Over the last few weeks we have been delving into the mystery which is the book of revelation.
I hope that the image that John wants his church to hang onto in the face of the trouble they are in is starting to become clear…
I hope to that as we as a church and you personally read and re read this great book, you are starting to hear God’s voice for your current situation, and the times that we as a church are in.
That being the case, we are about to be thrown into the midst of confusion again.
Chapter 13 and in particular the last part of it has caused so much scare mongering that in many respects we should steer well clear.
When I was a kid at school,
Omen movies, Damian the living incarnation of the beast, with the number 666 on his head as a birth mark…
As circumstance would have it this new insight into scripture gave us bored catholic school boys a new lease on life in terms of our bible reading.
Suddenly reading our new KJV GIDEON bibles became playground game.
Usually involving us picking on the kids who we thought had the mark of the beast
Beating him up and ripping great chunks of his hair out to find the mark
And if we couldn’t find it taking a marker pen and putting it on them.
I am not proud of myself for this…
BULLYING - FUNDAMENTALIST
Lately American fundamentalist preachers play a similar game,
Coming up with sometimes wild and wacky formulas for calculating who has the mark, which is the beast….
So according to them who is the beast?
Lots of interpretations…latest
Arnold Schwarzenegger... APPARENTLY if we add the word president and give every letter of his name a numerical value then by a series of odd calculations we too can discover his secret identity…
When he said in Terminator “I’ll be back” it was prophecy about the fact he would return in the last days to establish Satan; kingdom…
It sounds comical... but it’s scary that people can be led into believing something like this based on the thinnest of evidence…
Another way in which the church has jumped on board with it is in terms of barcodes and the impending cashless society….
Now each barcode has a double line at the beginning middle and end.... now that double line resembles the number 6 in the bar code...
It's caused some people to see that the number 666 is in every bar code,
And I think we all know that with out a barcode it's pretty hard to buy anything...
So is this a fulfillment of biblical prophecy?
So that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is the name of the beast or the number of it's name
I think the first thing to be aware of is that in Revelation the number is on the buyers or sellers and not the products.
But it does seem that barcodes on products is one step away from barcodes on you and me. A cashless society, beckons?
how easy and convinenient it would be if we all had our own bar codes...
if that sounds a little scary... fear not
the double line on the bar code is not a 6, the number of the beast is not hidden on your barcodes....
It looks like a 6...but it isn’t.
GRAIN OF TRUTH
the problem is with all these theories as odd as they may seem is that there is always a grain of truth there…
Like watching the last episode of the TV series Lost we want to solve the mystery
Its part of human nature so we will often take the grain of truth and build around it an oyster of odd meaning.
let’s look at the text.
Chapter 12...Satan has thought against the child of the women... but not able to do away with it...
so Satan calls upon his minions the beast...
to carry out the war against the church
the first beast has received a mortal head wound....
this is the first clue into the identity of the beast.
It's an open secret... very much mysterious to us but very much obvious to the first hearers.
But like a political cartoon that refers to events from 5 years ago we so easily miss what John is saying.
So who is the first beast...
Arnold Schwarzenegger... he had had a head would in lots of movies...
Actually, no the simple explanation is Nero…
Urban rumor of the day had it that the emperor that died of a self inflicted head wound, but somehow came back to life…he survived.
The number would seem to point to Nero too
Now if you were to take his name in Aramaic and give each letter a value apparently it add up to 666.
Giving letters values is one of the basic kid’s games I think we have all played at some time…
In Pompeii there was some graffiti found in the ruins that said
I love her whose number is 545.... Interesting…
It was probably done as a way of talking about someone without them knowing.
If John wanted to call the emperor a beast, it would be safer to not name him.
The emperor who used Christians rolled in tar to light the road side is the beast
But it also points towards something we know about another emperor - Domitian
Amongst his many feats he was the first of the Roman emperors to declare himself as divine. A living God.
As I said a few weeks back he had his own processional choir that would follow him singing songs of praise.
He also struck coins – literally gave them a mark with words of homage to himself – and demanded that people called him Lord and God....
On top of that there was a practice of issuing a certificate or mark to all who wanted to buy and sell at the market
The certificate was obtained through an act of worship, putting incense into a bowl and saying a little prayer.
Shopping as an act of worship is probably a good idea… but worship of whom?
All would be calm with the world if you followed the rules…
Give a little incense, sing a little song and all would be fine...
But refuse and you stand against Caesar, and against Rome and against the forces of the world.
It seems like such a small thing, but as John sees behind the curtain he sees reality.
The kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Rome as long as it demands worship of Caesar are in conflict.
How could they say Jesus is Lord and give incense offerings at the market stall?
So as John glimpses behind the scene he sees reality...
Domitian is the beast, a tool of the antichrist, demanding worship.
Nero is the beast for his harsh persecution of Christians
The point though is not the number or the identity of the number that is important.
But what the number represents… opposition to God
Opposition to God’s Kingdom being built.
If God had a number it would be 777, 7 signifying the number of perfection, 3 7’s signifying the trinity.
Each member perfect. Father Son and Spirit.
666 then signifies falling short of God’s glory, an un holy Trinity, Satan and the two beasts,
Or Failure upon Failure upon Failure…
The images from Chapter 13 scary as they are need to be balanced out with the images we have elsewhere in Revelation:
In chapter 7 the angels are just about to release God’s fury but there is this pause…
READ Verse 2 and 3
It’s not only the beast that marks people God does too,
Now who these people are is the source of a lot of debate, the 144,000, again the language isn’t that clear
it’s like much of revelation speaking in a type of code.
The JW’s for instance say the 144,000 is a literal number meaning those who are the elect of God…so if your 144001 you don’t get in…144002 no chance 144003 forget it and so on…
Well I don’t think it‘s a literal number, an accountants number or even a census number
– it’s a number that conveys meaning and feeling rather than a specific figure...
What I believe is more appropriate is to see the number as a code for something else…
144,000 is a multiple of 12
12… what does that mean...
Well we have in scripture 12 tribes…12 apostles…
12 then is the number that signifies God’s work in the world through people…
With the tribes named it sounds like the nation of Israel, but it isn’t that either.
– It doesn’t quite match your historical listings of the tribes…
Joseph is listed as a tribe along with his son Manasseh but not his son Ephraim - And the tribe of Dan isn’t listed at all
The 144,000 are a people who are like the nation of Israel but different
The changes are I think deliberate…
John is pointing to another reality
Those who are sealed are like the 12 tribes, but not the 12 tribes
A Historical continuation of God’s work that he began with Abraham…
The Fullness of God’s work through human kind – THE CHURCH
Its John pointing to the church – the Church is the one’s who are sealed...
Who have received God’s mark as opposed to the beasts?
Paul uses a similar image in Ephesians
Eph 1:13-14, "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance."
What Paul is saying is that if you have heard the gospel of truth,
That Jesus Christ toke upon himself your sin and stood in your place, receiving the death that we all deserve for what we have done.
That if you believe this truth and accept this truth into your life then the presence of the Holy Spirit with us is God’s seal on our lives…
So even if we end out with a cashless society and somehow we are conned or tricked into receiving a mark that we find out to be the mark of the beast.
We would not forfeit our salvation.
That has been sealed in by God… it won’t wash off
We are the Father Possession.
He has redeemed us,
He has paid the price to win us back from the grip of death
The Image of the beast needs to be seen alongside of the image of the 144,000 who have also received a mark…who have been sealed by God.
– of a God who is on the throne
– A slain lamb that has been sacrificed and is now worthy to redeem his people and judge the world so that God’s Kingdom can come in its fullness.
– A God who does not demands our worship like the beast but deserves our worship because he has redeemed us… set us apart.
As we gather around the communion table this morning we want to give you the opportunity to renew your commitment to Christ.
And if you have never done this before then to also give you opportunity to do this for the first time.
As you take bread and wine you are accepting the truth of what God has done in Jesus.
His sacrifice for you
His death for you
And his overcoming of that death.
But we also want to give you the opportunity to receive a symbol of the sealing that God has done.
So we will also have people with Oil who will mark your head with the sign of the cross to symbolize that you are now God’s property…
Prayer ministry will be available at this time too
And if you are doing this for the first time could we encourage you to talk with one of the pastoral team about this commitment.
We want you to grow in faith and to put you in touch with people who can help you to grow in your faith
“I seal you with the cross of Christ,
The promise of God’s Spirit with you.
The mark of your inheritance”.