The Mark of the Beast

It’s safe to say, as we slide into 2021, that we have a lot going on. As we talk about what’s happening around us, a conversation that I hear a lot revolves around the “end times” in reference to the book of Revelation in the Bible. It’s not difficult given the current goings on that people might contemplate the end of the world. Every generation does–the world just seems to get worse and worse though the centuries. I want to take a minute to encourage you and clarify a widely misunderstood passage in the book of Revelation that often comes up in this conversation.

Revelation 13 paints a vivid picture of two beasts who rise up to establish the power of Satan on earth. At one point, one of the beasts forces all people to take on “the mark of the beast”. The mark is put on their forehead or hand and is a requirement to do business and declare allegiance to its master (Satan). In recent history there have been many theories and declarations by Christians as to what this mysterious mark might be.

Interestingly enough, the explanation of this scene in the revelation to John is actually quite simple–although less exciting than the wild and terrifying interpretations we hear so often. There are two things to keep in mind when we talk about Revelation 13. Revelation is filled with images that are meant to give us a sense of the glory of Jesus and the ongoing battle in the spiritual world around us. It is not a transcript for the end of the world. Also, the revelation follows a pattern of describing Jesus in all his glory and power and then illustrating the false and distorted attempt of the enemy to imitate him.

With this in mind, we see that Revelation 13 runs parallel to Revelation 22. The depiction of the beast forcing all people to take his mark on their forehead or hand is a contemptuous imitation of the picture of Jesus’ final and eternal kingdom in which the redeemed people of God “… will see his face and his name will be written on their foreheads” (Rev 22:3).

The worship of the beast also stands in stark contrast to the way people worshipped God in John’s time. “Tefillin” is a set of leather boxes worn on the arm and forehead filled with written passages from the Torah (what we call the Old Testament). This form of prayer is still observed today in Jewish communities symbolizing a person’s submission in everything they do (hands/arms) and everything they think/believe (forehead) before God.

To put it bluntly,  “the mark of the beast” is not a microchip or barcode or vaccine. Far more dangerously, it is a way of life in which our actions and hearts are dedicated to the systems of this world that are constantly at odds with the ways of the Kingdom. I want to encourage you to set aside the wild conjecture and theories about beasts and marks and pour your energy into taking on the mark of Christ our King. The world can be a scary and dark place at times. We, however, bear the name of our God and the good news he brings of his grace and hope.

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