Revelation 13:18 MEANING

Revelation 13:18
(18) Here is wisdom . . .--Translate, Hither is wisdom. This most difficult verse is introduced by this word of preface. Wisdom--indeed, the highest wisdom--is needed for those who would understand it. Two or three points ought to be noticed. (1) The verse surely implies that the understanding of this name and number is attainable; it warns us that wisdom and understanding are needed, but it as certainly leads us to believe that to wisdom and understanding a solution of the problem will be granted. (2) There is a variation in the MSS. respecting the number. Some MSS. read six hundred and sixteen; but the probability is in favour of the reading six hundred and sixty-six. In an excursus (Excursus B) will be found a short account of the various interpretations which have been given. (3) The clause "It is the number of a man," has been rendered "For number is of man." The number, then, is the combination of three sixes; there is a wisdom and understanding which may grasp its import, and that import is to be guided by the principle that it is the number of a man, or that number is of man--is, that is to say, a method of computation which is used by man, and used by God in order to symbolise something made thus more intelligible to man. Is the wisdom which is to solve this, then, the mere cleverness which can guess an acrostic or an enigma? or is it rather that the true heavenly wisdom, which is moral rather than intellectual, is needed to unite itself with understanding to solve the problem? Surely the dignity of the Apocalypse is sacrificed when we search for its meaning like children playing with conundrums rather than like men being guided by its principles. There is a wisdom which brings its sevenfold beam of heavenly light to the children of men--a wisdom pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy, without partiality, without hypocrisy--and when this wisdom rests on men in the fulness of its seven-fold perfection they may read the number of the beast, and see that, with all its vaunted strength, it is but weak; with all its vaunted perfection, it is imperfect; that though it vaunts itself as rich, increased in goods and needing nothing, it still lacks that "one needful thing"--faith in God, or the love by which faith works. Without this it will never attain even the appearance of that perfect heavenly number symbolised by seven; it may multiply itself in earthly strength--the power of worldliness into the power of worldly wisdom, and this again by the power of a hundred-fold satanic subtlety--but it will remain still short of the tokens of the kingdom of God; and the number when read will be, however godlike it looks, but the number of a man after all.

I am disposed, therefore, to interpret this "six hundred and sixty-six" as a symbolical number, expressing all that it is possible for human wisdom, and human power, when directed by an evil spirit, to achieve, and indicating a state of marvellous earthly perfection, when the beast-power has reached its highest development, when culture, civilisation, art, song, science and reason have combined to produce an age so nearly resembling perfection--an age of gold, if not a golden age--that men will begin to say that faith in God is an impertinence, and the hope of a future life a libel upon the happiness of the present. Then will the world-power have reached the zenith of his influence; then will only a wisdom descended from above be able to detect the infinite difference between a world with faith and a world without faith, and the great gulf which the want of a little heaven-born love can fix between an age and an age.

At the same time, I feel bound to place here, as well as in the Excursus, two other views--one because it has recently been advanced with conspicuous ability; the other because it is perhaps the most generally adopted, as it is certainly the most ancient, view. Both these interpretations are based upon the theory that the letters of the name, when added together, according to their numerical value, will make up six hundred and sixty-six. The first of these alluded to finds the word in Nero Caesar. The second, and more ancient, finds it in Lateinos: this last was mentioned by Irenaeus. It will be seen that both these solutions are at one in making the number point to the great Roman Power; and this was the great embodiment of the terrible spirit of self-sufficiency, tyranny, and utter godless worldliness with which St. John was familiar. These interpretations are interpretations in example, and as such probably true; but they are only types, as it seems to me, of that fuller and deeper view which takes the number as symbolical of that power which, whether directed by Nero, or inspired by Emperor or Pope, or false teacher, or military tyrant, has dazzled mankind by a fictitious glory, a fictitious civilisation, and a fictitious religion, or deceived them by holding out the promise of splendour and happiness without the knowledge and obedience of God, without law, without faith, and therefore without true joy. (Comp. Note of the "Three Frogs," Revelation 16:13-14.)

Verse 18. - Here is wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man. The last clause has no article, ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστί. Compare the expression, "Here is the patience," etc. in ver. 10, where it relates to what precedes. Here it evidently refers to what follows. The form of expression is frequent in St. John's writings (cf. 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:16, 19; 1 John 4:10, etc.). The plain meaning seems to be that men may display their wisdom and understanding in discovering the meaning of the number of the beast. But the interpretation which Auberlen gives may be correct; viz. that as the first beast is met and vanquished by patience and faith, so this second beast is to be met by wisdom. This agrees with our interpretation of this second beast as symbolizing self deceit. St. John evidently intends that the meaning of the number should be known: "Let him that hath understanding count the number;" that is, "Let him that hath understanding discern in what sense the symbol is used." It is the "number of man;" that is, it describes symbolically something which is peculiarly a characteristic of mankind. Some writers have understood the words to mean, "the number refers to an individual man;" but the absence of the article militates against this view. Others explain, "It is a number which is to be reckoned according to man's mode of reckoning," just as in Revelation 21:17, "a measure of a man." If this be the meaning, it leaves open the question as to what St. John meant by "the usual mode of man's reckoning." His own use of numerals throughout the Apocalypse is, as we have repeatedly seen, symbolical of general qualities, and does not indicate either individuals or exact numbers. We are justified, therefore, according to this view, in interpreting the number symbolically (vide supra). And his number is Six hundred three score and six. The Revised Version is better, Six hundred and sixty and six; it preserves the similarity of form which is found in the Greek words, ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ, as found in A. In א we have ἑξακόσιαι, etc.; in P, Andreas, ἑξακόσια. The shortened form χξς' is found in B and most cursives. C, 11, and some manuscripts known to Irenaeus and Tichonius differ by reading ἑξακόσιαι δέκα ἕξ, "six hundred and sixteen," but this is probably incorrect. Commentators have universally attempted to discover the name denoted by this number, by attaching to each letter of the name (generally the Greek letters) its numerical value, the total of which should equal the number 666. To this method there are several objections. In the first place, St. John nowhere else makes such use of a number, though numbers form a prominent feature of the book. In the second place, the adoption of this method seems to have been a consequence upon the interpretation of the words, "number of a man," as meaning "a number to be calculated according to man's methods." But this may not be the meaning at all (vide supra); and, if it is, "man's method" would surely signify the symbolical method which St. John adopts all through the rest of the book, as being a language perfectly well understood by himself and his readers. And thirdly, this numerical method has proved entirely unsatisfactory in the hands of those who have hitherto adopted it. For a complete expose of the fallaciousness of such attempts, we may refer the reader to Dr. Salmon's 'Introduction to the New Testament,' p. 291, et seq. A commonly received interpretation makes the name of the beast to be Nero Caesar, written in the Hebrew characters נרון קסר; and as the name may be written Neron or Nero, the difference of the final n ( = 50) is thought to account for the discrepancy in the manuscript authorities. Dr. Salmon shows that Nero could not have been intended, because (1)the prophecy in that ease would have been immediately falsified;

(2) the solution would have been known to the early Christians; but it was not known, according to Irenaeus. Dr. Salmon then adds (p. 300), "Pages might be filled with a list of persons whose names have been proposed as solutions of the problem. Among the persons supposed to be indicated are the emperors Caligula, Trajan, and Julian the Apostate, Genseric the Vandal, Popes Benedict IX. and Paul V., Mahomet, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Beza, and Napoleon Bonaparte. There are three rules by the help of which I believe an ingenious man could find the required sum in any given name. First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling." The above objections also hold good very generally with regard to the suggestion of λατεινος, by which may be indicated the Roman or Latin power, either pagan or papal. But if we attempt to interpret this number in the same way as we have dealt with all other numbers in the Apocalypse, viz. by regarding them as symbolical of qualities, we shall be on surer ground. In the first place, the number six is typical of what is earthly as opposed to what is heavenly. As seven is the number of perfection, and is descriptive of universality, and is therefore the symbol pertaining to God, so six is a type of what falls short of the heavenly ideal. Cf. the six days of the creation; the six years of servitude (Exodus 21:2, etc.) and of work (Exodus 23:10). Again, the threefold employment of the number six, while emphasizing the fact of the number referring to what is essentially earthly, has a fulness, importance, and seeming completeness which makes it a type of that which appears to be perfect, but in reality falls short of perfection. It is, in short, symbolical of a deceit, a sham. It is therefore descriptive of the nature of the second beast; of that self deceit which causes men to accept the world as a substitute for God, or, at least, as not antagonistic to him; which enables men to thus quiet their consciences, while in reality becoming followers of the worldly power and subjects of Satan. That this is the meaning of the number six is recognized by some writers, though they do not here so apply it. In the 'Speaker's Commentary,' Introduction, § 11 (a), we find, "Six is the 'signature' of non-perfection;" and, "This number is also a symbol of human rule and power." Wordsworth says, "The numerical symbol of the beast, 666, indicates that he aims at and aspires to the attributes of Christ, and puts forth a semblance of Christian truth, but falls away from it in a triple decline and degeneracy."

13:11-18 Those who understand the first beast to denote a worldly power, take the second to be also a persecuting and assumed power, which acts under the disguise of religion, and of charity to the souls of men. It is a spiritual dominion, professing to be derived from Christ, and exercised at first in a gentle manner, but soon spake like the dragon. Its speech betrayed it; for it gives forth those false doctrines and cruel decrees, which show it to belong to the dragon, and not to the Lamb. It exercised all the power of the former beast. It pursues the same design, to draw men from worshipping the true God, and to subject the souls of men to the will and control of men. The second beast has carried on its designs, by methods whereby men should be deceived to worship the former beast, in the new shape, or likeness made for it. By lying wonders, pretended miracles. And by severe censures. Also by allowing none to enjoy natural or civil rights, who will not worship that beast which is the image of the pagan beast. It is made a qualification for buying and selling, as well as for places of profit and trust, that they oblige themselves to use all their interest, power, and endeavour, to forward the dominion of the beast, which is meant by receiving his mark. To make an image to the beast, whose deadly wound was healed, would be to give form and power to his worship, or to require obedience to his commands. To worship the image of the beast, implies being subject to those things which stamp the character of the picture, and render it the image of the beast. The number of the beast is given, so as to show the infinite wisdom of God, and to exercise the wisdom of men. The number is the number of a man, computed after the usual manner among men, and it is 666. What or who is intended by this, remains a mystery. To almost every religious dispute this number has yet been applied, and it may reasonably be doubted whether the meaning has yet been discovered. But he who has wisdom and understanding, will see that all the enemies of God are numbered and marked out for destruction; that the term of their power will soon expire, and that all nations shall submit to our King of righteousness and peace.Here is wisdom,.... Not only in the above description of the two beasts, but in what follows as to the number of the beast, these two now coalescing in one, and have one and the same number; and to wrap it up, and conceal it in such an obscure manner, shows great wisdom in God, as it requires much in men, and serves greatly to exercise all his intellectual powers to find it out:

let him that hath understanding count the number of, the beast; whoever has skill numbers, let him make use of it, that he may know the name and nature of the antichristian beast, and the numerical letters of his name, or the number of him, and of the time when he arose, and when he will expire:

for it is the number of a man: either a number that may be reckoned by man, or which is in common use among men; see Revelation 21:17; or that which is contained in the name of a man:

and his number is six hundred threescore and six: which some think refers to the time of the rise of antichrist, in the year 666; but that seems rather to be in the year 859, when the bishop of Rome obtained the name of universal bishop; others have been of opinion that it refers to the expiration of the beast, which they thought would have been in the year 1666, the number of the thousand being dropped, as it is in our common way of speaking; as when we say the Spanish invasion was in 88, meaning 1588, and the civil wars began in 41, that is, 1641; but time has shown that this was a mistaken sense; the more prevailing opinion is that of Mr. Potter, who has wrote a peculiar and learned treatise upon this passage, who makes the counting of this number to be no other than the extracting of its root, which is the number 25, which when multiplied into itself, and the fraction in working it 41 is added, makes up the square number 666; and now 25 being added to A. D. 33, make 58, which was the time of the beast's conception, to which if 666 is added, it brings us to the year 724, when he arrived to his age of manhood, and when the war about the worshipping of images broke out: but others think that the numeral letters in some man's name which amount to this date, and which agrees with antichrist, are intended; and here various conjectures are made; some have observed, that in genealogical arithmetic the number of Adonikam's posterity is 666, Ezra 2:13; whose name signifies "a lord rising up", or "risen"; and suits very well with antichrist, who is risen up, and assumes a lordly domination over the kings of the earth; and it is further observed, that the Hebrew word which signifies "Roman", and, having the word beast or kingdom joined to it, designs the Roman beast, or kingdom, consists of numeral letters, which make up this sum; and so the Hebrew word "Sethut", which is the name of a man, Numbers 13:13, and signifies "mystery", in its numeral letters comes just to this number, and one of the names of the whore of Babylon is "mystery", Revelation 17:5; but the name "Lateinos" bids as fair as any, which is mentioned by so ancient a writer as Irenaeus, who was a hearer of Polycarp, a disciple of John, the writer of this book; now the numeral value of the letters of this word makes up exactly 666, thus; 30. 1. 300. 5. 10. 50. 70. 200. in all 666; and it is well known that the church of Rome is called the Latin Church and the pope of Rome the head of the Latin church, and his seat is in the Latin empire, and the service of the beast is in the Latin tongue, and the Bible is kept in that language, from the reading of the common people: it has been observed that the numeral letters in Ludovicus, or Lewis, which is a common name of the French kings, and is the name of the present French king, make up this same number; and may denote the destruction of antichrist, which will quickly follow the downfall of the kingdom of France, under a king of this name; and the rather, since this was the last of the ten kingdoms that was set up, and in which the primitive beast subsists, and the only one that has not yet been conquered, or in which a revolution has not been; and since this is the tenth part of the city which shall fall a little before the third woe comes on: and that it may fall under Ludovicus, or Lewis, the present French king (a), may be hoped for, and is desirable.

(a) The reader will bear in mind that the original edition of this work was published in the year 1747. --Ed.

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