Preterist academic scholars generally identify the first beast from the sea with the Roman Empire, particularly with Emperor Nero.
The beast from the earth is generally identified with the Roman Imperial cult or the Jewish religious system of the first century that conspired with the Roman state to suppress and persecute the early church. Sometimes there is a particular identification with a personage such as a chief administrator of Roman rule in Ephesus and Asia Minor, i.e., the "henchman" of the Emperor. This is probably the provincial governor (or proconsul) who would have overseen the political and religious operations of the area from his capital in Ephesus or the High Priest of the Provincial Imperial Cult, who would have been a leading citizen from one of the main cities. The imperial cult in Ephesus was set up by Domitian in 89 AD (Ephesus is the location of one of the Seven Churches in Asia to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed)
Much evidence is given by preterist scholars as to why the beast from the sea could only have referred to Nero.
This interpretation is based upon the Angel's explanation of the beast in Revelation 17:7, that the beast's seven heads are seven kings (Rev. 17:10) and that Nero, is the sixth king "who is", who was possibly alive and the emperor reigning at the time John was writing the book. The five kings who have fallen are seen as Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius, and Galba is the one who "has not yet come, but when he does come, he must remain for a little while". (Rev. 17:10). Moreover, Rome was known in antiquity as the city of seven hills (Rev. 17:9) and Revelation was a warning about events that were "shortly" to take place (Rev. 1:1).
In Rev. 13:5-8, the beast was given a mouth speaking in blasphemies against God and His Name. Inscriptions have been found in Ephesus in which Nero is called "Almighty God" and "Savior". In verse 4, the beast is worshiped by the world alongside the Dragon that gave it authority. Nero and Caligula "abandoned all reserve" in promoting emperor worship – they were the only two who demanded divine honors while still alive. Nero claimed to be the sun-god Apollo.
Revelation 13:7 speaks of the power given to the beast to make war with the saints. Nero was the first of the imperial authorities to persecute Christianity. Tacitus records the scene in Rome when the persecution of Christians (or Chrestians) broke out: "And their death was aggravated with mockeries, insomuch that, wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night".
Revelation 13:5 says the beast would continue for 42 months. The Neronic persecution was instituted in 64 AD and lasted until his death in June 68 AD, which is three and a half years, or 42 months. Nero was even called the beast. Apollonius of Tyana specifically states that Nero was called a 'beast': "In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen man, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. ... And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet".
The manner of Nero’s death corresponds with the prophecy of Revelation 13:10: "If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if any one kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed". According to Tertullian, Nero was the first to assail the Christian sect with the imperial sword. He committed suicide by the sword at the age of 30.
After Nero's death in 68 AD, Rome saw a succession of short-lived emperors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius) and a year of civil wars until Vespasian eventually took control in 69 AD. The Roman Empire destabilized so greatly that Tacitus reported: "Many believed the end of the empire was at hand" (Histories 4:5:4) According to Suetonius, to the surprise of the world, "the empire which for a long time had been unsettled and, as it were, drifting through the usurpation and violent death of three emperors, was at last taken in and given stability by the Flavian family" (Vespasian 1: 1). This may be a reference to the mortal wound on one of the heads of the beast "inflicted by the sword" which was later healed (Rev. 13:3, Rev. 13: 14). Scholar Daniel K. Wong wrote that the "healing of the wound" alludes to the so-called Nero Redivivus Legend or the "revival of Nero” myth. A rumor that Nero had just disappeared to Parthia and would one day reappear
Finally, the readers of Revelation were told to "calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six" (Rev. 13:18). John did not expect that his readers "who had understanding" to have any difficulty identifying the beast, since they could simply calculate the meaning of this number. "Neron Kaisar" (the Greek rendering, documented by archaeological finds), when transliterated into Hebrew נרון קסר (Nrwn Qsr) had a number of 666. The variant number 616 found in some manuscripts of the Greek text of Revelation may represent the alternative Hebrew spelling נרו קסר (Nrw Qsr) based on the Latin form "Nero Caesar". The variant probably existed to keep consistent the meaning of Nero as the beast.
The Greek spelling, "Nerōn Kaisar", transliterates into Hebrew as נרון קסר or "nrvn qsr". Adding the corresponding values yields 666, as shown:
|Resh (ר)||Samech (ס)||Qof (ק)||Noon (נ)||Vav (ו)||Resh (ר)||Noon (נ)||TOTAL|
By contrast, the Latin title for Nero is spelled simply "Nerō Caesar", which transliterates to “נרו קסר” or "nrv qsr" and has a value of 616, which may explain that variation in some manuscripts.
|Resh(ר)||Samech (ס)||Qof (ק)||Vav (ו)||Resh (ר)||Noon (נ)||TOTAL|
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