What is the Mark of the Beast?
“It (a beast) forced all the people, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads, so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name” Revelation 13:16-17
Have you ever heard something like the following?
“Isaac, we are living in the last times. The events of Revelation are coming to pass as we speak. Our Bible and the News are practically talking about the same things. The Antichrist is near, and maybe among us. I know this because THEY have already made the computer chips that they are going to implant in the foreheads and hands of all the world to control them. The Mark of the Beast is nearly here and we need to be strong to resist it! I am surely not taking the mark, no way. Some Christians, even those you know will not be prepared and they will take the mark.”
The above paragraph is sort of a bad dream to me. If only waking up would make it go away. As many of us know, this is no dream. It’s repetition by many evangelical Christians over the last 60-100 years is like a flood. Popular preachers and authors keep giving this narrative an aura of truth that dupes many Christians. My hope in this post is that we can avoid the sensationalism this narrative brings and be more biblical. Here is my critique.
FIRST, In the Modern Narrative above, I put “THEY” in bold, because anytime I ask who “they” actually are, no one can ever tell me specifically. Very foggy or general answers are given such as, “billionaires” or “politicians” or even “the Catholic Church.” The “they” ends up being lost in the haze of “no one in particular.” This should be our first clue to the Modern Narratives flimsy foundation.
SECOND, Being part of an ‘in-group’ with ‘classified’ knowledge can feel good. In fact, thinking Revelation is pointing to our time period and country can serve our ego well. But why should we be so privileged? Why should we, of all time periods, finally have arrived at the truth? Why should a letter addressing Christians near the Middle East have anything to do with America? Revelation was written to a group of people that did not even know America existed.
THIRD, The book of Revelation was written to a people that were being persecuted under the Emperor Domition. If we are going to understand the “Mark of the Beast” we have to understand what it meant for the people the book was written to. Another way of saying this, is that this text bears nothing on our current situation in any direct way. One of the first rules of interpreting a passage of Scripture, is to consider the context of a passage. This rule also means that we must exclude our own situation and time period when first trying to understand a passage of antiquity. To read our situation into the passage does violence to the original intent of the author. Revelation tends to be the book where everyone forgets about all rules of interpretation. We must not.
FOURTH, When Revelation was written, and partly why it was written, the Emperor Domition was forcing all those in his empire to worship him. This situation was nothing like America. If this happened in America there would be a great rebellion, because we have freedom of worship and American government is quite different. Americans claim their individual rights even over small items. Back in 96A.D. however, there were no ‘rights,’ There was an emperor.
This power and hierarchy forced groups and individuals to vie for favor by pledging their allegiance with statements of support or even gifts. One group that did this was the worker unions. Unions pledged their worship to the Empire, and could make it a requirement for those who joined. This was the problem for Christians, and this was the now too famous “MARK of the BEAST.”
The Mark of the Beast was worshiping Domition. Given that trade was controlled by unions which required worship of Domition, Christians were losing their livelihood. The question before some was, “Could they pledge worship to Domition while having their fingers crossed so they could get jobs?” The answer that Revelation gives is a big “No!” Christians inherited their faith from Israel, and over and again we find that they were only to worship God. The message was basically, “even if you lose your job, don’t worship the Beast (Emperor).”
The point of the forehead or hand in the passage quoted above, was symbolic of authority. The “mark” simply could not have been a computer chip in 96A.D. As Christian people, our sign of authority is the cross of Jesus Christ. One of the ways we make this clear in our church year, is on Ash Wednesday. We receive the mark of the cross as we acknowledge our mortality all the while trusting in Christ for eternal life.
Was Revelation talking about a computer chip? NO.
Can controlling governments still emulate the same wicked ways as Domition did in 96A.D.? A quick look at history, and even some parts of the world today, suggests the answer is yes. Right now, Belarus is going through a real difficult time as their people are yearning for democracy. China has been known for persecuting God’s people and controlling the assemblies that name of the name of Jesus. Some Middle Eastern Countries make the worship of Christ illegal.
If Revelation is not about our time period, then how is it relevant for us?
The author of “The Apocalypse” (Revelation), wrote a message that the powers of God will preserve his people through great tribulation. The Christians of 96A.D. needed to have a picture of what is happening behind the scenes. Revelation pictured the Resurrected Lord Jesus ruling and reigning from the throne of God. We learn that when all the forces of evil are judged and deposed by God, the followers of Christ will be welcome into a harmonious place which is radiating with the presence of God.
This message is still good for today. Despite pain, suffering, and world shaking events, God can still guide us through difficulty.
My other three posts on this subject can be found here.