The Mark of the Beast

Our series on heaven has engendered many questions, here is a peripheral one that came up that I wrote a response to today so I thought I would post it…

QUESTION. In your opionion WHAT IS THE MARK BEAST IN REVELATION????? I know it is not a day, computer chip, but a number because of the letters that make 666? So what do you know and how far off am I??? Oh! Revelation speaks about receiving the mark in the right hand or forehead that gives you the mark; and what translations do you have that say what the mark really is???

First, as with all passages of Scripture, context is king.  Many fixate on the mark of the beast  (Revelation 13:16-18; 14:9; 20:4) as if the mark of the beast were the most important image in the book of Revelation.  It is not. It also does not occur in a vacuum.   In fact, in the passage that it is mentioned the mark of the beast is placed in contrast to the mark placed on the 144,000 (Revelation 7:3 and 14:1).  I raise this because the mark of the beast does not stand alone in Revelation but it is nowadays curiously always mentioned alone, or apart from the necessary contrast that is always made in the book.  This is an important contextual observation for the following reason:  If you are going to literalize the mark of the beast, then you must literalize its counterpart which is the mark that is placed on the believers, the mark of Christ/God.
The context of Revelation is much more filled with the mark that is placed on those who believe and persevere than those who don’t believe and concede to the mark of the beast.  This marking (sometimes equated also with “naming”) begins in the letters to the seven churches in the beginning of the book.  In Pergamum those who overcome are given a new name and in Philadelphia this name is “written” on the overcomer, he is marked with this name.  In Revelation 5:9 the song of the Elders speaks of those “purchased for God” and this “marking” is an activity that speaks of ownership, you should think of the branding of cattle for a good corresponding action, in Revelation 14 those who are marked on the forehead are those who have been purchased.  In Revelation 7:3 the bond servants of God are described as those who will be sealed…on their foreheads.  In 9:4 the seal of God on the foreheads protects those who have it from the effects of the 5th trumpet.  This mark is summed up in 14:12 where we are told:  “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” and in Revelation 19 where Jesus is marked also with names written on Him and those names are described as one which no one knows, His name is called the Word of God, on his robe and thigh is written King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Revelation 22:4 pictures those in the new heavens and earth as those who have the name/mark on their forehead.   These are not meant to be understood as literal tattoos, but identifying marks characterizing obedience, allegiance, and action.
So the contrast is made to the mark of the beast, it is a reflection of the marking on the beast who has on his seven heads blasphemous names (13:1).  Those who follow the beast are characterized by allegiance and obedience to the beast, ie. they have his name written on them, they are marked by his mark.  The receiving of a mark is Revelation language for worshipping and following the beast and his ways which means denying the mark of Christ and His ways.  So also the whore of Babylon is marked with a name written on the forehead.  Again, not intended to be understood as a tattoo, but an identifier pointing to allegiance and worship and obedience.
Second, in order to understand Revelation we must travel backwards, not forwards.  What I mean by that is the book of Revelation is steeped in Old Testament imagery and reference.  When you don’t understand something in Revelation start looking first to the Old Testament.
These markings are reflected in the practice of the phylacteries:   “And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.  (Exo 13:9)  This obvious Old Testament imagery cannot be ignored.  The law of God was symbolically placed on the forehead and hand of Israelites to mark them as God’s people.  This is the important OT reference point for our understanding of the mark in Revelation.  The person who placed these symbols on their person was declaring an allegiance to God and a commitment to obedience as a covenant declaration.

I don’t believe that the mark has anything to do with verichip, bar codes or any such thing.  I think the numerological reference (666)  is adequately explained by the text:  it is the number of man.  If we need a more specific referent, I am most comfortable with identifying 666 with Nero.

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  • Curt

    A very interesting read Steve. So would you say that those who do not keep the commandments of God, symbolically wear the mark of the man of lawlessness? For example, If I keep the commandments of God and my neighbor doesn’t keep them, essentially he wears the mark of “Man” (666, for it is mans number) saying in his heart there is no God, I follow my ways!

  • stevebag

    Hey Curt,

    Yes, a variation of the phrase: “by their fruits you shall know them”.

    Also, I think there is connection with the marking to the writing of the law upon the heart and its connection with the marking of the Holy Spirit as a seal in Ephesians, in Revelation that seal is upon the forehead. The correspondence in the New Covenant between Law (behavior or obedience) and the Spirit is huge, as Paul explains in Galatians: Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh., ie. you will bear the fruit of the Spirit, against which there is no law…

  • stevebag

    Just a follow up for you Curt…

    The word stoicheow and stoicheion in the Greek (unfortunately this editor doesn’t support Gk fonts) is an interesting word for the purposes of our discussion on the law (as well as our prior eschatological conversations). It is used in the following verses:

    stoicheow: meaning to hold to, agree with, follow Ac 21:24; Ro 4:12; Gal 5:25; 6:16; Phil 3:16.
    stoicheion: 1. elements (of learning), fundamental principles, letters of the alphabet, ABCs Hb 5:12. This meaning is also possible in passages from Gal and Col under 3 below.—2. elemental substances, elements from which everything is made 2 Pt 3:10, 12.—3. elemental spirits may be the meaning in Gal 4:3, 9; Col 2:8, 20, but mng. 1 above is also possible.* [Cf. stoichiology, relating to the elements composing animal tissues.]
    definitions taken from Lexicon by Gingrich

    For our discussions in this post the Galatians 5:25 reference is most pertinent, walking with would have the connotation of holding to, agreeing with, following, that is doing what the Spirit leads us to do which would have a strict correspondence to the will of God, law of God.

  • Curt

    Steve,
    I think the connection of the writing of the law upon the heart and being sealed with the Spirit is a good one. It can also be found here as well (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27).

    As far as stoicheion goes. It’s hard for me to guess at what he is referring to. In Galations 4:3 it seems like he is talking about the Jews (when we were children) were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But in 4:8-11 Paul is addressing Gentiles who did not know God. Also, in Colossians 2:8,20 Paul links stoicheion to the teachings of men.

    What do you think?

    • stevebag

      I agree that it seems that the audience changes in 4:8, but there is no grammatical foundation for the seeing a change of audience. Paul continues to use the pronoun and doesn’t seem to make a point to be referring to Jew, then Gentile. Especially after 3:28, does it matter? There is neither Jew nor Greek he says, then proceeds to address both. It seems it matters not if pagan or Jew is in mind, any religious expression that is not of faith falls under the category of slavery. Maybe that is why he uses stoicheion instead of nomos, the elementary principles encompass any “law” intended to make righteous, even a non-Jewish stoicheion?? Unbelief, even if couched in the shroud of Judaism remains unbelief, and Jesus is harsh in his criticism of “Jewish” unbelief. They didn’t know God.

  • Curt

    “It seems it matters not if pagan or Jew is in mind, any religious expression that is not of faith falls under the category of slavery.” – Agreed 🙂