666 - Who Is The Beast Of The Revelation?
Rev. Dr. Paul Kariamadam V.C.
In the Bible there are symbolic uses of some figures. Ancient languages like Hebrew, Greek,
Syriac and Latin gave letters the value of figures. This article delves deep into
the mysteries of some numbers, especially 666.
The Verse 13:18 in the Book of Revelation has been the source of many discussions and doubts and a number of studies have been conducted to arrive at their correct interpretation. We read: "This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six." Who is this beast? Why is this number 666 used here? To understand the implications, we have to take into consideration how figures were used in the ancient times.
Use of Letters Instead of Figures
It is significant to note that ancient languages like Hebrew, Greek, Syriac and Latin gave letters the value of figures. Prior to Roman Arabic numerals came into popular use, the ancient languages used letters in place of figures. It is worthy to remember that Rabbis use Hebrew letters in place of Arabic numerals to indicate the chapters and verses of the Testament.
In the Jewish Books, especially in the Revelation Literature, numerals had various levels of meaning. Often these numerals have been given symbolic meanings. Letters also have been given values like the numerals and names were written using numerals, reminding one of modern cryptography. We call them 'numerical words'. By finding the value of each cardinal number in the figure and adding them up, one could arrive at the meaning of the name. The modern computers use codes very much in a similar fashion. In the military and espionage fields, encoding and decoding are made use of frequently to conserve secrecy. Gematria is the method by which numerals are used in place of a person's name. Gematria is conducive to matters involving top secrecy.
In the genealogy according to the Gospel of Matthew, we can see numerical values. In the early history, generations have been divided into groups of 14. This number 14 stands for the name David. In the Greek word 'David' there are three consonants - Dalat (D), Waw (W) and Dalat (D). (In Hebrew, only the consonants are considered letters per se. To indicate vowels, dots are used). The value of Dalat (D) is 4 and that of Waw (W) is 6. Thus the total value of the name David is 14 (D+W+D). Through this process, the fact that Christ is of the tribe of David is repeated thrice in this genealogy.
In Greek too there is the use of numerical values. In some early Greek Christian communities, instead of the name Jesus, the figure 888 is used. In Greek, Jesus is written as Iesous. The values for the letters in this name are as follows: I=10; E=8; S=200; 0=70; U=400; S=200. When we add all these numerical values together the total comes to 888. The cardinal 8 indicates, in Christian tradition, Sunday, the day of resurrection and eternity, as the cycle of the weeks repeats itself on the 8th day. The number 888 indicates that Jesus is the perfection of perfections, the ultimate perfection.
The 666 of Revelation 13:8
This 666 also represents a numerical value. There are differences of opinion as to who is represented by this 666. Many conjectures and speculations have been made about this figure. By calculating the numerical value of some of the great personalities of the Bible, efforts have been made to identify the beast (person) mentioned in 13:8. Some people conveniently found that the numerical value of 666 works out to represent persons they don't like (because of the reference to beast) and such names as Trajan, Hadrian, Napoleon, Hitler, and Martin Luther are mentioned in this category. Some people, who were sworn enemies of the Catholic Church and Papacy, propagated, with the deliberate intention of slandering, maligning and calumniating, that the beast was none other than the Pope of Rome himself.
But the most accepted explanation is that this number stands for Emperor Nero of Rome who was perversely cruel and persecuted the Christians. The total numerical value of the Hebrew name Nero Qaisar (NRWN QSR) works to be 666. Nun (N)=50; Resh (R)=200; Waw (W)=6; Nun (N)=50; Qop (Q)=100; Samek (S)=60; Resh (R)=200. Total=666.
The persecutions perpetrated by Nero remained fresh in the mind of John. John viewed Nero as the opposite of Christ. Nero was the first Roman emperor who persecuted Christians in a deliberate, systematic and organized manner. We can see all the brutal habits of the beast rising out of the sea (Rev 31:1) in him. Even after death, he was considered alive and he was the antagonist of Christ. In him was personified perverse cruelty and debauchery. He committed suicide and was believed to have come back to life in the form of Satan. Nero ruled Rome from AD 54 to 68. John wrote the Book of Revelation in AD 95.
There are some people who believe that this number also represents some other rulers. Some think of 666 as the total of the numerical value of the first names of all the Roman rulers who persecuted Christians. In this view we detect an effort to think of the entire Roman rule as one of inequity. But not all the names of the rulers fit into this numerical value. Then there are people who claim that this figure 666 represents the numerical value of the letters of Emperor Domician who is purported to be a reincarnation or Nero. It was during his reign that the Book of Revelation was written. But, somehow, here also exactitude is in jeopardy.
St. Iraneus argues that the Greek work Lateinos is the one represented by the number 666. Lateinos means the people of Latin, the people of Rome who spoke Latin, and it represents the Roman reign that was perverse and cruel in the extreme. But very few people side with this view. The figure 666 stands for anti Christ, especially for Nero. The contemporaries of John knew the Hebrew language. But the opponents of Christianity did not know this language and the secret codes of the numbers. Such a secret code, cryptogram, was an essential part of the age of persecution, especially to be safe from the enemies, the persecutors.
The number 666 indicates all reigns and powers which stand against Christ and his Church. 6 is an incomplete, imperfect number. The complete number is 7. Jesus asks people to forgive, "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Mt. 18:22). In the Church traditions, the number 777 is seen as the perfect number for the Holy Trinity, the Triune Godhead. The number for Christ is 888. In the view of the Church elders, it was on the 6th day that the Devil deceived Adam and Eve and they were, as a consequence of their sin, driven away from the Paradise. This is symbolic of man's frailty, fall and death. 6 is 1 less than the complete number 7. When that number is repeated 3 times, it becomes representative of the perfection of imperfections, the apt symbol for the deceit perpetrated by Satan, for the death he wants everybody to suffer, for sin and the ultimate fall of all. Thus, this number does not point to Nero alone, but to all horrendous images of vices.