Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon from Sunday: 1,000 Years

1,000 Years
            I have been so thankful for the energy that has surrounded this series on the book of Revelation.  If you have another idea or book of the Bible that you are interested in, please let me know because chances are if you are interested in it others probably are as well.  We have two more weeks after this of being in the book of Revelation…next Sunday we will talk about the 144,000 thousand and then on the 29th James-Michael Smith is slated to preach on new creation from Revelation 21 and/or 22.
             But today we are focusing in on the number 1,000.  The theological idea is called the millennium because the word Millennium means 1,000 years.  What you believe about the millennium will determine a lot of your other belief’s about the end of the world.  About how it all happens.
            Do you remember the Hoopla surrounding the date change from 1999 to the year 2000.  Let me take you back with a 1 minute video.  

You survived Y2K!  I will not ask how many of you went out and stocked up on water and food and other provisions before the date change.  It was a big deal wasn’t…however, like so many predictions about the end of the world, those who thought that 2,000 meant the end of the world were proven wrong.
            When the Calendar went from the year 999 to the year 1,000 it was a big deal as well.  Especially for Christians who believed in the literal millennium.  Just try to imagine believing that at the end of 1,000 years after Christ was on this earth that the end of world would begin.  I think it was probably even more scary or exciting (depending what you believe) when that happened over 1,000 years then it was when we hit the year 2,000.
            Anyway, there’s all kinds of belief’s about this millennium so lets get into the text and then I want to step back and share with you the three dominant views of the millennium and then we will step right back into the text.  Our scripture is Revelation 20:1-8.  READ.
So several times in verses 1-8 we see this idea of 1,000 years emerge.  There are three main views that have been popular over the years and so I want share those three views with you and then tell where I land and why I land there.

            The Pre-millennial view is the belief that Jesus will return to earth before the millennium starts.  Before Jesus ushers in 1,000 years of peace on earth he will return to earth.  Pre-mill, ”pre”- means before, so before the millennium Jesus will have returned to earth.
            You see on the chart two different types of pre-millennialism based on what that person believes about the tribulation.  There’s pre-mill post-tribulation and pre-mill pre-tribulation and it’s not on the chart but there’s also pre-mill, mid-tribulation.  Now, for our purposes and for the text we are looking at, the main belief is that there is a literal 1,000 year period that happens when Jesus comes back. 
            The Left Behind people believe this perspective.  This idea is the John Nelson Darby idea I shared last week and C.I. Scofield made it popular here in the US and then of course Tim Lahaye and the Left Behind people continue to make it popular.  John Hagee is a premill guy if you like him.  This is probably the most popular belief in the U.S. right now.
            The second view is the post-millennial view.  The post-mill view people say that Jesus will return after the 1,000 year period of peace on earth.  The word “post” means after so it’s post millennial.  I really hope you don’t think I’m insulting intelligence, this stuff just gets confusing.  The post-mill view says that the 1,000 year reign on earth will be established by the advancement of the church.  That when we have brought the gospel to every single people group and once we have established the church on earth which the post-mill people say is possible and even not just possible but that it will happen eventually…then Jesus will come back after that. 
            This view isn’t as popular today as it was at one time in the U.S.  This view was popular here in the U.S. by many pastors and scholars including John Owen in the 17th century, John Edwards in the 18th century and Charles Hodge in the 19th century.  There was a time in the U.S. when the church was really booming.  It was growing exponentially.  And the pastors that saw this thought if this continues then we will be able to usher an age of peace on earth where all people have accepted Christ as Lord.  Now, post-millennialism is not as popular today because things like the Revolutionary War, WW1 and WW2 and the Civil war and many other wars happened.  And once those things happened and as wars continue to happen post-millennialism is increasingly not as popular.
The third view of the millennium is the amillennial view.  This view states that the book of Revelation is written in a way that we aren’t to take everything in it literally.  Therefore, 1,000 years is not literal.  It is symbolic.  It’s a metaphor for a very long time.  It’s a symbolic way of speaking about the time we are living in now.  It started when Jesus rose from the dead and it will end when Jesus comes again to establish the new heavens and new earth.
            The idea is that once Jesus rose from the dead, he started the ushering in of the Kingdom of God on earth.  And since God ushered in the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth by raising Christ from the dead we are now living in the time of the millennium and it is not a literal 1,000 years but it is a large amount of time when Jesus does finally return.  The 1,000 years is a way to convey to the readers of the book of Revelation that the time Jesus ushers in his kingdom, his presence on this earth will be a long period of time…not literally 1,000 years.  Jesus doesn’t literally reign during a time of peace on earth…he reigns in the hearts of people who have given their lives to him.  Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley were all amellinial in their beliefs.  One of the few things that John Wesley and John Calvin had in common.  That’s why we as a Methodist church do not have an view on end times other than Christ is going to return triumphantly and victoriously. 
            And so, it all depends on how you read and interpret and understand the book of Revelation and end times theology as to how you understand what John is talking about when it comes to this idea of the millennium.
            Now let me share with you which one I believe and why I believe it and we will go from there.  Most of you at this point can probably guess which one I subscribe.  I believe that the most biblical perspective on the millennium is the Amillennial view that states this is not a literal 1,000 year period of time but that we are living in that time now and when Jesus returns it will be for a second and final time when he ushers in the fulfillment of the kingdom of God on earth, claims those who belong to him as His own and gives them a place in eternity in the new heavens and new earth. 
            Let me give you some reasons why I am amellinnial. 
            First, Mark 1:15 and Matthew 4:17 – Jesus’ purpose for coming was this: repent for the kingdom of God has come near, or is at hand.  Depending on how you translate it.  Now, whether the kingdom of God is here or near, the call to repentance to me means that Christ has started something new on this earth.  And if he has started something new on earth couldn’t that be this period of time that John is talking about.
            Second, when I think about the idea of covenant and the difference between the covenant of the jewish which was based on the law and the covenant of Jesus which is based on grace, I can’t help but think God is already doing a new work on this earth through the power of grace and how really maybe the reign of God before the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is grace.  Hebrews 9:15.
            Third, lets look at the text itself from Revelation 20.  Lets start by remember that John wrote the book of Revelation in the form of apocalyptic literature.  What that means is that most of the book after chapter 3 cannot be taken literally.  And hopefully you’ve seen that the numbers like 666 and the number 7 mean more than just a number.  That tells me when John’s uses this number 1,000 alongside of images like a dragon and an abyss and great chains and thrones that just as those things are not literal this number is not literal.
            Fourth, the number 10 in Hebrew culture is symbolic of perfection.  The 10 commandments, the 10 plagues on Egypt, we see the term “God said” 10 times in Genesis 1.  10x10x10 = 1,000.  What John is doing is elevating the reign of Christ by using a numeric value that symbolizes greatness and perfection and God’s very will.  This numner in Hebrew is a lot like us saying, “there must’ve been a million there.”  The way we use a million for a large, not literally a million, would’ve been the way Hebrew used the term 1,000 in Hebrew.  In the Old Testament we see this idea, God owns cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10)…it’s a way to say all cattle.  God loves to 1,000 generations (Deut. 7)…it’s a way to say God’s love never stops.  So this number has meaning behind it other than a literal number of 1,000.  It is a metaphor…it is symbolic.
            I believe that the millennium is the reign of Christ on earth through His believers.  Which means we are responsible for expanding and enhancing the kingdom of God as his missionaries on this earth.  If Christ reigns within us we will do as Christ did on this earth.  What did Jesus, he led people to the truth about His father and about himself.  When is the last you led someone to the truth of who Christ is, because that’s what we are called to do.  It is not an option.  Jesus didn’t say “go and make disciples of all nations if you want to.”  Jesus didn’t say “go and make disciples of all nations when it’s convenient for you.”  Jesus didn’t say “go and make disciples of all nations if you are an ordained pastor.”  No, Jesus said to those who believed in him, “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the father and son and Holy Spirit.”  Immersing in the truth of who God is, what Jesus has done and what it means that the Spirit is the very presence of God Himself on this earth and inside of those who believe in Him.
            Here’s what I’m telling you, regardless of what you believe about the end times, our calling as Christians is to lead people to Christ.  Period.
            Do you know why ordinary, common people like me and you can lead people to Christ, because Satan is already defeated.  Oh, I know we struggle with temptation, we have to deal with the grief when a loved one dies, we don’t understand the unbiased nature of often fatal and torturous disease like cancer and Alzheimer’s…Satan is still at work on this earth, no doubt.  But he is defeated.  It’s kind of like the Panthers before every season…might as well say, they aren’t going to win the superbowl…and I’m panthers fan. 
            Satan is done for we know how it ends.  The resurrection power of Jesus unleashed the Holy Spirit on this earth which means we are overcomers.  We are endurers.  We are the victorious ones.  We have power to do the biggest thing in someone’s life that anyone can do, which is to lead them to an eternal relationship with Jesus.  Not because we deserve it but by the grace and love of God in Christ because we don’t deserve it.
            Let me show you something about God’s grace.  Look at what happens after this.  I’m going to pick up at verse 10 and continue through the rest of the chapter to verse 15.  READ.
There are two books.  And these are referenced earlier in the book of Revelation.  There’s the book of deeds and there’s the book of life.  Now, I don’t believe literally that God holds two books in his hands…but I do believe the truth of the message behind the image of these two books.
            Verse 12 and in case you didn’t catch it the first time, verse 13 “The dead were judged according to what they had done.”  In the end everyone is judged according what they have done.  Scary isn’t it.  You are judged on what you have done both the good things and the bad things.  At this point you have to ask yourself, how do I stack up?  What side of the page am I on in the book of deeds…have I done more good than bad?
            If you are someone who loves Jesus and have been made new by His Holy Spirit in your life and if you are redeemed and forgiven and claimed by him…guess what…the book of deeds does not pertain to you.  Remember, there’s two books.  There’s also the book of life.  Verse 15 “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”  In verse 12 the book of life was opened.  So by implication if your name is found in the book of life, the lamb’s book of life it is called elsewhere in Revelation, if your name is there you are not judged by your deeds, you are covered by the blood of Christ and His grace is sufficient to save you from hell and bring you into the glorious presence of Christ for all eternity.  That’s the grace of God at work. 

            All of our names our found in the book of deeds, it’s there to show us we all fall short.  The book of life is there to display the glory and power and grace and justice and goodness of God.  It’s interesting to talk about the millennium and how it is all going to happen…but when the end comes, whether my personal end or the end of the earth, I want to be one those found in the book of life.  What about you?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Febreeze Faith (A Poem)

You remove the stench but the grime stays
    You remove the smell but the dirt remains
You try to contain what you can’t contain
                It’s insanity over and over again
It doesn’t work because it can’t
                Your independence is driving you mad
The stench will return and you’ll do it again
                Because you haven’t given in
To the only one who can remove
                The stench and the stain caused by you
You’ve cleaned it up a thousand times
                Only to find it there everytime 
Give it to Christ he’ll make it new
                Give it to Jesus watch what he can do
His blood is a stain remover and repellent
                His grace takes the smell and makes it fragrant
It’s not what you can do to make yourself right
                It’s what he did for you so you don’t have to fight
Just give yourself to truth, love and grace
    He will set you free and give you a place

Free from the stench and dirt and grime
    A place to call home for eternity’s time

        Shed the guilt from trying and effort
                Make him the stain remover and it’ll be forever


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sermon from Sunday: 0 Raptures

0 Raptures (Really?)
            We are continuing our series on Numbers in the book of Revelation.  I have a feeling that the number we are looking at this Sunday is perhaps the most surprising number.  That number being 0…as in 0 raptures.  Make no mistake I believe in the glorious and triumphant return of Jesus Christ to claim his people and make all things new…but I do not believe that there is enough evidence in the Bible of a rapture of Christians out of this earth when Christ does return.  Now with that said, I have brothers and sisters in Christ, I have friends who believe the rapture.  So what I am sharing with you this morning is what I believe is the best way to understand this from a biblical perspective.  However, I do not think my colleagues in ministry and friends are unstudied or unbiblical or less of a Christian because they disagree with me…I just think they are wrong…that’s all...and they think I’m wrong.  And if you can’t respectfully disagree about something…if you can’t agree to disagree and still love the person and appreciate them, then you need to take a deep long look at your heart and your capacity to love someone.  We can disagree on this and still be all about Jesus Christ and his kingdom on this earth.
            I grew up in the Methodist church and I do not remember hearing teaching and preaching on the end times and on the rapture and on the tribulation.  It’s just not a big deal in the Methodist church.  Were any of you raised in the Baptist church?  In most Baptist churches end times is a big deal and it’s preached and taught and talked about.  I was surprised when I got to seminary and discovered that end times theology is a big deal to people.
            So let me just back up a little bit share with you the predominant views of how the end of the world is going to happen.  What I’m going to show is three main views of people who believe in the rapture.  Here’s a chart: Pic.  

Now to understand the chart you have to know what the tribulation is.  In the book of Revelation the tribulation period is thought to be a period of seven years where God unleashes hell on earth to judge those who are not Christians.  During this seven years 75% of the people on earth are destroyed.  This is the four horseman and the beasts and plagues and moon turning blood red and the sun being blotted out type of stuff.  The people who take this stuff literally believe this time to be the tribulation and the rapture will happen either before during or after the tribulation.
            The most common view is this first one in the chart…where Christians are raptured to heaven then there is seven years of tribulation, then Christ will come again and there will be 1,000 years where Christ reigns on earth to get those who are still living for that amount of time to believe in him (this is called the millennium).
            Then there’s midtribulation where the rapture happens in the middle of the tribulation period, then there’s also postribulation which says the rapture happens after the tribulation period. 
            This can get really confusing so don’t worry about memorizing this chart.  I’m just sharing this with you so that you know that even among people who believe in the rapture there are different understandings of exactly how it’s all going to go down.  Let me back up and give you some history about where the idea of the rapture came from then we will dig into the Bible itself.
In the mid 1800’s a british born pastor by the name of John Nelson Darby discovered a new way to understand the Bible called Dispensationalism.  Within this new way of understanding the Bible Darby also saw a literal rapture and a literal period of tribulation and literal millennium of Christ reigning on earth.  He was the first one to see this in the Bible.  So for the first one thousand 800 and fourty years of the church existing on earth there was no writings or discovery or theology or belief about a rapture from the Bible.  So all the people that studied and taught and preached the Bible (up until John Nelson Darby) did not see this idea of a rapture in the Bible.  None of the early church Fathers who have been so influential in the theology that we believe today, not one of them taught or wrote about a rapture.  The idea that there is a rapture is only about 170 years old, compared that to theology that’s over 1800 years old…that fact alone should make us at least skeptical of rapture theology.  Because when it comes to what we believe about the Bible, new is not always better.  So how did it become so popular?
Rapture theology became popular in the United States first through a pastor named C.I. Scofield.  Some of you may have a Scofield study Bible which taught dispensational theology and within that system taught the rapture.  Then Charles Ryrie came out with a study bible that was also supportive of rapture theology.  In 1969 Hal Lindsay wrote a book called The Late Great Planet Earth…some of you may remember that.  Then in most recent times through writers Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins we see this theology in the Left Behind Series which many of you have read the books or seen the movies.  And they are actually in process of making the movies again with Nicholas Cage.  The Left Behind series is Christian fiction…please do me a favor as someone who takes the bible seriously and do not base your beliefs on Christian fiction.  If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion of a rapture that’s fine, but don’t use this popular Christian fiction as your basis.
Here’s what I’m telling you, for over 1,800 years rapture theology was not known or heard of in the Christian church.  It wasn’t taught or preached by Catholics or Protestants, by Calvinists or Armenians.  Iranaeus, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley…none of them were even familiar with rapture theology much less believed it because they didn’t see it in the Bible.  It wasn’t until someone came up with this new system of reading the Bible that we see the rapture being taught.  Do you know why no one saw the rapture in the Bible until this one man saw it around 1840?…because it’s not there. 
Lets get into the Word.  The first text today is from Revelation 4 verse 1.  This is the very next thing that happens after the specific message to each of the seven churches in Asia Minor.  The last church to receive a message is Laodicea and then we have this.  READ.
People who believe the rapture say that John is representative of the church as a whole.  So that when the voice John hears says “Come up here.”…that the voice is calling the entire church to come up there and that this is the part in the book of Revelation where the rapture takes place.  So that most of the rest of the letter is when the church, the body Christ, Christians are not present on earth and therefore those chapters are describing the period of time called the tribulation.  So for chapters 4 through chapter 19 in Revelation Christians are not on the earth, that’s the belief.
I believe this way of reading the book of Revelation is isogesis at it’s finest.  Isogesis is a fancy way (every now and then I have to throw out these big words so you know I went to seminary) of taking an idea that we already believe and putting it in the text.  I believe the Bible supports slavery…so I take that idea and put it in the Bible and when I do that I can make a case.  I believe the Bible supports polygamy (having more than one spouse) so I take that idea to the Bible and make my case.  I believe the rapture is isogesis.  We take that we believe the rapture and then look for it in the Bible.
What we want to do is exegesis.  Exegesis is the process of extracting the idea already there in the text.  So when we do exegesis on Revelation 4:1 here’s what happens.  We know that this is a letter to seven churches who are undergoing sever persecution and need a message of hope.  So John is writing to them (and by extension to Christians) with this message that Jesus and those who belong to him win in the end.  John is writing the letter.  There is no indication when you do exegesis of the text that John has more than just himself in mind when he is taken up to heaven in this vision.  This is a vision for him…the message is for the rest of the church, but the experience is for him to experience and then record for Christians everywhere.  There is no indication that this is the entire church taken up to heaven.  The earliest church fathers who studied the Bible didn’t see and most rapture theologians and scholars…the ones that take it seriously enough to do exegesis…most of them will say that this is not a text that teaches the rapture but that you can see the rapture in it.  So their own proponents of rapture theology take the one text in Revelation that can be considered about the rapture and say it’s probably not about the rapture.
This is the only evidence in the entire book of Revelation that we have of any sort of rapture and it is suspect by it’s own proponents.  If rapture is such a big deal to God why didn’t he make it more clear in the one book of the Bible that is about how the world is going to end?  There are only a handful of texts that we can even say might be the rapture.  That’s it.  This is not a theme that is throughout the entire Bible. 
Now, lets look at the text that spells out what people think is the rapture more than any other text.  It’s 1st Thessalonians 413-18.  Read. 
            So it appears that when Jesus returns he will come down from heaven with a loud command – there is not a secret rapture – even if you believe in a rapture…it’s not going to be secret.  There’s a loud command and the voice of the archangel and trumpets.  The Left Behind Series presents a secret rapture…even if I believed in the rapture and used this verse I could not come to the belief that it is a secret rapture.  Do you think a loud command and the archangels voice and the trumpets of heaven are loud…this sounds like a public announcement.
            Keep that in mind.  So when Jesus returns it’s announced that he has returned and the dead in Christ will rise first (this Christians who have died)…this is the resurrection of beleivers that we see throughout scripture…we know that when we are raised up that we will be raised in new life with glorified bodies…this is the resurrection of those who believe in Christ but have died.  After that, Christians on earth will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  “And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
            We are caught up in the clouds, we meet the Lord in the air, and then we are with him forever.  Where are we with him forever?  It doesn’t say does it.  I believe this text is talking specifically about the resurrection of believers that we see elsewhere in scripture…especially 1 Corinthians 15.  It’s an awesome read. 
N.T. Wright is one of the most prominent New Testament scholars in the world right now.  Wright rightly states that Paul is describing the resurrection using imagery that has been falsely interpreted.  Remember Paul was a Jew before his conversion to Christianity.  He wasn’t just any Jew, he was a highly educated Jew.  Three things about this text that Paul has in mind. 
            First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah.  The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.
            Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory.  This metaphor, applied to Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution. 

Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province.  The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city.  Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world.  Remember how I said it sounds like a public announcement…just like the announcement of a king coming to visit a city…the city officials would want everyone in the city to know about the visit and the leaders would go out and meet the king outside the city wall and escort that king back inside as a way to host the king and let the king know he is welcome.
            Remember, Paul is the one who hammered on the resurrected body for a long, entire chapter in 1st Corinthians 15 and he writes about the resurrection body over and over again in his other letters to the churches.  If Paul intended for this to be a rapture as so many understand it wouldn’t that same idea appear more than once in his writings.  It doesn’t.  The first Christians who read this would have seen this as welcoming an emperor into their city and I believe that idea is the idea Paul intended to communicate.
            Lets look very quickly at a parable Jesus told.  Matthew 24:36-41.  READ.  The reference is the story of Noah and the flood.  Another movie coming out next year is about Noah played by Russell Crow…should be interesting.  In the parable the sinners are the ones not in the ark that Noah built and the righteous are the ones in the ark.  The ones who are swept by the flood are done so as a sign of judgment.  Those in the ark are saved.  The ones in the ark are the ones who are left behind.  Get it.  To be left behind in the parable that Jesus is telling is to be saved from the judgment which in Noah’s day was a flood.  You want to be left behind according to this parable that Jesus tells. 
            Here’s my final point.  Rapture teaches escapism.  Rapture theology teaches that Christians are going to escape from this earth so that we don’t have to face a time of tribulation.  There’s a story of a pastor sharing at a Christian conference about our responsibility as Christians to make a difference in the world.  To be people who take care of the widow and orphans and who are in ministry with the poor and are willing to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves and just try to make this world a better place to live.  A woman raised her hand and asked him: “but if we do those things the world won’t get worse and worse and it will take longer for Jesus to return.”  See, the hope of this world is not that things have to get worse so that Jesus can rapture Christians out so that the tribulation can start…the hope of the world is what we pray every Sunday…that the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus did not teach escapism…he taught being engaged in such a way as to bring the goodness of heaven into this broken world.  And guess who is tasked with being the hands and feet of Christ?  The body of Christ…you and me…Christians!
            God’s people in the Old Testament, the prophets, Jesus and Paul…none of them taught escapism.  The idea of being in Christ is that we would take up our cross daily for the sake of Jesus.  Jesus promised that we would face tribulation in this world…he even used that word.  Paul said to rejoice in suffering because it leads to character building. 
            The overall theme of the bible does not teach that people who belong to Christ are escapists.  What it does teach over and over and over again is that people who belong to God are endurer’s and overcomers who believe that through Christ in us we can remain faithful in the face of the most difficult of circumstances.   
If I have taken away something that you hold dear…if I have taken away the belief of rapture from you…I am thankful.  I also know how hard it is to have something you have always believed and that you have held dear taken away.  And I believe it is important to replace it with something else.  Here’s what I suggest you can replace it with: the return of Jesus to make all things new and usher in the eternal and glorious future that is the new heavens and new earth.  You don’t have to believe in the rapture to believe in the return or Jesus.
If you still believe in the rapture after this morning…I still love you and appreciate you and will not judge you.  This is not about whose right or wrong, this is about being faithful to a God who loves you and who we can all agree wins in the end.  That’s the good news we can all agree on and that matters more than exactly how the end of the world happens.  Jesus, the slain lamb of God, wins in the end and we get to participate in the victory!  Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sermon from Sunday: 666

Numbers in Revelation: 666
As we continue our series about Numbers in the book of Revelation today we are looking at the number 666.  We know the cultural association with 666 don’t we.  We know it because if 666 is in any part of the title of a movie we know it is going to be a horror movie.

            Historically when people think of 666 because of what Revelation says, that it’s a man who is the antichrist, people have tried to identify this man.  At different times in history Christians have thought they knew who the man was, they thought they knew the person which the 666 identifies as the anti-Christ.  In the late 1700’s it was Napoleon Bonaparte.  Before that it was Genghis Khan.  In the middle of last century, the 1900’s, it was Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. 
            In the United States we are selfish.  Did you know some thought Ronald Wilson Reagan was the anti-Christ...because he was the only president with 6 letters in his first name, middle name and last name.  Thus 666 thus he’s the antichrist.  You can find images of just about any president in the United States being the antichrist…because some people just like to demonize what they don’t agree with.
            I came across this picture of Netanyahu

…oh, he must be the antichrist because he’s doing a similar salute to what Hitler did.  In the 14 and 1500’s the Catholics thought it was Martin Luther and the protestants thought it was the Pope.  This gets ridiculous right.  It’s ridiculous.  We are so quick to see anyone who does not agree with our views as the antichrist.  And this number 666 is commonly associated with the antichrist.
            As Christians lets do what we should do and look at what the Bible says.  Lets start there by looking at it in its original context and then ask the question, what does it mean for us today?  We want to start with where it lies in history and with the author’s intent and with what was happening at this time, then we can ask what does this number have to do with us as Christians today?
            Our text is Revelation 13:11-18.  Remember last week we said the book of Revelation is a letter from John to seven churches in Asia minor (modern day Turkey).  It was a letter written in the apocalyptic genre with the purpose of bringing hope to Christians who were suffering persecution at the hands of an emperor, a Caeser that did all kinds of nasty painful torturous things to Christians who would not give up their faith and claim that Caeser was Lord. 
            In Revelation 12, there’s this vision that John see’s about a pregnant woman and a dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns.  There was a contemporary mythological story that existed in the modern culture at the time John wrote this that would have been familiar to those who read and heard this letter.  The story is a reference to the virgin Mary pregnant and eventually giving birth to Jesus and how Satan tried to stop it in the heavenly realm.  Jesus is born and in Chapter 13 the war comes to earth.  We see two beasts in chapter 13.  So now we have a dragon and a beast out of the sea and a beast out of the earth.  This is called the unholy trinity.  It’s a way for Satan to mock the trinity that is God the father, God the Son and God the spirit.  Evil always corrupts and distorts that which is good.  The trinity is good so this is evil’s way of saying we have a trinity too.
            We are concerned more this morning with the vision of the 3rd beast.  In Revelation 13:11-18 we are introduced to the 3rd beast often referred to as the anti-christ referenced with the number 666.  READ Text.   
I shared with you last week that the emperors in power would be important this week as we look as this number 666.  Nero had served about 60 years before this was written.  Domitian was the Caeser now in power.  Domitian was very similar in the way to Nero in the way he treated Christians.  He persecuted them because he wanted to be called Lord and God.  One way that they persecuted Christians was by making it hard for Christians to become a Roman citizen.  To become a Roman citizen under Nero and Domitian you had to be willing to burn incense to the Caeser as a way to worship the emperor.  Once you burned your incense you were given a certificate with a mark on it that allowed you to trade and sell goods in the marketplace.  If you weren’t willing to burn incense as a way to worship the emperor, it made livelihood difficult.  So Christians especially in Rome had a difficult decision to make.  Do you compromise and receive this certificate so your family can eat and live or do you remain faithful to God and just hope that God will provide for your bodily needs?
            Look at verses 15-17 again.  READ.  Is it possible that this certificate, this mark to buy and sale is what John had in mind when he talked about the mark of the beast. 
            Also, remember how I said that evil often corrupts and distorts something good.  A common Jewish practice that has been passed down for many many years is the use of Phylacteries.  A phylactery is something you put on your forehead that has scripture in it to remind you of who God is and it’s straps you wrap on your forearm and recite scripture as you wrap them around you.  Hasidic Jews still use them today.  When we were in Israel we saw Hasidic Jews with these on their heads and arms.  Here’s what it looks like.

I wonder if the evil one is doing this as a way to distort, to corrupt, this Jewish practice that’s based on scripture.  The early Christians would have been familiar with this practice and may have associated what John is saying as a corruption of something good…like the unholy trinity.
             Lets back up a little bit.  Remember I told you the words in verse 12 about a fatal wound being healed and verse 14 about “being wounded by the sword and yet lived” would be important.  There was a rumor going around that after Nero had died that he had been raised again.  Or that he had not really died and was still living and ruling as an emperor.  It was a big enough rumor that we have historians at the time who wrote about it.  Is it possible that when John writes about this beast who had been wounded that he is referencing Nero.  What if the 2nd beast is Nero, who this rumor that he still lives is about, and the 3rd beast is Domitian who is carrying on the practices that persecute Christians that Nero held.  We read in 16 and 17 that unless you worship this beast that you can’t buy or sale items.  That was literally happening to the Christians in Rome who wouldn’t proclaim that Caesar is lord. 
            Remember this is a letter written by John to the seven churches in Asia and by extension to all Christians everywhere who were suffering persecution.  His readership (more accurately hearer-ship) at this time would have been so familiar with who he was talking about.  And maybe the reason he didn’t identify him directly and explicitly was because this was written in the form of apocalyptic literature so that he would not be immediately executed by naming the emperors by name.
            Now, many of you are wondering what this all has to do with 666.  Read verse 18 again…John invites his readers and hearers in the 1st Century to have wisdom as to who this number is referring to.  And it’s obviously a man.  Many people claim this is the antichrist.  And John invites his readers to figure out who it is and the number is just a hint.  The number is like a jigsaw puzzle or riddle that they have to figure out.  The number 666 is merely a clue as to figuring out who he is talking about.
            Another practice in Judaism was called Gemmatria.  Now John knew Hebrew and often uses Hebrew in a couple other places in this letter.  He wrote it in the Greek language but there are several instances where he does reference Hebrew.  And his readers and hearers probably did not know Hebrew, but many of them would have been familiar with Hebrew and with Jewish practices.  It’s easy to forget that at this time Christianity was still another form of Judaism.  Many Christians were former Jews. 
            Gemmatria is the practice of putting numbers to letters to give a name a numeric value.  For example, the number of my Hebrew name is 219.  Thank God it’s not 666 right?  Guess whose name when given a numeric value using Gemmatria is 666.  Nero.  The name and title of Nero in numbers, in this Jewish practice of Gemmatria: 666 makes the name Nero.  Again, why didn’t John just come out and say he was talking about Nero and Domitian?  Because he wrote this in apocalyptic literature…that’s why.  We have a hard time figuring out this puzzle (and others in Revelation) but for these first Christians it would have been easy. 
            So while John has Nero and Domitian in mind when he writes about these beasts, he also has the general disruption, corruption and force of evil in mind as well.  While John is referencing Nero, I believe, and many scholars believe with me that John is more concerned about painting a picture of evil so that Christians know what they are facing. 
            666 is most likely a reference to Nero and it’s also a reference to any kind of evil regime that is in power and in opposition to the kingdom of God.  That’s what 666 is all about. 
Here’s what one scholar wrote: “Nero Caesar then becomes representative of the ongoing model for all of history’s “Caesars” who rule over the anti-Christian kingdom and repress the commitments and values of God’s kingdom.  This number then becomes a symbol, a metaphor for any evil ruler who commands and validates an evil regime that is anti-Christian or anti-God.”    
Now this kind of evil that John is describing is a socio-political evil with a spiritual foundation.  An evil that is on a governmental ruling level that is absolutely opposed to Christ and his kingdom and has a desire to stamp out Christianity.  Adolf Hitler was evil.  He was an anti-Christ.  Joseph Stalin was evil, he was an anti-Christ.  Anyone who is the leader, the head, the initiator of an oppressive and evil regime can be called an antichrist and that number 666 is a hint that that’s who it is. 
I don’t believe that anti-christ is one person that’s going to come at a specific time.  I believe the anti-Christ is anyone obviously opposed to Christ and creates an environment, like Nero, like Hitler, going back to the O.T. like Pharaoah, they set themselves up as God and they lead a regime that is about oppression and injustice and superiority and is defined by acts of evil and atrocity.  Look at 1 John 2:22: 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.
            The question we should ask as Christians when faced with evil is what should our response be?  How do we deal with this kind of evil?  What is evil and what does it look like?  John wrote this letter and he eventually gets to the part where anything opposed to Christ and His kingdom is defeated, in the meantime, what is our response.  Faithfulness, faithfulness to God and to the slain lamb of God because of the hope we have in him.  What does that look like?  We need to be aware of how evil operates.
Do not be fooled brothers and sisters, just like those Christians who had a decision to make and were tempted by evil to compromise their faith and burn incense to Caeser so they could eat and survive and make a living, we are faced with decisions of following God or Satan everyday.  And evil doesn’t knock on your door and announce “here I am trying to corrupt you and make you bad.”  Evil is much more deceptive and veiled and hidden than that.  What leads us often into sin, into evil, is small compromises we make along the way.
Remember Satan is the Father of lies…he is good at deception and at tempting us in the little things.  Oh I’ll just cheat on my taxes a little, I’ve never gotten audited before so no one will ever know.  Slow fade into greed.  Husbands, oh I’m only flirting with her, it’s not like we’re dating or anything.  Slow fade into adultery.  Well I guess I’ll go to that movie because all my friends are going even though I know it’s going to tempt me sexually.  I’m just curious so I only go to that website or look at that image once.  Slow fade into porn addiction which often leads to the breakup of marriages and families.  Women, oh he’s just being nice to me, there’s nothing between us.  But you like the attention and you tend to flirt just a little bit.  You are sending him the wrong signals.  Slow fade.  Or you have a new and juicy piece of gossip that you can’t wait to share…it’s a slow fade into ruining either your own or someone else’s reputation.
            Some of you are familiar with the Screwtape Letters and book by C.S. Lewis that is a correspondence between a lesser demon and a greater demon to try to get this particular man away from God.  Listen to this demon’s words: 
But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
It’s when we compromise by saying, it’s been 2 years since I’ve been sober and now I can handle alcohol, I ‘ll just have one beer.  Slow fade.  Compromise.  That’s what the enemy wants.  It’s short small steps into disaster. 
            One thing Revelation does for Christians is expose the reality of evil.  We aren’t persecuted and fearful for our lives in modern day America.  But until Satan is thrown into the eternal lake of fire he will come after you and your soul and your families soul as well.  And if you are not intentionally protecting yourself and your family from his attacks he will establish a foothold and wreak havoc in your life and in the life of those who you love.
            Evil is real and it’s veiled and it’s hidden and the best way for us to give into it is one small compromise after another.  We have to be careful.  Get in the word.  Get in prayer.  Husbands love and cherish your wives and be considerate to them, build them up with your words and actions.  Wives respect and honor your husbands and encourage them and let them know you appreciate them.  Parents, realize that your children are not your friend, they are your children, and sometimes parenting means being mean to them out of love and out of discipline and out of a desire to protect them and raise them in a way where they will live for God.
            May we be the kind of people that resist and overcome the spirit of 666 in any form that we see it and/or experience it…for the sake of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, let us protect ourselves, our families, our church and our friends.