Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:18 Follow-Up

We took this class time to digest all we discussed previously concerning Revelation 13:18, the number of the Beast, and the various possibilities as to who it could represent. We also pursued a few conversational bunny trails, but that’s normal. With regard to the identity of the Beast, based on what we presented last time, I think if John had someone contemporary in mind, Domitian is the best supported. Nero requires too much special pleading. But even Domitian is not without problems. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything from the time of Revelation that tells us irrefutably and conclusively who Christians would have thought of when they saw “666.” As it is, we are left to conjecture based on applying the kind of reckoning familiar at the time, along with our understanding of the history and culture of John and his audience. We saw how names can be manipulated by careful transliteration to make the math work. But just because we can make a name fit by certain linguistic gymnastics, we can’t prove that John’s readers would have done the same.

I believe the best we can do is to say:

  1. There’s a good probability John was pointing his contemporary readers to the Emperor Domitian.
  2. However, the Lord has left the precise meaning of the number veiled to everyone outside of John’s audience (as is evident from the writings of the Early Church Fathers, even within 100 years of John writing Revelation). This speaks to the fact that the number is a symbol, representative of the Beast–whoever that might be in any particular age. For John, probably Domitian. But each generation will recognize their Antichrist and False Prophet. Given that “6” is one short of the number of completion in Revelation, there must be some significance to a Trinity of sixes.
  3. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that someone may come at a future time for whom the number “666” fits effortlessly, somehow. We don’t believe the events of Revelation are all history. The End has not yet come, and there will be final representatives of Babylon and the Beast around when Christ returns. I think it would be presumptuous to assume we know all there is to know about this passage, when there are events in Revelation that have yet to transpire (i.e., the Lord’s return).
  4. This brings us to the most important point of Revelation 13:18: those who belong to the Beast carry the number of his name. Those who belong to Christ bear his name. While things look good for the Beast’s people in Chapter 13, this situation will not last, as we will see. Whose name do you wear?

I quoted a section from Ireneaus of Lyons, who wrote a work called Against Heresies around 180 AD, within a hundred years of Revelation. In Chapter 30 of Book 5, he discusses Revelation 13:18, noting how there are so many names that could apply, making it difficult to be sure which one is intended. He gives his best guess, but concludes:

It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear… But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is…

I don’t agree with all of Irenaeus’s thoughts, but I think his general approach is worthy of note. Whoever this Beast is, if we are in Christ, we will know him. And we need not fear him because we are Christ’s and not the Beast’s.

We only have a few more classes left before we break for the summer, so we might make a start with Chapter 14, but I doubt we’ll dig too deeply at this point. We’ll see.

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