How can the number 666 identify the beast of Revelation? What is the biblical understanding of the number of the beast?
In Revelation 13, the apostle John recorded a vision he had been given of two beasts that would arise during the end times before Christ’s return. The first beast represents a powerful civil leader who will have authority “over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (verse 7).
In this vision, John foresaw a dragon, Satan, giving the beast this position of authority (verse 2) and all the world following this leader and his practice of worshipping the dragon (verses 3-4). All those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will worship this human leader (verses 4, 8).
In this same vision, John saw a second beast arise from the earth and support the first beast. This second beast will be a religious leader who will use miraculous powers to deceive mankind (verses 13-14) and will “cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (verse 15).
In other passages of the Bible, the individual representing this second beast is called “the man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), “the Antichrist” (1 John 2:18) and “the false prophet” (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20). For a more complete explanation of this religious leader’s names and role, see “Antichrist.”
Worshipping the image of the beast
Causing people to “worship the image of the beast” (Revelation 13:15) is a strange-sounding phrase in our modern world. What it means is to authenticate another power by causing people to respect it. Bible commentaries, including Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible and Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, proposed an explanation nearly two centuries ago, citing the fulfillment of this act in the way the head of the Catholic Church, the pope, forced people to accept the restoration of the Roman Empire under Charlemagne.
In the future, this religious leader that John saw in vision will likewise force people upon threat of death to respect the civil government that will rule the world. One way this religious leader will enforce compliance is to control the world’s economy.
As John noted in his vision, this future religious leader “causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (verses 16-17). The “mark or name of the beast” will identify these individuals as ones who support this satanic power. To understand what the mark of the beast is, be sure to read the article “Mark of the Beast.”
Now that we’ve reviewed the context of Revelation 13, we can turn our attention to verse 18, which says, “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.”
As we previously noted, people will be required to have “the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” in order to buy or sell (verse 17). Putting verses 17 and 18 together, we see that the number 666 identifies the beast, that it is a man’s name who is also called the beast and that it will authorize people to make economic transactions.
So what does the number 666 mean? How does one “calculate” this number?
Albert Barnes in his notes on Revelation 13:18, explains that Greek letters had numerical values. Several names, including “Lateinos, the Latin,” “Neron Caesar,” “Diocles Augustus (Dioclesian),” “C.F. Julianus Caesar Atheus (the Apostate),” “Luther,” “Romanus” and “Roman,” add up to 666.
Although there are other possibilities, Barnes went on to state, “It is remarkable how many of the most obvious solutions refer to Rome and the papacy.” It is also interesting to note that Irenaeus, an early church writer of the second century, suggested that the number was a reference to the Latin [i.e. Roman] Empire (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, Revelation 13:18).
Given these explanations, let’s see if the Bible gives any indications that this will be a revival of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire
Through a dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar, God revealed that there would be four great world-ruling empires from that time (Daniel 2:31-43). History has shown these to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires.
Later, Daniel was shown a vision of four beasts, which also represented these four world-ruling empires. As for the fourth beast, “it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7). “The horn is a symbol of power, and is frequently so used as an emblem or symbol in Daniel” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Daniel 7:7-8).
Daniel then wrote: “I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (verse 8).
The horns represented kingdoms that through history would be part of the Roman Empire and the little horn represented a religious power. In vision, Daniel saw this religious leader “making war against the saints, and prevailing against them until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (verses 21-22).
What we learn from the preceding verses is that this fourth beast, which history has shown to be the Roman Empire, will have multiple revivals and that a final appearance of this empire and its religious leader will be in existence at Christ’s return.
The final form of this empire will be comprised of “ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast … and will give their power and authority to the beast” (Revelation 17:12-13). They will then fight against Christ when He returns to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth (verse 14).
What you need to know
When the beast power arises at the end of this age, the most important thing you can do is remain close to God. In order to be saved, you will need a “love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). Just being able to properly calculate the number of the beast and therefore understand the meaning of 666 will not save you. To assist you in developing your relationship with God, be sure to study the articles in the “Change” section of this website.