What are your thoughts on the common interpretation of the book of Revelation (in other words the well known 666 microchip revelation)?
Take a very deep breath and buckle up. Christian Eschatology (study of end times) is the most convoluted, cloudy, confusing, complicated, clumsy thing in the Holy Scriptures. There are thousands of fancy little charts that profess to have the exact answer, and they are constantly updated and revised because, simply put, many survive past their expiration dates. To make things harder, Christians are often not very kind to each other when it comes to eschatology, and tiny differences between members who share a common view is often strong enough to create hateful division. Often those who belong to one eschatological tribe out hundreds hardly know other views exist, and when they find out, they other quickly label them as heretical.
SYMBOLS IN THE BIBLE
There are numerous types of literature style in the Bible, we can call them genre. Some sections are poetry, song, while others are spoken commands, historic narrative, and even apocalyptic literature (visions/etc). All are equally inerrant (have no errors), and equally inspired by God. Yet we read and understand them differently, because each has a specific way of being understood, the way that was originally intended. We can read the direct Biblical command to “not commit adultery” and know that literally we ought not stray from our husband/wife. Yet when Isaiah speaks of trees clapping, the language is figurative and poetic, trees don’t literally grow hands and clap them together (this is not Lord of the Rings).
The reason for the confusion about the end times is that Scripture speaks about it with visions and symbols. Everybody who has any view on the end times has the same symbolic passage, and all attempt to interpret the meaning and fulfillment of that passage. There are some clear statements, which are accepted by all, yet the majority of the Biblical text that is used to teach eschatology is composed of strange visions that need to be interpreted. This is where all the differences come from, one symbol is often interpreted differently by different people.
4 WAYS TO INTERPRET THE SYMBOLS
There are four main ways that theologians, as well as regular lay people, approach prophetic visions, especially the Book of Revelation. These are not just views on the details, but whole approaches. Within each eschatological approach, there are many sub-views on specific topics and there are also sub views that overlap, all of which are often confusing, so we will avoid the specific things (like the many views and timings of rapture) and simply deal with approach and what 666 represents in each. Keep in mind, that all of these views are orthodox, held by real, honest, godly, humble Christians, and crazy heretical views are not even being presented here.
“Symbols represent specific events in the past”
The word ‘preter’ comes from Latin, meaning “past.” Those who approach eschatology with a preterist approach believe many or all of the prophecies in the Bible were literallyfulfilled in the past. Specifically the prophecies and visions, notably those that Jesus made in Matthew 24 (called the Olivet discourse), were fulfilled in the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem, as witnessed by the generation Jesus originally spoke to (Mat 24:34). There are two categories of preterists, full and partial, the first say all of the book of Revelation has been fulfilled, the latter teach that chapters 20-22 are images of Christ’s final triumph, and are still in the future. While full preterism is generally regarded as outside of orthodoxy, because it denies Christ’s future bodily return, partial preterism is a very stable and sound Christian approach to eschatology that has a very positive outlook on history. Partial preterists believe that for most of history, things will continue improving, the Gospel will continue to spread, until there is a short apostasy and the return of Christ. To defend this, they point to the fact that the largest percentage and population of Christians in all of history is today, and this number only keeps increasing. The partial preterist approach was first used by one of the early church fathers, Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339), and today is held by some prominent Christian leaders and theologians, including Hank Hanegraff (the “Bible Answer Man” from mainstream Christian Radio), and Dr. RC Sproul who is a great leader in the reformed community.
666: Within this approach the concept of antichrist and 666 literally refers to past events, including the Antichrist, who preterists often identify as Nero, the persecutor of Christians, whose image or ‘mark’ was found all coin currency. All those within the Roman empire were to pledge their allegiance to Nero by saying he is Lord, and by doing this they could participate in culture and use money to buy or sell.
“Symbols represent specific events throughout history”
The historicist approach treats prophetic symbols and visions as though they represent real literal events that have occurred and are occurring throughout all of history. Each symbol may or may not be interpreted as completely literal, however, there is always a literal manifestation of that symbol in history. Events in the Book of Revelation are those that have been occurring since the Apostles and continue until today. The trumpet sounds are not thought to be real sounds that the whole earth hears, however, they represent real literal events, such as specific wars that tore apart the empires of the earth for the last two thousand years. One of the famous ideas borrowed from this approach by those of the futurist camp (without the futurists realizing how inconsistent it is with their view) is the idea that each of the seven churches in Revelation represents a historic period. While the historic approach dates back to the 3rd century, it was most prominent in the days of the Protestant Reformation. The reformers, including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, as well as later pastor-theologians like Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, and Spurgeon held to this approach and identified a current Antichrist/system, instead of a future person to come.
666: Within this approach the concept of 666 refers to real literal powers in the world, active throughout history, who have been literally waging war against true Christianity. At the time the Catholic system was so corrupt and against the Biblical faith, that it was taught to be the literal Antichrist.
“Symbols represent specific events in the future”
Those who advance this approach treat most, if not all, prophecies and visions as real literal events that will happen at some time in the future. Many Christians who use this approach to interpret apocalyptic literature in the Bible often don’t know of the alternatives, or consider them to highly heretical and even satanic. There are many varying groups and types of futurists, they are divided by many subcategories, such as at least three views on timing of the rapture, on the type of millennium, and many other details. Generally most futurists intend to be as literal as possible in the interpretation of eschatological symbols, so it’s quite common to hear things such as that the locusts in Revelation 9 are literal descriptions of helicopters at some future invasion. This view is often the most abused view, and I grew up watching Christian rapture horror films that paralyzed me with the fear getting left behind (actually fear was encouraged, and I often heard “be good or you will be left behind”). Naturally the Left Behind book empire deals with this approach. Today’s popular futurism often instigates books, conferences, and videos that claim “it’s coming soon,” yet always leaving people waiting. A far relative of mine “escaped” to Saudi Arabia, because of an ecstatic prophecy based on the futurist approach, he eventually returned… far poorer. Another family I know left to South America, to escape the Antichrist, and is still reeling financially, and unable to return. There are of course responsible teachers that hold this approach, however, by far the largest amount of deception and “rapture date setting” is within futurism (the second closest would be with historcism). This approach to end times was originally formulated by a Catholic priest to refute reformation claims that the Catholic system was the antichrist; (In the 16th century Francisco Ribera wrote a long commentary stating the Catholic system could not be the Antichrist because he was still to come). Often the futurist approach is learned by osmosis, meaning it’s simply taught as the only way and accepted as fact, often those teaching do so without formal theological education or understanding the genre and literary forms in the Bible. However there are some very serious Christian leaders and scholars, who have developed comprehensive and cohesive views, using this approach. These include men like Charles Ryrie and John MacArthur.
666: Within this approach the concept of 666 refers to literal future events that we have yet to live through. There are and have been many attempts to identify what 666 will be. In recent history we saw futurists claim that the mark of the beast is a bar code, stamped to identity people, later this was changed to a computer chip.
“Symbols allegorically show the role of the church throughout history”
This approach is the most unique, compared to the three other. In the Idealistic approach, the symbols do not represent specific, literal events, but show a poetic expression of the very real story of the church. This approach looks at the imagery of the book as representing the battle between good vs. evil, and Christ’s church vs. Satan. Robert Mounce, a Bible commentator summarizes this by saying “Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.” Proponents of this approach state that it best addresses all they prophetic symbols by not to interpreting them as specific events, but as shadows and types of events that church struggles through, ultimately emerging victorious. In this framework, the beast represents the satanic opposition that often tried to destroy the church, in every age in various manifestations. To the early church, this was the government persecution, to the contemporary Western church, this same beast takes the form of intellectualism that mocks Christianity, and etc. The harlot represents the compromising church of every era, seduced by worldly living, pleasure, and so on. The ultimate purpose of this approach to show that church history is an epic play that where God is ultimately triumphant; details are less important than the whole story. It does not help the church to guess which person is the Antichrist in the future, and which one is the false prophet, however, to be reminded that their Christ wins, that gives Christians hope. This approach is very old, it was first introduced by church father Origen, (c. AD 185 – 254), later made prominent by St. Augustine (who is considered one of the greatest Christian thinkers in history). Currently it is not highly popular, however, there are very solid Christian thinkers, pastors and professors that use this approach. Some include Drs. J.V. Fesko and G.K. Beale (Profs. at Westminster Seminary), Dr. Art Azurdia (Prof. at Western Seminary, he has a whole Revelation teaching series I recommend).
666: Within this approach the concept of 666 refers to a figurative concept or symbolic idea of the joined forces of Satan and sinners that rage against the church. Often the number 7, a holy number that symbolizes completeness (because God finished creation on the 7th day) is contrasted to 6, the number of incompleteness and the number of man (who was created on the 6th day). God is called holy three times (it is proposed this can be represented by 777), while the opposite number of ‘incompleteness’ is also repeated thrice to come up with 666, a number to represent everything that is anti God.
IS 666 A CHIP?
I don’t know, no one can. Probably not though. My simple argument is that this chip idea reduces salvation to mysticism and spur of the moment decision making. There is a little thing you can either put in your hand and you’re damned forever, or if you don’t stick it in you are saved? What about all the weird possibilities? What if you change your mind? What if you accidentally do it, not knowing? What if you pluck the chip out? All of it becomes like a little game where our physical actions (pluck in chip/refuse/take it out?) are the things that secure our salvation, or eternally damn us. It becomes highly ritualistic and focused very intently upon the physical things of this world, not the heart condition that needs to be fixed. All false religions, including shamanism, are based off ritualism and manipulating our destiny by doing something to physical matter. This is not at all consistent with all of Scripture that teaches salvation is by faith alone and grace alone, not based off of what we do with a little chip. Jesus came and became the fulfillment of OT ritualism, therefore I do not see a reason to again focus on “chip” ritualism and turn away from Jesus to pursue secret (gnostic anyone?) knowledge about microchips, in hopes that this knowledge will save you.