We do plenty of counting this time of year. Children count how many of those presents lie colorfully wrapped beneath the evergreen tree. Stores count profits. And surveying the hams, pecan pies, and oceans of eggnog lavished before us, we all try not to count calories.
But there’s also a strange, unexpected number that looms in the background of Christmas. It seems radically out of place. Yet there it is, skulking beyond the glittering lights and tinseled trees. It’s the number 666, the mark of the beast.
If there’s a time of year to grasp the significance of this number, it’s now. Because the birth of Jesus casts light on the dark meaning of 666. And, most importantly, the birth of God’s Son is the death of that number’s power over us.
“When Jesus is born, God puts into motion his strange, beloved math. “
In Revelation 13, John says that “the number of the beast” is “the number of a man; and his number is 666,” (v. 18). Throughout history, this number has been identified with everyone from the Roman emperor Nero to…well, choose your favorite. But 666 is not the number of a particular man. It’s the number of mankind, of humanity—a fallen and failing humanity that reflects the twisted image of the idolatrous beast rather than the image of God.
Here’s what I mean: throughout Revelation, we encounter recurring sevens. Seven is God’s number. It refers to completeness, perfection, totality. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is 777, if you will.
But there’s also an unholy trinity, aping the true God. It’s the unholy trinity of the dragon (Revelation 12), the beast from the sea (13:1-10), and the beast from the earth (13:11-18). Their number is 6 because it falls short of 7. It lags behind. It’s lacking. It symbolizes earthly imperfection. As G. K. Beale notes, “The repetition of six three times indicates the completeness of sinful incompleteness found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection,” (We Become What We Worship, 262).
But 666 is also fallen humanity’s number. All those who worship untrue gods, who fear and love and trust in things more than the Lord, bear the number 666. They mirror the not-perfect, failing gods they worship. They image in their lives, thoughts, words, and actions the very imperfection, incompleteness, and darkened image of the gods whom they adore.
The number 666 encapsulates everything anti-God in the world and in idolatrous human hearts.
You might be thinking, “OK, but what does this have to do with Christmas?” Everything, that’s what. When Jesus is born, God puts into motion his strange, beloved math. He becomes his own image. He who crafted humanity in his own image and likeness becomes a human himself. The Son of the Father, who is “the image of the invisible God” becomes the Son of Mary, too (Col 1:15). God becomes man. The Creator a creature. When we see Jesus, we see the fullness of God made manifest (1:19). As Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).
And, when we see Jesus, we see our humanity made perfect. That little baby, is the only perfect, complete, and flawless human ever born into this world. Christ is the perfect 7 born into a world of imperfect 6’s:
—the 6 of our twisted, idolatrous hearts meets the 7 of his heart wholly devoted to his Father.
—the 6 of our dirty shame meets the 7 of his glorious joy.
—the 6 of our far-from-perfect, incomplete, shattered lives meets the 7 of his divine and human perfection.
—the 6 of the gods of this world meet the 7 of the God-made-man who comes to overthrow them.
Our 777-God so loved this 666-world that he sent his Son to work his strange Christmas math of grace and mercy. What we lacked, he added. Where we were incomplete, he completed us. Where we were falling and failing and falsely worshipping in our 666 lives, Jesus came to add his beloved one to our lives, to bring us into the 777 life of the Holy Trinity.
The Father’s math at Christmas is simple and profound: in this 1 child, 1 Savior, 1 perfect human, he takes the 6 of our lives and adds 1 Jesus to them. We become the 7 that mirrors him. As we kneel before the manger, we leave behind the 6 of idolatry to enter the 7 of true worship. We are made whole, the humans the Lord wants us to be, in this perfect human who draws us into the 777 life of the Trinity.
In Christ, gone is the mark of the beast, emblazoned on our foreheads (Rev 13:16), to be replaced by the name of our Father, written “on our foreheads” (Rev 14:1). We are tattooed as God’s own, those who bear his name, his number, his zealous and vivifying love. That is God’s Christmas math, who deep-sixes all evil and idolatry in his Son, to usher us into the 777 of his divine and undying life.
(Adapted from Chad Bird’s December 13, 2018 article, “THE NUMBER 666 AND GOD’S CHRISTMAS MATH”)