SUNDAY SERMON: And The Beast Is…

Today, we’re gonna talk about the identity of The Beast from Revelation. There’s all kinds of baroque theories about this: Some big computer, some guy – probably Jewish – that we haven’t met yet, the Roman Catholic church, as well as flash-in-the-pan paranoia: Mohammed, Napoleon, Hitler, Nixon, Reagan, Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama have all been accused of being the Beast.
My opinion of the Bible is that it was written for the generation in which it was published. If Revelation was to make any sense, it had to makes sense for the people who read it in the late 1st century. It doesn’t make sense for me to take the opinion that it had to be translated into Latin, then English, then brought to America and left to simmer for a couple centuries before people could understand what it meant. A lot of people are of that opinion.
OK, so looking at it from a first century perspective, something becomes obvious: The book is in two parts. The first third is an elliptical and/or poetic retelling of the recent past, and the second half is about the future. IOW, the second half is what we think of when we say “Prophecy,” and the first half is there to evoke the book of Daniel, and set up the second half. This is not at all inconsistent with Old Testament Jewish prophecy which was often about the present and recent past as it was the future.
The division happens around 8:1 when it reads, “When The Lamb opened the seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
Nearly all the events prior to that can be tied to specific events in the Jewish war of 66-70 AD. I’m not going to go into a full breakdown, we can discuss that some other time. Another important thing that seems clear to me: That war lasted 3 1/2 years. 3 1/2 x 2 = 7. How long was the tribulation again? 7 years. The author (At least to my reading) pretty clearly feels the tribulation has already started (That’d be the 66-70 war) and that the Church was living in a kind of extended time out before the second half started. We’re still waiting for that second half.
Which brings us to The Beast. Jews / Christians reading/hearing Revelation would clearly have identified the Jewish War events John recounts in a spiritualized form. It wasn’t a code to them (As we so often assume) or not much of one. It was really more like an open metaphor. So, also, is the Beast.
First we’re told that The Beast had a dagger thrust, but survived. We’re also told that an image of him is created, and anyone who doesn’t worship it will be slain. He further causes all, both high and low, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand, the mark being a number that is also a name. We are expressly told that people can figure this out, which means people in the 1st century could have figured it out, which means they DID.
The number in our Bibles is 666, but the number 616 is almost as common in many early manuscripts. If it’s a typo, it’s a very common one.
Greek and Hebrew letters have numerical value, just like Latin letters do. Now, in order to do ANY business transactions, you had to get a tax stamp. This was like a notary stamp, kinda, showing that the emperor had gotten his cut of the transaction. IOW, that you’d paid your sales tax. The stamp During the period immediately before Revelation was written, the emperor was Domitian. The tax stamp during his reign in the eastern empire was in Greek,and it read:
Iota Delta [space] Kappa Alpha Iota Sigma Alpha Rho Omicron Sigma. In English, this means “14th Year of Caesars’s Reign” (Sorry for spelling those out. I can’t do greek characters on FB, alas) Now, using the Greek values for those numbers we get 14+20+1+10+200+1+100+70+200 which equals….616! Clearly at least the ‘typo’ copies are referring to the emperor Domitian.
Ok, so where’d the “666” come from, then? If you add the letter Nu – “N” – then you’ve added 50 to the equation, which gives you 666. Why would you add “N?”
Because Domitian was obsessed with his uncle Nero. He persecuted Christians just like Nero did, he re-assembled as much of Nero’s staff as possible, styled himself as much like his uncle as he could. This was so obvious, so well known, that a common nickname for him was “The Bald Nero.” Just like his uncle, he even died abruptly. In Domitian’s case, by stabbing. Assassination in 96 AD.
One day he’s at the peak of his power, oppressing and killing folks, and then: toast. This happened so fast that many people didn’t believe he was really dead, but that he was just hiding somewhere, waiting to reveal himself again for some larger purpose.
“What about the mark on the head and hand?” Metaphor. If you love money, it’s on your mind. If you merely need to use money, it’s on your hand (Most people being right handed). If you don’t use money, you’re likely gonna starve (Which is to say, if you don’t get the stamp)
That image people had to worship? The imperial statue. It was a sacred object, Domitian was regarded as a god, and was commonly addressed as “Our lord and god domitian.”
Clearly this is what Revelation is referring to: The Beast was the Emperor Domitian.
This presents an obvious problem for us Christians, as the dude has been moldering away in a tomb for more than nineteen hundred years. I suppose we have to assume he’ll be resurrected whenever the second half of the Tribulation starts, or that he’s been otherwise occulted until then. That’s really not any weirder than a lot of other theories about the Beast, if we’re honest.
But there is no doubt in my mind: It was/is Domitian.

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