Will you accept the mark of the beast? Without it, you won’t be able to buy or sell. With it, you’ll suffer the plagues of Revelation. What should you do?
It seems that no subject has intrigued and baffled people more than this mysterious mark spoken of in the book of Revelation. Many books have been written and many sermons have been preached about this subject. Scholars and theologians have offered many different ideas about it. Some suggest it is a microchip implanted in one’s forehead or an invisible mark or a visible mark. Some even think it could be one’s credit card or debit card.
But what does the Bible reveal about this puzzling mark?
The key passage reads: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).
If one does not have this identifying sign, he or she will not be able to legally transact business. This person will find it difficult to earn a living, to hold a job or to run a business.
What is the beast of Revelation?
John, the one God chose to write down the book of Revelation, saw a vision of the future. Here is what he wrote concerning this beast: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (Revelation 13:1).
To understand what this beast in the book of Revelation is, we need to begin in Daniel 7:1-8, where we find the imagery of four animals, representing the four great historical empires. These were a lion (Babylon), a bear (Persia), a leopard (Greece) and a fourth beast (Rome).
It is this fourth beast described by Daniel and recorded by John that would have “ten horns” and receive a “deadly wound” before rising again before the end of this age (Daniel 7:7-8; Revelation 13:3). This empire is the “beast” of the book of Revelation. We should note that the human leader of this revived empire is also referred to as “the beast” (Revelation 19:20). The mark of the beast is the mark or identifying sign of this empire.
The book of Revelation explains that the dragon gives the beast its power and authority. This dragon is Satan the devil (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2). Satan uses this beast to rule and deceive the world.
A second beast
Let’s now turn our attention to the word “he” in Revelation 13:16. The passage says, “He causes all … to receive a mark.” Who is “he”? Verse 11 says, “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.”
These characteristics indicate a false religious leader who “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (verse 12). This second beast is called the “false prophet” (Revelation 19:20). This mark or sign represents a final revival of the Roman Empire at the time of the end. The religious leader that supports the beast “causes” people to accept it.
The mark represents disobedience to God
The mark of the beast will separate people into two groups. One group will accept the mark and the other group will reject it.
The apostle John writes, “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’” (Revelation 14:9-10).
This shows great suffering will come on those who receive this mark of the beast.
In verse 12 we see the group of people who do not receive this mark. “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This is speaking of the saints of God. In instructing the ancient Israelites how to observe the Days of Unleavened Bread, God said this act of obedience to His law would “be as a sign to you on your hand” (Exodus 13:9).
The mark of the beast thus represents disobedience to God’s commandments and rejection of the faith of Jesus. The book of Revelation says that those who receive the mark will be subject to the seven last plagues, while the obedient saints are described as having attained “victory over the beast” (Revelation 15:2). These faithful people will be given eternal life and reign with Christ at His second coming (Revelation 20:4).
What is the mark of the beast?
As we’ve already seen, this specific sign determines who may officially transact business. One who has this identifying sign will be able to “buy and sell.” The Bible clearly explains the financial repercussions that will come based upon whether one has this mark or not.
We also note that there is one commandment of God that is often closely connected to one’s ability to do business and that identifies God’s people. Of God’s 10 Commandments, the Fourth Commandment is the one most likely to affect one’s ability to work, earn a living and do business. The command says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8-10).
Most people think it does not make any difference what day one observes, but it does to God. In this age, it takes the “faith of Jesus” to avoid working on the Sabbath and to keep it holy. (For more on this subject, read our articles on the Sabbath.)
What is a mark in the Bible?
The Greek word charagma in Revelation 14:9 means “a scratch or etching, that is, stamp (as a badge of servitude)” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries). A mark is thus a brand or sign of identification.
The Sabbath is called a “sign” between God and His people in the Bible (Exodus 31:13, 17; Ezekiel 20:12). It identifies God’s people as being sanctified or set apart by God. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The Sabbath today is still a commandment and an identifying sign of God’s people.
Another occasion of marking or identifying people is found in the book of Ezekiel where God tells the prophet, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it” (Ezekiel 9:4). This mark identified those who obeyed God and mourned over the sins of the city.
The location of the mark
The account in Revelation says those who receive the mark of the beast will receive it “on their right hand or on their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16). Many people think it will be some kind of physical mark in or on one’s skin, and this certainly could be. Yet because the book of Revelation employs many symbols, we must also consider the possibility that these references to the “right hand” and “forehead” are symbolic. If so, what do they mean?
The right hand can represent our actions, works and labor. The forehead can symbolize the inner beliefs, the intellect and what is in the mind. The mark of the beast is thus related to what we believe in our mind and what we do with our hands. Compare this with Deuteronomy 6:8, where God commanded ancient Israel to bind the commandments “as a sign on your hand, and … as frontlets between your eyes.”
The connection between our thoughts and our actions is a good explanation of faith. In the Bible the real “faith of Jesus” has two parts, belief and acting in faith on those beliefs. (See more about this in our article “What Is Faith?”)
The Bible says the mark of the beast will be forced on an unsuspecting world before the return of Jesus Christ. This world will not realize it is following the teachings of a false religious system. God gives those who read the Bible and believe the Scriptures a clear choice. May we all hold to and practice the faith of Jesus and keep the commandments of God! This is the choice we must make in order to avoid the mark of the beast and to receive eternal life in the family of God.