The return of Christ: Odds and ends

The number of the beast

Many years ago, I had a friend who was in a band. (Didn’t we all?) One of the songs he wrote was titled 665—The Neighbor of the Beast. If you were at all familiar with bands like Iron Maiden, you’ll appreciate the humor of this parody. Of course, if you peruse the titles of songs from many Christian albums, especially from the early Jesus music of the 70s, you’ll find surprisingly similar subject matter. What caused all of this fascination? The “number of the beast” comes from Revelation 13:17-18, which refers to:

. . . the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.

Now, there are a number of questions concerning this passage:

What is the number?
The traditional reading is 666, but some early manuscripts record the number as 616. And there is still some question among scholars as to which reading is correct. If 616 is actually the number in the original manuscripts, there are a lot of highly speculative books and materials that will need to be withdrawn from publication!

What is the number supposed to mean?
According to the passage above, this number represents the name of the beast or Antichrist. How does it do that? In the first century, each of the letters in the Greek alphabet (as well as other alphabets) had a numeric value. It was common to total up the value of the letters in a person’s name. For instance, Jesus’ name in Greek apparently totals 888. This is the number of his name. The number 666 (or 616) is the combined numeric value of the letters in the Antichrist’s name.

So, what’s his name?
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work backwards. It’s not like a code; we can’t work back from the numbers to determine a specific name. Many potential names have been suggested over the years, from Nero to Ronald Wilson Reagan (get it? 6 letters in each name) to www (as in world-wide web). Each of these claims has problems, by the way. It’s interesting that some scholars prefer the number 616 because it works better with Nero’s name in Latin. Even if this number did point specifically to Nero, it’s very possible he was intended to be a type (or model) of the Antichrist to come. One thing we’re not told to do is somehow use this number to figure out ahead of time who the Antichrist will be.

The mark of the beast

The earlier part of the passage above tells us:

He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name.

Revelation 13:16-17

Again, we should break this down to a few observations:

This is a twisted attempt to mimic the seal God places on his people.
Remember passages such as Revelation 7:2-3:

And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.”

Once again, we see Satan trying desperately to be like God.

How literal is this description?
Most of us have been drawn into discussions about a coming cashless society and whether this might prove to be the mark of the beast. But we need to slow down a bit. Remember when we study Revelation we need to assume each description is symbolic unless something in the text indicates it’s literal. (For more on this, see earlier posts here and here.) Does God literally place a seal on the physical foreheads of his servants? Or does this symbolize a spiritual identification of us as God’s, as if we are spiritually “branded” by God as his?

Is the mark of the beast a literal mark on a person’s physical hand or forehead? Or does it spiritually identify a person as belonging to the Antichrist (and therefore Satan)? And what about this issue of buying and selling? If this is symbolism, what does it symbolize? Is it possible this description is both literal and spiritual? These are not easy questions, and it would take an entire post (or more) to work through all of the possible interpretations. For now, we need to realize we won’t clearly understand what each element in Revelation means—at least not before these things occur. Yes, the ever-increasing push toward a cashless society is compelling and provocative. But we need to be careful not to assume too quickly what constitutes fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The mark of the beast will accompany the worship of the Antichrist.
We will know the mark of the beast when we see it. We’ll have no doubt what it is because it will be an integral aspect of the worship of the Antichrist. Let’s zoom out again in our passage and see a bit more of the context:

And he [the second beast or false prophet] required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast [the Antichrist], whose fatal wound had been healed. He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching. And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name.

Revelation 13:12-17

Anyone who takes this “mark” will understand they are identifying themselves as belonging to the Antichrist.

A note on the false prophet

Again, expanding our scope in Revelation 13, we see in verse 11 a description of this “second beast”:

He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon.

Who is the Lamb? In Revelation chapters 5-6 we see the Lamb is Christ himself. So this false prophet will appear to be like the lamb, or like Christ. He may even be a recognized religious figure. But his words will expose him as following the schemes of the devil.

What is Babylon in Revelation 17-18?

In chapter 17, we’re introduced to a woman who represents a city that represents a world power. (Confused yet?) In the next chapter, we see the ultimate fate of this woman/city/world power. It’s utterly devastated and destroyed. What or who is this describing?

The great prostitute.
Our first clue is the way she’s initially described:

“Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.”

Revelation 17:1-2

In biblical prophecy, adultery speaks of unfaithfulness to God. But this woman isn’t just unfaithful to God; she has prostituted or sold herself in order to gain something for her unfaithfulness.

The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality.

Revelation 17:4

So her unfaithfulness has made her very wealthy and powerful, and given her an indulgent, decadent lifestyle. And not only has she given herself over to this obscene adultery against God, she’s drawn the rest of the world into this perversion.

The mother of all prostitutes.
The description continues:

A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus.

                                                                    Revelation 17:5-6

In another place (1 John 4:2-3), John explains there is a spirit of antichrist that has always been present. This doesn’t mean there is no personal Antichrist who will rise up in the last days, only that he will embody a spirit or mentality that has always been around. In the same way, Babylon is the “mother” of all who share in this heart of spiritual prostitution and adultery against God.

Babylon was the site of the first organized, societal rebellion against God (Genesis 11:1-9). Many scholars trace the origins of paganism to ancient Babylon. (Much occult tradition echoes this.) This false, adulterous religion seduced the people to turn from faithfulness to the one, true God and give themselves over to adulterous worship of the sun and moon, and a pantheon of gods and goddesses. This ungodly perversion was carried into all cultures, and so Babylon truly is the mother of all spiritual prostitution and obscenity.

Associated with the Antichrist and his government.
In Revelation 17:15, we learn this prostitute rules over masses of people of every nation and language. But she doesn’t represent government itself. We’re told repeatedly in chapter 18 that the kings of the world commit adultery with the prostitute (and they mourn for her when she is destroyed). And in 17:3, we read:

There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it.

We’ve seen this beast with its ten horns (i.e. kings or powers) before. So the women or prostitute isn’t the final one-world government, but she’s associated in some way with it. Is the woman driving the beast where she wants it go, or is he taking her where he wants? She does rule over masses of people. Possibly because of her power over these people, “The scarlet beast and his ten horns all hate the prostitute [Revelation 17:16].” So, they are associated, probably even cooperating, but the Antichrist hates the prostitute.

Who is the prostitute?
Here’s where we need to be careful and see the forest for the trees. Some think the prostitute will literally be a rebuilt Babylon. But Babylon here seems to symbolize the origin of this heart of spiritual adultery. 17:9 speaks of “seven hills where the woman rules,” and 17:18 says “this woman you saw in your vision represents the great city that rules over the kings of the world.” This seems to point to Rome. And, interestingly enough, Rome was sometimes called by the nickname Babylon.

But why was Rome called Babylon? Because she had followed in Babylon’s perverse ways of spiritual prostitution and persecution of God’s people to secure her wealth and power. The “spirit” of Rome was merely the current manifestation of this “spirit” of Babylon, this heart and mentality of unfaithfulness against God, embracing of his enemies, and hatred of his people. The political government of Rome worked together and cooperated with Roman paganism and false religion. The two served to consolidate each other’s power over the masses and helped each other become increasingly wealthy.

Many Bible teachers believe this prostitute, Babylon, represents all false religions and faiths (including corrupted forms of Christianity). Religion, as opposed to genuine faith in Christ, has prostituted itself and committed adultery with those who hold the power and wealth of the world. It has “deceived the nations with your sorceries” and slaughtered those who remain faithful to the true God (Revelation 18:23-24). But one day all this false religious perversion and obscenity will come crashing down.

Doomed to destruction.
Chapter 18 vividly describes the downfall of this seemingly great power. Her fall will be so sudden and so devastating it will shock the world and cause those who partnered in her adulteries to mourn for her. Apparently, God will allow the Antichrist to have a hand in the destruction of this long-standing false religious system (17:16-17). Remember he will “exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship [2 Thessalonians 2:4].” It seems poetic justice for God to use a false christ to destroy the false religions of the world that put their faith in this satanic figure rather than the one true God. Of course, any success the Antichrist enjoys will be extremely short-lived.

It’s appropriate for us to close this section with the warning God gives to his people regarding this seductive adultery of false religion, this spirit of the age:

Come away from her, my people.
Do not take part in her sins,
or you will be punished with her.

Revelation 18:4

After Christ puts an end to this deception and perversion, he will establish his kingdom on earth. Ultimately, we see the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth (Revelation 21-22). Where Babylon represented spiritual prostitution against God, the new Jerusalem symbolizes the intimate union with God he has always planned for us: heaven on earth; God living among his people.

We end this series by remembering the most important truths concerning the return of Christ, on which we all agree:

Jesus is returning.

We must be ready.

Maranatha!

The return of Christ series:

The return of Christ: Keeping the main thing the main thing

Millennial match-up

More on the millennium

Rapture 101

Examining the pretrib rapture: Israel and the church

Examining the pretrib rapture: Removed or protected?

Examining the pretrib rapture: Is the rapture imminent

Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims

The posttrib rapture

Locusts and dragons and beasts, oh my! (Or the great tribulation)

“Pleased to meet you . . .” (Introducing the Antichrist)

The return of Christ: Odds and ends [see above]

“Pleased to meet you . . .” (Introducing the Antichrist)

“. . . Hope you guess my name.”  **
I can recall, as a child, listening to adults seriously considering whether Henry Kissinger might be the Antichrist. (Some will be amused by that, others shocked.) In some circles, ‘guessing the Antichrist’ seemed almost like an evangelical pastime. In the past few years, I’ve heard people wonder out loud whether either George W. Bush or Barack Obama might be the Antichrist (depending on their politics). It’s probably too much to ask for us not to speculate regarding who may or may not be this malevolent, prophetic figure. But just what exactly is this Antichrist about whom everyone is so curious?

Many non-Christians are also intrigued by this mysterious character. This interest is likely due to The Omen and similar films and books, references in punk and heavy metal lyrics, and just general interest in prophecy and the end of the world. Unfortunately, this has created a lot of misinformation about this key, last days figure, and even Christians sometimes fail to distinguish the biblical from the merely sensational. What do we know from Scripture about this guy?

A leader rising from obscurity
The Antichrist will rise suddenly from the masses. He will most likely be involved in the leadership of an international coalition that in some way incorporates elements of the ancient Roman Empire. This connection with Rome could be geographical, but will likely be a “revival” of its cultural, legal and political heritage. This coalition will be (or is symbolized by) a confederacy of ten powers (Daniel 2:26-48, 7:15-28; Revelation 13:1-2). At some point in the Antichrist’s rise to power, three of these powers are subdued in some way (Daniel 7:24).

Europe (and all of the Western World) still carries in its cultural DNA the enduring influences of the Roman Empire. At times, some leaders and nations have attempted to be intentional standard-bearers and preservers of the Roman legacy. Examples of this would include the Holy Roman Empire (of which my history prof was fond of saying it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire) and even Germany’s Third Reich. Because of this historical connection of Europe with Rome—and because of the prophecies of a 10-nation coalition—the establishment of the European Common Market, and then expansion to 10 nations (gasp!), drew the attention of a lot of Christians.  Of course, this coalition continued to expand and develop into the current European Union, which has far more than 10 member states.

This doesn’t mean Europe is no longer of interest concerning these prophecies, but it does provide us with a valuable lesson. We shouldn’t be too quick to declare what current development does and does not fulfill specific end times prophecies. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of speculation now and then, but we must hold our speculations loosely. And we must never confuse our educated guesses with the clear teaching of Scripture.

Appearing as a great man of peace
Before this leader shows himself to be in opposition to Christ, he will present himself in place of Christ. Some believe it’s foretold in Scripture that he will arrange a treaty with Israel (and presumably her neighbors) that will allow the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 9:27). Is it a coincidence the very nations spoken of so prominently in end times prophecies are consistently at the heart of geopolitical conflict today? Imagine if a world leader was able to broker a seemingly real and lasting peace in the Middle East. Wouldn’t he be hailed as a hero . . . or more?

We’re told that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and it should come as no surprise his chosen servant will do the same thing. Rather than be viewed as a usurper of power who has evil intentions, this leader will be hailed as a great deliverer from war and oppression. Anyone who can remember the euphoric devotion felt by some toward Ronald Reagan in the 1980s or Barack Obama in 2008 can get a taste of the adoration people will have for this man. He’ll seem like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandi all rolled up into one (with maybe a touch of Elvis or Michael Jackson). He’ll be the most charismatic person anyone has ever seen.

Bringing the world together
Today we deal with division among world religions, which often serves to exacerbate cultural conflicts. It’s fascinating though that most of the world religions are each anticipating a great, final deliverer. Many Jews still look for the Messiah. Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims are awaiting the Mahdi or 12th Imam. The Mahdi is to come before the Day of Judgment to redeem the world from oppression and injustice. Those who embrace him will be shown to be true Muslims.

Many different schools of Buddhism are waiting for the bodhisattva Maitreya, a final Buddha who will come, manifest perfect enlightenment and teach the world the true Dharma or teaching. All denominations of Christianity (along with loosely associated faiths such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism) are anticipating the return of Jesus. Even many occult groups and “New Age” teachers are expecting some kind of Messianic figure with a “Christ-consciousness” to lead us into a new age of enlightenment.

When this incredible, captivating man of peace and enlightenment comes on the world scene, he’s going to be hailed as a savior. He’ll inspire complete loyalty, even devotion. He’ll be seen as the answer to the world’s problems—political, social and spiritual—the great Christ-figure for whom everyone has been waiting. It will seem there’s finally a way to bring all the different world cultures and religions together in a common harmony and devotion. For those who have been saying all religions are different paths to the same truth, this great leader will be the ultimate confirmation. People will be saying, “If there was ever a Christ, it’s this man!” For many—who have refused to embrace the truth of Jesus Christ—there will be no defense against this overpowering delusion.

Declaring himself to be God
At the midway point of this 7-year period, the Antichrist enters the temple of God and declares himself to be God. This is what the Bible refers to as “the abomination of desolation.” (Scholars disagree as to whether this will occur in a literally reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem or if this symbolizes something else, possibly having to do with the church, which is now the temple of God.)

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 (compare with Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27)

Notice this man doesn’t just declare himself to be above the God of the Bible. “He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship [emphasis added].” This means he sets himself above Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, Krishna, whatever. For some, this will be enough to shock them out of their reverie. For others, it will only ensnare them even more into this satanic lie.

A cheap imitation
We need to remember that Satan doesn’t just want to oppose and defeat God; he wants to be God. He wants to rule over all and be worshiped and adored. He has no creative power within himself, so all he can do is copy and twist and pervert who God is and what God does. To be like God, Satan will devise his own version of the Trinity. He will put himself in the place of the Father. The Antichrist is not an actual incarnation of Satan (Satan can’t really emulate God), but he will serve in place of his “son.” And Revelation describes a False Prophet who will fill the role of the (un)Holy Spirit and direct the people to worship the Antichrist (Revelation 13:11-15).

Not only will Satan manufacture this unholy trinity, but he’ll apparently attempt to reproduce the resurrection. Revelation 13:3 describes the Antichrist suffering a fatal wound that is subsequently healed. This miraculous sign will be so publicized it will become a catalyst for greater devotion and worship of the Antichrist and even of Satan himself.

Openly opposing God and killing God’s people
After the Antichrist declares himself to be God, his mask of humble peace-seeking will be discarded and he will become increasingly arrogant, power-hungry and blasphemous. The other people who have resisted God and refused to embrace the truth will look on with glee as this satanic leader exerts more and more control. Because he will be viewed as a savior who is bringing all peoples and faiths together, anyone who resists his vision will be seen as stubbornly obstructing world peace and harmony. To those people whose consciences are turned upside down, it will seem right to hunt down and dispose of these hateful enemies of humanity. Thus will begin the worst period of persecution the world has ever witnessed.

I also asked about the ten horns on the fourth beast’s head and the little horn that came up afterward and destroyed three of the other horns. This horn had seemed greater than the others, and it had human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly. As I watched, this horn was waging war against God’s holy people and was defeating them . . .

“Its ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time.”

Daniel 7:20-25

Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. . . . For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.

Matthew 24:9, 21-22

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for 42 months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. . . . This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.

Revelation 13:5-10

Doomed to failure
Just as with the plagues of Egypt, it will become more and more obvious the plagues poured out during the tribulation are from the hand of God. Instead of causing the Antichrist and his followers to repent, this knowledge will drive them to be even more blatant in their hostility and rebellion against God. Ultimately this will lead to open, attempted war with God—what we know as Armageddon—which will be swiftly and thoroughly crushed.

As I watched, this horn was waging war against God’s holy people and was defeating them, until the Ancient One—the Most High—came and judged in favor of his people. Then the time arrived for the holy people to take over the kingdom. . . .

“He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. . . . But then the court will pass judgment, and all his power will be taken away and completely destroyed. Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.”

Daniel 7:21-27

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:8

And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.

Revelation 16:16

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. . . .

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse.

Revelation 19:11-21

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:10

But what about the mark of the beast? What is that? And what exactly is Babylon supposed to represent in Revelation? I’m going to wrap up this series next week by looking at some of these remaining questions.

**  [This song (Sympathy for the Devil) is not specifically about the Antichrist. But it does describe how Satan has been behind horrible acts of evil in history, and that certainly applies in this case.]

The return of Christ series:

The return of Christ: Keeping the main thing the main thing

Millennial match-up

More on the millennium

Rapture 101

Examining the pretrib rapture: Israel and the church

Examining the pretrib rapture: Removed or protected?

Examining the pretrib rapture: Is the rapture imminent?

Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims

The posttrib rapture

Locusts and dragons and beasts, oh my! (Or the great tribulation)

“Pleased to meet you . . .” (Introducing the Antichrist) [see above]

The return of Christ: Odds and ends