Good morning, everyone. It’s 6:06 AM EDT of 06/06/06, and the world hasn’t ended! A lot of people will probably feel an urge to leaf through John’s Revelation today. The dreaded number is mentioned in Rev 13, at the sight of the Second Beast, which rises out of the earth after the First Beast rises from the sea, after John’s vision of Israel as a woman adorned with the sun, moon, and 12 stars, who is chased by Satan, who makes war on her offspring, the Christians.

Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
– Rev 13:11-18

(Note that “Antichrist” is not mentioned. The term is not used in John’s Revelation, but in two of his earlier letters, and is thought to have referred to the Gnostics, who denied Christ’s bodily nature.)

Many Christians believe the Two Beasts are a prophecy of a coming time when a great world leader and his servant will lead the world in ways against God. Others believe that the passage refers to a time already past, when Christians were persecuted by the Empire. At various times by various people, the 666 Beast has been thought to refer to Nero, Caligula, Domitian, Adolf Hitler, Aleister Crowley, Ronald Reagan, the Pope, the United Nations, credit cards, barcodes, RFID technology, and David Hasselhoff.

(There was some earlier hubbub about the discovery of a manuscript which used the numbers “616” rather than “666,” but given that the Greek forms of the differing characters are very similar, and the overwhelmingly larger number of corroborating manuscripts use “666,” it may just have been 3rd-4th Century copyists writing a bit fast.)

I think it would take a somewhat loose hold of scriptural interpretation to regard the Second Beast as an already-fulfilled prophecy, seeing as how we haven’t yet had a public figure who has used miraculous fire-calling powers to support an oppressive leader while establishing an economic system of head-and-hand markings; but then, John uses a lot of unclear, way-out symbolic language in this text, so it’s not meant to be taken all that literally to begin with. Expectant mothers need not be worried about having their kids today, any more than a person should worry about the dreaded numbers being in a home address or on a license plate. I mean, if you’re not entertaining thoughts of oppressing Christians and making everyone put barcodes on their hands and foreheads, then it’s just a simple number to you, and our God is bigger than a sequence of three digits.

More from Tim Townsend of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, By Farther Steps, GetReligion, Slacktivist, and HolyOffice. What do you think 666 refers to?


  1. Jon says:

    I’d cast a vote for Nero. It’s been pointed out elsewhere (http://www.jimmyakin.org/2005/01/666.html) that “666” and “616” may have been numerological equivalents of variant Aramaic spellings of “Nero Ceasar.” Nero was close enough to the time of writing that it’s hard to imagine that this was a coincidence. In any case, he has a better shot at the title than David Hasselhoff. :-)

  2. scully says:

    In any case, he has a better shot at the title than David Hasselhoff.

    Utter not that name! David Hasselhoff (oops, I said it!) is pure Eeeeevil, with a capital E.