The Number of the Beast

NOTE: Headline corrected. How could I have not seen that?

I confess to not being much of a prophesy guy. I was once caught up in the whirlwind of dispensationalism — as I note, its a really good faith for geeky, misfit, and overly intelligent high schoolers — but have not been for some time.

I don’t scour scripture and try to discern the future. Aside from the promise of our redemption, of Jesus returning, and signs of that (which seem to trouble every age since he ascended), and the subjugation of the pagan, gentile world the Christ (whatever that might mean), we have few promises.

Well, and this: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” If we are penitent thieves.

However, while I don’t believe scripture does much pointing to a specific future, it does allude to itself. Which is why I find it curious that no one, so far as I know, has made this comparison.

In Revelation 13, we have a description of two great beasts, and it’s the second beast, “rising out of earth” with “two horns like a lame and it spoke like a dragon.” This is the beast that does great signs, and forces all — “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” — to take its mark on the right hand or the forehead so that “no one can buy or sell” without the mark. This is the beast of which John says:

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)

Six-six-six. A dreaded number attached to Satan and the Devil and all sorts of evil. Yeah, okay, it’s 616 in some manuscripts, but most have 666.

And so, we count letters, do obscure forms of numerology, try to discern who this person might have been historically and who this might be pointing to now.

But what if this is simply … an allusion to something else in scripture? We find ourselves now in 1 Kings 10, after Solomon has just received the Queen of Sheba:

14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 1 (Kings 10:14-15 ESV)

There’s that number, 666. This is apparently a lot of gold. Solomon is wealthy, powerful, righteous, draws people — like the Queen of Sheba — to him. His kingdom is impressive, his army large, his palace ornate. “The like of it was never made in any kingdom,” the author of 1 Kings writes.

What if John’s number in Revelation doesn’t name a person, but rather alludes to the kind of power the Second Beast has, the power that echoes that of Solomon, a power that draws all to itself. Solomon too was a man, a man who possessed much wisdom yet also turned from the Lord.

It’s not a perfect parallel, or even a good one. It alludes, it hints at, and little more. Perhaps this second beast will be seen as Solomon-like, wise and forbearing, wealthy and powerful, but a persecuted of God’s people, of the lamb and all those who follow. I suspect the two beasts are likely allusions to Vespasian and Titus, the father and son Roman generals who waged war on Jerusalem and destroyed the city, who then both, in turn, became emperor of Rome.

But the 666 may be an allusion power and wealth, and all that it means, and all that it brings.

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