Here’s the message I am getting at, to be explained more – The Lamb gives you a name. The beast gives you a number…
The whole book of Revelation is a prophetic critique of empire, and in its contextual setting it’s the Roman Empire. John the Revelator wants his readers, his churches whom he writes his letter to, to understand that the Roman Empire is not the Kingdom of God, but it is the beast. In chapter 13, in depicting the beast (the Roman Empire) he gives this enigmatic phrase – “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.” Revelation 13:18 ESV. And so many horror movies are made out if that…
But John the Revelator says if we have a little understanding we can figure this out. It wasn’t hard when John wrote this, even though it’s very hard now. There’s 2000 years since the original riddle, making it much more difficult, you have to actually be a historian now. But for the discerning reader of the time it wasn’t that hard, they got the coded message. 666, it’s the number, the numerical value of a mans name, and we DO know who the man is. It was Caesar Nero. The numerical value of Caesar Nero was 666, and Caesar Nero, as the emperor, is the personification of the entire Roman Empire. John the Revelator is writing his whole prophecy to bring a spirit led critique of empire, then he zeroes in in the figurehead, the emperor himself, and he gives a little riddle to figure out who he’s talking about, it was actually pretty easy then because they understood the symbol.
It talks about how you have to have the number or the name of the beast. Caesar, representing the whole thing, has to be on your head or on your hand or you can’t buy or sell…“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” Revelation 13:16-17 ESV
What’s that about? Scholars help us with that. In the Eastern half of the empire, in what we call Turkey today, where all these churches John is writing to existed, there was a greater proclivity for emperor worship. The west was more cynical, but in the eastern half of of the empire they were more given to that kind of display of worshipping the emperor as the personification of the empire. So in many of the markets, at the entrance to the marketplace, the mall of the first century world, there sat an image of the beast. There would be a bust of Caesar, whoever the present Caesar happened to be, Nero, Domitian, Caligula, whoever it was. There would be a censer with some coals in it, and the person going into the market they were to throw incense into it. It was token gesture of “Hail Caesar”. But it was also a tacit form of worship, of saying that yes, we acknowledge the greatness of the god that is Nero, or Domitian, or Caligula, because he is one who reigns over the empire and that is what is all good. And when you did that, much like when we go into a night club or a concert now, they might put a little mark on your hand, some put it on your head, and people would know that you had offered incense to Caesar and done what was necessary to gain admittance into the market.
Of course if you’re a Christian, and you say “I’m not going to be offering incense to Caesar, because I don’t confess Caesar as Lord, I confess Jesus as Lord”, then you’ve got a problem because you can neither buy nor sell. This is exactly what John is depicting in wild, poetic, imaginative ways in Revelation 13.
The mark of the beast is complicity in empire worship. That’s what’s going on, that’s what John is critiquing. He’s communicating to these churches Come on, we are those that believe in another kingdom. We confess Jesus as Lord. Our hope is in the Kingdom of Christ, not the kingdom of Caesar. That’s the historical foundation for this, but what does this mean for us today? It seems that what we do with our hand, and how we think with our head is complicit when this philosophy – It’s the economy, stupid!! If everything has to serve the interest of the almighty economy, all hail the economy, all government, all wisdom, all university intellect must be poured into the economy, stupid. If everything we do and think is in line with the mantra it’s the economy stupid, we’ve been marked by the beast and can not participate in the Kingdom of Christ. Because in the Kingdom of Christ it’s not the economy, stupid. It’s love.
The great goal, the great focus, the great value that supersedes all others is not the economy, stupid. It’s love, brother and sister. The beast says it’s the economy, stupid. But the Kingdom of Christ is Love one another, little children. But if we get sucked into that kind of philosophy that everything has to go toward keeping the economy strong, we’ve been marked by the beast. The Lamb is all about persons. The beast is all about numbers. Where persons are being transformed into numbers, the satan is there.
Much more to get to here…