Whenever there are disasters in the world, the biblical prophecy nuts go into high gear. The question of whether the coronavirus is a sign of the end times has been answered in a previous blog, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss another hot topic that I keep hearing people talk about: the mark of the beast!
As I mentioned before, I hold to a futurist view of the book of Revelation, and I tend toward more literal interpretation. Some think the mark of the beast refers to a past individual. Popular candidates are the Roman Emperors Nero, Caligula or Domitian, all of whom have been identified with the number 666 through clever (though not compelling) numerological schemes. The very fact that this number has been identified with at least three distinct individuals shows that it identifies none of them with any clarity. Other interpreters take this number to be symbolic way of describing the powers that oppose God and his kingdom throughout the present age.
My purpose here is not to refute different viewpoints on interpreting Revelation. Those wishing to understand why I favor a futurist approach are once again directed to my essay, “The Hermeneutics of the Revelation: A Canonical Approach.” In this blog I am addressing those who believe that there will be a real antichrist, who will come to power at a future period commonly called “the tribulation.” I believe this understanding is correct, but a lack or real biblical understanding often leads to some rather silly views associated with it. One such view is that the “mark of the beast” is something that people will be tricked into taking on accident, without realizing what they are doing. Sometimes this is mark is identified with bar codes, or computer chips, which will be implanted into human beings for various purposes. The latest theory I have encountered is that the mark will be a microchip implant to supposedly inoculate people from the coronavirus. A sinister plot hatched by that ever-so-likely antichrist candidate Bill Gates. According to fact check mogul snopes.com, the claim that Gates plans to do this is false, but such evidence would not hold much sway among those who ascribe to conspiracy theories. They tend to view fact check websites with quite a bit of skepticism. Sometimes this skepticism is justified, but luckily, we have God’s Word to guide us into truth on an issue like this one.
I believe that the Bible strongly teaches that there will be an antichrist figure, also called “the abomination of desolation” and “the man of lawlessness,” who will rise to become a world dictator for a short time during the tribulation period. He is first mentioned in the book of Daniel.
Daniel 7:7-8 describes a beast with ten horns. As this symbolism is interpreted by an angel to Daniel, we see that beasts and horns symbolically represent kingdoms and their kings, and sometimes these are thought of interchangeably (Dan 7:23-35). These verses describe the last in a succession of beasts, and looking at the fulfillment of the prophecy historically, we see that this final beast represents the Roman Empire. The problem is that we do not see anything like that these horns describe anywhere in the history of the Roman Empire. In Roman history, we do not see a group of ten kings ruling together in a large scale kingdom. This leads some scholars to the conclusion that this does not describe a Roman Empire of the past at all, but rather moves from historical Rome to describing a future kingdom that Rome symbolically represents. This sort of dual reference is common in OT prophecy. Verse 8 describes a boastful “little horn,” who arose from the ten, apparently consolidating the power of the kingdom for himself. Some of us believe this little horn is the same individual as the “Abomination of Desolation” in Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Prophecy (Dan 9:27). His future coming is mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet discourse, which in many ways parallels the book of Revelation (Matthew 24:15). 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which is not prophetic literature, gives a pretty straightforward summary of the career of the antichrist, who is there called “The man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3). I must resist temptation to enter into a thorough explanation of these passages and allow you to study them on your own if you so desire.
The biblical motif of the antichrist and his short-lived world kingdom is brought together in Revelation 13. I believe that Satan’s goal has always been to be like God (Isa 14:14). When he makes his greatest attempt, during the tribulation period, he makes a sham attempt to mimic the holy Trinity with what some have called “the unholy trinity.” In chapter 12, Satan was described with the symbolism of a dragon, and this symbolism continues through the book. In chapter 13, the dragon attempts to assume the role of God the Father, with the first beast functioning as his false Christ who establishes the counterfeit kingdom in the dragon’s power. The second beast then leads the whole world in worshipping the first beast and the dragon, functioning as a counterfeit for the Holy Spirit.
Part of the “ministry” of the second beast was to cause force people to receive the mark of the first beast:
It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666 (Rev 13:16-18).
This passage is the crucial one for our discussion. The first thing we must observe is that the second beast forced all people to receive the mark. He didn’t trick them. They weren’t confused about what they were doing. They did not think the mark represented some benign purpose of finding lost children with a tracking signal or signing into their bank accounts. Worship is not something you do on accident! It arises either from true devotion or coercion.
Yes, there is a commercial dimension to the mark: “so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark” (v. 17). But this is part of the coercion. It is not a sneaky secret. It is intended to starve people into worshipping the beast of their own free will.
Why the mark of the beast? Because it is a clear identification with the beast. It is not the number 666 secretly slipped into an implanted barcode or computer chip. It is a mark of clear, open and deliberate identification. Why and how this will be an identification is unclear to us now but will be clear at the time. Verse 13 tells us that the mark is the number of the beast’s name. Verse 18 tells us that the number can be calculated and thus identified.
The late Robert Thomas observed that the disagreement among those who have tried to identify this number as a historical figure demonstrates that no historical figure has fit the bill. The identification will be clear to all: “great and small, rich and poor, free and slave” (V. 16). This identification will not only be obvious to experts in biblical numerology, it will be obvious to all. Thus, if even our biblical numerology experts can’t agree, he ain’t shown up yet!
What is the significance to 666? While there is much we do not know, I would cautiously suggest that there is a dual agenda: God’s reason and Satan’s reason. From God’s perspective we should note that 6 precedes 7, and 7 is a number often associated with God. This is why we see 7 and its multiples throughout the book of Revelation. Next we may note that, against the Hebrew background of the book of Revelation, a threefold repetition is a strong way to emphasize something. When Isaiah entered God’s presence, the Seraphim called out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). In Revelation 4, the four living creatures echo this same praise: “‘Holy, holy, holy the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8).
“Holy, holy, holy” is a way of saying that God is really, really holy. Given the connection of the number 7 with God, I think we can safely say that the number is representative of deity, and thus holiness. The true doctrine of the Trinity tells us that Jesus shares fully in the Father’s deity, and thus is holy, holy, holy. But no matter how hard Satan tries to create a false Christ, and no matter how much satanic power he endows him with, the antichrist is still just 666. Unlike the exalted divine-human Messiah, he’s just a man, a bad one at that!
So why would Satan use this number? My guess is that this is because he has been associated with the number since the late AD 90s, when John wrote the Book of Revelation under divine inspiration. According to the will of God, it’s Satan’s number, and everyone knows it. So, in the end – in Satan’s counterfeit kingdom – this is a chance for Satan to say, “Hah! They’re worshipping me! They chose 666.”
As to the nature of the mark, I think the best guess is that it will be an actual tattoo, or some other form of permanent marking, on people’s foreheads or right hands. I believe the mark will actually say “666.” As I said, this number is already associated with Satan’s kingdom, and Satan delights in turning truth on his head and acting like evil things are good things. The text does seem to indicate that this number will have some relation to the name of the first beast, but to know that relation, we would have to know what his name will be, and we don’t!
The point is that, whether an actual 666, as I believe, or whether some mark that clearly delineates this number, there will be no confusion as to the fact that receiving this mark means worshipping the beast. It will mean worshipping the beast, on purpose, either to save one’s skin or because one genuinely adores him.
So, do not be afraid: no one is going to trick you, your friends or your children into receiving the mark of the beast. If they do receive it, they will do so on purpose. Perhaps, rather than warning Christians about accidentally taking the mark of the beast, our efforts are better spent telling in non-believers that there is a real God, a real devil, a real judgment coming and real a salvation available.
On a personal note. I will not allow anyone to implant
any sort of barcode or chip in my body. It seems invasive, over-reaching, and generally
a bad idea. Something can be ill advised without being the mark of the beast.
 This sort of identification usually (though not always) goes along with a view of Revelation called “preterism,” which views most of the events as having taken place in the past.
 This usually goes along with the “idealist” approach to interpreting Revelation, though some idealists identify this number with a historical figure.
To understand the major approaches from their own perspective I recommend Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary, ed., Steve Gregg (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997 and Four Views on the Book of Revelation, ed. C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
 See Vik, “The Hermeneutics of the Revelation,” 12-17.
 E.g., Gleason L. Archer, Jr. “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 7 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 87; J. Dwight Pentecost, “Daniel,” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1985),1354.
 Or “near-far.”
 To defend the validity of this prophetic dynamic is beyond the scope of this blog. This point is not generally debated by futurists, and non-futurists are not generally worried about taking the mark of the beast.
 Which is, of course, not a real trinity.
 Satan is explicitly identified with the dragon in 20:2.
 Using the past tense in keeping with the passage, though, of course, this will happen in the future.
 Robert L. Thomas Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 692.
 We should note that a few Greek manuscripts read 616, but I am not discussing this variant because it is unlikely. See the translation note in the NET Bible (https://netbible.org/bible/Revelation+13 ).