The Mark of the Beast
May 8, 2016 / No. 3827
Dear Radio Friends,
In our recent messages, we have looked at the subject of the Antichrist from Scripture. We have noticed that the Antichrist is an individual who will come in the future as a political ruler with a worldwide kingdom of peace and prosperity. We have also seen that there is a religious dimension to the kingdom of Antichrist. The Antichrist will set himself up as God and he will be the object of man’s worship. False religions of the earth will support him and his kingdom.
We have seen this about the Antichrist in Revelation 13 in the two beasts—the beast that comes from the sea and the beast from the earth. These two beasts do not represent two different kingdoms or two different periods of time, but they stand together as one in the service of the dragon, who is the devil. The first beast, from the sea, is the culmination of the world powers in opposition to the kingdom of Jesus Christ and His church under one man who is the Antichrist. The second beast, the beast from the earth, represents the false church that serves the Antichrist and the first beast. He does this by enforcing the worship of the Antichrist, the beast. This worship he enforces by miracles and by false teaching.
Today we come to look at another aspect of the Antichrist, and that is what is called “the mark of the beast.” We read in Revelation 13:16ff., concerning the second beast, the false religion, that he “causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”
It is important for us in connection with the subject of Antichrist to consider the mark of the beast—not only because this is an extremely controversial subject and, perhaps, one that you do not understand but also because the mark of the beast is another sign that Jesus Christ gives of the end of the world and His coming. This is a sign not only for that at the very end or for those who are left behind after a supposed rapture but, like the other signs, this is a sign that is always present in the world. That is why there is a calling in the text to be wise. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”
There is also comfort for us in considering the mark of the beast. The text speaks of terrible days of great tribulation for those who do not have the mark of the beast. But in this mark there is also a comfort for us, God’s people.
If you tuned to the radio today or looked at this passage or downloaded this message wanting to know what specifically is the mark of the beast, you are going to be disappointed. The text that we read does not tell us what this mark is. Instead, it tells us what this mark represents. Of course, there are many throughout history in the church who have tried to identify the mark. Some focus on the mark itself and they say that the mark will be some kind of an advancement in technology, perhaps an electronic chip or something like that, a GPS sensor or something that will be embedded into the flesh of men and women, or it may be some visible tattoo, or, some have even said, a social security number or credit cards are the mark of the beast and that those who refuse to receive these are the true people of God. While it is true that all forms of technology will be at the disposal of the Antichrist, the mark itself is not identified in the passage.
Others try to focus on the name. The mark is called in the passage “the name of the beast.” They have tried to identify, from this passage, who the Antichrist will be. Six-six-six is his name. They have taken that as a hidden code and suggest that you have to figure out the letter-value of different things in either the Greek or the Hebrew or the Latin alphabet. You can identify, then, who the Antichrist will be. Some think they have unlocked this mystery by identifying the Antichrist as Nero, or as the pope, or some have even said Bonnie, the purple dinosaur, or in our day, even the present president of the United States. But it is none of those things. Instead, the mark of the beast simply represents something. It is not literal and it is not a hidden code.
We have to remember, as we come to this passage, some important principles for interpreting Scripture and understanding the book of Revelation. We must let Scripture interpret Scripture. Whatever this passage means, it must not contradict the rest of the Scriptures and it cannot stand alone in Scripture. Rather, this prophecy is built on the prophecy of Daniel and Jesus’ own teaching concerning the end of the world.
Then we have to remember that the book of Revelation is a book of symbols. It is not to be taken literally. All the numbers in the book of Revelation are figurative. They represent something. So you have numbers such as twelve and ten and one thousand and seven or combinations of these in the book of Revelation. Here we have the number six. This number, we are told, is the number of man. As we look at these verses, we see that the emphasis falls on the number, not on the mark and not on the name. The mark of the beast in verse 16 is called in verse 17 the number of the name of the beast. Then the number is identified in verse 18. It is the number of a man and his number is six hundred and threescore and six. That is six hundred, sixty-six. We do not know what the mark is. We do not know what the name of the beast is, but we do know the number here.
So we are called to count this number, that is, to interpret it—not with complicated formulas and math, but with wisdom, which is God-given insight and spiritual understanding of His Word in the context of the world and the last days. In one word, this number represents man; 666 is the number of man. We do not have to go anywhere else to figure out the symbolism. It is right here in this passage. This is the number of the Antichrist. This is the name of the Antichrist. His name refers to his character. Six-six-six: man-man-man is what the kingdom of Antichrist will be all about. This number identifies those who receive it with that kingdom of Antichrist. The repetition of the number six is to emphasize the character. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty (Is. 6). This chorus of the heavenly angels identifies God’s character as holy. Six-six-six, this repetition identifies the character not only of the Antichrist, but of all who follow him.
We see elsewhere in Scripture that six is the number of man. On the sixth day God created man. The seventh day, in contrast, is the day in which God rested and man was to put away all his labor and the labor of the earth in order to find his rest in God. Six represents man and the entire created world without its rest in God. It is man apart from God. It is man missing the purpose and the goal for which God created him—God’s own glory.
Seven is the number of God’s covenant. It is the number of man and God together—man’s number, 6; God’s number, 1. It is the number of completeness and unity between God and man. So the church of Christ is represented by this number 7—the seven churches. Christ is in the midst of them. That describes this number as the number of communion and fellowship.
So six is the number of man all by himself, man in his achievements, man and his own glory, man and his promises of peace and prosperity, man and the earth and his earthly kingdom. That is what the kingdom of Antichrist will be all about: man, man’s peace, man’s prosperity, man’s pleasure. That is the spirit of Antichrist that will rise in the end. Counting this number means recognizing the spirit of the antichristian kingdom in whatever age we live. This is called in II Thessalonians 2 the “Mystery of iniquity that does already work,” or, as John says in I John 2:18, “Antichrist shall come; indeed there are many Antichrists already.” So, this mark is not a specific thing that we are to identify, but it represents the character of Antichrist and his kingdom.
In the passage we see that this mark is received in the forehead and the right hand of many. We are not to take that literally. Instead, we see here that the Antichrist is one who always mimics Jesus Christ and tries to set himself up in the place of Jesus Christ. His name means that he is a puppet, that he comes as a pseudo-Christ, in the place of Jesus Christ, and he is always trying to appear like Christ. We see this in some other passages in the book of Revelation, especially Revelation 14:1. There (the next verse after the verses we consider) we read this: “I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” So, the hundred forty-four thousand who represent the church and the people of God redeemed, they also have a mark in their foreheads. But this mark is the name of God. They do not have that literally tattooed or engraved into their foreheads. So also here, we are not to take this mark as literal.
Instead, there is a figure here. It is the figure of branding something. Branding something is a sign that it belongs to you, a sign of possession. We know that this is what farmers will do with cattle. They will put a brand on them. But we see this also in the Scriptures, a sign of a servant belonging to his master. A servant would receive in his ear a mark that showed that he was a bond-servant committed to his master. He belonged to his master. So here, God’s people are sealed, they belong to Him, they worship Him. The mark of the beast represents those who worship the beast and his image and belong to him. They receive this mark on their forehead and in their hand. This should remind us of Deuteronomy 6 where, after God has given the law to His people, He tells them in verse 8: “Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” You have the same figure there—the hand and the forehead. This is not literal but it is a symbol of God’s people worshiping Him by obeying His law and keeping His law always before them in their mind (their foreheads) and in their deeds (their hand). In all that they thought and all that they did, they were to worship God and show that they were His.
This is what the mark represents—that some belong to the cause of Antichrist, that they will be characterized by a man-centered life and a man-centered culture. Just think of secularism today that wants to get rid of God altogether. They will worship the beast, as we read in chapter 14, verse 9. So we do not have here a literal mark or a name of the beast or of the Antichrist, but instead we recognize that the Antichrist and all who follow him have man and the worship of man as their religion.
What does this mark accomplish? We see in the passage several things. First, it will distinguish and divide all men from one another. On the last day there will be a separation of the sheep and the goats. But that divide, that antithesis, exists already in the world and exists all throughout history. The point here, though, is that at the very end this antithesis will become very clear. In the last day it will be very plain who has the Lord’s name on them and who is on the Lord’s side and who has the name of the devil and the beast—the mark of the beast. This is not something that God’s people will accidentally receive—this mark—and then have committed some unforgiveable sin. Rather, the idea is that it will be very clear who is of the Lord and who belongs to the Antichrist and his kingdom. Notice in the passage they receive this mark. That is a sign of actively taking it. They received it in their head and their hand; their minds, their worldview, their thoughts, and their purposes were owned by and given over to the beast, to man and the glory of man. The hand represents the strength of man. In all of one’s activity, then, one serves man and the Antichrist and not God. Why did God make man? God made man to love Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. Those who follow the Antichrist will do the exact opposite. They will worship the beast and his image.
But this will not be a pagan-like religion. No, it will be a civilized, modern, philosophical secularism that will permeate the world. But it will be very clear. That clarity will be good because we will know in that day who is truly a child of God and who is not. In the day of the Antichrist, when the second beast causes all to have this mark put in their foreheads and on their hands, all hypocrisy will be exposed. That is the idea. We will be purified in our devotion and worship to God. The fires of persecution will themselves serve the good of God’s people.
This mark, though not literal, will result in the barring of all true Christians from participating in society. In verse 17: “That no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” The point is this that if you do not support the kingdom of man, if you do not worship the Antichrist, you also will not receive the benefits of that kingdom. There will be no buying or selling. Of course, in light of all the technological developments of our day we can easily understand how such restrictions will be placed on Christians.
The purpose of the Antichrist in distinguishing people from one another in that final day will be so that he can persecute the people of God. Notice that in verse 15. The second beast “had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” These are the same ones who would not receive the mark of the beast. That persecution will be a persecution such as there never was before in the history of this world. The results of that persecution will be not only that Christians will be ostracized from the social and the economic aspect of society but the witness of the church will be silenced by the unbelieving world.
As we think about this, what is the calling of God’s people? The calling is here, with wisdom (v. 18), to have understanding and count the number of the beast. That does not mean that we literally figure it out. But, are you listening to what God’s Word says and what the world is saying? Are you watching in your life for a man-centeredness? Are you watching out for the good of God’s church and the good of God’s people in this world so you will not be caught up in the false religion of pleasure and of materialism? This is the calling: Here is wisdom—to count the number of the beast. So we do not have to wait till the last day to be able to identify this mark. But we watch for this sign and this man-centeredness already in our lives today.
That begins by looking at your own life. Are you directed by the Word of God? Do you give priority in your life to spiritual things over against the things of this world, so that your life is not one of pleasure and not one of material gain? Why are we here in this world? What are we living for? Is it not this, that with our mind and with our hand we think on and we love and we serve God with our whole being? In this way we are prepared and watching for the spirit of Antichrist.
Then there is also comfort for us, and we close with this thought. There is comfort for us in thinking about this number of the beast. This number is the number six. It is man without God. It is a representation of the power of the devil and the beast and the Antichrist, which power is only a human power. So, in that day when the kingdom of Antichrist rises under the banner of man, we do not have to be fearful. In the next chapter, Revelation 14:9-12, we see that all that falls under this number and all that receive this number are overcome and are cast into the lake of fire. God has given us another number, a special number and that is the number seven—the number of His covenant. Later in the book of Revelation we will come to that and we will see that the tabernacle of God is with men. This is what we look for—the fulfillment of the unity of God and man in the new heavens and the new earth, when God will dwell with His people forever in perfect covenant unity.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the revelation in Thy Word of the character of the kingdom of Antichrist so that we may be watchful and so that we, under the banner of the covenant, may seek our life in Thee and in the things above, not in the things of this earthly life. Keep us, we pray, watching and ready for the return of Jesus Christ. We ask if for His sake, Amen.