The Number 666 and God’s Merciful Math

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The number 666 is Revelation has been interpreted in a myriad of ways. To whom does it apply? Is it a reference to a particular man or humanity in general? In this article, Chad Bird describes how 666 is related to God's math of mercy in the Messiah.

In Revelation, John says that “the number of the beast” is “the number of a man; and his number is 666,” (13:18).

Throughout history, this number has been identified with everyone from the Roman emperor Nero to the Prophet Muhammed to—weirdest of all—President Ronald Reagan.

John says 666 is “the number of a man.” The Greek phrase ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν, however, could also be translated “it is the number of humanity,” that is, not a particular individual. It’s the number of a fallen and failing humanity that reflects the twisted image of the idolatrous beast rather than the image of God.

Throughout Revelation, we encounter recurring sevens. Seven is God’s number. It refers to completeness, perfection, totality. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is 777, if you will.

But there’s also an unholy trinity, aping the true God. It’s the unholy trinity of the dragon (Revelation 12), the beast from the sea (13:1-10), and the beast from the earth (13:11-18). Their number is 6 because it falls short of 7. It’s lags behind. It’s lacking. It symbolizes earthly imperfection.

As G. K. Beale notes, “The repetition of six three times indicates the completeness of sinful incompleteness found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection,” (We Become What We Worship, 262).

In other words, “The evil trinity 666 apes the Holy Trinity 777, but always falls short and fails,” (Torrance, The Apocalypse Today, 86).

But 666 is also fallen humanity’s number. Created on the 6th day, humanity soon squandered the gifts of God by worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. Now all those who worship untrue gods, who fear and love and trust in things more than the Lord, bear the number 666. They mirror the not-perfect, failing gods they worship. They image in their lives, thoughts, words, and actions the very imperfection, incompleteness, and darkened image of the gods whom they adore.

The number 666 thus encapsulates everything anti-God in the world and in idolatrous human hearts.

When Jesus is born, God puts into motion his strange, merciful math. He becomes his own image. He who crafted humanity in his own image and likeness becomes a human himself. The Son of the Father, who is “the image of the invisible God” becomes the Son of Mary, too (Col. 1:15).

God becomes man. The Creator a creator. When we see Jesus, we see the fulness of God made manifest (Col. 1:19). As Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).

And, when we see Jesus, we see our humanity made perfect. The Christ Child is the only perfect, complete, and flawless human ever born into this world. Christ is the perfect 7 born into a world of imperfect 6’s:

+the 6 of our twisted, idolatrous hearts meets the 7 of his heart wholly devoted to his Father.

+the 6 of our dirty shame meets the 7 of his glorious joy.

+the 6 of our far-from-perfect, incomplete, shattered lives meets the 7 of his divine and human perfection.

+the 6 of the gods of this world meet the 7 of the God-made-man who comes to overthrow them.

Our 777-God so loved this 666-world that he sent his Son to work his math of grace and mercy. What we lacked, he added. Where we were incomplete, he completed us. Where we were falling and failing and falsely worshipping in our 666 lives, Jesus came to add his beloved one to our lives, to bring us into the 777 life of the Holy Trinity.

The Father’s math is simple and profound: in this 1 child, 1 Savior, 1 perfect human, he takes the 6 of our lives and adds 1 Jesus to them. We become the 7 that mirrors him.

As we are joined to him, we leave behind the 6 of idolatry to enter the 7 of true worship. We are made whole, the humans the Lord wants us to be, in this perfect human who draws us into the 777 life of the Trinity.

In Christ, gone is the mark of the beast, emblazoned on our foreheads (Rev. 13:16), to be replaced by the name of our Father, written “on our foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).

We are tattooed as God’s own, those who bear his name, his number, his zealous and vivifying love. That is God’s math, who deep-sixes all evil and idolatry in his Son, to usher us into the 777 of his divine and undying life.