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.

23 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.

      • 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.

    • Revelation 13:18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. We know that mans number is six We know that there will be a one world Government. Here’s my study. there will be a man over the world economy, Government, and relegion. Since man’s number is six that will make the mark of the beast six, six, six since they will all be controlled by satan.

  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 .

  2. What’s marking the world now is

  3. That doesn’t make sense…you can’t stop there…you must continue at least to Revelation 20.

  4. If u do not get the vaccine u will not be able to buy food go to your local market travel in the air . Your restrictions will limit your travel completely . That my friend is the mark of the beast !!!!

  5. Right now they are not requiring the vaccine, but I believe that they will use it in the future that you have to receive it. I think about the mark people believing it is a micro chip. Just haven’t figured it all out. I am sure that the visions that they received about what was to come were very confusing. I can’t imagine seeing what they were seeing during those times. With the technology we have now I am sure they could not comprehend it completely. I sometimes wonder if the “mark” isn’t a bit more simple…our cell phones or at least an app on them. This is something that everyone already has and it is “in most cases” in the right hand. As far as the forehead I’m thinking face recognition, this is something they use now even to open your cell phone so it could easily be used to buy and sell. Not saying it is true, just a thought.

  6. The book of revelation is written to the church. It’s a spiritual mark, symbolic, The forehead representing the mind, the thoughts and the right hand the will, the works. Just as those the mark of God is a spiritua seal, not a literal physical mark. Who is our hearts and minds set on? who do we serve? We are told to write Gods’ laws on our hearts, and symbolically we write them with our hand. Same with the mark of the beast. God’s seal of the Holy Spirit is number 7. Falling short and idolizing man and the world’s system is # 6. Buying and selling is talking about in the church, here is a call for wisdom, the book of proverbs. 23;23 buying and selling the truth, being redeemed/purchased by Christ. But in the apostate church, it will be false buying and selling, making merchandise of men. Real Christians won’t take the mark which is the character of the harlot church. True followers of Jesus will be shut out of the church for speaking truth for saying “Repent! Be Sanctified! Deliverance” The apostate church will hate them & call them judgemental. Rev 13:17 is the ONLY verse that talks about buying and selling and the mark, right? The bible says every matter needs to be established by the witness of 2 or 3, yet people are living in fear over this one verse.
    Lets say its a physical mark, and times are really bad. People are scared and start coming to the Lord. A young woman, single w 4 kids just gave her life to Jesus and is scared. The mark comes out and she is told “take the Mark or you cant buy food, clothes, medicine for your kids. Take it and renounce Jesus and Worship the beast” She is scared for her family, her faith is weak and she gives in out of fear. Do you really think God is going to test her faith to make an eternal decision out of fear and survival?? Make her choose over food and her children? NO God is merciful. She is already sealed with the Holy Spirit and can still love God in spirit. They cant change that? This is the problem trying to literalize The Book of Revelations its strange and scary, its suppose to give us hope so we are not afraid

    They would have to get us to totally deny, forsake, reject & renounce Jesus in our hearts and worship the beast. They can’t! Once you truly love Christ and sealed with His spirit there is no turning away, no one can snatch you from Gods Hand. People will say what about Matt 10:33 “whoever denies Jesus before men, I will deny before the father” which means to reject him and not care in rebellion. Peter denied Jesus 3 times out of fear and went on to do great things for the Kingdom.
    This is why it’s a symbolic mark, we have already been vaccinated, chipped, tracked, numbered, spied on the internet, they control our money, have our DNA, infiltrated the churches….. We are already in the world’s system, we cant really do much outside it unless you want to live in the wild. Our spirits are already sealed if we are truly in Christ and doing the Fathers will. Be blessed in Jesus Name

  7. The Gates Foundation financed the development of a quantum dot tattoo vaccine delivery system, which was completed and announced by MIT and Rice University in December 2019 (and is still visible on Rice’s website). It consists of a patch which is pushed against the back of the hand. On the patch are micro needles which deliver the nano gene therapy treatment (the mRNA “vaccine”) and an invisible ink, called Luciferase, which stays on the surface of the skin and, when exposed to a certain phone app, “lights up” providing information on vaccine status as well as other info which can bs encoded, such as bank account info. The ink only lasts for a number of months, requiring a booster. Should it get to the point you need the jab to operate in society, with today’s technology this is how you could police it.

    I think this fits the MOTB bill as good as anything, what do you think?

  8. I believe it will be connected to Big Pharma. Rev. 18:23. Read it in Greek. The word “sorcery” is Pharmakeia. Modern pharmaceuticals were born out of Rockefeller “medicine”. They are occultists and also aggressively destroyed naturopathic medicine over the years. Their symbol is the caduceus (two snakes on the pole), which is not the symbol of medicine. It’s the magic wand of Hermes. He is the god of tricksters, thieves, merchants, and alchemy, the Roman god Mercury, the messenger and some others, but not the god of medicine. Asclepius was the god of medicine with one snake on the pole, like Moses’ serpent. Most of their drugs are hocus pocus and not based on real health. God gave us an immune system and if we eat Babylon food (read Daniel 1 and how he rejected the kings delicacies), we will suffer the plagues. We get back to real food, homesteading, learn how to process our own food, kitchen skills, gardening, etc to stay healthy. We come out of Babylonian healthcare system. I like the book Nourishing Traditions but there are many others in similar vein. God bless.

  9. Hi Philip, I am surprised you don’t offer the consensus view on 666, ‘Neron Caesar’ which also explains the Oxyrhynchus variant 616 when you spell the name the alternative way as ‘Nero Caesar’.

  10. Hi Philip, I am surprised you don’t mention the broad consensus view, that 666 is the gematria/isopsephism value of both ‘beast’ and ‘Neron Caesar’ when the Greek words are written in Hebrew letters. This also explains the Oxyrhynchus textual variant, since ‘of the beast’ and ‘Nero Caesar’ add up to 616. Is there any reason for this omission?

  11. Quite the imagination. COMPLETLY WRONG and actually funny. IN your forehead! What you stated is something an atheist or a false prophet who purposely utters Blasphemes at the Bible and the Prophets of Jesus Christ.

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