John failed to limit the word antichrist to one specific person, and even indicated that many antichrists were present in his own day. He prophesied that there would be even greater numbers of antichrists in the days that lay ahead. So these verses, the only ones to specifically mention antichrist, do not appear to support the present-day supposition that there will be only one, singularly powerful, Antichrist, at the time of Jesus’ return. Rather, they indicate that there would be a proliferation of antichrists as time moved on.
So what about the number, 666? Does this provide a clue to our problem of identifying the antichrist? I firmly believe that it does. The reference to this mysterious number is found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Revelation.
“This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is a man’s number. His number is 666.” Revelation 13:18
“Here is wisdom—Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” Revelation 13:18 NASB
This verse indicates a number of factors that needs to be met in arriving at the intended meaning:
- It calls for wisdom, for there must be a certain element of concealment.
- It requires a level of insight or understanding—the answer is therefore not blatantly obvious, but should be deducible if one understands the context of the riddle.
- The number is to be derived by calculation.
- The number, though of a man or order of men, relates to a beast.
- The number is actually six hundred and sixty-six, and not a three-fold repetition of the number six. This aspect will be explained a little further on.
- It probably is associated with the Greek language.
The key to the problem must, first of all, lie within the context. The first step must be to identify the nature of the beast that is given this certain man’s number. If we can identify the beast, it must provide us with a clue as to the identification of the man. That man must be one who, for some reason, stands out from the crowd, and the number must be obtained somehow from that man. It all seems such an overwhelming task!
The first beast
If we look at the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, we find that there are two beasts being described—the first is a beast coming out of the sea, and the second is a beast coming out of the earth. The description of the first beast is given to us in the first two verses: 1
“And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion” Revelation 13:1–2
This description is reminiscent of another Bible vision of an animal. That vision is contained in a book of somewhat similar style—the Old Testament book of Daniel. We will find that the parallel is so close, that it is almost as if the two were intentionally linked to provide a continued message.
The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, in his seventh chapter introduced the animals:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.” Daniel 7:2
The sequence of the animals in Daniel’s prophecy was a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a non-descript animal, as he looked forward in time. In the Revelation prophecy the order is reversed as it looked back on those developments. Daniel not only described each animal in detail, but he also explained that the first empire that was symbolised was the Babylonian Empire, which existed at the time that Daniel was writing, and that the remaining animals depicted successive yet to rise. Now, the fourth beast lasted until it was destroyed in a scene immediately prior to the coming of a Royal person. Daniel’s description was as follows:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13–14
This description is that of the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, to establish his kingdom, and so Daniel was made aware that this fourth world empire, that of Rome, would continue to exist right up until the return of Jesus Christ.
- The illustrations of the beasts have been based on those contained in F Bilton, Apocalypse and Gospels, 1955, pp. 58, 147 ↩