Last Sunday we looked, briefly, at a cryptogram of Hebrew numerals and the number 666. If you would like to take more time to study it I have some good information for you from Peter Rollo who writes, using numerous academic sources, the following:
In ancient days alphabets served two purposes. Their first purpose was to create words, but secondly, the letters were also assigned a numerical value. You may have already heard of “Roman numerals” such as “I” (1), “V” (5), “X” (10), and so on. Most ancient languages at the time functioned in the same way. That is how John’s mark of the beast, who is a man, can be both a name/word and a number. Because of the two-fold function of letters, numerical “cryptograms” were fairly common in antiquity. Among the Greeks it was called isopsephia (numerical equality); among the Jews it was called gimatriya (mathematical). Any given name or word could be reduced to its numerical equivalent by adding up the mathematical value of all of the letters of the name. For example, a cryptogram discovered in excavations from Pompeii, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in AD 79. In Greek the inscription written was: philo es arithmos ph m e (“I love her whose number is 545”).9 This, of course, is just one interesting example of countless that can be found in Hellenistic and Rabbinic literature.
If we were to take Nero’s name in Greek (Νέρων Καῖσαρ) and add up the letters in his name it adds up to 1005. That doesn’t quite match 666. But remember, John was a political prisoner in the custody of the Greek-speaking Romans. It would have been wiser for him to use another language like Hebrew, which was much less commonly known at the time.10 In Hebrew, Nero’s name (נרון קסר) when transliterated into English letters is “Nrwn Qsr”. This is the way it was found to be spelled in Hebrew in the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings.11 When converted to numbers, Nero’s name adds up to exactly 666.
HEBREW LETTERNUMERICAL VALUE
If that isn’t convincing enough: there is an intriguing textual variant that appeared very early in Revelation’s manuscript history. These variants rendered the mark of the beast number as 616 rather than 666. Many highly respected scholars believe this change was intentional, rather than due to a scribal error.12 This change to 616 occurred when the Bible was being copied in Latin and appears in other historical writings.13 In the Latin form Nero Caesar (נרו קסר) adds up to 616 instead of 666. This change allowed for the cryptogram to be deciphered by contemporary Christians whose main language was Latin. Early Christians wanted their brothers and sisters to know who the beast was and were willing to update the Bible in order to do that.
9. ‘The name of the lover is concealed; the beloved will know it when she recognizes her name in the sum of the numerical value of the 3 letters ph m e, i.e., 545 (ph = 500 + m = 40 + e = 5). But the passing stranger does no know in the very least who the beloved is, nor does the 19th century investigator know which of the many Greek feminine names she bore. For he does not know how many letters there are in the name which gives us the total of 545 when added numerically.’ Cited in Oskar Ruhle, “arithmeo” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., TDNT, trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 462. See also: Miller Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1941), p. 270.
10. ‘Even though most in John’s audience did not know Hebrew, some no doubt did and could have explained the mystery to others. More importantly, John knew Hebrew and no doubt understood the significance of this number in his vision by Hebrew consonants rather than by Greek letters.’ Robert W. Wall, Revelation, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 173–175.
11. Moses Stuart, A commentary on the Apocalypse, 1861.
12 ‘When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξς and 616 = χις). Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters (נרון קסר) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latin form Nero Caesar (נרו קסר) is equivalent to 616.’ Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 676. For a more thorough discussion of this textual variant and the significance of the number, see Aune, Revelation 6–16, pp. 722, 770–73; Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, pp. 384–407; and Smalley, The Revelation to John, pp. 350–53.
13. Such as Irenaeus and the Donatist Tyconius. See: Textual Apparatus, ad. loc., in Aland, The Greek New Testament, p. 869. Also see: Metzger, Textual Commentary, pp. 751-752.
Scripture seems to indicate that there will be varying degrees of rewards in heaven. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Matthew 5:11-12, Luke 6:35) Always remember that rewards are not the same as the gift of eternal life. All who place their faith in Jesus will receive eternal life not based on anything they have done. (Ephesians 2:8)
However, there are numerous passages which speak about the work we do on earth as having significance in eternity. It’s spoken of as storing up treasure in heaven, reward, or a prize.
Sometimes people believe there may also be five different crowns believers can receive as a separate rewards (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Though it is popular to see these as different types of reward (crown of righteousness, crown of gold, crown of life, etc.) a majority of commentators believe these are different ways of referring to the one reward of eternal life. I am inclined to agree with the majority of commentators – the five crowns all refer to the reward/gift of eternal life.
The question then becomes what exactly are these rewards? Here’s where it gets really frustrating because, although the Bible seems to clearly indicate there are rewards, and varying degrees of rewards, it is not clear on what exactly those rewards are. Because of this we can only make educated guesses as to what the rewards may be. I tend to agree with Pastor John Starke who wrote:
“If there are degrees of reward, they would likely revolve around increased capacities and responsibilities.”
Jonathan Edwards explains what increased capacity means: “Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness (the ocean of happiness is eternal life in the presence of God without sin) is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others; and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.” Edwards means some people may have greater capacity to experience the love, joy and peace of God’s presence – everyone will be full but some will be “larger vessels”
Increased responsibilities may be tied into the biblical idea of ruling with Jesus. John Starke asks, “Could the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) imply that some believers will rule over more cites in the new heavens and earth? If so, this would mean that under our “great reward” (enjoying God himself) there are various roles and responsibilities. I am not certain this will be the case, but I see nothing inherently problematic in holding to this as a possibility.
In summary, all true believers will receive the great reward of seeing God face to face, and this should motivate all of our actions. The NT nowhere clearly and explicitly teaches varying degrees of reward, though this may indeed be true. If so, some may have greater capacities as well as greater responsibilities, but all of us will experience “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11).”
Remember the greatest reward is seeing Jesus face to face, being in the presence of the Father’s glory with no sin, no shame, no death, no sickness. We also all receive the great reward of seeing all our loved ones who, through faith in Jesus, have entered eternity before us. No doubt everyone in eternity will experience a fullness of peace and joy. No one will grumble or complain about their lack of reward.
Ever since I read C.S. Lewis’s the Great Divorce I have been struck by a scene he describes in his idea of what heaven may be like. In Lewis’s fictional vision of heaven, he sees a woman coming riding a great horse, with lights and song and dancing accompanying her (think of the scene in the movie Aladdin when Aladdin enters Agrabah as Prince Ali). There is this great procession all around this one woman who is receiving praise and honour, she must be someone great in the Kingdom of heaven. At first the man seeing this believes it may be Mary, the mother of Jesus. But He is corrected, "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."
"She seems to be ... well, a person of particular importance?"
"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things."
The guide then explains to the man that the love of Christ, that came into her was then poured out of her to all people she met, even animals. She was a woman where the love of God was displayed to the world. Because of her words and actions and love on earth she was worthy of great glory, honour and fame in heaven.
All in heaven knew of her work and how it pleased the Father and so no one thought it inappropriate for her to receive glory that the Father wished her to have. All in eternity knew it was appropriate for her to be honoured for the life she lived on earth.
I often think there is something of truth to this idea of each individual receiving glory and honour for the service they did for their King and creator. Those who receive great honour we will know they were deserving of it and we will honour them as well.
I’ll end by quoting at length from Jonathan Edwards sermon on the rewards of heaven:
Those who are not so high in glory as others, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fitting that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory; and they will rejoice in having that done, that is fittest to be done.
There will be a perfect harmony in that society; those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be perfectly holy and perfectly happy. But yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them the most happy and the highest in glory.
Here in this world, those that are above others are the objects of envy because that others conceive of them as being lifted up with it. But in heaven it will not be so, but those saints in heaven who excel in happiness will also in holiness, and consequently in humility. The saints in heaven are more humble than the saints on earth and still the higher we go among them, the greater humility there is. The highest orders of saints, who know most of God, see most of the distinction between God and themselves, and consequently are comparatively least in their own eyes, and so are most humble.
The exaltation of some in heaven above the rest will be so far from diminishing the perfect happiness and joy of the rest who are inferior, that they will be the happier for it. Such will be the union in their society that they will be partakers of each other’s happiness. Then will be fulfilled in its perfection that which is declared in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it.”