“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” (Rev. 13:18).
LOOK FOR A NUMBER – NOT A NAME
John said it is possible to count, or calculate the number, not the name, of the Beast from the Sea, if a person has wisdom.
Keep in mind that, once again, John is explaining a symbol. The Beast is really a man, says John, and any person who has understanding can calculate, the number of the First Beast, or the Beast from the Sea because understanding what is being communicated here is not a special spiritual gift. “Wisdom rests in the heart of him that hath understanding” (Prov. 14:33).
Those who read, those who heard the words of Revelation read in the first century were called upon to figure out the statement. Therefore, the Revelation cannot be a cryptic reference to anyone beyond the first century, and certainly the text can refer to no one in the twenty-first century, or beyond.
God does not mock His regenerated people with commandments they cannot obey by His power, and by His Spirit. Therefore, “let him that hath understanding”, understand.
In particular, understand that the Beast in view is to be known and identified all through history.
There is no time in the life of the Church where the main message of the Revelation cannot be understood for there is no time when the Beast of Revelation is not operative.
Because that is true, why is there so much controversy over this passage?
Part of the answer to that inquiry is found in an abiding temptation that is succumbed to time and again.
The temptation comes to the Church in every generation to engage in gematria calculation, or assigning a numerical value to a name, word, or phrase. This practice was embraced by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Jews.
In context, regarding Revelation 13:18, the thought comes that if the right name can be found, and a numerical value is assigned to each letter in the name so that the total will be six hundred and sixty-six, there will be confirmation of the identity of the First Beast, or the Creature from the Sea. The identity of the Antichrist can be known.
If the temptation to engage in gematria is restrained, and the Church remembers that seven is the number of perfection in Revelation, then what John is simply saying is that the First Beast, the Beast from the Sea, the Beast that is energized by another spirit, the Beast that demands worship, is a man who falls short of perfection. The Beast is not God, no matter how hard he tries. The Beast is a man, with the emphasis on being a man.
That is the message of affirmation the Church needs to hear in every century so the saints can say, “OUR GOD REIGNS!” No Beast, no man, no government energized by the Devil and supported by a state religion, or otherwise, can ultimately dominate the people of God. Rules and regulations to suppress worship will fail. God’s people will find a way to assemble together. The Church may go underground. The Church may meet in catacombs, in homes, in secret cell groups, but it shall prevail against every form of tyranny because every dictatorial Beast is but a man. Christians must obey God rather than man.
The early Christians understood, and so can others. Because the believer resides in the heavenlies, there is no power on earth that can harm the saint, ultimately. The most any Beast, any man, any political or religious figure can do, is send a Christian to glory. But even in that, the Beast remains what it is, always short of perfection, honor, divine power, and majesty.
The good news about Revelation 13:18 is that what John is saying is not a mystery. The Beast in view is not difficult to discern, or understand.
The Beast of Revelation 13:18 is not someone in the eighteenth century to be known by the French, who thought it was Napoleon, as discussed in War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. He is not a person to be identified in the twentieth century as Mussolini, as Dr. M. R. DeHann did, the founder of Radio Bible Class. The Beast from the Sea of Revelation 13:18 is not someone to be unveiled in the twenty-first century as Saddam Hussein, as many prophetic pundits did, before the Middle Eastern dictator was executed on Saturday, December 30, 2006. Even after the tyrant of Iraqi was executed, headlines around the world still asked, “Is Saddam Hussein Dead or Still Alive?”
The obsession of Christians with current events, driven by their vivid imaginations, and a theological system which promotes sensationalism, misses the simple teaching of Scripture that could be a source of comfort to the Church in every generation. The Beast is but a man. Man will never be perfect. Man will never be God. To understand this is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding, hear what the Spirit has to say.