Revelation 13: The Number of the Beast
December 16, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This chapter continues the section running from chapters 12 to 14 that is filled with signs or symbols that further explain the mystery of the open scroll. In Chapter 12, John had had revealed to him the cosmic battle taking place behind the opposition to Christ and his church – that of a satanic opposition in the figure of the serpent.
Now in chapter 13, the serpent, the devil, opposes God’s people through the means of two beasts. The first beast represents the military power of an all-conquering nation. The second beast represents the financial and economic power of an all-conquering nation. In either case, behind their overweening power and opposition to Christ and his people stands the serpent, or the devil.
This is the chapter that has the notorious “666” which has caused so much confusion to so many people. But what John is saying is that this number is first the “anti-shema.” In the Old Testament, God’s people had written on their foreheads a prayer of allegiance to God as commanded in Deuteronomy 6:4-8. This number written on the foreheads is a way of depicting that instead of an allegiance to God, there is an allegiance to the beast – either the military power of the all-conquering nation or its economic might. The actual number 666 was not a mystery to John or his readers. Hebrew letters could also stand for numbers, and when you spell the word Nero (the evil Roman emperor who persecuted God’s people) and also when you spell the word “beast,” in both cases the letters come to 666. What John is saying is not that Nero was the only ever beast, but that nations, when they oppose God and his people through overweening economic and military power, can become the beast behind which is the work of the devil opposing Christ and his people.
Chapter 14, which we will look at tomorrow, shows us God’s plan for salvation even in the context of this beastly opposition to Christ and his people.
For now, this chapter 13 teaches us that it is possible for nation states, empires, military and economic systems to set themselves up in opposition to God and his people. Behind this is the set opposition of the devil and of people to God.
As Psalm 2 put it long before the book of Revelation:
“The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed.”
And yet God will win through the power of the gospel and the work of his Son, Jesus Christ:
“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision…
I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
Be warned, therefore, of the possibility of national and economic power that stands against God and his people. But also be confident that Christ will prevail; trust him, and be faithful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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