Revelation 13-16 The number of the beast is the number of a man and his number is 666

From Revelation 13-16

The first beast that rose up from the sea was pretty bad. Today another one comes from the earth. It will try and cause many to worship an image of the first beast. God’s people will come under persecution and be put to death because they refuse. This passage presents a dark time for God’s people. However in several instances we are reminded of the death blow Jesus has delivered to the kingdom of Satan by his own death on the cross and resurrection.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

The kingdoms of God and the devil are at war with one another. A woman gives birth to a child and this proves a decisive moment in the war. The devil has lost and Satan is thrown down to the earth. But the war is not over, two beasts rise up and begin to persecute the saints. I’ve already posted on the first beast that comes from the sea. In today’s post we look at the second beast that rises from the earth.

66 battling dragons (1000 Bible Images 2009 Stuttgart Germany German Bible Society)11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. (Rev 13:11–12)

‘Two horns like a lamb’. Horns are the symbol of power. But it is like a lamb.

This second beast looks like a lamb and this is a second rate parody of Jesus who is the lamb of God.

We are meant to compare both lambs and see which is the better.

The second beast speaks like a dragon (powerful, beautiful, evil). It is the right hand of the first and has its authority (governing power). Authority is a word which signifies a hierarchy of some sort of government. We are reminded two kingdoms are at war.

“What is the earth monster? So far in the description this could be thought of as religious power gone corrupt throughout history. Religion has frequently joined political power as its handmaid. Throughout time kings have often been accorded divine status and been served by the state priesthood. By the end of the first century, the priests of the emperor’s cult were active in promoting emperor worship.” (Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 231). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

The second beast has a job. Its role is to make the inhabitants of the earth worship the first beast. Clearly this presents a problem for the people of God.

In the vision we are reminded the first beast has a mortal wound which was healed (Rev 13.3). The decisive battle has already been won by Jesus. But the war still continues. What is left of the war is the mop up campaign. Satan is kicking and screaming all the way to the end.

13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. (Rev 13:13–14)

The second beast is ‘allowed’ to perform signs of its own, used to deceive the people on the earth.

Signs can accompany any message good or bad. The message must be tested to see if it is true and good or not.

These signs did not point them in the right direction. The signs direct people into idolatry, worshipping the first beast. They make an image of the first beast and this is how they will worship. What will happen to the people of God do when they refuse to worship the image of the first beast?

Again we are reminded the first beast has a mortal wound which was healed. This time we learn it was ‘wounded by a sword and yet lived’. The decisive battle has already been won by Jesus.

15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Rev 13:15–17)

‘It is allowed’ to do things again. Who is giving it permission? Some sort of sovereign power. Two options. Either God or an evil power (Satan, first beast).

This time it is allowed to give breath to the image of the [first] beast. It will speak and those who do not worship it (echoes of Daniel) it will put to death.

God’s people will be put to death if they refuse to commit idolatry and worship the first beast.

“The parody of Christ is carried over to his followers (13:16). Worshipers of the beast’s image (cf. 6:15; 19:18) are given a mark “on the right hand or [20:4: and] the forehead,” a counterpart to the Lamb’s adherents, who are sealed on the forehead (7:1–4; Ezek 9:4). In the text, the mark (charagma—13:16; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) illustrates the unambiguous identity of the beast’s worshipers, just as the seal (sphragis—7:2; 9:4) distinguishes the faithful Christians. The charagma is symbolic of full participation in economic life, from which those with the seal are completely shut out. The mark may refer to the use of coinage imprinted with a portrait of the emperor (see Kraybill 1996: 135–41).” (Stuckenbruck, L. T. (2003). Revelation. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1556). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Rev 13:18)

The number of the beast is the number of a man. I suspect the ESV translation has added ‘a’ making the reference more specific to an individual rather than all man for the following reasons.

“Interpreters, with few exceptions, are agreed that the number is decipherable in relation to Nero, whose myth has been adapted into John’s description of the beasts (vv. 3–4, 13–15; on various solutions see Bauckham 1993: 384–407).

If the person is Nero, then “666” is equal to the sum of the letters of “Nero Caesar” when spelled in Hebrew (Murabba‘at text 18 in Beyer 1984: nrwn qsr; where n = 50, r = 200, w = 6, q = 100, s = 60); the same number is derived from the addition of the Hebrew letters transcribing the Greek word for “beast” (t = 400, r = 200, y = 10, w = 6, n = 50). The Neronic background to the number does not exclude a date of the tradition toward the end of the first century;

“Nero” is a symbol for Roman rule generally, the emperor who most clearly embodied Rome’s innate opposition to God’s people.” (Stuckenbruck, L. T. (2003). Revelation. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1557). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

The early christians suffered much persecution from Nero in the first century. The epistle was written primarily for them. Hopefully they were encouraged by the repeated references to Christ decisive victory on the cross.

For Believers

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Most western Christians have little to no experience with persecution of this magnitude. The passage reminds us we should be thankful for our freedoms. We should use our freedom to proclaim Christ without fear.

For those who are being persecuted the running reminder of the mortal wound delivered to the first beast hopefully will bring encouragement. Jesus’ death on the cross is the decisive event that will lead to the eventual undoing of Satan and his lackeys, whoever he is working through now.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.