SYNOPSIS – In Revelation, “all” means “all.” All the “inhabitants of the earth” that refuse to follow the Lamb will render homage to the Beast.
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” often focus on the significance of its number – ‘666’ – and understandably so. Christians wish to understand what the “mark” is to avoid taking it. To better understand the ramifications of taking this “mark,” it is important to appreciate how the book of Revelation contrasts the “mark of the beast” with the “seal of God” – (Revelation 7:1-3, 13:16-18).
The “mark” is the satanic counterpart to the “seal of God.” Those who take the “mark” give their allegiance to the “beast.” In contrast, men and women who receive the “sea of God” follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” Thus, the book divides humanity into two groups: those whose “names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” and those whose names are not, and therefore, are destined for the “lake of fire.”
Revelation was written to churches in the first-century Roman Empire. Some of them were experiencing pressure from political authorities to conform to local religious practices, especially involvement in the imperial cult with divine honors paid to the emperor – offering incense and other tokens of allegiance to Caesar.
In the ancient world, there was no concept of the separation of religion and state; political ideology, religious and cultural practices were all intermingled. One’s religion was determined by one’s place of origin. The Roman government left local populations alone to practice their indigenous religions, though Rome expected all residents of the empire to pay homage to Caesar.
At least five of the seven cities named in Revelation featured temples for the emperor or Roma, the patron goddess of the city of Rome. Citizens were free to worship traditional gods; however, on public occasions, they were expected to offer incense to the image of the emperor, and otherwise acknowledge him as chief patron and lord of the empire.
To venerate the emperor was a religious and political act – it demonstrated allegiance to Rome. Refusal to do so constituted disloyalty. Christians were taught to be law-abiding citizens of the empire, but their faith also required them to acknowledge only one “Lord” – Jesus Christ. Persecution by Rome was inevitable – (Romans 13:1-7).
This conflict is reflected in the Greek verbs used in Revelation for “worship.” The Greek terms employed include the verb latreuō and the verb proskuneō. Latreuō denotes the “rendering of divine service,” usually for priests serving in a Temple setting. It occurs twice in Revelation for priestly service to God. Proskuneō occurs twenty-four times. It is a compound of the preposition pros, “towards,” and the verb kuneō, “to kiss,” hence “to kiss towards” or prostrate oneself – Derived meanings include “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere,” and “venerate” – The deference and honor paid to a superior being. To “render homage” is to give one’s absolute allegiance. Proskuneō is used in this sense in Revelation, whether for “giving allegiance” to God, Jesus, or the “beast” – (Revelation 7:15, 22:3).
In chapter 13, two groups are presented – The “inhabitants of the earth,” and those who “tabernacle in heaven”. Awed by the “beast,” the first group “rendered homage to the beast,” demonstrating that “their names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb” – (Revelation 13:6-7, 12:12).
Next, the “beast from the earth” appeared, the “False Prophet.” He mimics the “Lamb.” He has “two horns like a lamb” and uses religious deception (“great signs”) to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to “render homage to the beast.” Without exception, all the “inhabitants of the earth” were deceived by him into giving allegiance to the “beast” – (Revelation 13:14-16, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).
They who “tabernacle in heaven” are identified as “saints,” the same group targeted for destruction by the “Dragon” – those who “keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus.” Their names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” – (Revelation 3:5, 12:17, 13:7, 14:12, 21:27).The “mark of the beast” is the counterfeit and parody of the “seal of God” received by the “servants of our God,” a group elsewhere identified as the followers of the “Lamb.” This “sealed” company is identical to the “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue” redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – (Revelation 5:9-11, 7:9-17).
The “seal of God” identifies those who belong to Jesus who are preserved through the coming fiery trials. Believers are not removed from the earth to escape tribulation but equipped to endure it. Their identification with the “Lamb” spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” especially the “second Death” – (Revelation 2:11, 20:6).
Men and women who “render homage to the image of the Beast” receive a “mark on their right hand or forehead.” Without it, a person cannot participate in the economic life of society. Anyone who refuses the “mark” faces execution. The “mark” is further described as the “name of the beast” and the “number of his name” – (Revelation 13:11-14:5).
In contrast, men and women who belong to the “Lamb” have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads.” They are found before the Throne where they “sing a new song” that no one else can learn. These are the men and women “redeemed from the earth by the Lamb.” Anyone who renders homage to the Beast automatically takes its mark. In contrast, anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” receives the name of the “Lamb” and of his Father on the forehead – (Revelation 3:12, 7:1-3, 14:1-5).
If the “seal of God” is a figurative and not a literal, the same holds true for the “mark of the Beast.” This is how Revelation divides humanity into two groups. God “seals” all who give their allegiance to the “Lamb.” All who render homage to the “Beast” take its “mark” and have their names “not written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
This connection is made clear when an angel warned – “Anyone who renders homage to the beast and his image and receives its mark will drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.” To give allegiance to the Beast is tantamount to taking its “mark” – (Revelation 14:9-11).
The divine “wrath” endured by the followers of the “beast” is not a series of plagues, but the full and everlasting wrath “prepared unmixed.” Impenitent men are tormented “with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascends unto the ages of the ages.” This is the final judgment when the wicked are cast into the lake of fire – the “second death” – (Revelation 20:11-15).
Saints who “keep the faithfulness of Jesus” overcome the “beast.” This is group is seen standing on the glassy sea before the Throne of God where they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb” – (Revelation 15:2-4).
In contrast to the “inhabitants of the earth,” the faithful followers of Jesus “render homage before” the Lord. Those who refuse to give allegiance to the “beast” will “live and reign with Christ” – (Revelation 20:4).