Revelation 13:18

Here is wisdom
This phrase indicates that what follows constitutes a riddle of sorts requiring great wisdom to comprehend. A similar statement introduces the riddle of the seven heads of the beast (Rev. Rev. 17:9+). It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pr. Pr. 25:2). When Daniel was puzzled about the revelation given to him, he was told that “the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. . . none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Dan. Dan. 12:9-10). Although the book of Revelation is not a sealed book (Rev. Rev. 22:10+), undoubtedly a similar principle attends this passage: those living at the time of the fulfillment will be best positioned to understand the full meaning of what is related. Until that time, history is full of names conjectured to fulfill the riddle of this verse. See A Lock almost any Key will Turn.

the number of a man
Ἀριθμὸς ἀνθρώπου [Arithmos anthrōpou] , simply number of man. The definite article (“the”) is not found in the Greek text. Wallace sees the missing article as an indication that the number is not of a man, but the number of humankind.1 While this may account for the grammar, it fails to account for the previous verse wherein the article appears before both number and man: τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ [ton arithmon tou onomatos autou] , the number of the name of him (cf. Rev. Rev. 14:11+). Thus, the number seems inextricably tied to the individual. Some explain of a man as designating a number as men count.2

His number is six hundred and sixty six
Discussion on the meaning of this value and its association with individuals and movements of history is legend. “The interpretations of this number form a jungle from which escape is apparently hopeless.”3

The numeric designator for the value 666 found in the MT and TR texts employs the Greek character stigma which is not generally used today. It occurs between epsilon (ε) and zeta (ζ). Thus it displaces zeta as the sixth character, giving zeta through theta the values 7 through 9, iota through kappa the values 10 through 90, and rho through omega the values 100 through 800. An additional character, sampsi stands at the end as 900.4 Since our Greek font does not contain stigma we will represent it by a sigma with an accent: ςˊ5

In the TR and MT text, the value is given by the three Greek letters χξςˊ.6 Given the Greek alphabet of the time, the values of the three letters are: χ = 600; ξ = 60; ςˊ = 6. Their sum is the infamous 666.7 The NU text spells out the values using words: ἑξακοσιοι ἑξηκοντα ἑξ [hexakosioi hexēkonta hex] , six hundred sixty six. Among all the extant manuscript evidence, only a very few have δεκα [deka] (10) as the middle value resulting in 616.8

The Nero advocates make much of the alternative value 616 because two different spellings of Nero can account for both the value 666 and 616. This may be true. But it is but one small piece of the overall puzzle which contributes to the identity of the Beast. Nero succeeds on this count, but fails miserably on all others. Nero is far from the only individual in history who meets the conditions for 666. See A Lock almost any Key will Turn. Metzger suggests that the textual variation indicating 616 is best explained as an intentional modification of the original text by a scribe who saw Nero in the text.9 See our discussion of the attempts to find fulfillment in Nero.

Irenaeus, who lived much nearer to the time of Nero than modern preterists and who was a disciple of Polycarp who knew our author, supports the reading 666:

Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number [666] being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout . . . I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one. (I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty [chi, ξ] was easily expanded into the letter Iota [ι] of the Greeks.) Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decade; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.—Irenaeus, Against Heresies, v.xxx10

He saw the number connected with the antitype of Antichrist’s image—Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. He also saw the Beast as a person yet future, not Nero:

For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man’s coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men.—Irenaeus, Against Heresies, v.xxx11

Adding to the complexity of identifying an individual with the number are various ways in which gematria can be performed. Harless argues for the simplest, ragil method:

There are seven ways of calculating gematria in Jewish tradition. 1) Ragil: This method is the basis for all the other methods. Each letter of the alphabet has its own numerical value. The numerical value of a word or phrase is the sum total of the values of its letters. 2) Katan: All the tens and hundreds are converted to the single numbers 1 to 9. 3) K’lali: In this method, the value of a word is the square of the sum of the ragil values of each letter in that word. 4) Millui: This method gives a letter the numerical value of the sum of the ragil values of the letters that make up the name of the letter. 5) Kolel: This method sums the ragil values of the letters in a word plus the number of letters. 5) Hakadmi: The value of the first letter is ragil. The accumulated value of the second letter is its ragil value plus the ragil value of the first letter. The accumulated value of the third letter is its ragil value plus the accumulated value of the second letter, etc. 7) Haperati: The value of each letter is the square of its ragil value. The value of the word is the sum of all the squares of its letters. It is apparent that the k’lali, millui, kolel, hakadmi, and haperati methods are unlikely to be intended in this passage, since they would tend to produce numerical values much in excess of 666. These methods also seem to be late additions not in use during the New Testament period. Only the ragil and katan methods are candidates for this calculation. Katan suffers from four shortcomings: 1) It would require a long name to evaluate to 666 (at least 74 letters). 2) The Talmud only uses ragil. 3) Therefore, katan is a later development and not contemporary with the Revelation. Rev. 4:1+) Only ragil has an analogue in Greek and Roman culture, katan does not.12

The threefold representation of “6,” the number of man, may be connected with the three key players in the kingdom of the Beast of the end: “Possibly the threefold occurrence of the number six is a vague imitation of the trinity formed by [the Beast’s] association with the devil and the false prophet.”13 As we discussed in Six: Man’s Incompleteness, Human Will, the number almost certainly emphasizes how the Beast, the epitome of human achievement and government at the end, falls short. 14 Others note how the value compares to the sum of the Greek letters making up the name “Christ”: “According to the Greek numbering scheme Christ’s name, ʼΙησοῦς [Iēsous] , is represented by Ι=10, η=8, σ=200, ο=70, υ=400, ς=200, which add up to 888.”15

Various passages of Scripture hint at the character of the Beast using values which employ six, including the number of fingers and toes on the godless giants of old (2S. 2S. 21:20; 1Chr. 1Chr. 20:6); Goliath who had a height of six cubits, six pieces of armor, and a spear’s head weighing six hundred shekels of iron (1S. 1S. 17:4-7); Nebuchadnezzar, whose “image” was sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Dan. Dan. 3:1); and even Solomon’s wages of six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold (1K. 1K. 10:14). See Six: Man’s Incompleteness, Human Will.

Ultimately, it is fruitless for us to employ this number in speculation as to the identity of the Beast.

  1. The value of the number in and of itself is too broad—too many historic names can be made to generate “666.” (See A Lock almost any Key will Turn.)
  2. The church will not be present when the Beast becomes known to the world, for she will have been taken in the Rapture (2Th. 2Th. 2:1-8).
  3. The number of his name is perhaps the least important clue among many attributes which Scripture set forth concerning the identity and ministry of this individual. Certainly it is the most elastic.
  4. While the Restrainer remains (2Th. 2Th. 2:7), he will not be revealed. No amount of conjecture or analysis will bring him forth prior to God’s timing. While there are no preconditions for the removal of the Restrainer, he could continue to restrain for decades or even centuries beyond our present time.16

What we can be sure of is that the value given in this passage will enable believers of the end, when combined with the many other Scriptural clues, to positively identify the individual. It may be that gematria is not even involved in the final understanding of the number:

A similar use of nous and sophia occurs in Rev. Rev. 17:9+, where John calls attention to the identity of the beast ridden by the harlot. What John seems to be asking for in both cases is divine discernment and not mathematical ingenuity! Believers need to penetrate the deception of the beast. John’s reference to his number will help them to recognize his true character and identity.17

The better part of wisdom is to be content that the identification is not yet available, but will be when the future false Christ ascends to his throne. The person to whom 666 applies must have been future to John’s time, because John clearly meant the number to be recognizable to someone. If it was not discernible to his generation and those immediately following him—and it was not—the generation to whom it will be discernible must have lain (and still lies) in the future. Past generations have provided many illustrations of this future personage, but all past candidates have proven inadequate as fulfillments. Christians from generation to generation may manifest the same curiosity as the prophets of old regarding their own prophecies (cf. 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:10-11), but their curiosity will remain unsatisfied until the time of fulfillment arrives.18

For those who are in the Church Age, the number of the Beast, as fascinating a puzzle as it may be, is of relatively little importance. For the Church will not be present when he is revealed (see Who is the Restrainer?). This is by design for we are to maintain a watch for Christ , not Antichrist! We are commanded to look for our bridegroom, not a coming global despot (Php. Php. 3:20).

Notes

1 “If ἀνθρώπου [anthrōpou] is generic, then the sense is, ‘It is [the] number of humankind.’ It is significant that this construction fits Apollonius’ Canon (i.e., both the head noun and the genitive are anarthrous), suggesting that if one of these nouns is definite, then the other is, too. Grammatically, those who contend that the sense is ‘it is [the] number of a man’ have the burden of proof on them (for they treat the head noun, ἀριθμὸς [arithmos] , as definite and the genitive, ἀνθρώπου [anthrōpou] , as indefinite—the rarest of all possibilities). In light of Johannine usage, we might also add Rev. Rev. 16:18+, where the Seer clearly uses the anarthrous ἂνθρωπος [anthrōpos] in a generic sense, meaning ‘humankind.’ The implications of this grammatical possibility, exegetically speaking, are simply that the number ‘666’ is the number that represents humankind. Of course, an individual is in view, but his number may be the number representing all of humankind. Thus the Seer might be suggesting here that the antichrist, who is the best representative of humanity without Christ (and the best counterfeit of a perfect man that his master, that old serpent, could muster), is still less than perfection (which would have been represented by the number seven).”—Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 253.

2 “It is counted as men usually count. Compare Rev. Rev. 21:17+, and ‘a man’s pen,’ Isa. Isa. 8:1.”—M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002), Rev. 13:18.

3 Ibid.

4 E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1967), 48-49.

5 Bullinger explores the relationship between the name of the character stigma and the mark of this passage: “The number 6 was stamped on the old mysteries. The great secret symbol consisted of the three letters SSS, because the letter S in the Greek alphabet was the symbol of the figure 6 . . . α = 1, β = 2, γ = 3, δ = 4, ε = 5, but when it came to 6, another letter was introduced! Not the next—the sixth letter (ζ, zeta)—but a different letter, a peculiar form of S, called “stigma.” Now the word στίγμα [stigma] , means a mark, but especially a mark made by a brand as burnt upon slaves, cattle, or soldiers, by their owners or masters; or on devotees who thus branded themselves as belonging to their gods. It is from στίζω [stizō] , to prick, or brand with a hot iron. Hence it came to be used of scars or wound-prints , and it is thus used by Paul of his scars, which he regarded as the tokens of his sufferings, the marks which he bore on his body for the sake of his Lord and Master, and marking him as belonging to the one who had bought him (Gal. Gal. 6:17).”—Ibid., 283.

6 “The expression of this number, Χ ξ ςˊ consists of the initial and final letters of the word χριστός [christos] , christ, viz., χ and ςˊ with the symbol of the serpent between them, χ-ξ-ςˊ.”—Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, 49.

7 Bullinger mentions several interesting properties associated with this value: “It is remarkable that the Romans did not use all the letters of their alphabet, as did the Hebrews and Greeks. They used only six letters, D, C, L, X, V, and I. And it is still more remarkable, and perhaps significant, that the sum of these amounts to 666: 1. D = 500; 2. C = 100; 3. L = 50; 4. X = 10; 5. V = 5; 6. I = 1.”—Ibid., 284. “The number 666 has another remarkable property. It is further marked as the concentration and essence of 6 by being the sum of all the numbers which make up the square of six! The square of six is 36 (62, or 6 x 6), and the sum of the numbers 1 to 36 [36 factorial] = 666, i.e., 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 + 13 + 14 + 15 + 16 + 17 + 18 + 19 + 20 + 21 + 22 + 23 + 24 + 25 + 26 + 27 + 28 + 29 + 30 + 31 + 32 + 33 + 34 + 35 + 36 = 666.”—Ibid., 286.

8 “The only textual issue that we are concerned with is the correct reading of Revelation Rev. 13:18+, και ὁ ἀριθμὸ αὐτοὺ ἑξακοσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ [kai ho arithmo autou hexakosioi hexēkonta hex] , ‘and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.’ This is the reading of Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Chester Beatty papyrus (p47), many Italic manuscripts (it), the Vulgate (Vg), and most other manuscripts including the Syrian (syr) and Coptic (cop). The Italic manuscript (it) has τεσσερακοντα [tesserakonta] , ‘forty’ instead of ἑξήκοντα [hexēkonta] , ‘sixty.’ This is probably due to a scribal error confusing Revelation Rev. 14:1+ with Rev. 13:18+. This reading does not appear until the ninth century. Of more concern is the δεκα [deka] ‘ten’ of Ephraemi Rescriptus (ca. fifth century) and the Italic manuscript Harleianus Londiniensis (itz, eighth century). Irenaeus was aware of this textual variant but roundly condemned it as misleading. This strong testimony from Irenaeus and the late nature of the variant reading lend confidence that 666, not 646 or 616, is the correct reading.”—Hal Harless, “666: The Beast and His Mark in Revelation 13,” in The Conservative Theological Journal, vol. 7 no. 22 (Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary, December 2003), 337.

9 “Instead of ἑξήκοντα [hexēkonta] , which is strongly supported by P47 א A P 046 051 all extant minuscules itgig gv syrph, h copsa, bo arm al, δέκα [deka] is read by C some manuscripts known to Irenaeus . . . and Tyconiuspt. According to Tishendorf’s 8th ed., the numeral 616 was also read by two minuscule manuscripts that unfortunately are no longer extant . . . When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξςˊ and 616 = χιςˊ. Perhaps this change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters (נרון קסר [nrwn qsr] ) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latin form of Nero Caesar [in Hebrew] (נרו קסר [nrw qsr] is equivalent to 616.”—Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), Rev. 13:18.

10 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), s.v. “ECF 1.1.7.1.5.31.”

11 Ibid., s.v. “ECF 1.1.7.1.5.30.”

12 Harless, “666: The Beast and His Mark in Revelation 13,” 343-344.

13 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), s.v. “666 False Trinity.”

14 “Many . . . take the view that the number 666 represents man’s falling short of perfection. . . . No Greek article appears before the word ‘man,’ so one could render the statement, ‘it is the number of man.’ ”—Daniel K. Wong, “The Beast From The Sea in Revelation 13,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 160 no. 639 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, July-September 2003), 338n2.

15 Ibid., 337n2.

16 We are not suggesting it is likely that he will remain for such great periods beyond our day, merely recognizing the Scriptural possibility.

17 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 138.

18 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 13:18.

Read Revelation 13:18