Pulpit Commentary for Revelation 13:18

Pulpit Commentary

Verse 18. - "Here is wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man." The last clause has no article, ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστί. Compare the expression, "Here is the patience," etc. in ver. 10, where it relates to what precedes. Here it evidently refers to what follows. The form of expression is frequent in St. John's writings (cf. 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:16, 19; 1 John 4:10, etc.). The plain meaning seems to be that men may display their wisdom and understanding in discovering the meaning of the number of the beast. But the interpretation which Auberlen gives may be correct; viz. that as the first beast is met and vanquished by patience and faith, so this second beast is to be met by wisdom. This agrees with our interpretation of this second beast as symbolizing self deceit.

St. John evidently intends that the meaning of the number should be known:

"Let him that hath understanding count the number;"

that is, "Let him that hath understanding discern in what sense the symbol is used."It is the "number of man;"

that is, it describes symbolically something which is peculiarly a characteristic of mankind.could it be homosexuality?

Some writers have understood the words to mean, "the number refers to an individual man;" but the absence of the article militates against this view.

Others explain, "It is a number which is to be reckoned according to man's mode of reckoning," just as in Revelation 21:17, "a measure of a man." If this be the meaning, it leaves open the question as to what St. John meant by "the usual mode of man's reckoning." His own use of numerals throughout the Apocalypse is, as we have repeatedly seen, symbolical of general qualities, and does not indicate either individuals or exact numbers.

We are justified, therefore, according to this view, in interpreting the number symbolically (vide supra).

And his number is Six hundred three score and six. The Revised Version is better, Six hundred and sixty and six; it preserves the similarity of form which is found in the Greek words, ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ, as found in A. In א we have ἑξακόσιαι, etc.; in P, Andreas, ἑξακόσια.

The shortened form χξς' is found in B and most cursives.

C, 11, and some manuscripts known to Irenaeus and Tichonius differ by reading ἑξακόσιαι δέκα ἕξ, "six hundred and sixteen," but this is probably incorrect.

Commentators have universally attempted to discover the name denoted by this number, by attaching to each letter of the name (generally the Greek letters) its numerical value, the total of which should equal the number 666. To this method there are several objections.

In the first place, St. John nowhere else makes such use of a number, though numbers form a prominent feature of the book. In the second place, the adoption of this method seems to have been a consequence upon the interpretation of the words, "number of a man," as meaning "a number to be calculated according to man's methods."

But this may not be the meaning at all (vide supra); and, if it is, "man's method" would surely signify the symbolical method which St. John adopts all through the rest of the book, as being a language perfectly well understood by himself and his readers.

And thirdly, this numerical method has proved entirely unsatisfactory in the hands of those who have hitherto adopted it. For a complete expose of the fallaciousness of such attempts, we may refer the reader to Dr. Salmon's 'Introduction to the New Testament,' p. 291, et seq. A commonly received interpretation makes the name of the beast to be Nero Caesar, written in the Hebrew characters נרון קסר; and as the name may be written Neron or Nero, the difference of the final n ( = 50) is thought to account for the discrepancy in the manuscript authorities. Dr. Salmon shows that Nero could not have been intended, because (1)the prophecy in that case would have been immediately falsified;

(2) the solution would have been known to the early Christians; but it was not known, according to Irenaeus. Dr. Salmon then adds (p. 300), "Pages might be filled with a list of persons whose names have been proposed as solutions of the problem. Among the persons supposed to be indicated are the emperors Caligula, Trajan, and Julian the Apostate, Genseric the Vandal, Popes Benedict IX. and Paul V., Mahomet, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Beza, and Napoleon Bonaparte. There are three rules by the help of which I believe an ingenious man could find the required sum in any given name. First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling." The above objections also hold good very generally with regard to the suggestion of λατεινος, by which may be indicated the Roman or Latin power, either pagan or papal.

But if we attempt to interpret this number in the same way as we have dealt with all other numbers in the Apocalypse, viz. by regarding them as symbolical of qualities, we shall be on surer ground.

In the first place, the number six is typical of what is earthly as opposed to what is heavenly. As seven is the number of perfection, and is descriptive of universality, and is therefore the symbol pertaining to God, so six is a type of what falls short of the heavenly ideal. Cf. the six days of the creation; the six years of servitude (Exodus 21:2, etc.) and of work (Exodus 23:10). Again, the threefold employment of the number six, while emphasizing the fact of the number referring to what is essentially earthly, has a fulness, importance, and seeming completeness which makes it a type of that which appears to be perfect, but in reality falls short of perfection.

It is, in short, symbolical of a deceit, a sham.

It is therefore descriptive of the nature of the second beast; of that self deceit which causes men to accept the world as a substitute for God, or, at least, as not antagonistic to him;

which enables men to thus quiet their consciences, while in reality becoming followers of the worldly power and subjects of Satan.

That this is the meaning of the number six is recognized by some writers, though they do not here so apply it. In the 'Speaker's Commentary,' Introduction, § 11 (a), we find, "Six is the 'signature' of non-perfection;" and, "This number is also a symbol of human rule and power." Wordsworth says, "The numerical symbol of the beast, 666, indicates that he aims at and aspires to the attributes of Christ,

and puts forth a semblance of Christian truth, but falls away from it in a triple decline and degeneracy."