Eschatology fascinates the church. People love to hear about the book of Revelation (although many do not read it very carefully and I was one of them!). Popular books, television shows, and film incorporate many aspects of biblical theology concerning the Judgment to come at the hands of Jesus Christ, and all of these venues usually have no idea what they are talking about. They are not concerned with growing the faith and understanding of the Bible, but rather they are concerned with the growing of their bank account.
If a book can be sold saying that President So-and-So is the Anti-Christ, or the Sea Beast is Mr. Dictator from the Middle-East, or we will all one day have bar-codes tattooed on our necks, or foreheads, or wherever, then secularists know they can make money from swindling unsuspecting, naive Christians into purchasing a languid interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is not concerned with a mythological Rapture, it is not concerned with the future persecution of the church that is said to get worse and worse, it is not concerned with a singular anti-Christ that rules the nations. It is not concerned with Apache helicopters or Henry Kissinger. this is all hogwash.
The Book of Revelation is concerned with the victory of Christ and the triumph of the church, not in a speculative future Millennium, but actually in history from the Ascension of Christ to the Last Day.
All that to say, don’t let yahoos interpret the Word of God for you. Don’t read Revelation with the current newspaper at hand. Read Revelation the way it is meant to be read, in context. The book is written to the church in the first century, so read it like it is. It is also written with the assumption that its readers will know the 65 books that came before, most especially the Five Books of Moses. If you don’t know your Bible, you won’t understand Revelation. It is that simple.
Now, all of that to say, let the Bible interpret the Bible. There is, in American church history, much debate about the meaning of 666 in Revelation 13:18. And there has been a recent post over at The Gospel Coalition by Dr. G.K. Beale on the meaning of this verse and you can read him here.
His argument, basically, is that 666 is a parody of 777 (which he argues is the number for the completeness of the Trinity, however this number only shows up in relation to a human, Genesis 5:31). Dr. Beale’s point is that 666 shows the complete sinfulness and incompleteness of the beast and its followers. This may have some credibility to it, and I would not dismiss out of hand completely. There certainly is truth in that rebellious leaders, kings, chiefs, princes, etc. parade themselves as saviors, however they are always false saviors. This is true.
However, as I said above, the Bible should interpret the Bible. So, what does the Bible have to say about the number 666? The Bible has the number 666 appear in reference to a rebellious King in 1 Kings 10:14 and its parallel account in 2 Chronicles 9:13. Solomon, a great king at first, rebelled against the Law of God by breaking the three commandments for kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. Solomon breaks all three commands from God and it is exemplified in his acquisition of 666 talents of gold, the glory of the earth. This is a significant number, about 50,000 pounds of gold a year. 666 is the number associated with apostate Jewish leaders.
John, in Revelation, is associating the beast with the fall of the great King Solomon into sin which brought about disaster for the nation of Israel. Who was the king in Jesus’s day that led Israel into disaster with the Roman Empire? Herod. Herod is the new Solomon, a beast, that brings destruction to Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus, on the other hand, is the new Solomon (Matthew 12:42) which leads the city of God, the new Israel (Galatians 6:16), the church into victory absorbing the nations.