Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Apocalyptic? #7: The Number 666 and the Friday Fixation

This calls for wisdom. 
Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. 
That number is 666.
(Revelation 13:18 NIV)
Have you ever used the abbreviation: TGIF?  Be careful of what “day” you are thankful for!  Friday may seem pleasant to you, because the weekend—Day 7, meaning “rest”—is approaching.  But, if we are approaching Day 7 in God’s Cosmic Week—if we are indeed living in Day 6 (Friday)—we are on the brink of the “end” of the week.  Day 6 can be comforting or it can be scary!  Two numbers are extremely powerful in the Jewish mind:  Twelve and Seven.  I mention these two numbers because they are both powerfully significant for understanding what happens between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals.

Seven (and its multiples) represent Completeness/telos.  There are the 7 churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4), the 7 golden lampstands/candlesticks (Rev. 1:12), and the 7 stars (Rev. 1:16) which are the 7 angels of the 7 churches (Rev. 1:20).     There are the 7 letters to the 7 churches (Rev. 2-3) and the 7 spirits of God (Rev. 2:1) which are the 7 lamps of fire burning before the throne of God (Rev. 4:5).   There are, of course, the 7 seals of the scroll (divorce book) which we discussed in the previous post (Rev. 5:1), and to the end of which (Seal #7) we are now approaching.  The Lamb had 7 horns and 7 eyes, which were the 7 spirits of God (Rev. 5:6) sent forth into all of the earth.  There were 7 trumpets sounded by 7 angels (Rev. 8:2) and 7 thunders (Rev. 10:3).  There were the 7 years (week of years) that were divided in half (=3½ years=42 months=1260 days) that I discussed in my post “Apocalyptic?  #3:  The Mirror Image of the Week.”  The Dragon had 7 heads (Rev. 12:3) as did the Beast with 7 heads (Rev. 13:1) before adding an 8th (Rev. 13:3).  There were the 7 last plagues (Rev. 15:1) and the 7 angels who administered them (Rev. 15:8) by pouring out the 7 bowls of the wrath of God (Rev. 16:1).  There are the 7 mountains on which the Harlot Babylon sits (Rev. 17:9)

Twelve (and its multiples) represented God’s Chosen.  There were 12 tribes of Israel, chosen by God (Rev. 21:12).  There were 12 apostles, chosen by Christ (Rev. 21:14).  There were 24 (12X2) elders sitting on 24 thrones, surrounding God’s throne in Heaven in Revelation 4:4 (just as there were 70 elders, chosen by Moses to assist in ruling Israel in Numbers 11 and Exodus 24).  There were 12 foundation stones of the walls of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14), plus 12 gates to the city (Rev. 21:12), plus 12 angels—one at each gate (Rev. 21:12).  The woman in Revelation 12:1 had a crown of 12 stars on her head.  144,000 (12X12X1000) were sealed out of every one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4):  12,000  from each tribe (Rev. 7:5-8).  The length and breadth and height of the New Jerusalem were each 12,000 furlongs (Rev. 21:16).  The walls of the New Jerusalem were 144 cubits of an angel (Rev. 21:17).  The 12 foundations were each a special precious stone (Rev. 21:20) and the 12 gates were 12 pearls (Rev. 21:21).   In the midst of the city was a river of the water of life with a tree of life on either side, bearing 12 different kinds of fruit every one of the (12) months (Rev. 22:2). 

The Importance of the Number 6
I began this post by asking:  Have you ever used the abbreviation: TGIF?  In considering Revelation 1:1, the scholar G. B. Caird asked: "What did John think was 'bound to happen soon'?" (Caird, p. 236).  The answer to that question is found by watching out for the number six in Revelation.  The supreme archetype in the entire book of Genesis is the creation week.  When day number seven arrives, telos/the end has already been achieved.  Creation has been completed (perfected) by the end of day six in Genesis.  The word "sabbath" even carries the perfected denotation of "rest" in Hebrew.  Since John (intuitively) knows that his seven structure has aroused an expectation of telos in the number seven for his audience, John consistently places himself and his audience at the number six, thus indicating almost by the sheer psychological weight of the number six that he and his readers are on the brink of telos--but they are still in the process of entelechy (telos has not yet come).

The Sixth Emperor
The most poignant verses in the book of Revelation for those looking for evidence of the date of Revelation are 17:10-11 (KJV):  10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.”  Scholars have agreed that the "seven heads = seven kings" refer to Roman emperors.  Hence, calculations ensue in an effort to determine the emperor's reign under which the book is being written.  While the answer to the calculation is of vast importance, the psychological significance of the verses has been missed.  John states that "five fell, one is, and the other has not yet come."  That places John and his audience precisely in the reign of emperor number six.  They are on the brink of telos.
The Number 666
Furthermore, the number of the beast "who has the wound of the sword and lived" (13.14) is the infamous number "six hundred sixty-six."  My parents, when they were about to discipline me, used a technique of counting to three.  However, they would not count 1, 2, 3.  Instead they would count 1, 2, 2 and ½, 2 and ¾, etc., extending this final number for a longer time, thus, giving me more opportunity to behave and comply.   The infamous number 6-6-6 seems to signify the last brink of the last brink of the last brink of telos.  Gematria is the technical term for the activity of codifying someone's name into a number, a very popular practice in the first century.  Unlike English, which uses an alphabet for letters and an Arabic number system, ancient languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin made the alphabet serve a dual purpose.  The use of Roman Numerals in English, today, illustrates such a dual use of letters, so that the name LIV (a nickname for Olivia; see Liv Tyler and Liv Ullmann) also equals in Roman Numerals the number 54.  An Aramaic document of Nero's reign from the Wadi Murabba'at, in Jordan, contains the required spelling for Nero Caesar which would equal 666 in either Aramaic or Hebrew.  But the psychological significance comes not from identifying the individual to whom the number referred (John's primary audience surely knew!).  The sense of being on the ultimate brink of telos comes from the sheer "expectation" that, with the number six in place, the number seven (the end/the telos) is almost on the scene.

The Sixth Seal and Sixth Trumpet
John has proceeded rapid-fire through the first 6 seals.  He uses only one chapter (Revelation chapter 6) to go through all 6 seals.  Nevertheless, he does not discuss seal number 7 until he has sealed the foreheads of the 144,000  from the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelation chapter 7), presumably to protect them from the final disaster (the divorce of Israel).  Also, in chapter 7, he identifies a group that is called an “uncountable number.”  Then, he spreads out his description of the opening of the 7th seal through chapters 8, 9, 10, and 11.  The opening of the 7th seal in chapter 8 introduces 7 more half-steps—the blowing of 7 trumpets.  This use of the number six (in chapter 7) is similar to the positioning of an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, in which John introduces 7 more half-steps: the 7 thunders, but does not write the messages down; he eats the scroll that was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach (i.e., he must prophesy); he measures the temple; and the two Witnesses prophesy.  Since the seven trumpets are an expansion of the seventh seal, John and his audience members realize (at this point, chronologically) that they are on the last brink of the last brink of telos.  An interlude of eating a scroll and hearing seven thunders does not tell much about the temporal standpoint of John and his audience.  There are some clues in the measuring of the temple and in the prophecy of the two Witnesses, however.  If it is the Jerusalem "temple" which John is told to measure, the date should probably be placed before 70 AD, the year in which the temple was destroyed, so there would no longer be a temple to measure.

The Friday (6th Day) Interlude
If you find that there is an interlude of relative peace following the two World Wars, or following the end of the Cold War, or following the Islamic terror attacks around the world, or following the COVID19 pandemic and the subsequent reign of protests, looting, and chaos, don’t relax.  It may be just the interlude before last trumpet.  If you are thanking God that it is Friday, know that a cataclysm could occur on Saturday.

So, what was the purpose of the Friday interlude in Revelation?  In Revelation 11, the interlude between the 6th trumpet and the 7th trumpet was to provide a time to “measure the temple” in Jerusalem.  In the academic world, we know that “measurements” are evaluations. A common one is the Midterm Exam. We seek, as professors, to evaluate whether our students have mastered the important elements of our courses.  When God asked John to measure the Temple, he was asking him to evaluate whether the Priesthood and Temple Cult in Jerusalem had mastered the important elements of Judaism and Israel’s role with regard to God.  Did they repent, as God’s divorce scroll intended?  The answer was generally:  No.  The High Priestly party continued to resist God.  If you begin to experience an interlude, be careful!  You could be in the process of being measured by God.
In Revelation 8:1, the interlude is pictured as “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour,” before the 7 last trumpets were sounded.  In Revelation 7, the interlude is pictured as four angels standing at the four corners of the “land” of Israel, holding back the four winds, so that they should not blow on the land, while the 144,000 were being sealed.

The Importance of the Number 12

The 144,000 
Who are these 144,000 whom God is now protecting from the coming violent divorce, just as he protected the Israelites who had sealed their doorposts with the blood of a Lamb from the Tenth Plague in Egypt?  They are Jews who came from the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8).  So, it’s true, many Jews DID REPENT and were NOT DIVORCED by God.  Why were they not divorced?  Because, in contrast with the Harlot Babylon (the High Priests and their followers in Jerusalem), these were “virgins” (Rev. 14:4), not “defiled” among women as was the Harlot Babylon.  The term John uses—defiled/molunô—is a cognate of the word Daniel 1:8 uses—defiled/summolunô—when he suggests that Daniel and his three companions (later renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Aved Nego [Abednego]) who were captured by the Babylonians and commanded by Babylonian authorities to conform to Babylonian cultural and religious practices.  The heroes of Daniel are these young men who refused to be defiled; they resist conforming to the Babylonian cultural and religious practices.  The very names Shadrach, Meshach, and Aved Nego (Abednego) are the NEW names which their captors gave them, corresponding to Babylonian gods.  Their original (Hebrew) names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  Daniel himself was given a new Babylonian name by his captors, corresponding to Babylonian god Bel:  Belteshazzar.  Nevertheless, Daniel is the name of the book, not Belteshazzar.  Daniel refused to be “defiled” by the new Babylonian culture!  Daniel and his companions refused to eat Babylonian food (Dan. 1:8) on the grounds that they would be defiled (summolunô in LXX) by the act of eating the king's food.  This is possibly the verse that John had in mind when he spoke in 14:4 of the "virgins" who were not defiled.  John uses the cognate molunô (defiled).

The technical word for what Daniel called defiled (summolunô in LXX) is “syncretism.” It means that the Jews incorporated portions of the heathen culture into their own religion and culture.  Syncretistic tendencies have been identified by Revelation scholars as the porneia (fornication) of which John accuses Jezebel (Rev. 2:20-22) and Babylon (Rev. 14:8).  (Notice that the reference to Babylon as a harlot/pornē in Revelation 14:8 is just four verses removed from the reference to “women” and “virgins” in Revelation 14:4. This is significant.)  Perhaps, syncretistic tendencies are an important rationale in John's choosing "Babylon" as the name of the harlot.  John appears to be greatly influenced by the book of Daniel.  The heroes of Daniel are the young men who resist syncretism, once they have been carried away into "Babylon." 

Not only do the Babylonians attempt to assimilate the young men into their religion by renaming the young men with Babylonian names, often associated with Babylonian deities, Daniel is determined to resist the law outlawing prayer to his God, even if it means incarceration with lions.  The other three young heroes are determined to resist pagan worship, even if it means death in a fiery furnace.  These heroes are models of anti-syncretism.  Even John's literary style in many ways imitates this thoroughly anti-syncretistic book.

"Why," John's favorite Psalm (the 2nd) asks, "do the heathen [Gentiles/goiim] rage and the people [Jews] imagine vain things?"  "They [the Jews and the Gentiles] have plotted together against the Lord and His Messiah," it answers.  It was the syncretistic alliance between the High Priestly party of Judaism with the Gentile leader Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus that amounted to ultimate syncretism/harlotry/porneia.  All other nationalities are expected to oppose the Lord and His Messiah.  Therefore, syncretism does not matter for the heathen.  They are all united against the Lord and His Messiah, anyway.  Any alliance with these heathen is porneia, for John.  The dragon is not syncretistic, because the union of heathen gods, religions, and cultures is not porneia.  Only when Jews or Christians are united with heathen elements is there the type of syncretism which is equivalent to porneia.  The Old Testament harlot, Israel/Zion, is guilty of harlotry only to the extent she seduces and enters into alliances with her heathen neighbors.  The specific identity of the neighbor is insignificant--so long as it is heathen.  Therefore, John, in guarding against porneia, is interested only in this type of syncretism--Jewish (and Christian) alliances with heathen cultures.

Is There Syncretism in Christianity Today?
What about modern-day syncretism?  Have 21st Century Christians united with ancient Greco-Roman culture to form new cultural and religious values and practices?  Paul warned against uniting with Greco-Roman culture in I Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles.”  5:11: “I wrote to you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat.”  6:9-10: “Be not deceived:  neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”  Paul describes the Greco-Roman practices in Romans 1:26-27: ”26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

The issue of syncretism is not whether other cultures sin.  The issue of syncretism is whether Christians and Jews participate in the heathen cultural practices and/or support them in these practices.

Who Are the 144,000 Virgins?
I commented earlier that the reference to Babylon as a harlot/pornē in Revelation 14:8 is just four verses removed from the reference to “women” and “virgins” in Revelation 14:4: “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb (KJV). I noted that this is significant.  Why?  Because this Revelation 14:4 passage has been used to argue that Catholic priests should be celibate (=virgins).  This is a misunderstanding of the passage.  We have already pointed out that “defiled” refers to syncretism.  We have already shown the contrast between the harlot/pornē Babylon just 4 verses later and the 144,000 Israelites who are “virgins.” The final piece of this puzzle is the little word “with/meta.”  


Meta is the first part of the word metaphor.  John has been using a “womanmetaphor throughout Revelation.  Israel was the metaphorical wife of God.  Hence, Israel assumes the metaphorical Eve role.  Thus, she has an archetypal conflict with the serpent.  Just as Paul saw Israel/Jerusalem as two virwomen (in a positive sense and a negative sense) in Galatians 4:25-26, John seems to split the "woman" here into "virgin" and "harlot."  The woman who (in Eden) was torn between her two choices has, by the end of Revelation, completely split into two women--a good woman (or virgin) who yields her life in faithfulness to God, and a bad woman (or harlot) who perfects her unfaithfulness so fully that she commits porneia with the serpent's representative.

The task of the readers of John’s Revelation is to remain metaphorical “virgins,” as did the 144,000 Israelites—to not succumb to the syncretistic temptation of joining the heathen culture in their practices.  After all, if it is now Friday, the dreadful 7th day is just around the corner!

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