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16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.
Rev 13:16-18 (NIV)

Revelation 13 talks about 2 beasts; one rising out of the sea, and one out of the earth. Then mentions the infamous "mark of the beast", but doesn't seem to say which "beast" this represents.. the one that came from the sea or the one from the earth. Can Biblical Hermeneutics answer this question?

share|improve this question – Dan Sep 16 '13 at 13:54
Cool video, thanks for sharing! – Nick Rolando Sep 16 '13 at 19:24
I decided to (finally) write an answer giving more context for that video. Also, I disagree with the highest-voted answer (since it ignores the plain sense of the text as to who the subject is). – Dan Jun 14 '15 at 7:05

The context of the passage points to the second beast. Chapter 13 begins with the beast who comes up out of the sea (ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον). However, the subject changes to 'another beast' in v. 11, who was 'coming up from the earth' (ἄλλο θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς γῆς). It is within the context of this second beast where discussion of its number occurs.

But who (or what) is this second beast? This second beast may also be alluded to as 'the false prophet' in 16:13. 13:18 states that its number is to be calculated (ψηφισάτω), and the readers are told that 'it is a number of a man' (ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν). A small textual discrepancy in this passage gives a strong clue about its intended referent. From the NET footnotes:

55 tc A few MSS (𝔓115 C, along with a few MSS known to Irenaeus {and two minuscule MSS, 5 and 11, no longer extant}), read 616 here, and several other witnesses have other variations. Irenaeus’ mention of MSS that have 616 is balanced by his rejection of such witnesses in this case. As intriguing as the reading 616 is (since the conversion of Nero Caesar’s name in Latin by way of gematria would come out to 616), it must remain suspect because such a reading seems motivated in that it conforms more neatly to Nero’s gematria.

The Greek gematria value of Nero Caesar (Νέρων Καῖσαρ) would be 1,005, but the Grecized Hebrew (נרון קסר‬) value equates to 666 as indicated above. Metzger elaborates:

When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξς and 616 = χις). Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters (‮נרון קסר‬) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latinized Hebrew form Nero Caesar (‮נרו קסר‬) is equivalent to 616.1

Along with the historical and literary context of the Apocalypse of John, this strongly suggests that "Nero Caesar" was the second beast and the intended referent of this cryptogram.

However, it is worth noting that Wallace (among others) contests translating ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν as 'it is a number of a man', arguing instead for 'it is the number of humankind':

If ἀνθρώπου is generic, then the sense is, “It is [the] number of humankind.” It is significant that this construction fits Apollonius’ Canon (i.e., both the head noun and the genitive are anarthrous), suggesting that if one of these nouns is definite, then the other is, too. Grammatically, those who contend that the sense is “it is [the] number of a man” have the burden of proof on them (for they treat the head noun, ἀριθμός, as definite and the genitive, ἀνθρώπου, as indefinite—the rarest of all possibilities). In light of Johannine usage, we might also add Rev 16:18, where the Seer clearly uses the anarthrous ἄνθρωπος in a generic sense, meaning “humankind.” The implications of this grammatical possibility, exegetically speaking, are simply that the number “666” is the number that represents humankind. Of course, an individual is in view, but his number may be the number representing all of humankind. Thus the Seer might be suggesting here that the antichrist, who is the best representative of humanity without Christ (and the best counterfeit of a perfect man that his master, that old serpent, could muster), is still less than perfection (which would have been represented by the number seven).2

Given the context, the second beast appears to be the referent of the number, and the second beast may be an allusion to Nero and/or the antichrist (who could have been believed to be Nero or a future person, depending on how you interpret the historical context and date the composition).

1 Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 676.

2 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 254.

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Contextually, the Mark of the Beast refers to the beast which has the fatal wound on one of its heads. This would seem to be the beast arising from the sea. Verses 12, 14b, 15 seem to support this in that the second beast will make the earth worship the first beast (v12), commanded the people to make a statue to honor the first beast (vv14b, 15). It would follow, then, that the mark and the number are in reference to the first beast since everything the second beast does is to bring honor to the first beast.

We see further clarification of this in Rev 19:20 in which the beast whose image was worshiped and mark received was cast into the fire. This same verse seems to identify the second beast as the character known as the false prophet. This can be inferred by the description "performed signs on [the first beast's behalf]", referencing the description of the second beast's actions in Rev 13:13-14a.

Please note, this is only exegeted from a contextual viewpoint, no interpretation, prophetic or historical, is intended nor should any be inferred.

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The answer is not very complicated: the mark of the beast is his "New Covenant."

In other words, the false Christ will "write" his law on the minds and hearts of his followers in the same way that Jesus Christ (in the bona-fide New Covenant) had written his law on the minds and hearts of his followers (please see Heb 8:8-12 and Heb 10:16-17, and then compare to Deut 6:5-8 where the right hand is equivalent to the heart in the context of writing laws on hearts and minds).

Unlike the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, however, the Antichrist's "New Covenant" will be both political and religious. Thus for those who possess the name of the beast (Rev 13:17), they embrace the Antichrist as their religious leader (please see Rev 14:1 in this regard), while those with the number of his name (Rev 13:17) embrace him as their political leader. In either case, both categories fall under his economic power (since one can neither buy nor sell without the mark), which unites the religious and political categories. Thus possession of the mark indicates that you are "sealed" in the kingdom of the beast; that is, you are part of his New Covenant of blessing.

Now what does the 666 signify? If the Anitchrist is publishing his law on the hearts and minds of his followers, then this New Covenant is comprised of 613 Mizvot (Law of Moses for Jews) in addition to fifty-three "Parashat Mishpatim," which are 23 imperative commandments and 30 prohibitions found between Ex 21:1 and Ex 24:18, and which are binding on non-Jews. (Please click here for more information.) In other words, this New Covenant (613 + 53 = 666) is for both Jews and Gentiles (written on minds and hearts!), and is in fact which unites them under one leader. It is a play off of the real New Covenant, which unites Jews and Gentiles -- please see Eph 2:14-16, where the "two groups" in context are Jews and Gentiles in the real New Covenant. In other words, the 666 represents the perfect (number of man x 3) unification of man independent of God, which is why the 666 is actually the "law" of the Antichrist (or better his "New Covenant"). This antichrist therefore will be seen as the mediator and unifier of Jews and non-Jews (which would include Muslims), where no one in past history has been able to achieve in the political sense. In other words, Muslims will also embrace him as a prophet from God.

Of course the false Christ has his false prophet, whom I refer as the "Anti-Elijah." Please click here to compare and contrast the meaning and chronology of this herald vis-à-vis the Biblical concept of the New Covenant. The false prophet will anoint the head of the beast (at the beginning of the seven year tribulation) and thereby heal his fatal head wound, and thus the Antichrist will be "resurrected by God." Again, we are using copy-cat imagery from the bona-fide New Covenant of Jesus Christ to show how the Antichrist is the Satanic counterfeit...

In summary, the appearance of the false Christ (Antichrist) with the false prophet (Anti-Elijah) will herald the golden age of the history of the world, which of course is the Satanic version of the New Covenant. That is, the very first half of the Tribulation (three-and-one-half years) will be the greatest prosperity the world has ever known. Please click here for more information.

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Thank you for the thorough answer. I will have to look at links you provided when I find the time. +1 – Nick Rolando Aug 29 '13 at 20:54

"In this case wisdom is needed: Let the person who has understanding calculate the total number of the beast, because it is a human total number, and the sum of the number is 666." (Rev 13:18 ISV)

How your question is answered will depend upon:

  1. whom you ask, and
  2. if they believe the events recorded in the book of Revelation might have already occurred.

Theories abound regarding the interpretation of Revelation. One theory is that "the total number of the beast" referred to in 13:18 is the sum of the Roman numerals seen on the rear of a crucifix purportedly worn by Roman Emperor Nero, the ruler of both land and sea within the realm of the Roman Empire during his time in office.

Is that true? Did Nero wear a crucifix with Roman numbers on it? I don't know. It's just one of several theories which, to me, makes as much sense as some I've read and heard.

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