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Revelation 13: The significance of 666 in Revelation

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The False Prophet, the Second Beast, rises out of the earth and has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a Dragon. He performs great signs and wonders, such as making fire come down from Heaven. He uses these abilities to deceive the world into worshipping and following the Antichrist. The False Prophet then requires everyone to receive a mark on their right hand or forehead; without it, no one can buy or sell — no one can participate in society.

Revelation 13:16-18 says, “He required everyone — small and great, rich and poor, free and slave — 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 here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”

Speculation concerning the Mark of the Beast and its mysterious number seems almost endless. Larry R. Heyler and Richard Wagner, in The Book of Revelation for Dummies, have written:

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“Given that John states, ‘This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast’ (Rev. 13:18), you’d think all you need to do is pull out a calculator and go at it! Some people have tried that approach, which has yielded some pretty offbeat conclusions. Like a Gordian Knot, the problem of perpetual motion, and Colonel Sanders’ secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, the number of the beast has kept scholars scratching their heads for ages.”

The Mark is said to bear either the name or the number of the Beast (the First Beast, the Antichrist), which is 666. Just as the False Prophet employs his eerie capacity for the supernatural, he uses what apparently is an outward Mark of 666 to coerce people to choose between the Antichrist and God.

During the Tribulation period, no one will be afforded the luxury of being neutral about the Antichrist or God. Although many today try to remain unaligned regarding religion, especially Christianity, the Lord condemns such a stance.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. Approximately 4% of American adults identified as agnostic, which means they don’t have a strong belief or disbelief in God.

Moreover, a survey conducted by the same group in 2020 determined about 26% of adults in the U.S. refer to themselves as ‘nones,’ indicating that they consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. According to the PRC, this represents a significant increase from just 17% in 2009. The same study also found that younger generations were more likely to identify as ‘nones’ than older generations, and this trend is significantly growing around the country.

Nevertheless, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). There is no neutral ground concerning Christ. When it comes to his claims of being the Messiah, Savior, Eternal Lord, and King, no middle ground is afforded to anyone. Everyone must choose. Neglecting to choose is a choice to take sides against Jesus.

Today, we might keep such matters to ourselves. We might keep our opinion a secret if we wish. On that day, however, everyone will be forced to display their allegiance to God or the Antichrist.

Calculating a name using numbers is known as “Gematria.” Gematria is an ancient Jewish practice that assigns numerical values to Hebrew letters, words, and phrases. It’s based on the belief that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a unique numerical value and that words and phrases with the same numerical value share a connection.

By adding up the numerical values of different Hebrew words or phrases, gematria practitioners, which is still studied and practiced by many today, believe they can uncover hidden meanings and insights into the Torah’s language and other Jewish texts and teachings.

Following this method, assorted world leaders, dictators, and tyrants have been named the Antichrist. Leaders like Roman Emperor Nero, the Pope, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol-Pot, Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden, and even Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, and Michael Gorbachev have been named. Yet none of these proved to be the one.

The picture is more than hazy here, to say the least. But what is abundantly clear is regardless of the specific interpretation, Revelation 13:16-18 unambiguously highlights the importance of using wisdom in explaining apocalyptic literature, as well as the potential dangers of succumbing to authoritarianism and idolatry.

There are scores of believers who do not see the Mark of the Beast as something literal. For instance, it is said that the Church was regenerated, brought to life, and resurrected by the Spirit of God, or the breath of God. In Revelation 11:11, it is alleged that the story of the 144,000 or the Two Witnesses is not something to be taken literally but is said to be the story of the witnessing Church. In John 20:22, Jesus breathed on his disciples, and they received the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed life eternal into his own, the Antichrist breaths life into the Image of the Beast (Revelation 13:15). And just as God required the foreheads of the righteous in Revelation 7:3 to be marked for protection, so the False Prophet brands the unrighteous with the mark of the Antichrist — one of iniquity, sin, judgment.

The thought is that John’s highly symbolic words reference how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day acted to enforce the worship of their fallen and apostate religion, rejecting Christ — the one of whom the Scriptures and prophets foretold. They imposed the religion of the Synagogue, which had become the Image of the Beast in God’s eyes, refusing, despising, and persecuting the true religion of the churches, and, thereby, they received the devil’s own Mark of condemnation.

In other words, 666 represents a person’s adherence to a worldly or religious system that is opposed to God, rejects his revelation of himself, and refuses to obey his commandments. It might also symbolize the imperfection of relying solely on one’s own good works for salvation, which always inevitably comes up short.

It’s difficult to understand this without knowing something about how six is represented in the Bible. The number 6 is associated with imperfection and incompleteness. God created the earth in 6 days, and the number represents earthly things, humanity, human frailty, and spiritual failure.

As Clarence Larkin elaborates in his commentary on The Book of Revelation:

“The number 666 is the number of man and stops short of the perfect number 7. Man was created on the sixth day. Goliath, the opposer of God’s people, a type of Satan, was 6 cubits in height, he had six pieces of armor, and his spearhead weighed 600 shekels (I Samuel 17:4-7). Nebuchadnezzar’s image, a type of the ‘Image of the Beast,’ was 60 cubits in height, 6 cubits wide, and 6 instruments of music summoned the worshippers (Daniel 3:1-7).”

In contrast, 7 is the number of God. It represents completeness and perfection. The seven days of creation reflect the perfect and complete works of God. God rested on the seventh day after creating the world and consecrated the seventh day as the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3).

Seven represents completeness in various contexts throughout the Scriptures. The Old Testament has seven feasts or holy days, representing the complete cycle of God’s redemptive plan for Israel (Leviticus 23). There are the seven-fold judgments in the seven plagues that God brought down on Pharoah and the land of Egypt (Exodus 7-12). In the New Testament, Jesus taught the seven beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). There is Jesus’ sevenfold repetition of the phrase “I am” in John’s Gospel. And, of course, the book of Revelation is full of sevens, such as the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, representing God’s complete work of bringing about justice in the world.

David Chilton’s words in Days of Vengeance help us bring all this together. Chilton writes:

“Six is thus the number of man, a human number…This is the number six, plus its multiple by 10, namely 60, again plus its multiple by 10×10, namely 600 – thus 666, three times falling short of the divine 7. In other words, not 777, but competing with 777, seeking to obliterate 777, but doing so abortively, its failure being as complete as was its expansion by puffing itself up from 6 to 666. Six is the number man was born with, the number of his creation; the repetition of the number reveals man in opposition to God, trying to increase his number, attempting to transcend his creaturehood. But, try as he might, he can be nothing more than a six or a series of sixes.”  

The primary message behind the Mark of the Beast is to stay spiritually vigilant and remain faithful to Christ, even unto death. To do anything less is to be weighed in the balances and found wanting.

These matters being noted, and each has merit, there still seems to be no reason not to take Revelation 13:16-18 literally. In fact, the text seems to demand it. Moreover, it is considered plausible a global leader of exceptional genius and diplomatic ability, who also has a loyal Lieutenant with extraordinary powers of his own, could take control of the entire world’s economy, requiring everyone to take a mark to participate in commerce.

Admittedly, no individual or group has ever come close to controlling the world’s economy in this way. While specific individuals or groups may have significantly influenced certain industries or regions, the global economy is complex and decentralized, with multiple factors and players affecting its direction and outcomes.

Still, history shows us how certain events can create fertile soil for the rise of dictators and despots. Their rise can be tied to economic instability, social unrest, political turmoil, and international tensions or conflicts. In addition, when democratic institutions start to fail, widespread corruption can flourish, and power goes unchecked, contributing to the emergence of unseemly autocrats. The book of Revelation seems to describe this, which builds and builds until a strong man comes on the scene that everyone trusts to save them.

One doesn’t have to be given to conspiracy theories or suffer from an overactive imagination to see that provided the proper set of circumstances, especially a world ravaged by its antagonism to truth, world war, unprecedented famine, rampant natural disasters, sickness, and indescribable numbers of people dying, an incomparable authoritarian could appear, win the trust of the masses with his promises of peace and safety and take over, which is precisely what the Tribulation period is about.

Theoretically, the Antichrist, in league with the False Prophet, could gain significant influence in a powerful global institution or organization such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank. These two beasty boys might build a formidable network of allies and supporters across influential governments and corporations.

The key to their taking control of the global economy would likely involve gaining control over crucial financial and technological systems and leveraging this control to manipulate market trends and international trade policies. Understandably, this may seem far-fetched for many because currently attempting something like this would result in severe legal and geopolitical repercussions. However, astute observers of current trends can detect that the world, by various means, seems headed in this direction.

In 1961, when the threat of worldwide nuclear destruction was a matter of utmost concern, Arnold Toynbee spoke at the Gideon Seymour Memorial Lecture at the University of Minnesota and said:  “The alternative to the destruction of the human race is a worldwide social fusion of all tribes, nations, civilizations, and religions of man.”

Toynbee’s words seem almost prophetic of what Revelation says will essentially be the False Prophet’s message to bring everyone under the banner of the Antichrist and his false world government and religious creed. He will have everyone seal it with the mark 666.

Whether someone takes the mark because they were deceived, or because they were afraid, or out of convenience, or ignorance, or loyalty to the Beast, the result will be the same. They will not have access to eternal salvation. Their eternal destiny will be forever sealed. When Christ returns in glory and power to the Earth, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire along with the Antichrist and the False Prophet.

Revelation 14:9-11 solemnly warns: They “will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

The best way to avoid the possibility of ever taking the mark of the Beast is to have genuine faith in God. Authentic Christ-followers have been born of the Spirit of God and enabled to characteristically walk faithfully in obedience.

2 Corinthians 13:5 admonishes, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves.”

The test is not whether one went forward at a church evangelistic meeting or prayed a sinner’s prayer, though these acts are not baseless. The test, however, of a genuine conversion to Christ is whether Christ is supreme in one’s life, not that we supposedly repented of our sins at some time in the past, but whether we actively turn away from them every day, whether we walk in obedience.

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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