Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon... It works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men... Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Rev 13:12-18)
Exciting stuff: the anti-Christ, the beast whose number is 666. What is the meaning of this strange number. It turns out, it’s not so difficult to understand. It involves three 6’s, wisdom, humans and beasts.
We start with Genesis, chapter 1. Let’s look at what happened on the sixth day:
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gn 1:24-27)
So we see that on the 6th day, God created the beasts, meaning the animals that live on the land rather than in the sea or air. And one of these beasts was man. An interesting feature of man is that he/she was created in the image and likeness of God. These terms, image and likeness, are genealogical terms in ancient Hebrew literature. For example, Gn 5:3 uses these terms to describe Seth as son of Adam. In Gen 1, God made Adam and Eve His children; this differentiated them from the other beasts. To establish a kinship bond between persons who are otherwise not related is called a covenant; in Hebrew, the word which refers to the swearing of a covenant oath involves the number seven – the phrase literally means, “I seven myself to you.” We can explore the full meaning of seven another time.
For now, though, it is enough to notice that on the 6th day, man is created along with the beasts. Then a covenant takes place, then the 7th day is established as a Sabbath rest. From this, rabbis of old noticed that the number 7 refers to the covenant, while the number 6 refers to “not covenant.” It usually pops up in Scripture when referring to decidedly non-covenantal people. Outside of the covenant with God, we are just another beast. One example is Dan 3:
King Nebuchadnez'zar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon… And the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnez'zar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace." (Dan 3:1-6)
Setting up a golden idol and commanding people to worship it under penalty of death is decidedly non-covenantal behavior; therefore Daniel notes the dimensions of the idol involve the number 6, to remind the reader of this. Many other examples abound.
So, now we know that the number 6 is meant to bring to mind man outside of the covenant. And when this occurs, man is no more than a beast. Here are two of the images from Rev 13 already: the number 6 and the beast. Next question: why three 6’s? To answer this, we next go to Deuteronomy, where there is a set of three laws established by Moses:
"When you come to the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and dwell in it, and then say, `I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me'; you may indeed set as king over you him whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not multiply horses for himself, or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, `You shall never return that way again.' And he shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold. (Dt 17:14-17)
The kings of that time maintained their power by three things: wealth, mighty armies and harems. The harem was a collection of princess wives, strategic alliances with other royal families – the ancient equivalent of a treaty. The might of an army was its chariots, hence the value of horses – military might could be measured by the number of horses. In the case of Israel, though, national strength was to be through God, not through royal power. Moses told Israel, therefore, her kings were not to use such things to maintain power; they were to trust that God would be their power. They were the people of the covenant.
As it turns out, there was king of Israel who failed these three laws in a most remarkable way. In this, he demonstrated non-covenantal behavior in all three categories. If we give him a 6 for each failure, he gets three 6’s - 666 - and so becomes the Old Testament type for the anti-Christ. His name was King Solomon.
In 1 Kings, we read,
And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. (1 Kgs 10:26)
This implies a lot of horses. Strike one. We also read:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, E'domite, Sido'nian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. (1 Kgs 11:1-4)
Basically, 1000 wives in his harem; I’m not sure, but this may be an historical record. Strike two. Finally, we read:
Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold. (1 Kgs 10:14)
Strike three; you’re out. Here we find the only place in Scripture where the number 666 is mentioned, outside of Revelation; of course, the use in Revelation is a type, meant to take us back to this Old Testament story of Solomon.. This is a fascinating use of typology.
So what can we say? That King Solomon was the Old Testament type of anti-Christ. That he did not trust in God, but ignored the Law and put his trust in the ways of the non-covenant peoples. Solomon, the wisest human who ever lived (“This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.” Rev 13:18) , made a grand error. As king, he was to guide God’s people, but he himself went astray. This, I believe, is the characteristic of the anti-Christ; one who is to guide God’s people, but who himself goes astray. It is no small wonder that many Protestants think this applies to the papacy; their error is that the papacy is not a particular man, but an office. Solomon alone was the type, not the entire Israelite monarchy.
Many people like to theorize who this anti-Christ is or was or will be. It is hard to say. We do know that St. John, in his first epistle, speaks of anti-Christ(s) as having already come in his day. See 1 Jn 2:18 and 4:3. He says that the anti-Christ is “he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 Jn 2:22) This, I believe, is a key to understanding how the anti-Christ goes astray: as Solomon did not adhere to the covenant Law regarding his kingship, so the anti-Christ will not adhere to that most fundamental doctrine of the Christian covenant: the Trinity, especially that Jesus was the Son of God. Was it the Temple priesthood in John’s day? They fit this description and he did say that they were already among them. (This is, in fact, the interpretation I tend to believe.) Does this refer to popes, bishops, priests who veer from the path of authentic doctrine, like Arius? They also fit this description. Could it refer to some kind of leader yet to come, who will lead even many faithful away into error? Possibly. All I really know is that Solomon was the type and the meaning of the number 666 makes this clear.