When I was a kid, most Sunday nights seemed devoted to study of the book of Revelation and Daniel, two books which provide a lot of prophesy. These books were often taken to be about what would happen in the end Times when Christ returns to earth. This, in Christian thought, is called Eschatology (which just means study of last things (eschaton (last) 0logy (study)) One thing I often heard about was the antichrist and 666– the number of the beast. There were a lot of books and little Christian movies about how that everyone would maybe need to get a mark on their hand like a upc symbol which would work as a credit or debit card to pay for things, and that if you refused, you may starve. This was considered to be the mark of the beast by some.
There have been, as I wrote about last week, a lot of Christian books put out over the years about the second coming and end of the world. The mark of the beast and the coming of the antichrist were part of that focus. Various theories have been put forth regarding who the antiChrist is. I remember hearing it was Secretary of State Kissinger when I was a child (perhaps because of his involvement in unfreezing relations with the Communist Chinese?). Of course many protestants have claimed the antiChrist is the Pope– in fact the original Calvinist Westminister confession explicitly says so. Nietzsche (who wasn’t a Christian or a Calvinist) claimed it was the priests. Some Russians thought it must be the Czar in the 1600s. Some thought it was Aleister Crowley, others John F. Kennedy. Some currently think it is Obama.
This weekend I heard a nice sermon by an Anglican priest. He brought up the fact that in the 1800s it was realized that emporer NEROs name in hebrew was 666 (Hebrew letters have numeric equivalents) and also that in Latin Neros name would be 616 which is a number found in place of “666” in some Latin translations of the Bible.
I’m not generally very interested in end times speculation. I do tend to think that the end times hype of ‘Left Behind” and all that Christian-subculture stuff was big money for a few companies and a big distraction for a lot of Christians. But I am interested in the Nero theory, which seems pretty solid to me (more solid than Kissinger or Obama anyways) and here is why:
When you have this ongoing conspiratorial Christianity trying to discover what it is we should really be fearing the most– who it is that is deceiving us and pulling the wool over our eyes and tricking everybody but the few elect smart enough to listen to whoever claims to “know” who the antichrist is– well that seems to be a Christianity of fear, speculation without strong basis, and sensationalism seasoned with conspiratorial tendencies and usually a mean spirited streak. Is the book of Revelation– God’s Word– intended to make us live in constant fear and paranoia about who the next likely candidate is to be antichrist? I hope not.
If Nero was the AntiChrist, that means, first of all, that a lot of Christian speculation about antichrist can be put aside so we can focus on doing the work of God on earth instead of thinking of possible problems and tricksters trying to foil us. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY it means that the book of Revelation when it speaks about the antichrist, gives us a basis for hope and expectation of overcomming whatever obstacles we are currently facing.
Nero was a maniac. He killed Christians and Jews and was said to have burned Rome. He was not a man of peace, kindness, goodness, patience, love, mercy or grace. He killed members of his own family. In all respects he was the opposite of Christ– throughly anti-Christ. And he was cause of great fear and concern for Christians of the early Church. But Nero was overcome, defeated, and he lost. In fact, he killed himself.
If Nero was the antichrist spoken of in Revelation, that doesn’t mean that there will be no more struggle for people who are for Christ. But it does mean that some of the speculation regarding the AntiChrist and some of the speculation about end times is out of place and a waste of time. Again, we Christians often spend a lot of time worrying about things which either are none of our business to be worrying about, or which are distractions from doing the work that God really has given us. It also means that the antichrist is not something which should lead us to be looking for boogey-men behind every bush, but rather, the antiChrist John speaks of has been defeated, and so it is a story leading to hope, not fear and conspiracy theories.
May God have mercy on us all.