666, the Number of the Beast

“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” Revelation 13:18

Growing up, I’ve heard a lot of references to the number 666 – whether it was on the metal albums I owned, or in the Southern Baptist churches I had attended. It’s arguable that no other verse has caused more confusion among Christians than Revelation 13:18. And perhaps no other reference has been used more by those who identify with evil. (By the way, it is six hundred and sixty six – not six, six, six). So what does it mean? I have sought to write a brief defense of my position.

First of all, it’s important to set a date for the book of Revelation. Traditionally, it is believed to have been written in 90-95 AD – placing it after the destruction of  the temple. I think we can briefly look at the text itself and see that this isn’t the case. First notice Revelation chapter 11.

“Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.” Revelation 11:1-2

John is told to measure the temple of God. Apparently, it was still standing. If this letter was written 20 years after it’s destruction, this would be a most confusing verse. Secondly, let’s look at John’s language at the beginning and end of the book of Revelation.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. Revelation 1:1-3

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Revelation 22:10

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20

According to the book of Revelation, these events were coming quickly and soon AND were near prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. John is speaking to Christians (specifically the 7 churches in Asia) of his day. And these Christians are suffering.

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 1:9

This letter is relevant to them, and what this book speaks of is relevant to them as well. A letter written to them concerning events 2,000 plus years in the future might’ve been interesting to some of them, but they were suffering and tribulation was all around. John speaks of those who were killed for the Word of God.

“…I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; ” Revelation 6:9

And in the next verse, we read of their prayers to God:

and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. Revelation 6:10-11

These had been asking the Lord how long He would hold back judging their murderers. They were told to wait a little while, until the number of their brothers who would be killed was completed. It was after this time that vengeance would be poured out.

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Now that we have a basic time frame, let’s look at the verse again.

“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” Revelation 13:18

The reader is told to have wisdom. The reader is told to calculate the number. It’s highly unlikely that any of the readers in John’s day calculated 666 and came up with Ronald Reagan, Hitler, or George W. Bush. Rather, John expects his readers to understand what he means. The most relevant political figure at this time was Nero Caesar. In the Greek form of his name written in Hebrew, Nero’s name is Neron Kaiser spelled NRWN QSR. The Jews did not have a separate numbering system from their alphabet. Alef = 1, Beit = 2, Gimel = 3, Dalet = 4, and so on. When NRWN QSR is transliterated into Hebrew, we get:

N R W N Q S R
50 200 6 50 100 60 200

50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 = 666

Some manuscripts don’t have 666 though. Instead, they place the number of the beast as 616. This is because in the Latin form of Nero’s name written in Hebrew, Nero’s name  is spelled NRW KSR. The “N” is worth 50, and so 666 – 50 = 616. As the audience of the Bible became predominantly Latin speaking, the variant was added. Nero was in power at the time of the writing of this letter.

I realize there are other verses that must be explained – ie not being able to buy or sell without the mark, the 7 headed beast out of the sea, etc. I plan to flesh this out more over time, but as mentioned before, just wanted to write a brief defense for the number 666. I always find it funny when these people, that want others to think they are evil, wear 666 shirts. I think to myself, “Those are Nero lovers!”

In closing, I have provided the following quotes concerning Nero and his character:

Although many of the populace believed that Nero intentionally had started the fire (Dio LXII.17.18.3; Pliny XVII.1), he himself blamed the Christians. Because of their supposed hatred of mankind, he had them thrown to dogs, nailed to crosses in his gardens, and burned alive (the traditional punishment for arson) to serve as living torches in the night (Tacitus, Annals, XV.44; this passage also contains the earliest non-Christian reference to the crucifixion). Probably taking place in the Vatican gardens, where Nero had his private racetrack, the emperor strolled among the crowd in the guise of a charioteer. It also was to Nero that Paul had appealed from the tribunal at Caesarea (Acts, 25:10ff) and in whose reign Peter and Paul traditionally were thought to have been executed at Rome

(e.g., Eusebius, II.25.5-8; Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, XXXVI).

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“We have still to add to our chronology the following, — I mean the days which Daniel indicates from the desolation of Jerusalem, the seven years and seven months of the reign of Vespasian. For the two years are added to the seventeen months and eighteen days of Otho, and Galba, and Vitellius; and the result is three years and six months, which is “the half of the week,” as Daniel the prophet said. For he said that there were two thousand three hundred days from the time that the abomination of Nero stood in the holy city, till its destruction. For thus the declaration, which is subjoined, shows: “How long shall be the vision, the sacrifice taken away, the abomination of desolation, which is given, and the power and the holy place shall be trodden under foot? And he said to him, Till the evening and morning, two thousand three hundred days, and the holy place shall be taken away. These two thousand three hundred days, then, make six years four months, during the half of which Nero held sway, and it was half a week; and for a half, Vespasian with Otho, Galba, and Vitellius reigned. And on this account Daniel says, “Blessed is he that cometh to the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.” For up to these days was war, and after them it ceased. And this number is demonstrated from a subsequent chapter, which is as follows: “And from the time of the change of continuation, and of the giving of the abomination of desolation, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.”

(Clement of Alexandria; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 334)

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“What means the declaration, that the mystery of iniquity already works?…Some suppose this to be spoken of the Roman emperor, and therefore Paul did not speak in plain words, because he would not incur the charge of calumny for having spoken evil of the Roman emperor: although he always expected that what he had said would be understood as applying to Nero.”

(St. Augustine; quoted by Moses Stuart in Apocalypse)

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“In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen man, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. … And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet”

(Apollonius of Tyana – the Mark of the Beast)

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7 thoughts on “666, the Number of the Beast”

  1. I have some big problems with your interpretation. First, I think your method of interpretation is faulty. You assume Revelation is to be read and understood literally. But the text does not support this method. Too many times we are given images that are physically impossible. Stars that fall to earth, a sea of glass burning red with fire, a tribe of Joseph, etc, etc, etc. The text lends itself to a method of interpretation likened to that of poetry, where mountains dance and trees clap for joy. It is to be interpreted figuratively, in other words. Even the Greek bears this out. The Greek in John’s epistles is very polished and professional. Not so in Revelation. In Revelation, his Greek is very, very sloppy. We get the indication that he used secretaries to help him correct his Greek while on the mainland, but on the island of Patmos, he had no secretaries to help him. The end result is that the Greek in Revelation is very sloppy. It is obvious that it emerges from a Hebrew mindset. That is important, because one of the first keys to understanding Revelation is to understand that the Old Testament explains all the pictures. If you want to know what the two witnesses of Revelation are, you go back to the first mention of two witnesses in the Old Testament, and then find out what they meant back there. You have to keep in mind that God’s people were under very intense persecution at the time this book was written. It had to be so difficult to understand that even the most pious Roman pagan wouldn’t be able to understand it, and yet so easy to interpret that even the brand newest Christian had at least the keys to interpreting it.

    When you zero in on the words, “what must soon take place”, you don’t take verse 8 into account. Verse 1 tells us that this book will reveal 1 thing and 1 thing only – the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 1 also tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be revealed in this book for 1 reason and 1 reason only – in order to show Christ’s servants what must soon take place. Very well. Says the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in verse 8, “I am He who was, who is, and who is to come.” What must soon come? Answers the Lord, He must soon come. Notice, this book does not satisfy our curiosity with predictions of future events. It tells us only that the Lord is soon coming. This book begins and ends with the Lord Jesus saying He is coming soon.

    Of course, in our way of thinking, we want that soon to be tomorrow. But think about it. What is the greatest thing you know about the Lord Jesus? Is it not that He, the only begotten Son of God, died on a cross to secure the salvation of His elect? Has He not accomplished this? Yes, of course, He has indeed accomplished this. Well then, whatever else there is to do, it must be soon, because He has secured everything there is to be secured. Again, we want that soon to be tomorrow, but God does not think that way. It is soon, but it is soon according to God’s soon.

    The book of the Revelation is divided into seven visions, each vision being exactly the same. Each vision begins with the Lord Jesus Christ accomplishing everything He came to this earth to accomplish. It then moves onto describing what that means for His people today, before it concludes with Christ’s return. Seven times over this vision is repeated. Sometimes the vision assumes one or two aspects of the vision , while emphasizing the third. Such as, for example, when the first vision closes with the words, “There was silence in heaven for half an hour.” Christ’s return is assumed there. At other times it emphasizes the first and the third while assuming the second. But in each case, it is one vision repeated seven times.

    When it comes to the image of John measuring the temple, how is it even possible that John could measure the Temple of God, AND THE WORSHIPERS WHO WORSHIP IN IT? The worshipers would be coming and going. He would have needed to take a census to get a measurement of the worshipers. I do not see this passage as being literal. Rather, I see it pointing back to that same image given us in Ezekiel, who was also told to measure a temple. Only in Ezekiel’s case, the temple he was to measure was clearly indicating Christ’s church. I believe the passage in Revelation is indicating the same. It is giving us a picture of Christ’s people. In fact, the vision is accompanied by the description of “two witnesses.” I do not believe these two witnesses are literally two people. Rather, just as Moses stated in Deuteronomy, every matter of judgment must be established by two or three witnesses. The two witnesses in Revelation 11 is a picture of the testimony of the local church. In other words, it’s the preaching of the gospel. Isn’t it the preaching of the gospel the very thing which the nations try to silence? And often they succeed in silencing it, just as Rome did for more than 500 years. But God treats the witness of His Christ the same way He treats His Son. That is, He raises it from the dead.

    In like manner, I do not believe Nero was the person in question in Revelation 13. First off, Nero was not even all that bad as some have made him out to be. Nero did not banish John to Patmos. That was Domitian. Domitian was far, far, FAAAAAR worse than Nero. In fact, Domitian began every one of his emperorial edicts with the words, “Your Lord and God Domitian says . . . ” He was a fanatic when it came to emperor worship. When he entered the coliseum, the people were required to stand to the greeting of, “Your Lord and Lady . . . ” followed by his Latin name. He hated, absolutely hated Christians. Nero was just a homicidal dweeb. Domitian, on the other hand, was that century’s Hitler.

    But I do not even count him as being the subject of Revelation 13. Rather, the verse reads, “it is the number of A MAN.” Why should we suddenly leap to the conclusion that this is not every man? After all, every man is born with this number imprinted on him. Remember Satan’s lie? “You shall be as God.” And so we each are born doing what is right according to our own eyes. Who is like unto man? Look at all that we’ve accomplished. We’ve built a tower stretching into Heaven. Who is like unto the beast?

    The justified elect receive a seal too. Revelation 9 states this. What is man, says the Psalmist, that God has made him a little lower than the angels. Says the writer of Hebrews, but there is one man seated with the crown of higher honor than the angels. We are those who behold this Man, this Rider on the White Horse. The words in our mouth, “Who is like unto the Lamb”. He is king, He is the Prince of Peace, He rules, He reigns. The rider on a pale horse, see, it is His, it follows in His wake. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. He is the sovereign I Am, and He controls all, though it doesn’t always look that way. And it doesn’t always look that way. Especially when we’re being tortured and thrown into prison for speaking His testimony. And so He gave us this revelation to remind us. Peace, rest assure, though it doesn’t look like it, I am coming soon.

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    1. David,

      I agree that Revelation uses prophetic language that is hyperbolic. But, we are talking about the >> salutation within the first verses – not the middle of the book. You are assuming that Christ “coming soon” refers to the parousia. It doesn’t. And I’m not a hyper preterist. Yet Revelation 1:7 says:

      “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

      He is coming with the clouds. This is judgment language just as you had described earlier (trees clapping, etc.). In other words, He is coming in judgment SOON. Just as in the Olivet Discourse when He told His disciples that what He had described would happen within that generation (Matt 24:34) – and in context He was answering the question of the signs accompanying the Temple’s destruction. Perhaps generation doesn’t mean generation?

      This was an event that Jesus told Caiaphas He would witness:

      “Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” Matthew 26:64

      It was no different than what God said concerning Egypt in Isaiah 19:1:

      “An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”

      Jesus also told the disciples that they would not go through all of Israel before He returns:

      “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.” Matthew 10:23

      And he had also said,

      “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Matthew 16:28

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      I also don’t disagree with your position on the two witnesses. The problem with this brief commentary on the beast is that I haven’t commented on EVERY text concerning the beast, and so it looks incomplete. That’s why I said I had planned to comment more later – mainly because of time restrictions. But, there is more evidence for Nero being the beast.

      “Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. Revelation 17:9-10

      7 mountains is a clear reference to Rome (the “7 hills of Rome”). 7 kings – 5 have fallen: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius. One is – Nero. The other is not yet, but will remain a little while – Galba (after Nero kills himself, Galba rules for 6 months.)

      Another Scripture concerning the beast:

      “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.” Revelation 13:3

      Nero cut his own throat, killing himself. After his death, the Roman Empire collapsed and appeared as though it was gone for good. The Julian-Claudian line had ended. Historians like Josephus and Tacitus described those days as rich with disasters. Then, to everyone’s surprise, it was ultimately marvelously revived through Vespasian. Even historians at the time had written that it was a shock to everyone.

      Domitian may have been bad, just like there have been wicked men like him throughout history. But that doesn’t mean Nero isn’t the beast in question. He was bad too. We aren’t told that the beast is “the worst man of all time ever.” We are also not told in the Scriptures that John was exiled by Domitian. It has been held by many in the church, but that doesn’t mean it is correct.

      Consider that John is told not to seal up the book because the time is near. If we take a futuristic view, it would make no sense when compared to the words God told Daniel –

      ““But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” Daniel 12:4

      Here we have Daniel being told to seal up the book til the end of time because the time isn’t yet. But we have God telling John to NOT seal the book because the time is near. And here we are 2,000 plus years in the future with an unsealed book? Nonsense.

      This verse also seems pointless if we take a historical view because of the Lord’s words to Daniel. Not to mention the historical view is more of a guessing game.

      Taking a purely idealistic view poses a problem too. Don’t seal these words up because the time is near? What is near? 7 reoccurring stories about how Christ triumphs evil that took place at the cross 60 years ago?

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      1. I agree it is judgement language, but I don’t see where it pertains to any immediate events. Jesus used these same words in Matthew 24:30 and in Luke 21:27. Paul further uses it in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and in a way that connects it directly to Matt. 24:30 and Luke 21:27. “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Of course those who pierced Him will be there. THEY WILL HAVE BEEN RAISED FROM THEIR GRAVES IN PREPARATION FOR FINAL JUDGMENT!

        I do not see how, in light of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 you can associate Matt. 24:30 with AD70. Matt. 25:31 even states: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.” And is this not a direct fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14? “I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Doesn’t it make more sense that Matt. 24:30 and Luke 21:27 is a prophecy that looks toward the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14? It certainly would be consistent with 1 Thess. 4:17 and Matt. 25:31 if that were the case.

        Yes, Caiaphas indeed WILL witness this event, for he will be raised from the dead like everyone else (except that he will be raised to judgment). Nothing in Christ’s words to Caiaphas indicated that this was an event Caiaphas would see in his own lifetime. In fact, if it was, then Caiaphas thought little of it, for he went right on to spread lies about Christ’s resurrection, instructing his counsel even to tell the people the disciples had stolen Christ’s body. Does that really sound like the effect of the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven? Does that sound like the Son of Man ruling the peoples and nations of the earth?

        I’m in full agreement with you though about this probably not being the best time or place to debate and discuss these things. We really don’t have the space for it, and neither of us had the time to explain all that we mean. I do appreciate your thoughts on all subjects. And though I agree with you most times, this time I don’t, but that’s okay. We agree where the gospel is concerned, and that really is the only thing that matters.

        By the way, meant to say yesterday, your use of the Iron Maiden video; very clever. I got a kick out that.

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    2. You know, as I do, that we have to look at the context, and can’t say that the same event is being spoken of just because there is similar language. Jesus ties in the Olivet Discourse by saying all these things would occur within the generation (Matthew 24:34). And again, not only was he speaking to them saying, “And when YOU see…” but ultimately he was answering their questions about the destruction of the temple. Even further, this succeeded Matthew 23, where Christ condemns the Jewish leaders and tells them that their house would be left desolate – like those vineyard workers tenets who would be killed and have the vineyard given to others (Mark 12:9) and like the fig tree that was cursed, never to bear fruit again (Matthew 21:19). Remember also what the Jews said to Pilate. “Let His blood be on us and our children” (a generation) just as Christ condemned them in Matthew 23 for saying they weren’t like their fathers, although they’d ultimately kill Him and His messengers. And history clearly shows us that He was not a failed prophet. In fact, the Olivet Discourse in Luke’s gospel arguably makes it clearer than the other accounts (at least from a Gentile standpoint) because Luke tells us that the “abomination of desolation” is the Roman armies that surrounded Jerusalem.

      As for Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 – he is clearly speaking about the resurrection. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. >>> And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”<<<

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    3. I believe that Matt. 25:31 has been fulfilled too. Compare it to Matthew 16:27-28 – ““For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Jesus says that He will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and repay every man according to His deeds THEN says that some are there that won’t taste death until they see Him coming! Saying, as some do, that this was fulfilled in the transfiguration is crazy because Christ’s statement about some witnessing it comes directly after saying He will come to judge in all the glory of His Father with His angels. I do believe there is still a parousia, resurrection, and final judgment. But, Christ was enthroned and is currently separating the sheep from the goats.

      Daniel 7 was fulfilled when Christ ascended to the Father (Acts 1). He is currently on His throne reigning and ruling as Psalm 110 describes and as Peter said was happening in Acts 2. All authority is Christ’s (Matthew 28:18-19) and His kingdom is already here (Luke 17:21) as powerfully displayed at Pentecost.

      You said, “Nothing in Christ’s words to Caiaphas indicated that this was an event Caiaphas would see in his own lifetime.” Are you sure about that? Look again at what Christ’s words were: “Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” (NASB) He says “hereafter.” How else can we render hereafter? The ESV shows us – “Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” >>> From NOW on. Not, in the future. Caiaphas didn’t think little of it. He tore his robes and screamed, “He has blasphemed!” Of course he spread lies. He was unregenerate. Unless his heart was changed, he would always blaspheme God.

      haha thanks about the Iron Maiden vid too. By the way, for some reason, it wasn’t letting me post this as one long comment.

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  2. I do not see how it is necessary to jump to the future nor spiritualize every single prophetic text without investigating the internal and external evidences that highlight events in history. And I most certainly disagree when eschatology is ignored as if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. Futurists and idealists seem to have a lack of understanding on exactly where we stand in the realized Kingdom of God; consequently minimizing the power and authority of Christ from the end of the last age into this present age…an age without end (Matt 28:18-20).

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