This number, mentioned in Revelation 13.18, is not, as is sometimes thought, a conundrum to be solved by readers in order to discover the identity of the beast described in that chapter. The identity of the beast is clear: it is the absolutist state as personified in the Roman Emperor Nero. The emperors claimed divine authority and their power seemed invincible. John wanted his readers to understand that the state and its rulers were neither divine nor invincible. They were human and carried the seed of their own destruction: their number is only 666, and does not reach the completion of seven (see Number Symbolism). The number was arrived at by presenting Nero's Greek name Kaisar Nerōn in Hebrew letters, which also function as numbers: qsr nrwn; q = 60, s = 100, r = 200, n = 50, w = 6, so qsr nrwn adds up to 666. (Some western manuscripts read “six hundred sixteen”; the scribes possibly did not understand John's usage of Hebrew numbers, and thought in terms of the Greek kaisar theos, the “god‐emperor,” which would add up to 616 using the Greek letters as numerals; but it is more likely that they simply dropped the final n: qsr nrw for Kaisar Nerō, making 616.)

David H. van Daalen