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After describing the coming of the Messiah, John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones. These thrones for those who were killed during the time of tribulation described in Revelation. There are other New Testament passages the_lion_and_the_lambpromising thrones to the faithful. In Matt 19:28 Jesus tells the twelve disciples they will sit on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Cor 6:2-3, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers will “judge the world” and will “judge angels.” Even in Revelation, the one who overcomes will have sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21).

The souls John sees in these verses are likely those under the altar in Rev 6:9. In that context, the souls were crying out to God asking to be avenged. Likewise, in 20:4 these souls were put to death because of their testimony of Jesus. These souls came to life and reign with Christ for the 1000 years (Rev 20:4). The verb ζάω (“came to life”) is used often in Revelation to describe God as the “living one” (1:18, 10:6) or Jesus as the one who “died and lives again” (2:8). In 13:14 the beast appears to have died and “came to life.” This first resurrection is after the tribulation and the return of Jesus. It is quite specific since only those who were martyred are raised. But they are raised to life on earth, not some ethereal heavenly state.

The function of these souls is that they are “priests of God” and reign with Christ. This reflects Exodus 19:6, God’s promise that Israel would be a nation of priests. This is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In 1:5-6 the people of God are called “a kingdom and priests,” now at the end of the book a kingdom is established and the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God.

How should we understand the “1000 years?” A 1000 year rule by the messiah is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Even though a kingdom is described frequently in both the Old and New Testaments, the duration of 1000 years is not found. In fact, the kingdom is usually described as eternal: it never ends. But the idea of a Millennium (Latin, mille, a thousand; anum, years) is not based on this single passage since even here the kingdom continues forever, even if an event occurs after 1000 years.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah to come and establish a kingdom, a real physical rule on earth. This Messiah would be God’s personal representative, and like the kings of Israel, would be called a “son of God.” Beyond this, they speculated about how long human history would last, and how much of that history would be the kingdom. Ranges for the duration of the kingdom in Jewish apocalyptic ranged from 40 years to 7000 years. In the Apocalypse of Weeks human history is portrayed as a series of ten “weeks,” the first seven weeks lead up to the time of the writer but the eighth through tenth weeks are still future. 1 Enoch describes this “eighth week” after the judgment as a “week of righteousness.” During this period a house will be built for the great king “in glory forevermore” (91:12-13). The (Christian) letter of Barnabas described the history of the world in seven creational days of 1000 years each, with the seventh being the idealized age (i.e., the kingdom).

John clearly intends for us to understand a particular period of time in human history when Christ will rule with the martyred on earth. This was the understanding of the early church as well, Justin Martyr taught in the second century that the dead in Christ would be raised, followed by 1000 years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus, also in the second century, taught that there would be an earthly millennium where saints and martyrs would be rewarded. But by the fifth century, Augustine tried to interpret the kingdom in a non-literal way. The 1000 years, he taught, were the interval between the first and second coming. Satan was bound in Jesus earthly ministry, the first resurrection is the moment of salvation.

Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus—they are raised to life to reign with Jesus. This reign is the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Jews and Christians in the first century. God will act decisively and send his anointed one to deal with the empires of man. The point of the Millennium is not to reward martyrs in some sensual paradise, but to demonstrate that God’s Kingdom has finally overcome the kingdoms of man.

AragornVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ.  But as Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The various descriptions in this paragraph of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of Second Temple literature. In fact, this Rider is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The Rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12).   In the Greco Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns, perhaps so many that they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13).  Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3. Finally, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a).  This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21).

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named “Faithful and True,” titles used for Jesus in Rev 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b).  Divine beings sometimes have a “secret name” or are not willing to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked.  Third, His name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word.  Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (16).   There are a number of ancient references to names being inscribed on the thigh of statues,

The Rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b).  That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.

 

 

 

The woman in Revelation 17 is riding a “scarlet beast.” We might have expected to see the beast himself, or the king who represents the beast.  Rather than the king, we see a prostitute riding a scarlet beast.  It is possible the image of a beast is of a throne, and the woman is the king. This beast is not unlike the beast from chapter 13 or the fourth beast of Daniel 7, other than the color scarlet. Nothing much can be made of this color, although it is similar in color to that of the red dragon who gave his authority to the beast in chapter 13.

The woman is described as a prostitute. Prostitutes are common images in the Old Testament for unfaithfulness, for example, Jerusalem Isaiah 1:21, Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-17 and Nineveh in Nahum 3:4. Israel herself is compared to a prostitute in Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:15-22; 23:49; Hos 4:12-13; 5:3.

Although there are some commentators who made the woman represent Israel, but the vast majority of writers associate the woman with Rome, especially given the evidence below. The “final” empire as Rome is consistent with Daniel 2 and 7, and with the rest of Revelation.  It is Rome which is demanding worship in chapters 2-3, and it is Rome which persecutes the saints.

The various descriptions of the woman add to the vividness of the image:

  • She was dressed in purple and scarlet.  The word for the color purple here covers a range of colors from deep purple to black.  While the color is normally associated with royalty and prestige, the writer Porphyry associated the color purple with carnality (which is interested because his name is derived from the word, Aune 3:935).
  • She was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.  The stereotypical prostitute is gaudy and over-dressed with jewelry and other accessories.
  • She held a golden cup in her hand. This gold cup is likely an allusion to Jeremiah 51:7, although the verse there refers to Babylon.  This is an example of the unusual blending of Roman and Babylonian elements in the chapter.  The cup is filled with “abominations and impurities.”  The word abomination is almost always associated with idols or meat sacrificed to idols (Jer 51:7).
  • On the head of this woman is written several names. There is a problem of how to read the verse with respect to punctuation.  Is this “on her forehead was written a name, a mystery:” or “on her head was written a name: MYSTERY”?  In verse seven, the angel interprets the “mystery” of the woman, so it is likely here that the name of the woman begins with BABYLON rather than mystery. Why is the head of the beast’s empire portrayed as a female prostitute?  She is not just a whore, she is the mother of all whores.
  • The prostitute is drunk on the blood of the saints. That the woman is a prostitute is bad enough, but she is a drunk prostitute. Descriptions of prostitutes in the Greco-Roman literature usually indicate they drink very little “for professional reasons” (Aune 3:927.)  There really is not more degrading way of describing a woman than as a drunk whore.  To be “drunk on blood” is am image of extreme violence (see Ezek 39:18-19; Isa 49:26)

It is possible this description is based on coins minted by Vespasian in A.D. 71. These coins depict the goddess Tiber seated on seven hills, as described in this vision.   The image of the goddess is common both before and after Vespasian, but not the image of a goddess seated on seven hills. On the reverse, the river goddess Tiber reclines on seven hills, holding a sword indicating the military might of Rome. S and C stand for senatus consultum – a resolution of the senate. In the background are a she-wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus.

 

A coin minted in A.D. 71 featuring Vespasian and (Cohen, Description 1:398 [no. 404]) From Aune Revelation, 3:920

The coins of Rome obviously do not depict Rome as a prostitute.  But there may bit a subtle word play in this description:  “The Latin term lupa, ‘she-wolf,’ had the connotation ‘prostitute’ and might have contributed to a subversive joke that was transferred to Roma as the female personification of Rome” (Aune 3:929).

The angel gives an invitation to the reader to “figure out” what the beast represents in verses 9-14 “this calls for wisdom.” The city of Rome was well known in antiquity as the city on seven hills, although it is difficult to identify which are the seven hills on which Rome was founded.  In the various attempts to make the beast Jerusalem, the seven hills becomes a problem.

The angelic guide identifies the ten horns as seven kings who are coming.  There are at least three was to “count” the Roman emperors of the first century. There are at least three approaches to handling this problem.

The historical approach.  This approach attempts to make sense of the series of kings in Roman history.  One must determine the start of the series, and decide which of the kings “count.”  For example, there are three Caesars in A.D. 69, before Vespasian takes the throne.  Do they count as three separate kings, or as a single king, or not at all?

The symbolic approach.  This approach argues John has no specific kings in mind, but rather he means to use the number seven as a complete number of kings. This is consistent with Revelation’s use of the number 7, and Roman history as well, which held the first period of their history was ruled by seven kings, when in fact there were likely many more than this.

A combination of the historical and symbolic approaches.  This attempts to use the historical sequence of kings, but declines to identify the first 5.  It is the sixth king that is important, and is well known to the readers (either Nero or Domitian, depending on one’s view of the date of the book.)  The hope, then, is that this evil sixth king will only reign for a short time.

Once again, Revelation leaves us with more questions than answers. If this image does refer to Rome, then Revelation 18-19 describes fall of Rome. Since Revelation 19:11-21 refers to the return of Jesus as the Messiah, when does Rome fall? Certainly not in John’s time, and it is unclear this could refer to any historical event in history. A solution may be to understand the prophecy of the fall of Rome as already beginning in the first century, but not yet consummated until the Second Coming.

 

 

John says he sees another “great and marvelous sign,” the third such description in the book (cf. 12:1 and 12:3).  The sign, in this case, is the last set of seven angels. These are the last because “God’s wrath is completed.” God’s wrath is associated with Israel’s rebelliousness, but the prophets extend that wrath to the eschatological events (Isa 26:20, Ezek 7:19, 22:24, for example).

In Revelation, God’s wrath is a featured attribute of God.  This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.  God’s anger is not at all like human wrath, he is justly punishing those who have offended his law. The wrath of God is nearly completed.  This can be translated “has been accomplished,” meaning that with these final judgments the wrath which was begun in chapter 6 has run its course.

MosesThe doors to the heavenly temple are opened and seven angels appear with the final seven plagues. The description of this location is as the temple and the tent / tabernacle.  The reference to the tent is likely to the tent of meeting, the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord, yet another allusion to events of the Exodus.

Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by themselves was a sign of God’s wrath (Revelation, 2:878). The whole temple is filled with the smoke of the glory of God.  This is a theophany: God’s presence is about to come to earth to finish his wrath.

After announcing that the final wrath of God has begun, John witnesses yet another worship scene in heaven (15:2-4).  This worship scene has elements from chapter 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship (sea of glass, martyrs worshiping, harps and singing).  In this case the martyrs are identified as those who have overcome the beast and the number of his name.  Presumably they have been martyred because they refused to take the mark of the beast.

The song they are singing is identified as the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deut. 31:30-32:43; and Psalm 90. The problem with the Song of Moses in this context is that there is no literary relationship between the song recorded in Revelation and the various versions of the Song of Moses in the Old Testament.  Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is. More likely is that the context of the original song is what John wants to evoke. If you head someone hum a few notes of a famous song, the whole song comes to mind.

The Song of Moses is worship of God because he has overcome the enemies of Israel. In Exodus, God rescued his people out of Egypt and overcame the Egyptians and their gods.  There are obvious connections between the following bowl judgments and Exodus. Just as he has done in the past, God is once again working to redeem his people from an oppressive and evil empire.

Revelation 14:8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

This verse is interesting because John finally names the kingdom of the beast:  “Babylon the Great.” As with the coming of the judgment, the fall of Babylon is described as an event that has already taken place (two aorist verbs, ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν). Sometimes an aorist verb can be used for a future event in order to highlight the certainty of the prophetic prediction. Wallace calls the use a “rhetorical transfer” of a future event to the past because it is so certain (GGBB 564). This proleptic aorist is rare, but it is possible here depending on how the interpreter understands Babylon in verse 8. The arrogant empire of Babylon had already fallen hundreds of years before this, but John predicts another arrogant empire was about to fall.

AngelFor most readers of Revelation, “Babylon the Great” is a clear allusion to Rome. Writing from Rome, Peter greets his readers by implying he is in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). After the first century, the identification of Rome and Babylon is four in other apocalypses (2 Baruch and 4 Ezra). The parallels are obvious, both are huge world empires that are completely anti-God, both quite arrogant, and both destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70). Babylon as the final enemy of God appears several times in Revelation (16:19, 17:5-6, 18: 2, 10, 21).

The prediction that Rome had fallen would have been laughable in the first century. Rome had endured for centuries by the time John wrote Revelation, and would last in glory until the 400’s A. D. when the Germanic tribes looted Rome. The Empire still hung together, although in a far less glorious form, well into the middle ages. There were predictions of the fall of Rome in the first century, such as the Oracles of Hystaspes, which predicted Rome would fall to powers from the east, but 6,000 years in the future!

This will be the cause of the destruction and confusion, that the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled … will be taken from the earth, and power will be returned to Asia, and again the Orient will dominate and the West will serve.

Unfortunately this text dates to the early fourth century and may not reflect first century views of the fall of Rome. (The text was quoted by Lactantius Div. Inst. 7.15.11, Aune, Revelation, 2:830–831.)

In Rev 14:8 Rome is described as giving the world “maddening wine of her adulteries.” The noun θυμός refers to “an intense, passionate desire of an overwhelming and possibly destructive character” (LN 25.19). This is probably a reference to the imposition of Roman worship on Christians. In the Hebrew Bible, adultery is a common metaphor for idolatry, and the spiritual adultery of Judah resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the long Exile.

So what, or perhaps “when,” is John talking about? In the first century Rome did not fall and Babylon is long gone. The empire described as a “beast” in Revelation 13 is a conglomeration of all the previous kingdoms predicted by Daniel 2 and 7. The message of this verse is that arrogant empires of humanity will fall to the coming kingdom of God. For a preterist, this is a prediction of the actual fall of Rome, even if that prediction was not realized quite as John imagined it (with the return of the Messiah). For a futurist this is a prediction of the ultimate enemy of God in the future, an empire that styles itself as a “new Rome” by bringing peace to the world.

There is no need to fret over what empire this will be since John’s point in Rev 14 is that the kingdoms of mankind will finally be judged at the return of the Messiah.

This section is clearly related to the material in chapter 13. There is a contrast between those who have taken the mark of the beast in chapter 13 and the 144,000 witnesses (who were introduced in chapter 7.) Note that these witnesses have the name of God on their foreheads, in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the name of the beast on their foreheads.

144000The description of the 144,000 is quite impressive. The descriptions of these men indicate that they are purified for God’s service. First, they have not “defiled themselves.” The verb μολύνω in the LXX describes a person who has done something that makes them ritually unclean (touching blood (Lam 14:4), eating impure foods (Isa 65:5), or sexual activity (Zech 14:2). But the word was also used for the defilement of the temple, (1 Macc 1:37; 2 Macc 6:2). “Kept pure” in the NIV is literally “they are virgins” (as in the KJV), and the word is highlighted by the fact that they have not defiled themselves with women. The Greek word for virgin (παρθένος) is normally used for a young woman, not a young man.

It is possible to take this term literally as a reference to men who have chosen to remain celibate because of their service to God. Both the priest and the soldier were exclusively male in the Old Testament. This could be taken as general service, like a priest during his time of service (Lev 15:18). Or, this could be taken as a reference to Holy War. There are several places in the Old Testament were men abstain from sexual activity while engaged in a Holy War (Lev 15:16, Deut. 23:9-10). The reasoning for this is unclear, although have unmarried men as soldiers makes good sense, the less family waiting behind the better, the men will be more apt to sacrifice themselves if there is no wife and kids at home. This makes some sense in our context since the young men are fighting something of a holy war, and any family relationships might hinder their boldness in resisting the power of the beast.

Second, the 144,000 “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” The language of “following” Christ is almost completely limited to the Gospels.  Following in the Gospels does not mean “accepting the teachings of” the one you follow.  (For example, “Pastor Smith followed N. T. Wright in his teaching on sanctification.” The “following” is intellectual.) Following Christ is to become his disciple on a much more intimate level, and to accept a commitment to continue following Christ even to death. There are many passages that talk about the disciple’s willingness to give up earthly pleasure and security in order to follow Christ on the deepest level possible. The other unusual thing about this description is that the Lamb is portrayed as a shepherd (as in 7:17). This is to be expected since the Messiah’s leadership is described as a “shepherd” in Is 40:11 and Ezekiel 34:23.

Third, the 144,000 “were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”The martyrdom motif continues in the next description. “Offered as a firstfruit” is a clear reference to sacrifice. Firstfruit refers to the practice of sacrificing the first portion of a crop to the Lord, or the best of ones flock to the Lord. The Old Testament is very clear that the only acceptable sacrifice is the best sacrifice; therefore the flawless firstborn male lamb is the most pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. Chapter 14 will eventually describe a harvest, perhaps there is an intentional linking of the 144,000 with that harvest. The 144,000 are the firstfruits of men, which might mean that they are the best that men have to offer to God. The problem is that God is not accepting these men as human sacrifices. The meaning might better be that they are the firstfruits of the harvest of the redeemed, the first to be protected in the tribulation period, or perhaps the first set aside to God at the beginning of the period.

Fourth, “no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” This description concerns moral purity, and continues the theme of describing the 144,000 as spotless sacrifices. The phrase is used in Zeph. 3:13 to describe the remnant of Israel in the last days.

The whole scene in heaven is designed to give comfort to the reader; those that have been set aside to the Lord in the tribulation are being brought through and will stand with the Lamb in Zion, and will apparently rule with him in the Kingdom.  After the description of the protection of the 144,000, John describes three angelic messengers that continue the theme of comfort and hope.

 

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.

W is the 6th Hebrew Letter

If there is a single element of the book of Revelation which is universally known in contemporary culture it is the mark of the Beast, 666. Virtually everyone in western culture thinks that 666 is the “devil’s number” or that the triple-six is a pernicious sign to be avoided. Several times I have bought something and the price came up $6.66, and the clerk wanted to know if I wanted to buy a pack of gum so I could avoid that particular price. I used to buy a particular combination of coffee and snack at one of my favorite coffee shops which always rang up to $6.66. (I referred to it as the “Devil’s breakfast” and tasty it was!)

But there is nothing in Revelation that says this number is the devil’s number, or Satan’s address in Hell. It is not an unlucky number nor is someone cursed if they somehow accidentally ring up $6.66 at the local Taco Bell. (Actually, you might be cursed if you eat the food at Taco Bell, but that is another issue altogether!) The number does not refer to Satan at all, verse 18 says that 6 is the “number of man,” presumably because man was created on the sixth day. 666 refers to the name of the beast, either a person (the anti-Christ) or the kingdom of the beast described in the rest chapter 13.

What does is mean to “calculate the name”? There are no numbers in many ancient languages, so letters sometimes substituted as numbers. A=1, B=2, etc. There is a bit of graffiti found in Pompeii that reads “I love her whose number is 545.” Potentially one might convert their name to numbers in Greek, Hebrew or Latin and come up with a number. That number could be used as a cipher, or perhaps one might have a “lucky” number for a name. For example, my “number” in Latin is 152 (using just the letters which have values in Roman numerals). In Greek, I get 908. Neither is particularly interesting, but I suppose if I paid money to a numerologist, they could come up with something profound.

John invites the reader to figure this out, in fact, he almost baits us into trying to figure it out! Knowing that the name adds up to 666, to what might the name refer? In the early church there were several suggested names, including a Greek word meaning “to deny”, meaning that the name of the Beast was denial of the Lord.  It is possible to use the initials of the Roman emperors from Julius to Vespasian one gets 666, but you have to skip the minor emperors to make this work. The full Latin title used on coins of Domitian, the emperor at the time of John, allegedly adds up to 666. The most common suggestion is that the number 666 refers to Nero Caesar, but in a the Hebrew spelling of the name. Some writers see the number more generally, showing that it is one short of the perfect number, three times. “Failure upon failure upon failure.”

It may be best to conclude that John and his readers knew the clue that unlocked the mystery of the number and who it referred to, and that we are unable to figure it out with any certainty today.  Despite this, people are still fascinated with the name of the beast and try to figure out who he might be.  I will have more to say about this in part two of this post.

What does the number prophesy? Whatever the mark is, it represents a final declaration of loyalty, whether for God or against him. By accepting this name, you are declaring your loyalty to the beast and the empire of the beast.

Obama-is-the-AntChristG. R. Beasley-Murray commented that Revelation 13 is a kind of “satanic trinity” (Revelation, 207). Vern Poythress considers the language of Revelation 13 to be a “counterfeit” of the true Christ: “ kind of pseudo-incarnation of Satan, is a counterfeit unholy warrior opposed to Christ the holy warrior” (Poythress, 410). Greg Beale considers this a “Christological parody” (Revelation, 17). For Beale, the “war against the saints” is a “an ironic parody of the Son of man’s final triumph” and even the number 666 is a parody of the trinity (777) (Beale, Revelation 699).

This is a very common view, and one that is, I believe, an accurate assessment of Revelation 13. The Dragon is the father, who is the power behind an anti-Christ image (the beast from the sea). The beast from the earth is a kind of anti-holy spirit, preforming miracles which support the claims of the first beast.

The first beast has a counterfeit resurrection in the form of a mortal wound that was healed (Rev 13:3). The miraculous character of his healing creates astonishment and followers for him, just as the miracle of the resurrection creates followers of Christ. The beast has ten crowns (13:1), parallel to Christ’s many crowns (19:12).

The relationship between the dragon and the first beast is a parody of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Gospel of John. While it is not fashionable to see Revelation and the Gospel of John as representing similar theology, it appears to me that Beasts of Revelation 13 relate to the dragon and each other in ways which resonate with the Gospel of John.

First, the dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). This is the same relationship which John describes in his Gospel between the Father and the Son. In John 5:22–27 the Father gives his authority to the Son in order that he execute judgment.

palin-anti-christ

Second, In addition, those who worship the beast are implicitly worshiping the dragon (Rev 13:4). Jesus states in John 5:23 that those who honor the Son, honor the Father. This is an extremely common theme in the Gospel of John.

 

Third, Both beasts speak with the voice of the dragon (13:11). So too in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks only what he has heard from the Father (John 7:16-18). In John 5:19-24 the Son can only do what he has seen from the Father.

Fourth, the function of the second beast is to be exercise the authority of the first beast after the near-fatal wound (13:12-13). This beast is not worshiped itself, but does miracles in behalf of the first beast, causing people to worship the first beast. This is not unlike the activity of the Holy Spirit in John 16, who is sent after the resurrection in order to guide the followers of Jesus. The Advocate will not speak on his on authority, but of the one who sent him, the Father. It is perhaps significant that the second beast breathes fire to destroy, in John 20 Jesus breaths on the disciples, giving to them the Holy Spirit.

This list could be multiplied, but these few examples show that the “satanic trinity” is a parody of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as presented in John’s gospel. While there is little in the way of exact verbal parallels, this not a serious problem since Revelation rarely quotes any text directly, even when it is certain that the writer is alluding to a previous text. While the writer, as a resident of Asia Minor, may have known John’s theology and incorporated it into his own book, it is also possible that this is a hint that the author behind the Gospel of John also produced Revelation.

Bibliography: Vern S. Poythress, “Counterfeiting In The Book Of Revelation As A Perspective On Non-Christian Culture” JETS 40 (1997): 411-18.

The first two verses of Revelation 12 seem unrelated to the rest of the chapter, but they serve as a transition between chapter 10 and 11. The end of chapter 10 has John eating a scroll that represents the word of the Lord, it is sweet but turns bitter in his mouth, an allusion to the call of Ezekiel (Ezek 1-3).

The end of book of Ezekiel is similar to Revelation 11:1-2 as well. In Ezekiel 40 the prophet is taken to a high mountain, from which he can observe events in Jerusalem. He is met by an angel (a man with the appearance of bronze) with a measuring rod in his hands. The following chapters describe Ezekiel measuring the city and the temple area. After the measuring is complete, the glory of the Lord returns to the temple.

It cannot be coincidental that both of these interlude events are related to Ezekiel, the first from the beginning of his ministry and the second at the conclusion. Ezekiel’s ministry was to describe the departure of the glory of the Lord from the temple at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B. C. and its return at the time of the establishment of the kingdom. Perhaps the patterning of these two sections after Ezekiel is to highlight the return of the glory of the Lord at the end of Revelation.

But what does the act of measuring the Temple mean? There are parallels in the Old Testament implying both preservation (Zechariah 2:1-5) and destruction (Amos 7:7-9). In the context of Revelation 11:1-2, it appears the image describes preservation, since the outer court is not measured and is overrun by the Gentiles for 42 months. The Temple, the holy place, and the worshipers are all measured. It might sound odd to measure the worshipers, but the word (μετρέω) can mean measure, count, or mete out. David Aune suggests this is an example of the figure of speech known as zeugma, one verb with two direct objects, only one of which fits the verb.

Prior to A.D. 70, many Jews believed the temple area of Jerusalem would never fall to an enemy. During the Jewish War, zealots retreated into the Temple thinking they would be preserved because they were in the temple. Instead, 6000 died when the Romans destroyed the temple. Second Baruch 6:3-9 records a legend that an angel took all of the temple objects just before the fall of the city and buried them until the end times.

Second Baruch 6:3-9 And behold, suddenly a strong spirit lifted me and carried me above the wall of Jerusalem. 4 And I saw, and behold, there were standing four angels at the four corners of the city, each of them with a burning torch in his hands. 5 And another angel came down from heaven and said to them, “Hold your torches and do not light them before I say it to you. 6 Because I was sent first to speak a word to the earth and then to deposit in it what the Lord, the Most High, has commanded me.” 7And I saw that he descended in the Holy of Holies and that he took from there the veil, the holy ephod, the mercy seat, the two tables, the holy raiment of the priests, the altar of incense, the forty-eight precious stones with which the priests were clothed, and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8And he said to the earth with a loud voice: Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God, and receive the things which I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that you may restore them when you are ordered, so that strangers may not get possession of them. 9For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up. (OTP 1:622–623)

Why 42 months? This is the thrice repeated number that is associated with the time of the tribulation. 42 months of 30 days each = 1260 days, and 42 months are exactly 3 and a half years (a time, times and half a time.) That the Gentiles are allowed to overrun the outer court for 42 months is an indication Jerusalem will not be a city of peace.

 

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Christian Theology

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