Let’s talk about 666, shall we?
Have you ever been in line at Wal-Mart and your total is $6.66? Do you quickly buy a pack of gum to avoid eternal damnation? I’ve seen it done as well as some stores who will round up to avoid the cryptic total. This is called Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – fear of 666.
John writes, (and maybe this is why we see it in stores, who knows)
“He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.” (Revelation 13:16–18, NLT)
You can’t blame people for trying to figure it out for he basically challenges his readers to figure out if they’re wise enough. In these days, numbers, as we know them, didn’t exist. Numbers went along with the alphabet by their order. I’ve written about this before in the Hebrew system concerning the name of David – 14.
If my name, Andy, were spelled in Greek like this – ανδυ – my number would be 1 + 50 + 4 +400, or, 455. Whew! I’m safe! Just to complicate things, as if it weren’t enough, not all of our extant manuscripts of Revelation have 666 here; some have 616. This makes understanding the symbol as a thrice repeated evil number a little less plausible.
A popular interpretation for 666, or 616, is the Emporer Nero. I will not go into all the details here as it’s far too complicated for our purposes but I will suggest you read this link from the Universtiy of Chicago which makes a fine argument for Nero.
Beyond that, there are several popular ideas some of which are patently ridiculous for reasons that are, or should be, obvious. Have you seen the page devoted to how Obama is the referent of 666? It’s been Reagan, Pope John Paul, John Lennon, and probably a million others too.
What is telling to me, however, is the writings of Irenaeus writing around 50-100 years after the Revelation was written. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus spends some time dealing with this number. And guess what? In 100 years after the Revelation, even Irenaeus didn’t know what it meant. What hope do we have?
If you can get a copy of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, read Book 5 chapter 30. It’s an amazing and ancient treatment of the number as well as why some are holding to 616 instead of 666.
You don’t have to know the details of 666 in order to know how important Jesus is. In fact, if you know Jesus, this business is rather like icing on a cake that was put inside a cake carrier, transported to a part, then unveiled to the guests. Only while removing the lid you scraped a bit of the icing off and it remains on the lid instead of the cake. We’ve all had that happen. Is the cake still great? Is it still beautiful? Of course! Although some of the icing is missing, and you can go scrape it off if you like, it doesn’t affect the quality of the cake. Keep that in mind as you read this book.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us in our frail and limited capacity to understand the words of your beloved disciple.