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Why 6-6-6 Doesn't Matter

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Today’s beastly date—6–6–6—really isn’t. Our calendar is based on when Jesus was born. Most scholars believe our dating system is off by approximately five years because of certain miscalculations in determining the precise year Jesus was born. This means that the real June 6, 2006 happened about five years ago. Of course, there was a bigger 666 date: June 6, 666. Or was it really June 6, 661? All the talk about today being 6–6–06 is little more than hype to sell books. Even Tim LaHaye has gotten into the act. The third volume in the Left Behind prequel—The Rapture—debuts today, and earlier paperback editions of Left Behind are selling for $6.66.

When trying to match up “six hundred and sixty-six” with a historical figure, we need more than a plausible candidate; we need a relevant candidate. The first readers of Revelation were told to “calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). Since Revelation was written to a first-century audience (“these things must shortly take place . . . for the time is near . . . the hour of testing is about to come on the land. . . . Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near”: 1:1, 3; 3:10, 22:10), we should expect the first-century readers to be able to calculate the number with relative ease and understand the result. They would have had few candidates from which to choose. Notice that the number is “six hundred and sixty-six,” not three sixes. Tim LaHaye misidentifies the number when he writes, “The plain sense of Scripture tells us that it comprises the numbers: six, six, six.”[1] The three Greek letters that make up the number represent 600, 60, and 6.

Ancient numbering systems used an alphanumeric method. This is true of the Latin (Roman) system that is still common today: I = 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, M = 1,000. Greek and Hebrew follow a similar method: each letter of each alphabet represents a number. The first nine letters represent 1–9. The tenth letter represents 10, with the nineteenth letter representing 100 and so on. Since the book of Revelation is written in a Hebrew context by a Jew with numerous allusions to the Old Testament, we should expect the solution to deciphering the meaning of six hundred and sixty-six to be Hebraic. “The reason clearly is that, while [John] writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew, and the thought has naturally affected the vehicle of expression.”[2]

Is there anything in John’s writings, especially in Revelation, that hints at this use of both Greek and Hebrew? The “angel of the abyss” is described in two ways: “His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11). Something similar was done with “Har-Magedon” (hill of Megiddo) or “Ar-Magedon” (city of Megiddo) (Rev. 16:16). Megiddo was an Old Testament city (1 Chron. 7:29), the place where King Josiah was killed (2 Chron. 35:20–27). In John’s gospel, the place where Pilate sat down to judge Jesus was called “The Pavement,” but John called attention to its Hebrew name “Gabbatha” (John 19:13). In the same chapter, John wrote how Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross above Jesus’ head written in “Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek” (John 19:20). Going from Greek to Hebrew was typical and expected since Jews spoke Hebrew.

When Nero Caesar’s name is transliterated into Hebrew, which a first-century Jew would probably have done immediately, he would have gotten Neron Kesar or simply nrwn qsr, since Hebrew has no letters to represent vowels. (The w represents a long “o” sound and the q represents the “k” sound in Hebrew.) “It has been documented by archaeological finds that a first century Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name provides us with precisely the value of 666. Jastrow’s lexicon of the Talmud contains this very spelling.”[3] When we take the letters of Nero’s name and spell them in Hebrew, we get the following numeric values: n = 50, r = 200, w = 6, n = 50, q = 100, s = 60, r = 200 = 666.

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as also having close affinities with the serpent or dragon . . . The Apostle writing as a Hebrew, was evidently thinking as a Hebrew . . . Accordingly, the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name—that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment that he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as “Neron Kesar.”[4]

By paying attention to the specific time elements in Revelation and audience relevance, we can conclude that John’s Beast with a name that adds up to 666 is long dead and gone. Today’s end-time speculation is foolish and counter productive and dilutes the Bible’s message of the finished work of Jesus Christ and the end of the old covenant system that passed away with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We should focus on the name of Jesus “and the name of His Father” (Rev. 14:1). The Lamb has conquered the Beasts of Revelation 13.

Endnotes:

[1] Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 22–27.
[2] R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 1:cxliii.
[3] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. The Beast of Revelation, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002, chap. 3. Also see Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 1:367.
[4] Frederic W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1882), 471.

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