"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. “(13:18, KJV)
In Hollywood, producers have picked the day to release a remake of the 1970 horror flick “The Omen,” in which a beautiful couple raises the devil’s spawn, and a handful of bands, including AFI, a pop punk band, and Slayer a black metal band, are releasing albums on the date. Slayer is also launching a world tour. In New York, Crown books will launch “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” by Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit and pin-up girl. And Hell, Michigan, is turning the day into a festival of sorts, complete with 666 T-shirts and mugs.
From Christians, there has been little more than a yawn. True, a Netherlands-based evangelical group, Ambassadors Ministries, has called on Christians in 21 countries to hold a 24-hour prayer vigil against Satanic forces. Most Christians, however, are savvy enough to know June 6 is just a date. But the lack of excitement, especially from a group known to be occasionally obsessed with predictions and dates, may be significant in itself.
“How come the dog isn’t barking this time?” asked Warren A. Gage, director of the Knox Theological Seminary’s John-Revelation Project. Gage’s group is a Reformed church response to fundamentalist ideas of the “end times,” the period of great upheaval before Christ’s predicted return described in Revelation. “I think that maybe people are getting tired of all that.”
“All that” is pre-millennialism--a five-dollar word to describe the belief held by some fundamentalist Christians and biblical literalists that the end times will be marked by warfare, natural disasters, and the coming of the Antichrist, who will bear the mark 666. But many scholars argue that the Bible’s authors never intended their work to be interpreted as literal prophecy. Some scholars say that the Antichrist in Revelation, for example, represents the Roman emperor Nero. The passage predicting Armageddon, scholars say, refers to the final victory of good over evil, not a literal battle.
Yet even Christian creators of apocalyptic websites are not worried about the date.
“The date has no meaning whatsoever in regards to the Antichrist,” wrote Pietro Arnese, editor of www.apocalypsesoon.org. Arnese, who is based in Europe, says “the plethora” of references to the number in popular culture keeps people from taking Revelation’s prophesies seriously.
“One effect this is having is to produce the classical ‘cry-wolf syndrome, even with some believers,” he wrote. “And that is a pity, because it eventually leads to unbelief.”
Terry James is one of the biblical literalists behind www.raptureready.com, which features a “rapture index” that rates the nearness of The End. Every few days, he and a colleague rate the intensity of different predictors–floods, famines, plagues, etc.–to calculate its proximity. It hit an all-time high on Sept. 24, 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. June 6, 2006 gets nary a nod.
”It means absolutely nothing as far as prophesy is concerned,” he said. “That is just a Hollywood thing.”
But that doesn’t mean James and other fundamentalists think the number has no significance. “Six is the number of man because God made man on the sixth day,” James explained. “And of course the Antichrist is the ultimate man, the ultimate outcome of what fallen man, if left to his devices, will become.”