(By Michael S. Heiser) If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of the beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18, “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast. It is the number of a man. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it? One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning.

While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers. But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the church, the body of Christ and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8). CONTINUE