Number of the Beast

The “number of the beast,” 666, is based on the dimensions of the “great image” erected by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon

666 Photo by Master Wen on Unsplash
The “
beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” uses economic coercion and religious deception to induce men and women to “render homage to the beast” and to erect an image to it. All who do so take the “mark of the beast” or its “number.” The language used to describe this picture draws heavily on the third chapter of the Book of Daniel - [Photo by Master Wen on Unsplash].

By taking the “number of the beast,” the “inhabitants of the earth” are legally authorized to engage in commerce - to “buy and sell.” Those who refuse the “number” are banned from the marketplace. More importantly, those who receive the “brand” of the “beast” will discover to their horror that their names have not been “written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Refusal to take the “number” comes with serious costs, but the consequences for giving allegiance to the “beast” are far more severe - (Revelation 14:9-11).
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – “And he deceives the inhabitants of the earth by the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to the inhabitants of the earth that they should make an image to the beast who has the stroke of the sword and lived… and he caused that as many as should not render homage to the image of the beast should be killed.  And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that they should give to them a mark on their right hand or on their forehead; and that no one should be able to purchase or to sell, except he that has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom: he that has understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is, the number of a man; and his number is 666.”
The passage employs language from the incident in Daniel when King Nebuchadnezzar erected a “golden image” and commanded everyone in his domain to “bow down and to render homage to the image that I have erected” - (Daniel 3:1-7).

The Babylonian ruler summoned all the “deputies, governors, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces” to the dedication of his image, representatives from all levels of society. Additionally, all “peoples, nations and tongues” were commanded to bow down and “give homage” to the image. Refusal to do so resulted in a horrific death in the king’s “fiery furnace.”

Likewise, in Revelation, the “false prophet” caused the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image of the “beast” and to “render homage” to it. All who refused were killed. He then caused “the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond” to take the “mark” or the “number” of the “beast,” essentially, the whole of society.

The same passage provides the background for the “number of the beast” - 666.  Nebuchadnezzar’s “golden image” measured sixty cubits by six cubits, dimensions that reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal base-60 numeral system. In the Greek Septuagint version of Daniel, the number is represented by the two Greek nouns - exékonta (60) and ex (6),

In Revelation, when John alludes to words and phrases from the Hebrew Bible, he uses its ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint. In chapter 13, the number “666” is represented by three Greek nouns - exakosioi (600), exékonta (60), and ex (6). Essentially, the passage has added 600 to the original sixty-by-six dimensions from Daniel. The verbal and numeric connections are deliberate.

 The number “666” conforms to the pattern found elsewhere in Revelation whereby numbers are doubled, tripled, and even cubed. For example, the number 12 is compounded into 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000). The “ten days of tribulation” at Smyrna become the “thousand years” during which Satan is bound in the “Abyss” (10 x 10 x 10).

In the Greek text, “666” consists of three distinct whole numbers – 6, 60, and 600.  They, in turn, represent the three entities that plot against the “Lamb” and his followers, the “Dragon,” the “beast from the sea,” and the “beast from the earth.”

For its number is also of man” (anthrōpou estin kai ho arithmos autou). Here, anthrōpou is used for “humanity” in general. Just as the “golden image” of Nebuchadnezzar was “his image” and erected by him, so the “number of the beast” is linked to humanity in its idolatrous religion, for the “inhabitants of the earth” erected the “image of the beast.”

Augustus - Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash
Augustus - by tommao wang on Unsplash

What distinguishes the “
image of the beast” is not its shape, size, or form, but the total allegiance that men must give to it. It is the ultimate form of idolatry, and in this case, state idolatry, the political order demanding the level of allegiance that belongs only to God.

The call for anyone with “wisdom” to “count” and understand the “number of the beast” also echoes Daniel:
  • (Daniel 12:9-10) - “Shut up and seal the prophecy until the season of the end. Many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined…but none of the wicked will understand, but THEY THAT ARE WISE SHALL UNDERSTAND.”
Only those with wisdom from above can understand the beastly number. It cannot be decoded or calculated by mathematical formulas or mystical interpretations.

When a political entity appears on the world scene that uses economic might promiscuously against nations, peoples, and individuals that to coerce them into submission, that will be the first clue that the “beast” is “ascending from the sea.”

When the “beast” does appear, we must choose whether to submit to its idolatrous demands by giving it our total allegiance or to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” If we do the latter, we may find ourselves excluded from economic life and persecuted by this beastly entity. If we do the former, our names will be expunged from the “Lamb’s book of life” and we will face a horrific fiery death in the “lake of fire,” the “second death.”



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