Identifying the Wild Beast and Its Mark
DO YOU enjoy solving a mystery? To do so, you look for clues that help you work your way toward the solution. In his inspired Word, God provides the needed clues with regard to the number 666, the name, or mark, of the wild beast of Revelation chapter 13.
In this article, we will look at four main lines of reasoning—vital clues—that will reveal the meaning of the mark of the beast. We will consider (1) how Bible names are sometimes chosen, (2) the identity of the wild beast, (3) what is meant by 666 being “a man’s number,” and (4) the significance of the number 6 and why it is written in triple digits, namely, 600 plus 60 plus 6, or 666.—Revelation 13:18.
Bible Names—More Than Just Labels
Bible names often have special significance, particularly when given by God. For example, because Abram would become the father of nations, God changed the patriarch’s name to Abraham, meaning “Father of a Multitude.” (Genesis 17:5, footnote) God told Joseph and Mary to call Mary’s future child Jesus, which means “Jehovah Is Salvation.” (Matthew 1:21, footnote; Luke 1:31) In harmony with that meaningful name, through Jesus’ ministry and sacrificial death, Jehovah made possible our salvation.—John 3:16.
Accordingly, the God-given number-name 666 must symbolize what God sees as defining attributes of the beast. Naturally, to understand those traits, we need to identify the beast itself and learn about its activities.
The Beast Exposed
The Bible book of Daniel sheds much light on the meaning of symbolic beasts. Chapter 7 contains a vivid tableau of “four huge beasts”—a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a fearsome beast with big teeth of iron. (Daniel 7:2-7) Daniel tells us that these beasts represent “kings,” or political kingdoms, that rule in succession over vast empires.—Daniel 7:17, 23.
Regarding the beast of Revelation 13:1, 2, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible points out that it “combines in itself the joint characteristics of the four beasts of Daniel’s vision . . . Accordingly, this first beast [of Revelation] represents the combined forces of all political rule opposed to God in the world.” This observation is affirmed by Revelation 13:7, which says of the beast: “Authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.”a
Why does the Bible use beasts as symbols of human rulership? For at least two reasons. First, because of the beastly record of bloodshed that governments have accrued over the centuries. “War is one of the constants of history,” wrote historians Will and Ariel Durant, “and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.” How true that “man has dominated man to his injury”! (Ecclesiastes 8:9) The second reason is that “the dragon [Satan] gave to the beast its power and its throne and great authority.” (Revelation 12:9; 13:2) Accordingly, human rulership is a product of the Devil, thus reflecting his beastly, dragonlike disposition.—John 8:44; Ephesians 6:12.
This does not mean, however, that every human ruler is a direct tool of Satan. Indeed, in one sense, human governments serve as “God’s minister,” giving structure to human society, without which chaos would rule. And some leaders have protected fundamental human rights, including the right to engage in true worship—something that Satan does not want. (Romans 13:3, 4; Ezra 7:11-27; Acts 13:7) Still, because of the Devil’s influence, no human or human institution has ever been able to bring lasting peace and security to the people.b—John 12:31.
“A Human Number”
A third clue to the meaning of 666 lies in its being “a man’s number,” or as The Amplified Bible puts it, “a human number.” This expression could not refer to an individual human, for Satan—not any man—has authority over the beast. (Luke 4:5, 6; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 13:2, 18) Rather, the beast’s having “a human number,” or mark, suggests that it is a human entity, not spirit or demon, and that it therefore manifests certain human traits. What might they be? The Bible answers, saying: “All [humans] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The beast’s having “a human number,” therefore, indicates that governments reflect the fallen human condition, the mark of sin and imperfection.
History bears this out. “Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. “History is a tale of efforts that failed, of aspirations that weren’t realized . . . So, as a historian, one has to live with a sense of the inevitability of tragedy.” Kissinger’s honest appraisal testifies to this fundamental Bible truth: “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jeremiah 10:23.
Now that we have identified the beast and discerned how God views it, we are in a position to examine the final part of our puzzle—the number six and why it is written in triple digits—that is, 666, or 600 plus 60 plus 6.
Six Repeated Three Times—Why?
In the Scriptures, certain numbers have symbolic significance. The number seven, for example, is often used to symbolize that which is complete, or perfect, in God’s eyes. For instance, God’s creative week comprises seven ‘days,’ or extended time periods, during which God completely accomplishes his creative purpose regarding the earth. (Genesis 1:3–2:3) God’s “sayings” are like silver that has been “clarified seven times,” thus perfectly refined. (Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5, 6) The leper Naaman was told to bathe seven times in the Jordan River, after which he was completely healed.—2 Kings 5:10, 14.
Six is one short of seven. Would it not be a fitting symbol of something imperfect, or defective, in God’s eyes? Yes, indeed! (1 Chronicles 20:6, 7) Moreover, six repeated three times, as 666, powerfully stresses that imperfection. That this is the correct view is supported by the fact that 666 is “a human number,” as we have considered. Thus, the beast’s record, its “human number,” and the number 666 itself all point to one unmistakable conclusion—gross shortcoming and failure in the eyes of Jehovah.
The portrayal of the beast’s deficiencies calls to mind what was said about King Belshazzar of ancient Babylon. Through Daniel, Jehovah said to that ruler: “You have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient.” That very night Belshazzar was killed, and the mighty Babylonian Empire fell. (Daniel 5:27, 30) Likewise, God’s judgment of the political beast and of those with its mark spells the end of that entity and its supporters. In this instance, however, God will eradicate not just one political system but every vestige of human rule. (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 19:19, 20) How important, therefore, that we avoid having the deadly mark of the beast!
The Mark Identified
Immediately after disclosing the number 666, Revelation mentions 144,000 followers of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who have his name and the name of his Father, Jehovah, written on their foreheads. These names identify the bearers as belonging to Jehovah and to his Son, about whom they proudly bear witness. Likewise, those having the mark of the beast proclaim their servitude to the beast. Thus, the mark, whether on the right hand or on the forehead, figuratively speaking, is a symbol that identifies its bearer as one who gives worshipful support to the beastlike political systems of the world. Those having the mark give to “Caesar” that which rightly belongs to God. (Luke 20:25; Revelation 13:4, 8; 14:1) How? By giving worshipful honor to the political state, its symbols, and its military might, to which they look for hope and salvation. Any worship that they render the true God is merely lip service.
In contrast, the Bible urges us: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:3, 4) Those who heed that wise counsel are not disillusioned when governments fail to deliver on their promises or when charismatic leaders fall from grace.—Proverbs 1:33.
This does not mean that true Christians sit back and do nothing about mankind’s plight. On the contrary, they actively proclaim the one government that will solve mankind’s problems—God’s Kingdom, which they represent.—Matthew 24:14.
God’s Kingdom—Mankind’s Only Hope
When on earth, Jesus made God’s Kingdom the main theme of his preaching. (Luke 4:43) In his model prayer, sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his followers to pray for that Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done here on earth. (Matthew 6:9, 10) The Kingdom is a government that will rule over the entire earth, not from some earthly capital, but from heaven. Hence, Jesus called it “the kingdom of the heavens.”—Matthew 11:12.
Who is better suited to be King of that Kingdom than Jesus Christ, the one who died for his future subjects? (Isaiah 9:6, 7; John 3:16) Soon this perfect Ruler, now a mighty spirit person, will hurl the beast, its kings, and its armies into “the fiery lake that burns with sulphur,” a symbol of complete destruction. But that is not all. Jesus will also get rid of Satan, something that no human could ever do.—Revelation 11:15; 19:16, 19-21; 20:2, 10.
God’s Kingdom will bring peace to all its obedient subjects. (Psalm 37:11, 29; 46:8, 9) Even sorrow, pain, and death will be no more. What a glorious prospect for those who remain free of the mark of the beast!—Revelation 21:3, 4.
a For an in-depth discussion of these verses, see chapter 28 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
b While recognizing that human rulership is often beastlike, true Christians subject themselves to the governmental “superior authorities,” as the Bible directs. (Romans 13:1) When such authorities command them to act contrary to God’s law, however, they “obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
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Clues to the Meaning of 666
1. Bible names often say something about the bearer’s traits or life, as in the case of Abraham, Jesus, and many others. Likewise, the beast’s number-name encodes its characteristics.
2. In the Bible book of Daniel, the various beasts represent successive human kingdoms, or empires. The composite beast of Revelation 13:1, 2 symbolizes the worldwide political system, empowered and controlled by Satan.
3. The beast’s having “a man’s number,” or “a human number,” indicates that it is a human entity, not a demon. Hence, it reflects human failings resulting from sin and imperfection.
4. In God’s eyes, the number six, being short of the Biblically complete, or perfect, seven, points to imperfection. The mark 666 emphasizes that deficiency by repeating the number three times.
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Human rulership has proved to be a failure, well symbolized by the number 666
Starving child: UNITED NATIONS/Photo by F. GRIFFING
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Jesus Christ will bring perfect rulership to the earth