Jeanie C. Crain http://crain.english.missouriwestern.edu
Victory in heaven, disaster for earth—Antichrist and false prophet (Matthew 24.15–24)
To remember chapter thirteen, all the reader needs to do is recall it's the number of the beast--666: "This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six" (18). The Oxford Annotated Bible says, "Since Hebrew and Greek letters have numerical equivalents, the number of the beast (666) is the sum of the separate letters of his name. Of countless explanations, the most probable is Neron Caesar (in Hebrew letters) which if spelled without the final n, also accounts for the variant reading of 616." Chapter thirteen is really the account of two beasts: one from the sea (13.1) and one from the earth (13.11).
Concerning the number 666, two notes from the Oxford Companion and from F. F. Bruce may be helpful to the reader:
The beast of the sea is allowed to exercise sovereignty over the earth for forty-two months (note the recurrence of forty-two equating to 3 and a half years or 1,260 days). This particular beast is given authority, and people who have not been sealed against it worship it (8). From the foundation of the world, an omniscient God knows who is written into the book of life of the Lamb (8). This beast utters blasphemy and persecutes the saints (7).
From Patmos, John may have had the mainland of Asia Minor in view, "where the cult of Rome and Augustus flourished" (F.F. Bruce, International Commentary).
The beast of the earth serves the beast of the sea, enforcing its worship: "by the signs it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of the earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived, and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak (15):
The first beast, the reader learns through the description of the second, has "been wounded by the sword and yet lived, and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast [the inhabitants of the earth have made the image] so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed" (14,15). Nero, it was rumored, died and became again alive. The image "is marked on the right hand or the forehead," the right hand, as F.F. Bruce points out, being the place where the Jew wore the phylactery. Bruce also suggests that the Dragon and the two beasts form an unholy trinity. It should further be noted that this marking is an imitation of the sealing of God's people (Oxford Annotated Bible).
Probably no chapter in Revelation has received more attention or more interpretation. F,F. Bruce says that the solution of John's riddle had been forgotten by the A.D. 180 and remains uncertain to this day. "This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast..." (18). When will all this come to pass? What one is sure of is John's vision of future events from a privilege perspective (he has been taken up in 4.1). What a wrench Michael Coogan throws into most interpretations if he is right about the way time is viewed: "The universal division of time into past, present, and future is expressed in Hebrew (as in other Semitic languages) by a spatial metaphor. Contrary to Western usage, the past is what lies ahead (Hebr. qedem) and is therefore known; the future is unknown and is behind (Hebr. <Œúôr; <aú‡rôn). " (Oxford Companion).
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