Rev. 13:18 – Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (HCSB)
Here is wisdom
Few verses in all of scripture attract such attention and spur such debate as Rev. 13:18. John writes, “Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666.” The Greek word for “calculate” is psephizo and means “to use pebbles in enumeration” – that is, to count.
John’s charge to use cautious deliberation has not prevented the wildest of speculations over the centuries. Here’s a short list of proposed Antichrists: Ronald Wilson Reagan (six letters in each of his names); the pope (pick one); Charlemagne (tried to rebuild the Roman Empire); Napolean (same reason); late 19th-early 20th century male witch Aleister Crowley (so evil that his nicknames were “the beast” and “666”); the Roman Emperor Nero (read on); 20th century contemporary world leaders Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini (grumpy bedeviler of the West); Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church (and self-proclaimed Messiah of the Second Advent); Louis Farrakhan (who called the Jewish faith a “gutter religion” and claimed to be the true Jesus); and Barney the Dinosaur (because he matches the apostle John’s description of a “fiery red dragon”).
While there are many proposed solutions to this riddle, two explanations would make good sense to the first-century audience receiving John’s message. The first is gematria, or the practice of transforming names into numbers. This is common in antiquity. According to the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, each letter has a corresponding number. The first 10 letters carry a value of one through 10. To use an English example, a=1, b=2, c=3, and so on. After the first 10 letters, the 11th letter is valued at 20, the 12th letter 30, and so on until 100. The 20th letter is valued at 200, and each subsequent letter gains an additional 100.
Rev. 13:11 – Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; he had two horns like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived. 15 He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 And he requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (HCSB)
A second beast
We are introduced to the second of two beasts in this passage: the beast from the earth. We have met the beast from the sea in verses 1-10. The dragon empowers both beasts; this is explicitly stated of the first beast and implied with respect to the second, which has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. He is endowed with great authority and power, compelling people to worship the first beast and deceiving them with miraculous signs. He even gives life to an image of the first beast and causes those who refuse to worship the image to be killed. Finally, he restricts commerce so that only those who take a mark on their right hands or foreheads, indicating their allegiance to the Antichrist, may buy and sell.
Who is this beast from the land? Is he a person, or perhaps an institution? Why does he compel people to worship the first beast rather than himself? Does he really make a statue come alive? Is the mark of the beast a visible sign, or should we interpret this figuratively? And is there any way of knowing what 666 – the number of the Antichrist – really means?