Wednesday, June 7, 2006

666 & the Omen

I remember one time when I was growing up, a friend of mine was about to get back $6.66 in change and decided he needed to buy something more/less to remedy the amount of money he was dealing with. 666. "It's evil!" He avoided it like the plagues (pun intended).

Ever wonder what the big deal is about 666? (And why the marketing "geniuses" decided to release "The Omen" on 06/06/06?

It comes from Revelation 13:18. (Revelation is the last book in the Bible. It is apocalyptic literature, [revealing things that are hidden], often dealing with events in the future. However, to be fair, much of what the first hearers understood has little or nothing to how you or I would read it today.)

Revelation is also very image-oriented. You see beasts, a dragon, a Lamb, angels, creatures of mixed animals/characteristics. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. All you have to do is hear the description of them and you know who's who.

"The power of a book can be seen in what it does to people, and few books have affected people more dramatically than Revelation. In positive terms, Revelation has inspired countless sermons, theological treatises, artistic works, and musical compositions ranging from the triumphant 'Hallelujah Chorus' (Handel's Messiah) to the gentle strains of 'Jerusalem My Happy Home.'

"On the negative side, it has fed social upheaval and sectarian religious movements that have often foundered and misguided attempts to discern the date of Christ's return." (Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things)

In a NUTshell, many of the nuttiest people who call themselves "Christian" have nested there. Many have made this the playground for boredom or become addicted to "figuring out who the antichrist is". The list throughout Christian history is both scary and hilarious. (God help us if we'd actually ever live like Christ. We'd rather figure out the day he's coming back!)

Within this maze and amazing book appears the number 666. It comes at the end of a description of two beasts. The first beast in 13:1 is a "beast coming out of the sea." It had been struck with a fatal wound but came back to life. (Some similarity with Christ.) This beast slanders God and makes war against good, Godly people, (differentiated from Christ, who never was violent against any person.)

The second beast comes "out of the earth" (13:11). He looks somewhat like a lamb, (a description of Christ), but talks like a dragon (a description of evil, and personified by the devil). The second beast encourages and causes people to worship the first beast, (a form of idolatry [worshiping anything or anyone other than the One, True, Living God]). The 2nd beast forces people to receive a mark or sign of allegiance to the 1st beast, so that people are unable to buy or sell without it.

Revelation 13:18 reads: This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

For readers in that time, there are several possibilities of the meaning 0f 666. One possibility is that 6 is just short of 7. Seven is often used as a divine, complete, perfect number. Seven days in a week. Seven spirits surround the throne of God (in Revelation). "6" might be symbolic for a person attempting to act like God; the number for idolatry and usurping the place of The Almighty.

Another possibility might be the use of gematria. Letters were often assigned number values, so that a=1, b=2, etc. This was a commonly accepted way of connecting letters and numbers. The story is told of a street artist in Pompeii who scribbled graffiti, "I love her whose number is 545."

This is all well and good, if you know who the person is speaking about. (For instance, "Neron Kaiser" (Hebrew for Nero Caesar) would add up to 666. The writer could have been telling us "It's Nero all over again!!"

However, if we don't know who 666 is, we are left to speculate...which the church has done ad nauseum...with a wildly artistic flare. (For instance, Hitler, Ronald Reagan Wilson, or "computer" can, and probably have, been labeled as such, using various forms of gematria. [So, apparently, can CUTE PURPLE DINOSAUR, as in Barney!] (Koester 133).

So, suffice it to say we shouldn't be freaking out everytime we come across three 6's aligned neatly in a row. We don't need to worry about getting $6.66 back in change at the store, or being the 666th person into a Detroit Tigers' game.

However, I'm not naming my next kid Damien, nor am I going to waste the $8 to see the movie.

Grace & peace.

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