SYNOPSIS – When we imbibe the values of the existing world order, we begin to take the “mark of the Beast” – Revelation 13:16-17.
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” concentrate on deciphering the significance of its number – ‘666.’ Understandably, we wish to discover its meaning to avoid taking it. However, to understand it we must recognize the scriptural background behind the number, the relationship of the “mark” to the “seal of God”, the consequences of taking or refusing it, and the identities of the two groups that result from this decision.
The “mark of the Beast” is the satanic counterpart to the “seal of God.” In the book of Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” give allegiance to the “Beast” in contrast to the “saints” who receive the “seal of God” and follow the “Lamb.”
The book divides humanity into two groups – One comprised of men and women whose names are written in the “book of Life,” and the other consisting of those who are destined for the “lake of Fire.” Whether they receive the “seal of God” or take the “mark of the Beast” determines whether they stand before the “Lamb” in New Jerusalem or the “great white Throne of judgment” where they are cast into the “lake of fire” – (Revelation 7:9-17, 20:11-15).
(Revelation 13:16-17) – “And he causes all — the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, — that they should give unto them a mark, upon their right hand or upon their forehead; that no one should buy or to sell, except he that has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”
The historical setting is the province of Asia in the Roman Empire at the end of the first century A.D. The churches were experiencing pressure from the local population and governing authorities. One issue was the imperial cult – The veneration of the emperor and Roma, the patron goddess of Rome. Very probably, the pressure to participate in the cult was being applied to the Christian congregations.
Citizens were free to worship their traditional gods. But on some public occasions, it was expected that all city residents would offer homage to the image of the emperor – Chief patron and “lord” of the empire. By Roman law, Jews were exempt from this requirement. When Rome began to view Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism, it became illegal and it lost any legal exemptions it may have previously enjoyed. Consequently, Christians came under pressure to participate in such pagan rituals.
The veneration of the emperor was a religious and a political act – It demonstrated one’s allegiance to Rome. To refuse to participate was an act of disloyalty to Rome.
This situation is reflected in the Greek verbs applied to acts of “worship” in the book of Revelation – proskuneō (Strong’s – #G4352) – Found approximately twenty-four times in the book. Its literal sense is “to kiss toward,” which reflects the ancient practice of prostration before a royal figure. From this sense, derivative meanings include “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere,” and “venerate.”
The term was applied when someone showed deference to a superior being or rank. To “render homage” was to give allegiance. Thus, proskuneō is used for “rendering homage” to the “beast” and its “image.”
“Inhabitants of Earth”
In the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, humanity falls into two groups – The “inhabitants of the earth,” and those who “tabernacle in heaven” – (Revelation 13:6-7, 12:12).
The “inhabitants of the earth” marveled when one of the seven heads of the “Beast” received a death stroke that was then “healed.” Overawed, they rendered “homage to the Beast.” Ultimately, they did so because “their names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb.”
Then, a second beast appeared, the “Beast from the earth” identified later as the “False Prophet.” He mimicked the “Lamb” – He had “two horns like a lamb” – He used religious deception to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to “render homage” (proskuneō) to the “Beast from the sea.”
Those who “tabernacled in heaven” were identical with the “saints,” the men and women who “kept the commandments of God and the faithfulness of Jesus.” Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth,” their names were “written in the Lamb’s book of life.” However, prior to the final destruction of the “Dragon,” the “Beast,” and the “False Prophet,” the “saints” were destined for persecution – (Revelation 3:5, 13:7, 21:27).
The “mark of the Beast” parodies the “seal of God” that was written on the foreheads of his “servants.” It was given to anyone who “followed the Lamb wherever he went.” The “seal” marked out those who belong to the “Lamb” and preserved them through fiery trials – Believers did not avoid tribulation, but their identification with the “Lamb” spared them from God’s judicial “wrath” – the “Second Death” – (Revelation 2:11, 7:1-3, 14:1-5, 20:6).
In contrast, the “mark of the Beast” identifies all men who belong to it – The “inhabitants of the earth.” Men and women who render homage to the “Beast” receive a “mark on their right hand or forehead.” Without it, they are unable to participate in the economic life of society and may face execution. The “mark” is equated with the “name of the beast” and the “number of his name” – (Revelation 13:11-14:5).
Those who belong to the “Lamb” and have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads” are found before the Throne on Zion. Anyone who “renders homage” to the “Beast” has its “mark,” whereas, anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” receives his “Father’s name.”
If the “seal of God” is figurative, so is the “mark of the Beast.” This is how the Revelation divides mankind into two groups – Those who belong to the Lamb, and those who belong to the Beast.
The connection becomes clear when an angel warns – “Anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image and receives its mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, shall drink of the wine of the Wrath of God” – (Revelation 14:9-11).
The “wrath” the followers of the “Beast” is God’s final judicial wrath “prepared unmixed that shall torment all impenitent men 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.” In contrast, all those who “keep God’s commandments and the faithfulness of Jesus” stand before the “Lamb” and the Throne, celebrating in New Jerusalem – (Revelation 7:9-17, 15:1-4, 20:11-15).
Whenever the “Beast” arrives on the world scene, Christians and non-Christians alike will have a choice to make – Whether to bow to the beast and take its mark, or not. If there is a relevant message in this for us today, it is as a warning to exercise painstaking discernment before embracing the political and cultural values of the surrounding society.
When we imbibe the values and ideologies of the existing world order, we begin to take the “mark of the Beast.” Christians must carefully discern to whom they are “rendering homage,” and therefore, whose “mark” they are receiving.