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What Does 666 Mean in the Bible? Why Is it the Number of the Beast?

The number 666 is the mark of the beast, as referenced in the Book of Revelation. In apocalyptic end times, the mark of the beast is taken by those who value personal safety over fidelity to Christ. The mark of the beast is the mark of mankind. It is the opposite of the divine plan of salvation.

President, Faith for Living
Updated Oct 20, 2023
What Does 666 Mean in the Bible? Why Is it the Number of the Beast?

The number 666 is the mark of the beast, as referenced in the Book of Revelation. In apocalyptic end times, the mark of the beast is taken by those who value personal safety over fidelity to Christ. The mark of the beast is the mark of mankind. It is the opposite of the divine plan of salvation.

666 in the Bible

The number 666 is often referred to as the "Number of the Beast" in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. It is associated with an apocalyptic vision of a beast that symbolizes evil and opposition to God. The passage that mentions 666 is Revelation 13:18 (NIV):

"This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."

The exact meaning and interpretation of 666 have been the subject of much discussion and debate among scholars, theologians, and readers of the Bible. Here are some common interpretations:

  1. Numerology: Numbers often carried symbolic meanings in biblical and ancient Jewish numerology. The number 7 is often associated with completeness and perfection in the Bible. Therefore, 666, being one short of 7, may symbolize imperfection, incompleteness, or fallen humanity. Some interpret it as a symbol of ultimate human rebellion against God.

  2. Nero: Some scholars and historians have suggested that 666 might reference the Roman Emperor Nero. When the Book of Revelation was written, Christians faced persecution under Nero's reign, and the number could have been used as a code to represent Nero without directly naming him. The numerical value of certain letters in the Greek alphabet could be added up to equal 666, and this was used as a way to encode the reference.

  3. Symbol of Ultimate Evil: In a broader sense, 666 is often seen as a symbol of evil, wickedness, and opposition to God. It serves as a warning about the consequences of rejecting God and following a path of sin and rebellion.

  4. End-Times Prophecy: Some interpret the reference to 666 as a sign of the end times and the coming of the Antichrist. It is associated with the eschatological belief that a powerful and evil figure will arise to lead a rebellion against God before the final judgment.

Where Is 666 in the Bible?

Revelation 13:16-18 sounds as if it could be the script for one of those remarkable films about secret codes or fantastic beasts. 

“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (Revelation 13:16-18).

The Mark of the Beast

The mark of the beast is "666." The symbolism here cannot be missed. The number seven is very important, as we would have read through the book of Revelation. In fact, the number seven in Hebrew and the word for the Lord's day of the Sabbath is the same word: Shabbat. God rested on the seventh day; therefore, the seventh day is the name for the Sabbath.

Throughout the book of Revelation, the number seven is associated with completeness, perfection, and a Sabbath rest. It is, therefore the number of God or the divine number.

When Jesus introduces a mark that is always six and never seven, he introduces the mark of man. It doesn't matter how many times the six is multiplied; it can never be seven. It can never be complete. It can never be divine. The mark of the beast is the mark of mankind. It is the opposite of the divine plan of salvation. It is salvation by works. It is man-centered. It is God-denying. Thus, we might say that the mark of the beast, "666," means "never God, never God, never God."

There will come a time as evil continues to multiply, and grace by the way also multiplies, that you and I or our descendants will be faced with the choice of bowing to the one who seeks to replace God.

But in another sense, those times are already happening today, which is always important in apocalyptic literature. You and I take the mark of the beast whenever we deny God and sell out our faith to follow a lesser being, replacing God and his gifts of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ with poor imitations that can never be equal to the divine gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Better to choose "always Christ, only Christ, forever Christ."

How to Understand 666

"The mark of the beast" or "666" is one of those enigmatic matters that persist through every generation of the Christian church. What does it mean? There been a variety of responses ranging from dismissal to bazaar. Applying the context, genre, and interpretive key leads us to the answer to the question.

1. Biblical Context. The context of this passage (Revelation 13) is very clear. The mark of the beast is taken by those who value personal safety over fidelity to Christ. These are poor, weak believers (and unbelievers) who yield to the seducingly sinful powers of the apocalyptic beast.

This beast is surely not heinously mutated like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, physically distorted by its own sin. Rather, it is the mutated, sin-saturated beastly power of government, hypocritical religious conspiracy, or another ruling authority (this beast is “a second beast”).

These beasts have existed since the beginning of time. The beasts were certainly harassing the saints in John’s day. Apocalyptic literature draws on the fact that the events continue until the end of time, escalating in their significance and in their worldwide reach. Sin abounds. But thank God, “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20b NKJV).

2. Apocalyptic Literature. 666, the mark of the beast, is part of apocalyptic literature. As I said previously, “It is important to determine the genre because it helps us interpret, understand, and apply any portion of God’s word.” 

Apocalyptic literature like Revelation (and the Old Testament book of Daniel) is marked by hyperbole, symbolism, concern about events of global proportions, invisible cosmic battles that are being fought in very visible everyday life, and visions illustrated through fantastic imagery. The believer is urged to faithfulness, knowing that while evil forces appear to be winning, God is sovereign. Remain faithful.

In his commentary on Revelation, More than Conquerors, the late Dutch Reformed commentator, Dr. William Hendricksondescribed the book of Revelation as looking at a film moving at double speed. All of the creatures, persons, and events move so quickly before us. We can barely make them out. But we know there is a drama unfolding before us: the drama of the ages.

3. Interpretive Key. The visions in Revelation include key passages that provide a hermeneutic or interpretive principle for reading the material. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ told the apostle John about seven lampstands. 

"As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20 NASB).

Here is the interpretive key for reading the rest of the book of Revelation. And what is that rule? It is this: I will provide fantastic imagery to describe real situations in history and spiritual truths. 

There is often debate over whether the symbolism is historical or spiritual. I believe that we should come down on the side of saying to both, "Yes!" A discerning reader can recognize that there are times when the symbolism is about a universal spiritual matter, and there are other times when it seems to refer to a specific historical event. It also applies to both the past, present, and future:

“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Revelation 1:19 KJV).

Why Does the Number 666 Matter Today?

As we approach End Times, it's important that we have an understanding of how the Beast operates and what will come, in terms of his mark. By knowing the number 666 and its associations with the Beast we can remain vigilant. So when the Beast demands that people put the mark on themselves, we avoid doing so.

Many so-called Christians will take the mark of the Beast, barring themselves from the good reward of heaven. Accepting the mark shows faithlessness and choosing the world's fleeting safety rather than the Father's loving embrace. Many of us will be tempted to take on the mark, as the Beast will bar those who don't have it from food and other basic needs. Trust in the Lord and avoid the mark. The eternal award is far greater and far too much to risk.

Photo Credit: Getty/SiberianPhotographer


This article is part of our Bible resource for understanding the significance and meaning of biblical phrases and ideas. Here are our most popular Bible articles to grow in your knowledge of God's Word:

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