New Testament,  Theology

The Mark of the Beast, 666, and Nero (Rev 13:18)

Revelation 13:18 says that the one who “has understanding” should calculate the “number of the beast.” This number is then further identified as the “number of man,” specifically, 666. Preterists have often interpreted Revelation 13:18 as a reference to Nero, but is that what John means when he says that the mark of the beast is 666?

photo of mark of the beast, who many interpret as Nero

Symbolism and the Mark of the Beast

Not everyone sees 666 as a reference to Nero. Many notable scholars have read the mark of the beast symbolically. Beale, for example, argues in his commentary that the mark of the beast is 666 because six is the number of imperfection. Thus, when six is used three times in the mark of the beast, it is emphasizing the completeness of imperfection.

Although this view is possible, it is unlikely. John’s command to “calculate” (ψηφισάτω) the number of the beast is a term that was used for numerical calculation. The term derives from ψῆφος, which means pebble. Using pebbles to count was a common ancient means of tabulation. Thus, the statement of John is that the number of the beast is related to his name (Rev 13:17). This calculation would presumably lead to identification of a specific individual.

Gematria and the Mark of the Beast

Many scholars have looked to gematria to help understand the mark of the beast. Gematria is a process by which letters in a name are given numerical values or vice versa. It essentially becomes a cipher. This was actually a well-known practice, although it is debated how prevalent this is in Scripture. Some NT scholars think the genealogies in Matthew 1 could be an example of gematria, where three lists of 14 generations each correspond to the numerical value of David’s name.

The Sibylline Oracles, an early A.D. pseudepigraphal work, gives an example of gematria used with the name of Jesus.

To mortals in the earth; and he doth hear
Four vowels, and two consonants in him
Are twice announced; the whole sum I will name:
For eight ones, and as many tens on these,
And yet eight hundred will reveal the name
To men insatiate; and do thou discern
In thine own understanding that the Christ
Is child of the immortal God most high.

Sibylline Oracles, 1:395–400.

This is the calculation given for the Greek name Jesus (Ιησους).

Ιησους
10820070400200
Total: 888

Other scholars have reported graffiti from Pompeii (destroyed 79 AD) which reads, “I love her whose number is 545.”

Although we need to do so cautiously, I think gematria could provide an appropriate understanding of the mark of the beast as 666. It was culturally well attested at that time, and it seems to make sense of John’s command to count of the number of the beast (which is related to the number of its name).

The Mark of the Beast and Nero

There are many scholars that identify 666 with Nero either directly or by allusion. The typical understanding is to take Nero’s name and title in Greek, and transliterate it into Hebrew (קסר נרון), and then take the numerical value.

ןורנרסק
5062005020060100
Total: 666

This looks good at first, but as I have written before, Bible codes are very unwieldy animals. There are at least five arguments to make us rethink Nero’s identification with the mark of the beast.

1. For Nero to fit with 666, his title must be used.

For the mark of the beast to be equated with Nero, the title Nero Caesar must be used. There are many names and titles that could be chosen to identify Nero, but this is the combination that must be utilized.

This flexibility in using titles with Nero seems a little too convenient. Allowing this flexibility with titles allows both Domitian and Vespasian to also equate to 666. In fact, Domitian’s abbreviated title found on coins reads as follows: Α ΚΑΙ ΔΟΜΕΤ ΣΕΒ ΓΕ.

ΑΚΑΙΔΟΜΕΤΣΕΒΓΕ
1201104704053002005235
Total: 666

2. Revelation 13:17-18 specifies only the name, not the title.

This point coincides with the previous point. Revelation 13:17 specifies the link between the name and number. If titles are allowed, that goes beyond the purview of the text, and it also allows too much flexibility. So, we should expect Nero to be used by itself. By way of illustration, when we think of the name of the President of the United States, we do not say, “His name is President Abraham Lincoln.” We would say, “His name is Abraham Lincoln.”

It should also be noted at this point that Irenaeus (ca. 180 AD) was the first one who attempted to use gematria to find the referent for 666, and the names he hypothesized did not include titles (Adv. Haer. 5.30.3; Evanthas, Lateinos, and Teitan). Nor did he mention Nero as being a possible fulfillment.

3. For Nero to fit with 666, a Hebrew transliteration is required.

The numerical value of Caesar Nero in Greek is 1005. This is identified explicitly by Suetonius (ca. 121 AD), who wrote that the value of Nero’s name is the same as the phrase, “He killed his own mother” (Suetonius, Nero, 39.2). Revelation was written to a Greek speaking audience, and it is widely acknowledged that the knowledge of Hebrew was not as prevalent during this time (Aramaic was far more common). So, to utilize the values of gematria for Hebrew while writing Greek to a Greek speaking audience makes little sense.

4. For Nero to fit with 666, a defective shortened spelling is required.

For the gematria value of Caesar Nero to equal 666, the Hebrew transliteration must be used (קסר נרון). However, this is defective spelling for קסר, which is normally spelled קסיר (with a י in the middle). This would equal 676 instead of 666. There is only one Judean scroll fragment found at Murabba‘at which might have the defective spelling. However, in his dissertation on Hitchcock notes that the fragment is missing the letters following the ק. Although the damaged scroll does not have space for the full spelling ק(סיר), it is also not indisputable that the missing letters are סר. Therefore, there is no clear testimony of Hebrew spelling Caesar as קסר. At the same time, as Hitchcock notes, in the Talmuds, Mishnah, Tosephta, and Tannaitic Midraishim, the spelling is full (קסיר).

It should also be noted that the o vowel in Nero (ו in נרון) has the potential to be defective and drop out. The fact that preterists assume Nero is spelled with its full letter form seems to be an example of selective bias.

5. The early church did not understand 666 to be a reference to Nero.

We have already mentioned how Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp (who was a disciple of John) did not understand 666 to be a reference to Nero. Additionally, there is a textual variant in Revelation 13:18 where some manuscripts read 616. Irenaeus knew of this variant and called it an inferior reading, and said it was probably due to a copyist error (Adv. Haer. 5.30.1). It would be a rather simple copyist error, confusing ι for ξ (which in handwritten manuscripts would be an easy mistake to make. Notably, at least one other Greek manuscript reads 665. These variants show that there was not a unified understanding of the referent of this number, and therefore Nero was not recognized as the intended referent.

Some preterists try to take the 616 variant reading as further evidence for Nero, since the Latin form of Nero’s title translated into Hebrew equals 616. However, we have the same problems as defined in the previous points. This is demonstrated by the fact that other scholars have identified the 616 variant with Caligula. And it can also be associated with Titus. Besides the logical and methodological problems, this textual variant can easily be explained as a copyist error.

In commenting on this issue, Beale quotes Salmon:

“First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling.… We cannot infer much from the fact that a key fits the lock if it is a lock in which almost any key will turn.”

Salmon, Historical Introduction, 230–31, quoted in Beale, 721.

The Mark of the Beast and Future Fulfillment

Although many scholars have attempted to see Nero as a fulfillment of the Revelation 13:18, there are too many problems with the methodologies which would allow Nero to be the fulfillment. However, I do think that gematria is possibly the key to understanding Revelation 13:18. Rather than a reference to Nero, I would say it remains to be fulfilled in the future. I think that eschatological passages from Daniel and 2 Thessalonians 2 in particular demonstrate that the beast of Revelation will be a future figure. However, if it is talking about a future individual, then it is likely not possible to identify a particular referent at this time.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

9 Comments

  • Jim Martel

    The number of a man?

    I’m not sure how globalism, the U.N., and the NWO all fits into end-time prophecy but not convinced that there’s a global one world religion and ‘mark’ coming. It has a lot to do with interpreting the word ALL. I lean more towards the idea that the two horned beast likely represents the two major sects of Islam and the Islamic false prophet – probably the Mahdi.

    The beast of Revelation 13 and 17 appear to be two Islamic Caliphates situated in the Middle-East. One is Daniel 11’s ‘king of the North’, likely a confederate of kings and nations like Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and others to the north, (Rev.13). And the Revelation 17 beast or Daniel’s ‘king of the South’, likely situated in Saudi and nations in and around the Arabian peninsula, and possibly Egypt and Northern Africa.

    The mark is attributed to the two horned beast and not the anti-Christ so it’s likely religious in nature. The ‘mark’ may be limited to and enforced only ‘within’ the two Islamic Caliphates and possibly only the Northern Caliphate.

    The number of the verses in the Koran according to the scholars:
    Ibn-i Abbas (ra): 6616,
    Nafi (ra): 6217,
    Shayba (ra): 6214,
    Scholars of Egypt (ra): 6226,
    Zamahshari (ra) (the genius Eloquence Scholar of the Arabic language and literature); [b]6666[/b].
    Bediuzzaman, mujaddid (the reformer) of the 13th century, also has the opinion of [b]6666 verses[/b].

  • Dan

    Nero lived 37-68 AD. John wrote Revelation sometime in the 90s AD. Prophecy is not prophecy unless it is forward looking. So the entire argument is bogus.

    • Randy Armstrong

      I agree that Revelation was probably written in the 90s, but unfortunately the evidence is not absolutely conclusive. I have preterist friends who contend that it was written before 70 AD and therefore relates to the destruction of the Temple rather than future days. Again, I think they’re misguided, but they are solid in their Christian faith. I’ve learned to respect their position, though I strongly disagree with it.

      • Eugene Henson

        Randy,

        I appreciate the respect you expressed to the Preterist position – especially since you strongly oppose our position. It speaks well of your character. We don’t often get that from many Christians today. When I share my Eschatological views, most Christians I know look at me with that dear in the headlights look like I just arrived from another planet. I’ve had some interesting conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table with my wife’s family over the years. =)

        And even though we disagree on this topic, you have my respect as well right back at you!! May the Lord guide you into all truth!

        Grace and peace to you.

      • Jim

        Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr, Eusebius, and even Jerome, the one who translated the Scriptures into Latin (The Vulgate). He lived from 340 to 419. He states clearly in two places, that John was banished under Domitian and that is when he wrote the Book of Revelation.

    • Eugene Henson

      All the “evidence” that points to a 90’s writing of the Book of Revelation traces back to one man, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. There is plenty to dispute over the translation of his statement about what “was seen” near the end of Domitian’s rein. Is the referent for the verb “was seen” the Apocalypse, or was it John himself? There is sound scholarly evidence to suggest that it was the Apostle John himself that was seen at the end of Domitian’s reign. You can’t simply dismiss the idea as “bogus” and move on… It is way more complicated than that.

      Beyond that, there is ample internal evidence to suggest that the Book of Revelation was written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. One example is in Rev 11:1 where John is told to get up and go measure the Temple. In 95 AD, John wouldn’t be able to do that because the Temple was wiped out in 70 AD.

      Another internal example is Rev 1:7… BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth (land) will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. This verse indicates that when Jesus “comes on the clouds”, every eye will see Him – EVEN THOSE THAT PIERCED Him!! John’s temporal perspective is one of a SOON coming Christ. According to verse 7, it would have to be within the lifetimes of those that killed (pierced) Jesus. Combine vs. 7 with verses 1-3 and it is clear that John expected Jesus to come soon.

      It helps to have a Biblical understanding of what “Coming on the Clouds” actually means. If you study this concept as it is presented in the Old and New testaments, it means something completely different than what most Christians in America believe it to mean. Jesus used this same terminology when standing before Caiaphas, the high priest. It is recorded in Matthew 26: 64-66… Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” All those capital letters indicate that Jesus is quoting from the OT. Certainly the high priest of Israel understood the OT!! And He clearly understood that Jesus was quoting the OT. But why was that phrase, “coming on the clouds” blasphemous to Caiaphas?? The answer is because Caiaphas knew how that phrase was used in the OT, and that it was God Who is portrayed as the One “coming in the clouds” in judgment on the nations. See Isa 19 for one example of this concept.

      I hope that this sparks your interest to look into this further.

      Grace and peace to you.

  • Brett L Eliason

    Peter Goeman is correct in his calculation of “665” as I have discovered after fighting against the gates of hell for the past seven years not knowing what I was up against…. If one would care to google the lawsuit of “Eliason vs The Corporation of The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” they will discover that “The COP” is being led by every definition of an Anti-Christ and False Prophet who have committed over 50 Felony Rico Violations for organized crimes and have embezzled the $200 Million Estates of my parents Max and Joyce Eliason….

    After using the counsel from “The Art of War” and to know thine enemy; it became apparent that the hierarchy of the LDS Church has been in collusion with the “Deep State” and embezzled my parents estates because “The New World Order” has a total world domination fetish and my parents owned the largest oil properties by an individual in the Uintah Basin of Utah…

    The entire United States Department of Justice is bowing to “The COP” whose leaders are nothing but a murderous cult surrounding themselves with “Spirits of Light” called a legion of attorneys and are bribing the hell out of “The State”…

    The Entity which has collected and cannot account for over $300 Billion in missing tithes and offerings and who oversees the law office of Kirton McConkie and Kirkland Ellis in Chicago is “The Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” which has nothing to do with the religion of the faithful LDS Members such as my parents…

    It took me less than five minutes after realizing the “Pure Evil” which is being run by every prophesied party of revelations including the city of salt lake city which sits on seven peaks as does “The Whore of Babylon” and is adorned in purple and red (Utah Jazz and Utah Utes) and holds a pearl (The Pearl of Great Price) and has a foot like a bear (Bear River Utah) and is like a leopard (which blends in with anything) but which I have proven Dallin H Oaks to be the leader of the Illuminati and the United Nations…

    The Temple sits on “moonstones” with “sunstones” and twelve stars surrounding it and “The Beast” is waging war on the Saints by raping, pillaging, plundering, and murdering innocent citizens and Dallin H Oaks himself has been proven to be a former CIA Operative and FBI Recruiter and the evidence shows him as a key participant in unleashing Covid 19 on humanity…

    Try to get this information published and it is impossible….This is the culmination of “the secret satanic societies” waging war to form “One World Government” which has been bought by “One World Religion” with Dallin H Oaks and the “Boys” hell bent on exterminating 95% of humanity with the memoirs of Joseph Spencer I have as evidence proving his statement in December of 2017 that the unleashing of Covid was imminent before him and three others were murdered trying to make the information public…

    Do the math for yourself….It took me two tries as I knew who “The Beast” was before I began my trial…. I used a simple A=1, B=2, etc etc and my first try came in at over 800 using The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and then I immediately read that “The Whore of Babylon would have Blasphemy on her forehead” and knew before I did it that all that was needed was to remove the name of Jesus Christ and knew I had it before I hit return….”665″ just as discussed herein…

    Do The Math Yourself…. THE CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS = 665 AND EVERY PERSON WHO IS CURRENTLY ASSAULTING HUMANITY AND BOWING TO THIS FALSE RELIGIOUS “GOVERNMENT” ALREADY HAS THE MARK OF THE BEAST VIA WIRES OR DEPOSITS SHOWING THEM AS CO-CONSPIRATORS AWAITING THEIR RIGHTFUL 1,000 YEARS FOR THE 50 RICO VIOLATIONS AGAINST “ME” AND MY FATHER’S HOUSE…

    WHO AM I? BRETT L ELIASON, SON OF MAX D ELIASON, SON OF MERLIN ELIASON, SON OF ELMER ELIASON, SON OF ANDERS GUSTAV ELIASSON WHO MOVED FROM SWEDEN TO JOIN THE LDS CHURCH AND CHANGED HIS LAST NAME FROM NORDBLOOM TO “ELIAS SON” WHICH MEANS “THE SON OF ELIAS” THEREBY FULFILLING THE LAST SCRIPTURE OF THE HOLY BIBLE AND EXPLAINS WHY MY HEART NEEDS TO BE TURNED TO THAT OF MY FATHER WHO SITS UNDER AN ILLEGAL HOUSE ARREST BY “THE CORPORATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF THE FOURTH REICH OF LATTER-DAY ASSASSINS WITH “BROTHER BIDEN” A PUPPET BITCH OF THE LDS CHURCH THROUGH THE LAUNDROMAT OF KIRKLAND ELLIS IN CHICAGO WHO SHALL BE EXPOSED AS “HOES”….

    I WISH I WAS CRAZY OR NEEDED TO EXAGERATE ONE OF THE MOST HEINOUS ASSAULTS IMAGINED BUT ASSURE THE READER THAT “COVID-19” IS COMING STRAIGHT OUT OF THE “ILLUMINATED BILDEBERG GROUP OF THE UNITED NATIONS” LED BY “BROTHER DALLIN H OAKS; ANTI-CHRIST WHO SITS AS THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS NEXT TO HIS FALSE PROPHET AND SURROUNDED BY THEIR FALSE APOSTLES AND “SPIRITS OF LIGHTS” ILL JUST CALL “HELLS ANGELS”….

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