In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Ken Hasenmueller says he plans to trade in the license plate assigned to him at random for his Oldsmobile Cutlass: "666-KEN." He says at first he
thought it was interesting. Now he fears people will think he's a Satanist.
The association between the number 666 and Satan comes from Revelation 13:18: "This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is a man's number. His number is 666." Through the centuries, a great deal of superstition--let's call it what it really is--has attached itself to the numeral, so that people are as uneasy about being associated with it as they are about working in an office building on the 13th floor.
This superstition reached what was perhaps its high-water mark with the 1981 publication of When Your Money Fails
by Mary Steward Relfe (Montgomery, AL: Ministries, Inc.). Relfe documents dozens of occurrences of the number 666 attached to a seemingly random list of objects, including dress shirts, credit cards, license plates, Egyptian warships, Treasury Department badges, Israeli telephone prefixes, charge accounts, and so on. Relfe states (59): "I unreservedly view the international usage of the number '666' by the present World System, to be presided over soon by Mr. 666, the False Messiah, as the Third Most Significant Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy in the Church Age (the past 2000 years)."
This is one example of what passes for biblical exegesis, and it makes me shudder. Just think about it! If you were reading an old newspaper and came across this statement, "I won't mention any names, but the man who is tearing our nation apart has the initials of A.L.," would you immediately conclude that someone with the same initials is about to tear America asunder in our day? Would the place the newspaper was published make any difference? What about the year of publication?
No doubt similar kinds of statements appeared in newspapers across the southern states of the U.S. in the fall of 1860 and the early spring of 1861. The initials, of course, belonged to Abraham Lincoln. If someone thought the statement is about to be fulfilled now, you might point out the circumstances under which it was written, just before the Civil War (what the editorialist would have called the "War of Northern Agression").
You might also point out the grammar of the sentence in question. He "is tearing" (present tense), and "he has" (also present tense). Now, more than 100 years later, those present tenses do not still stand.
Now look again at Revelation 13:18, "This calls for wisdom"--present tense, not "This will call for wisdom." "If anyone has insight"--present tense, not "...will have insight." The phrases, "Let him calculate," and "it is man's number," and "His number is 666," are all in present tense. I ask, present for whom? The answer would have to be the same in interpreting Revelation 13:18 as in interpreting the 1859 Richmond editorial: present for the original readers. We have to interpret it as past tense for modern readers.
But, you say, Revelation is a prophecy about the end times, so we would have to project those present tenses more than 2000 years into the future. I know you assume that, but are you sure? This reasoning might be true within a vision,
where the tenses are relative, but Revelation 13:18 is not part of the vision but part of the explanation. It's the part where the author says, "That's what I saw. Now let me tell you what it means." Tenses are vital in understanding the explanation parts of Revelation.
For more confirmation that we are taking the right approach, take a look at the opening verses of Revelation, and take seriously what you find there: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon
take place.... The time is near
" (Revelation 1:1, 3). The book is not in the vision part but is busy explaining what the time frame is for the prophecy. We should take it quite literally: at the time Revelation was written its events were just about to happen.
So that there could be no mistake, Revelation closes by stating the same time-frame: "...to show his servants what must soon take place... the time is near" (Revelation 22:6, 10). These statements form bookends, two at the beginning of the Apocalypse and two at the end. They should not be ignored, as they usually are, but should be taken seriously. Perhaps, not all of Revelation's predictions are past to us, but certainly most of them are. The "bookends" convince me that we should assume a prediction in Revelation has a fulfillment that is in our past unless we have a strong reason from the text to believe otherwise.
That means the original readers, those with wisdom, should have been able to calculate the meaning of who 666 referred to. When we remember that in both Hebrew and Greek the letters had numerical value and that people could referred to an event or a person's name by stating the number that was the sum of its letters, we are probably moving toward a first-century solution to 666.
The problem, as you might imagine, is that any number of names, descriptions, or series of abbreviations equal the same sum, identifying, for example, Gaius Caligula, Nero, Vespasian, and Domitian if an emperor is intended. Descriptions include "titan" and "latin," among others. Just because we cannot say for certain which is correct does not mean we should turn to any of the modern solutions, which include Adolf Hitler, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates, and Barney the Purple Dinosaur, among many others.
I find Mr. Hasenmueller's objection to his license plate perfectly understandable. It's not a matter of superstition. He's just trying to avoid miscommunicating. It seems wrong exegesis, combined with 2000 years of association with the diabolical that has made triple-6 taboo. Reject it if you wish, but understand that it has no power over you--magical, diabolical, or otherwise. It is a label belonging to a man who once persecuted the faithful people of God, but who learned that he, too, was only a mortal.
Want to go deeper
? Get my e-book, "Can We Solve the 666 Puzzle?
". Check it out!
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com