1 – Introduction
2 – How in the World will the World Ever Accept Being “Marked”?
3 – From the Ancient Point of View
4 – “Mark” Counterfeits “Seal”
5 – Modern Secular Worship Service
6 – Surveillance and Persecution
7 – What’s in a Name?
8 – Ancient Business Model and Today’s
9 – Birth of the Barcode
10 – Re-calibrating Revelation 13:17-18
11 – The Riddle of 666
12 – Symbolic Significance of the “Number”
13 – 666: A Key Sign of the Times
14 – Conclusion
11 – The Riddle of 666
Samson said to them,
“Let me pose a riddle to you
“Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet”.
. . .So the men of the city said to him. . .
“What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?”
(Judges 14:14, 18)
Riddles! A favorite pastime in days gone by. And not surprisingly, the Bible has a few – one of which is found in that mysterious passage of Revelation 13:18.
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (NIV)
Even today we enjoy guessing games, but in ancient times such games were played with peculiar intensity, sometimes with life-and-death consequences. Samson’s riddle to his Philistine guests is a good example. Likely then, this verse about the 666-number was meant as a riddle, styled somewhat along the lines of those of ancient times.
It sounds like it anyway, judging by how John expresses it. He is challenging us: “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast.” At least one Bible translation expresses it this way: “solve a riddle: Put your heads together and figure out the meaning of the number of the Beast. It’s a human number: 666.” (Lexham English Bible) The answers to such riddles were simple enough, yet at the same time they were difficult to figure out. In the example of Samson, his guests were baffled by the riddle until they cheated – forcing Samson’s bride-to-be to give them the answer.
By definition, a riddle is “an obscure description of something”; riddles often lead one to think the answer is something different to what it really is. For example in the riddle, “What invention lets you look right through a wall?” the word “invention” misleads the hearer towards thinking of some kind of advanced technology; it might be difficult to come up with the simple answer – “a window” – because we don’t normally think of the window as an “invention”. The riddle of “how do you calculate the 666-number?” is similar. Because of the wording, we may think it is something extremely complicated or mysterious, but the answer, like the “window”, appears to be rather ordinary: look in the barcodes.
Here is a rather silly one: “What has 4 eyes but can’t see?” The answer is “Mississippi”. In this riddle the word “eye” only sounds like the letter “i”, and according to dictionary rules, they’re not the same thing. But according to the flexible rules of riddle-telling, it is permissible to overlook those normal boundaries. Similarly, the 6-6-6 pattern in the barcodes are not real 6’s (according to a point-of-sale computer). But, in the riddle genre that doesn’t matter; to our eyes they look like 6’s (just as the “i” in Mississippi sounds like “eye”). “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1Corinthians 1:25, KJV)
Then there is the famous legendary riddle of the sphinx from ancient Greek mythology: “What goes on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?” Travelers on their way to Thebes in ancient Greece would, according to the legend, be killed by the sphinx monster if they couldn’t answer. One person, Oedipus, solved the riddle: “Man, who as a baby crawls on four legs, then walks on two legs as an adult, and in old age walks with a cane as his third leg.”
Like our riddle of the “666-number”, there are a few conditions that the answer has to meet. One might argue that the sphinx’s riddle is misleading because dawn, noon, and evening are spread over a day only, not a lifetime. But that is part of the nature of riddles; especially the ancient ones seem to make more use of these misleading metaphorical devices.
And finally this riddle: “A man leaves home and turns left three times, only to return home facing two men wearing masks. Who are those two men?” The answer here is “a catcher and umpire”. A riddle like this, however, is limited to a certain culture (American) where baseball is a popular sport; to guess or even understand the answer, would be too difficult for most people from a different culture.
And similarly, we could imagine that the “666-number” riddle, coming as it does out of a vastly different culture, might be difficult to grasp for us who come from a modern, scientifically oriented culture. So if the 6-6-6 pattern in the barcode seems to us to be an inaccurate way of explaining the number of the Beast’s name, we could probably allow for that, knowing that John was writing in this “riddle” style. And riddles, as we know, tend to use flexible boundaries for the rules of reality, rather than strict adherence to them.
So now, let’s analyze John the Apostle’s riddle more closely. In Chapter 9 “Birth of the Barcode”, it was mentioned that a store’s computer does not read the unmarked lines as 6-6-6. Only the left and right side 6 (marked as a 6) are read by the computer as a 6.
The right-side 6 (marked) displays as
The beginning and ending guard-bars (unmarked) are patterned differently:
“bar-space-bar” on the left,
“bar-space-bar” on the right.
The middle guard-bar (unmarked) is patterned
The thing to keep in mind here is that, out of the 20 possible patterns for the numbers 0 to 9 (10 for the left side and 10 for the right side), there is only one pattern that contains bar-space-bar, and that is the number 6 on the right side. So to our human eyes (not the computer’s), these three unmarked “guard-bars” (on the left, middle, right) look like they are representing 6-6-6, even though the computer reads them in a different way (as transition markers).
What our eyes actually notice in the unmarked Guard Bars is the bar-space-bar pattern of the Right Side 6. Thus, the barcode appears to be “book-ended” by three sets of guard bars resembling the code for a 6.
Why was this particular pattern for the guard-bars selected, or why was the number 6 attached to this pattern, we may wonder? Mr. Laurer could have chosen a different pattern or different number for this pattern. Well, maybe that’s just how God wanted it – not only to fulfill what was revealed so long ago, but also because this number 666, which to our human eyes appears to be there, is usually acknowledged as “man’s number”; it is even the “number of the beast”.
In the Beginning both man and the beasts were created on the “sixth day”. (Genesis 1:24-31) So a number like 666 acts as a helpful signpost or clue as to where we are in the long journey of human history under its Beast-like regimes. Human history, as we now know it, is coming to a close, while God’s history will keep on going, taking with it those “humans” who have been trying to follow His plans for their lives and the future of mankind.
How then can the different aspects/conditions of John the apostle’s “riddle” lead us to the conclusion that the answer is the 666-encoded barcodes? First of all, this “number of man” phrase seems to point to the fact that the “number” belongs to the earthly realm, the world of man, and not the heavenly. In the very next verse and chapter, God’s “video camera” makes an abrupt scene change, and John gets a dramatic view of those in the Heavenly Realm who have received God’s “name” in their “foreheads”. So, by way of contrast, this phrase – “for it is man’s number” – is like a way of categorizing the number, emphasizing the fact that it (and by extension, the rest of the system) belongs merely to the earthly realm of mankind.
And since it’s in our realm, the number can therefore be calculated or computed. Even if it’s a bit mysterious, it’s not unknowable. If the number were not of man, then presumably, one would not be able to figure it out since it would be existing in a different realm, the spirit world – beyond the reach of our earthly senses. So the passage reads, “Calculate the number of the beast for it is man’s number.”
So, two reasons why the number can be “reckoned” or “explained”: Firstly, it will manifest as 666. Interesting that the number is three sixes – not two sixes, not one sex, but three. If it is “man’s number”, then one six would have been sufficient, but somehow it has to be three sixes – three for the three unmarked bars that look like the number six in the barcodes.
Secondly, it’s part of the earthly realm, not some other-dimensional spiritual realm. The “beast” and his “name”, his power and influence, are limited to the earthly realm. This kind of “name” is an intangible reality, not an actual proper name. So, instead of trying to think of some proper name that adds up to 666, we could understand the “name of the beast” as meaning his power, influence, and authority which are confined to the realm of mankind. Thus, his number must exist in the earthly domain and should be known as “man’s number”.
And how do you attach a number to a nebulous thing like the Beast’s authority, reputation, etc.? Well, you can’t. But like the “mark” (which is a practical device that can access the Beast’s buying and selling system), the “number” also is a practical device (or rather, attached to a practical device, the barcode), and it enables the world’s people to avail themselves of the Beast’s authority and to participate in buying and selling activities.
One odd thing about John’s statement here is that he first challenges the reader to “calculate the number of the beast” but then seems to give the answer: “his number is 666.” So what is he really saying here, we may wonder? A helpful hint can be found in the definition of the Greek word “calculate” (psephizo). Apparently the fine-tuned meaning for the Revelation 13:18 version of it is “explain by computing”.
Psephizo: to count with pebbles, to compute, calculate, reckon… to explain by computing, Rev. xiii.18.” (from Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 676, originally published in 1901)
Rather uncanny that the author worded his definition as “explain by computing” long before the dawn of the computer age. So, in this riddle John is not challenging the reader to find out what the number is; rather the challenge is, how do you find the number? To re-word this “riddle” then, it might go like this: how do you explain or find (by reckoning or calculating) a number that satisfies the following conditions:
1) It shows up or appears as 666. (“His number is 666.”)
2) It belongs in the human or earthly realm. (“It is man’s number.”)
3) It represents and accesses the Beast’s name/authority. (“the number of his name”)
4) It must be used for shopping activity, especially in the selling side of commercial transactions. (“No one could. . . sell unless he had. . . the number.”)
Well, in the old days it was premature trying to figure it out then (although many tried to anyway). But now we have a lot more information at our disposal – a knowledge of new methods of commercial exchange, unheard of in olden days. Former scholars tended to put too much emphasis on a numerological connection to a literal, proper name and ignored the connection to the buying and selling system. But now that we know about the modern market system, that diminishes somewhat the importance of trying to tie in the number to some proper name of the Antichrist. It has taken many centuries for the historical conditions to arrive that would give us an easier-to-grip handle onto this baffling riddle passed down to us from ancient times.
Despite this crucial information, our own modern cultural mindset makes it difficult to understand what is meant by this ancient passage of Scripture, mainly because we’re not geared to thinking of this as a riddle. We feel it has to be totally accurate, and that doesn’t help much in the business of figuring out riddles. The answer is simple enough; but the description for it is expressed in elaborate terms that can mislead us in our thinking.
For example, in the phrase “number of his name” (13:17), the “name” is not a real proper name. It’s a nebulous thing – the Beast’s power and authority. Strictly speaking then, a “number” cannot be attached to it. But this is a riddle, so the number 666 attaches to it anyway. That number brings access into the Beast’s buying and selling system, which represents a good part of what the Beast’s “name” – his power and authority – is able to bestow. According to riddle-writing rules, this would be sufficient to qualify it as the “number of the beast”. The “mark” works the same way; it also grants access to the Beast’s power and authority by allowing entrance into the False Prophet’s buying and selling system.
Here the emphasis points to the “system”, rather than to the man who heads the system. In the Book of Revelation the word “beast” refers both to the empire and to the head of the empire. (See footnote.) The term “beast” symbolizes a compound reality – the empire (which includes the economic system) and its emperor (the Antichrist).
In Greek the word for “beast” is in the neuter gender, which is why the Beast is often referred to by the word “it” in many translations: “it causes all. . . number of its name”. (13:16-17 in several Bible versions) This neuter gender puts some emphasis on the “beast” as an impersonal entity – like a system of commerce or government.
Since the number is supposed to tie in with the buying and selling system (according to the previous verse 17), then the best answer to the riddle appears to be that which is found in the world’s merchandise – the barcodes and their three “guard-bars”, portraying what looks to our eyes like a row of three unmarked sixes.
And already, without these barcodes and its 666-number, it is difficult in many countries to buy or sell in their market places. Perhaps something else will come along that better fulfills what is said about the “number”, but if it doesn’t, we can understand that the barcodes, encoded with their 666 numbers, would fit nicely as the final, ultimate fulfillment of what verses 17 and 18 say about the “number of the beast”.
As the wording of the Scripture says, it takes a little “wisdom” and “insight” to detect this number. It won’t be too obvious; one has to “calculate” it somehow; the thing is a bit hidden. And according to how the bar codes work, it is indeed true that these numbers are rather hidden. But they’re there and can be found with a little “reckoning” (as some translations put it).
Earlier it was mentioned that the apostle John, because of his ignorance of modern technology, attributed magical powers to certain features of the False Prophet’s ministry, regarding the “image” especially. (This subject is explored in more depth in a series of posts in Unraveling the Mystery of the Image.) As with his description of the “image”, John can’t help but embellish the description of the 666-number according to the cultural milieu of his time, in line with the other factors mentioned: the ancient custom of representing names by numbers and their predilection for telling riddles. Neither of those customs is followed much nowadays.
But that was John’s “style”, suited for an ancient time. And of course, we have to understand that God was revealing and speaking here to someone from an ancient time; so it was God’s style also. And sometimes it seems He likes to tease us a bit – just as we like to tease our friends sometimes with guessing games and riddles.
The Lord had revealed to John that this number had a useful function in the False Prophet’s buying and selling system. It’s a feature or highlight in the system that the Lord chose to reveal and use as a “sign of the times”. In reality, it seems to be nothing more than a convenient number we use in computerized shopping activity – something that has become part of our everyday life. But for John that everyday aspect of the number was lost to his mind and way of thinking. John couldn’t see it in a mundane fashion. And so, he can’t help but embellish the description, which may lead us to think there’s more to this “number” business than meets the eye. And that is, after all, how riddles are designed.
True, it is the “number of the beast”, that is, the number the Beast uses in his/its buying and selling system. And true, it is also “man’s number”, that is, it exists in the human, earthly realm. (In addition, mankind, having been created on the 6th day is often associated with the number 6.) So, it’s not wrong what he said, but perhaps, because of that little extra “spin” (based on ancient customs), this has given rise to much speculation about the numerology of the Antichrist’s name. As a result we in our day may struggle to realize that the number has, in fact, become an ordinary feature of modern life. Ordinary to us, but to John the Apostle, it was something quite extraordinary. And his viewpoint translates a bit into his description of the “number”.
The “number” is coded in the barcodes on the goods that we buy, and they help to make shopping more efficient. But the Scripture, as a “riddle”, indulges in some exaggeration, calling it “the number of the beast” and “man’s number”. These statements are true enough, but they do make a somewhat embellished description of something that, in reality, is quite ordinary. But that’s just how riddles are framed.
As a “sign”, the 666 in the barcode is quite startling. Everyone knows about this famous, or infamous, number. And now here it is, already upon us, an indispensable part of our everyday living. And it was foretold 2,000 years ago in the Book of Revelation. And that, of course, is a difficult-to-ignore “sign” to point us towards realizing how close we are to the end of our present Age.
The Scriptures in Daniel and Revelation use the terms “beast” and “kingdom”, “head” and “king” in several places. A point worth mentioning about these terms is that they are used interchangeably. That is, it’s hard to tell if “beast” also means “head”, or if “kingdom” also means “king” – or vice-versa. For example, in the original Hebrew, Daniel 7:17 states, “Those great beasts. . . are four kings;” but then in verse 23 we read, “The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom.” Furthermore, those “beasts” of Daniel 7 are later referred to as “heads” in the Revelation Book; Revelation 13 speaks of one of the “heads” (the Antichrist) being “mortally wounded” in verse 3 but in verses 12 and 14 he is referred to as the “first beast whose deadly wound was healed”; also in Revelation 17, the seventh “head/king” is called the “beast that was, and is not”. (Daniel 7:3-7, Revelation 13:1,3,12,14, 17:9-11, NKJV) As for the other “beast, coming up out of the earth”, he is later called the “false prophet”, and this portrays the Earth-Beast as both a system and the person who is at the head of that system. (Revelation 13:11, 19:20, 20:10)
Perhaps using both terms to describe the same thing was the Lord’s way of showing that a “beast” (which we would normally think of as a system, a government, or empire) must include the “head” of that empire, the person. A body without a head isn’t going to get very far; an empire needs to have a dynamic and strong leader to unify and give it direction, plus be the head that people can look up to, or even worship. And vice-versa, a head without a body won’t get very far; an emperor cannot call himself that unless he has an empire behind him.