“Maranatha” – “Come Lord Jesus!”
The Book of Revelation
“The Famous Puzzle of Revelation – 666”
In chapter 13 we read about the great enemy of God, the “anti-Christ” who is referred to as “the beast” and is given the number 666. Who is this and what does this mean? First of all, it is NOT a prediction of the future. The answer is not so surprising when the text is put in the context of the late 1st century A.D. By indicating the beast’s “number” the author is referring to a very common practice from antiquity which was the calculation of the number of a word or name based on the numerical value assigned to each of its letters.
The best solution to the identity of the beast is “Nero Caesar”, since the Hebrew letters for this title add up to 666. Several other features suit the Nero legend and add to our conviction that Nero is the person to whom the author is referring.
What legend are we speaking about? A legend circulated among the subject peoples of the eastern part of the empire that Nero had not died and that he would return to lead a revolt against Rome and reclaim the throne. The legend maintained that Nero had fled among the Parthians and that during the period between 69-88 A.D. a “Nero reborn” led a series of revolts. How did the legend function? For the Jews and other conquered people is was a symbol of anti-Roman feeling and hopes for a revolt that would bring freedom and wealth to Asia. Nero is identified as the mythological opponent of God in the last days and he embodies the final outbreak of evil vs. God and His people. Most people seem to have thought that Nero was still alive, even though it was said that he had died at the age of 31 so there was some plausibility to the belief.
The emperor who was on the throne at the time of the composition of Revelation (Domitian) tried to appropriate the positive side of the Nero image by using “Nero Caesar” as one of his titles. Considering the positive expectations of Nero in the populace at large, it was necessary to speak in a symbolic and guarded way since any criticism of Rome was dangerous. Yet, Revelation presents Nero as the epitome of Rome’s demonic power. Both Jews and Christians would have understood the type of writing embodied in the prophecies.