Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who is 666?

Who is 666? Last Sunday we had 665 people in Sunday School, but this sermon is not about finding out who missed Sunday School.
Today we come to Revelation 13, the mysterious chapter about the beast whose number is 666. This number has so captured our imaginations that Christians are often superstitious about hospital rooms, social security numbers, phone numbers, etc. with 666. When the Baptist Hymnal was published in 1991, for some reason it had 666 hymns, but LifeWay advertised it by saying, "It has more than 665 hymns."
Revelation 13 describes the beast from the sea, and a beast from the land, and in verse 18 it says, "This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."
Who is 666? Since the second century, Christians have taken this as an invitation to play a game of gematria, where you assign a number to each letter of the alphabet. In Hebrew, if you assign a number to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Nero Caesar equals 666. The abbreviation on Roman coins for Emperor Domitian, who was emperor at the time Revelation was written, also added up to 666. During the Crusades, Pope Innocent III claimed that the Greek form of the name Muhammad equaled 666, and so it referred to the founder of Islam! Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, noted that the Greek for Benedict or Benedictine, added up to 666, and Luther said it referred to the Catholic pope! In English, if A= 100, B= 101, C= 102, etc., then Hitler equals 666. In the 1980's, some people noticed that President Ronald Wilson Reagan had six letters in his first, middle and last names, thus 666. I won't even get into what speculations people might have about today's political leaders!
Who is 666? The answer is not in number games, but in the Scripture. In this chapter, Revelation 13, we not only learn about the beast, whose number is 666, but we learn about two beasts, what they will do, and how we must respond to them.

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Dr. Bob Rogers said...

I. First Beast from the Sea represents the Antichrist, an evil person and evil political system (v. 1-10)

In the first ten verses we read about the first beast, which comes from the sea. He represents the Antichrist, described in 1 John 2:18.
The apostle Paul calls him the "the lawless one" in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-9.
The Antichrist is an evil person who leads an evil political system. We have clues to who he is from Daniel 7:3-7. It is obvious that Revelation borrows from the symbolism of Daniel 7, because there we read about four beasts, like a lion, bear, leopard and one with ten horns, which represent totalitarian empires in the time of Daniel and thereafter, such as Babylon, the Medes, Persia, and Greece.
From the connection to Daniel, we can gather that the beast out of the sea, which is the Antichrist, is a political ruler leading a political system that is against Christ. His power comes from Satan, the "dragon" (v. 2). He mimics the power of the resurrection of Christ, claiming to have been fatally wounded and healed (v. 3). People worship him, and because of that they worship Satan, the dragon (v. 4). He is blasphemous against Christ, verses 5-6 say. According to 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3 and 2 John 7, the antichrist is anybody who deceives by denying Jesus Christ as Lord.
But the antichrist is limited. Verse 5 says he was given authority, but the ESV says "permitted." And verse 7 says he was given power, but HCSB says "allowed" the power. Notice also in verse 5 that it is limited to 42 months, which is 3 ½ years. Half of 7 years, this is a limited time. He has no power that he isn't allowed to have, and he is only allowed to have it for a short time. As 12:12 says of Satan, "he knows that his time is short."
So who is the Antichrist? Notice that according to 1 John 2 and 2 Thessalonians 2, there will be early signs of him, and a later version of him as well. 1 John 2:18 says antichrist is coming, but even now many antichrists have come. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 says the secret power of lawlessness is already at work, but the lawless one will come in one person later.
During the first century, Christians could see this fulfilled in the Roman emperor and the Roman empire that persecuted them.
But most Christians believe that there is a future fulfillment of this in a person who will embody these qualities of Antichrist to the extreme. We see where this may be heading in the hostility that is developing toward Christianity our own culture, and the outright persecution of Christians around the world.
So what does all this mean for us? How are we to respond?
We must respond with patient endurance (v. 10) and faithfulness. Tough times will need to be met by tough, dedicated believers. The days of easy believism and cultural Christianity will be ending. You must be ready to stand for Christ patiently, even in the face of suffering, ostracism and persecution.


Dr. Bob Rogers said...

II. Second Beast out of the Earth represents the false prophet and false religion (v. 11-18)

Verse 11 introduces a second beast, who comes out of the earth, unlike the first, who came out of the sea. This beast is called the "false prophet" in 16:13 and 19:20. He appears to represent false religion.
Verse 11 says he looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon. The lamb is the symbol of Jesus, and the dragon is the symbol of Satan. So the second beast looks like Jesus, but talks like Satan. Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is the father of liars.
Notice in verse 12 that the false prophet's purpose is to entice people into false worship of the first beast. Verse 13 tells us that he even imitates the miracles of the true prophets. Pharaoh's magic men imitated Moses early signs of turning a staff into a snake and turning water into blood. Yes, he looks like the lamb. But don't be deceived! Remember that he talks like the dragon.
Beware of being deceived by religious people just because they are attractive or do good deeds. Many cults will do some good things, but deny Christ. It is all a deception.
According to verses 16-17, the false prophet will force everyone to receive a mark, which is often called the "mark of the beast." People will not be able to buy or sell without the mark. What is this mark of the beast? It is somehow tied to the number of the beast, the number 666, for it says the mark is "the name of the beast or the number of his name."
At the time that John wrote the Revelation, emperor worship was forced upon Christians. They were told they had to say Caesar is Lord, or be persecuted. Some were even killed for this. So it seems very likely that in John's time, the mark of the beast could have referred to emperor worship. But it also must mean something for us today, and for the end times, since it refers to a time of a future Antichrist and a future false prophet.
Revelation 7:3-4 said that true believers received a seal on their foreheads, which probably refers to the seal of the Holy Spirit received by every believer in Jesus Christ. In contrast, the mark of the beast is the seal of the unholy spirit, so to speak. You see, there is no sitting on the fence. You are either for Christ, or you are against Him. And in the last days, this choice will be clearer than ever.
So how are we to respond? We must respond with wisdom and insight (v. 18). Verse 18 calls for wisdom and insight to calculate the number of the beast: 666. And who is 666? All of the speculation that it adds up to a name misses the point. The Revelation never uses numbers to stand for letters. It always uses numbers as symbols for other things. For example, we have seen that 3 stands for God, 4 stands for the earth, 7 is perfection, and 12 stands for God's people. We also have seen an imperfect number 3 ½, because it is half of 7. Well, here we have another imperfect number: 6. The number 6 is imperfect because it falls one short of 7, the perfect number. Notice that 666 is called a "man's number," not God's number. And remember that the number 3 stands for God, because of the Trinity. So 777 would stand for Godly perfection. Thus the simplest explanation is that 666 stands for ungodly evil imitation of God. It could mean a specific future false prophet or Antichrist, but it can apply to anybody who puts himself and his ideas ahead of Jesus Christ. After all, since Satan does not know when Jesus will come back, he must always have antichrists and false prophets in waiting.