Even those who have never read the Bible will recognize it. Revered by the occult and feared by the superstitious, it’s a number forever linked with infamy. It is the number six hundred sixty-six. For over two millennia, this number has been used as a proxy for Satan himself. It’s been the subject of endless speculation, hearsay, and confusion.
And during this time, it’s been used to justify the false identification of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of individuals as the Antichrist. These false identifications have only served to confuse people as to the original, biblical meaning of the number 666, and unfortunately, they also cause many to dismiss Bible prophecy as a mere superstition of crackpots and conspiracy theorists.
So where does the number 666 come from? And what does it mean?
All the speculation concerning 666 comes from a single verse in the book of Revelation. In a passage describing the Antichrist and his world empire, we learn the following:
“He required everyoneâ€”great and small, rich and poor, slave and freeâ€”to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understandingsolve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666” (Revelation 13:16-18, NLT).
During the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist will require everyone on the earth to be given a mark on the right hand or the forehead. Those who refuse this mark will be unable to buy or sell anything, effectively cutting them off from all economic activity – the purchase and sale of food, water, shelter, and the basic necessities of life.
This mark will have the following characteristics:
1) It will be the name of the beast.
2) It will be the number representing his name.
3) It will be the number of a man.
4) The number is 666.
Let’s address each of these aspects individually in order to gain a firm grasp of their intended meaning:
The Name of the Beast
Who is the beast? Traditionally, “the name of the beast” is interpreted as being the name of the Antichrist, who is clearly referenced in verses 11-18 of Revelation chapter 13 (this topic will be addressed in depth in a later article). However, in these verses, the Antichrist is described as a second beast who exercises “all the authority of the first beast.” The first beast is described in verses 1-10 of the same chapter, but this beast does not represent the Antichrist, as some believe. Rather, it represents the world empire the Antichrist will rule.
We know this because the first beast has “seven heads and ten horns” (verse 1), and this is a beast students of Bible prophecy have seen before.
In the book of Daniel, we are introduced to this being as “the fourth beast,” a global empire that will destroy everything in its path:
“Then he said to me, â€˜This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling everything in its path. Its ten horns are ten kings that will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and wear down the holy people of the Most High'” (Daniel 7:23-25, NLT).
Does this fourth world power sound familiar? It has “ten horns” (Revelation 13:1) and will trample everything in its path, probably prompting people to ask, “Is there anyone as great as the beast? Who is able to fight against him?” (Revelation 13:4). It will also devour “the whole world,” gaining authority over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7).
We also learn that the Antichrist will “require all the earth and those who belong to this world to worship the first beast, whose death wound had been healed” (Revelation 13:12). Who is this beast whose death wound has been healed? The wounded beast who will be resurrected is the fourth beast in Daniel 7â€”the world empire of ancient Rome, which was never completely destroyed like previous world empires. In the last days, the Roman Empire will appear once again, and the world will marvel at its appearance.
Daniel confirms this when he states that the Antichrist will be a ruler from the people who destroy the Temple in ad 70 (Daniel 9:26). The Romans destroyed the Temple, and they will have a ruler once again in the last days, confirming that the Roman Empire must once again exist.
The book of Revelation also predicts this resurrection of Rome:
“Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief” (Revelation 17:10, NLT).
The angel reveals to John that five of the kingdoms have fallen:
The sixth kingdom “now reigns”:
6) Rome (John’s vision occurred in the first century, when Rome still ruled the known world)
And the seventh “is yet to come”:
7) The Revived Roman Empire
In the last days, this resurrected Roman Empire will rule all of humanity. Its reign will be brief, but it will be like no other kingdom before it.
The Antichrist will require all the earth and those who belong to this world to worship the revived Roman Empire, a global government that will rule “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7).
So the “name of the beast” described in Revelation 13:17 is not the name of the Antichrist, as widely believed, but instead, it will be a name associated with the world empire he requires the world to worship.
The Number Representing His Name
If the mark of the beast is “the name of the beast,” how can it also be “the number representing his name”? Ancient Greek and Hebrew, the two languages most associated with the book of Revelation, both used an alphanumeric system in which each letter of the alphabet correlates with a number. What verse 18 reveals is that the mark, which is the name of the beast, will have a numeric value that can be calculated as the number 666. The only way to “calculate” this number is if it appears as letters that need to be interpreted in a numerical form. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the mark of the beast will not be a literal brand of “666”; rather, it will be a word or a phrase that, when converted into its numerical equivalent, will represent the number 666.
How this is properly calculated depends on whether John originally wrote the book of Revelation in Greek or Hebrew. Tradition says he wrote the book in Greek. However, a strong case has been made that the book was originally written in Hebrew, then quickly translated into Greek. Not knowing for sure multiplies the difficulty of calculating the number of the beast, because each letter of the Greek and Hebrew alphabets is associated with a different numerical value.
The Number of a Man
If the number 666 represents the revived Roman Empire and not a man (the Antichrist), as traditionally believed, then why does verse 18 say, “for it is the number of a man”? The answer is that some translations interpret this verse as “for it is the number of humanity.” Either way, in both cases, the verse can be interpreted as “mankind” or the “entirety of the human race.” If this is the case, it tells us that the number 666 will not only be the name of the beast (the revived Roman Empire), but it will also be reflective of the entire human race, especially those who freely choose to accept the designation on their right hand or forehead.
When Daniel conveys God’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the empires of the world are symbolized in the form of a statue–a statue of a man.
“Your Majesty, in your vision you saw in front of you a huge and powerful statue of a man, shining brilliantly, frightening and awesome” (Daniel 2:31, NLT).
The association of this statue with mankind and world government provides a strong indication that the mark of the beast is more akin to the number of humanity rather than to any particular individual.
The Number Is 666
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible associates certain numbers with an overall theme. The number six is often associated with mankind. For instance, man was created on the sixth day. Similarly, the number seven is often associated with perfection and rest. As an example, God rested on the seventh day.
In contrast to the number seven, six is viewed as highly symbolic of incompletion or imperfection. Just as man has “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), the number six is symbolic of man’s shortfall of the perfection of God’s seven.
When the number six is repeated three times in the number 666, many believe it’s indicative of Satan’s attempt to imitate the Trinity.
The Price of Accepting the Mark of the Beast
The Antichrist and his followers will pay a hefty price for accepting the mark of the beast. The Bible tells us that ALL who accept the mark will face eternal judgment for their decision. The following verses reveal the consequences of this rebellion against God:
“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, â€˜Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or the hand must drink the wine of God’s wrath. It is poured out undiluted into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name”( Revelation 14:9-11, NLT).
“So the first angel left the Temple and poured out his bowl over the earth, and horrible, malignant sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue”( Revelation 16:2, NLT).
“And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast – miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue”( Revelation 19:20, NLT).
Acceptance of the mark is not a matter to be taken lightly. Anyone who accepts the mark denies Christ in favor of a false god. This decision, once made, is irrevocable, and the consequences are everlasting.
However, for those who refuse the mark, a future of eternal bliss awaits. Although they will suffer persecution to the point of death, their steadfast faithfulness in honor of Jesus Christ will open the door to an eternity in the presence of God.
“Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus, for proclaiming the word of God. And I saw the souls of those who had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands” (Revelation 20:4, NLT).
These verses are clear. Under no circumstances should anyone, especially a believer in Christ, accept the mark of the beast. To do so leads only to ruin.
Superstition Surrounding the Number 666
The world is filled with superstition, especially when it comes to numbers. Some feel the number thirteen is unlucky, and they avoid anything associated with the number. For a lot of people, the number 666 has the same effect. But God makes it clear that we are not to fear this number. Having a license plate, a sales receipt, or a street address with the number 666 is nothing to be concerned about. Anyone who thinks so it attributing supernatural power to a number, and the Bible clearly states that believers should fear God and God only:
“Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else” (Isaiah 8:13, NLT).
Jesus underscores this command while teaching His disciples not to fear persecution:
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell”( Matthew 10:28, NLT).
The things of this world are fleeting, but the Lord Almighty, and He only, will determine our eternal destiny. Therefore, don’t be concerned with such trivial superstitions as the random occurrence of the number 666.
Ultimately, the true meaning of the number 666 will not become apparent until the Great Tribulation, when the Antichrist forces the world population to accept the number as a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. Contemporary attempts to calculate this number ahead of time as either the name of a person, human beings, or the revived Roman Empire will only lead to frustration. Even worse, these attempts may end up having a negative impact in that, once proven false, they will damage the credibility of those who teach end-times Bible prophecy in general. If the devil can convince the world that Bible prophecy is the exclusive domain of crackpots and conspiracy theorists, then he can snatch away a valuable tool for spreading the gospel of Christ.
In the end, it is the duty of our generation to carefully examine the meaning of Revelation 13:16-18 and convey an accurate historical interpretation of these verses for others. If we succeed, the end-times generation will have the ability to properly interpret the number of the beast. Once the Antichrist arrives on the world scene and announces his intention to require the mark, it will become clear to everyone on earth what acceptance of this number really means. Whether it’s the number of an individual, a kingdom, or mankind itself, acceptance of the number 666 will be tantamount to a public rejection of Jesus Christ.
Britt Gillette is the author of Signs of the Second Coming: 11 Reasons Jesus Will Return in Our Lifetime and Coming to Jesus: One Manâ€™s Search for Truth and Life Purpose. Heâ€™s also the founder of End Times Bible Prophecy.