Revelation 13:1 - Clarke's commentary and critical notes on the Bible

Bible Comments

And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea - Before we can proceed in the interpretation of this chapter, it will be highly necessary to ascertain the meaning of the prophetic symbol beast, as the want of a proper understanding of this term has probably been one reason why so many discordant hypotheses have been published to the world. In this investigation it is impossible to resort to a higher authority than Scripture, for the Holy Ghost is his own interpreter. What is therefore meant by the term beast in any one prophetic vision, the same species of thing must be represented by the term whenever it is used in a similar manner in any other part of the sacred oracles. Having therefore laid this foundation, the angel's interpretation of the last of Daniel's four beasts need only be produced, an account of which is given in the seventh chapter of this prophet. Daniel being very desirous to "know the truth of the fourth beast which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, and of the ten horns that were on his head," the angel thus interprets the vision: "The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise," etc. In this scripture it is plainly declared that the fourth beast should be the fourth kingdom upon earth; consequently, the four beasts seen by Daniel are four kingdoms: hence the term beast is the prophetic symbol for a kingdom.

As to the nature of the kingdom which is represented by the term beast, we shall obtain no inconsiderable light in examining the most proper meaning of the original word חיה chaiyah. This Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint by the Greek word θηριον, and both words signify what we term a wild beast; and the latter is the one used by St. John in the Apocalypse. Taking up the Greek word θηριον in this sense, it is fully evident, if a power be represented in the prophetical writings under the notion of a wild beast, that the power so represented must partake of the nature of a wild beast. Hence an earthly belligerent power is evidently designed. And the comparison is peculiarly appropriate; for as several species of wild beasts carry on perpetual warfare with the animal world, so most governments, influenced by ambition, promote discord and depopulation. And, also, as the carnivorous wild beast acquires its strength and magnitude by preying upon the feebler animals; so most earthly monarchies are raised up by the sword, and derive their political consequence from the unsuccessful resistance to the contending nations. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is represented as "a stone cut out of the mountain without hands;" and is never likened to a beast, because it is not raised up by the sword as all other secular powers are, but sanctifies the persons under its subjection; in which last particular it essentially differs from all other dominations.

This beast is said to rise up out of the sea, in which particular it corresponds with the four beasts of Daniel; the sea is therefore the symbol of a great multitude of nations, as has already been proved; and the meaning is, that every mighty empire is raised upon the ruins of a great number of nations, which it has successfully contended against and incorporated with its dominions. The sea, here, is doubtless the same against the inhabiters of which a wo was denounced, Revelation 12:12; for St. John was standing upon the sand of the sea when the vision changed from the woman and the dragon to that recorded in this chapter. It therefore follows that the kingdom or empire here represented by the beast, is that which sprung up out of the ruins of the Western Roman empire.

Having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns - The beast here described is the Latin empire, which supported the Romish or Latin Church; for it has upon his horns ten crowns, i.e., is an empire composed of ten distinct monarchies in the interest of the Latin Church. See the heads and horns fully explained in the notes on Revelation 17:10 (note), Revelation 17:12 (note), and Revelation 17:16 (note).

As the phrases Latin Church, Latin empire, etc., are not very generally understood at present, and will occur frequently in the course of the notes on this and the 17th chapter, it will not be improper here to explain them. During the period from the division of the Roman empire into those of the east and west, till the final dissolution of the western empire, the subjects of both empires were equally known by the name of Romans. Soon after this event the people of the west lost almost entirely the name of Romans, and were denominated after their respective kingdoms which were established upon the ruins of the western empire. But as the eastern empire escaped the ruin which fell upon the western, the subjects of the former still retained the name of Romans, and called their dominion Ἡ Ῥωμαΐκη βασιλεια, the Roman empire; by which name this monarchy was known among them till its final dissolution in 1453, by Mohammed II., the Turkish sultan. But the subjects of the eastern emperor, ever since the time of Charlemagne or before, (and more particularly in the time of the crusades and subsequently), called the western people, or those under the influence of the Romish Church, Latins, and their Church the Latin Church. And the western people, in return, denominated the eastern Church the Greek Church, and the members of it Greeks. Hence the division of the Christian Church into those of the Greek and Latin. For a confirmation of what has just been said the reader may consult the Byzantine writers, where he will find the appellations Ῥωμαιοι and Λατινοι, Romans and Latins, used in the sense here mentioned in very numerous instances. The members of the Romish Church have not been named Latins by the Greeks alone; this term is also used in the public instruments drawn up by the general popish councils, as may be instanced in the following words, which form a part of a decree of the council of Basil, dated Sept. 26, 1437: Copiosissimam subventionem pro unione Graecorum cums Latinis, "A very great convention for the union of the Greeks with the Latins." Even in the very papal bulls this appellation has been acknowledged, as may be seen in the edict of Pope Eugenius IV., dated Sept. 17, 1437, where in one place mention is made of Ecclesiae Latinorum quaesita unio, "the desired union of the Church of the Latins;" and in another place we read, Nec superesse modum alium prosequendi operis tam pii, et servandi latinae Ecclesiae honoris, "that no means might be left untried of prosecuting so pious a work, and of preserving the honor of the Latin Church." See Corps Diplomatique, tom. iii., pp. 32, 35. In a bull of the same pontiff, dated Sept., 1439, we have Sanctissima Latinorum et Graecorum unio, "the most holy union of the Greeks with the Latins." See Bail's Summa Conciliorum, in loc. By the Latin empire is meant the whole of the powers which support the Latin Church.

And upon his heads the name of blasphemy - Ονουα βλασφημιας· A name of blasphemy. This has been variously understood. Jerome and Prosper give it as their opinion that the name of blasphemy consists in the appellation urbs aeterna, eternal city, applied to Rome; and modern commentators refer it to the idolatrous worship of the Romans and papists. Before we attempt to ascertain the meaning of this passage, it must be first defined what the Holy Spirit means by a name of blasphemy. Blasphemy, in Scripture, signifies impious speaking when applied to God, and injurious speaking when directed against our neighbor. A name of blasphemy is the prostitution of a sacred name to an unholy purpose. This is evident from the 9th verse of the second chapter of the Apocalypse, where God says, "I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." These wicked men, by calling themselves Jews, blasphemed the name, i.e., used it in an injurious sense; for he Only is a Jew who is one inwardly. Hence the term Jews applied to the synagogue of Satan is a name of blasphemy, i.e. a sacred name blasphemed. A name of blasphemy, or a blasphemous appellation, is said to be upon all the seven heads of the beast. To determine what this name is, the meaning of the seven heads in this place must be ascertained. If the reader refer to the notes on Revelation 17:9-11, he will find that the heads are explained to have a double meaning, viz., that they signify the seven electorates of the German empire, and also seven forms of Latin government. As this is the first place in which the heads of the beast are mentioned with any description, it is reasonable to expect that that signification of the heads which is first in order in the angel's interpretation, Revelation 17:9, must be what is here intended. This is, "the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth;" the name of blasphemy will consequently be found upon the seven electorates of Germany. This, therefore, can be no other than that which was common, not only to the electorates but also to the whole empire of Germany, or that well known one of Sacrum Imperium Romanum, "The Sacred (or Holy) Roman Empire." Here is a sacred appellation blasphemed by its application to the principal power of the beast. No kingdom can properly be called holy but that of Jesus; therefore it would be blasphemy to unite this epithet with any other power. But it must be horridly blasphemous to apply it to the German empire, the grand supporter of antichrist from his very rise to temporal authority. Can that empire be holy which has killed the saints, which has professed and supported with all its might an idolatrous system of worship? It is impossible. Therefore its assumption of sacred or holy (which appellation was originally given to the empire from its being the main support of what is termed the holy catholic Church, the emperor being styled, on this account, Christ's temporal vicar upon earth: see Caesarini Furstenerii Tractatus De Suprematu Principum Germaniae, cc. 31, 32) is, in the highest sense the word can be taken, a name of blasphemy. The name of blasphemy is very properly said to be upon the seven heads of the beast, or seven electorates of the German empire, because the electors are styled Sacri Imperii Principes Electores, Princes, Electors of the Holy Empire; Sacri Romani Imperii Electores, Electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

Revelation 13:1

1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the namea of blasphemy.