666: What Theories Add Up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We see 666 in Revelation 13:18: “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.”

The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number must be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: It could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is qʾst, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 equal 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square, that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” in Daniel 9:27 (shiqquts-shamem) is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth).

This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.


why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He is a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

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  • WOW, digging into the details just seems to lead to more questions….
    What about looking in the other direction?
    Let’s see what the overall picture might look like….
    6 is about man and the number of mankind. He needs God to bring satisfaction and rest. 666 is mankind spinning around and always trying to make something other than what God intended to finish…. The flesh must be put to death and the best way to do that is the new life of The Holy Spirit.
    God has a mark = a finished work for man. In The Book of Revelation, there is an expected end, and that result leads to everything being remade and finally finished. When we come to rest and peace with God in The New City. Outside are dogs and there is a wall that keeps sinners outside….
    it seems like some folks never learn to rest…. They don’t want it. So they pretend it isn’t there. But there I go back down into the 666 wormhole….

  • What’s with the vertical rows? The magic square has 10 rows!
    And what’s with the variant number 616? There’s now answer with the magic square!
    Additional: The criticism of the gematria solution i.a. is founded on the early Christian commentators not knowing the Nero redivivus myth. But did the early Christians in their roman-hellenistic world know the analogy of Zeus and the OT background of Baal Shamem? They knew the proliferation cult e.g. of Diana in Ephesus, yes. John himself knew the OT background, indeed, indicated e.g. in Apk 13:1ff parallel with Dan 7:3-8. But ὁ ἔχων νοῦν (13:18) then means his readers and listeners had to know this OT background. Did they really?

  • Rev. 13:18 says very clearly that it is the number of a man. I think the point is while the whole world will be fixated on the number 666, worshiping the beast as a god, that he is in fact, only a man. Empowered by the dragon (Satan) certainly, but still only a man. Even us Christians can get stuck on what the number means, (I’ve known some who are actually superstitious about that number) and miss that the verse says he is only a man.

  • The healthiest thing is to trust to Jesus. He says he doesn’t know the day of the coming. and probably doesn’t really want us to worry about the number of the beast.

  • Satan, in his role as the Antichrist, will arrive on earth when the sixth trump, sixth seal, and sixth vial all overlay each other. Satan will be pretending to be Jesus saying that he is here to rapture people away. The real Jesus returns later, at the seventh trump. The church of Thyatira will be the first church to lose their spiritual virginity to Satan – but she will believe that she is a queen. Satan is the messiah for those that say they are jews but are not and are rather the synagogue of Satan. Jesus finds no fault with the churches of Smyrna (the good figs) and Philadelphia (brotherly love) that know the truth. At the seventh trump many will run to Jesus saying that they did good works in His name and He will send them away, saying that He never knew them. They will be praying for mountains to fall on them for shame – they having worshiped Satan for lack of knowledge.

  • Michael, Good answer, but of course your point of view is somewhat futurist in that what you point to is a future Antichrist…. There are several views on Revelation – Logos has one book dealing with ‘4 Views’ and there are combinations of those 4 views as well.
    If we apply the Mark of The Beast as being ‘The Flesh’ it could apply to every age and to all Christians that have lived in the past 2,000 years. I think that view is applicable to us today and fits other NT warnings about putting ‘the flesh’ to death.
    Certainly there are future applications which Revelation points to. But why not deal with the present and put The Flesh (Beast Nature) to death. John states there were many antichrists in his day – All who seek to rule there own lives have a false ruler in their heart. Jesus is the Only Christ who can save and rule each heart and soul.

    • David, Considering that Jesus commanded us to learn the parable of the fig tree and the shoot was set out in the year 1948 for the nation of Israel, then the idea of my posts context is hardly futurist. A 70 year generation would be upon us even now and the furthest generation within the Word of God is but 120 years, giving the context 50 years from now on the very outside. The mark of the beast is in the forehead (mind) and right hand (works) of those that follow after Satan in his role as the Antichrist, The opposite of the mark of the beast are the seven seals that are placed in the forehead (mind) of those that will refuse to worship Satan. In effect, there will be millions and even billions of apostates that believe that they are Christians who will persecute the actual Christians that refuse to worship Satan because they have been inoculated with the truth of the seals in their mind before Michael boots Satan out of heaven so that Satan can hold the largest religious revival in the history of the world. Satan believes that everyone should worship him, but he needs to deceive people to get them to do it. Yeah, that parable of the fig tree pretty much brings things down to earth and cements up the time frame.

  • Thanks for your comments Michael. As I mentioned, the mark of the beast (666) is the fleshly nature which is opposed to The Spirit (new man.)

    This was true in Paul’s day as much as it is today. John said there were many antichrists who opposed his teachings…. As this age comes to a close – you and I see this in very similar ways it seems – we see a great opposition between the carnal man and the New Man- Born Again Christian.

    Yes, there are many luke warm Christians today but we need to pray The Lord of The harvest to wake them up and light a fire in their hearts. We want many to be ready for The Harvest – which seems to be near at the door of our LORD’s soon coming…. Sorry to be so brief but that’s the way I see it….

  • the author of the article is assuming the late dating of Revelation. first off Patmos was a Roman slave colony and a major port island. John would have been at least a teenager during Christ’s ministry. combine this with the late date would make John a poor slave given it would have him in eighties. the early dating would have him in his fifties around the age the Roman generals. John was exiled in the penal colony of Patmos to keep him from leading a rebellion. Nero would fit the sixth king that is. Nero’s successor Galba ruled less than a year in fact he is the first of four emperors who reigned in AD69 in the middle of the Jewish Revolt and the Roman Civil War. with the rise of Flavius Vespasian order returned to Rome after months of Civil War raising the cry “who is like the beast(Rome), and can fight against it?” Alexander the Great’s empire divided into four separate kingdoms after his death under similar circumstances.

  • I’m no scholar, not even close, not even a preacher, but when i look for answers I look towards scripture. I may not know who is the “man” but scripture points me to a man like Solomon, whose income was 666 talents of gold; thus we can say that is his ” measure”.
    Solomon , as we know was loved by God (Jedidiah) but yet was the one responsible for the splitting of the nation of Israel as he fell in deep apostasy. He went contrary to almost every law that was made special to royalty. Even as God gave him to achieve the divine boundaries, he still found it necessary to make a political alliance with Egypt. He went against God by amassing horses, chariots, gold, silver and women. He used his divine wisdom to seek worldly things, sighting that God was unfair to good men by making them work just as hard as not-so-good men. Eventually he saw the light.
    Who in history fits or will fit this description? I cannot say, but maybe it might be someone who started out with the love of God.

Written by Michael S. Heiser