Link: STLtoday - News - Religion.
The above link is to a pretty good article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on the meaning of the number 666. With today being 06/06/06 and people getting all kinds of heebie-jeebies about it, it's good to see an article in a major newspaper offering a less-sensationalistic look at 666. The article quotes a number of New Testament scholars, including Dan Doriani, the late Raymond Brown and others and shows that the number may not be what we are commonly led to believe. The article points out that one online gambling site has given 10-1 odds that the world will end today, but also offers some sane thoughts on the matter.
Some of these saner thoughts are:
In his "Introduction to the New Testament," the late Rev. Raymond E. Brown wrote that the beast from the land, in John's vision "is emperor worship ... The wound of the beast ... may be Nero's suicide; the survival, Domitian's reign."
John writes that the beast places a mark on the right hand or forehead of all but the servants of God. It is that mark - 666 - that has so intrigued people through the centuries. Most scholars now agree that what John was up to was gematria, or Hebrew numerology.
"Back then there were no separate symbols for numerical values," said the Rev. Louis A. Brighton, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Concordia Seminary. So letters did double-duty as numbers. The Hebrew consonants that spelled out "Nero Caesar," in the Greek form of the name, add up to 666. (Transliterated into the Latin form of Nero Caesar, the numbers add up to 616.)
In the first verse, John introduces his book as an apokalypsis, or revelation, a term that has come to define the literary genre - a narrative, told in the first person, that includes visions of the future. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "The Revelation to John" or "The Apocalypse of John."
Brown said apocalypses are most often addressed to people living in times of suffering and persecution - times so desperate they are seen as the embodiment of supreme evil.
He said the modern misuse of Revelation "is based on the misunderstanding that the message is primarily addressed to Christians of our time if they can decode the author's symbols. Rather, the meaning of the symbolism must be judged from the viewpoint of the 1st-century (churches)" which received John's letters.
For me, if today were the day that this world were to pass away and the New Heavens and New Earth were to be ushered in, I would love it - I'm ready. But all of the sensationalist eschatology we are fed doesn't help us in our task of occupying till Jesus comes here on the earth. And I'm grateful that the St. Louis Post Dispatch is giving print space to some of the saner eschatological views.