End-time Babylon would claim to be an expression of divine blessing and a manifestation of God’s obedient people, when in fact it is a distorted imperfection of both by not subjecting itself to God’s law, as demonstrated by the emphasis on the mark of the beast and the number 666 as a counterfeit to the seal of God.
Q: Is the mention of the number 666 in 1 Kings important for the interpretation of the number 666 in Revelation 13:18?
A: Yes, it’s possible. The number 666 is usually taken as representing in the Bible something evil and menacing. But I would suggest that 666 is associated in the Bible with something good that, in the hands of Babylon, has become a tool of deception by claiming to be something that it is not. There are two places in the Bible where the numeral 666 is mentioned in a positive context.
Wealth, Blessing, and 666
In 1 Kings 3:13 God promised to bless Solomon with wisdom and great wealth. The narrative goes on to show how God blessed Solomon with wealth, specifically stating that “the weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold” (1 Kings 10:14). This amount of gold was an expression of God’s blessing. One could suggest that this understanding of divine blessing, associated with 666, is utilized by the beast of Revelation to suggest that he is a fulfillment of God’s blessing; that he is a blessing for all. However, in the context of Revelation 13, with its emphasis on the law of God, the number serves to unmask the beast as a deceptive power. The blessing of the Lord, explicitly associated with the seventh-day Sabbath (Gen. 2:3), is here related to the numeral six. It marks the absolute absence of the blessing.
God’s People and 666
The second passage is Ezra 2:13, where 666 is related to Babylon (verse 1). Among those who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, the clan of Adonikam lists a total of 666 persons (Ezra 2:13). The number clearly stands for a number of God’s people that listened to God’s call to leave Babylon and in obedience to Him left Babylon. It could be that in Revelation the numeral 666 is employed by the beast to deceptively suggest that he is an expression of God’s obedient people. Revelation unmasks this deception by placing the number in the context of the mark of the beast as a counterfeit to the seal of God—the beast does not belong to the people of God because it does not submit to God’s commandments.
Blessing, God’s People, and Babylon
Which one of these two texts provides the background for the symbolism of 666 in Revelation? The case in favor of Ezra 2:13 is weakened by the fact that in that text 666 could be a scribal mistake and that the original number may have been 667 (see the parallel text in Neh. 7:18). Or perhaps the original was 666 and the scribal mistake is found in Nehemiah, in which case Ezra 2:13 would be useful in understanding 666 in Revelation. What perhaps inclines the balance in favor of 1 Kings 10:14 is the fact that here, as well as in Revelation 13:18, the number is contextually associated with divine wisdom. In that case our understanding of 666 as stated above would apply to the beast. If we conclude that both 1 Kings 10:14 and Ezra 2:13 are correct references to 666, then a combination of the two suggestions made above could be valid. End-time Babylon would claim to be an expression of divine blessing and a manifestation of God’s obedient people, when in fact it is a distorted imperfection of both by not subjecting itself to God’s law, as demonstrated by the emphasis on the mark of the beast and the number 666 as a counterfeit to the seal of God.