OBSERVE: In chapter 12; we observe great things appear in heaven: a cosmic, pregnant woman and a red dragon, which turns out to be Satan. War breaks out as Michael the archangel leads the heavenly forces to defeat Satan. Following in chapter 13; we observe on earth a series of beasts blaspheming God, oppressing the saints, and insisting on conformity to ways that are idolatrous.
Of particular focus in chapter 13; we read about the Lamb who was slain at the creation of the world and how all those in the Lamb’s book of life will be safe. Then we read about the beast who oppresses God’s faithful; who has a number of a person.
INTERPRET: Chapter 13 tells us the beast who is oppressing God’s faithful has “the number of a person” and his number is 666 or, in some Greek manuscripts, 616. But what does this mean? Historical readings usually take the number as a reference to Nero, the Roman emperor famous for persecuting Christians. In Hebrew, letters of the alphabet also serve as numerals (a system called “gematria”), and when “Neron Caesar” is written in Hebrew, the letters have a numerical value equal to 666, while the Hebrew letters for “Nero Caesar” have a value of 616. Other scholars have noted an alternative connection to a different emperor, Domitian.
Idealist readings usually take the number as a symbol for anyone supremely evil. Just as the number “seven” represents what is pure or perfect, the number “six” symbolizes impurity or imperfection. A threefold six is “triple bad” and anyone who repeatedly fails or opposes God may have earned this number.
Futurist readings usually assume the number to be a code for an evil person who still is to come into the world at the end of times.
APPLICATION: While scholars have gone back and forth attempting to discern the real meaning of 666; our focus needs to be on verse 13:8: “All habitants of the earth will worship the beast – all those names that have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”
There is an obvious progression in the Old Testament in terms of God’s provision of a sacrifice for sin. First God provided one lamb for one person – Abraham offered a ram in the place of his son Isaac. Next God provided one lamb for one household. This happened at the first Passover, when every family in the covenant community offered its own lamb to God. Then God provided one sacrifice for the whole nation on the Day of Atonement; a single animal for the sins of Israel.
But all these lambs were just preparing us for the coming of the Christ. They were signs pointing to salvation in Christ’s sacrifice. Finally the day came when John the Baptist “saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29). This was God’s plan for provision all along: one Lamb to die for one world. By his grace God has provided a lamb – “the Lamb who was slain”.
This wonderful truth needs to be our focus. We are safe and in the Lamb’s book of life because we believe in the atoning sacrifice of THE Lamb of God. We need to live lives that focus on the victory of the Lamb and not allow ourselves to be disoriented by what already has been defeated. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.
PRAYER: Holy God; you always give to me what you ask from me. Again and again I see that your demands are not burdensome but that in Christ you provide for me everything you require of me. Help me to focus on you and your victory and not dwell on what you have already defeated. AMEN.
SONG: REVELATION SONG
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.