Thursday, March 5, 2015


Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.  (12)  He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.  (13)  He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.  (14)  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who[1] had the wound of the sword and has come to life.  (15)  And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  (16)  And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,  (17)  and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.  (18)  Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.  (Rev 13:11-18 NASB)

The world’s fascination with the number 666 seems to have no bounds.  In popular films and novels it is always connected with the devil or the occult.  In the comedy film The Burbs, neighbors of the strange, suspicious family the Klopecs decide to visit them and get acquainted.  But when they knock on the door, a loose house number flips over and changes the address from 696 to – you guessed it – 666, thus proving decisively that the Klopecs are evil!

Christians through the centuries have identified the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 as the Antichrist, the “man of sin” mentioned by Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV, NKJV).  Speculations have run wild, especially in the last couple of centuries, as to who exactly this Antichrist might be, and the number 666 has often been considered the key to his identity.  By assigning numerical values to letters, interpreters have identified a wide variety of candidates from Nero Caesar[2] to Ronald Wilson Reagan (whose first, middle, and last names all have six letters!).[3]  Kim Riddlebarger’s comment shows the futility of modern speculation about the number 666:

The attempt to calculate the number of the beast using gematria (computing numerical value of letters) can also be problematic because this kind of methodology can be manipulated to refer to almost anyone, in what has come to be known in certain circles as the “pin the tail on the Antichrist” game.[4]

            John tells us in verse 18 that discerning the meaning of the number of the beast requires “wisdom” and “understanding,” not mathematical or kabbalistic acumen!  The word translated “calculate” in v. 18 is used only one other place in the New Testament – Luke 14:28 – where Jesus gives an illustration about counting the cost of a decision.  The idea is clearly one of using wisdom in evaluating a given situation.  In Revelation, as we have noted previously, numbers generally have symbolic significance, and so it is with the number 6 and its repetition in 666.

Throughout Scripture, and certainly in Revelation, the number 7 represents the fullness or completion of divine acts.  God’s work of creation was complete on the seventh day, and so He rested, signaling the fullness and completion of creation.  God’s judgments in the Book of Revelation are in groups of seven, symbolizing their fullness and completion.  The number six, on the other hand, represents humanity.  The man, created on the sixth day, was to bear the image of God’s character, the reflected glory of God. But he sinned, and in his fallen, distorted humanity, he continually comes short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Satan would have mankind assert its independence from God.  Satan, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth (the false prophet) represent an unholy trinity dedicated to usurping authority from God, yet continually falling short.  The number of the beast, appropriately, is 666 – the three-fold assertion of fallen humanity.  The number three stands for perfection, as in the Triune God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3). The number of the beast declares mankind in their alienation from God to be “perfect” in unholiness, spiritual lepers who ought to be crying out: “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!”

A key point in this interpretation is the fact that New Testament Greek did not have the indefinite article “a,” as in “a man.”  The indefinite article is supplied in English translations where it is clearly needed, as in the phrase, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” (John 1:6).  In Revelation 13:18, however, it is not clear that the indefinite article “a” is needed.  If we translate the Greek text literally, we read, “for it is number of man.”  Beale renders it, “a number of humanity.”[5]  The same grammatical construction is found in Revelation 21:17, where John describes the dimensions of the wall of the heavenly Jerusalem, saying the measurements were “human measurements” (NASB), or literally, “measurement of man.”

What does the number 666 represent, then?  Beale explains it well:

It is a number common to fallen humanity … This generic notion is consistent with 13:1, which affirms that the beast has its earthly origin in the sea of fallen humanity (See also 17:15).  The beast is the supreme representative of fallen humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness, but always trying.[6]

 Can there be any doubt that the dominant “religion” in most of the world today is what we call “secular humanism,” the assertion that mankind is the supreme sovereign over both his own life and the destiny of this world?  Those who buy into that “religion,” and refuse to repent, do in fact bear the mark of the beast and the number of this name.  How much better to bear the seal of God, the name of God and the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Jones

[1] Based  on the masculine pronoun in the Greek for “who,” the NASB seems justified in using the masculine personal pronoun for both the first beast and the second beast.  The ESV refers to the beast with the pronoun “it,” implying that the beast may be an impersonal entity rather than an actual human dictator.
[2] Riddlebarger, Kim.  The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About The Antichrist.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2006, p. 111.  As Riddlebarger notes: “None of the church fathers, apparently, were aware of any connection between 666 and Nero.”
[3] Ibid., p. 111.  Note: Riddlebarger rejects this connection as ridiculous, as do I!
[4] Ibid., p. 111.
[5] Beale, G. K.  The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999, p. 724.
[6] Ibid.  p. 724.

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