In my previous posts, I have talked about the use of “gematria” in early Christianity – the interpretive technique that uses the numerical significance of letters of the alphabet to provide keys to the interpretation of words. It is almost a highly *creative* interpretation of words. E.g., I have shown how gematria gets used on the epistle of Barnabas to show that the sign of circumcision given to the father of the Jews, Abraham, was really a symbol for the cross of Jesus, and how it may be used in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew to stress that he really is the messiah, the son of David.
In the post that follows this one, I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666. What is this number referring to?
To make sense of this intriguing number, I need to return to an important topic over the course of the blog: the symbolism of the book of Revelation generally. My students usually think of the book of Revelation as an amazing one-of-a-kind book, unlike anything ever written, a blueprint for the future of the earth. What they learn in class is that in fact, it is not one-of-a-kind, but instead is like a number of ancient books, both Jewish and Christian, that are called “apocalypses.” The term “apocalypse,” in this context, refers to a literary genre. Like all genres, apocalypses had set literary features. The reason Revelation seems so weird and unusual to readers today is that they are not familiar with the genre. But there were numerous other books like the book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse of John), in which a human prophet was shown the heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.
For most of these apocalypses, the reality here on earth is that the world is controlled by forces of evil. The secrets of heaven are that the days are numbered for these forces. For the book of Revelation, God is soon going to intervene to destroy this wicked world and replace it with a perfect utopian kingdom in which there will be no more pain, misery, or suffering. But first, all hell has to break out.
The author was not writing for those…
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