Recently in the comments section of this blog, someone wrote the following about the 666 reference Revelation 13:18,
The 666 is incorrect. It can’t be these numbers by Hebrew standards. The Aramaic proves this too. There are many teachings available to this regard. One being by [I deleted the name of a prominent Hebrew roots teacher].
This was my response:
With all due respect, simply making a statement why you disagree is not helpful to our discussion of the subject. Kindly give us Scripture and verse along with the meaning of the biblical words and contexts in which a biblical word or concept is found. Simply throwing out a name of someone who teaches differently on a subject is not helpful either. There are many well known personalities the world over who are wrong on many subjects. Name dropping means nothing to the discerning truth seeker. We want to know what the Bible has to say on the subject.
Figuring that many people out there would like to have a fuller understanding of the meaning of 666, these last few days I have been researching this subject. Here is what I have learned. Please enjoy. — Natan
Revelation 13:18, Six hundred threescore and six [KJV]/666 [NKJV]. Here is the full text of this verse:
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 18:13, NKJV)
For six hundred threescore and six (KJV) or666 (NKJV), New Testament Greek-English interlinear translations show two variants as to the Greek behind these words. Some show the Greek words hexakosioi hexekonta hex meaning “six hundred and sixty six” (e.g. William Mounce’s Greek and English Interlinear New Testament and The Greek New Testament [fourth edition by Aland, Metzger et al]. Most Greek lexicons define these same words (e.g. Thayer and Arndt-Gringrich) as meaning “six hundred and sixty six”…
- hexakosioi means “six hundred”
- hexekonta means “sixty”
- hex means “six”
For six hundred threescore and six (KJV) or 666 (NKJV), J.P. Green and J. J. Griesbach (in his Diaglott) in their New Testament translations have the Greek letters “χζς” behind the words 666 as does Vincent in his lexicon (Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 531).
As to why some New Testament Greek interlinears and lexicons simply have the Greek letters χζς, while others have the Greek words hexakosioi hexekonta hex, Vincent explains that in the earlier Greek New Testament manuscripts, it is written in full (i.e. hexakosioi hexekonta hex) as opposed to just the letters χζς, which correspond to the Greek numbers (ibid.):
- hexakosioi/χ = six hundred
- hexekonta/ζ= sixty
- hex/ς= six
Curiously Strong’s Concordance lists the Greek words behind the English words six hundred threescore and six (KJV) as χζς or chi xi stigma (Strong’s G5516). chi/χ is the twenty-second letter, xi/ζ is the fourteenth letter and sigma/ς is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.
In those translations that list χζς as the Greek behind the words 666, the question is this: What is the last letter in this three letter word? It appears to be the letter sigma, which is eighteenth letter in the Greek alphabet and looks like this: ς. However, Strong’s lists it as a stigma and defines this as “a non-existent letter in the Greek alphabet, and of this symbol says, “the primary meaning of stigma presumable derives from the primary word stizō (to ‘stick’, that is, prick); a mark incised or punched (for recognition of ownership), that is, (figuratively) scar of service.” Why Strong’s chose to call this letter a stigma instead of a sigma, is not explained. No other lexical reference that I could find calls the last letter of this word a stigma, but refers to it as a sigma.
So what is a Greek stigma? According to Wikipedia,
The name, stigma, is originally a common Greek noun meaning “a mark, dot, puncture”, or generally “a sign”, from the verb (“puncture”); the related but distinct word stigme is the classical and post-classical word for “geometric point; punctuation mark”. Stigma was co-opted as a name specifically for the sign, evidently because of the acrophonic value of its initial st- as well as the analogy with the name of sigma. (ibid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigma_(letter))
Stigma is a ligature of the Greek letters sigma/ς and tau/τ, which was used in writing Greek between the Middle Ages and the 19th century. It is also used as a numeral symbol for the number 6. In this unrelated function, it is a continuation of the old letter digamma…, which had served as a numeral since antiquity and was conflated with the…ligature in the minuscule handwriting of the Middle Ages.
Adding more confusion to the issue, The Complete Word Study Dictionary—New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates defines cxv differently than Strong’s G5516 as the Greek letters standing for 600 and 60 and 6 or 666. He goes on to explain that this is “[a]n enigmatic number found in Rev. 13:18. The number six, being the number of man, may indicate that 666 symbolizes the zenith of man’s power. This power is concentrated in the apocalyptic beast of Rev. 13:1–8 identified to many as the antichrist…According to the Genesis narrative, man was created on the sixth day. His appointed days of labor and toil are six. A Hebrew slave was to serve for six years. For six years the land was to be sown. Under the sixth seal, appalling and universal catastrophe upon mankind ensues. As the number seven denotes what is perfect or complete, six being short of that, signifies human imperfection and toil although a demonstration of human strength. It should also be noted that the image of gold set up by Nebuchadnezzar for his own glorification was sixty cubits long (Dan. chap. 3). Daniel 3 can be said to point forward to the even deeper and Satanic evil of Revelation 13. The one foreshadows the other. Thus we might say that the triple six is the fullest, highest development of man under direct satanic control. It is the combination of civil, religious and political power satanically inspired. It is, so far as man can do it, the complete setting aside of God as the Supreme Ruler” (ibid. p. 1478). Adam Clarke in his New Testament commentary also defines 666 as being the actual letters of the Greek alphabet with the last letter being a sigma with the whole phrase meaning “666.”
Some Bible students look to the Aramaic New Testament for help in understanding the meaning of the words behind 666, but no help beyond what we already know is to be found there. For example, George Lamsa in his Bible translated from the ancient Aramaic translates Revelation 18:13 as:
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding decipher the code number of the beast: for it is the code number of the name of a man; and his number is six hundred sixty-six [with the following footnote: “This number represents the Aramaic letters which spell Nero Caesar, namely 50, 200, 6, 50, 100, 60, 200.” ]
John Ethridge, from the Aramaic Peshitta, translates Revelation 13:18 as,
Here is wisdom. Let him who hath mind, calculate the number of the beast of prey; for the number is of man; and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six.
James Murdock’s translation of the Peshitta:
Here is wisdom: let him that hath intelligence, compute the number of the beast of prey; for it is the number of a man: and its number is six hundred and sixty and six.
Now what is the origination of the letter-number correlation in Revelation 13:18’s 666? The reason for the letter-number correlation is that before the Arabs invented numerical figures in the tenth century, the ancients used the letters of the alphabet as numbers (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the New Testament on Rev 18:13). “The Greeks in the time of Homer, or soon after, are thought by some to have assigned to their letters a numerical value corresponding to their order in the alphabet…” (ibid.).
On the subject of the number of the beast, David Stern, translator of The Complete Jewish Bible, writes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary,
In both Hebrew and Greek each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a number—the first nine letters correspond to 1 through 9, the next nine to 10 through ninety, and the last few letters to the hundreds.”
The number of a word or name is the sum of the numerical equivalents of it letters.…The number could be entirely symbolic. The name of the Messiah in Greek, Iesous, equals 888; seven is regarded as the perfect number; and triple repetition symbolizes absolute ultimacy (as Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is [YHVH] of Hosts.”). Therefore 888 means that Yeshua is absolutely and ultimately beyond perfection, while 666 means that the beast in every respect falls short of perfection and is therefore absolutely and ultimately imperfect and evil. (ibid. p. 829).
In conclusion as to the meaning of 666 and the identity of the individual to whom the numbers apply, Vincent sums up the confusion among Christian scholars in this regard as follows:
The interpretation of this number form a jungle from which escape is apparently hopeless. Reuss says, “This famous number has been made to yield almost all the historical names of the past eighteen hundred centuries [Vincent’s lexicon was published in 1886]…and it would not be difficult, on the same principles, to read in it one another’s names” (Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 531).
Can We Understand End Times Bible Prophecy Before It Happens?
We all have our hunches about how Bible prophecy along with how we think the book of Revelation will play out prophetically, but it is important to keep one thing in mind: We’re all wrong to one degree or another. Some of us may have parts and pieces of the truth, but most Bible prophecy will not be fully understood until after it happens, and even then, many if not most people will fail to recognize this as well.
For the most part, those prophecy teachers or pundits and Bible students who formulate timelines, charts and write commentaries on the book of Revelation and on other end time Bible prophecies as well are engaging in folly. For those of us who for decades have been watching this game being played out, we have seen countless prophetic timelines formulated come and go that purport to explain the exact meaning of the metaphorical symbols and to predict how these prophecies will be fulfilled, by whom and when. No one knows exactly how these prophecies will be fulfilled before they happen (if they say they do, then they probably have something to sell you!), and, moreover, most people will not will not even know that they have been fulfilled even after they have come to pass. How do we know this and why is this?
Perhaps the most notable biblical example of people not knowing a prophecy was even fulfilled after it came to pass is that of Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua’s disciples did not even understand what his role was to be or how he was to fulfill the many Old Testament Messianic prophecies about him until after his resurrection. Do we really think that our biblical understanding and spiritual perspicacity is greater than theirs? If so, than this is not only folly on our part, but extreme arrogance and hubris! Perhaps we need to explore the biblical meaning of humility and faith. Let me explain what I mean.
Regarding faith, if we were to know the exact details concerning the fulfillment of biblical prophecy including the book Revelation or elsewhere in Scripture, then our spiritual walk would no longer be a faith walk as per the biblical definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, would it?
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
We’d now be walking by sight, not by faith, which is the opposite of what Scripture enjoins us to do (2 Cor 5:7).
No, the main purpose of Bible prophecy is not to provide us with a sort of crystal ball to know what is going to happen in the future. Its purpose is only to raise our hope by providing us with a shadowy understanding or general outline of future events, like looking through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12). This helps to keep us moving forward in our walk of faith. Even though we may only have a vague understanding of how future events will play out, this is still more than those who are walking in spiritual darkness have. The ancient Jews, for example, only had a shadowy understanding about the coming of Messiah, but they didn’t know the full or exact details of how biblical prophecies concerning him would play out. But even this shadowy understanding served to raise their hopes and expectations and gave them great hope through all of the ups and downs of their national existence. Even then, exact fulfillment of those prophecies pertaining to Yeshua’s life and death was hidden from the majority of Jews, which is why they killed him. YHVH divinely revealed only to a few of Yeshua’s closest associates how he perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning him.
Now this brings us to the main purpose of Bible prophecy, as I see it. It’s not so that humans can use the Bible as a sort of crystal ball or as a means to divine or augur the exact details of the future, but so that after the prophecies have been fulfilled, and the understanding of them is divinely revealed to YHVH’s faithful saints (as occurred to Yeshua’s disciples after his resurrection) that the omniscience and glory of YHVH Elohim will be manifested causing humans to glorify, praise and worship him. Please not: Even an understanding of the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies is by divine revelation and will not be understood by the vast majority of people. For example, what majority of the Jewish population understood that Yeshua was the Messiah in his day…or even now 2,000 years later?
What, therefore, should be the main focus of our spiritual walk as Bible believers? Namely this: We need to pursue holiness and righteousness through a spiritual relationship with Yeshua as we love him by obeying his Word. Our future is in his hands, and the just shall walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1). In his hands, we are safe and secure no matter how the prophecies of the Bible play out or what happens. Go forward in this faith and reality.
So what is the bottom line here? It is quite simply this: Keep your eyes on Yeshua and have faith in him, and not on how you think Bible prophecy is going to play out, because no one knows exactly how this will happen. Does that mean that we should not study Bible prophecy? By no means! Those who study the Bible and its prophet writings will have a much better chance of understanding the prophetic events when they come to pass than those who do not study Scripture. Beyond this, make no mistake about it, the vast majority of those people who claim to understand Bible prophecy are those who have something to sell you—a book, a video, a television program, a prophecy conference or whatever. They want to make a name for themselves for the purpose of human pride, control and mammon and all of this is at your expense! Follow the money and beware of gospel peddlers!
For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of Elohim; but as of sincerity, but as from Elohim, we speak in the sight of Elohim in Messiah. (2 Cor 2:17)
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. (2 Pet 2:1–3, emphasis added on all)
A Few Helpful Keys to Understanding Bible Prophecy
Below are a few keys that can help one to have a better understanding of Bible prophecy. Since we are likely living in the end times meaning that Yeshua the Messiah’s return is imminent, and many prophecies relating to the end times are possibly about to be fulfilled, it behooves us to keep these points in mind.
When trying to understand future Bible prophecy, realize that it’s like looking through a dark glass. In most cases, we’ll only see a hazy picture. As we get closer to the events spoken about in given prophecy, the picture will become clearer.
In most cases, we won’t fully understand prophecy until after it has been fulfilled. Even then, many people still won’t understand that the prophecy has been fulfilled. This was the case with Yeshua’s first coming. The apostles failed to understand fully the purpose of his mission until after he had ascended to heaven. Even then, prior to A.D. 70, they thought his return was imminent. It wasn’t until after A.D. 70 that they realized that his return would occur much later in the future.
To have even a hazy understanding of Bible prophecy, one must have a working knowledge of the following aspects:
- Biblical hermeneutics (or the rules of biblical interpretation).
- An understanding of Hebraisms (i.e. Hebraic metaphors and symbols, Hebraic literary devices and Hebraic figures of speech and colloquialisms).
- An understanding of the Torah including the biblical feasts. Understanding the fall feasts, for example, is critical to understanding events surrounding the second coming of Yeshua.
- One must understand who the key players in biblical prophecy are. This should seem obvious, yet many people miss this point. This means understanding who the twelve tribes of Israel were and are today, and how YHVH is restoring the two houses of Israel to each other, to himself and eventually back to th eland of Israel, even as numerous Bible prophecies predict will occur. More biblical prophecy deals with this subject than probably anything else.
- It is essential to understand biblical history as it relates to ancient Israel and the surrounding nations. Without this knowledge, one won’t know which biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled, which ones have only been partially fulfilled, and which ones have yet to be fulfilled. Many prophecy teachers make the mistake of attributing prophecies to the future which have already been fulfilled and vice versa. This is because they lack an understanding of ancient history. For example, some modern prophecy teachers believe that Jeremiah’s prophecy about Babylon’s fall (Jer 50 and 51) is a future prophecy, when in reality it has already been fulfilled perfectly and there is no indication in the passage that it’s for a future time. On the other hand, some teach that Ezekiel’s two stick prophecy (Ezek 37) has been totally fulfilled in the past by the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. Such a reading of this prophecy ignores events contained therein that have yet to occur thus making the prophecy still a future one. Some teach, for example, that Matthew 24 has been totally fulfilled in the past, while others teach that it’s a future prophecy. An understanding of history will reveal that some aspects of this prophecy were fulfilled in the first century, but that other aspects of it have yet to be fulfilled.
Keep in mind that the Jewish sages teach that many aspects of Israel’s long history is cyclical or repetitive (e.g. the cycles of Israel’s redemption). This is clearly evident from a study of the biblical record of ancient Israel’s long and repetitive history of revelation of truth, obedience thereto, apostasy from that truth followed by divine judgment followed by repentance and revival. Humans are no different today than ancient the ancient Israelites, for what has happened in the past will happen again. Keep this in mind when studying Bible prophecy. We can learn about the future by understanding the cycles of the past.