Jimmy Akin explains some of the Biblical, historical, and numerological significance of the “Number of the Beast” from the book of Revelation.
Host: Sara in Mobile, Alabama, listening on 1410 AM Archangel radio, you are on with Jimmy Akin, what’s your question?
Caller: Hi, I teach at seventh grade Sunday School class, and this past week one of my students asked about why 666 was affiliated with the devil, and I wasn’t sure of the best answer for him.
Jimmy: Okay, well, the Bible doesn’t associate 666 directly with the devil. What it does do, in the book of Revelation, is it depicts a number, specifically, three kinds of monstrous beings. The first one we meet in Revelation chapter 12, and it’s a great dragon that has seven heads and ten horns. And that dragon is later identified as Satan. In chapter 13 of Revelation, we meet another monstrous being that’s described as a beast that emerges from the sea. And this beast also has seven heads and ten horns, and looks a lot like the devil therefore, but he’s different than the devil and he emerges from the sea. Clearly, though, he’s allied with the devil, because the devil gives this beast power, and encourages people to worship this beast, and so this beast is kind of the devil’s agent on Earth.
And there are different interpretations about what this beast represents. In my opinion, it represents the line of the Roman emperors, and specifically the Emperor Nero, or it has a special connection with the Emperor Nero. And the reason I say that is because we’re told that the number of this beast is 666, and so by extension you could kind of say, “Well, the number’s associated with the devil,” but really in the book of Revelation it’s actually the number of the Beast, and the Beast is not the same as the devil, but they are allied with each other. That’s the basic literal relationship that’s going on here.
In terms of if you want to go a little deeper into the meaning of the number, well, scholars have actually pointed out quite a few different interesting things about this number. The ancients made kind of a study of numbers, and were very interested in the different properties they had, and one of the things about the number 666 is that it’s what’s known as a triangular number. And I won’t explain what that is because you kind of need a diagram to understand what a triangular number is and I can’t do that on the radio, but Google “triangular number 666” and you’ll find out some interesting stuff.
Also, in ancient languages like Greek and Latin and Hebrew and Aramaic, they didn’t have a separate set of numbers, and so then the letters the alphabet doubled as numbers, and what that meant is you could take a word, like a person’s name or a phrase, and add up the numerical value of the letters and get a number. And in fact, if you take “NERO CAESAR” and add it up, you get 666. And so put that together with other evidence that we have in Revelation about the Beast and his activities, which include persecuting Christians and demanding worship just like the Roman emperors did, there’s a good case to be made that the Beast is to be identified with the line of Roman emperors and has a special connection with the emperor Nero. And that’s one of the reasons that 666 is his number, because that’s what you get if you add up “NERO CAESAR” the way it would ordinarily be spelled at the time.
Caller: Very interesting, thank you.
Jimmy: Sure thing.
Host: Very good, thank you, and Jimmy, just for clarification, even if that 666 represents “NERO CAESAR,” is it also the case that, because this is a kind of a, not poetic, but a symbolic language, it can also mean other things in addition?
Jimmy: Yes, in fact it does. We know that because in Revelation 17 we’re told that the seven heads of the Beast represent both seven mountains, like the seven hills of Rome, AND seven kings, and that seems to be the first seven Roman emperors, which would be Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero–and we’re told five of them are fallen, so that would be those five–one of them IS–that would be Nero’s successor, Galba–and then it talks about a seventh who’s gonna come and reign for a short while, and that would be Galba’s successor Otto, who reigned for, like, three months.
Host: Oh okay, okay. So, but now, what I was thinking was, what about, could this refer also to things that have not yet happened? Like in our future?
Jimmy: Yeah. Yeah, sure, there can be echoes of these things in our future, just like prophecies also have echoes in later times, but in terms of what the literal primary fulfillment is, at least in my opinion, best money is on a first century fulfillment.
Host: Well, thank you, Jimmy Akin.