That’s Going to Leave a Mark! – Revelation 13:11-18 03/28/21
Our full text today is Revelation 13:11-18. In this new section of the Revelation John reveals another vision of yet another beast. This second beast is referred to with the same title as the first Beast, he’s called a (θηρίον), “beast.” Metaphorically this refers to a brutal, bestial, savage man.
The first Beast is a political leader, and based on his title, “Beast,” it’s reasonable to expect he’ll be utterly ruthless. In contrast to the political and military power of the first Beast, it appears that the second Beast will function primarily in the religious arena. His actions are described Revelation 13:12-13. He mimics the true prophets of God whose role was to lead people back to worship of the true God. In contrast, this “prophet,” soon to be identified as the false prophet, will lead people into worship of the state, embodied in the first Beast. The end result becomes worship of Satan.
We quickly come to a hot topic; the mark of the Beast; Revelation 13:16-18. Here’s the first reference to “the mark” in the Book of Revelation. It will come up six more times, and it’s always used in connection with the Beast. The text says that the second Beast will bring the entire world into one government with one religion and one economy, and membership in that amalgamation will be indicated through the mark of the Beast. No one will be able to live out the normal activities of daily life without this mark.
The implication of such a mark would be that those with the mark are identified as faithful followers of, possibly even being owned by, the one applying the mark. How is it that anyone would agree to take this mark? We’re told how that will happen in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12. Common sense will have flown out the window.
I have to tell you, since taking the mark is a declaration of allegiance, it will not happen accidentally. Think about it, Satan is certainly not going to want Christians infiltrating his kingdom. We’re nothing but trouble. We praise God, our lives are (by and large) moral. We value integrity in all aspects of life. In short, we don’t fit in. Our lifestyles serve to bring conviction to those around us. For Satan, the most expeditious thing to do is kill the Christians as quickly as possible, which is exactly what will happen; Revelation 20:4.
Now we come to the number… 666; Revelation 13:18. We have here an invitation to take the number and work backwards to determine the name. How hard could that be? The fact is, this is one of the most debated verses in the Revelation. The reason for this is there’s no general agreement regarding the identification, and the meaning, of the number 666. John provides two clues which, frankly, have not proven to be that helpful. The first clue, it is “a human number” and can presumably be calculated. This pretty much forces the conclusion that the “Beast” John has in mind is a specific individual who is alive during the lifetimes of his readers. The second clue is the number, 666.
Many attempts have been made by sincere Christians to identify who this number refers to, whether one of the Roman Emperors, or some other historical figure. The result is that there have been literally dozens of people and organizations identified as “the Beast” throughout history. Nero, Domitian, the Pope, Hitler, Mussolini, NATO, the World Council of Churches, and many others.
From the first century on to the present, people have sought to work out the number of various world leaders as candidates for being the “Beast.” To do this, letters of the alphabet are used to stand in place of numerals. Each letter was given a numerical equivalent based upon its position in the alphabet and then the numbers were then added up to produce the number of the name. This is called “gematria.” A major problem for deciphering the riddle is that many different words or names can have the same numerical value.
One common scholarly interpretation is that this number refers to the Emperor Nero. His name doesn’t work out in Greek, but it’s interesting that Nero along with his title, when transliterated from the Greek alphabet to Hebrew, and then inserting the appropriate numbers, does yield 666. But there’s a catch, to do this it’s necessary to use a defective spelling of one Hebrew letters. But… there is another interesting detail surrounding Nero. In both apocalyptic and secular historic writings Nero was referred to as a “beast.”  His character is described as that of unrestrained evil. His conduct went beyond shocking and entered the realm of the insane and depraved. I bring that up because the calculation of the Hebrew word for “beast” is, in fact, 666.
Alternatively, the number is understood to be symbolic. Looking at it this way would result in seeing the number as having figurative significance with a spiritual meaning. John has consistently used numbers in a symbolic fashion, and there’s no reason to assume that the number 666 is an exception. We already know that the number 7 refers to completeness. It’s likely that 6 is intended to stand as a contrast to the complete number, 7. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to conclude that, if you take the complete number, 7, and remove 1, it then serves to signify that which is incomplete.
The triple repetition of 6 gives a sense of intensification of the incompleteness summed up in the Beast. The Scriptures use the number 3 for completeness as well as the number 7. Therefore, using the number 6, repeated 3 times, points to the completeness of the sinful incompleteness of the Beast. That is, he is completely incomplete.
Some have expressed the possibility that John had both Nero and a number with symbolic meaning in mind, and this is quite possible. I suspect that John actually had Nero in mind as “the beast.” This designation would have been well known to the people living during this time, and the number matches the designation. But… I strongly suspect that John saw him as the prototype of someone still to come.
Currently, we live in an uncomfortable period of “already but not yet.” The Dragon is defeated, the battle is won, but the final details are still working themselves out. It’s been roughly 2000 years since this letter was written, but John’s understanding of the forces at work during his time are just as valid today.
Are tough times in the future? Yes… how soon? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. We have a job to do, and anything that distracts us from that is playing into the enemy’s plan. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, does this commission reflect itself in your life? It starts by being a disciple, and then by making more disciples. Not just followers, disciples. Are you one? Are you engaged in making more? It’s not just my job; it’s our job. If you would like to explore how that might look, come talk to me. I have some ideas.
 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 707.  David E. Aune, Revelation 6–16, vol. 52B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 755.  James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).  Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 254.  J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 1002.  G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 707.  Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 128.  Tim LaHaye, The Book of Revelation Made Clear: A Down to Earth Guide to Understanding the Most Mysterious Book of the Bible, (Nelson Books, Nashville, TN.: 2014), 114.  Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 259.  Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 261.  G. K. Beale, The