The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to understand, and for good reason, I think: it’s apocalyptic literature! This type of literature commonly uses symbolism, imagery, and metaphors to convey absolute truths, making it difficult to understand sometimes. This has led to much confusion, resulting in many different interpretations. I think this has deterred a lot of people from reading Revelation or even taking it seriously, but it’s important to remember the opening words of the book itself, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). So, I think it is important to read it and take it seriously, even if it seems like a difficult task.
Before I share with you the interpretation I find interesting, I would also like to mention something else. Disagreements about the book of Revelation are not something Christians need to divide over; these are at best non-essential issues. The timing of the Rapture, the Tribulation, the dating of Revelation are not essential to Christianity. We should be able to share our thoughts in love and give grace to those who disagree with us.
The interpretation I find interesting is that of Hank Hanegraaff, and it is that particular interpretation that I want to share with you here.
Before I do, let me reiterate that these are not my thoughts. It is only my intent to share with you this particular interpretation, although I do find it interesting. The ideas presented here are detailed in Hank’s book, The Apocalypse Code. I would definitely recommend that book to anyone wanting to find complete explanations of these ideas. There are some very interesting ideas throughout the book, and I think it does lay out a pretty compelling case. However, the only idea I intend to cover here is who the beast is, so let’s find out!
As with anything, context is key. It has been said that text without context is pretext, and I agree! So, let’s first address the context of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is written to seven churches during the epicenter of a Caesar cult. The seven churches are named, and these were real churches in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. Although the book is still relevant to Christians today, it’s important to understand that the book was primarily written to seven churches during its time. Also, it’s interesting to note that most things would happen “soon,” as the book seems to indicate.
The context of Revelation, according to Hank, is during the reign of the sixth Roman Emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (that is if you take the date of Revelation to be written prior to AD 70, as Hank certainly does). There are several reasons for that, and they can be found in his book, but let’s fast forward to Revelation 13 to meet the beast.
John identifies the beast as number six of seven kings and identifies the number of his name as 666. He makes it clear that with “wisdom” and “insight,” his first-century readers can “calculate the number of the beast, for it’s a man’s number.”
Gematria, the practice of transforming names into numbers, was common in antiquity. The first ten letters of the alphabet corresponded to the numbers 1 through 10; the eleventh letter represented 20, the twelfth letter 30, and so on until 100. The twentieth letter was 200, and each new letter represented an additional hundred. This is where “wisdom” and “insight” can be used to “calculate the number” of the beast.
The number of Nero’s name in the Greek translation of “Nero Caesar” is 1005. However, transliterated from the Greek into Hebrew, the sum total of “Nero Caesar” equals exactly 666 . . . so Nero was the beast in Revelation.