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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Formspring Question: The Mark of the Beast

Question from an anonymous user: Is the mark of the beast a literal mark?

The short answer to this question is no. The long answer begins sort-of, and will require a little bit of introduction for those less familiar with eschatology. With that aside, the Bible says this requires wisdom, so the explanation will be rather involved. Please bear with me. If you have never heard of the Mark of the Beast it is likely you are not familiar with enough of the surrounding events to understand the answer, please consider first reading my essay A Brief History of Evil.

The Mark of the Beast which the question refers to is a phrase used a handful of times in the Bible, exclusively in the book of Revelation. The flagship verses are Revelation 13:16-17:

And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.

Put simply, there is a mark which the AntiChrist will require people to bear on their right hand or forehead if they are going to participate in his world economy. It will be a choice of remaining faithful to God or feeding your family. The mark will be the name of the beast, or the number which represents that name.

The word translated 'mark' is χάραγμα, charagma (the first letter is chi, so the ch is as in chemistry), a word which connotates an etching, something which has led many in the past to associate it with a tattoo. On a quick side note, χάραγμα is entirely incompatible with a microchip, as the word (to the best of my research) always reflects something on the surface, something visible. But, we have something external, etched in. Something which externally identifies those who would participate in the Beast's economy.

To me, when studying the mark of the beast, it of paramount importance to take a look at a word which is similar in English, but much more shaded in Greek: σφραγίζω (sphragizō). The word σφραγίζω means sealed, and is used by the Apostle Paul in 4:30 to describe how the Holy Ghost protects us from being contaminated by sin, so we might remain worthy of heaven. σφραγίζω refers to a secret seal or a private mark, something used to authenticate and secure without being widely known. In Revelation 7, John uses σφραγίζω to describe the 144,000. It is not a quirk of Paul's language, but an important theological matter. Consider the contrast: Christians are sealed on the inside (a circumcision made without hands) by the Almighty. The servants of the Beast are marked on the outside with the name of their master or his number. Keep this in mind as we go forward.

Having considered the mark itself briefly, I would like to analyze the significance of the right hand and the forehead. The right hand is, symbolically, the tool of work. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and goes about actually interceding for man. To sit at the host's right side, in Hebrew culture, is to be imbued with all authority of the host. The idea is the same, the person on the right side will be able to carry out actions on the host's behalf, and the host will wholeheartedly endorse it. In the context of a mark on the right hand, carrying out actions on behalf of the Beast would be something visible (a χάραγμα), something giving him authority in your life and something absolutely reprehensible to God. Serve the Beast by name or serve his interests (the number of his name) and you will be accepted in his society. Serve him and you will be allowed to buy and sell. It is external and very real, but not a 'literal' mark.

Now consider the forehead. In Revelation 17, the whore1 of Babylon has "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." written on her forehead. The similarity of two different components in the same vision easily implies a parallel. So to see what the Beast's name and number mean on the forehead of those in the tribulation, we need only understand what is written on Babylon's head. No one explains this as well as Matthew Henry's public domain commentary (1706) of the Bible:
"(1.) She is named from her place of residence - Babylon the great. But, that we might not take it for the old Babylon literally so called, we are told there is a mystery in the name; it is some other great city resembling the old Babylon. (2.) She is named from her infamous way and practice; not only a harlot, but a mother of harlots, breeding up harlots, and nursing and training them up to idolatry, and all sorts of lewdness and wickedness - the parent and nurse of all false religion and filthy conversation."

At the time it was very common for harlots to hang signs up proclaiming their 'services'. So we see this great whore with her head marked by her home and her 'services'. It is then reasonable to assume that the mark of the beast on our forehead would be intellectually proclaiming that we served the beast and that we dwelt in the land that was his (Biblically the far country). If we claim to serve the beast to advance ourselves, we are marked by him just as surely as if we actually did the things we claim. The words we spoke would be real and our own falsehood would be sin.

As for the actual number 666, I subscribe to a simple interpretation. 7 is repeatedly the Biblical number of completion/perfection (Revelation 10:7, Genesis 1:27, Joshua 6, etc.). God is a perfect trinity, 777. Satan is a mock trinity, with two beasts and a prophet, who comes short of God's complete perfection. He is therefore 666. So things which come short of God's glory (sin) and therefore follow after Satan are in accordance with the number of the name. Whether we say "I worship Satan" (To quote Paul: May it never be!), or simply live according to his precepts (again, May it never be!), we are still marked by the beast.
So there you have it. We can take who the Beast is and write it on our hands (with our actions) or proclaim it with our heads (by word). Either way, we are tatooing ourselves with a mark of ownership, instead of having the seal of ownership on our souls. Whether we do it explicitly in the name of the beast, or in the number of his name (the same nature), we stand in sin. So is the mark of the beast a literal mark which could be photographed on the hand or head? I do not believe so. Is it something dangerous, sometimes tangible and frighteningly real? Yes. Yes it is.


Thank you for this question.

1Henry clarifies the meaning of whore in context: A whore [in this passage] is one that is married, and has been false to her husband's bed, has forsaken the guide of her youth, and broken the covenant of God.


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