What Does the Number 666 Mean in Religion?

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Certain numbers have come to carry meaning beyond mathematics. This practice is commonly referred to as numerology and exists in some form in almost every culture in human history.

Standard meaningful numbers include lucky 7, unlucky 13, and 8 laying on its side as the symbol for infinity. The importance of these numbers usually comes from associating with spiritual beliefs and practices.

Perhaps no number carries more ominous meaning than 666. The ‘Mark of the Beast,’ as it is called in the Revelation of St. John, has many implications beyond its association with evil and the devil.

Symbolism of 666

What is 666? Do the Math

Even in the world of mathematics, 666 has interesting features and values. For starters, it is the sum of the first 36 natural numbers, meaning the numbers used for counting. Thus 1+2+3…+36 = 666.

It is a triangular number, meaning it can be pictured by a series of dots arranged in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Because 36 is also triangular, 666 is a double triangle number. Additionally, 15 + 21 = 36 and 152 x 212 = 666.

In Roman numerals, 666 is expressed using one occurrence of every symbol with a value less than 1,000 (DCLXVI). Note that these also come in descending order. 

666 In the Revelation of St. John

As referenced earlier, the most famous association of 666, at least in the Christian West, is from a passage in the thirteenth chapter of the final book of the Bible.

“This calls for wisdom; let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six,” Revelation 13:18

This verse has brought about all manner of speculation, prophecy, fear, and countless theories as to John’s meaning. The most common of these uses the concept of gematria.

What is gematria

Gematria is a Jewish form of numerology in which the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are associated with a particular numeric value. To understand this theory, one must understand the context of this apocalyptic letter to the members of the early Christian movement.

According to church tradition, John was living in exile on the desolate island of Patmos toward the end of the first century. From there, he wrote this letter to encourage and strengthen the churches in the region of Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. The most pressing concern these congregations faced was persecution by Roman officials and even their fellow citizens for their new and strange beliefs. John intended to help them persevere and not recant their faith in the face of social ostracism, torture, and death.

The entire book is a mystical vision John experienced while in exile. He is essentially getting a peek behind the curtain of heaven, an insider’s look at unseen spiritual realities. Chapter 13 describes a great beast worshiped by men and wreaking havoc on God’s people. It seems that in verse 18, John wants to identify the beast with a name without naming it outright.

By using gematria, interpreters have noted that 666 has a value that corresponds to the Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar. Nero is infamous for his horrific persecution of many people, not the least of which were Christians.

According to the Annals of Tacitus, Nero, seeking to deflect blame for the great fire of Rome, blamed the followers of this small religious sect. Their punishment was death by any number of horrific means, including being dressed up in animal skins and fed to ravenous dogs, being crucified, and being set on fire to serve as human torches at night.

Considering Nero was the man who had Peter and Paul killed, it makes sense that John would want to avoid arousing the suspicion of Roman officials. The “wisdom” and “understanding” it would take to decipher such a code is familiarity with Hebrew tradition and language. This is something many early Christians would have, but Romans would not.

The Mark of the Beast

Yet, because of John’s Revelation’s apocalyptic and symbolic nature, there has been a great deal of speculation as to its meaning over the centuries. Many Christians interpret Revelation to be prophetic, detailing future events concerning the end of the world.

Therefore, the number 666 has come to be associated with a future figure known as the Antichrist.

This beastly figure sets himself up as an alternative to the rightful rule of Christ on earth. He represents all that is evil and opposes God’s will for humanity. The connection of this “mark” with the number 666 occurs in the verses just before 13:18.

“It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is the name of the beast or the number of its name,” Revelation 13:16-17.

This is a new world order in which only those marked by the beast can participate in society. In the eyes of many, John is warning of a future global organization whose head is the Antichrist. As the power of this rule grows, Christians will be increasingly ostracized, persecuted, and suffer greatly because they will refuse to bow to any authority other than Jesus Christ.

Who is The Antichrist?

Over the centuries, there have been numerous theories presented as to the identity of the Antichrist.

Nero, obviously, along with other Roman emperors were prime suspects.

The pope has been a popular choice over the years, especially during the Protestant Reformation.

In more recent times, various leaders of the Soviet Union and just about every U.S. president have been guilty of exhibiting some of the behavior of the Antichrist. This beast and his mark, 666, are intimately associated with the dragon in Revelation, who is Satan.

Other Perspectives

Yet not every association of 666 is negative. For example, 666 is associated with good luck in Chinese culture and is often posted visibly in shop windows. How strange would we find it, here in the West, to walk by a shop with 666 in the window? Perhaps we would immediately identify it as a store dealing in the occult. However, in Chinese, the pronunciation of the number 6 is very similar to the symbol for the word “smooth”. Thus, 666 means “everything goes smoothly”.

666 Chinese meaning

Similarly, 666 is regarded positively in numerology. It is an angel number, a repetitive sequence of numbers seeking to convey a divine message to the one viewing the numbers. These angel numbers come to those who are observant of their surroundings. If a sequence appears several times, it is understood to be communicating a supernatural message. If you see the number 666 occurring, you should recognize it as a reminder, as it may indicate that you have become distracted and require refocusing on your goals and spirituality.

In Brief

For many people, 666 is more than the sum of its parts. Whether good or bad, whether referring to a historical person or a future world figure, it serves as a reminder. For many Christians, it is a reminder that this world is hostile to God and his people. Therefore, they are to remain vigilant and faithful no matter the persecution that comes their way. For others, it is a hopeful reminder that the divine is for you and the expectation your life will go well. How one interprets 666 depends significantly on the spiritual tradition one follows.