Revelation 13:18

Monday, 29 March 2021

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. Revelation 13:18

The previous verse referred to the mark, “and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” With that, John now says, “Here is wisdom.” The Greek reads, “Here is the wisdom.” It is a particular wisdom that is set forth.

The words have several possible meanings. The first is that of calling for wisdom, just as John did in Revelation 13:10 when he said, “Here is the patience of the saints.” There, it is “calling for” patience. In this interpretation, it would mean that a special wisdom would be needed to determine what will next be said.

Another possibility is that it is saying there is a special wisdom that has been demonstrated in the laying out of what will next be expressed. That wisdom then calls for those with understanding to pay heed.

Other lesser likely possibilities have been suggested for the meaning. The most normal interpretation would be the first option, wisdom is necessary in order to determine what John is conveying. However, an obvious problem with that is that unless that wisdom is a “simple” wisdom, meaning that anyone can readily understand it, then it will not be attainable to the “simple.” In other words, it says in Proverbs 9:10 –

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

The words of the proverb reveal a “simple” wisdom. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t take a textbook and years of study to grasp what is plainly stated – “Fear the Lord and you will be wise.” Those who do not have understanding will take the mark, not knowing to refuse it

If it is a simple wisdom, it is something that anyone can readily understand and be warned about. Thus, a highly intelligent person may know the meaning and still take the mark because he has no wisdom. But a person simple in the head, but who is wise towards the Lord will demonstrate “the wisdom” and not take the mark. With that considered, John next says, “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast.”

This follows the same theme as the proverb just cited. The first clause spoke of the beginning of wisdom. The second refers to knowledge of the Holy One being understanding. The two thoughts are parallel. The same is probably the case here. The understanding is displayed in calculating the number of the beast.

The word translated as “calculate” is used only in Luke 14:28 and here. It comes from a root meaning to use pebbles in enumeration. Thus, it is to count or to add up. In the commentary of the previous verse, the study of gematria was referred to. That is where a specific value is assigned to each letter of an alphabet. From there, the total is added up. For example, it was noted that the gematria of Jesus in Greek (the language of the New Testament) is 888.

This same method of gematria is probably what is being referred to. Eight is the number of superabundance. It is also the starting of a new series of numbers. In this, one could say “new beginnings,” because seven is the number of completion and rest. EW Bullinger shows that six in Scripture is “the “number of imperfection; the human number; the number of MAN as destitute of God, without God, without Christ.”

With this in mind, John next says, “for it is the number of a man.” This actually aligns perfectly with Bullinger’s commentary on biblical numbers. This is dealing with a man and not a “god.” He bears imperfection and he is without God. Thus, he is set in opposition to Jesus. The verse says that this is the number of the beast, but the beast is represented by a man.

A question arises which is left open to speculation though. Is this “beast” the beast out of the sea, or is it the beast out of the earth? In verse 13:15, it says, “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

The word “he” that opens the verse is referring to the beast out of the earth. The words then refer to the image of the beast. That is referring to the beast out of the sea, led by the antichrist. However, if the “image” of the beast is simply a copying of the system set forth by the antichrist, then the words now refer to the beast out of the earth (led by the false prophet) and not the beast out of the sea (led by the antichrist). Verse 13:16 continues referring to the beast out of the earth – “He causes all.”

Either way, the number is that of a man. John finishes the verse and the chapter with “His number is 666.” This may be the most studied, debated, misused, and twisted set of words in the entire Bible. People who don’t even believe in the truth of the Bible seem to find themselves drawn in by them. From the earliest days after John received Revelation, people have tried to fit someone they don’t like, or some contemporary ruler, into the number of this man.

In order to find fulfillment of the verse at the time of John, people have attempted to align the number with the emperor Nero. In doing this, one must spell his name wrong and convert his name to Hebrew (which makes no sense as the New Testament is written in Greek). Or as an option, they will use the number 616, not 666.

In order to substantiate this as valid they use a variation in manuscripts that has the number 616 instead of 666. However, the overall consensus of manuscripts, and of ancient commentaries on this number, clearly state that the correct number is 666. But in order to justify that the antichrist was Nero, someone changed a manuscript after calculating the number.

This view is popular with replacement theologians, because it then places the events of Revelation in the first century AD, and it means that the church has replaced Israel. This is not sound. Nero wasn’t the antichrist and only a foolish attempt at biblical interpretation could come to this conclusion.

Another habit of those desperate to solve the mystery is to convert one’s own language, such as English, into gematria and then “solve” the mystery of the number. Again, this is unsound. The Bible was not written in English. Such manipulations of the intent of the words in this verse are always popular, but they are not theologically sound.

Countless attempts have been made to match this number with many other world leaders for the past two thousand years. But this approach is actually pointless for Christians, because Paul explains in 2 Thessalonians 2 that this man, be it the antichrist or the false prophet, won’t be revealed until the Day of the Lord. This period will only begin after the rapture of the church –

“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4

A few things we can know from this verse –

1) The wise will be able to understand who this person is when he is finally revealed.
2) The number requires a sort of calculation that can be understood from a biblical perspective.
3) It is the number of a man.

Life application: It is exciting to try to figure out what John is saying in this verse because people want to be the ones with the secret “wisdom” that nobody else possesses – “Everyone else has been wrong. I am right. I am the man of wisdom.” In order to demonstrate that wisdom, they then show themselves unwise.

Until this person is revealed during the tribulation period, we can only make guesses as to who this person is. Should we be wrong, as so many have been throughout the ages, we only bring discredit upon ourselves, and we give those who look for reasons to dismiss the Bible abundant reason to mock Christianity.

The best approach concerning the number is to not spend an inordinate amount of time on it, but rather direct our attention to the greatness of Jesus, the true Christ. Save your money and don’t buy the book. Save your time and don’t watch the video. Don’t waste your effort and attempt to show yourself wise. The number will be understandable at the time when this man is revealed. If you want wisdom now, fear the Lord, seek after God as He has presented Himself, and call out for His Gift of life and restoration. Call out for JESUS!

Lord Jesus, Your word asks us to fix our thoughts and eyes on You. Help us to remember this and to not get sidetracked by hype and sensationalism – especially over things that are hidden until the time they are to be revealed. You alone are worthy of our devotion and praise, so help us to remember this as we live out our lives in Your presence. Amen.



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