The 666 MARK OF THE BEAST (by Ed Stevens)
What about Nero and 666?
Most interpreters who advocate the Neronic (Roman) Beast idea, do so because of their belief that the numerical value of Nero’s name (Nero Caesar) adds up to “666” (Rev 13:18). Ken Gentry, Jr., David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and many other partial preterist writers have affirmed that the Beast of Revelation was Nero, since his Greek name as transliterated back into Hebrew, and then numerically calculated, comes out to be 666. The Latin variation is 616. It seems clear that some Christian scribes and patristic writers considered Nero to be the Beast.
However, in looking at their evidence, I [Ed Stevens] noticed that the Hebrew transliteration that they all used, was not the form of Nero’s name that we find in Yosippon or the Talmudic writings. When I used those true Hebraic forms of Nero’s name, it did not add up to 666, nor anything close. That was a red flag for me, but there are several other problems with the Nero theory. The reason I do not subscribe to the Neronian theory is because it does not fit all the facts that Revelation gives us in description of the Beast [especially Rev. 19:20. RPS].
MARK OF THE BEAST – Phylacteries
[FROM ED STEVENS] As many of you know, I have focused my studies over the last few years on putting together a chronological listing of the events relating to the dates of our New Testament books, and the Great Tribulation upon the Church, and the pouring out of wrath upon the Jews. One of the other purposes of this historical reconstruction is to help me in my
interpretation of the book of Revelation. I am not absolutely sure that I have arrived at the precise identification of what the mark of the beast is, but I do feel confident enough about it to suggest it as a possibility for all of us to think about.
Notice in the context of Rev 13:16-17 there is some information which tells us how the mark of the beast functioned, and to whom it was applied.
In Rev 14:9-11 it states that those who receive the mark “will drink the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger, and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
This is clearly talking about Jews (not Romans), and more particularly Jews who had joined the Zealot revolt and were bottled up in the city at the time of its siege (when the fiery darts and ballistae were hurled over the walls into Jerusalem by the Romans). Notice it says those folks who had the mark would be tormented by the fire and brimstone (sulfur). The Romans put sulfur on their darts and stones to start fires in the besieged city. It was the Zealots and Jews inside the city who suffered this torment of the fire and brimstone. The mark evidently functioned as a symbol of their allegiance to the Zealot cause, much like circumcision was a badge of identity for devout Jews in general, and the phylacteries (worn on the forearm and forehead) were a badge of identity for all Jews.
[FROM ED] In Matthew 23:5, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries (Gk. phulakterion, Heb. tefillin) and lengthen the tassels (Gk. kraspedon) of their garments.
Jesus mentions the phylacteries which were worn on the forehead and hand of the Jewish man. It was a mark of Jewish law-keeping and piety. So also the mark of circumcision was also one of the possible ways of interpreting the mark of the beast. The Judaizers certainly used circumcision and law-keeping as their two-fold mark of loyalty. You can clearly see this spiritual warfare going on throughout the book of Acts and mentioned in Paul’s epistles. The phylacteries were certainly a visible mark of one’s rigid loyalty to both circumcision and law-keeping. During the war with Rome (AD 66-70) the Zealots minted their own coins to be used as the medium of exchange in Judea. No one could buy or sell in the Zealot economy without using their coinage. I believe from the biblical inferences, which can also be seen in light with some 1st century historical writings, that the phylacteries is the most likely answer to the “Mark.”
Notice the similarity of the statement in Rev 14:9-11 with what Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23:32-39.
The phylacteries were worn on the forehead and hand. They could only be worn by circumcised adult men. The phylacteries might be seen as a more likely fulfillment of the “Mark,” especially since they are mentioned in Matthew 23 (v. 5) among the condemnations that Jesus issues against the Jewish leadership.
The phylacteries served as badges of Jewish identity, just like the prayer shawl with its tassels on the four corners. See Num. 15:37-40 and Deut 6:6-9 (below) as the basis for these phylacteries and tassels, which were visible reminders of their covenant to keep all the commandments.
Num. 15:37 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying,
Num. 15:38 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue.
Num. 15:39 “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot,
Num. 15:40 so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.
Deut. 6:6 “ These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.
Deut. 6:7 “ You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Deut. 6:8 “ You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
Deut. 6:9 “ You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Notice what Josephus said about this practice:
Antiq. 4:213 (4.8.13) [The Israelites] are also to inscribe the principal blessings they have received from God upon their doors [mezuza], and show the same remembrance of them upon their arms; as also they are to bear on their forehead and their arm those wonders which declare the power of God, and his good will towards them, that God’s readiness to bless them may appear everywhere conspicuous about them. Josephus indicates that this was a distinctive thing for all Israelites (all twelve tribes) to do. It was a badge of their Hebrew identity and their covenant with Yahweh to keep the Law of Moses. It was a reminder to keep the law and be holy.
When Rev. 13:16 says that the mark was placed “on their right hand or on their forehead,” it would be immediately understood by anyone who was Jewish in the first century. John stated this in a way that the Romans would not perceive it, but the Jews would easily grasp it.
Rev. 13:16 And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,
Rev. 13:17 and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.
So I tend to see the phylacteries (tefillin) as the intended reference here to the mark of the beast. They were worn by the Jews even before Jesus’ day to signify (mark) their allegiance to the Law. But Jesus says in Matt 23:5 that it was already in his day nothing but an outward show for appearances only, and had no real substance in their hearts. Inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones. So it is no surprise that John in the book of Revelation identifies these folks as wearing a badge of identity with Israel while in actuality they were servants of the unclean beast (the Zealots and their revolutionary cause).
It is also interesting to note that Josephus describes the Zealots and their rebellion as being like a beast:
Wars 5:4 (220.127.116.11) but for the present [Zealot] sedition, one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh.
Josephus also described Herod the Great as a wild beast [Antiq. 17:309 (18.104.22.1689); Wars 1:586 (22.214.171.1246) and Wars 1:589 (126.96.36.1999)]. Since Josephus, who was a descendant of the Hasmoneans, felt comfortable referring to Herod (the king of the Jews) as a wild beast, and to the Zealots as a wild beast, it doesn’t take much courage to suggest that perhaps John is referring to a Jewish (Zealot) person or entity as being a Beast in the book of Revelation.
The Zealots, to the very end, thought they were going to be delivered by God and given their independence from Rome. They severed themselves from the Gentiles at the beginning of the war (AD 66) by refusing to offer Gentile sacrifices on the altar in the Temple. But the temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, not just the Israelites. At the very time the Christians were gathering the Gentiles into the church, the Jews were severing all connections with the Gentiles. There is no indication that the Gentile Christians ever wore the phylacteries. It was a Jewish thing, a badge of Jewish identity. And this reference in Rev 13 was most likely a cryptic (or veiled) reference to the phylacteries, indicating that identification with and allegiance to the Zealot cause would get the Christians killed and destroyed. Christians were to get out of Babylon, and not stay and fight, nor be swept up in the Zealot cause. They were to sever the connection with Judaism and no longer wear the mark that would identify them with Judaism and end up getting them killed.
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 4 Rev. Chapters 13 thru 20 on The Beast”]