Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Like most people, I’ve always been fascinated by the book of Revelation. When I was kid at a very young age, I’d try to read the Bible on my own (since I was more interested in satisfying my curiosity than actually learning about God from others). Knowing its apocalyptic reputation the book of Revelation was something I was instantly drawn to. I didn’t understand any of it of course; all I knew is that there was a dragon involved. Many years later, as an adult, I learned through my life how powerful the Word was. After watching the Gospels heal my life, I was struck terrified by what sort of power may be held in Revelation- I think a lot of people wonder about such things as well. Today I want to look at one of the most talked about verses in Revelation and what the Holy Spirit showed me about it.
You already know the verse. The title alludes to it. Official, the verse is Revelation 13:18; it reads, “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.” People have all sorts of theories about this verse. There are numerous articles on the internet and even books written about some sort of Biblical number codes. Some folk try to attach a historical figure to the number (and the beast it stands for). And even if they don’t know what it means, the number 666 is a number everyone knows. It’s become a number of many superstitions. I once lived in an apartment in which the street address was 666, take what you will from that.
Alright, if you haven’t written me off as the anti-Christ or something like that after the previous sentence (which is true), then let’s take a look at this more in-depth. To understand the concepts behind the number of the beast it helps to understand the message of Paul about marriage. When Paul writes about marriage, it’s all wrapped around our relationship to Jesus Christ. I mean, check out how he wraps up his main section on marriage:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33).
For Paul, the relationship of a believer with Jesus and the relationship between a husband and wife are completely inseparable. This means that our relationship with Jesus is actually like that of marriage. We can see this in action in the Old Testament: when Israel gave itself over to idols, the Lord freaked out and wanted to separate from them. Hosea 2:2 records,
Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
For she is not my wife,
And I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
And the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
This is God whipping out his divorce certificate for the (spiritually) adulterous country. However, just a handful of verses later God reveals his plan,
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.
In that day,” declared the Lord,
“You will call me ‘my husband’;
You will no longer call me ‘my master’” (Hosea 2:14-16).
Wait, what? Yeah, the Lord right away pulled the divorce certificate back and developed a plan to win back his rebellious nation. This shouldn’t surprise long-time Bible readers because it is written, “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 2:16). Our Lord is a loving husband, who, though angered and probably justified in wanting separation, stands by his people eternally and helps them. This extends past the realm of Israel, as in Revelation 22:17 we find, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” In this passage, the bride is the church of Jesus Christ. As believers we take the role of Christ Jesus’ bride. Now, what do we know about marriage? Well, marriage is a relationship based on love (generally speaking) and it is intended to be a permanent bond. Check out what Jesus says about marriage:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:7-9).
Jesus notes that when two people are joined in marriage, it is like being physically knit together- and he notes that such a thing should not be separated. Again, this is not only a picture for husbands and wives, but also a picture of our relationship to Christ Jesus. After all, Paul writes,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
It is interesting stylistically to see that Paul seems unable to separate the concepts of human-to-human marriage and the relationship to Christ and the church; as though the very ideas themselves have been married to each other. And why not? We are permanently bonded to Christ when we accept him as our Savior and Lord just as we are supposed to remain permanently bonded to our spouse. We are bonded to the Lord (as if one flesh) and we grow in that bond as our relationship with him flourishes.
Alright, so that’s the marriage relationship. In Revelation 13, another relationship is presented. As we’ve already established, 666 is man’s number. Let us take this at face value then and presume that the beast under the dragon is man. There are two beasts in Revelation, which only makes the 666 thing more confusing. The first appears in Revelation 13:1-2,
And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea.
And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with then crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.
The second beast appears ten verses later,
Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed (Revelation 13:11-12).
The second beast’s job is to promote the first beast. So although theoretically, number of the beast is in reference to the first (as it is being promoted by the second), it seems likely that the second beast is also a person, therefore the number 666 can actually represent both, with beast being the code word for man. This fits with Scripture, as the devil holds sway over the world. For it is written, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Jesus also acknowledged that the unbelieving world only has one father;
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
This means that whether they realize it or not, non-believers are being affected by Satan’s whims. It is interesting to note that Jesus calls the devil the father of unbelievers, because the 1st beast follows the dragon out of the water- following in his footsteps. Again, Paul notes that our world is under the control of the devil and as believers we’re in a constant struggle against him,
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 5:10-12).
The relationship of man and the devil is never likened to that of marriage; rather it is always seen as a relationship of subordination. This is reflected in the discussion of the beast from Revelation 13:4, “Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” But wait, if the number of the beast is man’s number, then how can man worship the beast- as he is man? Clearly there is a hierarchy- though I guess we already knew that since there’s two beasts, one of which’s job is to promote the other. The head of this hierarchy is the dragon, which represents the devil. You can see this in Revelation 20:1-2,
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
And at the bottom of the hierarchy is the general populous, which is noted in the discussion of the second beast:
He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name (Revelation 13:16-17).
Alright, hopefully you’re starting to get an idea of how this system is arranged, but just in case, here is how it looks:
The Devil’s Social Structure
Alright, this is where it gets scary. Consider that the people say, “Who is like the beast?” Now transpose that with the beast’s number, man: “Who is like man?” This is a question we ask all the time. Rather than worshiping the devil directly, people only need to worship the beast (as was noted in Revelation 13:4 above). And so devil-worship of pagan times becomes the worship of man in modern times as we further remove ourselves from God and try to disprove the existence of the supernatural. I find this frightening because we see now that evolution is being taught without question in schools. This feeds our disassociation from the supernatural and pushes that all of humanities achievements are solely in the credit of humanity (as everything else is the result of nature’s random-number-generator) – this is something that is written onto our minds as children. Then we see looked-up-to figures of science being quoted that faith-based education slows human advancement; this is a worship of human abilities (the 1st beast). And now we even have people who hold varied atheists in high regard if not only because they talk about how amazing man is. This is the worship of the 2nd beast. Already in our world today we’re engaging in the Revelation-era worship. We see the 2nd beast through the worship a specific person or people, and then that worship is used to make us worship mankind and our achievements thereof- never mind that the 1st beast’s entire job is to lead us into submission to the devil and to disassociate us with our real God, Jesus Christ our Lord. And what’s more, if people refuse to worship man and try to worship God, they’re labeled as stupid and not to be acknowledged seriously- all because they refuse to wear the mark of the beast. This is happening right now. Screw the number systems; just look out your window, on TV, or on the internet! Our world runs under the devil’s hierarchy already!
Relationship with Christ is a marriage. The devil’s system, on the other hand, puts him as the unquestioned master over his subjects. After all, death is on his side; because where there is Satan there is sin, and where there is sin there is death. It is written, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Ah, but Jesus brings escape from eternal death, and in that we find that he also comes to free us from sin as well. He can do this because after dying himself, Jesus overcame death and returned to life. Paul notes, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him” (Romans 6:9). Since he has power over the ultimate end, then he too has power to free us from our bondage to sin and the devil. Jesus totally claimed his role of liberator in his ministry. History records,
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach god news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recover of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:17-21).
So where the devil tries to have mastery over us, Jesus comes to free us from his bindings of sin and the chains of death. And why does he do this? To set us free. Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Our Lord wants us to be free and to be able to make choices without being bound by the confines of death. It is through this freedom that we are able to serve God, as he has set us free; so we obey in reverence of his power, in gratitude to his mercy, and also in order to avoid ending up entangled in a web of sin once again (although death is no longer a factor for the believer). So rather than the hell that human-worship brings, we will see the Lord face to face in heaven, and live there eternally, enjoying the radiance of his glory. Do not worship man, brothers and sisters, rather look to the source of all things, God; and his son Jesus Christ, who died to set you free from the devil’s hierarchy.