Q: #205. What does 666 mean in the Bible (Rev 13:17-18)?
By: Steve Shirley
A: First, lets look at the verses:
(Rev 13:17-18) and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (18) 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 (666).
People all through history have speculated on the meaning of these numbers, but honestly, NO ONE knows for sure what they mean. However, I will share some of the "theories" that have been given (from the credible to the incredible ).
We do know that all through the Bible, the number "7") is given as God's number. It is a number signifying perfection, completion, and rest. For example, there are 7 days in a week. God created all things in 6 days and rested on the 7th day (Gen 1:1-2:3). (God sanctified the 7th day: Gen 2:3.) There are 7 colors which make up the color spectrum (the colors of the rainbow). Jesus said 7 things on the cross (see: Q: #70). The book of Revelation is FILLED with references to the number 7: 7 churches (Rev 1:4,11,20), 7 spirits (Rev 1:4, 4:5, 5:6), 7 stars (Rev 1:16,20, 2:1, 3:1), 7 lamps (Rev 4:5), 7 seals (Rev 5:1,5), 7 trumpets (Rev 8:2), and many more...
In contrast to this is the number "6"), which is a number of imperfection. The number 6 is one short of God's perfect number. It is correlated with man and his imperfection in the Bible. For example, man was created on the 6th day (Gen 1:26-31) and he was to labor for 6 days (Gen 3:17-19)(Ex 20:9-11)(Ex 34:21) due to sinning in the Garden of Eden.
In relation to the verses above, it says 666 is "the number of a man." Therefore, if we take this literally (much of Revelation is figurative), it is saying 666 will represent a man (an imperfect man = "6"). This man is called "the beast" (also called the "Antichrist") and he will make up what is basically an "unholy trinity" (Satan [the dragon], the beast, the false prophet: Rev 16:13), in contrast to God's "holy trinity."
Most scholars (and MANY non-scholars) believe that 666 represents the name of this man (the beast) in some way. How do they come to this conclusion? It is important to understand that in many languages, for each letter there is a numerical equivalent for that letter. For example, many of us learned in grade school that the first 6 Roman Numerals are: I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500. Notice what these add up to: 666. Is that significant? Some believe so. Some believe that the beast (Antichrist) isn't a man at all, but rather, has something to do with Rome (i.e. a revived Roman Empire).
However, most believe that the numerical combination of letters will point to a single person. To add to the confusion, different languages are used to get this combination. Some use Greek, some Hebrew, some Latin... Also, you can alter the names to get the conclusion you want. For example, for those who might have thought that Hitler was the Antichrist, see if the letters Hitler equals 666, if not try Adolf Hitler, or Hitler the German, or Adolf Hitler the German, or Hitler the Nazi, etc... Eventually, you can probably make any person you want to add up to 666 in some language.
Using these tactics, it is amazing what people some up with. Here are some: nearly every president has been accused (Ronald Wilson Reagan = 6 letters in each name), Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein, Prince Charles, Napoleon, Stalin, Ayatollah Khomeini, Allah, Bill Gates, Santa Claus, and on and on.... And, it doesn't even have to be a man. Some throw in the Unites States or the World Wide Web as possibilities.
There are two theories that seem to have the most scholarly support. An overwhelming majority believe that the Antichrist will be the Pope. The Antichrist is prophesied to be a world leader, and the Pope certainly fits the bill. In addition, one of the Popes' titles is "Vicarius Filii Dei," which supposedly adds up to 666 in Latin.
Another popular theory is that the man the Bible refers to isn't in the future at all, but in the past. This man would be Emperor Nero, who was perhaps the greatest persecutor of Christians in history. It is believed that John (the author of Revelation) wasn't referring to a future man, but one who was killing Christians in his time. Apparently, the name Caesar Nero is spelled KAISAR NERON which in Hebrew adds up to 666. However, another source says the name NERO CAESAR NRWN QSR in Hebrew adds up to 666. Other sources say his name adds up to 666 in Greek... This theory seems unlikely to many though since Nero reigned from 54-68 A.D. (he committed suicide in 68 A.D.), and John did not write Revelation until app. 95-97 A.D.
Honestly, it is simply insane how some people get about this number. It doesn't even have to refer to any of the above. Apparently, people went crazy before and during the year 666 A.D. Did you know that if you take the 9's in the year 1999 and invert them, you have 666? Did you know that the year 2000 divided by 3 is 666.6666...? Did you know that the 1st 36 numbers (1-36) total 666? The numbers on a roulette wheel total 666. If you have ever worked at a place that uses a cash register, you know how many people go crazy when a total purchase equals $6.66. (They will often buy something else to change the price.) There is a popular pizza chain in our city that used to have an offering that would total $6.66 with tax. The waiter told me that they had to change the menu price by a penny because it bothered people so much. People even have house addresses, license plates, id numbers, etc... changed if they have 666 in them. There is supposedly even a name for the fear of this number: hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia!
Friends, whoever or whatever this number represents, as Christians we need have NO fear because we know the ending of the story: GOD WINS!