What is the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation?
Although this question did not come to me through the website, it has been put to me in person in various ways. It has even been suggested that the government is trying to gain some kind of control of our lives. One person suggested that a microchip (RFID) was being put in vaccines. So, I thought I should write a post to examine exactly what the “mark of the beast” is, as described in Revelation.
Before looking at the Scriptures that tell us what the mark of the beast is, I want to remind us of some basic principles that should help us avoid “wandering off into the weeds” in our reading of Scripture. Most, if not all, unscriptural and usually fearful pronouncements derive from not reading Scripture carefully and paying attention to two basic rules.
Isaiah 28:10 tells us “For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” So, the first mistake is made by taking a particular passage in isolation and not carefully considering the context. Second Peter 1:20 also reminds us of this principle. This verse is particularly relevant because it is rendered “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (ESV) and alternately “no prophecy of scripture is had from its own particular interpretation” (DBY). These two renderings remind us that a correct interpretation should not be derived from only one person’s view (idiosyncratic) nor by considering the passage itself in isolation from other passages of Scripture.
Second Timothy 2:15 tells us that we should “rightly divide” (KJV), “divide in a straight line” (DBY), or “rightly handle” (ESV) the word of truth. All these renderings capture the sense that there is a danger in putting together verses or passages that do not belong together. In addition, the rendering by ESV reminds us, in particular, to be careful of discerning the proper application of a passage.
Turning to the actual question we observe that the only references we have to the “mark of the beast” are in the book of Revelation. There are five references. I do not know of any references outside of Revelation. (If you think you know of some, please let us know by putting them in the discussion section below.) The first four references, in chapters 13, 14, 16, and 19 give us the descriptions we need to examine. The fifth reference, which we do not need to examine here, describes the blessing for those who did not worship him (Rev. 20:4).
Revelation 13:11, 16–17. The first thing to notice, and this is important, is that the beast in question here arises out of the earth and has two horns like a lamb (v. 11). These features mark out this beast as the Antichrist who rules in Israel. He is the “king” of Daniel 11:36. The wording of verse 16 is variously rendered as “it [or, “he”, i.e., the beast] should give them” (ESV) or “all…they should give them” (ESV, footnote). So, it is either the beast or those under the authority of the beast that cause the “small and great…” to be marked in their hand or forehead.
What is important to notice here is that the authority giving the mark is the Antichrist in Israel. Nevertheless, verses 8, 12, 14 suggest that the actual mark and worship extends throughout the domain of the beast that “rises out of the sea” (v. 1) as well as Israel.
It is also important to remember that Revelation is highly symbolic. So, we must ask whether this marking is solely identification as in Revelation 7:3 and 14:1 or is it an actual physical “mark” of some kind.1 Again, this question must be left unanswered for now. As with many prophecies, details may not be fully known until the prophecy is fulfilled. In any case, it is a clear identification with the authority of the Antichrist and his worship and is required for commerce. Again, there may be a question of whether this is literal buying and selling of tangible goods or is it intended to control all interchange such as speech.
One final observation about this passage is that the mark is in the hand or forehead.2 The hand would imply that work is controlled. The forehead would seem to be associated with public identification. It is also associated with what a person thinks. So, the thought would be that those who are marked give their allegiance to the beast. This is supported by the next passage we examine.
In Revelation 14:9–11, we see the connection between the mark of the beast and allegiance to and worship of the beast. This passage also dramatically puts before us the judgment.
Some have expressed a concern to me that somehow the government could inject something in them to cause them to worship the beast and receive the mark in that way. This would be impossible for a believer since God specifically declares “he who is in you [i.e., the Holy Spirit] is greater than he who is in the world [i.e., Satan] (1 Jn 4:4). It is worth noticing that this verse is given right where the Antichrist is mentioned.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,First John 4:2–4
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
So, the mark of the beast is received by those who willingly give their allegiance to the beast and worship him. This connection is emphasized again in Revelation 16:2. This verse describes the vial of God’s judgment causing a “grievous sore” being poured out on those who worship the beast.
The last verse to examine is Revelation 19:20. This verse describes the judgment upon the beast himself. Here it is important to notice that the beast deceived those who received the mark. Thus, deception follows the acceptance of the mark.
In summary, we can be assured of several things: (1) no believers of the present Church age will be subject to the deception of the tribulation period, (2) the mark of the beast brands those who give their allegiance to and worship the beast during the tribulation period, (3) this will likely have its center, possibly even its entire scope, in the land of Israel where the Antichrist will be accepted, and finally (4) those who are deceived are those who have decided to give their allegiance to the beast. We need to notice that this last feature is important. God never exempts man from his intelligent responsibility to the truth. For example, Pharaoh hardened his own heart long before God judicially hardened his heart.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7b) “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).
Grant, F. W., The Numerical Bible: Hebrews to Revelation (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), 439-445.
1. In Revelation 14:1, the 144000 have a mark on their foreheads with the name of the Lamb and the Father. We don’t think this is a microchip or a physical marking, so perhaps the “mark of the beast” is also symbolic or identification. (Daniel Hayes)
2. It is interesting that the 144000 standing with the Lamb in Revelation 14:1 have His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. This supports your point of identification and allegiance. (Daniel Hayes)