Stephen ‘Protomartyr’ is key to understanding ‘Beast’ of Revelation 13

  

by

 Damien F. Mackey

 

“Some have identified the Beast as being an individual such as the Pope, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William of Orange or Hitler. Others have seen the Beast more as a group or movement of people, such as the apostate Roman Church, the Protestants, the Roman Empire (or the Common Market), the Roman persecuting power of the first century, or some other great world-power that will rise up to persecute Christians”.

 

At the beginning of the New Testament’s Acts 8, immediately following the account of the testimony of Stephen, and his martyrdom, we read that “Saul [Paul] approved of their killing him”, and that (8:1-3).

 

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

 

  1. Booker, “The Beast in Jerusalem” (http://planetpreterist.com/content/beast-jerusalem), has juxtaposed this text with Rev 11:7-8:

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.

 

And he draws the conclusion that the two texts are talking about the same thing:

First of all, let’s compare the above text to Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, Stephen gives testimony of Jesus Christ, for which reason the Jews stoned him. It says…

“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud proclamation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

Now read Revelation again:

“When they have finished their testimony [when Stephen and those who followed after him finished their testimony], the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them [a great persecution will afterward arise, they will ravage the church, enter house after house, and drag off men and women].

And their dead bodies will lie [unless some devout men come along to bury them] in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified [in Jerusalem].

Revelation also says, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction.”

Compare this text’s promise of destruction to 1 Thessalonians:

“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”

1 Thess also says, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” [the classic statement of the false prophets of old–Jer 6:13-14] then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”

2 Thessalonians seems to speak of the beast and the false prophet:

The man of lawlessness is called also the “son of destruction.”

It is said that he “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” [compare this to the image of the beast that must be worshipped–Rev 13:4,14]

It then says, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of his coming” [compare to Rev 19:20, those who “were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse…”]

It goes on to describe the culprit as “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders.” [compare to Rev 13:2 where the beast receives its authority from the serpent. Also compare with Rev 13:14; 16:14; 19:20 where the false prophet performs “signs”]

Who was responsible for the great persecution?

Paul, in his allegory, says “as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the spirit, so it is now also.”

Yet in his allegory he contrasts two covenants and the children of two covenants. The children of the one, born for slavery from Mount Sinai and corresponding to the “present Jerusalem” persecuted the free children born of the Jerusalem that is free. There is, of course, no mention of Rome.

John’s Gospel also seems to downplay Rome. Jesus omits any reference to it (as a persecuting body) when he says, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the father or me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour [of destruction] comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”

So…with all of this background and history, why do people still identify the beast as Roman?

[End of quotes]

 

Also at: http://www.preterist.org/articles/the_beast.asp the same conclusion has been drawn, that the “Beast” of Revelation 13 must have been Jewish, and not Roman:

 

We are dealing with the character known as “the Beast” in the book of Revelation. Let me suggest, if you are not familiar with this subject, that you read the following passages before going on: Rev. 11, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20; 2 Thess. 2; 1 John 2, 3, 4, 5; and Matthew 24 (esp. vss. 23, 24).

The identity of “The Beast” has always intrigued theologians. Legions of theories have been conjured up to excite the imagination. This article will examine some of them. It is not our purpose here to identify specifically who the Beast is, but rather to clarify his general nature (i.e. whether he is a Jewish Beast or a Roman one). If we can determine that, maybe his specific identity will be easier to pinpoint. We want to show why the Beast cannot be Roman and why it must be Jewish in character.

The whole question as to the nature of the Beast (Jewish or Roman) and his identity is related closely to the date of the book of Revelation. This article assumes that the book of Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70).

Past Theories

Some have identified the Beast as being an individual such as the Pope, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William of Orange or Hitler. Others have seen the Beast more as a group or movement of people, such as the apostate Roman Church, the Protestants, the Roman Empire (or the Common Market), the Roman persecuting power of the first century, or some other great world-power that will rise up to persecute Christians. Some of the more serious attempts have been to identify the Beast as Nero, based on the “666” number in Revelation 13. Another person (Spitta) urged a first-century application to the Biblical character of Simon Magus (Acts 8). Zullig interpreted the Beast as being the Herodian dynasty of rulers. J. S. Russell (in his book, The Parousia) suggests the Roman Procurators (from AD 44-66) and Nero. Once when walking in New York City, I was handed a sheet which stated that Rockefeller was the Antichrist! I’ve heard similar rumors about Henry Kissenger! Every famous person who was feared or hated was someone’s “Beast!” This really illustrates how fear and hate (and other emotions) can affect one’s exegesis!

 

An Alternative

 

Very few have mustered the courage to suggest a Jewish fulfillment of these “beastly” passages. Most modern interpreters (who are Amillennial) say the Beast is Rome. So, the thesis of a Jewish Beast will probably not be easily accepted.

I want to preface our study with some comments taken from Dr. Cornelius Vanderwaal’s commentary on First John, where he deals with the antichrists: (from his commentary set entitled, Search The Scriptures, vol. 10, pp. 60,61) —

“John, who may have been on the island of Patmos when he wrote this letter, now declares that things have gone so far that many antichrists have already appeared. This indicates that it is the ‘last hour’ (2:18). Many false prophets have gone out in ‘the world’ (4:1), that is, the apostate Jewish world. (emphasis mine, ees). John’s words make it clear that we must not think of the ‘antichrist’ in connection with a misty future. When John reports the vision of the Beast in the book of Revelation, he is not telling us about a future political antichrist with the reins of world government in his hands; he is indicating that some beastly devil will arise out of Israel to attack the church. 2 Thessalonians 2 follows the same line of thought. In 3:9, John distinguishes sharply between the seed of God and the children of the devil (see John 8:44).”

Who Were The Serpents?

The “Dragon” was the source of power and authority for the Beast. He is called “the Serpent” and “the Devil” also. He is clearly identified as “Satan” himself (Rev. 12:9, 20:2). Were the Romans ever called “children of the devil”? The Jews were: (John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10)! The Jews were also called “serpents” and “offspring of vipers” (Matt. 23:33)! And that same verse (Matt. 23:33) condemns them to a fiery end similar to the end of the Beast and his followers (Rev. 19:19-21)!

 

Two Beasts!

 

There are actually two “Beasts” mentioned in Revelation (ch. 13). The second of these is later identified as the “False Prophet” (cf. Rev. 13:11-14; 16:13 and 19:20). Throughout the Old and New Testaments the words “false prophet” are continually used to denote Jewish characters. It would be strange indeed to speak of a Roman Beast with such terminology. This is another indication that the Beast and those he associates with are Jewish in character.

 

The Beast Revived

 

If the Beast is a Roman Emperor (such as Nero or Domitian), we are going to have to deal with the lack of historical evidence for his resurrection. Rev. 13:2, 12, 14 make it clear that the Beast was killed with the sword but came back to life. Some who favor the idea that Nero is under consideration here recall the rumor that was circulated after his death that he really hadn’t died but that he was over in Parthia gathering an army to come back to Rome and take over. There is, of course, historical evidence that such a rumor was circulated in the first century, but there is not the slightest evidence that the rumor was true, and Nero never reappeared. This theory (called the “Nero Redivivus” theory) has pretty well been abandoned by most who consider John’s account in Revelation to be inspired. How could an inspired Apostle entertain such speculative notions which never did materialize? Neither Nero nor Domitian nor any other Roman emperor came back to life again. This would certainly militate against the Beast being Roman. And it can’t be the Roman persecuting power that was revived, since the Roman persecution dragged on for several more centuries, and whatever persecution this is, was supposed to end shortly after the book was written (see Rev. 1:1-3; 22:6,10). This is interesting, because the Jewish persecution did come to a screeching halt shortly after the book was written! Before its end, the Jewish cause got a couple of extra lives: one in AD 66 when Cestius Gallus (the Roman general) withdrew his forces and suffered a humiliating defeat at the pass of Beth Horon. A second chance for their religion came when Yochanan Ben Zakkai pretended dead and escaped (in a coffin) out of Jerusalem to the Romans, where he was allowed by Titus to go to Yavneh and continue his teaching of the Law (where it continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in Hadrian’s day (AD 135).

 

The Song of Moses

 

To anyone familiar with the Law of Moses and Jewish tradition, Rev. 15:2,3 will have meaning. It says that those martyrs “who had come off victorious from the Beast” were singing “the Song of Moses.” Deuteronomy 32:1-43 is the song that John has reference to. The Jews were to sing this song to remind themselves of what would befall them “in the latter days” (Deut. 31:29). the song talks about “the end” of the Jews (Deut. 32:20), and details their destruction by a consuming fire (Deut. 32:22), “famine” (32:24), “plague” (32:24) and “bitter destruction” (32:24). God calls them a “perverse generation” (32:5,20), and says He will “render vengeance” upon them and “vindicate His people” (32:41 and 32:36 respectively). Why would Christian martyrs of the first century be singing this song about the Romans, when the song had reference to the Jews? It wouldn’t make much sense. But if it was Jews who were killing them (like the book of Acts shows), then they had every reason to be singing the Song of Moses! It was the Jews who were the real threat to the Christians! No one else knew better how to attack the church than the Jews. Paul said that his intention as a former persecutor was not just to debate the Christians and prove they were wrong. He was out to “destroy” them (Gal. 1:13,23; 1 Tim. 1:13; Acts 8:3; 9:21)! It was a Jewish beast who was persecuting and killing these Christians, and these martyrs were singing the Song of Moses to remind their Jewish persecutors of what was coming upon them! Aren’t these the same martyrs who cried out earlier, “How long, Or Lord, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood” (Rev. 6:10)? Who was it who had all the “blood of the righteous” martyrs imputed against them – Jews or Romans? These Christians who had kept their faith in Jesus in spite of the intense persecution by the Jews were the ones “who had come off victorious from the Beast.” (See Matt. 23:35 and Luke 13:33)! This passage (Rev. 15:2,3) points very clearly to a Jewish beast.

 

Gnawed Tongues and Wild Beasts

 

In Rev. 16:10,11, it says that the people in the Beast’s kingdom “gnawed their tongues because of pain.” They had great sores on their bodies along with other plagues that had been poured out on them. The question is, if this is Rome or a Roman beast of some kind, when were they ever in such a miserable mess? John makes it clear that these events were to happen soon after the book was written (Rev. 1:1,3; 22:6,10). When was Nero or Domitian’s kingdom thrust into such dire straights? We know from Josephus when the Jews literally gnawed their tongues for lack of food during the siege of AD 70! And, it is interesting that Josephus even calls the Jewish Zealot forces a “wild beast” in several places (Wars V.1.1; IV.7.4; IV.9.8; V.2.5)! This doesn’t fit the Romans at all, but it does fit the Jews very well! This point is emphasized even more by the fact that the whole context of the Song of Moses is full of references to “beasts,” “serpents,” and “dragons” (Lev. 26; Deut. 28-32; esp. Deut. 32:24,33).

 

The Beast Was Seized

 

The real clincher to the whole story is found in Revelation 19:11-21, where it says the Beast was “seized and “thrown alive into the lake of fire” (vs. 20). Keep in mind that these events were to happen soon after Revelation was written (Rev. 1:1,3; 22:6,10). Was Nero or Domitian seized and thrown into the Lake of Fire shortly after Revelation was written? Did Rome make war against Jesus and His angelic hosts and get defeated shortly after the book was written (Rev. 19:19)? Did the Roman armies get “killed with the sword” and become a feast for all the vultures, shortly after Revelation was written (19:21)? The Roman persecution did not end shortly after the writing of Revelation, but the Jewish one did. Whoever the Beast is, he is soundly defeated here, his persecution against the church is crushed and his armies become plunder for the birds of prey to eat. Rome didn’t fall until the Fifth Century, and that’s a long time after Revelation was written! This sounds more like a Jewish Beast trying to persecute and destroy the church, but finally getting itself destroyed! The Romans were the vultures of this text (Rev. 19:21) who circled outside the Jewish walls watching the Jewish factions kill each other, waiting until they wore themselves out enough to become easy prey. This soon happened (in AD 70) and Jews glutted the world slave market. The Roman armies weren’t seized and “killed with the sword” in AD 70, nor in AD 96 either. Therefore, the Beast here (Rev. 19:19-21 cannot be a Roman one. It had to be Jewish!

 

Conclusion

 

We hope someone will go from here and discover the specific identity of the Jewish Beast. Whether he is an individual or a group within the Jewish nation is a matter that will be left to future studies. John Bray has suggested the Jewish Zealot leader, John of Gischala. Others have suggested Menachem, who was a relative of Judas the Galilean who had stirred up troubles back in earlier days. He gathered a zealot band and attacked Masada, captured the fortress, seized the armaments and paraded through Jerusalem with them. Menachem put on the purple robes, proclaimed himself Messiah, and went into the Temple, but he was assassinated in the Temple and his army vaporized. There may have been rumors about his coming back to life, but I haven’t read of them so far. He never reappeared as far as Josephus recorded.

[End of quote]

 

For more on Stephen, see my article:

St. Stephen a true Israelite

https://www.academia.edu/30843387/St._Stephen_a_true_Israelite

 

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