Mark of the Beast

In the book of Revelation, chapter 2, speaking to the church in Pergamum, Jesus says I will give him a new name.   But then in Revelation 13, which talks all about the beast, we are told it (the beast) calls us all to be marked with a number


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…


John Lewis
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14 thoughts on “Mark of the Beast

  1. The fastest growing “religion” in the day n time when John wrote was the emperor cult, and Asia (Turkey) was it’s hottest hotbed.

    This message is a daring one. A courageous one.

    That’s an understatement, of course.

    Like

  2. Cool! One thing I often think of, “it’s the economy,” is always about scarcity, not enough to go around. The worldly system is always based on scarcity. But God is rich, abundant, infinite even! In His kingdom there is more then enough for everybody, like grains of sand at the beach. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. God created a world of plenty, did NOT create any money, AND put humans in the garden naked.

      Plenty is what you said. Not a matter of scarcity, but of plenty, of ENUFF – the last dirty word in our modern lexicon.

      Not a dime, not a penny. Money is not God’s creation, and the love of it is the root of ALL evil. Hmmm… We could sit with that a while, I think.

      Naked people…

      Resisting the urge to get all Victorian or post Victorian about shame, modesty, prudence and all that, let me say something about this from a completely OTHER vantage point. Naked is not only sexual and all, it is also VULNERABLE.

      So God puts us in a world with no money, but plenty to go around and sets us loose naked and unashamed. We are completely vulnerable to him, to one another, and to the elements. It is extremely fragile! If you think too much about it, you are likely to be overcome with FEAR. You are unprepared for anything and a victim waiting to happen.

      Unless somehow by design this naked vulnerability is overcome with FAITH, TRUST, FIDELITY. Somehow it bears the image of God and all of creation responds appropriately to the sight of God! The world fears HIM seen in this creature and respects HIM seen in this creature IF that it HE is actually seen in this creature.

      The only way this works is if this creature LOVES God and others in HUMILITY, then there is PLENTY, in fact wealth beyond measure. And then this creature walks on water, moves mountains, and provides PLENTY of food for all – a life giving tree producing 12 baskets full of leftovers and the harvester overtakes the planter and so on and so on and on and on…

      A whole OTHER economy.

      X

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Amen brother. Although the scripture says money the the root of “all kinds of evil”…a little different than a blanket statement that money is the root of all evil…Cain killed Abel and hid the body before we had anything like our modern means of exchange. We have plenty of evil within us, whether it be exposed by our greed for money or not…

        Absolute, “naked and unashamed” is completely vulnerable, completely trusting in God and in those around us. Not hiding ourselves, not being insecure about ourselves. Not being uncomfortable in my own skin…

        We live in a world of plenty, but we not only want to deplete the world, we must alter our environment for our own comfort. And we are no longer capable of surviving without our creature comforts. It is estimated that if the USA were to lose electrical power permanently, 90% of our population would be dead within a year. We are incapable of vulnerability and trusting our fellow human beings. How in the world would we be able to live in balance God’s good creation?

        Yes

        Liked by 1 person

  3. John, I wonder if you have read Romans Disarmed. The authors spend a great deal of time of examining Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and how he hits the empire and empire theology. Your post reminded me of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanx for the heads up on that book, Matt, Walsh and Keesmaat wrote a book that changed my life about 15 years ago called Colossians Remixed.

      BTW, in case you don’t already know it, Walsh and Keesmaat are a married couple, also they were students of NT Wright and helped him produce his massive magnum opus, NTPG series.

      I would also point you to Richard Horsley for original thoughts on subverting empire. Wright made that empire theology famous, I think, but he got it from Horsely. Personally, I think he perfected it from Horsely. Horsley wrights, in my opinion, as a Marxist liberal theologian – or something like it, yet obviously he makes a worthwhile contribution.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’d be interested in the historical sources you relied on for the market marking practice you describe. Makes perfect sense. But it’s almost too perfect, right?
    For myself, I’m not sure the contrast is between economic productivity and love. Love is obviously a trait of one living in the Kingdom. But economic productivity is not, per se, a sign of one living without God in the world.
    It’s all about who your Lord is — who you worship — who/what is your preeminent priority. Only in the case of those who worship money/things vs those who worship the Lord (and thus give away the love He has given them) does your contrast hold together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest, I have gotten that info secondhand from pastors I trust. I am getting more personally well read, but have a ways to go. Just got a fire lit for Jesus about 5 years and have a long journey ahead. I do have books in the library to read, but it’s a long, long process. One book at a time, like my recovery is one day at a time. Unfortunately, I am not full time in ministry, ‘I sell beer’.

      It does make perfect sense though. John was not righting in a vacuum. He was writing with a purpose. His apocalyptic book is divinely inspired, not divinely dictated. He knew what he wanted to communicate when he put “quill to papyrus”. He knew what was happening in the world around him, knew what point he wanted to make.

      Productivity is not, in and of itself, evil. But when our whole worldview is such that our whole “way of life” is underpinned by the all powerful economy, and we as Christians fully endorse and participate in that view, it’s clear which we worship. As Jesus said, you can not love God and money, you will hate one and love the other. I think it’s pretty clear which we love most (I am an American Christian).

      Liked by 1 person

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