This week I was asked about the Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13. I decided it might be fun to post my answer, so below are my thoughts on what the Mark of the Beast is and what it means.
The Mark of the Beast is presented in Revelation 13:16-17. This passage is part of a vision that John saw in reference to “The Second Beast.”
“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, 17 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.” (NIV)
The passage describes a vision, and visions are often symbolic, just as the entire book of Revelation is full of symbolism. If the book is known to be symbolic, one can easily see why the Mark should also be viewed as symbolic.
The text states that the mark is the name of the beast and the number of its name. I have serious doubts about anyone being able to prove that a smart-phone is the number of the beast. Following verse 17, the text states that the number of the Beast is 666. This was a Greek number that represented Nero Caesar. John used the number because he could not write Nero’s name. To John’s readers, who knew Nero was dead, John was saying that the Beast would simply be very bad—a person who persecuted Christians as Nero had done. The number was never meant to be taken literally.
The Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13 is also juxtaposed to the Mark God places on believers in Revelation 7:3. “3Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” (NIV) In Revelation 7, those who belong to God receive a symbol on their foreheads in the vision. God’s seal guarantees protection to believers. In Revelation 13, the seal describes allegiance to the beast, or to Satan. In this sense, the vision could be something non-physical in reality altogether. Believers are marked with a seal, but it is not a physical seal on the forehead, it is the seal of the Holy Spirit who indwells believers.
If the seal in Revelation 7 is symbolic, it makes sense to see the seal in Revelation 13 the same way. John is saying that in the last days, those who wish to buy and sell will pledge their allegiance to Satan, they will conform to whatever regulations are required to meet their physical needs, because non-believers are concerned with the present and not the eternal.
This is something the original hearers would have understood, and it is an interpretation that is still applicable today.
In our day and age, many people attempt to explain the Mark, the number 666, and other visions based on things they see in the world today, but in reality, the symbols are generally used to convey timeless principles that apply to believers living in any time period. It seems wise to keep from applying the principles from the book to specific things in history as we never really know how things might change; instead we should focus our efforts on following the principles in obedience to God.