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The Beast in Biblical Eschatology - Part II

A continuation of part one . . .

 

v. 3

 

John sees the beast with a wound on one of his heads. The word translated “wound” (plege) is used throughout Revelation (11x) for the “plagues” that God inflicts on an unbelieving world. In other words, the likelihood is that God is the one who strikes this blow in judgment against the beast. In Rev. 13:14 it is said to have been the “wound of the sword,” recalling Isa. 27:1 which says that “in that day God will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.”

 

Although, as already noted, we must not seek to identify or reduce the beast to any one historical event, institution, or person, John does appear to use the historical career of Nero as a way to illustrate in graphic terms the character and agenda of this archenemy of the kingdom.

 

Although Nero is nowhere explicitly mentioned in Revelation, Bauckham contends that “John would have seen the historical Nero as the figure in whom the imperial power had so far shown most clearly its antichristian tendency: as self-deifying absolutism which sets itself against God and murders his witnesses (cf. 11:7; 13:5-7). The impending confrontation between the beast and the followers of the Lamb would appear to John as an apocalyptic extension and intensification of the Neronian persecution” (Climax of Prophecy, 412; emphasis mine).

According to Bauckham, and I agree, John has made creative use of the historical Nero and the legend surrounding his return to describe the nature and career of the beast. John uses Nero because he was the first and most obvious and hideous example of the antichristian imperial power that threatened the people of God. “For John,” notes Bauckham, “Nero . . . was the emperor who incarnated and demonstrated most fully the demonic nature of the beast in its opposition to God and his people” (442). The legend of Nero’s return (see the previous lesson) thus proved helpful to John because he could adapt it to serve his own portrayal of the conflict between the beast and the church. Nero’s own “death”, “resurrection,” and “return” (parousia) provided a perfect canvas on which John could paint both the character and course of the beast’s attempt to rival God. In John’s day that beast was Rome. In subsequent centuries it is any and all individual and collective attempts to oppose the kingdom of God and His purposes in Christ.

 

Those who find the Nero redivivus legend in Rev. 13 point to v. 3 as one particular historical manifestation of this death-wound / healing scenario. Whereas Nero committed suicide in 68 a.d., some thought he never died. Others believed he died but was raised from the dead. It may have appeared that the beast (i.e., Rome) was slain with Nero’s death, since it brought a dramatic decrease in the persecution of Christians. As Bauckham has pointed out, “Nero’s suicide, which was also the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was a death-blow to the imperial power, because it coincided with the beginning of the period of chaos, the so-called ‘year of the four emperors’ [i.e., 69 a.d.], in which more than one claimant was contesting the imperial rule, in which various provinces hoped to be able to throw off Roman rule, and in which the survival of the empire was put in very serious question. Jews and Christians alike must have hoped that this near-disintegration of the empire was the divine judgment from which Rome would never recover” (442-43). However, Vespasian soon solidified the empire once again, so that the Roman beast appeared to have fully recovered. Thus, whereas we read in 13:3 that only one of the beast’s heads was wounded, we read in 13:12,14 that it is the beast itself that recovers from the wound.

 

Thus, Bauckham concludes that

 

“the year 69 threatened the survival of the empire and ruptured the empire’s history in a way which made a deep impression on those who lived through it and which fully justifies a description of it as a mortal wound from which the imperial power miraculously recovered” (443).

 

Of great importance is the way John describes the beast in terms that echo the person and work of Christ. In other words, for John the beast is an imitation or satanic parody of Christ. For example, note the following:

 

·In 13:3 the phrase “as if it had been slain”, echoes 5:6 where the same phrase is used of the Lamb of God. “It is clearly intended to create a parallel between Christ’s death and resurrection, on the one hand, and the beast’s mortal wound and its healing, on the other” (Bauckham, 432). This also may suggest that the “wound” or “plague” suffered by the beast was inflicted by Jesus through the latter’s death and resurrection. It appeared as though the wound was a fatal one. In one sense, it really was. The devil suffered a spiritually fatal blow at Calvary. Despite defeat, however, the devil and his forces, as manifest in and through the “beast”, continue to exist. The imagery of a “fatal” blow followed by continued life (“his fatal wound was healed”) may well point to what we saw in Rev. 12:7-12. There Satan is defeated. He loses his legal grounds for accusing the saints. His moral authority over them is gone. Yet he continues to thrive on earth and to persecute, and often times kill, the people of God. It is this continuing presence of Satan, in and through the Beast, in spite of his apparent defeat at Calvary, that amazes the unbelieving world and wins their allegiance and worship.

 

Some have wondered about John’s use of the word translated “as if” (hos). Clearly this word in 5:6 does not imply that Jesus’ death wasn’t real. Neither should it be taken this way in 13:3. As Bauckham explains, “the use of hos is a feature of John’s visionary style . . . which may here indicate that neither the Lamb nor the beast is actually dead when John sees it in his vision, because it has already come to life again” (432).

 

·There is yet another parallel between the beast and the Lamb in 13:14. There John says the beast “has come to life” and uses a verb (ezesen) that is found in Rev. 2:8 with reference to the resurrection of Jesus (cf. 1:18).

 

·Note also that the universal worship of the beast (13:4,8) following its “death and resurrection”, parallels the universal worship of the Lamb (5:8-14) following his death and resurrection!

 

·In 13:2 we read that the dragon (Satan) gives the beast his power, throne and authority. This parallels the Father’s gift to the Lamb of authority and a place on His throne (2:28; 3:21).

 

·We should also note that both Jesus and the beast have swords (13:19; 20:4), both have followers who have their names written on their foreheads (see 13:16-14:1), and both have horns (5:6; 13:1,11).

 

It would seem, then, that the beast is primarily Satan himself “as he repeatedly works through his chosen agents throughout history [Nero certainly being one]. Therefore, whenever any major opponent of God reaches his demise, it appears as if the beast has been defeated, yet he will arise again in some other form, until the end of history. Such revivals make it appear as if Christ’s defeat of the devil was not very decisive. But such revivals are under the ultimate hand of God, who ‘gives authority’” (Beale, 691).

 

Beale thus concludes:

 

“The significance of the parallels is that the chief opponent of Christ cannot be limited to one historical person [such as Nero] or epoch. That is, just as Christ’s rule spans the whole church age, so the evil activities of his ultimate counterpart, the devil and his servants, span the same time. This analysis leaves open the possibility of an Antichrist who comes at the end of history and incarnates the devil in a greater way than anyone ever before. Whether this consummate expression of evil will be manifested in an individual or an institution is hard to say. Probably, as throughout history, so at the end the individual tyrant is not to be distinguished from the kingdom or institution that he represents. . . . Consequently, it is better to link the beast’s resuscitation to the repeated rise and fall of oppressive states, world systems, or social structures that continue because the devil continues to inspire opposition to God’s people, even though he has been decisively defeated by Christ” (691-92).

 

I should also point out that the healing of the beast’s wound in 13:3 is not the same as his re-emergence from the abyss described in 17:8ff. We will look more closely at this when we come to chapter 17.

 

I mention here in passing a standard view among dispensational futurists that the “wounding” and “healing” of one of the beast’s heads in 13:3 is to be taken literally. Hal Lindsey, for example, says that he “does not believe it will be an actual resurrection, but it will be a situation in which this person has a mortal wound. Before he has actually lost his life, however, he will be brought back from this critically wounded state. This is something which will cause tremendous amazement throughout the world” (Late Great Planet Earth, 108). In his book, The Sign (Crossway, 1992), Robert Van Kampen says: “There is little doubt in the author’s [i.e., John’s] mind as to which of those two [Nero or Hitler] will return [by way of bodily resurrection] as the Antichrist. Without question, Hitler alone fully and unquestionably meets all the requirements, and he certainly was the historical embodiment of Antichrist’s supremely evil nature” (208). Some who at one time believed Ronald Reagan was the Antichrist speculated that the head wound suffered by press secretary James Brady during the assassination attempt on Reagan’s life, from which Brady at least partially recovered, was the fulfillment of 13:3!

 

v. 4

 

This passage refers to the devotion of the unbelieving world to anything and anyone other than Jesus. The power and influence of the beast, in whatever form he/it may be manifest, is grounds for their declaration concerning what they perceive to be the beast’s incomparable authority: “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” Indeed, this is the precise terminology found throughout the OT that is applied to YHWH! See Exod. 8:10; 15:11; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 40:18,25; 44:7; 46:5; Pss. 35:10; 71:19; 86:8; 89:8; 113:5; Micah 7:18. “This is a further attempt at Satanic imitation of God. In all these OT texts Yahweh’s incomparability is contrasted polemically with false gods and idols” (Beale, 694).

 

vv. 5-7

 

These verses simply portray yet again what we have seen and will see throughout Revelation: the beast’s (Satan’s) blasphemy of God and persecution of his people throughout the present inter-advent age. The statement “to make war” (v. 7) “does not mean to wage a military campaign but refers to hostility to and destruction of the people of God in whatever manner and through whatever means the beast may choose . . . . ‘To conquer’ [or, ‘overcome’] them refers not to the subversion of their faith but to the destruction of their physical lives” (Johnson, 132). The language used here is also reminiscent of 11:2,7. Note especially that the description in 13:6 of the saints in heaven as the “tabernacle” is virtually identical with 11:1-2 where the saints on earth are portrayed as “temple” of God.

 

v. 8

 

There are two ways of translating this verse, both of which are grammatically possible:

 

(1) “whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (NASB); or,

 

(2) “whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain from the foundation of the world.”

 

The almost parallel statement in 17:8 would indicate that (1) is correct. Also, whereas it can certainly be said that the Lamb of God was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) and that he was “delivered up [to die] by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), what can it possibly mean theologically to say that the Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the world”? Beale contends that “the point here is that the multitudes throughout the earth who worship the beast do so because their names ‘have not been written in the book of life.’ They are deceived into worshiping him because they do not have the eternal life-giving protection granted those whose names are in the book” (702).

 

It would seem, then, based on both 13:8 and 17:8 that everyone either is or is not written in the Lamb’s book of life before the world began, i.e., in eternity past. What theological and practical implications should be drawn from this?

 

vv. 9-10

 

The mistake of futurist interpreters of Revelation is to project the events of vv. 1-8 into a future “tribulation” period unrelated to the situation, circumstances, and practical needs of all those believers resident in the late first century in the seven churches of Asia Minor. Whatever vv. 1-8 mean, they apply to the people of John’s day to whom the book was written. Confirmation of this is found in v. 9, where we find the familiar exhortation, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” The only other place this exhortation appears is at the conclusion of each of the seven letters in chapters 2-3. Thus, vv. 9-10 “describe the response that believers are to have to the situation of deception and persecution depicted in vv. 1-8” (Beale, 704).

 

Verse 10 is a paraphrase that combines Jeremiah 15:2 and 43:11. John’s point is that believers are not to offer physical or violent resistance to their persecutors but are to faithfully submit to whatever destiny awaits them as they persevere in their trust in Jesus. As Charles put it, “The day of persecution is at hand: the Christians must suffer captivity, exile or death: in calmly facing and undergoing this final tribulation they are to manifest their endurance and faithfulness” (1:355).

 

vv. 11-12

 

Now John sees yet another beast, this one arising from the earth (cf. Dan. 7:17). Like the first beast it too is a demonic parody of Jesus, for it has two horns of a “lamb”. Perhaps it has “two” horns instead of seven in order to mimic the two witnesses, the two lampstands, and the two olive trees of 11:3-4.

 

This earth-beast has been variously identified as

 

·the Jewish religious system of the first century that conspired with the Roman state to suppress and persecute the early church (this is the view of several preterist interpreters)

 

·the Roman imperial priesthood that sought to enforce worship of caesar,

 

·the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church,

 

·the Pope (so argued the Protestant Reformers),

 

·a literal individual living and working in conjunction with the antichrist at the end of the age,

 

·a figurative portrayal of the presence and influence of false teachers, particularly false prophets, throughout the course of church history. This earth-beast is later called “the false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and together with the Dragon and the sea-beast forms the unholy trinity of the abyss.

 

I believe the last view is correct, that John is describing the presence in the church throughout history of false prophets, those whom Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7:15-23. False prophets and deceivers were prevalent throughout the early church as evidenced by the consistent apostolic (Peter, Paul, John) warning concerning their influence. See especially 1 John 4:1-6. The aim of false prophets is to mislead the people of God, to divert their devotion from Jesus to idols. They aim to make the claims of the first beast plausible and appealing and, as we saw especially in Rev. 2-3, to encourage ethical compromise with the culture’s idolatrous and blasphemous institutions (cf. the Nicolaitans, the false apostles, Jezebel, etc. in Rev. 2-3). Thus the “false prophet” or land-beast “is the antithesis to the true prophets of Christ symbolized by the two witnesses in chapter 11” (Johnson, 134).

 

It is obvious from the above that I do not believe the “false prophet” is a single eschatological figure who will appear at the close of history to assist the antichrist. As Johnson notes, “if the thought of a nonpersonal antichrist and false prophet seems to contradict the verse that describes them as being cast alive into the lake of fire (19:20), consider that ‘death’ and ‘Hades’ (nonpersons) are also thrown into the lake of fire (20:14)” (134).

 

v. 13

 

This (these) false prophet (prophets) try to mimic the ministries of both Moses and Elijah. Even in Exodus (7:11) Pharaoh’s court magicians, with their “secret arts”, performed many of the same “great signs” as did Moses (see also Mt. 7:22; 2 Thess. 2:9). Beale points to the obvious parallels between this “false prophet” and an “apostle” of Jesus: “(1) the beast is a successor of his master in both ministry and authority (Rev. 13:12a; cf. Acts 1:1-11), (2) his attempts to persuade others to worship his master are inextricably linked to his master’s resurrection (Rev. 13:12b,14b; cf. Acts 2:22-47), and (3) he performs miraculous ‘signs’ as concrete manifestations of his authority (Rev. 13:13; cf. Acts 2:43; 5:12; 15:12)” (709).

 

vv. 14-15

 

These verses describe vividly the idolatrous aims of the false prophet. The picture is clearly drawn from Daniel 3 and the command that all should worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps also the command to engage in idolatrous worship of the beast alludes in part to the pressure placed on the populace and the churches in Asia Minor to give homage to the image of Caesar as god. Beale contends that verse 15 recalls “various pseudo-magical tricks, including ventriloquism, false lightning, and other such phenomena, that were effectively used in temples of John’s time and even at the courts of Roman emperors and governors. The ‘signs’ may also include demonic activity, since demons were thought to be behind idolatry (see on 9:20). ‘It was given to him to give breath’ is a metaphorical way of affirming that the second beast was persuasive in demonstrating that the image of the first beast (e.g., of Caesar) represented the true deity, who stands behind the image and makes decrees” (711).

 

It is interesting to observe also that the two witnesses of Rev. 11 were given “breath” (pneuma) and “came to life”. Perhaps the giving of “breath” (pneuma) to the image of the beast is yet another parody of the truth.

 

With the story of Daniel’s three friends still in mind, John portrays Christians of his day as being pressured by this latter-day Babylon (Rome) to worship the image of caesar, i.e., the state (as inspired and energized by the dragon, from whom the state/beast receives its authority and power).

 

Contrary to Beale, whereas the immediate idea in John’s mind may well be the attempts by the imperial priesthood to seduce the people of God into worshiping the image of a Roman ruler, Johnson reminds us that “the reality described is much larger and far more transhistorical than the mere worship of a bust of Caesar” (135). Using the well-known story of Nebuchadnezzar, “John describes the world-wide system of idolatry represented by the first beast and the false prophet(s) who promotes it. John describes this reality as a blasphemous and idolatrous system that produces a breach of the first two commandments (Exod. 20:3-5)” (135).

 

vv. 16-17

 

Many believe that the reference here to receiving a “mark” (charagma; found in 13:16,17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) is an allusion to the ancient practice of branding or tattooing. David Aune (2:457-59) has documented several purposes for the latter:

 

·Barbarian tribes in antiquity practiced tattooing as a means of tribal identification.

 

·The Greeks used tattoos primarily as a way to punish both slaves and criminals. As such, it was a mark of disgrace and degradation, thus accounting for the methods of removal discussed in ancient medical literature.

 

·Tattooing could also be a mark of ownership, similar to the branding of cattle.

 

·In a number of ancient religions, tattooing indicated dedication and loyalty to a pagan deity.

 

Some have found the background for the “mark” of the beast in the Jewish practice of wearing tephillim or phylacteries. These were leather boxes containing Scripture passages (cf. Exod. 13:9,16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18; Mt. 23:5) that were worn either on the left arm (facing the heart) or the forehead. The mark of the beast, however, was to be placed on the right hand. Others have pointed out that the word “mark” was used of the emperor’s seal on business contracts and the impress of the Roman ruler’s head on coins. Perhaps, then, “the mark alludes to the state’s political and economic ‘stamp of approval,’ given only to those who go along with its religious demands” (Beale, 715).

 

It seems quite clear that the “mark” of the beast on his followers is the demonic counterpart and parody of the “seal” that is placed on the foreheads of the people of God (see 7:3-8; 14:1; 22:4). “Just as the seal and the divine name on believers connote God’s ownership and spiritual protection of them, so the mark and Satanic name signify those who belong to the devil and will undergo perdition” (Beale, 716). Since the seal or name on the believer is obviously invisible, being symbolic, it seems probable that the mark of the beast is likewise a symbolic way of describing the loyalty of his followers and his ownership of them.

 

The reason for the mark being placed on either the forehead or the hand is at least two-fold. In the first place, as noted above, this is a demonic parody of the Jewish phylacteries which were worn on either the left arm or the forehead. Secondly, it may be that the forehead points to one’s ideological commitment and the hand to the practical outworking or manifestation of that commitment.

 

The reference to socio-economic sanctions points to the hardship under which Christians are often compelled to live due to their commitment to Christ. This is present not only in Revelation (cf. 2:9; 3:8) but also in other NT texts (Heb. 10:34; Rom. 15:26).

 

v. 18

Two issues need to be addressed as a prelude to our study of the mark of the beast. First, we need to be familiar with the legend of Nero’s return, which was circulating in more than one form when John wrote his book. Second, we need to examine the meaning of the number 666 and its relation to the Beast. That these two matters are closely intertwined will become evident as we proceed.

A. The Legend of Nero’s Return

Nero was the only child of Julia Agrippina, the great granddaughter of Augustus, and Domitius Ahenobarbus. He was born on December 15, a.d. 37. Following the death of Nero’s father, his mother married her paternal uncle who subsequently adopted Nero at the age of 12. In 53 a.d. he married Octavia, daughter of the emperor Claudius. The latter died on October 13, 54 a.d., leading to Nero’s accession to the throne.

The first 7-8 years of Nero’s reign were remarkably good and productive. Things began to change when in 62 a.d. he divorced Octavia (who had failed to bear him a child) and married Poppaea Sabina. In the early hours of June 19, 64 a.d., a devastating fire broke out around the Circus Maximus and spread north through the valley between the Palatine and the Esquiline. Unable to silence rumors that he himself had set the fire, Nero found a scapegoat in the emerging Christian community, which he persecuted with intense cruelty. It is generally believed that both Peter and Paul were martyred as a result of Nero’s rage against the church. In addition to the numerous political murders in which he indulged, Nero killed his own mother, bringing him the unwelcome title “The Matricide” (mother-killer). His dictatorial style of leadership, combined with his self-indulgent personality, provoked the opposition of the Roman senate and aristocracy, although he remained popular with the general population of Rome.

Suspicion was only intensified by Nero’s love for the east and its cultural expressions. He toured Greece in 66-67 and was especially popular in Parthia. The Jewish War broke out during Nero’s reign and he sent Vespasian to quell it (the latter’s son, Titus, was responsible for the final destruction of both city and temple). Nero was declared a public enemy by the Senate in mid 68 a.d. and troops were sent to arrest him. On hearing this, he fled to the villa of his ex-slave Phaon where he committed suicide by thrusting a dagger into his throat.

Although Nero is nowhere explicitly mentioned in Revelation, Bauckham contends that “John would have seen the historical Nero as the figure in whom the imperial power had so far shown most clearly its antichristian tendency: as self-deifying absolutism which sets itself against God and murders his witnesses (cf. 11:7; 13:5-7). The impending confrontation between the beast and the followers of the Lamb would appear to John as an apocalyptic extension and intensification of the Neronian persecution” (Climax of Prophecy, 412; emphasis mine).

It may well be that the mysterious circumstances surrounding Nero’s death gave rise to rumors that he was actually still alive and would soon return to seek revenge on his enemies. Several Nero impostors emerged. The first appeared one year after his death in July, 69. This one not only physically resembled Nero but was also, like the emperor, an accomplished musician. “He appeared in Greece, where he mustered some support, set sail for Syria, but was forced by a storm to put in at the island of Cythnos in the Cyclades, where he was captured and killed. His dead body was taken to Rome via Asia (Tacitus, Hist. 2.9)” (Bauckham, 413). A second impostor by the name of Terentius Maximus, who also resembled Nero, appeared in 80 a.d. It is not known how he came to an end. At least one more pretender appeared during the reign of Domitian in 88-89 a.d. and must have been fresh in John’s mind as he wrote Revelation.

The legend of Nero’s return is first found in the Jewish Sibylline Oracles. One of the more important features is how Nero is portrayed as identified with the Parthians whose armies he will lead in an invasion of the Roman west. He is also portrayed as the eschatological adversary of the people of God who will destroy both them and the holy city. Bauckham makes this important point:

“Scholars have frequently referred to the legend of Nero’s return as the Nero redivivus myth. This term is misleading, since it implies a belief that Nero had died and would return from death. The sources we have examined attest that the belief, up to at least the end of the first century, was that Nero had not died but was still alive, in hiding somewhere in the east, and would return across the Euphrates” (421).

The view that he would rise from the dead, says Bauckham, probably derives from the exegesis of Rev. 13:3,12,14 as referring to Nero.

According to Bauckham, and I agree, John has made creative use of the historical Nero and the legend surrounding his return to describe the nature and career of the beast. John uses Nero because he was the first and most obvious and hideous example of the antichristian imperial power that threatened the people of God. “For John,” notes Bauckham, “Nero . . . was the emperor who incarnated and demonstrated most fully the demonic nature of the beast in its opposition to God and his people” (442). The legend of Nero’s return thus proved helpful to John because he could adapt it to serve his own portrayal of the conflict between the beast and the church. Nero’s own “death”, “resurrection,” and “return” (parousia) provided a perfect canvas on which John could paint both the character and course of the beast’s attempt to rival God. In John’s day that beast was Rome. In subsequent centuries it is any and all individual and collective attempts to oppose the kingdom of God and His purposes in Christ. Whether or not this “beast” is also to manifest itself at the end of the age in a single individual, popularly known as the Antichrist, is yet to be determined.

That John used the Nero legend to paint his portrait of the Beast is also evident from the reference in Rev. 13:16-18 to the “mark” of the Beast or the “number” of his name: 666. To that we now turn our attention.

B. The Mark of the Beast: 666

The meaning of the number 666 has puzzled students of the Scriptures ever since John first wrote Rev. 13:8. There are essentially three schools of thought on the problem.

1. First is the Chronological View

Some have thought that the number refers to the duration of the life of the beast or his kingdom. William Barclay explains:

“There are some few who have wished to take the number 666 chronologically. In a.d. 1213 Pope Innocent III called for a new crusade because he held that Muhammadan [Islamic] power was destined to last for six hundred and sixty-six years, and at that time that period was near to an end. Certain others have taken it to refer to the six hundred and sixty-six years between Seleucus in 311 b.c. and the emergence of Julian the Apostate in a.d. 355. Finally, it has been suggested that the reference is to the year a.d. 666, in which year, it is said, Pope Vitalian decreed that all public worship should be in Latin” (Evangelical Times, 70 [1958], 295).

Very few, if any, hold this view today.

2. Second is the Historical View

According to this school of thought, the number is believed to refer to some historical individual, power, or kingdom. This is easily the most popular interpretation and is based on a practice in ancient times called Gematria (from the Greek geomatria, from which we derive our English word “geometry”). This practice, found in both pagan and Jewish circles, assigns a numerical value to each letter of the alphabet. For example, using the English alphabet, the first 9 letters would stand for numbers 1 through 9 (A = 1; B = 2; C = 3; etc.), the next 9 letters for numbers 10 through 90 (J = 10; K = 20; L = 30; etc.) and so on. If one wished to write the number “23”, for example, it would appear as “KC” (K = 20 + C = 3). There is a well-known and oft-cited example from a bit of graffiti found in the city of Pompeii which reads: “I love the girl whose number is 545”. Apparently the initials of her name were ph = 500; mu = 40; epsilon = 5.

There is another method, less important to us, called Isopsephism that seeks to establish a connection between two different words or names by showing that their numerical values are the same. One such isopsephism concerns Nero in a verse taken from the historian Seutonius (Nero 39). It reads: Neopsephon Neron idian metera apekteine = “a new calculation: Nero killed his own mother.” The point is that the numerical value of the name “Nero” is the same as that of the phrase “killed his own mother”!

 

3. Third is the Symbolic View

 

Beale contends that “all the [other] numbers [in Revelation] have figurative significance and symbolize some spiritual reality and never involve any kind of literal gematria calculation” (721). Thus, according to this view, the number refers to the beast as the archetype man who falls short of perfection in every respect. Triple sixes are merely a contrast with the divine sevens in Revelation and signify incompleteness and imperfection. 777 is the number of deity and 666 falls short in every digit. Again, “three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens. That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ, and the prophetic Spirit of truth, he falls short of succeeding” (722). Thus the number does not identify the beast, but describes him. It refers to his character.

 

Furthermore, if a particular historical individual were in view, why didn’t John use the Greek aner / andros instead of anthropos / anthropon? The former means “man” as over against woman, child, etc. The latter, however, is generic, i.e., it speaks of “man” as a class over against, say, animals or angels. See also Rev. 21:17 for the use of the generic (“man’s measure” / “angel’s measure”). Also, if a particular historical person were in view, John could have made that explicit by using tinos (a “certain” man) or henos (“one” man). If this view is correct, we should translate: “for it is man’s number.” This stresses the character or quality of man as apart from Christ forever short of perfection, completely epitomized in the beast.