What is the Number of the Beast?

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

The Creation Concept


The Identity of the Beast

The Forty and Two Months

The Deadly Wound

The Beast from the Earth

What is the "Image of the Beast"?

The Number of the Beast

The Fate of the Beast

The Identity of the Beast

The beast which John saw rising up out of the sea, described in the prophecy of Revelation 13:1 has seven heads, and ten horns. There are ten crowns on the horns, which suggest kingdoms or governments.

The beast is like a leopard, and its feet are like those of a bear, and it has the mouth of a lion. Notice the leopard, bear, and lion are among the four beasts described in Daniel 7, that came up from the sea. This suggests that the symbols of both visions must correspond in some way. The sum of the number of heads of Daniel's four beasts is seven. The number of horns is ten. So altogether, there are seven heads and ten horns, which matches the seven heads and ten horns of the beast in Revelation 13.

John in Revelation describes a composite beast, whereas Daniel saw separate animals, but the visions are complementary and refer to the same thing. The beasts of Daniel's vision are usually understood to be symbols of the great world ruling empires, Babylon (the lion), Media-Persia (the bear), Greece (the leopard with four heads) and Rome (the diverse beast with ten horns). In John's time, all of Daniel's four beasts had already appeared, but the third and fourth beast were future to Daniel.

The symbols from Daniel's vision are brought into John's prophecy in Revelation about the beast. The cultural heritage of the ancient world empires is carried down through history, and has given rise to the present civilization of the Western world, that has become dominant in various ways, such as economic, political, military, philosophic and other aspects of our society that have their roots in those ancient cultures.

Other civilizations have been swallowed up by the Western cultural and economic system. In some cases, whole races of men have become extinct as a result of settlement and colonization by Europeans. This fulfills Revelation 13:7, "Power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations".

So, the "beast" from out of the sea may be identified as representing Western society, and what John elsewhere calls "the world", and mystical Babylon.

The Forty and Two Months

Revelation 13:5 says: "And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months."

The 42 months is apparently John's variation on a theme or pattern in Daniel's prophecy, a symbolic three years and a half, the "time, times, and a half" mentioned in Daniel 12:7.

It would be hazardous to attempt an interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel 7 and those of Revelation 11-13 without a good understanding of the significance of this time period. It is presented in various ways, such as 42 months, 1,260 days, 1,290 days, and 1,335 days, which all refer to the same mysterious "time, times, and a half". This makes sense if it is intended as a figure or symbol, but not if it is literal. In a symbolic period of three and a half "years" the total number of days can be variable, but this is not a characteristic of a literal period of three and a half years. The variety of ways in which the period is referred to in the Bible suggests the period is symbolic and must be interpreted.

Taking literally what is intended as a prophetic symbol will naturally lead to absurd conclusions. The symbolism is explained by means of the key prophecy of Daniel's 70 Weeks.

The "week" in which Christ confirms the covenant [Daniel 9:27, "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week"] is symbolic; it is also a continuous period; there can be no "gap" of thousands of years in the last week as some interpreters have claimed.

The first part of the 70th week was the ministry of Christ on the earth, which lasted about three and a half years. The last part of the week is best understood as symbolic of the whole time of the church. Christ still confirms the covenant to believers, through the Holy Spirit, and by the preaching of the gospel in the world.

The beast of Revelation 13:1-9, which continues for 42 months, in my opinion represents the Western Society which has come to dominate the world. The "great things and blasphemies" of this beast include the claim that certain kingdoms of the nations of the world are "Christian" or "holy" whereas they are really far from it.

The Deadly Wound

The prophecy of Daniel 7 corresponds to the prophecy of Revelation 13. The "Ancient of Days" in Daniel 7:9 refers to Christ; the fiery stream that came forth from before him is the word of God, the scriptures. It is interesting that the fate of Daniel's fourth beast is that he is slain, and his body destroyed and given to the burning flame, as we read in verse 11. The other beasts have their lives prolonged. This fourth beast which was slain is the ancient Roman empire; it is the only beast of the four that the scripture says was slain.

In Revelation 13:3, John mentions a "deadly wound" in one of the heads of his beast. This is probably referring to the head of the fourth beast, which was the diverse monster. Its deadly wound depicts the demise of the ancient Roman empire. Whereas the ancient pagan Roman Empire was destroyed, its heritage survives, and elements of the cultural heritage of this last beast have come to dominate the world.

The Beast from the Earth

The first "beast" of Revelation 13 represents the world system or Western civilization. In Daniel 8:25, the antichrist, of which the Seleucid prince Antiochus IV was the type, stands up against the prince of princes, (Christ) but he is eventually broken, "without hand." Antiochus influenced the Jews, leading many of them into apostasy. They adopted Greek customs and beliefs, and abandoned their traditions and laws.

This is an interesting type or figure of the condition of the Church today. Many people have abandoned the Christian traditions and beliefs and have become conformed to the world, just as many of those second century BC Jews adopted Greek customs and abandoned their traditions; even concealing their circumcision as they performed in athletic contests in the gymnasium. Colossians 2:11, Romans 2:28-29, and other scripture passages show that the sign of circumcision, for a believer, is no longer a physical matter, but a condition of one's heart or spirit. Are there Christians today who hide the "circumcision of their hearts," as they joust against each other in scholarly debates about the Bible?

Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 mentions the "man of sin," who deceives men through the working of Satan, with signs and lying wonders. He opposes Christ, and his saints, and exalts himself above all. He will be exposed, Paul wrote, and consumed, by the Spirit of Christ; he is destroyed by "the brightness of his coming." 1 John 4:3 shows the spirit of antichrist was in the world already in the days of the apostles, so it does not refer to some particular human. Antiochus presents a figure or type, and represents the sinful human spirit, opposing God. Scripture shows the world system in place today is deceptive. Through the worldly system, Satan has deceived men.

I suggest the beast which came up out of the earth, called the "false prophet", which is described in Revelation 13:11-18 represents materialistic science and technology, which promises great benefits to man, but also delivers evils of environmental pollution, and weapons of mass destruction. It is the beast which has two horns like those of a lamb, but it speaks as a dragon.

The symbol of a lamb in the Bible represents Christ, the savior of mankind, and the light of the world. But here, the two horns of the lamb picture the role of the second beast as a would-be savior and benefactor. Science is touted as man's educator, and claims to liberate us from all myths. In Revelation 12:9, the symbol of a dragon is identified with Satan, deceiver of the world. This lamb-like beast speaks as a dragon, meaning it deceives men, and that its message is anti-Christian.

Materialistic, misguided scientific technology, through the application of physical sciences, has performed great wonders, in many fields, such as industry, medicine, communications, space exploration. We even sometimes hear of "miracle drugs" such as penicillin and other antibiotics, and other apparent "scientific miracles." But along with all this we have witnessed the development of weapons of mass destruction, which threaten life itself. Revelation 13:13-14 says:

And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast...

The "fire from heaven" may well refer to aerial warfare, missiles, and even atomic bombs such as those dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

What is the "Image of the Beast"?

The "image of the beast" that modern technology has developed is probably TV. This interpretation fits if the second beast is correctly identified as materialistic science. The TV and movie industries have enormous influence on men's minds today. It is an influence that reflects the human, materialistic worldview. Movies and TV convey an audio-visual "image" of the world system, the beast, which is, in a sense, "alive", with color and sound.

The Number of the Beast

The mysterious number "666," the number of the beast, mentioned in some of the prophecies of Revelation, is likely not sunday-keeping, or sabbath-keeping, as certain religious leaders have speculated. It is mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18.

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

The first reference to a biblical symbol often suggests the proper interpretaion. The number 666 first occurs in the Bible in 1 Kings 10:14,

Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold

This refers to the king's annual income in gold. The number 666 in Revelation 13:18 could well be a pointer to this reference.

Earning or obtaining an "annual income" has become an obsession with many people in our modern society. James wrote about it; James 4:13-15:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

See also James 5:1-5.

Note that an annual income is necessary if one is to buy and sell, or conduct the normal business of living. In the old days many people could live off the proceeds of hunting or farming without having to worry about money or annual income. The "mark" in one's hand, or in his forehead, seems to represent the motivation for work. Almost everything that is done, is for money or profit. This is especially true for large corporations.

However, the striving after an "annual income" should not take over the believer's life, to the extent that God is excluded and spiritual growth neglected entirely. Wouldn't that be, in effect, setting up an idol in God's place?

The Fate of the Beast

The "Lake of Fire," mentioned in Revelation 19:20, is where the "beast" and the "false prophet," who make war with Christ at the end of the age, are cast. It is possible both "fire" and "lake" are figurative. The word of God is called a "fire"; also the knowledge of God will one day fill the earth, like the waters cover the sea [Isaiah 11:9]. Putting these two metaphors together leads to the concept of a "lake of fire." In Revelation 20:14, death and hell (the grave) are cast into the lake of fire, and in verse 15, every one whose name was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 21:8 says,

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

The lake of fire is no doubt a metaphor. The word of God is compared to fire in the prophecy of Jeremiah 23:29:

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

Also the wrath of God is compared to fire, Jeremiah 21:12:

O house of David, thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

Nahum 1:6 says:

Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.

"Fire" and the "waters of the sea" are both metaphors that refer to the truth of God's word being made known to everyone. When that day comes, would it not be like a lake of fire for every false teaching? Perhaps this is the meaning of the phrase "lake of fire" that John used in Revelation.

Copyright © 1998 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.