Be honest. What are your first thoughts and feelings when reading Revelation 13? Are they to walk away dazed and confused, as if just accidentally exposed to some powerful narcotic? Are they to shift into Encyclopedia Brown or Sherlock Holmes gear and fancy yourself ______________ (your name), Apocalyptic Detective!
While it’s true that the book of Revelation is a cryptographic masterpiece, I hope it inspires more than frustration, hallucinations, or cheap science fiction stories in your soul.
We could put on the boxing gloves and duke it out over whose interpretation of Revelation is correct. I could spend the whole meditation reminding everyone of a few facts, such as the fact that three of the beasts in Revelation 13 are the same as 3 of the beasts in Daniel 7, which is almost universally acknowledged to be speaking about Babylon, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Roman Empire. I could remind you that it’s unlikely that both Daniel and John’s visions of the beast with ten horns would remain unfulfilled through the time of Christ and 2000 years of Christian history. I could harp on the fact that John’s first-century readers of his Revelation were expected to be able to decipher the name of the beast, and that all of the early Church fathers who wrote about the name of the beast said it was Nero or some other Roman emperor.
But that would lock all of us into the same little box of Revelation-obfuscation that we’re already in. It wouldn’t exactly lead any of us closer to God, which, I take it, is the point of reading the Bible devotionally.
I see something just as sinister and nefarious and portentous as you do. I see something dark and mysterious and probably much closer to you than the terrors that today’s apocalyptic writer see for you.
I see a beast, and he’s slouching you’re way. No! He’s closer than that!
I see a beast, whose number is 666. 7 is the number of God and His perfection, and 6 is the number of man: one day short of a week. The penultimate person in the universe, but penultimate by a long shot, a light year.
I see myself, and I see you. Thou art the man!
Who is the Beast of Revelation? Many have taken in hand to determine who the Beast is and have named (among many others): the Pope, Martin Luther, Napoleon, Hitler, Henry Kissinger, and Mikhail Gorbachev. My favorite was an entire book I once saw that described in great detail while the buffoon dictator Mussolini was the Antichrist.
But I see something much more terrible because it’s much more personal and near to me. If there is a future Beast and a future Tribulation, I might not live to see it. If I do, it doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, not from my back yard.
But the Beast Within is very close indeed. He is the one who sows seeds within me, in God’s good field, while I sleep. He is the one who resets my soul to its default mode of Self and undoes the previous day’s work of turning and returning to God. He is the one who sets himself up against God and erects a throne to usurp God’s place in my life. He demands all my worship and attention, and he places himself at the center of my life, pretending to be the Tree of Life but being instead the door to Death.
He’s all the more dangerous because he doesn’t come suddenly and all at once but comes patiently every second, ferrying me down Styx and Lethe in his golden gondola, lulling me to sleep. He comes in my natural desire for food, and turns it into a gluttonous discontent when my insatiable desire for choice in foods is not met. He comes in my work and helps me to take all of the glory for my accomplishments instead of praising and thanking God, and he comes as the mother of worry, that vague and therefore terrible feeling that I haven’t done enough or wasn’t quite good enough.
He has been given a mouth, and it is a ravenous one, desiring everything and everyone. It roars silently in my being and whispers sweet blasphemies sugar-coated in the phrases of the culture.
He is the Great Deceiver and makes use of all of the signs of the earth. Everything that God created good and as a sacrament of Him, the Beast employs as a sign that he is truly god and worthy of all honor. The sky is blue for my delight, and the roads are paved and traffic lights installed so that I may drive unimpeded in the city at night. The fact that man can speak and hear and think and dream is no longer a testimony to the glory and grandeur of God, the 7, but of man, the 6.
And he places his mark on my hand and yours, on my forehead and yours. You and I are not allowed to make any choices in this life without his permission because he wants it all. He tells you it is all for you and all for your good, but his one goal is to keep you and me from growing up and reaching 7. If he can trick us into believing his base 6 math and that there are no numbers beyond 6, then he has won, telling us that we have won.
But do not be deceived! Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man, and his number is 666.
May Christ slay the Beast within each of us today!
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- In what ways have you exalted yourself over God?
- In what ways may you have been deceived from your true purpose as a Christian?
Resolution: I resolve to pray to the Lord today that He might deliver me from myself, from the world, and from the devil, that I may be set free to worship Him and Him alone.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson