Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
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You said in today's post that you will post your answer to "what does 666 mean" when somebody asks you. May I please be considered a "somebody" so that you will do so?
I, too, believe in "types and shadows" and do believe that the Bible is to be read both historically and predictively. We are certainly living in some very frightening, scary times, aren't we? The antichrist knows his days are numbered . . . and so do we. So, what is the real meaning of 666?
May you be greatly blessed.
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Dear Mary Kay,
Here is your answer to what 666 means according to the book of Revelation:
666 literally means a name. The number "666" is the number of the name of the coming Antichrist. Giving a number to a name is called "gematria," which is the Greek practice of adding up the letters in someone's name. In Latin this practice is called "isopsephism." Each letter in the Greek language has a numeral equivalent. Add up the letters and you get the number of the name.
When Julie and I were dating I often wrote the initials, "RB + JT" in my notebook or in the wet cement of a newly poured sidewalk. Of course, the Initials stand for, "Roger Barrier plus Julie Tacker." Young lovers in Greece and Rome used gematria to express their relationships. For example, one inscription on a wall in Pompei reads, "I love the girl whose number is 545.
Of course, it is quite easy to take a name and turn it into a number. It is much harder to take a number and turn it back into a name.
Turning the number into a name is the key to unlocking the name of the Antichrist. Revelation 13:18 is the applicable verse: "This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." According to John, those who are wise can get an insight into the Antichrist's identity by knowing the number of his name.
In ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin letters represented numerals according to their order in the alphabet. For example, in Greek, Alpha is one, Bata is two and so on.
The letters in Greek for “Nero” (Neron) add up to 1005. However, if the Greek letters for Nero Caesar (Neron Kaisar) are transliterated into Hebrew (nrwn qsr), the letter numbers add up to 666 (50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 =666).
By the way, the "the number of the beast" was not written as a figure like “666.” Rather, the letters of the alphabet were written out in full.
Many interpreters consider the Roman Emperor Nero to be the “antichrist” of Revelation 13 because the number of his name is 666 and because he inflicted “Antichrist-like” horror upon the first century Christians. Some consider Nero to be a historical Antichrist and we that we are not to expect a future Antichrist. Yet, for the number to have any significance for a first century AD reader, it would have to refer to a contemporary historical figure.
Other interpreters, myself included, view the Book of Revelation as being both historical and predictive of coming future events (This is the double fulfillment principle of prophecy.) According to this view, Nero was indeed an “antichrist” as well as a type or picture of the coming future Antichrist—whose number-name will also add up to 666.
Nero was a despicable man who murdered his own mother. Nero fiddled the night Rome burned. By blaming Christians for the fire, he justified his tortuous murdering of uncounted hundreds of those who proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He proclaimed his supposed divinity on coins, identifying him as the "Savior of the World." Since Christians have only one Lord, refusing to burn incense and declare Caesar Nero as Lord was like signing your own death warrant. As an aside, since Nero ruled from A.D. 54-68 he would have been the emperor to whom Paul appealed his case as recorded in Acts 25:10-12.
For those who may be interested, I quote below a passage from Tacitus, the Greek historian (c. A.D. 60-120), who preserved in his Annals (XV.44) the viciousness of the Neronian persecutions which give us some idea of the horror the coming Antichrist will inflict on both Jews and Christians.
Nero falsely accused as the culprits [who started the fire] and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class … who are commonly called Christians. “Christus,” from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.… Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed [to being Christians]; then, on their evidence [refusing to worship Nero as Lord], an immense multitude was convicted ... Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed…. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.
The number “6” in the Bible is often associated with man; just as the number “7” is the perfect number and “3” often correlates to the Trinity. 666 is thus a number that consistently falls short of triple perfection: 777. The number also refers to the “unholy trinity,” Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet.
One day I got to wondering what Jesus’ number might happen to be. So I added up the Greek letter-numbers in Jesus name (ιζσους = 10 + 7 + 200 + 70 + 400 + 200 =887). What a shame. 887 is only one digit short of “888” which would symbolize Jesus as consistently one better than perfection.
As I am writing my answer I wonder what “Christ” adds up to? Let’s find out (χριστος = 600 + 100 + 10 + 200 + 300 + 70 + 200 =1480). Well, I don’t find any symbolism in 1480, but it was worth a try.
By the way, some early manuscripts identify the number-name of the Antichrist as 616 (instead of 666). By omitting the final “n” in Nero’s name in Greek, transliterating that name into Hebrew, and then adding up the letters, the number of Nero and of the coming Antichrist both add up to 616. Regardless of the number, Nero is the only name that can account for both 666 and 616. But, 616 is a story for another time.
I hope my answer to what 666 means is both interesting and informative. Thanks for the question.
This article is part of our larger End Times Resource Library. Learn more about the rapture, the anti-christ, bible prophecy and the tribulation with articles that explain Biblical truths. You do not need to fear or worry about the future!
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