What is the Mark of the Beast? – Revelation 13:16-18

The second beast causes all people to be marked on their right hand or forehead. If they do not have the mark of the beast they cannot buy or sell. One of the most tantalizing aspects in the New Testament is the meaning of the mark of the beast. John tells us it is the name of the beast, but it is converted into numbers: 666. John then invites the readers to use wisdom to calculate the number of the beast, inadvertently beginning 2000 years of speculation of what the number 666 means.

Two Beasts medieval apocalypse

I will start by disappointing some readers: The number of the beast does not refer to any American politician. It does not calculate to Obama or Trump, nor does it refer to the mega-wealthy pulling the strings of the government (Soros, Gates, Bezos, etc.) It does not refer to a Visa card implanted in your head or a chip secretly hidden away in the new flu vaccine. Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite modern interpretation of the Mark of the Beast. In fact, 666 is not an “unlucky number.” It is not the devil’s number and there is nothing to fear. One famous Christian owned hobby store will give you a penny discount if your total comes to $6.66. I will admit there was a house near where i grew up that had the street number 666; we called it “the devil’s house,” but that was (mostly) a joke. Readers of Revelation need to check their modern conspiracy theories and focus on what John intended to communicate by the mark of the beast and the number 666. Here is an older post with more on the number.

Like everything else in Revelation, any attempt to understand what the mark of the beast is (or is not) must start with the Old Testament background. In Ezekiel 9 the Lord instructs a man clothed in linen to “pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”  Those who do not receive this mark are slaughtered. The mark is the letter tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moshe Greenberg points out similarities to the mark on the doorpost in Egypt at Passover (Exod 12:23) or the mark on Aaron’s head the forehead (Exod 28:38; Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20; AB, 177).  It is also possible this marking is a parody of the Jewish practice of binding scripture on the hand or forehead during prayer (phylacteries).

The beast is not the only character in Revelation marking his followers. In the very next paragraph after the beast marks his followers his name, the Lord marks the 144,000 with the name of the Lamb and his Father on their foreheads (14:1). Later in the book, the servants of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem have his name on their foreheads (22:4). The Great Whore has a name tattooed on her head (Mystery Babylon), just as Christ bears a name no one knows but he himself (19:12). The words “King of kings and Lord of Lords” are written on his robe and thigh of the rider in 19:16 (Aune, 2:734).

What is the Mark of the Beast? People were marked in the ancient world for any number of things. For example, runaway slaves or captured soldiers might be branded or tattooed with a mark indicating their status.  Third Maccabees 2:27-29 describes steps taken against Alexandrian Jews, including being branded with an ivy leaf, a symbol of the worship of Dionysus. (See also these posts on Apostasy in Third Maccabees and The Incident with the Elephants.)

Third Maccabees 2:27-29  He proposed to inflict public disgrace on the Jewish community, and he set up a stone on the tower in the courtyard with this inscription: 28 “None of those who do not sacrifice shall enter their sanctuaries, and all Jews shall be subjected to a registration involving poll tax and to the status of slaves. Those who object to this are to be taken by force and put to death; 29 those who are registered are also to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus, and they shall also be reduced to their former limited status.”

The noun translated mark (χάραγμα) refers to something that is engraved stamped or etched, such as an inscription or a coin (BDAG). Acts 17:29 uses the word for an idol, “formed by the art of men.” But it is also used for written letters or an endorsement on a document, like an official signature or stamp (BrillDAG). As a modern analogy, this is similar to an officially embossed notary stamp. So the physical mark could be a brand or tattoo, or an official endorsement of some kind.

Because the mark permits buying and selling, many commentators on Revelation see the mark as limiting participation in economic life to those who have completed their obligations of emperor worship. Greg Beale, for example, states “The mark is clearly figurative of the ways in which the state keeps check on whether people submit to compulsory idol worship” (Revelation, 715).

Regardless of the background, the mark represents the final act of loyalty to the beast. By marking themselves, the people are accepting the Beast as their lord and savior and rejecting God. Those that refuse the mark are making their declaration for God and against the system of the Beast. And like the examples of Daniel and his friends, those who refuse the mark must be willing to die on account of this refusal to acknowledge the power and authority of the beast and his kingdom.

The mystery of this passage is in verse 17-18. The mark of the beast is the name of the beast, or the number of his name, 666. There are no numbers in many ancient languages, so letters sometimes substituted as numbers.  A=1, B=2, etc. For example, there is a famous graffiti in Pompeii that reads “I love her whose number is 545.”  Jewish Gematria found all sorts of meanings of words scripture by converting words to numbers and back again.

John invites the reader to figure this out, knowing that the name adds up to 666, who might this be? In the early church there were several suggested names, including a Greek word meaning “to deny,” meaning that the name of the Beast was denial of the Lord. The full Latin title used on coins of Domitian, the emperor at the time of John, allegedly adds up to 666. But the most common suggestion is the number 666 refers to Nero Caesar, but in the Hebrew spelling of the name.

It may be best to conclude that John and his readers knew the clue that unlocked the mystery of the number and who it referred to, and that we are unable to figure it out with any certainty today.

Whatever the mark is, it represents a final declaration of loyalty. At this point in the plot of Revelation, one is either for God or against him.

8 thoughts on “What is the Mark of the Beast? – Revelation 13:16-18

    • Funny story: I first moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the early 1980s, started my undergraduate degree in 1982. Zonvervan had a kind of factory outline store at that time, remainders and defective books (I had an NIV with the misprint Galations, leather bound NT for $5).

      They had a huge stack of a book promoting the UPC code as the Mark of the Beast (with hilariously bad cover art). Must have been a thousand copies stacked up by the checkout in a tower, $1 a copy. I doubt they sold many, the tower was there for a long long time. Nowadays people just put up a blog to promote crazy ideas.

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      • I’m 10 minutes north of Big Rapids. You have my email whenever I post, correct? I would be interested to get together with you sometime, as I don’t know anyone personally that has the same level of interest or knowledge about many of these topics about extra-biblicial writings and other historical topics related to early Christianity and Israel. I’m in Grand Rapids frequently, as I know several brothers in the Lord down there and my business supply is from there. So, send me an email if you are interested in meeting sometime.

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  1. I personally believe there’s three beast that the Bible speaks of I think the three are ; money, power, religion . I think the mark of the beast is currency Bible says all will take its mark, or you can’t buy sell or trade . I believe is that everyone who has received money which we all know has the face of the many presidents which means power and the all seeing eye and the inscriptions in god we trust that’s on the back of the 1.00 bill so everyone who has uptained money through buying selling or trading has take the mark of the beast . No where dose it say you will be killed for not taking the mark what it means is that if you do not receive money , which for many means power then you will be great suffering because you will not be able to eat , drink , shelter , some won’t get medical treatment , many will die from exposer , starvation , poor health . One of the beast which has seven heads coming out of the sea is the power and Kingdom of religious leaders and church’s that gain money , power , and dictatorship over those who seek refuge. The anti christ are those who are denying gods love and truth they are many not one the many anti christ will rise up which will be the power of some churches , political leaders, cults, idols these are those who have denying god but walk around claiming to be a god through there power and there authorities over other people setting up in the temple of god meaning us the body of Christ and walking around action like they are god through self righteousness, domination, dictatorship , control, deception, greed, etc these people do not claim to be Jesus or Christ infant they reject god and Jesus all together they are there own god . The anti christ and the false prophet and the devil who deceived the entire world is not one person or one man that’s impossible to do it’s is the deception of those who falsely accuse believers of believing a life or false teaching it is those who teach cult driven belief through the name of Christ with the intent to deceive and falsely lead others into a trap of lies and destruction, the devil is the mind and the power in which these false prophets use to deceive and fear gods people into believing that god has not saved them but condemned them to hell or to a place of torment for all eternity, the anti christ is those who reject Christ and his love and the devil is the deceiver of all mankind because the devil is the mind the thoughts , the fears , emotions, the doubt , the deception of gods truth so the Bible said they and all liars would be casted into the lake of fire which the second death , the lake of fire is not a literal lake or fire it’s is metaphor for meaning all that is of the flesh and earth will burn all that is of sin and defilement will burn including , all that is of lies , false teachings and all abominations will burn , those things will be burnt and new things will be replaced in the spirit which the spirit of truth , love , salvation , redemption and internal life , for no one can enter the kingdoms of heaven except through Christ so we know that the Bible says wages of sin is death not hell and internal life is through Christ our lord and the Bible says we are saved by god mercy and grace alone for all fall short of his grace and no man is worthy of his kingdom but because he has given us grace through his love and mercy we are saved , Christ paid the price on the cross so all may be save he did not come to condemn the earth but to save it .

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  2. What’s marking the world now is
    C-3
    O-15
    R-18
    O-15
    N-14
    A-1
    CORONA 6 LETTERS ADDED UP66=666

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    • So COVID is 10% of the mark of the beast? How about 66*19, 1254, which is almost 1260 (Revelation 12:6). It is six short, sthat has got to mean something.

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