The association of the number 666 with the Antichrist is derived from Revelation 13:18 in which John the Revelator is told in his apocalyptic vision that the number of the Beast is 666 and that the number stands for a person. In John's world of the first century, the Beast that ruled the Earth would have been the emperor, the caesar, of the Roman Empire, Nero (37c.e.–68 c.e.). Using the Hebrew alphabet, the numerical value of "Caesar Nero," the merciless persecutor of the early Christians, is 666.
Although Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.) made it clear when speaking to the apostles that no one will know the exact hour or day of his Second Coming, for many centuries certain Christian theologians have associated the rise of the Antichrist to power and his achievement of a seven-year reign over all the Earth as a kind of catalyst that would set in motion Armageddon, the last final battle between good and evil—the ultimate clash between the armies of Jesus Christ and Satan.
Ever since the Protestant Reformation, the pope has been a favorite of certain Evangelicals for the ignominious title. Many of the pontiffs in the Middle Ages did exercise great power over the rulers and the people of the emerging European nations; and consequently, there were numerous embittered princes and fiery Protestant leaders who did seek to affix the blame for a large number of repressive social and religious programs on the Vatican. However, contemporary popes have wielded little political influence, surely none that would place them in world-threatening positions. There have been such men as Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who actually appeared to covet and campaign for the position by calling himself the Beast and 666.
Hollywood has capitalized on the fascination of certain Christians and horror movie fans with the menacing evil of the Antichrist and depicted him in a number of motion pictures. In Rosemary's Baby (1968), an unsuspecting young wife (Mia Farrow) is selected to bear the Antichrist after her husband (John Cassavetes) makes a pact with Satan. The Omen (1976) spawned a series of three films that follow the Antichrist from early childhood to his position of wealth, power, and charismatic mastery as an adult. In the first of these films, Gregory Peck, as the unsuspecting surrogate father of the Antichrist, is warned of his son's true identity by a number of priests and other individuals who all meet untimely ends. Although initially he considers such warnings as the babble of the demented, he is later shocked to discover the numerals "666" on his son's scalp and he resolves to do whatever must be done to stop Satan's will from being accomplished. In spite of a valiant effort on the part of the father, who now concludes rightfully that his true son was killed and supplanted by the disciples of the Antichrist, the demon seed continues his destructive path to world domination in two additional films. In the The Chosen (1977), Kirk Douglas plays another unaware father, an industrialist specializing in building nuclear power plants, who comes to realize that his son (Simon Ward) is the Antichrist. In Lost Souls (2000), a devout teacher played by Winona Ryder must convince an unsuspecting young journalist that he is the Antichrist before the fated hour when his newly awakened demonic awareness will seize control of his consciousness. Arnold Schwarzenegger is challenged by the almost impossible mission of preventing Satan (Gabriel Byrne) from fathering the Antichrist in End of Days (2000). In Stigmata (2000), Byrne switches sides and plays a priest who fights to thwart satanic interference toward a young stigmatist, a woman who bears the bleeding wounds of Christ's crucifixion. Bless the Child (2000) portrays a desperate mother (Kim Basinger) who must somehow prevent her specially gifted and blessed child from becoming the human sacrifice that would grant the Antichrist his full-powered entry into the world.
Christians who believe completely that the end times drama will play out according to certain scriptural references maintain a wary eye for signs of the Antichrist and the onset of the Apocalypse, but not all Christians accept the warnings of the advent of the Beast with his telltale numerical designation of 666 or believe that the traditional scenario of the Antichrist and his seven-year reign has any real relevance to the actual "signs in the sky" that will precede the Second Coming of Christ. In today's world the term "antichrist" lost much of its power to provoke fear after the concept entered the popular mass culture. For millions of modern secular men and women, the Beast 666 has become merely a sinister, but always defeated, villain in horror movies, and his once dreaded title is often loosely applied in an offhanded manner to everything from cartoon figures to a wide range of men and women in a vast spectrum of modern society.
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Goetz, William R. Apocalypse Next. Camp Hill, Penn.: Horizon Books, 1996.
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Shaw, Eva. Eve of Destruction: Prophecies, Theories and Preparations for the End of the World. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1995.
Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.