Let Him Who Hath Understanding Reckon 616
There are lots of different ways to convert names to numbers, in order to get “the number of a man.”
It’s a bit tough, but occasionally, you’ll find that a person you don’t like has a name that “adds up” to 666 using one method or alphabet or another.
For example, if you’re a nutcase living in 1990, you might think that the Catholic Church is the “Whore of Babylon” and that Pope John Paul II is the “Beast of Revelation.”
Of course, Pope John Paul II is dead now. But, pretend it’s 1990.
Well, as it turns out, you can take the Latin name “IOANES PAVLVS SECVNDO,” add up the Roman numerals within, and the result is 666.
Coincidence? “Impossible! Pope John Paul II certainly will accompany the end of the world… perhaps a few years from now, in 1999!”
I guess the fact that he’s now dead, though, puts a damper on that theory.
But wait! Look at the Pope’s title, “VICARIUS FILII DEI”! That also adds up to 666! Hah! Pope Francis I must actually be “the Beast!”
But hold the phone!
It turns out that the founder of Seventh Day Adventism, “ELLEN GOULD WHITE,” also has a 666 name!
Back to Reality
Okay, maybe we need to demand more evidence than just name coincidences. After all, some guy named Dick X. Vale in Akron, Ohio would be “the Beast,” too.
For fun, let’s approach the situation with the premise that John actually intended for his readers — particularly “him who hath understanding” — to know who he was talking about. It would need to be a historical, villainous figure.
Second, let’s also employ the premise that John would have a reason to hide the person’s name using a number, like to avoid scandal or other socio-political problems.
Finally, let’s look at our source texts. There we actually find two numbers of the Beast. Some manuscripts have 666, others have 616. Let’s also have the premise that whoever the Beast is, his name must match both numbers depending on that name’s rendering. And, of course, that name would need to have multiple plausible and contemporaneous renderings in order to qualify.
That third premise is actually rather tough. It’s one thing to fit one number, but to fit both, that is, one or the other depending on the rendering? That’s a challenge.
These are some pretty big shoes to fill.
If we found a name that managed it, we’d have practical certainty that this name would be “the Beast.”
We Found a Name that Managed It
That name is Nero Caesar.
Is he a historical, villainous figure? Oh, you betcha.
Eusebius, a 4th century Christian historian in Rome, wrote:
“Publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, [Nero] was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero.”
He further wrote, quoting Tertullian a century earlier:
“Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.”
Not only were the Neronic persecutions of Christians a major atrocity, but Nero was the emperor who declared war against Jerusalem, a war which led to the prophetic destruction of the Temple.
2nd century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote of the abomination of the desolation as “the abomination of Nero.” Though he was dead by the time the Temple was destroyed, Clement wrote that, “[Nero] placed the abomination… in the holy city Jerusalem.”
Would John have had a reason to hide the person’s name using a number? Of course. Depending on the early historian we read, John wrote his Revelation either under Domitian with a retrospective in an apocalyptic literary mode, or under Nero himself.
Both emperors were notorious persecutors of Christians, and John was not about to provide new excuses for further abuse, like by overtly defaming present or past Roman emperors in his written material.
And finally, does Nero’s name, depending on the rendering, convert either to 666 or to 616 through the Hebrew Gematria? The answer is, astoundingly, “Yes.”
- By the Hebrew rendering, NRWN QSR, his “number of a man” is 666.
- By the Latin rendering, NRW QSR, his “number of a man” is 616.
In Revelation, the Beast, with the name of Nero Caesar, may have broadly represented the ancient power of imperial Rome, especially when set against God’s people, as Nero himself exemplified; “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
Partial preterism is the Christian eschatological view where a big chunk of Revelation has already occurred, describing first-century historical events through apocalyptic literature.
It has historically been the dominant eschatology among Christian theologians, although the 19th and 20th centuries saw revivals among “full futurist” groups.
One of the main reasons, and very good reasons, for its historical dominance is the fact that John addressed his Revelation to specific ancient, contemporaneous churches in and around what is modern-day Turkey. If John wrote a note beginning, “Dear Mother,” it would be silly and anachronistic to say that he meant it primarily for far-future audiences that were not his mom.
Where’s the “Split”?
If part of Revelation is about first century events and part is about events yet to occur, where’s the “split” between the two chunks?
The “split” that makes most sense for many partial preterists is the “millennium” of Revelation 20. Good early evidence for this “split” comes from St. Augustine’s City of God, where he found fault with those who thought the first resurrection of 20:5 was “yet to come.”
Since “thousand years” is taken figuratively, this form of partial preterism is “amillennial.”
The Nero Nail
The recent discoveries of the “616 manuscripts” confirm Nero’s “Beastship” and have supplied a nail in the coffin for much of the out-of-control conjecture and theory about Revelation that have cropped up over the last century or so, perpetuated by apocalyptic excitement and those who would profit by it.
As a Christian, I believe the Judgment has yet to occur. But the evidence to which we have access indicates that much of Revelation has already happened, way back in the tumultuous first century — where Christians were slain, the Temple was destroyed, and millions in the Holy Land perished — and was conveyed to John’s readers through apocalyptic literature.