At first glance, this is impressive. But only if one ignores all of the other more objective details given as to the character and ministry of the Beast which Nero falls far short of. Unfortunately, as many who have followed the sensational speculation of our own times concerning this matter are well aware, gematria is simply not reliable as a major indicator as to the identity of the Beast. There are simply too many degrees of freedom for making names or titles fit.
G. Salmon has developed three rules that have been used throughout the centuries for making any desired name equal 666. His rules are appropriate for the attempts by preterists to make Nero fit the number of the Beast: First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling. . . . We cannot infer much from the fact that a key fits the lock if it is a lock in which almost any key will turn. [emphasis added]1
in transliterating a foreign word into Hebrew, there is considerable latitude in including, omitting, or varying vowel letters. Whats more, there are three possible Hebrew equivalents [samek, sin, and shin] for the Greek letter for s.2This flexibility of gematria is evident in the many suggestions which have been put forth as possible matches for the 666 calculation of the Beast.
Throughout church history, the gematric method has been used to identify the beast as Teitan, Lateinos, Julius Caesar, Domitian, Vespasian, Caligula, the Nicolaitans, and the German Kaisers. Johnson notes that the sheer disagreement and confusion created through the years by the gematria method should have long ago warned the church that it was on the wrong track. Such confusion probably exists because the meaning of the number may not be evident until the Antichrist appears. Thus the best approach is to avoid all guessing and allow God to give the understanding when it is needed.3Beckwith also lists a number of historical figures who have been seen as fulfilling the gematria of Rev. Rev. 13:18+: Mohammed, Pope Benedict IX, Luther, Titan, Latinus, Gaius Caesar (Caligula), Caesar of Rome (requires the reading 616), Caesar of the Romans, Trajan, Hadrian, Trajan, Vespasian.4
The relative ease with which various names of history can be made to add up to 666 renders the match for Nero inconsequential. Gematria is not a means by which the name is to be discovered; but it will be a test and a proof by which the name may be identified after the person is revealed.5 Gematria cannot be the main point of evidence in any identity of the Antichrist, because probably the names of about one in every 10,000 people will total 666. This identification is not in itself a sure test.6
See commentary on Revelation 13:18.
1 Mark Hitchcock, The Stake in the HeartThe A.D. 95 Date of Revelation, in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 142.
3 Ibid., 247.
5 E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1967), 282.