Mark of the Beast - Some Considerations


Roman Coin
        Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” concentrate on deciphering the significance of its number, ‘666.’ Understandably, we wish to ascertain its meaning to avoid taking it. To begin to understand this “mark,” it is necessary to recognize the scriptural background behind it, the relationship of the “mark” to the “Seal of God” (Revelation 7:1-3), the consequences of taking or refusing the “mark,” and the identities of the two resultant groups.
The “mark of the Beast” is the satanic counterpart to the “Seal of God.” Those who take it and give allegiance to the Beast are contrasted with those who have God’s Seal and follow the Lamb. In this way, the book of Revelation divides humanity into two groups: the one consisting of men and women whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; the other, of those who are destined for the Lake of Fire.
(Revelation 13:16-17) - “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
Background
The historical setting is the province of Asia in the Roman Empire near the end of the first century A.D. Churches located in the province were experiencing suspicion and pressure from local populations, and possibly form local magistrates. A relevant factor was the imperial cult that venerated the emperor and Roma, the patron goddess of the city of Rome. Pressure to participate in the cult may have been applied to Christians.
Citizens were free to worship their traditional gods but on some public occasions, it was expected for them also to offer homage to the image of the emperor as the chief patron and lord of the empire. By law, Jews were exempt from this requirement. When Rome began to view Christianity as distinct from Judaism, it became an illegal religion and it lost whatever legal exemptions it enjoyed when it was seen to be a Jewish sect.  granted to the Jews.  Consequently, Christians were pressured to participate in the imperial cult.
To venerate the emperor was a religious and a political act. It demonstrated one’s allegiance to Rome. To refuse to participate was an act of disloyalty, essentially, treason against the State. Persecution was inevitable.
This situation is reflected in Revelation’s choice of verbs for “worship.” The Greek term used in the New Testament and in the Greek Septuagint for religious worship of a supernatural being is the latreuō (and its related noun, latreia, cp. Romans 12:1). Latreuō denotes the “rendering of divine service,” as in a Temple or via a sacrificial system. The term occurs twice in Revelation and always for rendering worship to God (7:15, 22:3).
The more widely used term for “worship” in Revelation is proskuneō, some twenty-four times. Its literal sense is “to kiss toward,” reflecting the ancient practice of prostration before a royal figure. From this, meanings derive such as “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere,” and “venerate.”  The word signified deference paid to a superior being or rank.  To “render homage” was to give allegiance. Proskuneōis used in the book of Revelation for “rendering homage” to someone.
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” (13:6-7, 12:12).
The “inhabitants of the earth” marvel because one of the Beast’s seven heads received a death stroke that was then “healed.” They are awed by its prowess (“who can make war with it?”) and, therefore, “render homage to the Beast.” Ultimately, they do so because “their names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb” (cp. Revelation 17:8).
A second beast appears, the “beast from the earth,” which is identified elsewhere as the “False Prophet” (13:11-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). He mimics Jesus, the true Lamb. Thus, he speaks with the voice of the Dragon but has “two horns like a lamb.” He uses religious deception to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the Beast. All of them without exception are deceived and render obeisance to the Beast.
Those who “tabernacle in heaven” are identified as “saints,” those who “keep the commandments of God and the faithfulness of Jesus” (13:7. Cp. Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6,18:24, 20:9). Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth,” their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 3:5, 21:27). The “saints” are destined for persecution at the hands of the Beast (13:7-10).
The mark of the Beast parodies the “seal of God” on the foreheads of his saints (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4). The seal is given to anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes.” The “sealed” company of the saints is represented as a “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue” that has been redeemed by “the blood of the Lamb.” This company is none other than the church of Jesus.
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; they do not escape persecution and tribulation. Their identification with the Lamb spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” especially the “Second Death” (2:11, 20:6).
The mark of the Beast, on the other hand, identifies all who belong to it. This is clarified in Revelation 13:11through 14:5. 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 may face execution (13:15-18). This “mark” is equated with the “name of the beast” and the “number of his name.”
In contrast, those who belong to the Lamb have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads” (compare Revelation 3:12, 7:1-3). They are found before the Throne on Zion where they “sing a new song” no one else can learn (14:1-5).  This group is comprised of men and women “redeemed from the earth.” 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.
This means that if the Seal of God is figurative, then the same holds true for the mark of the Beast. This is Revelation’s way of dividing mankind into two groups: those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the Beast.
This connection is clear in Revelation 14:9-11where an angel warns that “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.
The “wrath” that followers of the Beast suffer is not a plague but God’s final wrath “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” (20:14).
In contrast, saints who “keep God’s commandments and the faithfulness of Jesus” are found standing on the glassy sea before the Throne where they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb” (15:2-4). They “come and render homage before” the Lord, not the Beast (15:4). Likewise, all who refuse to render homage to the Beast “live and reign with Christ” (Revelation 20:4).
Whenever the “Beast” arrives on the scene, Christians and non-Christians alike have a choice to make:  whether to bow to the beast and take its mark, or not. If there is a relevant message in this 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, beliefs, and ideas of the existing world order we begin to take the "mark of the Beast."  We should be careful about whose "mark" we are receiving.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Redemption of the Nations

The Victory of the Saints over the Dragon