“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11).
“And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev. 13:5–10).
So we are continuing to observe John’s description of the beast from the sea, which is generally Rome, and specifically Nero. In this passage we have another clue that helps fix this identity. The emperors were nothing if not blasphemous. The practice of overt emperor worship had taken root during the time of Augustus, and the practice ranged from allowed to mandatory. When they took the throne, they assumed blasphemous names for themselves. Sebastos was one such name, and it meant “one to be worshiped.” Emperors were called dives or Deus—in short, God.
The saints are being warned here that the persecution that will rain down on them will be severe—it is described as making war on them. But they are also encouraged by the fact that the severe persecution will be comparatively short. The beast was on a chain, and God was only going to let him off the chain for a mere 42 months. We are told several times that the beast only had the power he did because it was granted to him. “And there was given unto him . . .” “and power was given unto him.” Despite the blasphemous claims, the power of the beast did not originate with him. He had it from Satan, and Satan was bounded by the will of God.
As it happened, the first Roman persecution of the church began under Nero, and it lasted for 42 months. After the great fire in Rome, when suspicion fell on Nero for starting it, he responded by scapegoating the Christians. That persecution was fierce, and according to Tacitus, it included Christians being treated with pitch, and then set up as torches for a dinner party Nero was hosting. This persecution began in 64 A.D. and ended in 68 A.D. when Nero was forced to commit suicide—forty two months later.
The power to war against the saints was a power that included rule over all “kindreds, tongues, and nations.” The inhabitants of the earth, if their names were not in the Book of Life, would give themselves to him in worship. It is striking that the Book of Life is described as belonging to the Lamb, and the Lamb is described as having been slain from the foundation of the world.
The saints are encouraged with the words Jesus was accustomed to use—if a man has ears to hear, then he should do so. They are also encouraged to endure, knowing that the God of justice sees what their persecutor is doing. There is no need for them to take up the sword in self-defense. The one who leads into captivity will be led into captivity, and the one who kills with the sword will die by the sword—just as Nero was vicious in his cruelty to others, so at the end he was forced to fall on his own sword.
This is the patience and faith of the saints. Hold on, John tells them.