Revelation 13:16-18: Hard times.
“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666. NIV
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ So wrote Charles Dickens in ‘A tale of two cities’. When the antichrist comes, it will be the worst of times. But it will usher in the best of times. His reign will be short, but brutal, and Christians will presumably suffer economic privation because they will not accept the ‘’mark’’ of the beast (17). This happened to believers during the time of the Roman Empire, and it is set to happen again.Increasingly, back then, what, or whom, you worshipped, became the yardstick to determine who was socially acceptable and who wasn’t.
Just as God’s faithful people were sealed with God’s Name (7:2,3), so there will be this counterfeit sealing of the antichrist’s worshippers. Just exactly how this will be worked out remains to be seen, although it has been the source of much speculation. This is not always healthy.
It is helpful, though, to note that in the Ancient Greek and Hebrew languages there were no symbols for numbers. Thus every man’s name also had its own ‘number,’ made from the letters of the name. Some think ‘666’ was the number of the emperor Nero. Even if it was, it looks like it will be the number of one yet to come. I am quite drawn to the thought that the number 7, in Scripture, represents perfection. 6, then, falls short of perfection. We have here a trinity of imperfection you might say.
‘The number of perfection, not least for John, would be, we assume, 777…Nero, and the system he represented and embodied, was but a parody of the real thing, one short of the right number three times over. Jesus was the reality; Nero, just a dangerous, blasphemous copy.’ Tom Wright: ‘Revelation for Everyone’, p.122
It seems a fair conclusion to draw that what happened in Nero’s day, will occur again at the end of days, only more so. But when we are unclear about how prophecy is to be fulfilled, we can patiently wait, knowing that God will show us what we need to know when we need to know it. We just need to make sure that we stay awake.