Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man…
I. THE BEAST WHOSE NUMBER IS 666. The beast is not one, but three. It is evident the last verse sums up the two chapters, and gives its total number like the answer in an addition sum.
1. The first beast is the "great red dragon" of chap. Revelation 12. He has "seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads." He appears in heaven in open revolt against all authority, and with special enmity against the man child. Who is this daring, determined fiend who disturbs heaven's peace, and is thirsty for the blood of the saints? In ver. 9 we are told he is "that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan." That point is clear enough at any rate; we have heard of him before.
2. The second beast rises up out of the sea, and is Daniel's four beasts (Daniel 7:1-8) rolled into one. Unto this beast the "great red dragon," the devil, "gave his power, his throne, and great authority." A throne means kingship and a kingdom. He takes up the rebellion against God, heaven, and the saints, and extends his authority over all kindreds and tongues and nations. "The prince of this world." A title thrice given by Jesus Christ to His adversary.
3. The third beast rises up out of the earth, and in many respects differs from its fellow beasts. Instead of being a combination of terrors, it is meek and gentle in its appearance. Its mild and innocent looks are belied by its words, which carry its real character; they are fierce, treacherous, and cruel. This lamb-like dragon has no throne, neither does it rule over conquered peoples. It is the servant of the beast-royal. It is zealous for his honour, wields his authority, works miracles for his glory, makes men worship his image, and rejoices to lose itself in the splendour and glory of its lord.
4. Here, then, we see "the great red dragon," and two beasts, varying in form and sphere of operation, but one in nature and purpose. And their relationship to each other is such as to suggest at once the evangelist's conception of a trinity of evil in deadly conflict with the Divine and holy Trinity of good.
II. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS NUMBER 6 6 6? The numbers are signs, and must be taken, not in their literal or numerical value, but in their symbolic sense. They stand for something altogether outside arithmetic. For instance, three is a number of mysterious sanctity, and refers to deities; four represents the earth in all its four corners; and six is everywhere the unlucky number. The Jew dreaded it, and to this day there linger many superstitions about the sixth day (Friday), the sixth hour, etc. The reason given is that it falls fatally below seven, the emblem of completeness, perfection, totality. Six is nearest to seven, but always falls one short of completeness.
III. THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE POINT OF ATTAINMENT, APART FROM GOD, IS 666. This admits that without God six can be reached. In Church life we can do a great deal without God. Crowded Churches and overflowing coffers are no infallible sign of the Divine Presence. In individual reform much can be done without God. I have known men give up drink, gambling, lust, swearing, and almost every form of vice, and reform so completely that they have been held up in "reports" as miracles of grace; and afterwards they have confessed there was no grace in it, they had never prayed, nor sought help from God. Science has wrought wonders in the last fifty years. If any one had told our grandfathers of the achievements of steam and electricity they would have thought him mad But wonderful as science is, its number is only 6. Coming from America in the Augusta Victoria, a clever fellow with whom I had had several talks came up to me on Sunday morning. Seeing I was reading my Bible, he expressed surprise that I read "that book." I told him I was surprised to hear him say so. "Oh!" he said, "the world has grown out of that long since." "Indeed," I replied; "and into what has it grown?" Then he extolled the work of science. And I asked him the simple question, "Whence did you and I come?" And he took me through the mysteries of evolution, performing two or three intellectual somersaults in the course, and at last put his finger on the first form of organic life, and said proudly, "That's where we began!" "Indeed," I said, "and where did it begin?" Then he said, "We come now to what is variously described as the First Cause, Eternal Force, and the Unknowable." "It won't do," I said; "your explanation does not explain." His science was only 6. I turn to my Bible, and I find the missing link. "In the beginning God!" Life has no explanation with Him left out. So long as He is absent the "one thing needful" is lacking. It is the same with philosophy. It is only 6. It needs God to tell me whence I came, what I am, and whither I go. He alone can supply what lies between "6" and "7." The modern gospel without God is only 6. Reform is popular. Politicians of all grades vie with each other in their zeal for the uplifting of society. All this is very well as far as it goes; but its number is only the number of the beast. The gospel of to-day, apart from Christ, is expressed in three words: economics, sanitation, education. I believe in all three. I have been too long in the ranks of the toilers not to sympathise with their struggle for better conditions of work and life. But when you have given the workman the eight-hours day and the living wage, who is going to give him a pair of legs that will carry him past the first public-house? So also with sanitation. By all means let us have clean dwellings, pure air, and good drains. But good sanitation does not make saints. It is not the stye that makes the pig, but the pig that makes the stye. As a reforming power sanitation is good as far as it goes; but it gets no farther than the skin and the sewer. Its number is only 6. Education touches the man more directly; but experience has amply proved how insufficient it is to effect such radical change in men as will make them just and good. The fact is, this generation has fallen in love with the social conditions of the kingdom of Christ. It has become the great ideal — the age's utopia. But it has not adopted Christ's method to bring it about. It wants a shorter cut. Christ's method is: make men good, and the "new creature" will produce a new social order and a new world. But to make men good is such slow, hopeless work; so we will try making the world good, and then surely men must be good. It did not work in the garden of Eden. Neither will it now. Jesus Christ is still the only Saviour. He will reconstruct society by regenerating the individual; and the host of Christian workers, despised preachers of the gospel, Sunday-school teachers, and old-fashioned people, who still go to prayer meetings, are, after all, the best social reformers this world has. They have the one complete gospel; all others are but 6 6 6.
IV. WHAT IS YOUR NUMBER? Apply this to your own life. What is your number? Is it 6 or 7.? You can get a good deal out of a life of sixes. You may get a lot of real pleasure out of life without religion. But the best of the world's pleasure is only 6. The provoking thing about it is that there is always something short. It never quite satisfies. Jesus Christ said of it, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again"; and the more he drinks the more he thirsts. But He gives the water of life that leaves no thirst; and, after all, you never know what happiness is till you drink of that stream. In character, too, you may be good without Christ. I admit it. But your goodness is only 6. A fine specimen of the "6" order came to Jesus one day. He had kept the commandments; he was greatly respected; so excellent was he that when Jesus saw him "He loved him." But He said unto him, "One thing thou lackest." Only one, but it was the one thing needful.
Parallel VersesKJV: Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.