Question

Dear Father Angelo,

Nowadays we hear a lot about the Book of Revelation; this topic worries me, not knowing it and not knowing how to interpret the Gospels.

Why are we talking about a mark of the beast:, surely the beast is Lucifer, why is it connected to the number six hundred and sixty-six? What does this mark consist of? Many assert that it is a bar code, as we find in ATMs, which will necessarily be inserted in the hand, or in the forehead to be all checked; they end by stating that whoever has this mark will be denied by God as possessed. 

Could you kindly explain to me all the passages from The  Revelation of John listed below? What does John mean in the following verses of Revelation 13: 14-18.

14.”It deceived the inhabitants of the earth with the signs it was allowed to perform in the sight of the first beast, telling them to make an image for the beast who had been wounded by the sword and revived. 

15. It was then permitted to breathe life into the beast’s image, so that the beast’s image could speak and (could) have anyone who did not worship it put to death.

16. It forced all the people, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads. 

17. So that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name. 

18. Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six. “

Father Angelo, I thank you and your staff for what you are doing for all of us.

Yours sincerely and best regards to all.

Sabina

Answer

Dear Sabina,

1. Yes, it is true, many today speak of Revelation and try to apply to the current context what we read in chapter 13 that you quoted to me.

Well, St. John is talking about the situation of the Church of his time which suffered  persecution.

In his perspective he is also speaking of the tribulations that the Church will undergo over the centuries.

He describes them in a literary genre that we do not use today, the so-called apocalyptic genre.

This literary genre was used by the Jews who lived more or less from the second century BC to the second century AD and announces, through images taken from the mythology of the time, the misfortunes of the chosen people and exhorts to trust in the liberation that God would bring.

2. However, if the understanding of the text in reference to the historical events of the time is easy enough, it would be wrong to go and look meticulously for a literal correspondence to the current and future situation.

What St. John wants to convey is the message: the Church will always be persecuted, but at the same time it will enjoy the promise of her Savior, the risen Christ, who reassured His disciples by saying “I am with you every day until the end of world “(Mt 28:20) and will usher them into his glory. 

3. The passage that you have quoted to me refers to a second beast that rises from the earth, performs miracles and wonders and whose task is to promote and consolidate the political power of the first beast. 

According to A. Wikenhauser, this would be its historical significance: “These miracles make a profound impression on the masses, causing tbem to adore the first beast (cf. 19,20).

This reminder of the miracles that the Antichrist will accomplish with the power of Satan, as well as the fascination that they will exert on those who are not in the number of the elect, also occurs in St. Paul (2 Thess 2: 9ss). Even the Didache, speaking of “he who seduces the world”, that is, the Antichrist, says that he will perform signs and wonders, attaining for itself an unparalleled success (16.4 ff.).

A cult without images was unimaginable for the ancients; therefore the false prophet induces men to raise a statue to the beast that has risen from the sea, to make it almost the palpable expression of the divine power of the empire. 

To this effigy the prophet attributes the ability to speak. There are many attestations of faith in statues that spoke and worked wonders in ancient times. Around 180, for example, at the time of the apologist Athenagoras, there was a statue in Troas that was reputed to pronounce oracles and heal the sick.

By this means, the false prophet brings together the entire population of the empire into the practice of the religion and worship of this absolutist political power. He demands that the statue endowed with speech  be adored under penalty of death, that is, he demands that to this political power that passes itself off as divine, be given a religious cult, and compels this, by resorting to brutal means. Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, in the well-known letter to Trajan, reports that Christians were forced to offer incense and wine in front of the effivg of the emperor and the gods.

So that no one can escape the cult of the beast, the false prophet requires that everyone imprint a mark on their forehead or hand, which certifies that they belong to him.

In ancient times, worshippers of a deity often tattooed themselves imprinting its image or name on themselves.

According to Rev 22:4; 3:12, the citizens of the new Jerusalem bear the name of God on their foreheads as an external sign of their belonging to him; in 7:3 and 14:14, then, we read that the elect receive the seal of God on their foreheads, as a symbol of His effective protection.

Anyone who does not bear the mark of the beast is exposed to an economic boycott, being placed in the impossibility of buying and selling, and therefore of living. This brutal measure aims to ensure that those who refuse to worship the beast are reported to the authorities and punished. There remains therefore only the terrible alternative: either to worship the beast, or to die.

The mark that all the inhabitants of the empire must bear consists of the name of the beast, or the number of its name. What name is it? This is what the seer says at this point; but he does it in such a way that it serves more to hide than to manifest that name, so much enigmatic are the words he uses. He himself adds that a lot of wisdom is needed to solve the enigma, that is, great acumen, exactly as will be needed later for the interpretation of the seven heads of the beast. The number of the beast must therefore be used by readers to guess its name. The beast, says the seer, veils a man; better still: in the forty-two months of the great tribulation the beast was incarnated in a man, whose name is composed of letters; the numerical value of these, added together, gives the figure six hundred and sixty-six (The Revelation of John, pp. 147-149).

4. Who does this number belong to?

The Jerusalem Bible notes: “in Greek as in Hebrew each letter had a numerical value according to its place in the alphabet. A man’s number is the total of his letters. Here six hundred and sixty-six would be Caesar Nero “

Other codes, however, report the number 616 and it would be Caesar – god (Greek letters).

Why this lack of clarity? 

A. Wikenhauser writes: “John had more than good reasons to speak of the Antichrist in a very veiled form, and for the readers it was impossible to solve the enigma of the number without the help of some indication said out loud.

If the Antichrist is identical to the “Nero redivivus” (Nero come back to life)  it follows that this interpretation of the number 666 must be considered as the best of what has been proposed to date, although it must be recognized that not even it can be considered completely sure. 

The key to solving the enigma must have been lost very soon, since St. Irenaeus (second century) despite being a native of Asia Minor, shows that he no longer has it in his repertoire (The Revelation of John, p. 156).

 5. This is the historical significance.

It must be said that in the course of history in regards to certain persecutions similar to those carried out by Domitian — Roman emperor of the end of the first century who had forbidden Christians to sell or buy if they had not sacrificed to the gods — some have seen other persons (i.e. more than one) linked to the number 666.

But if St. John deliberately left the first interpretation cloudy, the other interpretations are even more cloudy. 

Again, what matters is the message and not the meticulous prediction of the future.

I think I’ve told you enough.

I wish you well, I entrust you to God and I bless you.

Father Angelo

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