What Is The Mark of the Beast?
Guys. I’ve done it. I’ve solved the puzzle. Finally, after 2,000 years, because of my hard work and intellectual prowess, we can now know exactly what the mark of the beast is. Every towering genius of the past quakes before me. This mystery, which has been studied and debated by scholars of Scripture for centuries, will now finally be revealed in this blog post. By me. A genius. No. Even better: A galaxy-brained genius.
Ok, so maybe I don’t know what the mark of the beast actually is. The book of Revelation is super confusing, and the further we get from the time of its writing, the more difficult it is for us to discern its mysteries. It’s not written in a straightforward way. It’s timeline is most likely non-linear. The images, exploding off the page as they do, are so vivid and strange that they mask the reality to which they point. Is it past? Is it present? Is it future? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” It is all of these. It is history and prophecy, of both the physical and spiritual realms. It is current events — the news. It was the news. It is the news. It will be the news. Get it? Hardly. But I do have some thoughts.
The book of Revelation was the news, is the news, and will be the news.
Lots of folks think we’re living in the days prophesied in Revelation — the end times. People have always thought this, though, and I have a feeling that they’ve always been a little bit wrong but a whole lot right. We’ve been living in the last days ever since Jesus ascended back into the Father’s presence. His death, resurrection, and ascension kicked off an entirely new age in world history. We’re in the last days, the last phase of this world before Jesus makes everything new. The end is near! We’re just not quite to the last hour yet.
The Mark of the Beast in Revelation
Even so, we should always be prepared, and for followers of Jesus that means paying attention to the mark of the beast. We read about the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:16-18. Here’s what we know about it:
- The second beast is the one who makes everyone get it. There aren’t any exceptions made for people in power. Rich and poor, free and slave, small and great — everyone has to take the mark.
- It is placed on both the right hand and the forehead.
- It is the necessary means for economic participation. There is no buying or selling without the mark. This is why a lot of folks, even from when I was in high school in the early ’90s, thought that the mark would be a microchip implanted in the hand. Incredibly, this is already happening.
- It is the name of the first beast or the number of its name. So it seems that there are two options for the mark, one which is the direct name of the beast, and another being the number of the beast’s name, which is a bit more subtle.
- Except that the number of the beast’s name is 666. Some translations say that this is the number of humanity, while others say that it is the number of an individual man. (There is a very compelling theory that the number 666 refers to the Hebrew transliteration of the Greek name Nero Caesar. The Hebrew version of this is Nrvn Qsr, and in the Hebrew alphanumeric system this string, when used as numbers, adds up to 666.)
So that’s what we know. But it’s not like we can just take all of that at face value, either. After all, we know that both the first beast and the second beast aren’t actually beasts. They aren’t chaos monsters that literally come up out of the ocean like Godzilla. The imagery represents something real. We’re dealing with metaphors all over the place in Revelation. (For example, Jesus is pictured as a slain lamb. But he’s not actually a lamb. That imagery points to the reality that he is the perfect sacrifice that atones for the sin of humanity.)
The Mark as a Metaphor
So what if the mark of the beast is a metaphor, too? What if it’s not a microchip, tattoo, barcode, or vaccine? What if the mark of the beast is a vivid image that points to a spiritual reality, something altogether real but a little less tangible? What if the second beast doesn’t mark us with a needle or a machine so that we follow the beast; what if he just persuades us?
Think about this for a minute. The mark is given on the right hand and the forehead. What are those symbols of? Action and thought. The second beast marks us with the first beast’s name by persuading us to do what the first beast wants us to do and to think what the first beast wants us to think. The beast brainwashes us, and the mark of the beast is a metaphor for how we show allegiance to the beast in our actions and our thoughts. You don’t have to go to some government intake center to have the mark printed on you or implanted within you. You already bear the mark if you simply believe and obey the beast.
You already bear the mark if you simply believe and obey the beast.
Let me be clear about this. The important part of the description of the mark of the beast isn’t that it’s a mark, it’s where it is supposedly placed. The right hand is a metaphor for strength and action. The forehead is a metaphor for thought and belief. The mark of the beast is commitment to the beast in thought and deed. It is a total surrender to the beast’s way of life and an absolute belief in the beast’s philosophy and ideology. In my opinion, we shouldn’t be worrying about a microchip being implanted into our bodies (I mean, we actually should be worrying about that, but not because it might be the mark of the beast). Nobody gets the mark by accident. What we should be concerned about is what we think and what we do.
Comply or Conquer
In Revelation, the beast forces his way of life upon humanity. Nobody can participate in the economy unless they believe and obey him. Only those who bear his mark in their minds and demonstrate their allegiance to him through their actions can participate in society. Everyone else is an outcast, doomed to die for their resistance to the beast’s ideology. The beast is all, and sees all. There is no escaping. There is no hiding. There is no going along to get along. There is no pluralism, no separate economy for those who don’t want to get the mark. The beast’s state is a totalitarian regime, and the price for refusing to submit your strength and your mind to the beast is a gruesome death.
The mark of the beast is commitment to the beast in thought and deed.
The only choice we have is to comply with the beast, or conquer him. The theme of Revelation is that the saints of God will eventually conquer the beast. They won’t do this by their strength or cunning, but by laying down their lives, even as Christ, the sacrificial lamb, laid down his life. “We shall overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.” Those who comply with the beast share in the beast’s fate. Those who do not will conquer it in Christ. Comply or conquer: these are our only choices.
The Most Important Question
The real question, the truly important one, isn’t, “What is the mark of the beast?” The most important question is, “What is the beast?” The mark means nothing if nobody has any idea who or what the beast is. How can you swear allegiance to something if you don’t even know it exists? And if the mark really is what I think it is — total commitment to the beast in thought and deed — then we need to be on the lookout for that which matches the beast’s description.
For the first readers of Revelation it was obvious that the beast was Rome. Everything fits, right down to the number of Nero’s name — 666. And I think that’s right. The beast is Rome. But Rome was conquered. You might even say that pagan Rome was conquered by the Church. We won! We conquered the beast by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. And yet, Jesus still hasn’t returned. It’s been over 1,000 years since pagan Rome fell, so why hasn’t Jesus come back to set up his rule and reign here on the earth? Does this mean that Rome wasn’t the real beast? Not necessarily. Jesus’s delay in returning may point to a far more frightening reality about the beast — that there is more than one “first beast.”
You see, believers are always at war. There are beasts in every generation and every culture. Sometimes, like in Rome, they are overt. They persecute believers and put them to death. Why? Because they refused to obey the beast and believe in him. But not every beast looks like a beast. Some beasts are covert, hiding their ghastly faces behind an attractive veil. It’s easy to be drawn in by an attractive beast. His ways sure look and sound like righteousness. His teachings sound a lot like the truth. But every beast ultimately wages war against the lamb and his people. Attractive or hideous, the beasts will destroy everyone who refuses to pledge their allegiance through thought and deed.
I’m not going to speculate on the beast that we face, but that’s not because I haven’t thought about it. I have. And I think it’s taking off the veil to show us just how terrifying it really is. But I’m not sure we see it for what it really is, or at least not many of us. We’ve been persuaded that the beast is good and wise. We’ve been convinced to pledge our allegiance to it, to fight for it, and to protect it. In other words, many of us have already been marked. We bear the name and number of the beautiful beast, but we’re about to see just how ugly it truly is. But by then it will be too late.
Wash your hands now, and purify your minds. Return to the lamb lest you suffer the beast’s fate. He will be conquered. They always are. The lamb is undefeated.