SYNOPSIS: Humanity is divided into two groups – men who have the mark of the Beast, and those who bear the name of the Lamb’s Father – Revelation 13:16-18.
The “mark of the Beast” is the Dragon’s counterfeit of the “seal of God” that is placed on the foreheads of the followers of the Lamb. The “inhabitants of the earth” that take this mark are contrasted with the saints who stand on “Zion” with the Lamb and have his Father’s “name written on their foreheads” – (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4, 19:2-5, 22:3-6).
All the “inhabitants of the earth” that take the mark of the Beast are legally authorized to engage in commerce, to “buy and sell.” In contrast, the company standing with the Lamb is comprised of men and women who have been “purchased from the earth.” Because they bear his Father’s name rather than the Beast’s mark, they may not participate in commerce.
This is one of several ways the book of Revelation divides humanity into two and only two distinct groups: men and women who follow the Lamb and the “inhabitants of the earth” that give allegiance to the Beast. There is no middle ground. One is either identified with the “inhabitants of the earth” or with “them who tabernacle in heaven.”
The determining factor is whether one’s name is “written in the book of life of the Lamb.” The designations are not geographical or spatial, but relational – how one responds to the Lamb determines one’s orientation and fate – (Revelation 13:6-10).
(Revelation 13:16-18) – “And he causeth 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; and that no one should be able to purchase [agorazō] or to sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom: he that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is, the number of a man; and his number is 666” (The Emphasized Bible).
The “mark” designates whether one belongs to the Beast. Without it, no one may engage in the economic life of society. The Beast’s mark is also called its “name” and the “number of its name.” Compare the following verses from later chapters:
- (Revelation 14:9-11) – “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receives his mark in his forehead or in his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who rendered homage to the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
- (Revelation 15:2) – “I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.”
- (Revelation 16:2) – “And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast, and upon them which rendered homage to his image.”
- (Revelation 19:20) – “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that rendered homage to his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
- (Revelation 20:4) – “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and who had not rendered homage to the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
To take the mark is the same as rendering homage to the image of the Beast. Receiving the mark on the forehead or right-hand mimics the call to Israel to worship Yahweh alone:
(Deuteronomy 6:5-8) – “You will love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you will teach them diligently to your children, and will talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And your will bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
If the seal of God is figurative and not literal, so is the mark of the Beast. Anyone who gives allegiance to the Beast takes its mark. This understanding is made clear in Revelation 14:9-11 – “Anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image, and receives its mark, will drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.”
The last paragraph in Chapter 13 alludes to a passage from the conclusion of the book of Daniel:
- (Revelation 13:17) – “Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast.”
- (Daniel 12:9-10) – “Shut up and seal the prophecy until the season of the end. Many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined…but none of the wicked will understand; but they that are wise shall understand.”
Only those with wisdom from above are enabled to understand the significance of the mark of the Beast; it cannot be grasped or calculated by means of mathematical formulas or mystical interpretations.
The Beast’s number or ‘666’ is derived from the measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, “Its height was SIXTY AND ITS BREADTH SIX CUBITS.” The number from the book of Daniel reflects the Babylonian sexagesimal base-60 numeral system, in contrast to 10-base systems – (Daniel 3:1-7).
This same passage from Daniel was already employed in verses 14-16 – “He deceives them that dwell on the earth…saying to them that they should make an image to the beast…and he causes as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead.”
The link to the story of the great image of Nebuchadnezzar emphasizes the idolatrous nature of the Beast and the homage it demands.
They who are wise are to “count” (psephizō) the number of the Beast, a verb originally used for “counting with pebbles,” or to “vote by casting pebbles.” It is related to the noun for the “white stone” (psephōn) upon which Jesus will write a “new name” (Revelation 2:14-17). It signifies to tally up the total, in this case, the total of 6, 60, and 600, or 666.
The Beast’s number is part of a pattern in the book of Revelation in which numbers are tripled and even cubed. For example, the number 12 is compounded into 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000). The “ten days of tribulation” become one thousand years (10 x 10 x 10).
The number of the Beast is listed in the Greek text as “Six-hundred sixty [and] six,” or, exakosioi (600) exékonta (60) ex (6), three distinct whole numbers. The listing of three numbers is as important to the understanding of its significance as is the numeric value of the combined whole. Three numbers are used to represent the three entities involved in the plot against the Lamb and his followers – The Dragon, the Beast from the sea, and the Beast from the earth.
John categorizes the number of the Beast: “For its number is also of man, 666” (anthrōpou estin kai ho arithmos autou exakasioi exėkonta ex). Many translations read “a man” or even “the man,” assuming the reference is to a known or identifiable individual human being. But that is to read an English idiom into a Greek clause.
If John intended that understanding the clause would read either “one man” or “the man.” Further, most English versions misplace the verb (“is”), the conjunction kai, and the pronoun autou or “his,” then repeat the noun “number” to form two clauses (e.g., “for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” [King James Version]).
The point of the text is not to identify an individual political figure by means of decoding the number but, instead, to link it to humanity in some way; to show the reader the true significance of the number. Just as the great image in the story of Nebuchadnezzar was “his image” and not that of one of the Babylonian gods, so the number of the Beast is linked to humanity.
What distinguishes the image of the Beast is not its shape, size, or form, but the total allegiance that it demands. It is the ultimate form of idolatry, in this case, state idolatry. The political order demands the level of allegiance that belongs only to God.
There is no point in attempting to identify the Beast by decoding its number. The number is not literal but figurative, as are the other numbers are in the book of Revelation. Anyone who does not follow the Lamb “wherever he goes” takes the number of the Beast, embraces its name and gives total allegiance to its image.
When the Beast arrives, Christians have a choice whether to submit to the Beast or be increasingly excluded from the economic life of society. If there is a relevant message, it is a warning to exercise painstaking discernment before blindly embracing the political and cultural values of the surrounding society. When we imbibe its values, beliefs, and ideas we begin to take the “mark of the Beast.”