“Revelation” is the most frequently cited NT text in Christian writings of the 2nd century but, to my
knowledge, none of these postulate Nero of as being signified by 666. How can this be?
This is certainly true, however we should note the following in this regard:
(1) 666 must have meant something when John wrote it, but as we can see by
the time of Irenaeus the meaning was already lost. Ireneaus offers three
suggestions. Thus, all this problem does is tell us the meaning was lost, not that
the Nero meaning is erroneous.
(2) The very nature of apocalyptic is such that it baffles and challenges the
reader. John himself had to have an interpreting angel explain some of the
matters in his own vision (e.g., Rev 7:13-14; 17:9-10). We should not be
surprised that without John present and apart from an interpreting angel the meaning
could have been lost. And this is especially so in light of my next
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(3) It is the tendency of human nature and the evident temptation of the early church for one’s own situation to serve as an interpretive lens. In light of
the later Roman persecution of the church, the temptation to adapt Revelation
to the church’s own predicament would have been great. The church’s
circumstances and temptations could easily explain the arising of new interpretations
for purposes of “relevance.”
We see this tendency even in the Historicist school of interpretation: this
approach generally views Revelation’s events as beginning to unfold in the
first century and leading up to the interpreter’s present time, almost invariably
with the expectation that Revelation’s climax is being reached.
(4) How about Victorinus commentary on Revelation? While he indicates the Apocalypse was
written during the Domitian reign, he nevertheless states this:
“And one of the heads was slain to death, and his death-stroke was
healed: speaks of Nero. For it is certain that when he was followed by
the cavalry sent by the Senate, he cut through his own throat. This
one raised, therefore, God is to send as a worthy king to those
worthy, to the Jews and to the persecutors of Christ, a Christ of such
a kind the persecutors and Jews have deserved. And because he will be
bearing another name, and also beginning another life, so thus the
same will be taken for Christ. For Daniel says: He will not be
acquainted with the desire of women, in this he will be very impure,
and with no god of their fathers will he be familiar. For he will not
be able to seduce the people of the circumcision unless he becomes a
defender of the Law. Finally he will compel the saints to no other
thing except to receiving circumcision, if he will be able to seduce
them. Thus, he will make the faith of the people to him, so that by
them he will be called Christ. For he has risen up from hell, as we
also spoke of above in the words of Isaiah: Water, he says, nourishes
him, and the abyss enlarges him.b He who must change his name and not
change his name when he comes, the Holy Spirit says: His number is 666
(DCLXVI); this number is to be completed by Greek letters”.