Good evening Father Angelo and thank you for your helpfulness.
I would like to ask you a question about a sensitive matter. It concerns the Book of Revelation of John and I hope you can help me understand better.
I refer to these words from the Bible: “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, 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. 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” (Rev 13:16-18).
First, I would like to ask you if you feel that this moment, and the following Parousia, is close.
I know that the times of God cannot be interpreted nor predicted by anyone, but asking you it is like asking St. Dominic and I will certainly have the answers I need.
Secondly, when the moment of the “stamp” mentioned in the Bible will come (and if it will come when I am still alive), how can I distinguish it easily without being deceived? And how can I convince the people I love and that do not have faith in Jesus not to be deceived and to get “stamped”? Besides praying for them a lot, can I do something else? If they are “stamped” without their knowledge, can they later be “pardoned” by God or will their souls be lost forever?
Finally, I would like to ask you one last question. During the period when we cannot buy or sell (having declined the stamp), will we spend our life praying and fasting, without material goods, medicines, food, etc. and relying solely on God?
I kindly ask you to pray for me, my family and most of all for the numerous atheist people that I know (and that I cannot convert), to entrust them all to St. Dominic and to the grace of God.
I will pray for you too.
May God bless you, have a good day.
Answer from the priest
1. St. John – the author of the Revelation – when describing the situation of the Church of his time, says that this will be the situation forever: the Church will fight against hostile forces and therefore it will be persecuted.
So, we should not read it as an accurate prophecy about what will happen in a precise moment in history.
In other words, the prophecy of the Revelation is not like the prophecy of the second secret of Fatima, when the Virgin Mary said that if men did not redeem themselves, a new war – worse than the one taking place at that time – would break out. The beginning of this war would be preceded by a sign in the sky (the famous Northern Lights which was seen at the beginning of 1939).
2. Going back to the passage you mentioned, here is what the theologian A. Wikenhauser writes:
“The scenario described in the Revelation perfectly corresponds to the historical situation of the last years of Domitian’s reign.
Pagan and Christian sources tell us that this emperor, an imitator of Nero’s cruelty, in 95-96 A.D. started a persecution against Christians, which affected, together with many other victims, also two members of the Flavian dynasty, the consul Flavius Clemens and his wife Domitilla.
They were accused of “atheism”, that is of the violation of the state religion.
In this same year, the Roman church was persecuted, too, as it is written in the first letter of pope Clement.
There is no proof that the Domitian’s persecution was extended also to the provinces, and particularly to Asia Minor; but it is quite plausible.
Towards the end of his reign, Domitian became more and more authoritarian. Suetonius says that, when he dictated the formulas for his private employees, he used the words “Our lord and god commands the following” (Domit. 15); this then became the only way to address him, both speaking and writing. Ascribing himself these titles, he declared that he assumed the role of absolute lord of his subjects and that he demanded divine honors while he was still alive, like the Eastern absolute monarchs.
Throughout the empire, statues of Domitian made of marble, gold and silver were erected; in Asia Minor, in Ephesus, a temple was built where an enormous statue of him was worshipped. In the dedications, the name of “god” was added along his titles.
The refusal to worship or to offer sacrifices before the simulacrum of the emperor was equal to the refusal to honor Caesar. Now, when you consider that the cult of the emperor thrived in Asia Minor from the very beginning and that cities competed to stand out, you understand how inevitable serious conflicts between authorities and Christians were, since they had to refuse such a cult because of their faith.
Anyway, John predicts and foretells as imminent a bloody conflict between the Roman state, which divinizes itself, and the Church.
He writes under an Emperor who is the sixth in line and he says that, after the brief reign of the seventh, the eighth will mark with his government the time of distress (7:14) for the Church (17: 10ff). He will brutally demand that all of his subjects worship him. On another occasion, during Nero’s reign, the Roman Empire persecuted the Church, and everything suggests another persecution, even harsher, because Domitian’s demand to be worshipped by his subjects is a sign that this adoration will soon be imposed by force. The Church can never agree with such a monstrosity.
Facts proved John right. Actually, the Church and the Empire fought to the death for almost two centuries. It is true that Domitian’s persecution ended soon after, because the emperor was murdered and his successor Nerva annulled the previous orders; but, from what we know, Domitian was only the first of a series of emperors who persecuted Christians for religious reasons. The correspondence between Pliny the Younger and Trajan (111-112 A.D.) informs us that Christians were killed in Asia Minor because they refused to offer a sacrifice before the simulacra of the gods and Caesar.
If we want to properly understand the chapters 13 ff., we should not forget that they include some prophecies and that these lack what is usually called perspective.
Actually, in these prophecies everything is one the same level; in the visions about the future written by the prophets, the facts from a next future and those regarding the end are fused together, while there is no intermediate time.
John’s visions, too, form a big picture encompassing all of history, outlining it as a battle that at times calms down, while other times breaks out again. It is the battle between the political power, which divinizes itself, and the Christian Church; it will end at the end of time and God will win against all enemy powers. The colors used in this picture of the future are mostly apocalyptic. The lack of perspective can be explained by saying that the seer, on the one hand, was completely unaware of the moment of the end, while on the other he passionately hoped that the Lord would come soon. This is also the reason why he can define a duration of three and a half years for the great distress, of which he announced a close beginning” (The Revelation of John, pp. 153-155).
3. For what concerns the number 666, we should remember that Jews and Greeks, unlike Romans and Arabs, did not have special signs for numbers, but they wrote them using the letters from the alphabet.
The letters that form Nero’s name in Hebrew coincide with the number 666.
Although the beast is very powerful, nevertheless it is weak and frail, because it is actually a man.
The number 666 is the sign of the utmost imperfection or weakness, as the number 777 is the symbol of the highest perfection.
4. As you can see, your interpretation goes beyond what is said in the Revelation, so I cannot answer the precise questions you asked.
Instead, they refer to the many brothers and sisters that are still persecuted today, like the Christians at the time of Nero, Domitian and Diocletian.
It is possible that what happened when John was writing and is happening today in several places in the world may happen again here.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.
The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.
The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh” (CCC 675).
I wish you the best, I entrust you to God and I bless you.
Translated by Francesca Belfiore