What is the meaning of the “Beast” and “666” in the book of Revelation? #1

What is the meaning of the “Beast” and “666” in the book of Revelation? #1 August 16, 2022

One of the most common questions people have when it comes to the book of Revelation is what 666 means. Related to this is the question of who/what is the Beast.

Unfortunately, many of the so-called prophecy experts of the last 50 years have done far more harm than good when it comes to helping us understand these issues.

There is an old saying, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic, and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”[1]

How could this be? After all, a lie is a lie. If you keep telling it, it will still be a lie.

I suppose one of the reasons why we come to believe the lie is because when we tell it, we learn to interpret everything else in light of it.

That is, we will consistently show the evidence that supports the “truth” of our lie. Not only that but we will suppress the truths that counter our lie. Eventually, we will amass enough “supporting” evidence, that believing the lie becomes easy.

After the lie becomes the “truth,” the court of public opinion will continue to foster the lie so that anyone who opposes the lie will be treated as the one who is deceived.

Justification for Apartheid?

There are so many examples of this I suppose the internet is not large enough to handle all the examples. I’ll cite one for now. And one that should not get me in any trouble because it has to do with those over “there.”

It is well chronicled that theologians, scholars, and pastors historically have been leading voices behind the movements of slavery, S. African apartheid, segregation, and a host of other ideologies that today are universally condemned by theologians, scholars, and pastors.

Kevin Giles has written a stinging essay with regard to the theological support of Apartheid in S. Africa.[2] He notes,

“an official statement of the Reformed church stated, ‘The principle of apartheid between races and peoples, also separate missions and churches, is well supported by scripture.’”

Giles then adds,

“It was costly for any Reformed minister in South Africa to oppose this appeal to the Bible in support of Apartheid. They were branded as opponents of the church to which they belonged and worse, opponents of what the Bible so plainly endorsed.

“In 1960, ten leading Reformed Afrikaner theologians published a series of essays condemning Apartheid and the claim that the Bible endorsed racial separation. They were put on trial for heresy, found guilty, and denounced by the prime minister, Dr. H. Verwoerd, himself a theologian.

“In 1963, Beyers Naudé, another Afrikaner theologian, spoke out and wrote in opposition to the claim that the Bible supported Apartheid. Naudé and his family were completely ostracized by their fellow Afrikaners. He was forced to resign as minister and put out of his home without a salary.”

Why do I say this by way of introduction to a series of posts on the Beast and 666?

Let me begin by noting that the book of Revelation was written to the church—7 of them in fact: though “7” certainly indicates that it was also written for all the churches (7 indicates perfection or completion or totality).

NB: I seriously just did a “word count” to see how long this post is at this point and it was “666” words. Guess I better keep going!

This means that one of John’s objectives was to alert the Church as to the nature of the Beast and its ways, lest they be tempted and deceived and suffer the same fate.

In my upcoming commentary on the book of Revelation, I note,

“John is not afraid to depict evil in terms that are most befitting of God or good. This, in fact, appears to be a rhetorical strategy of John. Evil is often depicted in a corresponding way with good in order to accent its deceptive ways. That is, evil appears to be good. Thus, John says that the second Beast has ‘two horns like a lamb’ (13:11). The same is true for the description of the first Beast. John notes that “one of its heads was as if it had been slain” (Rev 13:3).[3] This may not seem like much but when we look closely the description of the Beast’s slain head is exactly the same as the language used to describe Jesus as the slain Lamb: “And I saw . . . a Lamb standing, as if it had been slain” (Rev 5:6).[4]

So, I begin this series by asking, “could it be that we too have been deceived? That we too have justified that which is unjustifiable? That we too have promoted evil and called it good?”

I say all of this as a means of introduction to the questions, “who/what is the Beast?” “and what does 666 mean?” in order to raise the question: “is it possible that we have been deceived?”

If you tell a lie long enough . . .


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[1] This quote came from an article on the Jewish Virtual Library. There it is noted that the quote is often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, but that this is most certainly not correct. See https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot.

[2] Giles, Kevin, “Justifying Injustice with the Bible: Apartheid” CBE International, (April 20, 2016), https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/justifying-injustice-bible-apartheid. I was first made aware of Giles’ paper when it was cited in an unpublished paper by Stephen Sizer.

[3] My translation.

[4] My translation.

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 32 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD (Westminster Theological Seminary) in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications.  You can read more about the author here.

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