Revelation 13:3 – What is the “fatal wound” mentioned here?

Problem: Many interpretations have been offered for this passage. Modern, end-times fanatics have identified this fatal wound with Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and even JFK![1]These wild speculations should be avoided. Instead, let’s consider some of the more common interpretations held by commentators:


INTERPRETATION #1: Preterists interpret this to refer to Emperor Nero.
This interpretation is called the “Nero redivivus” view (Latin for “Nero who came to life again”). Because of his failure to properly run the Roman Empire (due to his mental insanity!), the Roman senate censured Nero on June 8, AD 68. Immediately after this, Nero committed suicide by thrusting a dagger into his own throat. Later, there were rumors that he came back to life, and this became a popular legend. Preterists argue that this is reminiscent of the beast (Rev. 13:3; 13:14). Osborne explains this view:

Many refused to believe he had died, and by the late 80s a legend became popular that he was still alive (some forms of the story had him coming back from the dead) and living in Parthia, preparing an army of Parthians to invade and retake his throne. Several impostors tried to come to power by claiming to be Nero. During Domitian’s reign, one almost succeeded, but Domitian talked the Parthians into executing the man (Tacitus, History 2.8; Suetonius, Nero 57; cf. Yarbro Collins 1976: 176–83; Bauckham 1993b: 423–31; Aune 1998a: 738–40).[2]
However, this myth doesn’t fit with the language of Revelation 13:3, which says that the wound was to the head—not the throat. Moreover, if we hold to this view, then we would need to believe that John actually believed these myths and legends which are highly spurious and questionable. In her article “Nero Redivivus Demolished,” scholar Jan Willem van Henten writes,

Nero redivivus is a modern scholarly construction… Nero’s description is stereotypic and includes negative characterizations of his reign as well as his return from the east. In part, the image is the result of recycling traditions about earlier rulers. It is then recycled and reapplied to later ‘rulers.’ (including Beliar-Satan, see Asc. Isa. 4). Therefore, it seems inappropriate to speak of Nero redivivus in the context of the Sibylline Oracles since the oracles do not mention Nero’s return.[3]
Even if this Nero redivivus myth was floating around at the time (which there is no reason to affirm), it seems highly improbable that John would be affirming such a legend (c.f. “A Critique of Preterism” for more on this interpretive school). Christian commentators—like Minear—argue that this view is simply non-historical and doesn’t fit with the wound of Revelation 13:3.[4]

Finally, this perspective doesn’t fit with Paul’s description of Christ slaying the Antichrist. Paul writes, “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” (2 Thess. 2:8). If Nero is the Antichrist, then in what sense did Jesus slay him at his coming—especially since Nero killed himself? Remember, preterist interpreters believe that Jesus’ coming occurred in AD 70, when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem. However, this would have been two years after Nero died.

INTERPRETATION #2: This is a mortal wound—given to the Antichrist—that is intended to imitate Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The language of being “slain” (Rev. 13:3) is identical with the language given of Christ earlier in the book (Rev. 5:6). Osborne writes, “In 13:14 it says the beast ἔζησεν (ezēsen, lived), the very term used for Jesus’ resurrection in 2:8.”[5] Under this view, this refers to a real, historical person: the Antichrist. If we believe that the Antichrist is an individual and not an empire (see comments on Rev. 13:1), then this view is preferable. Moreover, this seems to fit with the second beast (the false prophet) being another distinct person. If the beast is merely symbolic, this doesn’t make sense of another beast existing alongside of him (vv.11-18). What would be the point of having two beasts, if these were merely symbols for Rome?

INTERPRETATION #3: This is a judgment from God for the renewed Roman empire.
Surprisingly, this is the view held by dispensational interpreters like John Walvoord. He writes,

The wounding of one of the heads seems instead to be a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire as such seemingly died and is now going to be revived. It is significant that one of the heads is wounded to death but that the beast itself is not said to be dead. It is questionable whether Satan has the power to restore to life one who has died, even though his power is great. Far more probable is the explanation that this is the revived Roman Empire in view.[6]
The beast is both personal and the empire itself; so also is the head. The revival of the future empire is considered a miracle and a demonstration of the power of Satan.[7]

In other words, this shouldn’t be taken as a literal person who is wounded, but the Roman Empire as a whole was destroyed and resurrected. Johnson writes, “In the Greek, the word for ‘wound’ is plēgē, which everywhere in Revelation means ‘plague,’ in fact, a divinely inflicted judgment (9:18, 20; 11:6; 15:1ff.; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18).”[8] Therefore, this plague was given to the Roman Empire, and yet, it still survived.

This author believes that Interpretation #1 is false—per the evidence listed above. Interpretation #2 is possible; however, Interpretation #3 is preferred due to the fact that the context speaks of kingdoms—not individuals (see comments on Rev. 17:10).

[1] Walvoord writes, “Among the more common suggestions are Nero, Judas Iscariot, and in modern times such personages as Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. The multiplicity of suggestions seems to be evidence in itself that these explanations are not the meaning of the passage.” Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. JFW Publishing Trust. Chicago, IL. 1966. 199.
[2] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 496.
[3] Jan Willem van Henten “Nero Redivivus Demolished: The Coherence of the Nero Traditions in the Sibylline Oracles.” Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha. 21. 2000. 3-4, 17.
[4] See Minear, Paul S. I Saw a New Earth; an Introduction to the Visions of the Apocalypse. Washington: Corpus, 1968. 228-60.
[5] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 495.
[6] Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. JFW Publishing Trust. Chicago, IL. 1966. 199.
[7] Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. JFW Publishing Trust. Chicago, IL. 1966. 200.
[8] Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (526). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. (Rev 11 13:3)”

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