Revelation 13 is a mysterious and frightening chapter that describes the war of the dragon and two beasts against God and His people. The first beast, which rises from the sea, gains authority over the earth and blasphemes God. The second beast, a monstrosity that rises from the earth, seems to be a religious system that gains followers for the first beast and kills those who won’t.
The chapter ends with this: “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
(Two things before I continue. First, I want to draw a practical principle out of this passage that we can apply today; I’m not interested in talking about these verses as they may or may not relate to the future. Also, I want to give a shout-out to fellow Twitter buddy @lrntoswim. Now, on to the blog post!)
A lot of Revelation’s imagery is drawn from the Old Testament. The beasts from the sea and earth resemble the four beasts (i.e., world empires) that Daniel saw in a vision; the idea of marking the 144,000 (Rev. 7) before judgment resembles Ezekiel 9; and this idea of placing something on the head and hand might be a reference to these passages:
“And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt … For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem. It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:9, 15-16)
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
These marks are for the redeemed people of God, who had brought them out of slavery and now were called to love God with every fiber of their being and to have thoughts and actions that were rooted in the saving story of YHWH. His commands were to be bound to their head (that is, rooted in their thoughts) and on their hands (rooted in their actions).
Today, this saving story is known as the gospel, and God’s saving-agent has a name: Jesus of Nazareth. (For the connection between the Exodus and Jesus, read my previous post, “Signs and wonders.”)
But in Revelation, the false prophet demands that a different mark be placed on heads and hands. The false prophet’s insistence on taking 666 in an act of worship to the God-blaspheming beast is an effort to remove Jesus from people’s thoughts and lives and set something else in his place.
For us today, to take the mark is to live for and worship something, anything, instead of the living Lord.
Consider the numbers: 666, a triple-number of imperfection (and perhaps a play off the Trinity, if each 6 stands for the dragon or Satan, the beast, and the false prophet). Even critics of Scripture know that God created the earth and its inhabitants in six days; the seventh was appointed as a day of rest and, following the Exodus, a time to reflect on God’s salvation.
The mark of the beast doesn’t recognize Sabbath. Its very numbers stop at the sixth day, the creation of man, instead of acknowledging the seventh. It cares nothing for what God has done in creation and salvation and will not, under any circumstances, worship Him for it. Instead, 666 calls men and women to become their own gods and set their own destinies in work, relationships, and religion. God is not the center of a 666-dominated life.
Note something else. I’m arguing that, practically, this mark represents a man-centered way of life that refuses Jesus and regards him an enemy. Where did man come from? Genesis 2 tells us that he was formed by God out of the dirt. And where does the 666-promoting false prophet come from? The ground.
There’s a reason it’s called the mark of the beast: Accepting it transforms us into something other than human. It makes us into something we were never meant to be. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in an attempt to make gods of themselves; we take forbidden fruit every day for the same reason.
We live, in a manner of speaking, as anti-christs. Too many people have spent too many years trying to guess the identity of this beast when, sadly, we often fulfill its role in our own lives by blaspheming God and setting ourselves up as our own authority. Our sins reveal our mark.
Jesus, however, invites us to remove our daily, beastly mark and take something else: His blood.
Unless we drink his blood and eat his flesh, he tells us, we can’t live; we remain spiritually dead. Leviticus states that the life of a creature was in the blood and that itself is the reason why Israel was not allowed to consume it. When the Son of God calls us to drink His blood, it means he’s calling us to take his life into ourselves. We do this by trusting him, by accepting his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection.
This life is rooted in knowing and loving God, the source of all pleasure and delight.
This life realizes that only Jesus fits on the throne we try to occupy and that he alone is deserving of that honor.
This life calls us to follow the Son of Man, the truly human one, and to become truly human in turn.
This life is more concerned with serving others than self-service.
This life becomes focused on reconciliation with God and others, even those who have wronged us.
This life enables us to love our friends, our wives, our children, our relatives, and our enemies in a way that we never thought possible.
This life is more concerned with really living instead of mere survival and moves people to risk their lives and lay them down in order to make Jesus famous in the world.
Maybe we can give this life another name: 777.