With the recent events and happenings in the world, humans as rational beings are trying to seek an understanding of these events and find ways to interpret them using various correlative events of the past and relating them to the present. Events that circle around war, sickness, death, and those that science cannot provide ready answers to are always shoved to the realm of the supernatural and to religion in order to find answers. Of recent are the various speculations circling around the emergence of the Coronavirus, the 5G network and the microchip implantation. There have been various postulations concerning these events especially as they relate to the supernatural. One very prevalent postulation is the alluding of these events to the coming of the Beast and that of the mark of the Beast “666” found in the book of Revelation (Rev 13:18); which is said to signify the end of the world. How founded is this postulation regarding this event of the book of revelation with the situation we are experiencing at the moment? The answer is found in the understanding of the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ a detailed knowledge of the future that he communicated in coded symbols. The dominant factor for the misinterpretation of the book of Revelation and precisely this verse of the scripture (Rev 13:18) lies in the shallow understanding of the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation belongs to a specific genre of biblical literature known as “revelation” or “apocalyptic writing”. The book of Revelation and the book of Daniel are the apocalyptic writings in the Bible. The function of apocalyptic writing is not to see the future but to speak for God in the contemporary time. Far from trying to frighten its audience, its fills its audience with hope about the end of their present severe suffering; the immediate future when the persecution will end.
Few books in the Bible are misinterpreted and abused as much as the book of Revelation. Those who are unfamiliar with the literary form ‘revelation’ misinterpret everything about this book: its subject matter, its tone, and its purpose. They read it as though the intent of the author were to describe what it will be like at the end of the world. They misinterpret the book by quoting it in a way that instills fear in people. Some even use this book to plant the seed of hopelessness: They misinterpret the numbers in the book and assume that only 144,000 people of all those who ever lived on the face of the earth will be saved. Preachers have identified the Beast from the earth whose number is 666 as Hitler, Stalin, the Pope, and Saddam Hussein; and have related events in Revelation to communist revolution, the atomic bomb, the creation of the state of Israel, the Gulf war etc. Dooms-day-cults and prophets have tried to arbitrarily calculate the exact time for the end of the world, or to identify the enemies of God by unlocking the secrets of the Book of Revelation. This has often led to their own lamentable catastrophes. All of these misunderstandings disappear when one interprets the book in the context of its literary form.
AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The book of Revelation was written at a time of crisis, in this case, the persecution of Christian by the Roman state. This was a time when it was a crime to be a Christian. The Roman State promoted the cult of Emperor Worship, elements of which impinged on various cultic and business matters. Christians, therefore, had problems in their everyday contacts with non-Christians. In such a dangerous situation, many who refused to compromise were martyred for their faith; there was also the danger of some Christians losing heart and apostatizing.
The social setting in which apocalyptic writing takes place accounts for some of its conventions. Convention refers to a form of literature writing that uses specific style or method to achieve a particular effect and which has become an acceptable element of that kind of writing. For instance, in writing a letter, it has become a convention to begin with the word ‘Dear’ whether or not the person to whom you are writing is dear to you. Dear is a convention in the letter form and does not reflect the personal feelings of the letter writer. In order to understand apocalyptic writing one must understand the conventions it employs. Otherwise one may mistake a convention of the form for a statement of fact or belief and thus misunderstand the intent of the writer. Some of the conventions are: Vision, sealed revelation, symbolic language, and symbolic number.
The book of Revelation presents itself in the form of vision; a hidden revelation known only to God, but which was given by God or by an angel to a person who is now receiving the revelation. An example is the beginning of the book of Revelation: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to let His servant know what is soon to take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. (Rev 1:1). Sealed revelation refers to the fact that the revelation that is given has been in a sealed book and will only be opened at the end of time (Rev 5:1-5). However since the contemporary audience is reading it, then the author is saying that the present times are the end times. The present times are the periods of persecution, but soon it will be over. The social situation in which apocalyptic literature was written accounts for the symbolic languages used. It is a code understandable to the writer’s audience but not understood by the persecutors. Words like the lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David are symbolic names for Jesus. The meaning comes through translation of the symbols into ideas, not in trying to picture them visually in our minds. The meaning can only be understood if we are familiar with the literary allusions upon which they depend. Just like symbolic language, understanding symbolic way in which numbers are used in Revelation is important. Numbers are used to symbolize wholeness or lack of wholeness. The number 4 (the whole world), 7 (wholeness) and 12 (completeness) symbolizes wholeness. The number 6 and any fraction number (1/2) refers to incompleteness. Since this type of literature was resistance propaganda and thus politically subversive the author did not refer to the civil and political oppressors directly, but made use of extravagant symbols and imagery, as well as strange visions. Everything in apocalypse is symbolic and, therefore it would be wrong to take it all literally; even the numbers and colours are symbols.
ANALYSING THE NUMBER 666
When a person is sentenced to jail or to death, it is usually not the police, the prosecuting lawyer, the Judge, the prison warden or the executioners that are responsible for the act, rather it is the state. The power for exercising their duties stems from the state. So too, it wasn’t the physical prosecutors of the Christians that were responsible for their ordeal but rather the emperor who assigns them to carry out the persecution of Christians. The Roman emperors of that time were seen as gods and they advocated cultic worship of the emperor thus the emperor is the real evil.
Two emperors were notable for the persecution of Christians, Nero and Domitian. Nero ruled around 54-68AD, while Domitian reign was from 81-96AD. However, there is a sort of connection made by Christians of this era between the two emperors as persecutors of Christians. A connection between Nero and Domitian as hostile figures to Christians is suggested by the most probable interpretation of Rev 13:3, where one of the heads seemed to have been mortally wounded (Nero was stabbed to death) but was healed (the emergence of Domitian) so that the blasphemies were renewed and war was waged against the holy ones. Also, Melito of Sardis (Ad 170-180) addressed a petition to the emperor of his time claiming that of the preceding emperors, ‘only Nero and Domitian persuaded by certain malignant persons, desired to bring our doctrine into disrepute’. So Nero is the evil that the Christians see and this evil was made manifest too in Domitian; a continuation of Nero’s era of persecution.
The number 666, or 616 as it sometimes appears, is interpreted by many commentators to be Caesar Nero. In Greek and Hebrew, letters were used for numbers. The numerical value of each letter was determined by its place in the alphabet. The number of a person’s name could be obtained by adding up the numerical value of each letters in the name. By Gematria (where letters also serve as numerals, as in Latin) the Hebrew consonants transliterating the Greek form of the name Nero Caesar total to 666. An ancient variant is 616 (noted in the footnotes of many bibles) which will be the numerical value of the Hebrew letters transliterating the Latin form of the name Nero Caesar. The number 666 could also be interpreted to mean the most evil of evil. The number 6 (one less than seven and ½ of twelve, thus very imperfect) signifies incompleteness. In a language that did not have comparative (‘er’ added to the root word) or superlative (‘est’ added to the root word) forms, to repeat the word three times was to express the superlative. Thus God is Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. The number 666 could thus be symbolic of the superlative evil.
666 AND RECENT EVENTS
First, there is no correlation between the understandings of 666 with that of the end of the world. The acknowledgement and recognition of 666 is the knowledge of the evil one, this knowledge does not imply the physical end of the world, but that Christians should endure the reign of the evil one for the end of their persecution is at hand. There is no place in the bible that the end of the world or the coming of the kingdom of God is explicitly said. Jesus in responding to this question from the disciples said: it is not for you to know the time and moment which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1:6-7).
If 666 refers to the superlative evil, that which hinders our communion with God, how do we relate this to the outbreak of corona virus, the 5G network, and microchip implantation? Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by coronavirus. It spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The exceptional destructive nature of this infection is the rapidity of its spread, its contagious nature. The unavailability of a medicine or vaccine to curtail it at the moment brings about the relative scare surrounding this virus. These however do not suggest any postulation of its connection to the biblical 666. The superlative evil is directed only to believers, the main reason for persecution is spiritual belonging to Christ, and it is meant to convert one from good to evil; to follow the beast instead of the Lamb. However, this virus affects all: Christians, Muslims, atheists. There is no spiritual connection or conversion related to it. So, the postulation is baseless.
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation technology standard for cellular networks, the planned successor to the 4G networks already in use. The main advantage is that it has a greater bandwidth, giving faster download speeds eventually up to 10 gigabits per second. There are theorist that 5G generates radio frequency radiation that can damage DNA and lead to cancer; cause oxidative damage that can cause premature aging, disrupt cell metabolism and lead to other diseases. Some recent studies are refuting the truth of these claims. Its truth value nevertheless does not affect its connection to the supposed 666 belief.
A human microchip implant is typically an identifying integrated circuit device or RFID transponder encased in silicate glass and implanted in the body of a human being. It is linked to information contained in an external database, such as personal identification, medical history, and finances. This chip is said to be the mark of the beast because it is implanted in the body and it serve as a point of access to money, health and information. This is based on (Rev 13:17); ‘no one was allowed to buy or sell unless he had been marked with the name of the beast or with the number of its name’. In the use of the microchip, its 666 advocators have not been able to come out with rational explanations to back their point. Does the microchip stops one from going to Church or praying to God; is there a form of conversion carried out with it. How do microchips relate to evil or bring about the reign of the superlative evil? These unanswered questions brings discredit to their postulation. All these unfounded correlations are a result of the ignorance of the scriptural language and intent of the book of Revelation and of the number 666. The Christian of those times for whom John was writing would have known the code to decipher the symbolic meaning of the imagery and numbers.
Scripture scholars today are still daily trying to crack the various codes in the book of Revelation in order to understand the meaning of the book better, but there are still elements in the book which are incomprehensible to us. However the purpose of writing the book is clear, and its message is relevant for us today who are faced with religious discrimination or are struggling against ungodly forces in the society. We too need to be assured that the victory is finally with God; that tribulation and suffering will pass away; therefore the faithful believer should be firm in his faith and practice, and not compromise with evil under any circumstance.