Previously on Decoding the Apocalypse
- Remember, in Vision One, we were presented with a vivid word picture of Jesus and his message to the seven churches.
- Next, John followed in Vision Two with a picture of Jesus who had the authority to open the book which revealed the story of the end.
- Then, we saw the breaking of the first six seals which suggested what would be happening during the course of the age.
- Next, when we thought that the seventh seal would be opened and the end of the age would be revealed, John stood back for a moment and presented a picture-within-a-picture, an Interlude, in which he demonstrated in symbolic language, a before and after picture of the people of God which suggested that none of the them would be lost in a time of great tribulation.
- Then, we talked about how the seven trumpets were the contents of the seventh seal. How they functioned as a more expanded look at the end.
- Next, we observed John’s renewed calling as told in the story the Angel and the Little Book.
- Then, we took a look at the concept of the Measuring of the Temple, looking at three suggested positions, i.e., a literal rebuilding, as a metaphor for a Believing Jewish Remnant, or as a metaphor of the church we suggested that the latter would most likely be understood by the seven churches.
- Finally, we looked at the metaphor of the Two Witnesses and suggested that this was also a reference to the church.
Interlude 3: 12.1-14.20
The Dragon, the Woman, and Her Seed 12.1-17
This interlude describes in metaphorical terms the spiritual conflict behind the scenes where there is a heavenly warfare between God and Satan. The dragon is a symbolic picture of the power of the Devil who continues to reign during the course of history. There is a cosmic war going on (Rev. 12.17), a war between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The good news is that in this war Satan has been defeated.
We know this from the story of Jesus, which every first century Christian would have known. The story says that Jesus told the seventy disciples that in their mission he saw Satan fall (Luke 10.18). There is the story recorded for us in Matthew (Matt. 12.24-37.), about the strong man being bound. The strong man is the Devil. The strong man’s house is the world. Jesus invaded the kingdom of Satan and began the process of taking back what the enemy has possessed. In these acts, the Devil is destroyed. Oscar Cullmann said in his book Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History that the Devil is bound with a long rope (198). The author of Hebrews (2.14) was aware of this story and tells this readers that the Devil had been destroyed, put out of action.
One might ask: “How is this so?” Satan no longer has complete control in this present evil age because the age to come has invaded this age in the ministry of Jesus. In kingdom of God terms: he is defeated, but not yet! This interlude assures the people of God that the Devil will try to frustrate the people of God on earth, but that the Lamb has conquered. The enemy may be able to get at you, but Jesus has the last word. This brings us to chapter thirteen.
The Two Beasts 13.1-18
The Beast From the Sea 13.1-10
The ancient world commonly associated the sea with evil. For the last great enemy of God’s people to arise from its chaos would be entirely appropriate, a possible echo of Genesis 1.
In order to understand the concept of the Antichrist, we must take a quick overview of Scripture. We must remember that one of the basic characteristics of Biblical prophecy is that it is not exclusively interested in the distant future. It often interprets the distant future in light of a present situation.
In the book of Daniel (Dan. 7.1ff.), we see the features of the beast in Revelation 13. The image in Daniel is the composite of all the world’s national powers. The prophetical word of Daniel about the little horn has a double reference. The first reference was the persecution of the Jewish people under Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to obliterate the distinctiveness of the Jewish nation. But, the little horn is also an anticipation of an antichrist at the close of the age.
The Olivet Discourse also has a double reference. The desolating sacrilege of the Temple was a prophetic word about the historical invasion of Rome, which prefigured the coming of antichrist. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2.1ff., spoke about the man of lawlessness. This was certainly a reference to the Roman Empire of his day, but again was a prefigurement of antichrist at the close of the age.
There is little doubt that the beast for John was the imperial power of Rome and its leader who had set himself up as a god. The historical picture provides a glimpse of what the first beast was like. The beast has been and will be, in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.
This can be seen in the rise of Emperor worship during the end of the first century. Domitian was the first to call himself a god and raise idols, which were to be worshiped by all in the Roman Empire. He also inscribed the Roman coin with a picture of himself and a declaration that he was a god.
Is antichrist a person, who as some of the Dispensational writers believe, lives in the world today? Or, is the reference to antichrist, which just simply means being against Christ, the deification of secular authority? The latter may well be closer to the truth of the matter. In USAmerica, the church has tried to get in bed with the national interest. In some quarters, the nation and Christianity are seen as one. Is it possible that this notion is creeping closer to a time when the national government of any country will become deified in a way in which folks will worship at her feet? Is that happening now? You be the judge!
The Beast From the Earth 13.11-18
The role of the second beast is to bring humankind to worship the first beast. To achieve this end, he is empowered to work miracles. By economic boycott and the threat of death, he intends to make all humans worship the image of the beast. In John’s day, these were no doubt the ones who were responsible for enforcing emperor worship through Asia.
In this section we have the appearance of antichrist to persecute the church. The point of John in this section is to demonstrate that antichrist, while trying to imitate Christ, always falls short of his goal.
The number of his name is 666 (Rev. 13.18). No verse in Revelation has received more attention than this one. Individuals from Nero to Hitler have been slated as the fulfillment of this number. A system called gematria, in which a number’s meaning is arrived at by combining the numerical value of letters of the alphabet, was used.
It seems best to understand this threefold use of six, which falls just short of seven, the number of completeness, to mean incompleteness or imperfection. In a contemporary book of the times, The Sibylline Oracles, there is an illustration of Jesus whose name is 888. If the number of Jesus was 888 and seven was considered to be the perfect number then 666 would simply mean “less than perfect.” The number would suggest that the “beast” is far less than the Messiah. This symbolic number may be captured in the phrase “it is a human’s number.” It would surely help the followers of Jesus in the seven churches to comprehend and not be deceived during their persecution by Domitian and may point to a future time where Christ followers may need the same discernment so they are not led astray. One must also take into consideration that the number could be 616 (a variant reading for this verse).
Here is an illustration of how gematria worked:
- 100=a, 101=b, 102=c, etc. 666 would be Hitler.
- a=6, b=6+6, c=6+6+6, etc. 666 would be Henry Kissinger
Trying to discern this number to be a specific person is like spinning a roulette wheel. I am always amazed at the effort by those who don’t believe that they will be around when he appears that goes into trying to figure out who this person, if it is a person, is. Such an oxymoron!
Irenaeus, who lived some one hundred years later, was unable to identify who John meant. He offered two possibilities: One was Titus, the other was the Greek world for our English word Empire. Many interpreters think the latter one may have been the better of the two. An additional 1900 years has brought us no closer to an answer.
Is the mark visible? Interesting question. Having asked it, we should also ask if the mark of the believer (Rev. 14.1) is visible? A positive answer to the second question seems unlikely. The mark of God indicates a spiritual reality. This leads us to the conclusion that the mark of antichrist also may not be a visible mark. It may represent a sinister mark of satanic ways and worship, which mark out his followers.
Visions of Assurance 14.1-20
Just before the end is fully revealed, John gives his readers more assurances that God is in control and that all of the saints will be preserved.
The Seven Bowls 15.1—16.21
The three preceding chapters formed an interlude between the sounding of the seventh trumpet and the outpouring of the seven bowls. The seven bowls constitute the three woes of the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11.14). The outpouring of the bowls is on those who bear the mark of the beast and worship the image (Rev. 16.2). The purpose of these judgments is to bring humankind to its knees in repentance (Rev. 16.8).
The Preparation 15.1-18
The First Bowl 16.1-2
There are sores on the worshipers of the image of the beast.
The Second Bowl 16.3
The entire sea is turned to blood killing everything in it.
The Third Bowl 16.4-7
All rivers and fountains of water are turned to blood.
The Fourth Bowl 16.8-9
There is scorching heat from the sun.
The Fifth Bowl 16.10-11
The kingdom of the Beast is filled with darkness and its inhabitants are in severe pain.
The Sixth Bowl 16.12-16
The river Euphrates runs dry and there is an invasion from the East.
The Seventh Bowl 16.17-21
The final judgment against Babylon includes lightening, thunder, and a great earthquake.
As before, John expands the seventh bowl in the first part of the third vision: 17.1-20.15.
We will continue with Vision Three in our next session together.
Questions for Discussion
- What do you think about the statement: “The enemy may be able to get at you, but Jesus has the last word?”
- What are your thoughts about the antichrist being the deification of secular authority?
- How many emails have you received where the nationalistic message is being promoted as the Christian one?
- What strikes you about the present interpretation of 666 in light of what you have been exposed to before?