The number 666 is the number of the beast in Revelation, the last book of the Bible:
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. (Revelation 13:18)
The “beast” in Revelation is a symbol for a person or organization which persecutes the people of God. For years, Bible scholars have puzzled over what the number means. It has been linked with an extraordinary array of organizations and people including the Ku Klux Klan, Pope Leo X, Martin Luther, and Henry Kissinger!
Many of the suggested interpretations use the numerical value of letters. For example, in Greek the first nine letters represented the first nine natural numbers: a=1, b=2, g=3, d=4, e=5, etc. The second nine letters represent 10,20,…,90, and the remaining letters are used to denote 100,200,… A similar system exists for Hebrew letters.
- An early suggestion along these lines involved the name “Nero Caesar“. Nero was the perpetrator of extreme persecution of the Jews and Christians, burning them as human torches in his garden parties and forcing them to fight to the death against lions and other wild animals. If you write the Latin name “Nero Caesar” in Greek, then transliterate it into Hebrew (using a rather unusual spelling) and add up the letters, you get 666! Hmmm. Perhaps a little contrived. Furthermore, it is likely that Revelation was written 30 years after Nero died.
- It has also been noted that “The Latin Kingdom” when written in Greek totalled 666. The Latin or Roman empire was often persecuting Christians and Jews.
- A related idea which has gained widespread popularity was proposed by Irenaeus in the second century after Jesus. He suggested the magic word was “Lateinos“. In Greek, the letters of the word sum to 666. However, an unusual spelling is required: it would normally be spelt without an e. Those favouring this idea see the word as a symbol of the Roman empire or Roman Catholic church, both of which have become famous for their attempts to destroy alleged heretics.
- Another idea implicating the Roman church involves the Pope’s Latin title “VICARIVS FILII DEI” which means “in place of the Son of God”. Adding those letters which are Roman numerals gives V+I+C+I+V+I+L+I+I+D+I = 5+1+100+1+5+1+50+1+1+500+1 = 666.
- Other scholars have noted that the numerical value of “Jesus” in Greek is 888 (again using a faulty spelling). So each digit is one more than the number 7 which appears to symbolise perfection in the Bible. So 666 is thought to be a contrast to Jesus and intended to symbolize someone falling short.
- More information along these lines is at Wikipedia
What does the Bible say?
Apart from the number 666, the Bible describes the beast as having great power over the whole world, being worshipped by many people, blaspheming God, persecuting God’s people, and controlling trade. In Revelation 17, the beast is ridden by a prostitute! It is ultimately destroyed by Jesus Christ when he returns to earth.
Usually the best way to interpret the Bible is to allow it to intepret itself. There are three other references to the number 666 in the Bible. One (Ezra 2:13) says that Adonikam had 666 descendants in a census taken in about 538 B.C. This is probably irrelevant. The other two (1 Kings 10:14 and 2 Chronicles 9:13) are almost identical:
The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents.
Solomon was a great king of Israel from 960 B.C. to 931 B.C. While this reference appears rather obscure, it is interesting that Solomon was involved in extensive trading of gold, silver, gems, ivory, cinnamon, spices, wine, oil, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses and chariots (see 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9). These are almost exactly the same as the things traded by the prostitute who rides the beast (see Revelation 18:11-13). It is possible then, that the number 666 was intended to be a clue pointing to the extensive international trade network of the beast, similar to that of Solomon thousands of years before.
Whichever, if any, of these interpretations is correct, the main point of the passage is clear enough. It was written to encourage God’s people in the face of persecution and to prepare them for the second coming of Jesus when he will overthrow the governments of the world and set up a new worldwide government.