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The mark of the beast is a topic of two extremes. Christians who talk about it all the time non stop and Christians who avoid it as a difficult and confusing topic at all costs. Christians who scan instagram, facebook and the news to find the latest “fulfillment” of a passage of Revelation in as literal a sense as possible versus Christians who view Revelation relating almost entirely to Nero and the Roman empire. Others who are too scared to open the book except when they have to read it to finish reading the entire Bible in a year.
How is there a way forward from all this chaos? It’s probably no surprise to you by now that I am going to take the middle path. We need to view Revelation in terms of what it means in the context of the Bible and the context of the original audience.
I emphasised this in my articles on the rapture and the millennium
Not the context of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Not the context of Klaus Schwab’s Great Reset or Fourth Industrial Revolution. Now is there an overlapping spiritual context between these books? Absolutely, the same spiritual forces at play in Revelation exist today. That is where people go wrong in interpreting and applying the book.
Before we go into some points to help explain the mark of the beast, let’s have a quick look at some common modern events people currently try to tie to the mark of the beast (note I am not necessarily arguing for these):
- Transhumanism/ the Great Reset/ Fourth Industrial Revolution as promoted by Sapiens author Noah Harari and WEF Head Klaus Schwab
- Quantum dots used to identify personal data about individuals as imprinted their skin
- Others link it to a social credit system associated with WEF ideas such as green initiatives, the UN’s Agenda 2030 etc. https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2016/11/10/shopping-i-cant-really-remember-what-that-is-or-how-differently-well-live-in-2030/
- Elon Musk’s Neuralink
- Microchip implants in hands to function as debit cards and public transport tickets
- ID 2020 which is about having digital identities for all by 2030
- Patent 060606 cryptocurrency system using body activity data
Now to our 6 key points for unlocking the mark of the beast:
- Names on bodies are figurative for spiritual realities in Revelation in every other instance in the book
In Revelation, Jesus is described as the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (Rev. 1:8), a male child who rules with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5), a white haired man with a golden sash (Rev 1:13-14), a man wearing a cloth dipped in blood (Rev 19:13), having King of Kings and Lord of Lords written on his thigh and robe (Rev 19:16), while having a name on his head no one knows but himself (Rev 19:12), while also being a Lamb looking “as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes” (Rev. 5:6) and a Lion the very verse before (Rev. 5:5). Try and put all this together and you’re either left realising Revelation is a symbolic book, it is hopelessly contradictory or Jesus changes his physical form multiple times!
Babylon is described a woman drinking blood (Rev 17:4-5), large enough to be sitting on a multitude of nations (Rev 17:15) and also as a great city (Rev 17:18). Jerusalem is also described as a city (Rev 21:10) and a bride (Rev. 21:9). Consequently, as Revelation uses symbolic language we should initially be wary of taking a mark as being purely physical instead of a symbol reflecting a spiritual reality.
Let’s look at the passage of Revelation 13:15-14:1:
And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it 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 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. Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
Very often people only read 13:16-18 and miss some key details in the surrounding context. V15 highlights the mark of the beast is tied to the worship of the beast while 14:1 shows that it is not just those who worship the beast who have names on their foreheads but also those who worship the Lamb.
Now a simple question, do any Christians literally believe this is talking about a physical name or a microchip on their head which shows they are a Christian? Absolutely not! Notice the inconsistency here where futurists (people who think Revelation was written about entirely future events) love to read 13:16-18 literally then turn to reading 14:1 symbolically.
Furthermore, if we are reading 13:16-18 literally why are we looking for quantum dots or chips when clearly the mark is a mark of a name not just any sort of a mark! Does this mean that technology is irrelevant to this conversation? No it doesn’t but if anything it would be a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality not causally the other way around.
It gets worse if we have a look how else names on bodies are used in Revelation (hint: all are taken symbolically):
Revelation 3:12: The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
Revelation 13:1: And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.
Revelation 17:5: And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”
Revelation 19:12: His (Jesus’) eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
Revelation 19:16: On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 22:4: They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Time and time again names on bodies represent spiritual reality in Revelation. They represent your spiritual identity and who you belong to. Could this have physical manifestations? It sure could, let’s not deny that. However, let’s also not forget the fundamental spiritual reality John is getting at here.
Unfortunately far too many people who talk about the mark of the beast have no idea how else names are used on bodies in Revelation. In a similar fashion those who talk about the mark being a spiritual reality often forget that spiritual realities have physical manifestations and as such cannot be completely distanced from physical behaviours, identity or physical choices.
- The mark is a name and is tied to worship
Revelation 13:17 reads, “no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” It is likely some early readers interpreted the 666 to represent Nero Caesar’s name through the use of gematria (Greek calculations based of letters in a name assigned numerical values) as the early Latin manuscripts showed the number of the beast as being 616 (what Nero Caesar’s name adds up to in Latin).
Richard Bauckham argues John had Nero in mind but 666 also possessed a symbolic meaning beyond Nero. 666 points to a perversion and short falling of God’s standards with the number 7 representing God’s completed work and perfection throughout Revelation. Moreover, the 6th day is the day of man (Gen. 1:24-31) while the 7th day is the day the Lord rested and made the earth his temple.
Not all agree with the Nero reference however as to get to 666 in Greek you need to spell Nero’s name a little differently and some argue it is probably not compelling to add his name up using Hebrew letters when the book was written in Greek and quite a few readers were Gentiles. Interestingly, early church father Irenaeus in Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 30) ties 666 to “Teitan” and “Lateinos” . Teitan is linked to the idea of the Nephilim who early church fathers spoke of as dark spirit beings who reproduced with human women while Lateinos is a reference to Rome/ man of Rome.
It is quite interesting that Irenaeus as a prominent early church father
would not readily identify 666 with Nero if it was meant to be very clear to all early Christians, casting doubt on the view the beast was clearly Nero. Lateinos and Teitan combined show a dark spiritual being mixed with a human form, who has political force and power and is worshiped and honoured by the masses.
In effect, 666 is about Satan using the state to take the place of God and require people to operate on his terms, betraying the truth of Christ, in order to function in society. 666 is about Satan trying to make it his world, his rules. This spiritual reality exists today (2 Cor. 4:4, Eph 2:1, Jer. 17:9, 1 Peter 5:8, Eph 6:10-17 etc etc). Could there be physical manifestations which represent this spiritual reality? Absolutely.
We can easily think of ways men try to become God, to usurp God. Excessive control, living by lies, manipulation, persecution, surveillance, propaganda. The forces are still at work today, they manifest in different forms but the underlying reality driving them still exists. The prince of Tyre of Ezekiel 28, thinks of himself as a god though he is a man (Ezek 28:2), he is a shadow of the beast driven by the same underlying spiritual force.
- Revelation wasn’t written directly to you
Yes, you read that correctly. Unless you’ve somehow outlived all humans in history and are still around from one of the seven churches, you are not part of the original intended audience. “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1) was written from “John to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev 1:3). Seven churches which existed in history in what is now modern day Turkey and suffered immense persecution at the hands of the Romans when not prepared to compromise their faith.
Furthermore, John emphasises Revelation refers to “the things that must soon take place” (Rev 1:1) and that he is “a partner in the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9) to the churches. This echoes Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 when speaking of the son of perdition or antichrist that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” and John’s words in 1 John 2:18 that the hour of the antichrist has come. Moreover, in places such as Hebrews 1:2 and Acts 2:17 the “last days” are spoken as being a present reality in the New Testament.
Revelation describes things that “[John has] seen, are and those that are to take place after this” (Rev 1:19). Meaning the book is written in terms of the present reality at the time to describe the past, present and future. In line with this principle, the beast is described as the one that “was and is not.. and it goes to destruction” (Rev 17:11), a clear counterfeit of Christ “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8). Thus it is evident the beast was a past, present and future reality at the time of writing, not one entirely future. This is further supported by the fact the beast is a composition of 4 beasts from Daniel 7 (Rev. 13:1-2) which represent tyrannical governments which persecuted God’s people.
The very mark itself is precisely linked to this seven headed beast which is sitting on Babylon at the time of writing (Rev 13:1-18). Babylon and the heads are linked to seven hills in Revelation 17. If we look at the historical context, the Septimontium festival (Festival of Seven Hills) was held in Rome, the City of Seven Hills. Unlike Daniel where the book is sealed for a much later point in time (Dan. 12:9), Revelation involves an unsealing showing immediate relevance and impact (Rev. 5-7).
This was a time where Christians in rich cities such as Smyrna were poor (Rev. 2:9) because they could no buy or sell at the agora (marketplace of the time) because they refused to bow down, worship or attribute any sort of divinity to the Roman emperors. A time when Christians were expected to denounce faith in Christ in order for their testimony to be heard in court. A time where often to be economically successful you had often to be part of trade guilds which worshipped pagan gods and excluded Christians, limiting their ability to buy or sell. This was particularly prevalent in Thyatira which is mentioned in Rev. 2:18-29.
Roman guards were in Smyrna for an athletic event in 155 AD and persecuted any who did not proclaim Caesar was Lord. Polycarp paid with his life saying, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has he even done me any harm. How then could I blaspheme my King who saved me?” He was slain as those who do not worship the beast are in Rev. 13:15.
Now does this mean it has no relevance for today? Of course not! The spiritual forces, behaviours and patterns present then exist today. It may have been written in language and symbols which had clear meaning to the readers in some sort of code or symbolic form but that does not mean the underlying reality being presented is not relevant today. Of course it is! Dark forces are still at work, Christ has not returned.
- The beast was a present reality during the time of authorship but also reflected a future reality. It was a spiritual reality with physical implications.
The beast seated on Babylon the whore is described as having seven heads, five of which have fallen at the time of writing (Rev. 17:10). This also echoes the words of John mentioned above in Rev. 1:19 that he is describing things seen, existing in the present and which will take place. Forget the formula of present, past, future in Revelation 1:19 which is applied to the beast who was and is not and will go to destruction (Rev. 17:10-11) and to Christ who was and is and is to come (Rev. 1:4,8) and you will very likely misinterpret the book of Revelation.
Preterists tend to argue that Nero was the 6th king.
If we use the line of Roman kings given by Suetonius and Josephus, these are:
However, note, the Roman empire did not fall at the end of the 7th king or have a Nero like 8th emperor defeated from the breath of Christ’s mouth (Rev. 17:11, 19:20-21, 2 Thess 2:8) which is what we would have to expect if we took this too literally. Other scholars question how suitable it is to list Nero as the 6th king, claiming this is misleading and instead focus on the 6th king being more of a symbol of evil prevailing but the readers not yet being at the end of time or the final climax.
Either way, John, who considered himself a partner in the tribulation (Rev. 1:9), was not writing about some entirely distant reality. While the beast was a spiritual entity depicted using imagery, the beast was also a physical force which persecuted Christians through Rome.
Moreover, who exactly worships the beast and receives his mark? Everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world worships the beast and by implication receives the mark. In effect you either have the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18) or the seal of God (Rev. 14:1), are not in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:15) or in it (Rev. 21:17) and there are consequences to be faced for this (Rev. 19:20-21, Rev 20:4). Furthermore, the worshippers of the beast receive his mark as worship is mentioned in Rev. 13:15 just before verses 16-18 on the mark. Revelation 14:9 and 20:4 mention worship of the beast and the mark of the beast together. Thus, you are either of Christ or the beast.
In that sense, the beast represents a king (the son of perdition of 2 Thess 2, the little horn of Daniel 7, the 8th king of Rev. 17:11) but also a spiritual entity present in the world through time. Satan has 7 heads and 10 horns in Rev 12 as does the beast. This would have the readers thinking of Rome yet Satan is present through time.
In effect Rome is a manifestation of spiritual darkness to the original readers which more broadly manifested itself through time in other ways. The beast of Rev 13 also has 7 heads of 10 horns (like Satan) and is comprised of the 4 beasts of Daniel 7. The beast of the sea and of the earth mirror the Behemoth and Leviathan of Job 40:15-41:11. These are chaos agents having a harmful and chaotic impact through time. Despite his deceitful appeal the beast is ultimately a chaos agent. The Leviathan is used to describe evil kings who oppose God’s people in Isaiah 27:1 and likely pharaoh in Psalm 74:14.
The beast rules the people of the world, you are either a person of the world, of Babylon below or of Jerusalem. Revelation is full of opposites. The Lamb who rose on the eighth day versus the eighth king, the whore of Babylon versus the bride of Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2), the seal of God versus the mark of the beast. This covers Christians and non Christians through the ages (Rev. 20) and as such though there might be physical expressions of being a state owned object through time, the mark of the beast is a fundamentally spiritual idea.
What about the buying and selling then? That is a way of showing that for following the Lamb you will face consequences including economic ones and persecution. Not all Christians through time are slain Rev. 13:15, yet Christians through time are described as martyrs (Rev. 20:4). In a similar fashion this is not to say all Christians can never be merchants. This was to encourage readers to be prepared to face the most dire of consequences, martyrdom and inability to buy or sell for their faith, for their refusal to be state owned objects but instead be of the Lamb.
Could there be a time with the eighth king, the final antichrist where people either submit to the beast or are not able to literally buy or sell? Definitely, but let’s not forget the overall context at stake here. You are either of the beast or of the Lamb yet not everyone who is on the Lamb needs to starve to death or be martyred but be prepared to undergo such for their faith.
Daniel 2, Daniel 7 and 2 Thessalonians 2 which speak of anti christ like figures of empires, remind us who will eventually destroy the antichrist, the final culmination of the beast system. Christ himself.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-8: For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
Daniel 7:25-27: He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court shall sit in judgement, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’
Even Revelation itself didn’t finish with the 6th king but details a future king and a mortally wounded king who appears in some form. Thus, even if John had Nero in mind, there was more to come. He may have been a type of beast, a form of darkness but he wasn’t the end. The Roman empire didn’t fall at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
- The Biblical context of the right hand and forehead reference
Revelation is full of Old Testament references. HB Swete estimates that 278 out Revelation’s 404 verses contain Old Testament references. Examples of this include references to the temple throughout the book, the 4 horses found in Zechariah 6 and references to the beast mirroring Daniel 7 and Job 40-41. The right hand or forehead reference potentially links to Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18 where God’s people are instructed to bind His words “as a sign on your hand” and as “frontlets between your eyes” (also see Exodus 13:9,16). Hence, the mark of the beast is effectively a travesty of what we call phylacteries.
Phylacteries were physically worn by some of the Jews on their hand or forehead during the time of Jesus and yet Jesus criticises their behaviour as being done to “be seen by others” in “making their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” (Matt. 23:5). This implies true phylacteries are shown through allegiance to God and finding your identity in Him, not an attempt to make an impression to others with a physical object.
Consequently, this shapes our ideas (head) and practical outworking (hand). Hence, the mark of the beast shows allegiance to and dependence on the beast; a travesty at its finest. Indeed, the idea of “marks” on bodies symbolically reflecting spiritual identity was not uncommon even in the Old Testament (eg. Ezek. 9:4) and could also play on the common practice of slave branding and tattooing in the Roman world.
- The mark of the beast and the beast system is fundamentally about the state taking the place of God
The beast is an agent of chaos, coming from the sea (Rev. 13:1-2) which is a metaphor for chaos in Scripture. The Leviathan dwells in the waters of the sea in the Old Testament. In Christ’s Jerusalem there is no more sea (Rev. 21:1), he extinguishes chaos.
Chaos, lies, lust, hate, control, military power manipulation, distraction from Christ, a system which does not worship God as source of life, a system which thrives in a city of men, a city of relative comfort for the beast’s followers and discomfort for the Lamb’s followers. People are lifeless material objects in a beast system, not spiritual beings connected with God. They are in effect state owned objects. Follow the rules of the beast or face destruction, oppression and exclusion. Take your pick. That is the way of the beast. That is life in Babylon. The chaos system which is seductive and sweet initially but upon another bite is a plague.
Picture a monster lurking beneath dark waters, it strikes when you’re not expecting, it moves and you cannot see it, you can hear it moving in the dark but don’t know what is causing the frightening sound. It seduces you with pleasure and distraction above the water, meanwhile it tightens its grip on your foot as you are looking up elsewhere and prepares you for destruction. Picture a pure white spotless Lamb in a throne room filled with life, full of love and sacrifice. You hated him yet he still loved you. Take your pick.
Meanwhile the Lord builds his Jerusalem and his temple through his people. People despised by the beast, outcasts, oppressed. Yet their bodies are his temple (1 Cor 6:19-20), living stones (1 Peter 2:5) in his masterpiece which he builds on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-20). He preserves them despite the chaos in Babylon which they are in but not of and completes the work he began in them (Phil 1:6). The ways of Jerusalem, the ways of his temple are love, forgiveness, truth, order, trust, selflessness and peace. A stark contrast to the ways of the beast.
Though they live as exiles in Babylon, his Spirit preserves them and just as Ezekiel and Daniel saw visions of God on the throne (Ezek 1, Dan. 7), during times of exile for God’s people, God reminds the readers of Revelation he sits on the throne (Revelation 5), though they might be oppressed by the dark forces of the beast for a little while as he continues to work all things to his glory and for their good (Romans 8:28, Isaiah 43:25, Romans 11:36, Psalm 115:3).
Yet with every drop shed by a martyr, with every job lost for not following the beast, with everyone person restricted from buying and selling, the Lord moulds his people and builds his Jerusalem. The city of truth which will overcome the dark, depraved and seductive city of lies, of Babylon, which is a way unto death for the followers of the beast.
Rome killed the Lamb yet through the Lamb’s death and resurrection, the beast’s destruction was set in stone as the Lamb’s tombstone rolled away and a new way of life made possible for the Lamb’s followers.
Which city will you be part of? Babylon or Jerusalem? Truth or lies? Pleasure or meaning? Seduction or sacrificial love? Worship of man or worship of God? Will you follow the beast or will you follow the Lamb? Will you be a state owned object or the temple of the Holy Spirit?
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? — Jesus, Matt. 16:26
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