What is the significance of the number 666 in Revelation 13?

QUESTION:

Can you explain something to me from chapter 13 of the book of Revelation?
I have heard many sayings about the 666 (the mark of the Beast) and
microchip implantation, etc. I would very much like to clarify this.

Revelation 3:18 “This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight
calculate the beast?s number, for it is man?s number, and his number is
666.” (New English Translation)

The book of Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. This is a
Jewish style of writing that is highly symbolic, and so not surprisingly
there has been much speculation about the exact meaning of this book and
its various elements. One of the most controversial of these elements is
the number of the Beast, 666, in chapter 13. There are two general
possibilities:

1) Numbers in the Ancient Near East had a symbolic meaning beyond their
arithmetic value. The Bible tends to employ some of this symbolism, such
as using the number seven to symbolize divine perfection (This is done
throughout the book of Revelation.) The number six is seen as “falling
short” of this perfection, and therefore symbolizes the sinfulness of
men. According to this reasoning, 666 is the generic number of rebellious
humanity (“it is man?s number”). If this is interpretation is reasonably
accurate, there is no need to imagine microchips being implanted in people
for sinister purposes.

2) Another practice in the Ancient Near East was gematria. Gematria is
the assigning of a numeric value to each of the letters of the alphabet.
This is a sort of substitution cipher that allows one to take a person’s
name and add up the numeric values of its letters, transforming their name
into a number. Some believe that 666 is an example of biblical gematria,
and the letters in the name of the Beast of Revelation have been converted
to numbers and added to total 666. If this is true, with “wisdom” and
“insight” we can convert the mark of the Beast (666) back into letters and
get the name of the Beast.

Unfortunately it is uncertain what language’s alphabet to use in the
conversion (Greek? Hebrew? Latin?), and even if we knew, there are many
names which could add up to 666, which is evidenced by the various names
people have come up with over the centuries. Christians have identified
666 with Nero, various Popes and even Ronald Wilson Reagan! This
wide-ranging speculation yields to wild speculation about a totalitarian
world government deploying black helicopters and microchip implants. But
if this possibility of gematria is reasonably accurate, I think the
strongest case would be in favor of “Nero Caesar,” not meaning the
historical person himself, but his corrupt line of Caesars (emperors) and
the pagan Roman government they represented. The Beast of Revelation
makes divine claims for himself and persecutes the saints, just as Roman
emperors like Nero and Domitian did in the 1st Century A.D.

Of these two general options, I would favor the more sane, sober,
conservative first option because it seems to fit the literary and
historical context of Revelation, but I am open in principle to a sober
contextual use of gematria. Be very skeptical about “microchips” and
other popular ideas that don’t rise naturally from the literary and
historical context of the book of Revelation.

(For more on these issues, I would recommend the audio series Revelation
and the End of the World by Dr. Douglas Jacoby at www.ipi.books.com.)

Dan Conder

www.evidenceforchristianity.org