When it comes to the book of Revelation there are ultimately two camps: Futurists (who believe the book tells us something about future events that have not happened yet) and Preterists (who believe the book told First Century Christians about events that would “soon come to pass” in their lifetime).
I am not a Futurist. As such, I read the book of Revelation as a prophecy about events that have already taken place (from our perspective) and were fulfilled soon after John wrote them during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Because of my perspective, I do not believe that the “Mark of the Beast” has anything to do with current or future events. So, when friends of mine post links to Facebook about a new computer chip that allows people to store their medical records, or purchase products by placing the chip under a scanner, I do not equate this with the end of the world, the rise of the Anti-Christ, or the Mark of the Beast.
Since people seem to be very interested in this topic, I wanted to at least provide a different perspective to help balance things out a bit.
The Mark of the Beast
When John wrote the epistle of Revelation to the seven churches, he made it very clear – on numerous occasions – that the prophecies contained in his letter were to take place “soon”.
For example: In verse 1, John says: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place….”
In verse 3 he says: “…. and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
John uses specific words in the Greek throughout his epistle which mean: “Shortly”, “Without delay”, “Soon”, “In a short time”, “Near”, “About to”, etc.
There can be little doubt, therefore, that the First Century Christians who received and read John’s letter understood at least one thing: They were reading about events that were about to happen very, very soon.
Keeping this in mind, let’s see if we can identify “The Beast” from Revelation. First, since John is writing to First Century Christians about events that were about to happen quickly, then we can be sure that “The Beast” was a contemporary of John.
Secondly, John describes this as either a person (Rev. 13:18), or as several people (Rev. 17:10), or as a government or kingdom (Rev. 17:9).
First Century Christians would have been very familiar with Old Testament references in Daniel to the Four Beasts (Dan. 7:17) which corresponded to Four Kingdoms or Empires. Therefore those readers would have known that John’s references to “The Beast” in his letters pointed to the Empire of their own day – The Roman Empire.
But what about the person who is referred to as “The Beast”?
Since the Apostle John was writing this letter from captivity on the Island of Patmos, he reverted to code which his readers (Jewish Christians) would understand easily but his captors (The Romans) would not. Note also that, as a prisoner of Rome, he wouldn’t want to come right out and write anything negative about the Emperor or the Government that held him captive – for obvious reasons. This is why, when he wants to let Christians know that “The Beast” is the Emperor Nero, he would say:
“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” (Rev. 13:18)
The Hebrew spelling of “Nero Caesar” was NRWN QSR. Since Hebrew letters doubled as numbers it was a simple thing to take that name and add them together which adds up exactly to 666. [Example: N = 50 R = 200 W = 6 N =50 Q = 100 S = 60 R = 200]
One fascinating variant of this same passage notes that “Some manuscripts read: 616” rather than 666. Why? Because when Revelation was later copied into Latin the name Nero Caesar didn’t add up to 666, it added up to 616. So, to make it easier for those later Latin-speaking (non Hebrew reading) Christians to arrive at the same conclusion the number was changed to 616 in certain translations.
Want more proof? Ok. In Revelation 17:9-10 John tells us:
“Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.”
You’ve probably heard that the “seven mountains” correspond to the seven hills of Rome. However, did you know that the seven kings also point to Nero as “The Beast”? They do. Because John tells us that: “Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come and when he comes, he must remain a little while.”
According to Josephus, the Roman historian, Julius Caesar was the first king, followed by August, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. The sixth king? That was Nero. So, he is the “one (who) is”.
The seventh king – the one who followed Nero – was Galba, and as John prophesied, he reigned for a short time (about seven months).
Nero, as the sixth king of Rome, was the first to persecute Christians in the First Century. He started persecuting them in November of 64 AD and ended on June 8, 68 AD when he killed himself. That was 42 months of persecution. Notice what John says about “The Beast”:
“And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given him.” (Rev. 13:5)
Coincidence? I think not. Clearly John is going out of his way to let his readers know that “The Beast” had a name that, in the Hebrew, added up to a number (666) and that he was the sixth, and current king of Rome, and that his persecution would last exactly 42 months. What could be more clear than this?
Nero was also called “The Beast” by contemporary pagan writer Apollinius of Tyana, who said of Nero:
“In my travels…I have seen many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs…. And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero gorged himself on this diet.”
Note that Nero murdered his own parents, and his brother, and his pregnant wife, in addition to several other family members.
We also have evidence from the Romans that Nero enjoyed dressing up as a wild beast and raping male and female prisoners.
Still not convinced? Consider that all of the earliest Church Fathers from Irenaeus in the First Century, all the way through to St. Beatus in the 8th century agreed that “The Beast” was Nero.
Buying and Selling?
Roman citizens were required to publicly claim allegiance to Caesar by burning incense in his honor and proclaiming that “Caesar is Lord”. Those who did this received a document that allowed them to buy and sell in the marketplace. Without it, no one could purchase anything. Therefore, the “Mark of the Beast” – or the document that showed your allegiance to Nero as Lord – was required to buy and sell if you lived during the time when John wrote his epistle to the seven churches.
None of those Christians who read Revelation were confused about what John meant by this. It was already happening to them.
In Conclusion: The Mark of the Beast is not a microchip. It is not a barcode. It is not your credit card. The Beast was Emperor Nero. The Mark of the Beast was “the number of his name” which added up to 666. We’re told that The Beast would reign in terror for 42 months and Nero’s persecution of the Church lasted exactly 42 months.
Questions? Please let me know in the comments below.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming “Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God”, available July 4th, 2018.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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