Yesterday I wrote Part 1 of an article that studies the biblical meaning of the infamous symbol “666” in Revelation. That article focused mainly on how people view the number, the various erroneous interpretations commonly given to it, and biblical principles we need to keep in mind in order to come to the correct conclusions about it and the rest of the symbolism found in Revelation.
Let’s now start examining what 666 really means. It is called the number of the beast (Rev. 13:18), so it’s probably best to first come to understand what the Bible says about the beast of Revelation 13.
There are actually two beasts in chapter 13. The first beast mentioned is the one which rises out of the sea (Rev. 13:1-10). Space doesn’t permit us to examine in great detail all the symbolism surrounding this beast, but the best way to sum up what this beast represents is to study Daniel 7:1-7, 15-18.
Daniel, like John, had a vision of beasts, four of them rising out of the sea. He then specifies that these beasts each represented four kingdoms or governments. If we allow the Bible to be its own best interpreter (which is what God wants us to do; compare Ephesians 4:15, John 17:17, and 2 Timothy 4:2), we will apply this same interpretation to the beast rising up out of the sea in Revelation 13.
Thus, the “beast” in Revelation is a symbolic term used to represent governmental forces which rule in this world.
This beast which rises out of the sea in Revelation 13 was a servant of the dragon whom Revelation 12:9 identifies as Satan, and those who followed the beast would worship both the dragon and the beast (Rev. 13:2, 4). This beast would blaspheme against God, his name, and his dwelling, and would make war on the saints and conquer them (Rev. 13:5-8). All who dwell on the earth, specifically “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” — i.e., those who aren’t Christians — would worship the beast (v. 8).
This tells us that the first beast rising up out of the sea represents governmental forces which rule in this world who are hostile to Christianity. During John’s day, this would have been the Jewish ruling class in Jerusalem and the Roman Empire, both of whom severely persecuted Christians. Throughout history, including today, we see many governments showing various degrees of hostility towards Christianity. America’s government and society is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith as well, as seen in the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage and how florists and bakers who profess the Christian faith concerning same-sex marriage are being persecuted by governmental authorities.
It’s very clear that the first beast of Revelation 13 is still alive and well today, and will always be until Christ comes again.
Let’s now turn our focus to the second beast, the one which rose out of the earth (Rev. 13:11-18). Again, space does not permit a detailed examination of all the symbolism surrounding this second beast, so we’ll hit the highlights.
To sum up, we know from our study of the first beast and also the beasts of Daniel 7 that this beast would symbolize an entity that has the power of civil government. Additionally, this beast apparently had the power to force people to make an image to the beast and worship it (v. 15). This tells us that this second beast controlled not only the physical actions and freedom of man the way civil governments would, but it would also control his spiritual worship. This is the meaning of the two horns (v. 11). Horns symbolize power, and this beast had two horns. Its power was twofold. It possessed civil powers and spiritual powers.
Elsewhere in Revelation this second beast is called a false prophet (Rev. 16:13; 19:20). This shows that the beast was a false religious power which caused or forced many people to worship in ways other than those designed by God. This is why the Bible says it had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon (Rev. 13:11). It acts like a lamb of God but speaks the message of Satan the dragon. It represents the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the false teachers and prophets which Jesus and Paul warned us about (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29).
Think back over history since the church of Christ was founded on Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection?. Are there any false religions which profess to have allegiance to Christ? Of course there are. We call them denominations. Where did these denominations come from? History shows us that the Protestant denominations (the Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc.), all of which teach and practice doctrines contradictory to New Testament teaching, originally split off from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church, also infamous for adding to and taking away from the Word of God, used to be known as simply the Catholic Church before it had a split one thousand years ago which formed the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, an entity which continued to add to and ignore biblical doctrine. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church are more than just religions and churches. Historically and all the way up to today, they are both churches AND governments.
Catholicism’s headquarters is in the Vatican. The Vatican is its own country, having its own form of government. Throughout Catholic history, the Catholic Church has been very closely aligned with various governments in the countries that have been predominately Catholic. Over the past one thousand years, the Eastern Orthodox Church has split into various Orthodox Churches, all defining themselves by the countries and governments with which they are aligned. That’s why we have Greek Orthodox Churches, Russian Orthodox Churches, etc.
In like manner, the religion of Islam claims to follow the God of Abraham and Jesus and is closely aligned with many Middle Eastern governments. Yet it has always persecuted Christians and continues to do so, and its doctrine and tenets blatantly go against the teachings of the God of the Bible.
Thus, history shows us the existence of false religions which are closely aligned with governmental powers that look on the surface to the uninformed like they follow the Lamb of God while in reality speaking the message of Satan the dragon. The second beast of Revelation 13 which rose out of the earth, has two horns like a lamb, speaks like a dragon, and makes people worship the first beast is clearly seen in the false religions, specifically the denominations of Christendom and the various sects of Islam that are closely aligned with governmental powers hostile to true New Testament Christianity over the years.
To sum up what we know about the two beasts of Revelation 13:
- The first beast symbolizes any governmental power throughout history that is hostile to Christianity.
- The second beast symbolizes any false religion aligned with governmental authorities which is hostile to Christianity, false religions who profess to follow God but in reality serve Satan.
The next article will continue our study of Revelation 13 in order to understand the meaning of 666, but for now let’s end with some encouragement, some real “edification from Revelation.” I’d like to call your attention to a few passages from Revelation:
“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”
“And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Take heart, Christians. What you just read is the ultimate destiny of the two beasts and Satan the dragon whom they serve. We may be persecuted in varying ways by the government or by false churches and religions, but in the end Christ will conquer over all!
Will we be conquering with him?
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Do you want to spend eternity with the two beasts and the dragon in the lake of fire? If your name is not written in the Book of Life, that’s what will happen.
Is your name written there? Contact me to find out what the Bible says about being saved.
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[…] I wrote Part 1 of a study on the biblical meaning of 666, and earlier today I wrote Part 2 which delved into the biblical meaning behind the symbolism of the two beasts mentioned in […]