him — All the inhabitants of the earth, to which this new power shall reach, shall be prevailed upon to receive his idolatrous constitutions, and yield obedience to his tyrannical authority: whose names are not written in the book of life, &c.

Except such true and faithful servants of God as are enrolled in the registers of heaven, according to the promises of Christ’s gospel, who from the beginning was the true propitiation and mediator of acceptance with God, and of the blessings consequent thereon.

It has been justly observed by Mr. Faber, that there is a great inaccuracy in Bishop Newton’s exposition of the above paragraph, in that he seems to confound this beast, or the secular empire, in all the ten kingdoms, with the little horn predicted by Daniel, which accords with the second beast afterward mentioned. As the secular power, however, executed the persecuting decree of the ecclesiastical power, and gave its power to that beast, the things represented by Bishop Newton as accomplishing this prophecy did indeed accomplish it, though he has not marked the manner in which this was done.

Revelation 13:9-10

If any man have an ear, let him hear — It was customary with our Saviour, when he would have his auditors to pay a particular attention to what he had been saying, to add, He who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

St. John repeats the same admonition at the end of each of the seven epistles to the seven churches of Asia, and here in the conclusion of his description of the beast, If any man have an ear, let him hear: and certainly the description of the beast is deserving of the highest attention upon many accounts, and particularly because the right interpretation of this book turns upon it, as one of its main hinges.

It is added, by way of consolation to the church, that these enemies of God and of Christ, represented under the character of the beast, shall suffer the law of retaliation, and be as remarkably punished and tormented themselves, as they punished and tormented others, Revelation 13:10.

He who leadeth into captivity, shall go into captivity; he who killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword.

Such a promise might administer some comfort; and indeed it would be wanted, for the patience and the faith of the saints would be tried to the utmost during the reign of the beast. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

Of all the trials and persecutions of the church this would be the most severe, and exceed those of the primitive times, both in degree and in duration.

Revelation 13:11-12

And I beheld another beast, &c. — From the description of the ten-horned beast, or Roman state in general, the prophet passeth to that of the two-horned beast, or Roman Church in particular. The beast with ten crowned horns is the Roman empire, as divided into ten kingdoms; the beast with two horns like a lamb is the Roman hierarchy, or body of the clergy, regular and secular.

This beast is otherwise called the false prophet; than which there cannot be a stronger or plainer argument to prove that false doctors or teachers were particularly designed. For the false prophet, no more than the beast, is a single man, but a body or succession of men, propagating false doctrines, and teaching lies for sacred truths.

As the first beast rose up out of the sea, that is, out of the wars and tumults of the world, so this beast groweth up out of the earth.

Like plants, silently and without noise; and the greatest prelates have often been raised from monks, and men of the lowest birth. He had two horns like a lamb.

He had, both regular and secular, the appearance of a lamb; he derived his powers from the lamb, and pretended to be like a lamb, all meekness and mildness; but he spake as a dragon.

He had a voice of terror, like Roman emperors, in usurping divine titles, in commanding idolatry, and in persecuting and slaying the true worshippers of God and faithful servants of Jesus Christ.

He is an ecclesiastical person, but intermixeth himself much in civil affairs. He is the prime minister, adviser, and mover of the first beast, or the beast before mentioned.

He exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him — He holdeth imperium in imperio, an empire within an empire; claimeth a temporal authority as well as a spiritual, and enforceth his canons and decrees with the sword of the civil magistrate.

As the first beast concurs to maintain his authority, so he in return confirms and maintains the sovereignty and dominion of the first beast over his subjects; and causeth the earth, and them who dwell therein, to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

He supports tyranny, as he is by tyranny supported. He enslaves the consciences, as the first beast subjugates the bodies of men.

This ecclesiastical power, as Whiston observes, is the common centre and cement which unites all the distinct kingdoms of the Roman empire; and, by joining with them, procures them a blind obedience from their subjects: and so he is the occasion of the preservation of the old Roman empire in some kind of unity, and name, and strength, which otherwise would have been quite dissolved by the inundations and wars succeeding the settlement of the barbarous nations in that empire.

“Here,” says Mr. Faber, “we have a plain prediction of some spiritual power, which should arrogate to itself universal or catholic authority in religious matters; which should coexist, upon the most friendly terms, with the ten-horned temporal empire, instigating it to persecute, during the space of forty-two prophetic months, all such as should dare to dispute its usurped domination; and which, in short, should solve the symbolical problem of two contemporary beasts, by exhibiting to the world the singular spectacle of a complete empire within an empire.

Where we are to look for this power, since the great Roman beast was divided into ten horns, let the impartial voice of history determine. Daniel, who fully delineates the character of the little horn, is silent respecting the two-horned beast; and John, who as fully delineates the character of the two-horned beast, is entirely silent respecting the little horn.

The little horn and the two-horned beast act precisely in the same capacity; each exercising the power of the first beast before him, and each perishing in one common destruction with him.” — Vol. 2. pp. 291-293.

Revelation 13:13-17

And he doeth great wonders — We have seen the greatness of the power and authority of the beast, and we shall now see what course he pursues to establish it. He pretends, like other false prophets, to show great signs and wonders, and even to call for fire from heaven, as Elias did, 2 Kings 1:11-12. His impostures, too, are so successful, that he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth, &c.

In this respect he perfectly resembles St. Paul’s man of sin, 2 Thessalonians 2:9; or rather they are one and the same character, represented in different lights, and under different names. It is further observable, that he is said to perform his miracles in the sight of men, in order to deceive them, and in the sight of the beast, in order to serve him: but not in the sight of God, to serve his cause, or promote his religion. Now miracles, visions, and revelations, are the mighty boast of the Church of Rome; the contrivances of an artful, cunning clergy, to impose upon an ignorant, credulous laity.

Even fire is pretended to come down from heaven, as in the case of St. Anthony’s fire, and other instances, cited by Brightman and other writers on the Revelation: and in solemn excommunications, which are called the thunders of the church, and are performed with the ceremony of casting down burning torches from on high, as symbols and emblems of fire from heaven.

Miracles are thought so necessary, that they are reckoned among the notes of the Catholic Church. But if these miracles were all real, we learn from hence what opinion we ought to frame of them; and what then shall we say, if they are all fictions and counterfeits? They are indeed so far from being any proofs of the true church, that they are rather a proof of a false one; and, as we see, the distinguishing mark of antichrist.

The influence of the two-horned beast, or corrupted clergy, is further seen in persuading and inducing mankind to make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live — That is, an image and representative of the Roman empire, which was wounded by the sword of the barbarous nations, and revived in the revival of a new emperor of the west. He had also power to give life and activity unto the image of the beast — It should not be a dumb and lifeless idol, but should speak and deliver oracles, as the statues of the heathen gods were feigned to do, and should cause to be killed as many as would not worship and obey it.

This image and representation of the beast is, most probably, the pope. He is properly the idol of the church. He represents in himself the whole power of the beast, and is the head of all authority, temporal as well as spiritual. He is nothing more than a private person, without power and without authority, till the two-horned beast, or the corrupted clergy, by choosing him pope, give life unto him, and enable him to speak and utter his decrees, and to persecute even to death as many as refuse to submit to him and to worship him. As soon as he is chosen pope, he is clothed with the pontifical robes, and crowned, and placed upon the altar, and the cardinals come and kiss his feet, which ceremony is called adoration.

They first elect, and then they worship him; as in the medals of Martin V., where two are represented crowning the pope, and two kneeling before him, with this inscription, Quem creant aclorant, Whom they create they adore. He is the principle of unity to the ten kingdoms of the beast, and causeth, as far as he is able, all who will not acknowledge his supremacy to be put to death.

In short, he is the most perfect likeness and resemblance of the ancient Roman emperors, is as great a tyrant in the Christian world as they were in the heathen, presides in the same city, usurps the same power, affects the same titles, and requires the same universal homage and adoration. So that the prophecy descends more and more to particulars, from the Roman state or ten kingdoms in general, to the Roman Church or clergy in particular, and still more particularly to the person of the pope, the head of the state, as well as of the church, the king of kings, as well as bishop of bishops.

Other offices the false prophet performs to the beast in subjecting all sorts of people to his obedience, by imposing certain terms of communion, and excommunicating all who dare in the least article to dissent from him. He causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, of whatsoever rank and condition they be, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads.

We must remember, that it was customary among the ancients for servants to receive the mark of their master, and soldiers of their general, and those who were devoted to any particular deity, of the particular deity to whom they were devoted.

These marks were usually impressed on their right hand, or on their foreheads; and consisted of some hieroglyphic characters, or of the name expressed in vulgar letters, or of the name disguised in numerical letters, according to the fancy of the imposer.

It is in allusion to this ancient practice and custom, that the symbol and profession of faith in the Church of Rome, as subserving superstition, idolatry, and tyranny, is called the mark or character of the beast; which character is said to be received in their forehead when they make an open profession of their faith, and in their right hand when they live and act in conformity to it.

If any dissent from the stated and authorized forms, they are condemned and excommunicated as heretics; and in consequence of that they are no longer suffered to buy or sell.

They are interdicted from traffic and commerce, and all the benefits of civil society. Thus Hovedon relates, that William the Conqueror would not permit any one in his power to buy or sell any thing, whom he found disobedient to the apostolic see. So the canon of the council of Lateran, under Pope Alexander the Third, made against the Waldenses and Albigenses, enjoins, upon pain of anathema, that “no one presume to entertain or cherish them in his house or land, or exercise traffic with them.”

The synod of Tours, in France, under the same pope, ordered, under the like intermination, that “no man should presume to receive or assist them, no, not so much as to hold any communion with them in selling or buying, that, being deprived of the comfort of humanity, they may be compelled to repent of the error of their way.”

So did Pope Martin V. in his bull after the council of Constance. In this respect the false prophet spake as the dragon: for the dragon Dioclesian published a like edict, that no one should sell or administer any thing to the Christians, unless they had first burned incense to the gods.

Popish excommunications are therefore like heathen persecutions, and how large a share the corrupted clergy, and especially the monks of former, and the Jesuits of later times, have had in framing and enforcing such cruel interdicts, and in reducing all orders and degrees to so servile a state of subjection, no man of the least reading can want to be informed.

Verse 18

Revelation 13:18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast — In saying, Here is wisdom, the apostle shows that it is not a vain and ridiculous attempt to search into this mystery, but, on the contrary, that it is recommended to us on divine authority.

For it is the number of a man — It is a method of numbering practised among men, as the measure of a man (Revelation 21:17) is such a measure as men commonly use. It was a practice among the ancients to denote names by numbers; of which many instances might be given, if it were necessary to prove it. It has likewise been the usual method in all God’s dispensations, for the Holy Spirit to accommodate his expressions to the customs, fashions, and manners of the several ages.

Since then this art and mystery of numbers was so much used among the ancients, it is less wonderful that the beast also should have his number; and there was this additional reason for this obscure manner of characterizing him in the time of St. John, that no other manner would have been safe.

Several names possibly might be cited, which contain this number; but it is evident that it must be some Greek or Hebrew name, and with the name also the other qualities and properties of the beast must all agree. The name alone will not constitute an agreement; all other particulars must be perfectly applicable, and the name also must comprehend the precise number of six hundred threescore and six.

No name appears more proper and suitable than that famous one mentioned by Irenæus, who lived not long after St. John’s time, and was the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of St. John.

He saith, that “the name Lateinos contains the number of six hundred and sixty-six; and it is very likely, because the last kingdom is so called, for they are Latins who now reign: but in this we will not glory:” that is, as it becomes a modest and pious man in a point of such difficulty, he will not be too confident of his explication.

Lateinos with ei is the true orthography, as the Greeks wrote the long i of the Latins, and as the Latins themselves wrote in former times. No objection therefore can be drawn from the spelling of the name, and the thing agrees to admiration.

For after the division of the empire, the Greeks and other orientalists called the people of the western church, or Church of Rome, Latins: and they Latinize in every thing. Mass, prayers, hymns, litanies, canons, decretals, bulls, are conceived in Latin. The papal councils speak in Latin. Women themselves pray in Latin. Nor is the Scripture read in any other language under Popery than Latin.

Wherefore the council of Trent commanded the vulgar Latin to be the only authentic version. Nor do their doctors doubt to prefer it to the Hebrew and Greek text itself, which was written by the prophets and apostles. In short, all things are Latin; the pope having communicated his language to the people under his dominion, as the mark and character of his empire.

They themselves indeed choose rather to be called Romans, and, more absurdly still, Roman Catholics: and probably the apostle, as he hath made use of some Hebrew names in this book, as Abaddon, (ix. 11,) and Armageddon, (xvi. 16,) so might in this place likewise allude to the name in the Hebrew language.

Now Romiith is the Hebrew name for the Roman beast, or Roman kingdom: and this word, as well as the former word Lateinos, contains the just and exact number of six hundred and sixty-six.

λ 30
α 1
τ 300 ε 5
ι 10
ν 50
ο 70
σ 200 666

ר 200
ו 6
מ 40
י 10
י 10
ת 400 666

It is really surprising that there should be such a fatal coincidence in both names in both languages. And perhaps no other word, in any language whatever, can be found to express both the same number and the same thing. See Bishop Newton.

Related Study: Revelation 13 – Roman Sea Beast

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