[Attribution: Title Photo Altered; The Original Photo by “sabianmaggy”; CC 2.0]
Over the course of history, the church has had a laundry list of candidates that have been suggested to be the man referenced in Revelation 13:18; which reads, “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.” Many of them have been logical, while others, have been, well… rather out there. From Adolf Hitler to Mussolini, and even Barack Obama, we have seen a variety of names come forth. I want to suggest that the man mentioned in Revelation 13:18 is not a contemporary figure or even a futuristic one. Rather, I am suggesting that he has already lived and died, almost 2000 years ago.
This post is not intended to be an all inclusive look at eschatology (the study of the end times). So, please don’t expect that. I am far from being qualified to write about such things. But, I do hope will help generate Christ centered discussion about Jesus, the apostles, the beast, the end times, and world they lived in.
For sake of this blog, try and divorce yourself from what you may already think you know about the book of Revelation and the end times. If you have seen the movie Left Behind – forget it for the time being. I am going to suggest something very different, something historical.
The End Times
When dealing with the bible texts that deal with the “end times” there has been a tenancy to interpret these texts to tell us about the future. However, if they were written with that intention, we have a problem. If written for future intent, then they would have been largely useless for those to which the letter was written. The author, John, and its recipients, were real people with real problems in need of real guidance. And, not unlike the other letters in the New Testament, Revelation was written to address these things. It wasn’t written in a vacuum. The subject matter was relevant and initially meant for the first century church.
Lets look at the first 3 verses in the book of Revelation. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place….and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near” (Rev 1:1-3; emphasis added). It doesn’t really make sense for John to write a very personal specific letter to people he deeply loved, only to allude to events that are least 2000 years away.
This is not the only clue we have like this. Consider the words of Jesus on the Mount Olives when he is talking to the apostles, “Truly, I say to you, this generation, will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34; emphasis added).
Barrels of ink have been used writing about such verses. But, I want to make one simple point. Namely, that many of the events in Revelation, or events we might label as the “end times”, already happened; in that generation, as Jesus suggested. I’ve mentioned 2 verses but there are several verses and clues throughout the bible that can build a strong case for this.While controversial, this is actually a position that the church has held for 1000’s of years. The 10 dollar word for it is “Partial Preterism”.
Who Is The Beast?
John left us several major clues to identify the one who is the Beast. Don’t forget that much of the book of revelation was written in code. This was done so that the letter would slip through “enemy” hands, to the contemporary Christians of his time, unnoticed.
In Revelation 17:9-10 (notice how he starts off the verse) John writes, “This calls for a mind with wisdom (a.k.a. we need to figure something out): the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” Many scholars believe that this is reference to the Kings of Rome.
Flavius Josephus, the famous Jewish Historian, tells us that the emperors of Rome went in this order: Julius Caesar, Agustus, Tiberius, Caligula (<—this guy was a nut!), and then Claudius. That’s 5. Number 6, then, would have to be none other than Nero Caesar. After Nero was Galba. But, just as John predicted, he “only remained a little while“. Galba reigned less than 7 months.
Other evidence for Nero being the beast comes in the most central verse to the discussion of the beast, Revelation 13:18 (quoted above in the first paragraph). Again, John starts out by suggesting we need to calculate or figure out who this person is. It wouldn’t make sense for John to encourage people, of his time, to figure out who the beast was when he would not appear for thousands of years.
In ancient times, alphabets served a two-fold purpose. Letters not only served phonetic symbols, but numerals did as well. We see this in practice in Revelation 13:18 with the number of a man, “666”. The Hebrew spelling of the name Nero Caesar was “NRWN QSR”. Now, lets use the system, of the time, and add the numbers up. Using the key given below, you will find the numbers add up to 666.
N = 50 R = 200 W = 6 N =50 Q = 100 S = 60 R = 200.
If the beast was Nero. It then begs the question, “What good does that do for us, today?” Great question. It means, we can read the book of revelation much the same way we read the other letters – to understand, and adore, the person of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to shy away from it. There is some pretty awesome stuff in there that is often misinterpreted or ignored altogether.
Much of the intent of the book of Revelation was to bring comfort to the first century church. They were up against a true evil empire, Rome. Persecution and death was all around them; they needed to be reminded God is in control and evil will not prevail.
This doesn’t mean that another Beast, Antichrist, or Evil Empire, like Rome, will not rise up again. I suppose it could happen. After all, we are less than a century removed from Nazi Germany. But, should that happen, we, like those in the first century can find comfort in the assurance that God is in control and the forces of hell shall not overcome Jesus, His purpose, and His Church.
As always, thank you for reading. Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.