“I, John, looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” In today’s first reading the Seer, John, describes a vision or dream he has of Jesus, the Lamb of God. The seer tells us of his vision of Jesus and the holy ones or saints. They have been signed with the name of the Father and of the Son, just as we have been in our baptism and every time, we make the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These 144,000 have followed Jesus’ way of the cross. The number is symbolic and represents people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (7:4-5, 9).
Many of these signed with the name of Jesus and the Father literally followed Jesus’ way to the cross and to martyrdom. They were persecuted and put to death during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) who tried to enforce emperor worship. He confiscated the property, ostracized, and even put to death those who refused to worship the emperor as a god and to be signed with the tattoo of the emperor. These Christians were accused of sedition and even atheism. The seer refers to the Roman emperor(s) symbolically as a beast: “Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). Most scholars believe the number 666 refers to the previous emperor Nero. If 7 represents perfection and 777 the height of perfection then 666 would represent the height of imperfection.
While it would be a mistake and misinterpretation of the Book of Revelation to identify any modern leader with this number 666 the book still has great relevance for us today. The book teaches that there is only one God and challenges us never to make any political or religious leader into a god that we follow uncritically and unreservedly. The way of Jesus, the way of the cross, is to put God’s will and way before all. God’s will comes before any leader or political party and even before our own will.
Image: “Cross-in-Chimayo-Area” by Glen’s Pics is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.