Revelation 13:16-18 is based on Ezekiel 8 and 9. The mark symbolized the spiritual condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The ones with the mark were in allegiance with God. However, in Revelation, the mark is reversed. That is to say, the mark was on those who were against God and had allegiance to the beast.
St. John wrote that the number “is the number of a man’s name; and his number is 666.” This tells us that those who received the mark were actually in allegiance with a man, an actually person of the first century. So, who was he? Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus! Better known as Nero Caesar.
St. John used a puzzle called gematria in which numbers are used to represent certain letters. John used this puzzle to reveal Nero without actually writing down his name. Remember, the early churches were being persecuted during this time—not only from the Jews, but also from the Romans. The Greek version of the name and title of Nero Caesar transliterates into Hebrew as:
Nero Caesar fits the gematria code number 666. Using this code, his name would be rendered as NRWN QSR. The number values are:
which, when added together, equals 666. The fact that Nero fits the description of the beast is well documented. According to Suetonius, he murdered his parents, wife, brother, aunt, and many others close to him and of high station in Rome. He was a torturer, a homosexual rapist, and a sodomite. He even married two young boys and paraded them around as his wives. One of the boys, whose name was Sporus, was castrated by Nero. He was truly bestial in his character, depravity, and actions. He devised a kind of game: covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound at stakes. He also initiated the war against the Jews which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Nero’s persecution, which was initiated in AD 64, was the first ever Roman assault on Christianity. Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56-117) spoke of Nero’s cruel nature that “put to death so many innocent men.” He records the scene in Rome when the persecution of Christians broke out: “And their death was aggravated with mockeries, insomuch that, wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night.” Christians were crucified, beheaded, burnt alive, and used as torches to light the palace gardens.
Historically, Nero is the one that persecuted Christians beyond all comparison. St. John’s banishment to Patmos (where he wrote the book of Revelation) was itself a result of the great persecution of Nero. The apostle Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. The apostle Peter, who was crucified upside down, was another victim of Nero.
As Church father Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, notes: “Nero was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.” Sulpicius Severus concurs: “He first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” In his Annals, Roman historian Tacitus points to those who were persecuted as “those who . . . were vulgarly called Christians.” Roman historian Suetonius concurs, for in a list of the few positive contributions of Nero as emperor, he includes the fact that Nero persecuted Christians: “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: . . . Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”
Noted church historian J. L. von Mosheim wrote of Nero’s persecution: “Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation, but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took place by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November, in the year of our Lord 64. . . . This dreadful persecution ceased but with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until the year 68, when he put an end to his own life.” (L. von Mosheim, Historical Commentaries, I:138,139).
His bestial cruelty is evidenced in the writings of the Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 70-160), who speaks of Nero’s cruelty of disposition evidencing itself at an early age. He documents Nero’s evil and states: “neither discrimination or moderation [were employed] in putting to death whosoever he pleased on any pretext whatever.” Suetonius notes that Nero “compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena.”
Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.” Roman satirist Juvenal (A.D. 60-140) speaks of “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” Elsewhere, he calls Nero a cruel tyrant.
Nero so affected the imagination that the pagan writer Apollinius of Tyana, a contemporary of Nero, specifically mentions that Nero was called a beast: “In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs . . . And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.”
In Revelation 13:7, the beast is said to “make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Revelation 13:5 says that the beast would conduct such blasphemous warfare for a specific period of time: 42 months. The Neronic persecution was instituted in 64 AD and lasted until his death in June 68 AD, which is three and a half years, or 42 months! Nero fits the bill for the role of the beast!
Revelation 13:10 and 14 says the Beast not only slays by the sword, but ultimately is to die of a sword wound. Do you know how Nero died? According to Suetonius, he “drove a dagger into his throat, aided by Epaphroditus, his private secretary” (ch.49). Nero killed with the sword and was killed by the sword. That Nero did, in fact, kill by the sword is a well-attested fact. Paul, for example, is said to have died under Nero by decapitation by means of the sword. Tertullian credits “Nero’s cruel sword” as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church. He urges his Roman readers to “Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect.”
Nero died in the middle of the war on June 8th, 68 AD, and Vespasian went back to Rome to fight to become the new emperor. During this time the Christians fled Jerusalem because they heeded the warning of Matthew 24:16; the Jews thought the respite was a sign from God of victory and they gathered in Jerusalem in great numbers. The Romans came back and destroyed the city.
Revelation 17:3 states that the beast is red. The red color may be indicative of the bloodshed caused by the beast. But Suetonius writes of the legend associated with Nero’s ancestral parentage, which explains why he had a red beard, which was very unusual in those times.
Revelation 17:10 says, “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” The five kings were not ruling at the same time, for the text stated five are fallen, meaning that five of those kings had come and gone. Then one is, meaning the king who was ruling at the time Revelation was written. Here, in this verse, is one of the clearest proofs for Nero being the beast. If the list of Roman Emperors is examined, it is very possible to determine who the sixth king was. Flavius Josephus clearly points out that Julius Caesar was the first emperor of Rome, followed by Augustus; Tiberius; Caius (Caligula); Claudius; and the sixth emperor was . . . Nero (Antiquities, books 18 and 19), who assumed imperial power upon the death of the fifth emperor, Claudius, in October, A.D. 54. The matter is confirmed just a little later in the writings of Roman historians: Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars and Dio Cassius, Roman History 5). Nero reigned from 54AD to June of AD 68. St. John says that the seventh king was not yet come. That would be Galba, who assumed power upon Nero’s death in June, A.D. 68. But he was only to continue a short space. As a matter of historical fact, his reign lasted but six months until January 15, A.D. 69.
What about the Beast’s death-wound and his subsequent resurrection? Let us now consider John’s revelation of the Beast arising from the dead (Revelation 13:3-4). At this point we need to reflect upon a most significant series of historical events of the A.D. 60’s. First, with the death of Nero, the Roman Empire’s founding family vanished from rule. Following the death of Nero was the extinction of the Julian line. Immediately, the Roman Empire was hurled into civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions. These civil wars would strike everyone as being the very death throes of Rome, the Beast generically considered. Before the world’s startled eyes, the seven-headed Beast (Rome) was toppling to its death as its sixth head (Nero) was mortally wounded with the sword.
Tacitus’s detailed account of the ruin wreaked upon Rome almost equals in psychological horror, cultural devastation, and human carnage that which befell Jerusalem during the Jewish War, as recorded by Josephus and Tactius. The Roman civil wars were the first fruits of Nero’s death. Josephus records that the destruction was so horrible, that the general Vespasian, “was not able to apply himself further in other wars when his native country was laid waste.” Josephus agrees that during this time Rome was brought near to utter ruin. He notes that “about this time it was that heavy calamities came about Rome on all sides.” According to 4 Ezra 12:16-19, written around A.D. 100, the Empire was in danger of falling: “In the midst of the time of that kingdom great struggles shall arise, and it shall be in danger of falling; nevertheless it shall not fall then, but shall regain its former power.”
But what eventually occurred at the end of these death throes? Suetonius informs us that: “The empire, which for a long time had been unsettled and, as it were, drifting through the usurpation and violent death of three emperors, was at last taken in hand given stability by the Flavian family.” Josephus sets forth this view of things when he writes: “So upon this confirmation of Vespasian’s entire government, which was now settled, and upon the unexpected deliverance of the public affairs of the Romans from ruin, Vespasian turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea.” Thus, after a time of grievous civil wars, the Empire was revived by the ascending of Vespasian to the purple.
The point is not that Nero’s name is the primary identification of 666. The point is, instead, what the number meant to the seven churches. St. John’s biblically informed readers will have already recognized many clear indications of the Beast’s identity. Nero arrived on the scene as the first great persecutor of the Church, the embodiment of the 666-ness of the Empire, and – Lo and behold! – his very name spells out 666! It is significant that “all the earliest Christian writers on the Apocalypse, from Irenaeus down to Victorious of Pettau and Commodian in the fourth, and Andreas in the fifth, and St. Beatus in the eighth century, connect Nero, or some Roman emperor, with the Apocalyptic Beast.” There should be no reasonable doubt about this identification. St. John was writing to first-century Christians, warning them of things that were shortly to take place. They were engaged in the most crucial battle of history, against the Dragon and the evil Empire which he possessed. The purpose of the Revelation was to comfort the Church with the assurance that God was in control, so that even the awesome might of the Dragon and the Beast would not stand before the armies of Jesus Christ. Christ was wounded in His heel on Friday, the sixth day, the Day of the Beast – yet that is the day He crushed the Dragon’s head. At his most powerful, St. John says, the Beast is just a six, or a series of sixes; never a seven.
It is charged by some that Neron Kesar is merely a convenient misspelling of Nero’s name in Hebrew. This objection overlooks the fact that before the modern introduction of dictionaries the world was simply not as concerned as we are about uniformity in the spelling of names. Alternate spellings were common (e.g. “Joram” and “Jehoram” in the Old Testament), especially in the transliteration of words into a foreign tongue. But the allegation of misspelling is wholly wrong anyway. The form Neron Kesar is the linguistically correct Hebrew form, is the form found in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings, and was used by Hebrews in the first century, as archaeological evidence has shown. As F. W. Farrar observed, “the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name-that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as ‘Neron Kesar,’ and this gives at once . . . 666” (The Early Days of Christianity, Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke& Co., 1882, p. 540). Of some related interest is the fact that if Nero’s name is written without the final “n” (i.e., the way it would occur to a Gentile to spell it in Hebrew), it yields the number 616 — which is exactly the variant reading in a few New Testament manuscripts. The most reasonable explanation for this variant is that it arose from the confusion over the final “n”.
It may now be pointed out that in an Aramaic document from Murabba’at, dated to the “second year of the emperor Nero,” the name is spelled rsq nwrn as required by the theory (i.e., that 666 signifies Nero). The last two consonants of ‘rsq’ are damaged, but enough is preserved to show that no vowel-letter was written between the ‘q’ and ‘s’ (Revelation 13:18 and a Scroll from Murabba’at). The evidence can be seen by consulting the French work edited by P, Benoit, J. T. Milik, and R. DeVaux, Discoveries in the Judean Desert of Jordan II (Oxford, 1961), page 18, plate 29.
The Christians of the first century were under the military authority of Rome, a nation which openly proclaimed its rulers, the Caesars, to be divine. All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, Caesar is Lord. Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a libellus, which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of buying or selling without this mark. This is the essence of Scripture’s warnings to the early Christians against taking upon themselves the . . .