Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying The Book of Revelation in our small group, the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing just for reading it (1:3). Since we have so many first time visitors to our group, I want to review what we have learned in this book.
It was written by a man named John who was persecuted for his faith. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. It was a labor camp, like Siberia. While he was there, he received a revelation and was actually taken up to heaven.
The revelation was in two parts. Some of it deals with the present and some of it deals with the future. The first few chapters contain personal letters to seven churches by the resurrected Christ. Beginning at chapter 4, John writes about “things to come”. The book shifts to future events. In chapter 4 & 5, John is in heaven but beginning in chapter 6 he deals with events on earth.
Revelation 6-19 begins the next major section of the book dealing with judgments on earth. John describes three series of judgments the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments and the bowl judgments.
Each one is worse than the one before. These judgments will take place in what John calls “the Great Tribulation” (7:17). Jesus said that the Great Tribulation would take place immediately before he returns (Matthew 24:29).
While some of the events John described have already taken place (e.g., wars, famines), many of them have not, A fourth of the earth has not been killed by the sword yet. A third of the earth and trees have not been burned up.
Locusts have not come out of a great furnace and tortured people for five months so bad that they want to kill themselves. Two hundred million horsemen have not killed a third of the planet yet. The Sun has not turned black. The Moon has not turned red.
The heavens have not receded like a scroll and people have not hid and called on the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. These describe future events.
When we get to Revelation 10, John gives us a break from all of these plagues and judgments. In Revelation 12 we were given some background material. Revelation 12 describes five characters – a pregnant woman, a giant red dragon, a baby boy, Michael and the woman’s other children.
Each one of the characters are symbolic. The pregnant woman does not represent Mary. She represents Israel and we saw why she has to be Israel. The dragon is Satan. The baby boy is Jesus. Michael is an archangel and the other children represent believers on earth.
Revelation 13 introduces us to three characters – a dragon, a beast from the land and a beast from the sea. We already studied the dragon.
Last week, we saw that the beast from the sea represents the future end-time ruler known as the Antichrist. Some scholars say this first beast must refer to someone in the first century but it can’t refer to anyone in the first century for two reasons.
First, this man is alive when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns in Revelation 19, he throws this individual into the lake of fire. Second, he does things no ruler in history has ever done (been given authority “over every tribe, people, language and nation”, had all of “all inhabitants of the earth” worship him and force people to receive a mark on their rights hands or foreheads in order to buy and sell).
Who is the second beast of Revelation 13? John doesn’t tell us in this chapter but he tells us later on in the book who he is. The beast from the land is the false prophet (19:20).
Satan will wage war against God’s people in the Tribulation and he will use these two individuals (the beast and the false prophet) to do it. Satan does not work alone. He will use two agents to carry out his war on God’s people. These three individuals (the dragon, the Antichrist and the false prophet) make up a kind of satanic trinity (16:13).
The Trinity is the doctrine that there is one God who exists in three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. These three beings (the dragon, beast and the false prophet) do not just oppose God, they try to take his place. The dragon (Satan) usurps the place of God. Satan represents a false god. Paul calls him the god of this world. How is he like God?
How Satan Tries to be Like God
1) The dragon has a throne (13:2). God has a throne.
2) Satan has authority and gives it to others. He gives some of his authority to the Antichrist (13:4). God has authority and gives his authority to others.
3) Satan is worshiped (13:4). God is worshiped.
The beast usurps the place of Christ. He is a false Christ. He is the anti-Christ. How is he like Christ?
How the Antichrist will Imitate Christ
1) The Antichrist will have authority over every tribe, tongue, people and nation (13:7). That is interesting because Revelation says that Jesus ransomed people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (5:9).
2) The Antichrist will go through a death and resurrection like Jesus. He will have a mortal wound that will be healed (13:3).
3) He is worshiped (13:4, 8), like Jesus is worshiped People praise him. Jesus receives praise and so does the beast. People say, “Who is like the Beast? Who can wage war against it?” (13:4)
That brings us to the false prophet. The false prophet will be more of a religious than a political leader. The Antichrist will be a political leader. He is crowned. This one will be more of a religious leader.
He is called a prophet and he looks like a lamb. The lamb is a religious symbol, a symbol of sacrifice. The false prophet will usurp the place of the Holy Spirit. How does he do this? He does this in a number of ways.
How the False Prophet will Imitate the Holy Spirit
1) The false prophet will not exalt himself.
He will exalt the beast. The Holy Spirit does not exalt himself. He exalts Christ (John 16:13-14).
2) The false prophet will perform miracles.
He will be a miracle worker. The Holy Spirit performs miracles. He gives spiritual gifts and two of those gives are miracles and healing. Jesus performed miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28; Acts 10:38). The false prophet will be a miracle worker.
Just as the two prophets in Revelation 11 had the power to perform miracles and call fire down from heaven (11:5-6), the false prophet will have the power to perform miracles and call fire down from heaven (13:13-15). Just as the two witnesses will work together. The beast and false prophet will work together. That raises a very important question about miracles.
What is the Value of Miracles?
Many in the charismatic movement use miracles to prove a movement is from God. They use miracles to prove truth or to prove spirituality or to prove authenticity.
Miracles in the Bible did authenticate some people (Acts 2:22; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4). Paul spoke of the signs of an apostle (II Corinthians 12:12). One of the signs of a real apostle was the ability to perform miracles.
But we have to be very careful here for several reasons:
1) Miracles are a sign of power, not of truth.
Just because you can perform a miracle does not mean that what you say is true. Do not confuse power with truth. Power does not necessarily imply truth. Miracles by themselves are not necessarily a sign of truth.
2) Satan can do miracles.
God is not the only one who can do miracles. The false prophet will able to perform miracles, stupendous miracles, even bringing life to a dead image (cf. Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10). Pharaoh’s magicians performed miracles (Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7).
Miracles by themselves are not necessarily a sign a movement is from God, because the Devil can perform signs. No movement should ever be based on signs and wonders. It should be based on the Word, although signs and wonders may confirm the Word.
Characteristics of the False Prophet
1. He will be Deceptive.
He will look like a lamb but he will speak like a dragon (13:11). He will look like a harmless innocent little lamb but he will be just as intolerant as the Antichrist. People who refuse to take the idolatrous image he creates will be killed (13:15). People who do not take the mark of the beast will not be able to buy or sell (13:17).
2. He will be Powerful.
He will have the power to do all kinds of miracles. He will be a signs and wonder specialist. The false prophet will not just perform signs, he will perform “great signs” including sending fire down from heaven (13:13). He will be able to do some incredible things that will have no natural explanation. They will clearly be supernatural.
An image of the Antichrist will be created and he will have the power to make that image breathe and talk (13:14-15). He will have the same power and authority of the first beast (13:2). The dragon will give his authority to the Antichrist and the Antichrist will give his authority to the false prophet.
3. He will be Humble.
He will have all kinds of power and be able to do some amazing miracles but he will not draw attention to himself. He will not exalt himself. He will not try to promote himself or his ministry. He will try to promote and advertise the ministry of the Antichrist. He will not get people to worship him. He will get people to worship the Antichrist.
4. He will be Effective.
The false prophet will have one job to do and he will be very good at it. His job will be to get the whole world to worship the Antichrist and they will. He will have two ways to achieve this. He will use religious deception by means of miracles (13:14-15) and economic pressure (13:16-17).
The Mark of the Antichrist
We now come to one of the most intriguing verses in the entire Bible. John ends Revelation 13 with a riddle. The Bible contains many different literary forms (history, prophecy, parable, poetry, hyperbole). This is a riddle and is a riddle that John assumes that his readers could solve. There are a lot of jokes about the number 666.
“This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666” (13:18). Many believe this is the most difficult verse in the entire Bible. I personally think this is one of the easier passages. It was solved a long ago in the early church. There are actually more difficult passages than this one, in my opinion.
Two Views on the Mark of the Beast
It is a very controversial passage. We may not all agree on what the 666 means. That is perfectly fine. This is not a major doctrine of the faith. Let’s first look at the two main schools of thought regarding the number 666. Both believe that this number is symbolic. Revelation is a symbolic book and numbers are used symbolically in other places in Revelation, so this number must be symbolic as well.
View One – 666 Represents Mankind
Six represents the number of man. Man was created on the sixth day. The Antichrist will think he is a god and demand to be worshiped but God says his number is 666. The beast claims to be God but he is only a man. If seven is the number of perfection, the Antichrist only adds up to 666, the number 6 intensified. It always falls short of the number of perfection in every digit.
The NIV reflects this view. Revelation 13:18 in the NIV reads, “This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666”. His number is 666, not 777 (the number of perfection) or even 888 (the number of Jesus). This is a very common view. Many hold it but there are many problems with it.
1) The text does not say, “his number is three sixes individually (a triple six) but in Greek it is clear the number is six hundred sixty-six.
2) The passage even the NIV reads, “let him calculate the number of the beast”. If the number is used symbolically, then there is nothing to calculate or count.
3) If the number is symbolic, then why is his number not “six”? Why would his number be 666, not 66 or 6?
4) 666 is not just the number of man (13:18), it is the number of his name (13:17; 14:11).
5) Furthermore, there is a textual variant in the passage.
We do not know for sure if John wrote, “His number is 666” or “His number is 616”. The oldest copy of the book of Revelation that we have found comes from the third century. It is a scrap of papyrus (called Papyrus 115) and it reads 616, not 666. Irenaeus, as early as the second century, said that some copies of Revelation read 616. The symbolic view really only works with 666.
The alternative is the LITERAL interpretation of the text. John is not saying that 666 is the number of mankind in general but the number of a specific man. It is not a man’s number but “the number of a man”. It is the number 666 that can literally be calculated from someone’s name.
Most translations take the verse in this way and translate it “of a man” (so KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, ESV, NLT, NRSV, GNT, NEB, JB…). The only other version that takes the number symbolically, besides the NIV, is the RSV. This tells me three things about this passage.
Exegetical Assumptions About 666
1. The number 666 is the number of a man.
Revelation 13:18 is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. The number 666 is not the number of a computer, a nation, a country or a church.
Many of the Reformers thought that the Roman Catholic Church was the Antichrist. Many scholars think it stands for the Roman Empire but John says it is the number of a man. It is not the number of Satan. It is the number of a man.
2. This number can be calculated from the name of this person.
We see that in Revelation 13:17. The name of the Beast is the same thing as the number of his name. Many think this has to do with bar codes that can be scanned but this is not talking about your number or name. It is talking about his number and name.
3. This is something that John assumes his readers could do in the first century.
We have no problem understanding one and three but most of us would not know how to calculate a number from a name. In the ancient world, everyone knew how to do this. It was common in the ancient world and especially common in apocalyptic books. Revelation is an apocalyptic book. It was written in code for security reasons.
Here I need to give you a little historical background. Our number system (1, 2, 3,) is called the Arabic Indian number system. The number system was invented in India. Hindu scholars in India invented the system in the 4th century B.C. It was spread to the Middle East by Muslim scholars in the 9th century AD and from there it came to Europe.
It reached Europe in the fifteen century by Arabs but in the ancient world people did not use Arabic numerals. They had the written numerals. You could write the word “one, two, three…” but they didn’t have symbols for those numbers (1, 2, 3 …).
How did they count? The Greeks and Hebrews did not use Arabic numerals, like we do. Greek numerals and Hebrew numerals used letters to count, as did many other peoples in the ancient world. They used alphabetic numerals.
The idea of assigning numbers to letters is an ancient practice. The Jews called it gematria. The Greeks had another name for it (isophsephia). The most common form of gematria takes every letter of the alphabet and assigns it a number (absolute value gematria) .
How do you Calculate a Number from a Name?
Every letter of your name is a number. If you add up all of the letters of your name, you get a number which stands for the person. Archaeologists have found graffiti on the walls of Pompeii by a man who wrote, “I love the girl whose number is 545” and that is not her phone number. Now Greek has 24 letters . Hebrew has 22 letters. English has 26 letters. In English, it would look like this.
Gematria in English
A=1 J=10 S=100
B=2 K=20 T=200
C=3 L=30 U=300
D=4 M=40 V=400
E=5 N=50 W=500
F=6 O=60 X=600
G=7 P=70 Y=700
H=8 Q=80 Z=80
View Two – 666 Refers to Nero
Just having a name that adds up to 666 does not mean that you are the Antichrist. Lots of people have that number.
If you add the letters of your name up, what number do you get? The million dollar question is, Whose name does 666 stand for? In the early church, most of the church fathers believed it stood for Nero. It doesn’t work in Greek.
In Greek, Nero adds up to 1005 but, if you use the Hebrew alphabet, it adds up to 666 (the Greek form of Neron Caesar written in Hebrew) . There are a couple reasons why I think this is the right interpretation.
Advantages to the Second View
1) It explains the number 666.
2) It explains the 616 (textual variant).
There is a textual variant that reads 616 and the Latin form of Nero Caesar adds up to 616.
3) There are other allusions to Nero in the chapter.
Nero uttered proud words (13:5). He was a blasphemer (13:7). He slandered the church and said they started the fire of Rome (13:6). He made war with the saints (13:7).
His persecution against the church lasted about three-and-a-half years, the same length of time Antiochus Epiphanies persecuted the Jews in the OT. He died by suicide. He stabbed himself in the neck with a knife. He had a head wound. After Nero died, many believed he was coming back (13:3; 17:8-11).
4) Ancient writers referred to Nero as a “beast”.
Apollonius of Tyana described Nero as a beast more evil than any he encountered in the wild.
5) This was an individual who was familiar to John’s readers.
John encourages them to solve the riddle and implies that they can. No one in the first century could possibly know the name of a man who would be the Antichrist two thousand years later. The number 666 does not even help with that because lots of people can have names that add up to 666.
Objection to This Interpretation
There is one big problem with this view. The Antichrist is an individual from prophecy, not history. It is future dictator who has not yet come on the world scene. How could Nero possibly be the Antichrist when the Antichrist is alive when Jesus returns in Revelation 19 and Nero died about 2000 years ago. He was dead when the Book of Revelation was written. In some ways, Nero fits the picture of Revelation 13 and in some ways he does not.
The answer is that Nero is not the Antichrist but is a type of the Antichrist, as John Chrysostom said in the fourth century . Just as Antiochus Epiphanies was a type of the Antichrist in the OT, Nero Caesar was a type of the Antichrist in the NT.
He will be another Nero. He will somehow be related to the ancient Roman Empire as Nero was and will act like Nero. If this is the case, then the mark of the beast is both literal AND symbolic. It is a number which you can literal calculate but it is not the personal name of the future Antichrist but a symbolic name of his character.
Our problem is that we live two thousand years later and do not know how bad Nero was. To the early Christians, Nero was the personification of evil.
Characteristics of Nero
1) He had a reputation for arrogance.
He was egocentric. He encouraged emperor worship and had a huge hundred foot tall statue of himself erected in Rome and put in the Temple of Mars. He was saluted on coins as the god Apollo.
2) He had a reputation for murder.
He killed his mother, his adoptive brother Britannicus, two of his wives. He divorced, exiled and eventually killed his first wife Octavia. After she died he killed his second wife Poppaea Sabina. She complained that he was spending too much time at the races.
According to the Roman historian Suetonious, he went into a fit of rage, he kicked her in her stomach when she was pregnant and killed her. Nero eventually killed himself on June 9, 68 AD.
3) He had a reputation for sexual crimes.
He had incest with his mother Agrippina. After both of his wives were dead, he married a man named Sporus (after he castrated him).
4) He had a reputation for religious persecution.
He was the first persecutor of the church. He executed the Apostles Peter and Paul. He blames the fire of Rome on Christians. He accused his most loyal subjects of being arsonists and slanders them. Then he fed them to a bunch of hungry lions and invited thousands of people to fill a theater to watch them die.
Some were crucified. Some were set on fire. Tacitus writes, “People began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man”.
If you happen to be alive in the Tribulation Period, would you worship the Beast? Would you take his mark? If don’t take the mark of the Beast, you can’t buy or sell and may be killed in the Tribulation Period. We will see what happens if you do take his mark in Revelation 14.