The Mark of the Beast

This seems like a good time to talk about something controversial. Let’s talk about the Mark of the Beast because it is being talked about constantly. The phrase, Mark of the Beast, has been a perennial source of click-bait on the Internet. Why? Because it’s mysterious and has been a source of debate for a long time.

What is the Mark of the Beast? Is it barcodes? Is it implanted microchips? Is it cryptocurrency? What is it?

Our fascination with this subject crosses denominational lines, and it even spills out into popular culture. It has been used as a plot device in books, television, and movies. And because it has such a broad base of interest, you’d think Christians would attempt to be the most informed on the subject. It is, after all, a part of our Bible.

Can I be honest? Most of what I’m seeing in the social media universe right now is probably more sensational than Biblical. Sensational news almost always appeals to our baser instincts. Since the Mark of the Beast isn’t a topic driven by sex or violence, then it must get all of the attention it gets because it’s driven by fear.

Fear of what? Well, let’s read.
Also it [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the [first] beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. – Revelation 13:16-18
Right there. “So no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” Then later, in chapter 14 it says…
And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. – Revelation 14:11
So, there’s a bit of a consequence to those who do or don’t take the mark of the name of the beast. If you don’t, you won’t be able to buy or sell. If you do, you’ll be subject to eternal judgment in the lake of fire.

So naturally, believers are in a frenzy trying to know what the mark of the beast will be because they for sure don’t want to take it.

Here is where I say, wait a minute. There are several things I want to point to, but this one is the most important.

Ask yourself a question. Is your salvation dependent on Christ’s completed work – His life, death, and resurrection – or is it dependent on something you do or don’t do? See, if you are fearful of some mark ruining your eternity, you misunderstand salvation. Even with the mark of the beast, taking it or not cannot be a condition of salvation if it is truly by grace alone through Christ alone. You can’t have the entire New Testament declare that Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, through whom we have access to the Father, and by whom the good work that was began in us will be completed, but then let this one matter overturn all of that.

What then?  I’ll tell you what.  It’s more likely that we aren’t understanding what is meant by the mark of the beast. It’s more likely that we’ve relied more on sensationalism to guide us than biblical study. It’s also more likely that if we have attempted biblical study, we’ve chosen resources and teachers who already believe what we want to believe about the end times. Very few people ever stray outside of their camps to learn what others think.

[By the way, I’m not being critical of anyone because I admit that this isn’t easy.]

With that in mind, let’s turn to the Scripture instead of news headlines to get some insights about the mark of the beast. Let’s begin by posing a few thoughts up front. Because the Bible is a coherent story that does not contradict itself, we must believe the following:

  • Whatever we believe about the mark of the beast, it should not tear down what we have already believed about Christ’s work and our salvation.
  • The truth about the mark of the beast will be coherent with the rest of the Word.
  • Therefore, we should allow clear Scripture to interpret difficult Scripture.
  • To do this, we have to pay attention to symbols that appear elsewhere in the Word.

It should not tear down.

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). What does that mean? He’s the author. It’s His creation. He wrote it. He knows the beginning and the end of it. He’s the perfecter. He finishes the work He begins in us (Philippians 1:8). He doesn’t leave it up to chance or human will whether what he began comes to completion. He ensures our salvation begins and ends with Him, not us. In light of that, you can reject any notion that somehow you have something to do with whether you’ll make it.

  • You don’t have to live in fear of what the mark of the beast will be. If you belong to Jesus, you’ll never accept it.

Besides, you have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). A spirit of fear is a spirit of bondage (Romans 8:15). If you’re wrapped up in theories and speculations, trying to figure this out, you’re in bondage because fear has gripped your heart.

Now, the Bible is equally clear that those who endure will make it (Matthew 24:13). That sounds like we do have something to do with whether we make it. Don’t be deceived. Those who endure do so because Christ has brought them to completion, not their efforts. If it was their efforts, salvation would be by the will of man, not God. John 1:13 tells us that all who belong to Christ are born again by the will of God, not the will of flesh.

Therefore, any professing “Christian” who takes the mark, demonstrates that his or her faith was based on the will of flesh, not the will of God. Hence, he or she was never really born again.

However, that’s not the end of the discussion. Everything I just said assumes the mark of the beast will be something physical, like a microchip or a cryptocurrency. So, in some ways, I’m still building on an idea put forth by theories that only modern people could create.  The problem with that is the idea of a microchip or a cryptocurrency would never occur to a first century reader. Is it possible that John simply saw something in the vision he didn’t understand? It may surprise you, but that question isn’t as valuable as you might think.

Apocalyptic literature in the Bible consistently uses themes and symbols that were familiar to the original readers. But on top of that, apocalyptic literature consistently uses themes that have already appeared elsewhere in the Scripture, which is why the reader would’ve already been familiar. Therefore, did God give John visions full of symbols that would be unfamiliar? If the LORD is consistent, then no.

Coherent with the rest of the Word

Revelation isn’t the odd duck of the Bible’s apocalyptic literature. It is consistent with the rest of apocalyptic Scripture in its presentation, its use of symbols and metaphor, and how it uses the repetition of themes to highlight and emphasize truth. That means if you encounter a symbol, it has been used before, and John is porting that symbol and its meaning into the text he’s writing to explain what he’s witnessing.

Case and point: is Jesus Christ literally a lion or a lamb? Of course not. He’s human because He had to be 100% human to die for the sins of humans. But lions and lambs communicate meaning that help us understand what Jesus has done and what He will do!  Look at Revelation 5:5-6. In verse five Jesus is called the Lion. In verse six He’s called the Lamb. But in Revelation chapter one, he clearly appears to John in His glorified human form.  Lions and Lambs are symbols that tell us what Jesus has done and will do. He’s the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. He’s the Lion who will open the seals of judgment. Both lambs and lions have Old Testament antecedents rich with meaning that point forward to Jesus.

Therefore, when we come to the mark of the beast, look for the symbols that appear elsewhere in Scripture. How are the descriptions of the mark of the beast coherent with something else in the Word that uses the same images? Notice, right hand or the forehead. Where has that appeared before? Go all the way back to Deuteronomy.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This is the Shema. Israel recited this to themselves regularly as part of their worship. Notice that verse eight says, you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Your hands and the space of real estate between your eyes, your forehead are both here. What’s their significance? The hand represents deeds and the forehead represents belief. The Bible gets even more specific on hands, elevating the right hand to represent authority. The right hand of God delivered Israel (Exodus 15:6). Jesus is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).

In short, when the Israelites were told to put the Word on their hand and forehead, it was a way of saying, love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and might in everything you do and everything you think.

Then there are two occurrences of foreheads in Revelation. In Revelation chapter seven, the people of God are sealed in their foreheads. You get two pictures of the multitude who are sealed. First you see 144,000 sealed – which is a symbolic number that represents the complete number of God’s people – then you see the multitude of God’s people that can’t be numbered before the throne.

It appears again in Revelation 14:1, the people standing with Jesus on Mt. Zion are the 144,000 who were sealed in their foreheads – again a symbolic number for all of God’s people. These people are described as those who have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4b). Who are these firstfruits? All believers in Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13)!  So in John’s visions, all believers have been sealed in their forehead. What does this sealing mean? Ephesians, twice, tells us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30).

That actually changes things when we consider the mark of the beast. It was put on the right hand and forehead… just like Israel bound the Law to their hands and foreheads. Could it be that we’re now talking about issues of belief instead of microchips? Could it be that the mark of the beast has more to do with being blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) than any of our technological answers? What we see in Revelation 13 is looking more like a counterfeit of Deuteronomy 6:8, and Revelation 7:3 than a microchip. If you’re looking for an interpretation that makes sense to believers in John’s day and to us, then we’re on the right track.

This is coherent with the rest of the Word because we’ve sought out other occurrences of similar symbols, and we’ve allowed clear Scripture to interpret difficult Scripture.

What about the rest?

We haven’t dealt with every difficulty in the passage concerning the mark of the beast. However, if you embrace what we just discussed they aren’t as difficult as you may think.

No one can buy or sell without the mark of the beast. This is where it gets sucked into the whole implanted chip or cryptocurrency rabbit hole.  But if you will consider for a moment what was happening in John’s day, those plot devices become obsolete. Christians were being denied economic services in their day without any kind of special currency. It was as simple as this:

[Shop Owner]: How may I help you?
[Christian]: I’m here to buy food.
[Shop Owner]: Are you a Christian?
[Christian]:  …

At this point the Christian has a choice: tell the truth or deny Christ. If they lied, they could buy food for their family, but they would be denying Jesus.  If they told the truth, the shop owner could refuse service to them, and even report them to the authorities.

Do you see it? Being a believer has to do with belief that produces action; forehead to hand, thought to deed. Back then, faithful believers were being arrested and killed for their faith. How were they found out? Because they couldn’t deny their Savior, even if it meant buying food for their families. The mark of the beast becomes a matter of choice. You are either marked by Jesus, and suffer for it, or you are marked by the beast, and continue to buy, sell, and enjoy the comforts the world can afford you.

The concept that we all will once again live under those conditions shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It is currently happening in hostile nations around the world. We’re only waiting for the moment that it becomes worldwide. No special currencies or microchips required. We only need the wickedness of humanity to increase to levels we’ve yet to see.

What does 666 mean? You’re really not going to like this, but it has been right there under our noses all along. It’s in verse seventeen: the name of the beast or the number of its name. The number 666 is the number of the beast’s name… whatever the beast’s name happens to be. It is a self-referencing loop; the name means the number and the number means the name. People have tried to figure this out for a long time. But if we do as we said just a few paragraphs ago – find an interpretation that makes sense to believers in John’s day and to us – the air clears a little. Of all the possibilities that would make sense to them and to us, the most likely interpretation of the name is…

Beast.

I know that’s not very satisfying. But if the Greek word for beast is transliterated into Hebrew, the numerical value of the transliterated word is 666. Now, if you were hoping for a person’s name, there are people who have used different ciphers to conjure up all kinds of names… I’ve even seen Ronald Wilson Reagan as one of the answers. But consider this.

According to tradition, the Romans exiled John to Patmos because he survived execution for his faith. He knew when he sent this letter that the Romans may well read it before sending it. Had he plugged in Caesar’s name as the Beast, it may never have made it to the churches of Asia Minor. Beyond that, I believe the LORD didn’t actually want Caesar’s name there because it would be too specific to John’s time. John’s vision of the beast is a combination of the four beasts from Daniel chapter seven. Whatever this beast/empire is, it took on characteristics of all the other beasts/empires that came before it. It’s a mash-up, and though John recognized all the elements of Daniel’s beasts, I’m not sure he knew how to name it. Hence, 666 simply means beast.
This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
If 666 just means beast, where’s the wisdom in understanding this self-referencing name and number? The wisdom isn’t in figuring out the number values of the letters that lead to 666 = beast. The wisdom is in knowing that this beast represents something that involves government, economics, and religion mashed up into one system which will hate Jesus and His followers.

That sounds kind of Biblical, right?
and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. – Matthew 10:22

What now?

I understand that there are men and women who will disagree with me. I am very aware that what I’m telling you goes against many popular teachings on this subject. I also admit that I was once an adherent to some of the more popular ideas that included implanted microchips and cryptocurrency. The issues that moved me away from them had most to do with Biblical coherency, not only within the text, but in history. What the text teaches should apply as much to us today as it did to them back then.  As I began seeing that the symbols and metaphors used in Revelation were already all present and bursting with meaning elsewhere in the Word, my view began changing. So, here’s my advice on what to do with the mark of the beast.

Stop pedaling paranoid fear. Stop telling people the mark of the beast is coming. The mark of the beast is already here…
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11
By what we’ve discussed, the mark of the beast is refusing to love the truth; unbelief in the Gospel; rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And when God decides it’s time to start wrapping things up, He’ll send a strong delusion on those who have taken the mark that they may be condemned.

My encouragement to you is simple.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-38
Pray that the Holy Spirit would remove the blindness caused by the god of this world. Be salt and light so that the world can taste and see that the LORD is good while He may be found. A day is coming where our sides will become fixed. Until then, love the LORD and love your neighbor, and let the Holy Spirit work in and through you to reveal Jesus to as many as possible.
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