The Name of the Beast (Part 2) – Revelation 13:17-18

Leopard King?

In my last post I argued that the number of the beast was a hint at the name of the beast, but the clues to determining the meaning of the name are more or less lost to us. I said that it was best to conclude that John and his readers knew what the number meant and to whom it referred, but it is futile to try and determine who the future Anti-Christ might be.

But this does not really stop people from trying to “calculate the number” of political figures in order to determine if they are the beast or the Anti-Christ. Norman Cohn’s classic study Pursuit of the Millennium and Bernard McGinn’s AntiChrist provide ample evidence that Christians have been naming antichrists since the book of Revelation was first written. While the Pope (or the Roman Church in general) have been the most common targets, history has no lack of potential antichrists. Mohammed and Napoleon have been common picks, although Martin Luther and any number of Tsars have made the list as well.

A few year ago I read the fascinating book, Naming the Antichrist, by Robert Fuller. This is a history of what he calls “an American obsession” with determining who the Anti-Christ is (or will be). This is far from a recent phenomenon, no-budget YouTube videos are only the latest in a long string of conspiracy theories and failed predictions. During the American Revolution the Maryland Journal reported that the soldiers celebrated the declaration of independence from Britain by decapitating a statue of George the Third, labeling it “the image of the beast.” A tract appeared about the same time declaring that the Greek and Hebrew words “Royal Supremacy in Great Britain” could be calculated as 666. Fuller quotes Elijah Fish, a clergyman from Massachusetts, urging his fellow patriots to see the revolution through to the end. He said “although men or devils, earth or hell, Antichrist or the dragon rages, the people of God may still triumph in Christ, the captain of their salvation” (Fuller, 71-2).  The rhetoric sounds amazingly contemporary to me, swap the theater of war and it would go well on AM radio.

I suspect that the establishment of Israel in 1948 gave rise to a great deal of modern prophetic speculation. Hal Lindsey famously predicted the rapture for 1981 (or later, 1988) based on a generation from the return of Israel to the Land. If the Rapture / Tribulation is set to begin in 1981, then someone living in the 1970s has to be the antichrist. Some candidates were obvious: Ronald Wilson Reagan had three names of six letters and survived an assassination attempt. Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and was assassinated (maybe he will be resurrected?) Jimmy Carter was a Christian world leader who forged peace in the Middle East, perhaps he will break that covenant in the future and demand worship. Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the “bear to the north” and had a rather mysterious mark on his own head. In fact, if you were any sort of a political leader in the 70s, you were probably named as an antichrist by someone.

I suppose there is a psychological explanation for this over-fascination with the “end times” and the hope that we can name the leader of the great end-times rebellion before he appears. Since most of these calculations and predictions are the response of an oppressed minority (or at least they think of themselves that way), the tendency is to imagine that the world as rushing headlong to an explosion of evil of apocalyptic proportions. I do not see much difference between the Roman church and Luther vilifying each other in their Revelation commentaries and the sort of politically motivated preaching which declares the other party as led by the Anti-Christ himself.

In conclusion, despite John’s suggestion that we try and calculate the number of the name, “naming the antichrist”  does not seem to be possible nor is it particularly profitable.  Rather than draw people to the real Christ, the over-emphasis on declaring someone the personal agent of Satan drives people away from the gospel.

9 thoughts on “The Name of the Beast (Part 2) – Revelation 13:17-18

  1. Question to HL and his ilk: Why would the Holy One of Israel operate by a calendar created by a pagan king and altered by a Pope, when he already has his own calendar?

    Six is one short of seven, the number of completeness, the number of rest, holiness and ceasing. To repeat something three times is to confirm it, as the divine name is spoken three times in the sh’ma.

    Those who play, “pin the tail on the antichrist,” miss something very important. Who/what might represent the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, the one who seeks to replace the anointed one and whose spirit was representatives were already at work during the time the disciples were still alive? Who might have been the restrainer? The answers might surprise you.

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  2. I think it is very interesting and at the same time it is crazy how people around the world are very interested and eager to know who the Antichrist is. It is true that in the past centuries and even decades, people somehow figured out the number of the beast and have come up with a conclusion of who the Antichrist is. Some people believe that Obama, President Trump, the Pope and many other world leaders are the Antichrist. You have very good points! YouTube is full of people who argue and assure others about who the Antichrist is. People worry too much when they hear conspiracy theories. I think that if we are devoted Christians, we should not be afraid. We know how powerful God is and we know that if we believe in Him, He is not going to punish the believers. It doesn’t matter who the Antichrist is, we should know that if we have given our lives to God, then He will protect us from the Antichrist himself. I believe that if we worry too much, that is a sign that our faith if weak.

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  3. The first thing that caught my eye was the phrase mentioned in the blog “American Obsession,” which most likely agree with this. Since, I could remember being raise in a Pentecostal church, the fear of going to hell was a tactic move to lead or scare people to Jesus, for salvation, because none of us wanted to go to hell. It is true, there is some sort of a regular obsession of Americans Christians, always targeting people especially in leadership, not to mention the political leaders, saying they are the anti-Christ, just because they do things out of our norm views, and comfort. Blackwell made a valid point saying, “not to convert the apocalyptic imagery into prose, liking creaking a code, but to consider these historical references while recognizing the power of the images as images (120).” Perhaps, the number 666 is part of an organization group with a plan such as a new world order. It always seems to be tie to some sort of power and authority, as well kingdom/government over material and people. Overall, chapter 13 does seem to paint us a picture of images such as beasts and their specific details of control, power, and reign.

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  4. I find it almost entertaining to see who will get labeled the antichrist now. The thought of discovering the person who will eventually drive the world into chaos is intriguing, and it is framed like a riddle that is just on the verge of being solved, which may be why so many people are apt to find out who this person is. One theory that I’ve even heard is that there is always someone that Satan is grooming to take over this role because he does not even know when Jesus will come back and wants to be prepared. I think that there is just no way for anyone to know who the antichrist will be. Although there may be this desire to catch this person before they rise up, the Christian should put their trust in God and his protection rather than targeting any individual who is on power and is openly expressing their opinions and are functioning off of their beliefs and motivations. Yes, we live in a sinful world and sometimes these beliefs and motives are bad, but that is where we need to stop worrying about if they are the ones to signify the return of Christ and actually turn to Christ. It is impossible to figure out who the antichrist will be until he is actually here, so why try to worry about something that will never come to pass under your predictions. Besides, the Bible says not to worry (Matthew 6:34), God has it in his hands.

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  5. I find all of this so interesting. While I was talking to my grandfather a while back on the phone abut this class, he was telling me that there was a time when he thought that t would be his generation because som policy that someone told him. He was saying that this was when he was a newer believer and did not realize that he needed to be on the lookout for people like this. This was an early warning sign as is this post to believers that it is not about when or who, but rather we need to be doing our best to live the most abundant and fruitful lives that we can live all for Jesus’ name.

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  6. “Rather than draw people to the real Christ, the over-emphasis on declaring someone the personal agent of Satan drives people away from the gospel” (Long 2018). This last statement is spot on because it shows the motive behind the mark of the beast. Taking from a literal understanding Anti-Christ simply means against Christ. It is not uncommon for people to put Christ to the side and to worship something else. We see this all time in churches and secular natures alike. One thing that stood out to me in Revelation 13: is verse 15 where it says, “And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast”. Even though the beast is the “enemy” God it still had to be given permission to come alive and to create influence. In my opinion, this is no different than when God gave Satan permission to tempt and mess with Job (Job 2). I do not believe that there is meant to be a sure way to identify who the Antichrist will be because what if it is just an idea symbolizing the battle between the flesh and the Spirit and our relationship between goodness and darkness? The media has done wonders with prophesying about the end times as explained by the Bible but all it does is cause turmoil and confusion and like P.Long mentioned, it drives people away from the gospel and from Jesus Christ. I think there is value in understanding these narratives about the beast and Anti-Christ but I don’t think our main focus when reading these passages is to identify or literally apply everything that John wrote to our modern time period.

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  7. The ego and pride of humanity continually compels us to claim the unknowable. Everything from political candidates to energy drinks have been labeled as being associated with or out right being labeled the anti-christ. If it was imperative that we know who the anti-christ was at this exact moment, the Biblical script would have had a name instead of a number. If anything, I think the fact that we cannot definitively identify the anti-christ using the clues John gave us shows that the fulfillment of this prophecy is a way off. It seems likely to me that by the time we are able to use this prophecy to identify the anti-christ the anti-christ will have identified them by their conduct instead. Like this blog has already stated the speculation in trying to find the name of the beast right now only further adds to the confusion of trying to interpret this passage. This confusion, can be damaging to others as some will inevitably act with certainty on what they believe is prophecy unfolding in front of them only to show them to be misinformed, damaging their faith, and making Christians as a whole look bad in the process. These passages are their for a reason, and we are challenged to calculate and find the meaning. However, the challenge does not give anyone licence to presume that they have the answer, just because the forced the pieces of the puzzle to fit. Besides, the true meaning of this passage is revealed when one looks at the Kool- Aid man, who has the number six as his eyes and nose forming the insidious number and revealing his true nature (I jest of course).

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