Mark of the Beast - Considerations

SYNOPSIS:  When we imbibe the values of the existing world order, we begin to take the "mark of the Beast.”

Dollar Sign - Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” concentrate on deciphering the significance of its number, that is, ‘666.’ Understandably, we wish to ascertain its meaning to avoid taking it. But to begin to understand what it represents, we must recognize the scriptural background behind the number, the relationship of the “mark” to the “Seal of God”, the consequences of taking or refusing the “mark,” and the identities of the two resultant groups of men and women (Revelation 7:1-313:11-18).

The “mark of the Beast” is the satanic counterpart to the “Seal of God.” In the book of Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” who give allegiance to the “Beast” are contrasted with the “saints” who receive the “seal of God” and follow the Lamb. In this way, the book divides humanity into two groups – One comprised of men and women whose names are written in the “Book of Life,” and the other, consisting of all men and women who are destined for the “Lake of Fire.” Whether they receive the “seal of God” or take the “mark of the Beast” determines whether they stand before the Lamb in New Jerusalem or the “great white Throne of judgment” prior to being cast into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 7:9-1720:11-15).

(Revelation 13:16-17) - “And he causeth all—the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond,—that they should give unto them a mark, upon their right hand or upon their forehead; [and] that no one should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

Background

The historical setting is the province of Asia in the Roman Empire at the end of the first century A.D. The churches there were experiencing pressure from the local population and, possibly, from governing authorities. A relevant issue was the growing imperial cult in the province - The veneration of the emperor and Roma, the patron goddess of the city of Rome. Very probably, the pressure to participate in the cult was applied to the Christian congregations.

Temple of Diana in Ephesus - clipart.christiansunite.com
Citizens were free to worship their traditional gods. However, on some public occasions, it was expected of all city residents to offer homage to the image of the emperor, the chief patron and lord of the empire. By Roman law, Jews were exempt from this requirement. When Rome began to view Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism, it became illegal and it lost any legal exemptions it may have enjoyed previously. Consequently, Christians came under pressure to giving divine honors to the image of the emperor.

The veneration of the emperor was both a religious and a political act. It demonstrated allegiance to Rome. To refuse to do so was displayed one’s disloyalty to the Roman State and the emperor, making legal persecution inevitable.

This situation is reflected in the Greek verbs applied to acts of “worship” in the book of Revelation. The term used often for the religious worship of a supernatural being in the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament is latreuō (Strong’s - #G3000), and its related noun, latreia (Romans 12:1 – “I beseech you to present your bodies a living, holy sacrifice unto God, acceptable,—your rational divine service”).

The verb latreuō denotes the “rendering of divine service,” for example, in a Temple ritual in which sacrifices are offered. It occurs twice in the book of Revelation, always for the rendering of worship to God:

(Revelation 7:15) – “For this cause, are they before the throne of God, and are rendering divine service unto him, day and night, in his sanctuary
(Revelation 22:3) – “And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein,—and his servants will render divine service unto him.

The term used more widely in Revelation is proskuneō (Strong’s - #G4352), found about twenty-four times in the book. Its literal sense is “to kiss toward.” This reflects the ancient practice of prostration before a royal figure. From this sense, derivative meanings include “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere,” and “venerate.”  The word signifies deference paid to a superior being or someone of higher rank.  To “render homage” was to give allegiance. Proskuneō is used in the book of Revelation for “rendering homage” to someone, including the “image of the Beast.”

The Inhabitants of Earth

In Chapter 13, two groups are presented, and only two, the “inhabitants of the earth,” and those who “tabernacle in heaven” (Revelation 13:6-712:12).

The “inhabitants of the earth” marvel because one of the seven heads of the “Beast” received a death stroke that was subsequently “healed.” Awed by its prowess (“Who can make war with it?”), they render “homage to the Beast.” Ultimately, they do so because “their names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb.”

A second beast appears, the “Beast from the earth.” Later, it is identified as the “False Prophet.” He mimics the Lamb - He speaks with the voice of the Dragon, but he also has “two horns like a lamb.” He uses religious deception to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to “render homage” (proskuneō) to the Beast (Revelation 13:11-15, 16:1319:2020:10).

Those who “tabernacle in heaven” are identical with the “saints,” the men and women who “keep the commandments of God and the faithfulness of Jesus” (Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24, 20:9).

Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth,” the names of the saints are “written in the Lamb’s book of life.” However, in the interim, the “saints” are destined for persecution at the hands of the Beast (Revelation 3:521:27).

The “mark of the Beast” parodies the “seal of God” written on the foreheads of his saints. It is given to anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes.” The “sealed” company of the saints is represented in Chapter 7 as a “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue” that has been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:1-314:1-5).

The “seal of God” marks out those who belong to the Lamb and preserves them through fiery trials. Believers are not removed from the earth to avoid tribulations. Their identification with the Lamb spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” especially, the “Second Death” (Revelation 2:1120:6).

The “mark of the Beast,” on the other hand, identifies all who belong to it, the “inhabitants of the earth.” This is clarified in chapter 13 and 14. Men and women who render homage to the Beast receive a “mark on their right hand or forehead.” Without it, they are unable to participate in the economic life of society, and they may face execution. This “mark” is equated with the “name of the beast,” and with the “number of his name,” ‘666’ (Revelation 13:11-14:5).

In contrast, those who belong to the Lamb have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads”. They are found before the Throne on Zion where they “sing a new song” no one else can learn.  This group is comprised of men and women “redeemed from the earth.” By definition, anyone who “renders homage” to the Beast takes its “mark,” whereas, anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” receives the name of the Lamb and his Father (Revelation 14:1-5).
If the “seal of God” is figurative, the same holds true for the “mark of the Beast.” This is the book’s way of dividing mankind into two groups - Those who belong to the Lamb, and those who belong to the Beast.
The connection becomes clear when an angel warns - “Anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image, and receives its mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, shall drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.” To render allegiance to the Beast is tantamount to taking its “mark” or “number” (Revelation 14:9-11).

The “wrath” the followers of the Beast suffer is not a plague but God’s final judicial wrath, in the end, “Prepared unmixed that shall torment all impenitent men with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascends unto the ages of the ages.” In other words, this is the final judgment when the wicked are cast into the “lake of fire,” the “second death” (Revelation 20:11-15).

In contrast, the “saints,” those who “keep God’s commandments and the faithfulness of Jesus,” stand on the Sea of Glass before the Throne where they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.” They “render homage before” the Lord, not the Beast. Likewise, all who refuse to render homage to the Beast “live and reign with Christ” as “priests” for a “thousand years” (Revelation 15:1-4, 20:4).

Whenever the “Beast” does arrive on the world scene, Christians and non-Christians alike will have a choice to make - Whether to bow to the beast and take its mark, or not. If there is a relevant message for us today, it is as a warning to exercise painstaking discernment before blindly embracing the political and cultural values of the surrounding society.

When we imbibe the values and ideologies of the existing world order, we begin to take the "mark of the Beast."  Christians must carefully discern to whom they are “rendering homage,” and therefore, whose "mark" they are receiving.

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