View Full Version : The Mark of the Beast

04-14-02, 11:46 PM
The following is my response to a message on a mailing list of which I am a member.

Subject: The Mark of the Beast

>While I have no idea what it means (though I've heard quite a few
>theories... :). Assuming it's literal, rather than symbolic, for a moment,

Well, that would be the first problem when interpreting this passage (or Revelation as a whole) ;-)

>I'd just like some of our Greek reading members to tell me something about
>the text--does it imply that the number on the mark (666 or 616 in some
>variants) is the same for everyone, or not? My reading (of the english)
>says that it's 666 for everyone, making the only purpose I could find for it
>a mark of loyalty or somesuch, rather than a mark of identification (can't
>ID someone by it if everyone is the same #)

Here's my take on it, and I'll make it as brief as possible. First, some background is absolutely necessary. The book of Revelation is not arranged in chronological order. It has a sevenfold recapitulating structure that seven times tells the story of the church age on earth. The first time through is chapters 1-3, which tells the story from an enlightened earthly perspective- the focus is mainly on the churches on earth, but the person telling the story (whom I believe is John the apostle) has an "enlightened perspective" in that he can see spiritual agents involved- the seven messengers (angels in most English translations) of the seven churches and so on and so forth. The first structure doesn't progress chronologically, each of the seven churches exists at the same time (as evidenced by the judgement element in each of the seven letters). Then there are six more retellings of the story, each one from a position like the narrator is climbing a mountain of spiritual perception. Each retelling is more from a heavenly perspective and less from an earthly perspective- the narrator relates more and more of the spiritual reality behind the events rather than the events themselves. In the seventh and final recapitulation, very little time is spent on the earthly events but there is a simply WONDERFUL description of the New Creation that awaits the saints who have come through the trials of life and stayed faithful to God. This is to emphasize the fact that no matter what kind of crap the faithful have to endure in the world, it's so much more than worth it because what waits in the future is so amazing that the trials of this life are less than nothing in comparison. When you take into account that Revelation was written during a major time of persecution (I date Revelation in the mid-90's, during the persecutions of Domitian, others date it during the persecution of Nero), this type of message makes a lot of sense.

The number of the beast, specifically, is a very interesting passage. It is, in my opinion, one of the most profoundly misunderstood passages as far as peoples' understanding of the Bible today goes. The first thing to do when attempting to interpret the passage is to look at its immediate context. To make a long story short, the end of chapter 11 is the end of the world, and chapter 12 starts the story again- this is the beginning of the fourth telling of the story of the church. The hurling of Satan down from heaven (12:9) is Christ conquering sin and death on the cross. At the end of chapter 12, note that the dragon goes off to make war against the church- this is John's explanation of persecution. Satan is at war with God's people on earth.

All sorts of different interpretations have been put forth for the identity of the two beasts. I think the first is a symbol for the Roman Empire, but that it functions as a type for any entity on earth that demands what is rightfully God's. By extension, ultimately the first beast would be Satan. I'm not going to deal with all the numbers and such because this is already getting long and I promised to keep it short... But verse 8 is significant- all who are not part of the church worship the beast. Verse 10 highlights the persecution of those who do not worship the beast- the church.

The second beast exercises the authority of the first beast- the authority of Satan (as typified by the Empire, I think, which would make the most likely interpretation that this beast is the Emperor) Skipping down to verses 16-18, this is the section of the mark.

The mark of which John speaks need not be taken as a literal mark- although there were times during the Empire that people were legally required to be able to produce proof in the form of papers or a coin or something like that (unfortunately I don't have any of my books with me, being 8000 miles separated from my library), one example being during the reign of the Emperor Decius (mid-3rd century, I think?). I seem to recall reading that this was a regional thing in the late-1st and early-2nd century, but I can't remember off-hand. The point of it all, though, is that no one can participate in the fruits of the beast's rule unless he/she has this mark- which is the number of the beast's name.

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. (13:18)

All kinds of speculation has been put forth regarding the identity of this beast. Everyone from Nero to Bill Gates, I think... *LOL* My take on it is that if it must represent a literal person who functions as a type of the beast that it would be Nero. This name would account for both variant readings, 666 and 616. Numerology associated with the Hebrew letters spelling out NRN QSR (Neron Kesar) would produce the sum of 666. NR QSR (Nero Kesar) would produce 616. However, I think it is obvious from textual criticism that 666 is the original reading, and if that is so then the number has a much greater significance than just the name of a person. However, to go into that, I'm going to first answer your next question about the Greek of Revelation.

>OTOH, I have no idea how clear
>the Greek is there, as I've been told that the Greek of Revelation is ...
>rough ... to put it mildly.

Unfortunately I don't have a Greek New Testament with me or I could say this with absolute certainty, but I'm pretty sure verse 18 does not have an article for anthropos ("man", I can't remember how it's declined, but I think it's genitive masculine singular if anyone would care to look it up). This raises the always-fun issue- is it indefinite (and so translated "a man") or anarthrous (and so translated "man" as in the essence of man)? If the number is belonging to A man, then it could clearly be referring to one and only one figure in history, whereas if it refers to the essence of man then it refers to mankind in general. Without boring you over a long discussion of textual criticism, I'll tell you what I think- I hedge my bets and say the ambiguity is intentional. The number itself can represent Nero, who functions as a type symbol for the worst type of man- one who puts himself on the throne of God (which in the reign of Domitian would have been significant since Domitian, I seem to recall- and please correct me if I'm wrong- was the first emperor to demand godlike obeisance). However, I think more strongly the number represents the essence of man. The number 666 is very highly significant on its own, whether or not it is the specific numerological equivalent of a name. In the most popular kind of astrological numerology at the time, two significant numbers were 3 and 7- 3 being the divine number and 7 being the perfect number. 666 has three digits, but each digit falls one number short of being the divine number. The beast is attempting to imitate God, but will forever fall short (although apparently some times he does a pretty stinkin good job 'cause a whole lot of people follow!).

And so the first beast, ultimately, is Satan, and the second beast is mankind who leads itself astray from the service of God into the service of Satan.

Peace, Love, and Jesus Christ,


04-16-02, 12:51 PM
Dear Jason,

The number six is the number of man. Man was created on the sixth day. So it symbolically represents the works of our hands and all the corruption thereof. But we can’t overlook the fact that the word says to “calculate” the number of the beast. It is like you say – it calculates out to be Nero - the first persecutor of the Church. Since the book was written to First Century Christians - the interpretation has to be found in or relate to their historical period of time – not ours like is so popular to do today.

But there is more evidence which supports the Nero theory…

Rev. 17:9-11 (NASB)
"Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11"And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

1. Tiberius - Fallen
2. Caligula - Fallen
3. Claudius - Fallen
4. Nero - one who was, is not and is to come for a little, who also was an eighth , but was of the seven, making Nero both a seventh and an eighth.
5. Vespasian - Fallen
6. Titus - Fallen

7. DOMITIAN - the one who is, Nero reincarnated, therefore an eighth – belonging to the seven, yet symbolically having Nero reincarnated in him, making Domitian both a seventh and an eighth.

Of course for this to make any sense one must understand the common belief which existed among the general populace for about twenty years that Nero was expected to be reincarnated. (Nero redivivus myth). Persecution is said to have appeared later in the reign of Domitian (81-96) – as to suggest the later manifestation in him of the spirit of Nero. Revelation is believed to have been written in 95AD.

I think the book of Revelation was not complicated and cryptic to the First century Christians, but it is for us because we have to dig out all the historical background in order to try to understand it – and often there are several templates which seem to fit or explain the cryptic and symbolic text of Revelation.


04-16-02, 11:17 PM
Very true, and that would have made immediate sense to the early church because of their persecution at the hands of Domitian, which would have brought to mind the earlier persecutions of Nero- and so it makes perfect sense to depict Nero as the servant of Satan who made people worship the first beast (Satan). All my talking about the anarthrous use and the essence of man was referring to a wider sense, as the name Nero itself probably wouldn't mean much to most people today- but when you put it in its context, coupled with the grammatical structure I mentioned in the above post, Nero fits the type of the deeper meaning PERFECTLY.

I have yet to look in-depth at the corresponding passages in the other six recapitulations of the structure of Revelation, but I'm thinking it will be VERY interesting.

Peace, Love, and Jesus Christ,


04-17-02, 08:13 AM
Dear Jason,

Over the years it seems that my favorite Bible teachers have all come from the UK. One such teacher is Malcolm Smith who has a great entry level tape series on Revelation - if anyone is interested. It is on 12 cassettes and served as my beginning foundation for End times Studies. The viewpoint is Amillenial of course.

I guess he was the one that first drummed into my head that Revelation was written to First Century Christians and not to us. We just look over their shoulder. Of course it is for us indirectly but its meaning to us comes out of the context of that day. This makes sense to me now because in reality all the books of the Bible need to be understood in this same manner.


04-17-02, 11:09 PM
That's cool, I'll check him out.

I'm not ACTUALLY from the UK, I'm from Indiana, but I'm over here for the semester (which just ended today, so I'll be home in just over a week as I mentioned in the thread about my trip :))