A beast with the number 666. The mark of the beast is put on peoples’ hands and foreheads. The beast demands worship and controls commerce. What is this all about?
Revelation 13:1-2 describes a beast with ten horns which is like a leopard, a bear, and a lion. A student of Scripture cannot help but connect this with Daniel 7:1-8, where the same beasts are mentioned. In both cases the lists are in chronological order: Daniel’s list looks forward; Revelation’s list looks backward. Most Bible students, in both ancient and modern times, easily conclude that this beast in Revelation 13 represents the Roman Empire.
In the last two Insights (links below), we considered that the Greek word “Lateinos” seems to be the best name that fulfills 666. “Lateinos” agrees with and confirms the Roman connection in Revelation 13. “Latinus” (the Latin spelling) was the reputed founder of the Latin race; thus, we have the name of an individual man. “Latin” also refers to a people, a kingdom, individuals in that kingdom, and a language. Latin was the language of the city of Rome from its founding.
In the second century Irenaeus wrote: “The Latins are they who at present bear rule.” He equated those rulers with the fourth beast of Daniel and the ten-horned beasts of Revelation 13 and 17. That much was clear to him, but Irenaeus had no way of knowing that after the Latin Empire disintegrated into ten parts it would develop into the Latin Church. Latin is a most appropriate designation for this later development of the Roman power. For over 1,500 years Latin has been a distinguishing mark of the Catholic Church. “Roman” and “Latin” are two ways of identifying the same thing. “Roman” identifies the location; “Latin,” the language.
The Latin Church
When Imperial Rome fell in 476 A.D., the empire continued in the East with Constantinople as its capital. Rome was West and Latin; Constantinople was East and Greek. This division was mirrored in the churches. The eastern churches were “Orthodox” and Greek; the western churches, “Catholic” and Latin.
As the centuries went by, the peoples of Europe gradually changed from Latin to new languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and English. Despite these changes, Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church. Latin continued as the language of worship until the Second Vatican Council. Those of us born before the 1960s can remember when mass was said only in Latin.
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “Roman Catholicism” as: “The faith, worship, and practice of all Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome, whom they acknowledge as the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the Church founded by Christ.” This church is Roman because Rome rules supreme over it.
John Paul II was the first Polish pope ever. For 455 years preceding him, all the popes were Italian. The majority of popes throughout history have been Italian. In the three centuries from 752 to 1046 A.D., there were 57 popes. Not only were most of them Italian, seventy-two percent of them were born in Rome!
The Greek name “Lateinos” has a numerical value of 666. The empire that ruled when the church started was the Latin Empire. The church that gradually turned from the truth and became powerful upon the ashes of that empire was the Latin Church. Latin remains the Church’s official language. Rome continues to be its headquarters. It is the Roman Church; it is the Latin Church.
The papacy on the one hand and the secular arm on the other correspond very well to the second and first beasts of Revelation 13. The first beast, by connection to Daniel, surely represents the civil Roman power. The lamb-like beast, which “exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence” (13:12), surely corresponds to the papacy headquartered in Rome.
The Nature of the Mark
“He causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, and the free and the slave, to be given marks on their right hands, or on their foreheads” (Rev. 13:16). Everyone agrees that the beast is not a four-footed wild mammal but rather is symbolic of some satanic power. The number also must be symbolic because we are told to “calculate the number” (verse 18). Verse 17 says, “Unless he has that mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name.” Since the number is symbolic, the mark would also most likely be symbolic. There is no need to await people literally being stamped with 666.
Behind the forehead is the brain, the mind; the hand is the action member of the body. The symbolism seems to indicate the ability to think and the ability to do. It is a matter of belief and action, of faith and works. The mark is thus a representation of those who have yielded their minds and bodies to the service of the beast – of those who accept the teachings and obey the commands of the beast. They worship the beast.
This symbolism is very much like the symbolism used for the people of God. In Revelation 7:3, the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads, while in 22:4, God’s children have His name on their foreheads. As early as Deuteronomy 6:8, similar symbolism is recorded involving the forehead and the hand. Moses commanded the Israelites: “You shall bind them [God’s words] for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes.” Loving God involves the mind and the hand – what we believe and what we do. Likewise, worshiping the beast involves what one believes and what one does.
Some believers are not satisfied with this symbolic interpretation and look to a more literal fulfillment. For example, Catholics are literally “given marks… on their foreheads” several times during their life. Instead of immersion in water for baptism, water is poured on the forehead along with the sign of the cross. At confirmation, the forehead is anointed with oil in the form of a cross. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics have ashes placed on their foreheads.
No One Able to Buy or Sell
Of the lamb-like beast, Revelation says: “He causes all… to be given marks on their right hands, or on their foreheads; and that no one would be able to buy or to sell, unless he has that mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name” (13:16-17). One verse earlier, there is a far more drastic statement: the lamb-like beast will “cause as many as wouldn’t worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Worship the image or die.
The prophecy thus speaks of control over commerce, worship, and life. With all the context in mind, one is led to focus upon such historical realities as the Crusades and the Inquisition. The spirit and practice of the Inquisition spanned at least the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. During this time, the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the souls and bodies of men.
In those days, any view opposed to the teaching of Rome was treason, worthy of death. Of the economic repression, the Encyclopedia Britannica describes confiscation of property and says that “any contract entered into with a heretic was void in itself.” Of special note is Canon 27 of the Third Lateran Council held in 1179. It says in part that both the heretics and those who protect them are excommunicated; no one is to give them shelter, or allow them in his territory, and no one was “to do business with” those whom the Catholic Church considered heretics. What a precise fulfillment of the prophecy: “No one would be able to buy or to sell, unless he has that mark”! The fear of 666 is not something for the future; it is history. Give thanks to God that we do not live in those days!
We need to carefully compare Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 and 17 with the facts of history. History shows that the prophesied Roman enemy of God arrived on the scene centuries ago. Perhaps many miss this truth since today the beast does not wield nearly as much power as it did in centuries gone by. We need to dust off our history books and investigate what things were really like in the Middle (Dark) Ages.
Why Was Revelation Written?
Revelation was written to prepare the people of God for the spiritual battles in this life. It was written to give us God’s view of the religious situation throughout history. The beasts of Revelation 13 and 17 are a past and present reality. We need to come to grips with the historical past and the present religious reality, as unpleasant and unpopular as that might be. We need to look at the past and present through the eyes of the Lamb of God, the real author of Revelation. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it” (Rev. 1:3).