Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” focus on questions about what it is – a medical implant, barcode, tattoo – and especially on the significance of its “number” – ‘666.’ As interesting and important as these questions are, issues of far more relevance to the Christian must be addressed – How is this mark implemented? How does a believer avoid taking it or the “number of the beast”?
The popular tendency is to picture the “False Prophet” busily compelling anyone and everyone to take the “mark of the beast,” using economic pressure, threats of imprisonment, or worse for all who refuse it. Apparently, men and women will have no choice but to take the “mark” or suffer deadly consequences. Take the “mark” or starve! Not an easy choice for anyone to make.
Almost certainly, when the “beast” does appear, his reign will include an element of coercion. However, the book of Revelation does NOT free individuals from personal responsibility for rendering homage to the “beast” – Christian or not.
When he appears on the world scene, the “beast from the earth,” the “False Prophet,” will cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to take the “mark of the Beast.” He will “deceive those who are dwelling upon the earth,” so that, they will make an image of the “beast from the sea.” Furthermore, he will “cause” everyone to take its “mark” or “number” – (Revelation 13:11-18).
The last statement indicates the “mark” is imposed by the “False Prophet” on both the willing and the unwilling. However, this is not the complete story.
The “beast from the earth” certainly sets the process in motion, however, recipients of the “mark” are consciously involved – “Taking” it is part and parcel of “rendering homage to the beast.” The “False Prophet” may use deceit and threats wherever needed, nonetheless, the “inhabitants of the earth” are willing participants in the procedure.
In the seven “bowls of wrath,” the first bowl caused “a painful ulcer upon men, those having the mark of the beast and those rendering homage to his image.” “Having” and “rendering homage” represent present tense Greek participles in the active voice. The active voice means that the subject performs the action. That is, the individuals involved actively engage in taking the “mark” – They embrace the system, which is why they suffer the plagues unleashed by the “bowls of wrath” – (Revelation 16:1-2).
In the vision of the “Rider on a White Horse,” the “beast” and the “False Prophet” were cast into the “Lake of Fire” because they “deceived those having taken the mark of the beast.” Again, an active voice participle is used. “Having taken” or lambanō in this clause means to “take,” not to “receive” the “mark” – (Revelation 19:17-21).
Finally, those who reign with Christ for a thousand years do so because “they did not render homage to the beast” and “did not take its mark.” Once again, active voice verbs are used, in this case, for actions NOT taken by followers of the “Lamb.” Their decision is contrasted to that of the “inhabitants of the earth” who chose to give their allegiance to the “beast” – (Revelation 20:4-6).
When the “beast” arrives, Christians and non-Christians alike will have a choice – Whether to bow to the Beast or not. All will be held responsible for their choice – To follow the “beast” or the “Lamb”.
Thus, Christians must exercise extreme caution before blindly embracing the societal values of the existing world order or submitting blindly to the demands of any political regime.
The seven churches of Asia were not immune from the danger, especially the church at Laodicea. This congregation became reliant on the material prosperity provided by the local economy; so much so, the only option remaining was for it to embrace faithfulness to Jesus by undergoing fiery trials. As Jesus warned the “angel” from Laodicea:
“Because you say, I am rich, and have gotten riches and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked; I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe thyself, and that the shame of your nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see” – (Revelation 3:17).