"If we enthrone Christ there [in the heart], then we need not worry about any antichrist. But if Christ is not enthroned in our hearts, then we are filled with worry and fear because the throne is vacant, and the antichrist can occupy it. . ."
There are numerous interpretations of the mark of the beast – 666 – mentioned in Revelation 13:18. Most are ridiculous forms of fear mongering. The newest theory floating among some Christians is that the Covid-19 vaccine is, or will be, the mark. Others say if governments enforce vaccine passports, then those will become the mark. For these groups, the mark of the beast is something different every year.
In this article, I will present ways that ancient Christians viewed symbolism, numbers, and the mark of the beast, which will hopefully debunk incorrect modern interpretations without having to address each one individually. Counterfeit theology is often exposed simply by knowing true theology.
The Great Parody
The devil doesn’t come up with anything original. He is not a creator. Rather, he is a perverter of what exists. Sin – which the devil helped introduce into humanity – is a misuse of the good things that God has created. Unlike the Hindi religions that teach good and evil exist as opposing forces, Christianity teaches that only good truly exists. Darkness and evil are an absence of good.
In several places of Revelation, the devil and his forces are parodies of God. Because evil is not a force that exists on its own, it must borrow from and pervert the good. Therefore, evil ends up being a parody or perversion of good. In Revelation, for example, the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the false prophet are an unholy trinity parodying the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mark of the beast is also a parody.
So, what are 666 and the mark on the hand and forehead a parody of? Let’s begin in the Old Testament.
The Hand and Forehead
God commanded the annual celebration of the exodus from Egypt. This celebration, called Pascha (often rendered Passover in English), was meant to “serve as a sign for you on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead” (Ex. 13:9, CSB). Reading the chapter confirms that the Hebrews were not physically marked. Rather, their celebration of deliverance served symbolically as a mark on the forehead and hand. For we remember with our mind (forehead) and obey God’s decrees through action (symbolized by the hand).
After delivering the Mosaic Law, God states, “Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads” (Deut. 11:18). Once again, we see a connection between God’s decrees and the forehead and hand. The latter are symbols for contemplation and action. Contemplating God’s words results in obedient action.
St. John’s Revelation most vividly recalls the Prophecy of Ezekiel. During the time of Ezekiel, the Hebrew people abandoned God and His ways. Repeatedly, God tried to turn them back through the prophets, but they refused to listen. So, God foretold the city’s impending doom. A great slaughter would occur there.
However, those who followed God and were grieved by the evil around them would spiritually receive a mark on the forehead that would protect them from the coming devastation. Seven angels approach God, six bearing weapons, the seventh bearing a writing utensil (Ezek. 9:1-2). The Lord tells the latter angel, “Pass throughout the city of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the detestable practices committed in it” (Ezek. 9:4). For then they would be protected from the coming judgment and slaughter (9:6).
In Revelation, we see that God protects those whom He seals. It states, “I saw another angel rising up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out…‘Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the servants of our God on their foreheads’” (Rev. 7:2-3). Other references appear throughout Revelation regarding those sealed on the forehead with the name of God.
In biblical literature, the seal of God is symbolic, not literal. The people of God are sealed on the forehead with God’s name by contemplating His words and ways. Such contemplation leads to action and obedience – symbolized by the hand. Conversely, those who reject God bear the marking of their master (the beast or the devil), whose ways they follow. The mark of the beast is a parody of the Old and New Testament markings of God’s people. It symbolically shows that our thoughts and actions mark us as God’s people or the devil’s.
Trade and Commerce
Some people may be inclined to argue that the mark of the beast must be something physical, for it affects the ability to participate in trade and commerce. The inspiration for the number 666 itself likely originated in 1 Kings 10:14. There King Solomon, in his lucrative (and probably immoral) taxation and trade, was earning 666 talents of gold.
There is, without a doubt, a connection between worldly wealth and the mark of the beast. However, that connection does not require the mark to be anything physical. A cultural philosophy, firmly held, can have the same effect without physically marking anyone. For example, gay couples have put pastry chefs out of business when the latter refused to decorate cakes celebrating gay marriage. Nobody received any bodily markings, but economic persecution occurred anyway.
Another example is the medical and psychological trades. Political activists have shut down many doctors and researchers when their practices or scientific findings do not conform to the latest politically correct ideas. Today’s progressive person easily becomes the target of tomorrow’s activists if that person fails to toe whatever is the latest ideological line.
Through these examples, we see that a physical mark is completely unnecessary. The pressure of a cultural philosophy, firmly held, is enough to create economic devastation for those who will not conform. The beast and his mark are symbols of the ways that sin dominates our culture’s mindset. That is why St. Paul tells us, And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2).
Numeric Symbolism of 6 and 8
Before we adopted the Arabic numeral system, letters of the alphabet represented numbers. Because of that, many ancient people were fascinated with gematria (calculating the numerical values of words to find hidden meaning). Every single word had a numerical value since it was composed of letters, and letters were numbers. While some of the lengthy ancient ponderings on numbers are tedious, certain numbers held great significance.
Here are what some numbers symbolized: one displayed unity; two could mean duality; three and four symbolized completeness. Seven (3+4) was often ascribed to divinity, hence the sevenfold Spirit of God in Rev. 1:4 (plurality in a person’s title demonstrated royalty or greatness). Twelve, which is 3×4, likewise was a symbol of wholeness or perfection.
While seven represents God’s divinity, six is the number for humanity. It is one less than divine perfection. God created man on the sixth day as the crown and ruler of the entire physical world (Gen. 1:26-31). Therefore, six is man in his greatness and glory, the one made “in the image of God” being all that he can be.
However, because we fell into sin, six is also a number that emphasizes our imperfection. Because of our sin, our Lord Jesus had to die upon the cross for us. He hanged on the cross on the sixth day (Friday) and on the sixth hour of that day (Matt. 27:45, Mk. 15:33, Lk. 23:44). He then rested in the tomb on the seventh day (Saturday), by which He fulfilled the Sabbath.
However, on the eighth day (Sunday), He arose from the dead, defeating death. The eighth day is a symbol of resurrection and hope for all humanity. This day is not trapped in the seven-day cycle of weeks that has existed since the world began. Rather, it is outside of this cycle since eternity has neither beginning nor end. That is why we Orthodox Christians sometimes refer to Sunday as the eighth day. The resurrection is also why Christians have been worshiping on Sunday since the first century. On Sunday, the eighth day, we enter eternity.
666, 777, and 888
In many ancient Greek manuscripts, the title KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:16) is written in all capital letters. Its capitalization drew attention to its numerical equivalent of 777.
There is another often overlooked fact. Ancient Christians knew the numerical value of Jesus’ name in Greek, which is 888. It is 8, the resurrection and eternity mentioned above, but so emphatically 8 that it is written thrice. Since God’s people had the Lamb’s name written on their foreheads (Rev. 14:1), and that Lamb’s name is Jesus, the implication is that Christians have JESUS/888 spiritually inscribed upon them because their thoughts are always on Christ.
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666 (Rev. 13:18).
Since the devil can do nothing except twist or parody God, the number ascribed to his followers is the number of man, 6, but emphatically so, 666 (Rev. 13:18). It is the number of humanity’s greatest achievements, the best we can do in our own strength without God. 666 is all that this world and life have to offer without God.
The Numerical Meaning of 666
Many attempts have been made to calculate a name for the numerical value of 666. Caesar Nero is the most referenced one, though innumerable others have been speculated. Nero is interesting for two reasons. Though he was dead when St. John wrote Revelation, Nero represented the height of human achievement: Emperor of the Roman Empire. He was also the epitome of that which opposes God as a persecutor of Christians while demanding worship of himself.
However, to get this numerical value, Caesar Nero must be translated into Hebrew and then transliterated back into Greek from Hebrew, so it is a bit strained. A host of names and titles can be forced into the numerical value of 666 by playing around with translations and transliterations in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
St. Andrew of Caesarea gives the best advice: stop trying to force names to fit. Let it be a mystery, for the name will be apparent to believers when the time comes (Commentary on the Apocalypse, 13.18). When the end is here, and the Antichrist has arrived, those who devoutly follow Christ will recognize him for who he is, even without gematria.
It Will Not Be a Trick
It is popular in some Evangelical circles to scare people into thinking they can be tricked into receiving the mark of the beast. This scare tactic comes from an errant interpretation of Rev. 19:20, “He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image with these signs.”
However, the Evangelist John is not stating that the mark is given deceptively, but that those who received it were deceived into thinking the beast could be their savior. There is no hint of trickery regarding the mark itself. About the Antichrist, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians:
The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with every kind of miracle, both signs and wonders serving the lie, and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe the lie, so that all will be condemned—those who did not believe the truth but delighted in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:9-12).
Here we see an affirmation of what is recorded in Revelation, that the Antichrist will work signs and wonders which deceive people. They place their faith in the Antichrist instead of the true Christ. St. Paul states above that people perish because they did not accept the love of the truth. People allow themselves to be deceived because they have already made up their minds that they want neither God nor truth. They surround themselves with teachers who “tickle their ears” with things they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3). The devil offers humanity substitutions (deceptions) for those who are looking for an alternative to God. If we delight in unrighteousness, then we will be duped by the devil. However, those who love the truth and dwell in righteousness will not be deceived.
Again, St. John is not stating that the mark is received deceptively. Rather, he is stating – along with other biblical authors – that those who turn away from the truth live in deception – accepting a counterfeit for the real Savior. Deception is the path away from God and not a tricky mark.
Who Is on the Throne?
St. Porphyrios, who passed away in the 1990s, was given a divine vision of the end of the world. He experienced the Apocalypse firsthand with St. John (Wounded by Love, pg. 246). Because of what he saw, he was extremely critical of fearmongers who use Revelation to stir up fear. Instead, he emphasized the need to focus our lives on Christ. If we are continuously looking toward Christ, the deceiver cannot pull us away from God. After all, God promised nobody can snatch us from His hands (Rom. 8:38-39) – not the Antichrist nor a mark received unintentionally.
St. Porphyrios gave an example that I will paraphrase: If I am sitting on a chair, can anyone else sit on the chair? No, because there is no room on it. However, if I get up and leave, then someone else can occupy the chair. It is the same with the throne of our hearts. If we enthrone Christ there, then we need not worry about any antichrist. But if Christ is not enthroned in our hearts, then we are filled with worry and fear because the throne is vacant, and the antichrist can occupy it.
The prefix anti in Greek often means “in place of.” So, an antichrist is that which takes the place of the true Christ. It is whatever we set our hope on or whatever we dedicate our strength and attention to. While there will be a final Antichrist, and perhaps even a physical mark of the beast, there are already innumerable antichrists in the world (1 Jn. 2:18). They disguise themselves in politics, science, medicine, pleasure, entertainment, philosophy, and many other things. Whatever takes the place of Christ in our hearts is an antichrist.
We could be forcefully tattooed 1,000 times over with 666, but if Christ reigns in our hearts, we have nothing to fear. The antichrist cannot snatch us away from the love of God if we stay fixed on Christ.
While there are several good books on Revelation, there are many more bad ones. Here are a few of my recommendations for truth without sensationalism:
- Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: XII Revelation (Weinrich; Oden)
- Greek Commentaries on Revelation (St. Andrew of Caesaria, Oecumenius, etc.)
- At the End of Time: The Eschatological Expectations of the Church (Bp. Gerasimos of Abydos)
- The Epistles & The Apocalypse: Commentary on Holy Scriptures (Abp. Averky)
- The Apocalypse of St. John: A Revelation of Love and Power (Fr. Larence Farley)
- Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (GK Beale)
- The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Austin Farrer)
- YouTube video on the symbolism of 666 (Jonathan Pageau)
I mentioned above how activists are persecuting doctors, researchers, and anyone who will not conform to their agenda. Information on that can be found all over the internet, but an interesting read is Dr. Debra Soh’s The End of Gender.
Some of the above books are available from the Apple Store and other digital distributors for significantly less cost than a printed edition.
Note: Images are from a 13th century European manuscript on the Apocalypse of John. They are courtesy of Getty Museum.
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