More Whacky Eschatology Gone Bad?

A 15-year old high school student in the San Antonio (TX) has sued her school district for requiring her to wear “the mark of the beast.” I’m not making this up friends.

Andrea Hernandez believes a locating device, increasingly used inside various contexts as an ID, is a violation of her rights to freedom and more directly to her Christian confession. The school actually allowed Angela to remove the chip but she was still required to wear the badge anyway. In the suit filed against the San Antonio district the Hernandez family objected to Andrea wearing even the badge because it was tantamount to “submission to a false god.” Their reasoning is that the badge itself, even without the locator chip, indicates her participation.

A state judge will rule whether the school district can transfer Andrea Hernandez to another school district to end the problem, at least temporarily.

The wearing of micro-chips is becoming more and more common. I recently use a tracking device in my iPad to locate it when it had been taken. I then went to the home, with the police helping me, where my computer told me I would find my iPad. Viola! I have it back.

School districts are using these devices to track where their students are on campus and whether or not they are really present, a fact that determines the amount of money they receive from the state. In the case of the San Antonio district the absence of one student costs the school $30/day. These chips, the district argues, carry a potential of $1.7 million in classroom funding. So a board in the school office with “moving red dots” helps the school do its job more effectively. But no one, says the school principal, is sitting at a board watching where students are while they are at school. Only when they need to locate a student does the system help them do their work.

In the Angela Hernandez case the ACLU has joined with the Hernandez family, in their fundamentalist faith, to sue the school district. Truly this is an odd partnership if there ever was one.

The view Angela Hernandez has of “wearing the mark of the beast” is based, as many know, on some intriguing and easily misunderstood texts in the book of Revelation.

So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped its image (Rev. 16:2, NRSV).

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur (Rev. 19:20, NRSV).

Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4, NRSV).

But the number 666 occurs in chapter 13 where reference is made to two “beasts.” The first figure, in graphical apocalyptic vision, rises from out of the sea and the second from  out of the earth. The description of this second beast is the text that Angela and her family base their suit upon.

Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six (Rev. 13:11-18, NRSV).

So what does this text actually refer to, especially the number 666 in the last verse of chapter 13?

Well, opinions clearly differ but ancient and modern biblical scholars never understood the text in the way Angela’s family, and millions of other poor taught Christians, do. In ancient times the letters of the alphabet were used as numbers (Roman numerals). Using this kind of literary device the numerical value of names could easily be calculated. It might be that John was being purposefully enigmatic, using a kind of code, in order to protect against a charge of sedition against the Christians in the Roman Empire.

One thing is clear–the passage is predictably and frequently misunderstood, especially by futuristic interpreters who literalize the text of Revelation. This text, like many apocalyptic verses and biblical accounts, requires divine wisdom and clear-headed reading. In the Bible the number six stands for falling short, incompleteness, imperfection. The number seven, on the other hand, stands for perfection, completion, fullness. Eight stands for eschatological perfection, or a superabundance of fullness. The numerical value of “Jesus” in Greek is 888. The numerical equivalent of Nero Caesar, to provide but one possible answer to this question, was 666 when the Greek is transliterated from Greek into Hebrew, meaning the epitome of created inadequacy. But many scholars believe that 666 could be a symbol here, not a cryptogram. It refers to falling short of 7-7-7, the Holy Trinity.

Writing about a hundred years after the Apostle John the beloved church father St. Irenaeus said that he had no idea to whom John was referring to here. What a magnificent and wise conclusion. If modern Christians followed the church fathers more carefully they would avoid most of the foolish interpretations that they have accepted as biblical truth. The results would be positively astounding. We just might actually prepare our families and churches to live in practical and every-day godly ways without paying so much attention to “who” John refers to in this hugely symbolic context. This would be the way of wisdom. It would also end the law suits of poorly taught Christians like the Hernandez family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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