The Number of the Beast

If you will commit to reading through the 404 verses of Revelation, you’ll not only receive a blessing (for reading, hearing, and heeding; cf. 1:3), but you will likely agree with me when I say that chapter 13 is one of the most prophetic of the entire book.

It is here that we learn of the one who will be empowered by Satan in the future. He is described as “the beast out of the sea” (v. 1). And just like his leader—his activity will be chock full of imitation. It is his aim to counterfeit the works of God in a final display of the evil of Satan (v. 7).

One of the most intriguing verses in this chapter is at the end, where the reader is informed about “the number of the beast” (v. 18). John is told in his vision to write and warn those who will be alive in this time of great tribulation to be discerning:

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.

Dr. Walvoord carefully explains what wisdom is found from the number of the beast1, as well as how others have gone astray with their attempts to mathematically interpret this verse:

The appeal for wisdom in recognizing the mark of the beast indicates the importance of this issue. The number six in Scripture is the number of mankind, symbolic of how humanity is constantly falling short of God’s perfection, which in Scripture is represented by the number seven. Man was to work six days and rest the seventh. The image of Nebuchadnezzar was sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. Whatever the deeper meaning of the number, it implies that this title referring to the first beast, Satan’s masterpiece, limit’s him to man’s level, which is far short of the deity of Christ.

Nero-Caesar_666Many generations of Bible students have sought to match 666 with a figure from history. This is known as gematria, a system of assigning numerical values to a word or phrase in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or to things such as a person’s name…

Many scholars who hold to a preterist (past) view of the book of Revelation maintain that the mark of the beast was completely fulfilled during the reign of the Roman ruler Nero (A.D. 54-68). They argue that the Greek form “Neron Caesar” written in Hebrew characters is equivalent to 666… However there are serious difficulties with identifying Nero with the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13.

First, the book of Revelation was written in A.D. 95, after the reign of Nero was already over. Therefore, it can’t be a prophecy about him. Second, and most importantly, Nero never fulfilled the numerous clear statements in Revelation 13 about worldwide worship, the mark of the beast, and never had a person like the beast out of the earth supporting him [v. 11, false prophet]. Third, in order for Nero’s name to equal 666, one must use the phrase Neron Caesar. No other form of his name will work. Moreover, there is an abbreviated form of the name Domitian (the Roman Caesar from A.D. 81-96) that also equals 666. Fourth, if the relationship of 666 to Nero is so obvious, as preterists claim, why did it take almost five hundred years after Nero’s death for anyone to make this connection between his name and 666? All of the early church fathers who wrote after the time of Nero adopted a futurist view of the beast out of the sea and the number 666…

There is no need for a complicated explanation. The mark is simply a token that they are beast worshipers, and it serves as an identification necessary to conduct business and to purchase the necessities of life [vv. 16-17]. It is another device to force all people to worship the beast.

Who is the antichrist? We do not know. However, his reign will be short (v. 5), unforgettable (vv. 7-8), and without the church present (v. 9).

1 Walvoord, John F. The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries: Revelation (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011). 215-217.