Troublesome Topic: 666

Revelation 13:16

Translation

Then it (the second beast) caused it to come about

that everyone, the small and the great, rich and poor, free and slaves, should give them

Go to footnote number

a mark

on the right hand

and the forehead,

Paraphrase

It, the second uncontrollable brute, caused it to come about that everyone, from every category of people,

should give themselves a clear indication of their allegiance, a demonstration of their most important accomplishments, and the focal point of their attention.

Revelation 13:17

Translation

so that no one

would be able to buy or sell if he were not one of those having the mark

which is the name

of THE BEAST

or the number of his name.

Paraphrase

The result would be that no one would be able to buy or sell if he were not one of those having the clear indication of his allegiance to

the reputation and inner qualities of THE FEROCIOUS CREATURE, or

a summary of who he (the Beast) is.

Revelation 13:18

Translation

Herein is wisdom: Let the one who has understanding compute the number

of THE BEAST;

indeed it is man’s number;

its number is six hundred sixty six.

Paraphrase

Herein is wisdom: Let the one who has understanding figure out the meaning of the summary

of THE FEROCIOUS CREATURE; indeed, it is the same as

the summary for mankind;

it is self-sufficiency on steroids.

This famous number is possibly the most abused symbol in the Bible. There are 10 major points I feel I need to make about the symbol 666, so I have tried to enumerate them clearly (some of these major points have subpoints as well).

1. The number 666 is not about a physical mark that will be placed on people’s hands and foreheads by an antichrist figure who will control the entire world.

I say this for the following reasons:

A-Four times the book of Revelation talks about the mark of God or the name of God on people’s foreheads, Revelation 7:3, Revelation 9:4, Revelation 14:2, Revelation 22:4, but no one thinks it refers to a physical, visible mark. Why do prophecy experts say the mark of the beast is physical, but the mark of God is not?

Physical markings can be employed even if the heart is not right with God. If the mark of God were a physical mark people would be getting them, or counterfeiting them, without making sure their heart is right. But the Bible is clear that God will not accept any fakes or frauds into His kingdom.

B-If God gave us the number 666 so we could identify the individual called the Antichrist, God blew it; He failed miserably, because we keep guessing, and guessing and always getting it wrong. But if God gave us this number with the intent of communicating a spiritual lesson, He did a masterful job of it for the symbolism involved is a powerful sermon. I can say it another way: To interpret the use of this number in a literal sense brings confusion and frustration; to interpret the use of this number as symbolism of spiritual realities brings a powerful and practical message.

C-The passage that contains the number 666 (Rev 13:11-18) does not clearly describe, nor does it necessitate, world-wide control by an antichrist figure. Worldwide control is not in the text; it is assumed to be necessary because of the way the timetables and order of events have been structured by modern prophecy experts, but it is not in the text.

D-For the modern prophecy schematics and timelines to be correct there must be a clear spiritual connection between accepting the number and rejecting Jesus. Accepting a chip for supposed medical purposes does not imply a rejection of Jesus. (See below why I don’t want the government tracking me any more than it does, but it has nothing to do with rejecting Jesus.)

We have been programmed to freak out over the number 666 and anything placed on or in the hand or forehead to the point that we don’t look at the full picture. We forget to look at the spiritual connotations of what is being suggested because all we can see is the physical reality of a chip, or some other marking on the hand or forehead.

E-The passage contains several indications that this is symbolism and should not be taken literally. The wording of the passage waves a yellow flag in our face, saying, “Caution! Be careful to not take this the wrong direction.” Here are the ways the passage points to symbolism, not a literal interpretation:

1) “the mark which is the name of the beast”:  a name meant one’s reputation; the mark stood for something beyond itself; that is what symbolism does. This was not an identification number, like our home address, but a symbolic number with spiritual meaning which pointed to the reputation of the beast

2) “or the number of his name”: The number is the same as the name, just in summary form, and the name is the same as his reputation

3) “Herein is wisdom”: This meant: “This is important, don’t mess this up”

4) “Let the one who has understanding …”: there is a wise way and an unwise way to interpret this, so be careful

5) “compute the number of the beast”: the wise should figure out the meaning of the summary of THE FEROCIOUS CREATURE; they should look at the character issues, not identity, to figure out the meaning or spiritual principles involved;

6) “it is man’s number”: the spiritual characteristics of this individual are the same as those of mankind (without God), just amplified.

2. This was a warning against following our inherited sinful tendencies.

First a word about the number six. Maybe you have noticed that the number six appears several times in nature, for instance, every snowflake has six sides, many crystals form with six sides, etc. Thus, the number 6 is not an evil number, it can rightfully be called the number for the natural world, or even natural perfection. The Bible is clear that the natural world we see around us was made by God and points toward God. We can easily see how snowflakes and crystals give glory to God.

Now let us consider the use of the number 6 in Revelation chapter 13. Notice that the giving of the number of the beast is accompanied by a call for wisdom: “Herein is wisdom: Let the one who has understanding compute the number of the beast; indeed it is man’s number; its number is 666” (13:18). In my opinion, Rev 13:18 means something akin to this: “From the previous verses you now understand the spiritual characteristics of the Beast, characteristics like being power-hungry and manipulative. Since numbers are a powerful way of communicating, think about what number (what numeric symbol) would best represent the Beast’s characteristics. But be very careful, be very wise. Don’t go where your mind naturally wants to go. Don’t think of numbers for evil (like 13), rather think of the number for man—6. This may be hard to grasp, but the natural inclinations of sinful man are not far removed from the inclinations of the Beast himself, only ours are on a smaller scale. If the number for man is 6, the number for the beast will be a tripling of man’s characteristics, 666.”

We should not be so concerned about who the beast is, but about how to control our own natural tendencies which were twisted when Adam fell into sin. We cannot control those tendencies on our own; it is only through God’s intervention that such can be controlled.

Notice that I am not speaking of evil itself, but of man’s natural tendencies which have been twisted. We have come to think of 666 as an identifier and the entity it identifies as the embodiment of extreme evil. That seems to separate it from us because we all think of ourselves as basically good people. But the real meaning of 6 is not nearly as nefarious; it is actually pretty good; it is the best man can do without God. But that is the problem. When we try to be good without God, we are going further away from God rather than closer to Him. We are practicing self-sufficiency and being drawn into pride, and pride is often displayed by someone who is power-hungry and manipulative. Self-sufficiency causes us to try and force things to happen our way rather than trusting God to bring things about His way. Therefore, 666 is not a representation of extreme evil, it represents the best man can do without God. In my paraphrase I call it self-sufficiency on steroids, which turns out to be a very bad thing—even though it does not look evil on the outside.

The fact that this mark is placed on the right hand and on the forehead is very important; it tells us what the mark pertains to. The right hand has to do with one’s strength, abilities and most important accomplishments, and the forehead is an image for one’s focal point or chosen priority. We could say that our “mark” is our testimony, our visible pledge of allegiance. In this case the “mark” on the hand meant someone who had pledged their strength, abilities and greatest accomplishments to stand for the glory of the Beast. Likewise, in this case, a “mark” on the forehead meant that one’s focus and priorities were dedicated to serving the Beast. The uses of the mark on the forehead in chapters 7 and 14, point to someone who is committed to serving God and is focused only on doing His will.

3. The mark of the beast is something people who are under the deceitful influence of Satan place upon themselves. The enemy and the people both participate in this process.

This conclusion comes from Rev 13:16 which states: “Then it (the second beast) caused it to come about that everyone, the small and the great, rich and poor, free and slaves, should give them a mark on the right hand and the forehead.”

This is ambiguous and scholars are divided on its meaning. Because it is a difficult sentence to translate, allow me to give a word of context.

A.-Here is a summary of what the text says: “It” (the second beast, the two horned beast, the one from the land) deceives the people (v.14). Then it gives breath (life) to an image of the first beast (the one that is from the sea and has ten horns and was wounded but still lives) and brings death to those who refuse to worship that image (v.15). In v. 16 it causes all, from every category of people, to worship the first beast, and it causes all men that theyshould give them a mark . . . ” That is the literal translation—that they “should give them a mark.”

B.-In case you happen to care about these things—the verb for “give” is an Aorist Subjunctive Active, 3rd person plural. It would be more clear if the verb were middle rather than active, meaning that the people did this to themselves, or passive, meaning that they received it, or if it remained active but were 3rd person singular instead of plural, indicating that the second beast did this to them, i.e. forced this upon them. But despite our wishes, it is still active and plural. We do not like tension, but an ambiguous verb like this one brings tension.

However, some will point out that the third person plural is sometimes used in Revelation in a general sense that we would translate as a singular. See Revelation 12:6 as an example in which it is easier in English to translate it as a singular (“where she might be cared for”), but it is possible for it to remain plural and still make sense (“where they might care for her”). I think that 12:6 is a poor example because it can well be translated as a plural and there is no need to change it to a singular. This argument does not convinced me that the plural form in 13:16 should be changed to a singular.

Many translators make 13:16 say “received” instead of “give,” but I think they do so only because it is easier that way.

C.-The ones doing the giving (called the antecedent of “they”) seem to be “everyone, the small and the great, the rich and the poor the free and the slaves,” not the two beasts combined. The people are mentioned immediately before this statement, making them the most obvious antecedent for this verb. It is unlikely that “they” refers to the two beasts because only the second beast is mentioned in this verse; it most likely refers to all the people. Meyer and Wordsworth both agree that it is the people who give themselves the “sign.”

D.-The precursor of “them,” the ones receiving the action, seems to be all people. There is nothing else it can mean.

E.-While the pronoun is not the specific pronoun for “themselves” but rather the general pronoun “them;” it can be translated either “them” or “themselves.”

F.-Could it be that the people give one another the mark? I am convinced that my mark is actually my testimony, and no one else can give that to me.

G.-Could it be that God caused John to make this phrase ambiguous because He wanted to hold in balance the role of the second beast and that of the people? Yes. My point of view is that God did not want to say that the people did it to themselves for that would leave out the deceitful role of the second beast and the talking image; neither did God want to simply say that the beast did it to them, because that would leave out the role of the people who gladly accepted the deceit in order to be able to buy and sell. They are partially responsible because they made decisions which resulted in a reputation which is also known as their mark. However, they were not alone. There was deception from the enemy, and also evil desire on the part of the people. The two things work together to bring spiritual slavery. Man accepts the delusion because he wants it.

This is the best explanation I can give for this ambiguous statement.

4. The focus of this passage is not on a one-world government.

It is largely from this passage and its use of the number 666 that people have gotten the idea that there will one day be a one-world-government. Will there be one? I don’t know. Is it possible? Yes. Is Revelation clear in predicting a one-world government? No. It is not necessary that Satan utilize human governmental structures. He can and often does, but he does not have to. The bottom line is that there is no one-world-government required by Revelation 13.

Not only is a one-world-government not required by Revelation, the reason for looking for one is based on a faulty foundation. That foundation is the idea of a 7-year global tribulation. I have already shown in my comments about Revelation 11:2, that a 7-year global, unique tribulation is not found at all in Revelation. The prophecy experts who have promoted such an idea have done so by taking the imagery of 3 ½ years in the opposite direction than the original audience would have taken it. Then they take the idea of a mark that is used to deny selling things to certain people and they presume that this requires a global government.

Let me put it another way: The need for a one-world government is an assumption based on another assumption, and the second assumption is based on the first assumption; this is called circular reasoning. The idea of a one-world government is based on an assumption about the nature of persecution in the so-called “end times” (7 years of world-wide, unique persecution), and it is assumed that such a persecution would require a one world government. They each require the other, but neither one of them is found in Revelation.

We should not fear a one world government. The text does not call for it, and the need for it runs contrary to proper interpretation of the symbolism of Revelation.

5. Don’t listen to those who jump to conclusions whenever they see someone trying to take over the world.

Many today try to identify the Antichrist without any use of a specific method, they just guess. This was true of those who pointed to Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Napoleon, and many others, as the Antichrist. If someone seems to want world control, people jump to the conclusion that this person must be the Antichrist. This comes about by focusing on only one small part of Revelation chapter 13, i.e. the references to “all people except the followers of the Lamb.” The reason that phrase was included was to show a difference between true believers and the rest of mankind who are deceived by the deceiver. The emphasis of this passage is not on world control, but rather on the worship of the first beast, the one who is trying to imitate Jesus by simulating a resurrection from the dead. This is what Satan has been striving for from the beginning, it is nothing new. This worship of the beast comes about by deceit, manipulation, and threats.

6. The number 666 is not gematria.

A.-Gematria is the practice of ascribing numeric value to each letter and then converting a word into a number. This was not a stretch at all for ancient peoples because most of them used letters for numbers. The first ten letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets were their first ten numbers as well. Various archeological finds have confirmed that gematria was indeed used in ancient times. Some graffiti has been found in Pompeii that reads, “I love her whose number is 545″ (John Yeatts, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Revelation, p. 250.)

Our challenge is to determine when gematria was being used and when it was not.

Throughout the Bible the Jews were much more inclined to use numbers as symbols than to add the values of letters in a name and express the name as a number. For the book of Revelation, the use of numbers is consistently symbolic. Indeed, if the number 666 is gematria it would be the only case of it in Revelation.

Today we ask: “What or whom do I see in the world around me that could possibly equal 666?” That is the wrong question. You can make almost anything equal 666 if you work at it. If you set your values correctly the letters www equal 666. Some have thought bar codes contain 666. We should not be surprised that someone figured out how to make the name Hitler equal 666. My friend, Dr. John Yeatts says that, when he was teaching a college class on Revelation, he had a student raise his hand and say, “When I ascribe numeric values to the letters in this way, Yeatts equals 666.”

B.-Many have said the name Nero Caesar is the most obvious specific meaning for the number 666. However, seeing 666 as a reference to Nero has a few problems:

1)  In Hebrew the letters of Nero Caesar add up to 616, but in Latin they come to 666. John elsewhere in Revelation uses Hebrew words, but he never uses Latin words, nor do any other New Testament writers, to my knowledge (other than names of people and places). To make it work with Hebrew letters the spelling of Nero Caesar must be adjusted to an unusual spelling. This is what I call hermeneutical gymnastics.

2)  It would be uncharacteristic of God to communicate something that can mean almost anything someone wants it to mean. The use of symbols was much more clear to the original audience, whereas gematria was open to various interpretation. The man from Pompeii who wrote that he loved the woman whose number was 545 could have unwittingly been declaring his love for a number of women in the city. Furthermore, if identity was God’s purpose, He would have found a way to communicate such identity that was more clear than gematria.

3) Finally, “The wisdom needed to understand the number is not mathematical aptitude but spiritual discernment. The number six represents humanity falling short of the divinity implied in the complete number seven” (John Yeatts, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Revelation, p. 253).

C.-I am convinced 666 was intended as symbolism, not as gematria. First of all this is preceded, not by an attempt to give us the identity of this evil ruler, but by seven verses that explain his characteristics (13:11-17). Secondly, it is explained that 6 is the symbolic number of man, in contrast to the numbers 7, 12 or 40, which represent perfection or completion. By saying it is man’s number the text is pointing us toward symbolism and away from the use of gematria. Symbolism can impact all of us with a spiritual admonition or encouragement, while gematria only serves for identification, and does not do a good job even at that.

7. 666 is not the Catholic Church or the Pope.

Some have said the images in Revelation are not specific people, but concepts or ideas. That may sound similar to what I am saying about images, but in the end, it is very different. After saying the images represent concepts, some give themselves the liberty to determine what those concepts are, based on their modern perspective. They may say the Antichrist is religious authority, which they go on to say means the Catholic Church, and then they conclude that the Pope is the Antichrist. This is a very slippery way to interpret Scripture because it gives us the freedom to make it mean whatever we want it to mean.

The original readers would not have known about the Catholic Church or the Pope, so this violates my second rule of interpretation. The original audience would have sought interpretation of the symbols through their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.

8. What about a Cashless Society?

Back in John’s day, in the city of Thyatira, the Jesus-followers were blocked from buying many things. They could probably exchange a few things with friends using items of value that were not seen as currency; I assume the ban was not 100% effective, although it would have felt close to complete. So we should not assume that the passage requires a ban of 100% effectiveness. It is this very issue, the supposed “need” for a complete and total restriction, which has brought about the discussion of a cashless society precisely because anything short of that would make it impossible to control people in such a complete way. It is all based on a 7-year global, unique tribulation, which I have already shown to be contrary to proper interpretation of the symbolism of Revelation. Therefore, if there will be no 7-year tribulation of world-wide, complete persecution, and if the mark of the beast is a spiritual condition rather than a physical sign, then there is no need for a ban on buying and selling that is enforced with 100% effectiveness on a global scale. The idea expressed by the text is a type of opposition which can and does happen to believers periodically, with differing degrees of severity. It is not anything new.

Therefore, we should not freak out when we see steps that take us a bit closer to a cashless society. Revelation never predicts a cashless society or a cashless world. It was intended to give encouragement to those suffering persecution and strong opposition.

However, if a cashless society were achieved, people who are banned from buying and selling could still barter (at least with each other) in order to get food. We have seen before how quickly a black market develops when some desired item is banned. Stopping all bartering is extremely difficult to achieve, requiring an almost equal ratio of enforcers to general population; it is far easier and cheaper to just lock up all suspected offenders, or eliminate them.

We need to remember that Revelation is a vision, therefore, this could well be the communication of an idea of the type of persecution that can come upon believers in Jesus, but I doubt it is an indication that this specific thing must happen on a global level. This could have been intended by Jesus to emphasize one of the types of persecution that was rare so that the believers could prepare themselves for it in mind and spirit. As we saw in chapters of 2 and 3, there are various types of persecution that can be encountered by believers in Jesus.

9. The Mark of God and the mark of the Beast pertain to one’s reputation.

Think once again about the situation in Thyatira; how did buyers and sellers know if someone was “banned” from buying and selling? Was there a visible mark on the followers of Jesus? No. So how did they know? Even in a city of reasonable size back then (but medium-sized for us today), people would come to know the reputations and allegiances of everyone they did business with. Because they did not have cars back then, the people were limited in how far they could go to get away from people who would recognize them. Thus the store employees would learn to recognize all the followers of Jesus even though they may have dressed and looked like everyone else. They learned to distinguish them by their testimony, and then refused to sell them things. It is all about one’s reputation, and I think that is the emphasis of this passage.

How does this square with the use of the term “mark” in the Old Testament? The term “mark” would have brought to mind the covenant signs that people would place upon themselves in ancient times when they entered into a covenant relationship. Some of the marks used as covenant signs were not seen by the public (think circumcision), while others were placed on prominent parts of the body such as the arm, hand, or forehead.

So how can we reconcile the last two paragraphs? The signs of the covenant which God called for were intended as indicators of what is in one’s heart; they did not stand alone. Spirituality has always been about the heart; it has never been about outward condition. The mark is useless if it does not reflect the heart. A good example is church membership. It is an outward thing that is supposed to indicate something about that person, but it is useless if it does not agree with the heart.

The heart is the “prize” that God and Satan are both after.

If your mark is your reputation, how do people see it? We all know of situations in which a follower of Jesus started a new job and was quickly pegged as abnormal since his life showed no evidence of bad language, alcohol or drug abuse, immodest dress, lack of respect, etc. In such cases one’s reputation serves as the mark that he is a follower of Jesus. Persecution usually does become personal; it is seldom void of all relational aspects. And evangelism is about relationships as well. Therefore, it is easy to see the opposing corollary—the mark of the Beast can be someone’s reputation as a follower of the Beast.

We should not look for a physical fulfillment specifically in the hand and the forehead. The hand and forehead serve as symbols of our activities and our priorities respectively. What’s more, in this modern era with much advancement in technology, there are an unlimited number of ways that those who wish to could indicate who the followers of Jesus are so that all the stores would know to refuse to sell them products.

Never forget that the book of Revelation mentions the followers of God also having a mark or seal.

10. Receiving an embedded chip has no spiritual connotations.

A.- The symbol of 666 points toward those who follow their sinful tendencies. The principles involved have been true since Adam and Eve fell into sin. It is unfortunate that, by failing to understand the message of the symbolism, we have ignored the spiritual truth God is trying to teach us and we have allowed ourselves to go on a wild rabbit chase.

B.- Receiving a chip is not the same as pledging allegiance to Satan, which is the supposed meaning of receiving the number 666. The discussions we hear in our culture about the beast and the number 666 seem to have separated its implementation from any pledge of allegiance to sinfulness and Satan. People assume that receiving the identifier (which many think is going to be an embedded chip or grain sized identifier) would somehow equal apostasy. Yet for it to be apostasy it needs to be a clear turning from God to Satan. It seems that almost everyone has forgotten about the spiritual aspect of things and is focused on the number 666 and a one-world government.

C.- People have followed their human tendencies for millennia, and believers are constantly tempted to do so today as well. However, this is a warning that there can be financial sacrifices one must make in order to follow God. Remember that the believers in the city of Thyatira were going through this exact thing, economic pressure—comply or starve. From Satan’s point of view it works very well. How many American believers would hold up very long under that kind of pressure?

D.- Although there is no spiritual consequence to receiving a chip, it probably will have consequences regarding one’s freedoms, and since those in power will most likely be ruling according to their sinful flesh, it will likely make it easier for those in power to control us and ultimately result in pressure to do the wrong thing. But the initial act of taking the chip is not a spiritual decision, for the number 666 is about sinful living, not about identification. So I am saying that things are not as we have been taught regarding the number 666, and taking a chip is not the same as apostasy.

However, for reasons of freedom and to avoid future pressure to reject one’s faith, it might be a good idea to refuse the chip if given a choice. You decide for yourself, based on accurate knowledge of the truth, not on emotion or on false teaching.

Summary:

The number 666 is not a method of identification, but rather a symbol for self-sufficiency on steroids. We should not focus on world control or a one-world-government, but on worshipping the One who alone deserves our worship. We should not focus on who the Antichrist might be, but on our own character, our obedience and perseverance—don’t be a 6, and you won’t have anything to worry about. We should definitely not freak out every time something happens in the news or in your personal life involving the number 666, for it is not the number, but what it means, that is important. We should ask ourselves what kind of a mark, or testimony, we are placing upon ourselves, for the mark of the beast is a visible pledge of allegiance to Satan, that people who have been deceived by him, place upon themselves. Instead we should seek to have God’s mark on our hands and foreheads (i.e. you should seek to have our allegiance to God demonstrated in our actions and our priorities).

Regardless of which study series you are reading, the next lesson is: Is “Harvesting” the Same as the “Rapture”?

Footnotes

1

See point 3 in the comments after 3:18 for an explanation of this enigmatic statement