I have included chapter 7 from the book so that you can see how the idea that the Bible is composed of riddles and puzzles can be used to solve an important problem: Understanding Revelation 13.
Chapter 7: Synthesis
7.2 Revelation, Chapter 13
Revelation, Chapter 13, is at the other end of the Bible, but its author continues to speak in riddles. Most people recognize this passage as a riddle; it is a hard riddle. In the following text, I have made annotations with brackets and underlining to try to help you follow what the author is saying. It is difficult to understand this text on a literal level even before we try to deal with the fact that it is a riddle.
And I saw a [first] beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems40 upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads.
And the [first] beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.
One of its [the first beast’s] heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth followed the [first] beast with wonder.
Men worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the [first] beast, and they worshiped the [first] beast, saying, “Who is like the [first] beast, and who can fight against it?”
And the [first] beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months [a time, two times and half a time, in months]; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.
Also it [the first beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it [the first beast], every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
If any one has an ear, let him hear:
If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Then I saw another beast [a second beast] which rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb41 and it spoke like a dragon.
It [the second beast] exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.
It [the second beast] works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men; and by the signs which it is allowed to work in the presence of the [first] beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth, bidding them make an image for the beast which was wounded by the sword and yet lived [the first beast]; and it [the second beast] was allowed to give breath to the image of the [first] beast so that the image of the [first] beast should even speak, and to cause those who would not worship the image of the [first] beast to be slain.
Also it [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the [first] beast or the number of its name [the name on the heads of the first beast that began this chapter].
This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.da
The first order of the day is to determine what this story is about. Once we determine that, we can then hope to find out what it is saying. If you’ve studied the Bible, you may be aware that the first beast is an amalgam of the four beasts of Daniel 7. You might also notice that the total number of heads is seven in both this story and in Daniel. You also might have noticed that the number of horns is the same in both stories. The first beast has the parts of a leopard, a bear, and a lion, and the first three beasts of Daniel 7 are lion-like, bear-like, and leopard-like. The outrageous claims made by the horn in Daniel 7 corresponds to the uttering of haughty words by the first beast. The two stories have other parallels. What’s new in this story when compared to Daniel is the number 666 on each head of the seven-headed beast. What does it mean?
40 A diadem is a royal band worn about the head, similar to a crown.
41 Modern breeders have produced sheep that do not have horns. At the time the book of Revelation was written, however, all sheep had horns, and their lambs would have had underdeveloped horns.
da Revelation 13. Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.