The Mark of the Beast: What Is It?

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.  –Revelation 13:16-18

The mystical dream or vision from which this prophetic statement originated, has haunted, perplexed, and aroused the curiosity of Christians since the beginning of Christianity. Nobody really knows for certain what it means. There are hundreds of speculations that have risen up over the past two thousand years. I did a paper called Portraits of Antichrists when I was in college; it was the last serious Bible research I did before graduating. I came across two academic studies on the Antichrist that still stick out in my mind: Wilhelm Bossuet’s The Antichrist Legend (1896) and Bernard McGinn’s Antichrist (1994). I lend great weight to these books, not because I agree with everything the authors said, as most of their personal views took on a skeptical tone…but because of their massive amount of historical quotations from ancient church fathers and theologians throughout the history of the church on the subject. Bossuet is especially good at pointing out Antichrist prophecies from the Old Testament pseudepigrapha—the visionary books written after the Old Testament canon and just before the New Testament. He shows that these books had an influence on the Antichrist views that Jesus and the apostles had, even before the book of Revelation was written. This view was expressed in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 by the apostle Paul; and was elaborated on by the early church fathers, as in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies: Book 5 and Hippolytus’ Treatise on Christ and Antichrist.

So, back to the text quoted above: Revelation 13:16-18.

1. Revelation 13:16: “It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark.” The mark, whatever it is, will be forced on people by the government of the Antichrist. It is a mark in the right hand or the forehead; and the mark will be forced on people by the government. All who resist the mark of the beast, will be executed by beheading (Rev. 20:4).

2. Revelation 13:16-17: “A mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark.” The prophecy is referring to a physical mark that will be put either on people’s right hands or their foreheads; as if to say, the right hand is the preferred location because it is mentioned first; but if a person either does not want it in their hand, then they may choose the option of the forehead; or if someone did not have a right hand, due to amputation, then the forehead was a secondary option rather than the left hand. Why the left hand is not considered is sort of strange: but it seems to indicate some kind of spiritual meaning. In the Bible, the right hand symbolizes strength (Exod. 15:6). Usually people are right-handed and their right arm is their strongest one; and it is usually with the right hand that people write letters and sign their names. For the mark to be in the person’s right hand, first and foremost, appears to symbolize that the mark is the expression of the person’s free will to legally transact business with this mark in their right hand, just as they would use that same hand to sign a check or a contract. The left hand is out of the question, not because of practicality, it seems, but because of its mystical symbolism. The left hand is usually not associated with strength, heart, or business transactions. The next best thing is the forehead, because the head is associated with authority, reason, and decision making. Another thing the forehead could represent is the “third eye” or the psychic vision ability that occultists attribute to the imagination. Many places in Scripture indicate that the Antichrist and his false prophet, whomever they may be, will somehow be involved in the occult and will possess dramatic psychic abilities. Smack dab in the middle of the forehead is where you also see the red “bindu” dot on women in India. There’s something about that place just between the eyebrows or just above it, which indicates occult vision or spiritual eyesight. For the Antichrist to lay claim on that part of a person, is almost the same as laying claim to their heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Antichrist followers will treasure their lives and their money as more important than the Gospel. Many people already do this today, both within and without the Church.

3. Revelation 13:17-18: “The name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” Nobody really knows for certain what the name of the Antichrist is. If they follow the principles of Biblical numerology, or Hebrew gematria, it might help a little at identifying this person. But there are many criteria that have been laid down in Scripture for identifying the Antichrist. The most obvious one is in 2 Thessalonians 2, which says he will be a global cult leader who will sit in a temple and proclaim himself God and demand that the whole world worship him. Various church fathers thought that different Roman emperors were the Antichrist, with Nero even being identified to the point of his name equaling 666. All throughout history, the Antichrist speculations have changed. As you may know, most of the Protestant reformers and Puritans viewed whoever was the current Catholic pope as the Antichrist. Luther’s pope was Leo X, so he got called the Antichrist by a lot of Lutherans. Luther was excommunicated by a papal “bull” document; and he responded to it with a tract entitled Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist. After Leo X died, the Puritans just started to view the Vatican as the Antichrist in spirit; and whoever became the pope at the time was in effect the Antichrist. Catholics returned the insult and called Luther and countless reformers the Antichrist. In World War II, Hitler was speculated to be the Antichrist by a lot of Christians. I think it would be right to say, that evil rulers and many others like them, are only forerunners of the real Antichrist in Revelation 13. They are only what is mentioned in 1 John 2:18: “This is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” This verse, if anything is a warning to Christians to be on their guard against the one true Antichrist with a capital “A” in Revelation 13, that will appear someday. But it also says that, even in apostle John’s time, by then, “many antichrists have come,” to which he who wrote the book of Revelation, may be referring to Roman emperors, or to false prophets, and Gnostic heretics.

Today people again are speculating new things about the Antichrist and the mark of the beast. For a while, people thought the mark might be a bar code tattoo. I have been aware of a unique speculation since the early 2000s: that the mark of the beast will probably be an RFID chip, about the size of a grain of rice, which can be injected into the right hand or forehead with a syringe. This chip could be scanned and used for debit card type transactions just like in Revelation 13:16-17. While Christians should be on their guard against technology like this, as it advises us to be on guard in 1 John 2:18, we shouldn’t be irrational in our speculations. But be rational; and be Biblical; we can’t throw out all the other Biblical criteria and isolate only certain parts of the Antichrist picture. Some people in the past year have speculated that the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer is either the mark of the beast, or a pre-cursor, and as such, people shouldn’t get this shot, even though people are dying from the disease by the millions. Again, we should do as Wesley did with his theology and decision making: resort to Scripture, reason, church tradition, and spiritual experience, and then really ask ourselves if our opinions and views are sound and valid, before we go about preaching them with absolute certainty: proclaiming dubious things with the certainty of a Biblical prophet, things which are merely end-time speculations, and greatly lack the Biblical criteria of genuine Antichrist activity.

About Wesley Gospel

WesleyGospel.com is in the spirit of John Wesley; and the spirit of the Reformation when it discovered the printing press. The truth of God will not be suppressed!
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