IS THE MAN OF SIN, 666, ON THE HORIZON – OR WAVING GOODBYE!
I grew up in a church where regular Bible-prophecy teachers hinted that they knew the identity of the coming ‘Antichrist’. This man, was, according to these teachers, also referred to in Scripture as “the Beast” and “the man of lawlessness”. It wasn’t until I started to realise that these teachers were not only guessing about this Antichrist, but pretty much everything else they taught was a guess as well, that I began to understand what the Bible really says about these things.
IS THE ‘ANTICHRIST’, ‘BEAST’ & ‘MAN OF SIN/LAWLESSNESS’ THE SAME PERSON?
Most modern evangelicals have been conditioned to regard the New Testament expressions: ‘antichrist’, ‘beast’ and ‘man of lawlessness’ as describing one person who will one day be the ultimate servant of Satan. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins name him “Nicholas Carpathian” in their fictional series Left Behind. This series of novels has popularised the widely held fundamentalist evangelical beliefs about this prophesied character. These beliefs include his role as a world leader then dictator, his religious charisma which beguiles the established religions into submission, his implementation of a global marking system which eliminates the need the cash and becomes the basis of personal identification for everyone on the planet, and his supernatural ability to resurrect himself after his own assassination. It’s important at this point to identify my understanding of God and His Word before I seriously challenge this concept of the antichrist/beast/man-of-lawlessness. I believe the Bible to be the uniquely authoritatively inspired Word of God (sola Scriptura). I believe in the Bible’s infallible accuracy when it comes to prophesying future events. But I have a problem with is eisegetical interpretations of the Bible which impose someone’s ideas into a Biblical text. Many people would therefore label me “evangelical”.
Sometimes assumptions about the Bible become so intertwined with the Bible itself that we forget what is Bible and what is man’s opinion, or actually just plain wrong! For example, TRUE or FALSE?-
- Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat (False- it was the ‘mountains of Ararat’, Gen. 8:4)
- Delilah cut off Samson’s hair (False- an unnamed man shaved him, Judges 16:19)
- Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (False- it was a ‘whirlwind’ 2Kings 2:11)
- One day the Lion will lie down with the Lamb (False- the Bible says it will be a ‘wolf’ that will one day lie down with the lamb, Isaiah 11:6)
- The Antichrist is one of the dominant characters of the Book of Revelation (False- there is no mention at all of “the Antichrist” in the Book of Revelation)
- The New Testament says that the Antichrist is the Beast of Revelation 13 (False- it doesn’t link them at all.)
- Paul calls the Antichrist ‘the Man of Sin and Lawlessness’ (False- Paul makes no reference to Antichrist—John is the only New Testament writer to even use the expression and he only does this in two of his epistles)
Something else that stuns most Evangelicals is what the Book of Revelation actually says about “the Beast”. When somebody asks me about the Beast of Revelation 13, I usually ask them- Which one? When they revisit the text they are shocked to discover that Revelation 13 talks about two beasts! And to their surprise the one most often described as allegedly referring to the Antichrist (the one “from across the sea” in the opening verses of Revelation 13) is not the one who causes men to be numbered with the number of the beast – “666”! This is hard to over emphasise. Unless we can clear away unfounded presumptions of what the Book of Revelation actually says (often derived from lightweight paperback books and ‘Bible prophecy’ lectures) it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve an authentic interpretation of the Book of Revelation’s prophecies.
THE PROBLEM OF THE TWO BEASTS OF REVELATION
In my eBook, The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible (An explanation of The Book of Revelation) I discuss the issue and identity of the two Beasts mentioned in Revelation 13. In brief, the reader will notice that first one mentioned is from “across the sea”. This is an allusion to the sequence of beasts mentioned beginning in Daniel 7:3. The latter beast is described as being from “the earth” or “the land”. Most Biblically literate readers will immediately recognise what “the Land” is. I have reason to believe that these beasts refer to the offices of the Roman Emperor and the Jewish High Priest. You’ll notice that it is the second beast (the office of High Priest, appointed from among the chief priests) who commands everyone to honour the first beast (Roman Emperor). This is reminiscent of what happened at the judgment of Pilate on Christ-
They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
This connection between these two beasts is later referred to as the Beast and the False Prophet. The former pertains to political power and the latter to religious power.
WHAT ABOUT SECOND THESSALONIANS’ MAN OF SIN & LAWLESSNESS?
I discuss the differences in focus in between Second Thessalonians chapters 1 and 2 in another article about “the eschaton“. There is good reason to regard chapter 1 referring to events yet-future, and chapter 2 as referring to events which would take place within the lifetime of the original audience. When we consider that the Man of Lawlessness may in fact be an ironic title for someone who was meant to uphold the Law there is further circumstantial evidence for regarding this character as the office of the High Priest. Consider that this character is associated with the Temple (2Thess. 2:4), upholds monotheism, opposes the true God (Christ) and exalts himself over God (something he did when he condemned Christ).
ANTICHRIST, PAST OR FUTURE?
Equating the New Testament’s depiction of the Antichrist as describing the High Priest we are forced to acknowledge that the Antichrist is clearly past. But John refers to the spirit of antichrist which was at work in his day. Since this spirit is one which opposes and defies Christ we can also clearly say that there is, and always has been, a spirit of antichrist at work in the world.
THE MARK OF THE BEAST?
The mark of the beast was instituted by the High Priest so that none one could buy sell (temple sacrifices) without that mark. Jesus alluded to this mark when referred to the phylacteries that Chief Priests had instituted, which had to worn either on the right hand or forehead. This was originally based on several Old Testament passages which emphasised how much God wanted His people to value His Word-
“It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
This was the basis for the invention of ‘phylacteries’. These were small leather boxes containing those passages of God’s Word which the wearer had committed to memory. They were tied either around the wrist or head. Note what Christ said about them-
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long...
In Revelation 13, it is the second beast who orders people to receive the mark representing the name of the first beast.
This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
That is, if the one identified as the ‘Anti-Christ’ is the second beast, then the one who bears the “number of a man” — ‘666’ — is the first beast. It was common in the first century for people to identified with a number. This was known as gematria. At the time of the Book of Revelation being written, the prime candidate for the identity of the first beast was Caesar Nero whose name in gematria was 666-
This explains why, when Jerome translated the Greek text of the New Testament into Latin and came to Revelation 13:18, he rendered it in Latin as ‘616’ because in Latin “Nero Caesar” adds up to 616 not 666.
Speculation that the mark of the beast is yet future is in face of the clear time-frame references within the New Testament and the Book of Revelation in particular which uses words like: soon, now, at hand, this hour. The mark of the beast, while fundamentally a spiritual issue of soul allegiance (those who reject Christ are spiritually marked, while those who belong to Christ are conversely marked for Christ- Rev. 7) is most certainly not a future computer chip implant!
This and other issues are discussed in my eBooks, The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible (about the Book of Revelation), and The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible (about the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24) . Readers will profit in their understanding of these matters by reading both of these eBooks.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia August 5th 2006