The Mark of the Beast

Scripture Concerning the Mark

Revelation introduces something called the “mark of the beast” in chapter 13. In this chapter, we see Satan empowering two human cohorts:

  1. Antichrist – The king of Satan’s final kingdom (Revelation often refers to him as the “beast“).
  2. The False Prophet – The religious leader who convinces people to worship Antichrist.

The False Prophet, in order to fulfill his objective, will make it possible for people to receive this mark of the beast, and he will also make life exceedingly difficult for those who refuse to receive this mark. This mark has spawned many theories and speculations, but we should start with what scripture actually says.

The mark of the beast is first mentioned in the following passage, which is discussing the activities of the False Prophet:

Rev 13:16-18 – 16And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

Furthermore, in Revelation 14 we see that this mark amounts to an eternal death sentence for all who receive it.

Rev 14:9-11 – 9Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

Theories and Worries about the Mark

These passages concerning the “mark of the beast” have sparked some imaginative theories about what exactly it will be, and they have produced some serious consternation among Christians.

Many of the theories involve relatively modern technology, for example:

  • The mark will be an RFID tag (Radio Frequency IDentification) like those inserted into pets for identification purposes.
  • The mark will be a UPC code such as those used to identify store products.
  • The mark will be printed using invisible RFID ink.
  • The mark will be a chip that connects us (or our minds) to a worldwide network of computers.

Christians often feel worried about the mark because it raises some disturbing questions:

  • Can a person be forced to receive the mark?
  • Might someone receive it out of ignorance, only to later discover the terrible truth?
  • Is it impossible to change your mind after receiving the mark and have it removed?

Understanding the Mark of the Beast

Several of the proposed theories assume that the mark of the beast is some sort of device that identifies each person who receives the mark (such as the RFID tag). However, scripture describes the mark as “either the name of the beast or the number of his name”. From this, we see that its purpose is not to identify the person who has the mark, but to identify the beast as the object of that person’s worship.

Recall that in chapter 7,we saw that 144,000 Jews shall be given the seal of God on their foreheads. We are told more about this seal in Rev 14:1 – “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.

Notice the similarity:

  • The seal of God, bearing the names of the Lamb and the Father, is placed on the forehead of the 144,000 Jewish servants.
  • The mark of the beast, bearing the name or number of Antichrist, is placed on the forehead or hand of its recipients.

It appears that the mark of the beast is mimicking the seal of God.

Since the seal of God identifies its recipients as devoted servants of Christ (the Lamb of Rev 14:4), it figures that the mark of the beast will identify its recipients as devoted servants of Antichrist (the beast). This idea is supported in chapter 14 because there we see that receiving the mark goes hand-in-hand with worshiping the beast:

Rev 14:9 – Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand
Rev 14:11 – “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

Satan’s final kingdom will feature a deception based on a counterfeit Christianity. We see Satan answering the holy trinity with a counterfeit “unholy trinity”. He answers true miracles with counterfeit miracles. It appears that the death and resurrection of Christ will be answered by a counterfeit death and resurrection of Antichrist. Now, we see that he will also answer the seal of God with the counterfeit mark of the beast. As with the other counterfeits, it will be as similar as possible to its holy counterpart while being opposite in its objective.

Therefore, the mark of the beast is a way for a person to publicly declare himself or herself as a true worshiper of Antichrist. In this regard, it is essentially a Satanic form of baptism.

Why would someone want the mark?

Much of the whole (unbelieving) world will follow after and worship the beast (Rev 13:3-4). These people will be deceived into thinking that Antichrist is their savior. For them, receiving the mark will be an opportunity to openly display their devotion toward him, as well as to distinguish themselves from Antichrist’s hated enemies.

In addition, the False Prophet will decree that only people who have the mark will be able to buy and sell (Rev 13:17). I believe that most of Antichrist’s devoted worshipers would gladly receive his mark even without this economic incentive. The restriction on buying and selling will most likely be a device to expose Christians who do not want to receive the mark. This tactic will compel Christians to resort to dangerous measures just for survival.

How does someone receive the mark?

This is perhaps the most important question for Christians who are worried that they might be forced to receive the mark, or that they might receive it out of ignorance and still suffer the consequences.

The key verse here is Rev 13:16: “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead”. The word “causes” (the Greek word poiei) should not be taken to mean “forces”, as if the one receiving the mark has no say in the matter.

For example, that same Greek word is word is used in John 4:1 as it refers to Jesus making more disciples than John the Baptist. It is also used in Mark 7:37 where people marvel at how Jesus causes the deaf to hear. People were not forced to become disciples against their will, nor were the deaf forced to hear. These things were received very willingly. The passage above is really telling us that the False Prophet will provide a means by which anyone who wants the mark can receive it.

This view is confirmed by Rev 20:4, which tells us that some people will refuse the mark. Also, Rev 19:20 tells us that people were deluded into receiving the mark, which still indicates that they received it willingly. The conditional phrasing of Rev 14:9 also suggests that receiving the mark is a choice.

It is important to remember that most people in those days will earnestly desire to have the mark because they truly do worship Antichrist (in addition to wanting the right to buy and sell). Those who don’t have the mark will soon become hated outcasts.

So, the mark will not be forced upon anyone against their will. On the contrary, it’s far more likely that the mark of the beast is something that must be earned.

How will people earn the mark of the beast?

No good pastor would want to baptize a person unless he had some confirmation that this person’s faith in Christ was genuine. In the same way, those seeking the mark of the beast will need to confirm that they are genuinely devoted to Antichrist. They will almost certainly be required to pass some sort of screening process that demonstrates their true devotion to Antichrist.

The screening procedure may be similar to what happened back in the days of emperor worship during the reign of Roman emperor Trajan. At that time, Christians were viewed as heretics and a threat to the government — a capital offense. Some people suspected of being Christians were brought before a governor who is known to us as Pliny the Younger, and Pliny wrote about how he tested them. In order to avoid the death sentence, Pliny required people to call upon pagan gods with prayers that he dictated to them. They also had to offer prayers and incense to emperor Trajan’s image. Finally, Pliny ordered them to curse Christ, because this was something that Pliny said, “true Christians are unable to do”. Pliny also wrote this: “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed”.

During the great tribulation, anyone who wants to be able to buy or sell will need to apply for the right to do so, and these applicants may need to pass the screening process devised by the False Prophet. This screening process could likewise call for applicants to openly worship an image of Antichrist and denounce Christ. This idea receives support from Rev 13:15 – “And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed“. The true Christians will demonstrate their faith by refusing to commit idolatry, just as Daniel’s friends had refused to worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:11-12. This refusal may very well cost them their lives, as it did for the true Christians who faced Pliny the Younger.

Can a Christian receive the mark?

The scripture is clear that those who receive the mark will be among the condemned. This tells us that the mark of the beast will serve as a test as to whether the professing Christian is a true Christian or not. In other words, no true Christian will receive the mark, because receiving the mark exposes the recipient as non-Christian. This supports the idea that receiving the mark will go hand in hand with denying Christ.

There will probably be many people who will profess to be Christians and yet they will be willing to receive the mark. They shall be counted among the many who “fall away” (Matt 24:10) and among those who partake in the great apostasy (2 Thes 2:3). Several well-known professing Christians may even be among those who receive the mark, and this will add to the effectiveness of the great deception (Matt 24:11, Matt 24:24).

If a professing Christian is willing to receive the mark, having earned it by worshiping Antichrist and denying Christ, then this person is and shall remain an unbeliever. Christ warned, Matt 10:33 “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

Might a professing Christian receive the mark and later regret it? Possibly, but then Judas felt regret after he betrayed Christ, and his regrets didn’t save him (Matt 26:24-25, John 17:12).

What will the mark look like?

It is impossible to know with certainty, but Rev 13:18 suggests that it will involve the number 666. I tend to favor the more literal view that this mark will be some sort of visible marking on the forehead or right hand, as the scriptures describe it. There are countless speculations about what it that number means — some more defensible than others — but speculations all the same. Christians should be very cautious about such speculations.

This mark and the number 666 is discussed further in the chapter 13 commentary.

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