A gracEmail subscriber asks: “What is the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18? Is it a RFID (‘radio frequency identification’) chip that will be implanted in the hand or forehead of those who follow the great adversary of Jesus Christ in the last days?”
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After an introduction that begins with an appearance of the glorified Jesus Christ (Rev. 1-3), the Book of Revelation consists of a series of dramatic visions given to the aged Apostle John who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of his gospel witness. This cosmic drama is full of vivid, larger-than-life symbols taken largely from the Old Testament (especially the books of Daniel and Ezekiel but also Old Testament history in general). Many also appear in non-biblical, end-times Jewish writings during the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. Those first-century believers for whom John originally wrote this book were familiar with these symbols — a sort of visual code-language used for their protection during a time of persecution. We might think of ourselves seeing a cartoon of “Uncle Sam” with his tall hat and striped clothes and knowing immediately that he represents the United States.
To read Revelation without taking its symbolism into account practically guarantees missing its intended message and usually leads to fanciful interpretations that would have left John scratching his head in amazement. For an general introduction on how to read the Book of Revelation, I recommend the first two chapters of a commentary titled The Most Revealing Book of the Bible, by the late Dr. Vernard Eller. To access it at no charge, click here or go to http://hccentral.com/eller7/index.html .
The “mark of the beast” is one such symbol and its background is found in Ezekiel 9:3-6. In describing his judgment against Judah through the Babylonian exile, God there commands his agent to put a mark on all the faithful among the Jews. This “mark” later identifies them as under divine protection when an avenger moves through the land and kills everyone lacking the mark. In Revelation 13, two antichrist characters personified as monsters (“beasts”) emerge from the sea and from the earth and persuade people to worship and follow the first monster instead of God. The second monster “marks” his converts, enabling them to buy and sell when such normal activities of life are denied everyone else.
The vision ends by admonishing the person with understanding to “calculate the number” of the beast, which is 666. This number is a symbol telling us that the beasts are counterfeits of God and his kingdom. The number 7 represents perfection or fullness. For example, when we read about “the seven spirits of God,” we think of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The number 3 represents deity. Putting those two numbers together gives the perfect, divine number of 777. The number 666 is almost 777, but not quite. It is a counterfeit divine number. It suggests 777 but comes short of it. Rather than being the number of God, it is “the number of (a) man.” In Revelation, the number 666 signifies the approval and protection given to its followers by any human being or government that puts itself in the place of God and demands the kind of total allegiance that only God has the right to claim.