In the centuries that followed the writing of Revelation, countless writers and preachers have tried to interpret John’s vision, speculating what the Number of the Beast could mean, but without success. The prophetic descriptions of the Mark and the peculiar number 666 became among the most well-known of all the prophecies in the Bible. There even developed a certain obsession related to this prediction. No Christians wanted to be associated with anything that even remotely reminded them of 666—just in case God would disapprove. In extreme cases, people have been known to send back credit cards or license plates just because they contained that number. Some companies have even received hate mail merely because they made the mistake of incorporating this number sequence into their ads or addresses. It’s amazing how this one simple, three-digit number can almost cause paranoia in Christian circles. In fact, there is even a technical term coined to describe those with a fear of the number 666. It is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia!
Authors of end-time books have further perpetuated this fear by citing almost anything that contains three sixes in sequence and saying that these examples are proof of the soon rise of the Final World Order. The fact is, though, such interpretations of John’s prophecy are mainly just numerical coincidences that could occur at any time and any place when sequences of numbers are used. Basic statistics shows that any of the other numbers between zero and nine also have an equal chance of repeating in any sequence of three numbers. In fact, the probability that 666 will occur in any random sequence of three numbers is equal to 1 chance in 1000 (or 1/1000). This can be calculated simply by assuming that each digit can consist of any number between 0 and 9 inclusive. Thus, for each position in a triad the probability that a 6 will occur is one chance in 10 or 1/10 (because there are 10 possible numbers that could occur in a given position). Therefore, the overall probability of the sequence 666 appearing randomly together is 1/10 x 1/10 x 1/10 = 1/1000. In a society where sequences of numbers are used virtually billions and billions of times daily, the number 666 is bound to come up frequently. In other words, just because the number sequence 666 happens to show up on your checking account or credit card number doesn’t mean that it is associated with the Antichrist’s system—it just means that it randomly appeared because of probability. It also doesn’t mean that you are endorsing or following the Antichrist if you find that number randomly showing up on one of your account numbers or license plates.
For most of church history, the number 666 was thought to be associated strictly with the Mark itself. In fact, to many people the prophecies about 666 and the Mark were describing basically the same thing. Probably a significant percentage of Christians may have believed that the Antichrist will actually have this number branded right on a person’s hand or forehead as part of the Mark. The movie “The Omen” furthered this view by showing the Antichrist himself as having the mark mysteriously engraved on his scalp as a birthmark. Is this really the way the number 666 will be used at the end? Will the Mark of the Beast and the Number of the Beast turn out to incorporate the literal number 666 written on the body? In one very real possibility, this may turn out to be the truth, because a tattoo consisting of a barcode could be used to identify all the people in the world and also incorporate an encoded 666 feature within it (see the sections The Final Mark and Barcode Technology for additional information).
Other people have thought that the Number of the Beast would turn out to be the secret code that would identify the Antichrist to the world. This belief most likely originated because in the English Bible the prophecy of 666 says to “count the number of the beast” (Rev. 13:18). The original Greek word for “count” in this verse is ψηφισάτω (psefisato), which means “to count, to reckon, to vote, or to decide”. It might also be said that it means “to determine” or “to figure out” the Number of the Beast. In this sense, to understand the prophecy some form of discovery, unveiling, or calculation must take place to determine the true meaning of 666 in the end times. According to the Apostle John, the true application of this prophecy will be difficult to figure out. In fact, no other prophecy in the Bible is given with this type of qualification, so it is natural that people have tried to calculate the Number of the Beast to discover its meaning.
One of the oldest methods of trying to determine the Number of the Beast was to assign numerical values to each of the letters of an alphabet and sum the resultant number equivalents of each of the letters in names, words, or phrases. As a result of this theory, many Christians have tried to find the number 666 buried inside of important organizational names or calculated using the names of certain world leaders. According to this approach, if the numerical sum of the name, word, or phrase equals 666, then a possible meaning for the Number of the Beast has been found. In particular, the names of many well known people have been summed in this way to see if they equal 666, because the prophecy in Revelation also says that the Number of the Beast is the number of “a man“. Those who have sought to identify the Antichrist by this method have pointed their fingers at many of the Popes, almost every evil world leader that has arisen, and even people like Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan! However, to calculate the Number of the Beast from these names often different languages and alphabets are used or different number assignments to the letters are used, making the process nebulous at best. Using this approach, not only is there wide disagreement between people as to what 666 might mean, but they typically don’t yield anything remotely associated with the prophecies of the Antichrist or the Final World Empire.
This process of correlating numbers to names has been called “gematria”, which most commonly has used a prominent (or notorious) leader’s name to try to equate it with the Number of the Beast. For some languages, such as Greek or Hebrew, this practice may have some basis, because the letters that make up their alphabets also correspond to the numbers that are used in mathematics. With other languages, such as English, it is much more dubious, because the letters of the alphabet are not used interchangeably for numbers as they are in Greek and Hebrew.
One of the more popular historical interpretations of calculating 666 using gematria is equating the Roman Emperor Nero with the Antichrist. This is typically done by combining his name with his title, thus Nero Caesar, and then transliterating that name from the Greek into Hebrew (see illustration). The letters in Hebrew finally are correlated to the equivalent Hebrew numbers such that when summed can be seen to equal 666.
Many people who do not believe that the book of Revelation is prophetic espouse the theory that Nero is represented by this prophecy, because he was a great persecutor of Christians during the first century. However, Nero reigned from 54-68 AD, which by most historians placed him well before the time that the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation (~95 AD). This poses a significant problem for those equating Nero with 666 and the Antichrist, because John’s book is written as a prophecy of a future dictator that would reign over the world at the end, not about a past leader or even a contemporary leader. Nero also did not institute a worldwide marking program to fulfill the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast. In addition, the Book of Revelation leads to the Return of Christ at the end of the Antichrist’s reign, which clearly did not happen after Nero was the Emperor of Rome. Truly Nero was an evil man and certainly a type of antichrist, but he was not the predicted Antichrist even if the transliteration of his name and title equal 666.
Using gematria to calculate the number of other names or phrases, people have found 666 by transliterating the words Lucifer, Santa Claus, Kissinger, Gorbatchov, and even the word beast. There is actually an Internet site that has deployed an online application for calculating the gematria of any name or phrase using a particular numbering scheme (http://antichristcalculator.tripod.com/antichrist.html). However, calculating the Number of the Beast in this manner is clearly not in keeping with the true meaning of the prophecy in Revelation, because in the original Greek Rev. 13:18 actually says it is the number of man, not the number of a man. The word in the Greek here is ἄνθρωπος (anthrópos), which is the word for man or mankind in a general sense irrespective of gender. The word is often used in the Bible to describe the human race, but it is not commonly used in reference to an individual. To indicate a particular man, the word to use would have been anēr, which refers to a male individual. Therefore, instead of saying that the Number of the Beast is the number of the Antichrist, the prophecy is actually stating that the number is created by man or will come from man’s invention and will not be directly associated with any one individual’s name. In other words, the number 666 will appear at the end as a feature of the final economic system just as the Apostle John indicates in this prophecy, and it will not be the transliteration of a man’s name into the equivalent numerical sum. Therefore, the use of gematria to discover the Number of the Beast and an individual associated with it is an incorrect path to determining the mystery of 666. However, despite all this evidence to the contrary, the practice of trying to link a leader’s name to the calculation of 666 still stubbornly persists.
Next: The Imagery of the Beast