THE BEAST AND HIS NUMBER
Shepherd God, you lead me beside still waters, and into green pastures. Refresh me by your Spirit today, I pray.
Read REVELATION 13:11-18
The Beast out of the Earth
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[a] That number is 666.
- Revelation 13:18 Or is humanity’s number
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!’1
Today’s passage includes what must be the most notorious verse in the Bible, the number of the beast in verse 18. To make sense of it, we need to notice three things.
First, in the ancient world with no separate number system, letters had a numerical value and it was common to calculate the value of phrases and sayings. There are inscriptions in Pompeii, Ephesus, Smyrna, and other cities where we find things like ‘I love her whose number is 545’; it is easy to calculate the number of someone’s name, but very difficult to do the reverse calculation, so this would only be understood by those in the know. Often the calculation was done in another language, since many were multilingual in Greek, Latin and a local language. Second, the mark of the beast (vs 17,18) forms a pair with the ‘seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God’.2
Those who follow the beast carry its mark – and this results in final judgment3 – but those who follow the Lamb receive his seal (which turns out to be the name of the Lamb and his Father)4 and are protected and saved. No one expects the seal to be visible, so why should we expect the ‘mark’ to be?
Third, both the word ‘beast’ and the name ‘Nero Caesar’ have the value 666 when the Greek words are written in Hebrew letters.5 Early readers clearly knew this; the variant 616 found in Bible footnotes is the value when ‘Nero’ is spelled differently. John is telling his readers: the everyday activities of buying and selling, leisure and entertainment are not neutral but involve us making decisions. You cannot follow the Lamb and simply follow the dominant culture: you have to make a choice.
How do my everyday decisions – buying and selling, how I spend my time, where I find entertainment, the use of technology – reflect my faith? Do my habits need to change?
Lord, during so much decision making today, I need your wisdom and direction. Show me clearly how you want me to live.
1 Ps 119:125, ESV 2 Rev 7:3 3 Rev 14:11 4 Rev 14:1 5 The word ‘angel’ in Rev 21:17 adds up to 144
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