Sweeping Away the Confusion of the Cults

Does This Mark Have Anything At All to do With Keeping the Sabbath (as some claim)?

H ere is a biblical topic which the cults and sects have really taken to their hearts over the last 150 years or so.
It is surely fair to say that many such groups have really allowed their imaginations to run riot in this intriguing area of the Book of Revelation!
Unfortunately, however, most of the various theories which the cults and sects have thrown up on this topic have been devoid of any real biblical grounding whatsoever.

It is absolutely essential to realise that virtually all of Revelation's often bewildering array of symbols are firmly rooted in the Old Testament. It is indeed sad that the concept has grown which encourages the belief that this great book's symbols can only be interpreted by resorting to extra-biblical writers and resources. It is also regrettable that while most have recognised that the Book of Revelation is written in the apocalyptic style, many have failed to do just the small amount of research necessary to learn what this particular style of writing sought to accomplish! The result of this is the widespread belief that Revelation was meant to be a 'hidden book' - even though the very name, 'revelation' appears to indicate that, rather than 'hidden', the book was intended to be a great revealing! (Revelation 1:1).

Before looking specifically at the topic of the Mark of the Beast, I would just say that UK Apologetics always recommend the Hendriksen approach towards the Book of Revelation, which seems to us to be the most firmly biblical. This approach has probably been upheld by most of the great reformed writers and commentators of the last 30 or 40 years, including the famous preacher (and my fellow Welshman) Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Hendriksen's classic treatment of Revelation is called, More Than Conquerors and although first published in 1940, is still freely available having undergone many reprints. It is also interesting to note that - unlike many extremist approaches towards this great book which have come from the cults and sects which within a few years of their printing have proven themselves to be deeply in error - the Hendriksen approach has not dated one day since 1940!

So, just what is the Mark of the Beast?

If it were not so tragic, we could surely be greatly amused at some of the suggestions which have been put forward!
For instance, the mark has been interpreted by many seventh day people as assembling for worship on a Sunday - The Lord's Day! (Even though we can be quite sure that many Christians were starting to assemble for worship primarily on that day at the time John wrote Revelation, and almost all by about 200AD which is made clear by many early church documents such as the Apologies of Justin Martyr, the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas), others have identified the mark with freemasonry, others with the American dollar, others with the new European 'euro' currency. Still others have insisted that this is an actual mark which will appear on people's foreheads at some time in the future! But we really must sweep these exciting, but ultimately unbiblical, notions aside in favour of a more truly biblical approach!

As with most of Revelation's symbols, we will soon note an Old Testament 'mark' which will greatly assist our understanding, even though many commentators miss this out (even Hendriksen!!), but first we need to step back a little. Obviously, if we going to consider the Mark of the Beast it might help to know a little more about who/what that Beast is!!

When Did John Write?

The newer general realisation that John wrote before AD70 helps solves a lot of this book's problems. For many years many theologians dated his writings to the 90s AD but careful study and research shows there is really no reason to afford such a late date to his writings. At once this helps us see that Nero's first persecution of the church (AD 60s) may be the subject of much more of Revelation than had once been realised.

Who/What is the Beast?

The Scripture to consider here is Revelation 13:1-18.
Two horrible beasts are described here and both are undoubtedly tools of Satan. The second is actually more dangerous because it appears to be benign and harmless. The first beast represents Satan's physical means to destroy believers during the ages. It is representative of governmental power to persecute Christians wherever it can. But the second beast represents Satan's philosophical, mental and spiritual means to stamp out Christianity; not only false, lying religion, but the false, lying philosophies which Satan has used are included here. The beast which arises from the sea (always a symbol of turbulence in the Bible), is closely associated with the beast which rises from the abyss (Revelation 11:7), which refers to the final form that the beast will take. So the more ugly sea-borne beast can be said to depict Satan's persecuting power in all the nations and governments of the world throughout history. Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Roman are involved here (See Daniel 7:2-8), but this goes beyond that and there would be many restorations of the power of the beast. It is the dragon, Satan, who actually rules through the beast, of course.

How about the 'deadly wound' which was 'healed' (Revelation 13:3)??, this is where things stood when John recorded the prophecy. We can be almost certain now that John wrote in the 60s AD (not in the 90s AD as once thought), before the temple was destroyed in AD70. Nero had greatly persecuted Christians but then had killed himself. When John wrote, the beast was clearly Nero, the man. Nero was the 6th king of Rome as John wrote (see Revelation 17:10). When he died many thought that the whole system of Rome would collapse with him, but the deadly wound was indeed healed under Domitian and Rome would continue. But it is vital to note that the beast and its restorations go beyond simply restorations of the Roman Empire (which many claim). We know this because the four clearly identified original major world empires (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome) which Daniel saw (Daniel 7) are combined into just one beast here in Revelation 13 (see verse 2). They are successive world empires in Daniel, but here we have a composite beast so it is hardly possible for it to merely depict any one empire or government - this must surely be all unchristian governments wherever they may be found.


1. Believing that all examples of 'beast power' must be Roman-based. Unlike the beast of Daniel, this is now a composite, or mixed, beast since it included all elements associated with the four original world empires!
Any government which attacks and/or undermines the Christian gospel is revealing beastly characteristics to the degree that it does this.
Just consider for a moment how ludicrous it would be to be watching with 'eagle eyes' for a 'Roman restoration' which will persecute Christians when - right at this moment - several governments in Asia actively persecute Christians, being quite prepared to throw them into prison - and even threaten them with death - because they are followers of Christ! This, in itself, is revealing beastly power.
Are we going to say, It's fine if they do that because they are not the beast and have no connections with Rome??!!

2. Believing that the only 'beastly' religion and philosophy is Roman-based, therefore tending to identify just one particular religious organisation! This may be an even bigger mistake!!
ALL RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHIES WHICH ATTACK AND UNDERMINE THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL MUST BE INCLUDED HERE. The list is very long. We have had communism, evolutionary teaching, liberal protestantism, Freudianism, secularism, Islam and much else too. All of these things are the product of the second beast of Revelation 13:11 which had 'two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon' - this religious/philosophical beast always encourages support for the first beast of government and state (Verse 15). This beast appears to be the same as 'the false prophet' of Revelation 19:20.

In all of this, we really must remember that John wrote in the apocalyptic style and he purposely used grand 'brush strokes' of vivid, captivating and compelling colour; it is an error to look for strict literalism in his writing of Revelation; do any of us think that the beast with seven heads and ten horns is an actual living animal? John wanted to attract the attention of true believers whilst - at the same time - masking his meaning from the persecuting Roman authorities.

So What is the Mark of the Beast?

The foregoing neatly brings us to Revelation 13:16-17:

And 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

So often we find that we are helped in our understanding of Revelation's difficulties by having a good working knowledge of the Old Testament, and we may immediately be reminded of the mark of Ezekiel 9!
Here we find a kind of 'reverse mark' because the mark of Ezekiel is upon the righteous!

And the LORD said to him, "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."
To the others, He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity"

(Ezekiel 9:4-5)

So here we see the righteous receive a mark and the unrighteous left unmarked and therefore fitted for destruction!
Where does this whole conception of 'marking' come from? Well, slaves were marked, of course, and so were cattle - marking denoted ownership - and still does in farming! The perfect antithesis mark of Ezekiel starts to make plain that we are here discussing spiritual ownership! Do we belong to God or Satan?

The mark of Revelation 13 is impressed on the hand (symbolic of ones 'working' and 'doing' life and of one's actions), and upon the forehead (symbolic of one's thoughts and philosophies of life!) Branding and marking was to clearly identify ownership, removing all doubts!

Therefore receiving the Mark of the Beast is symbolic of the fact that that person truly belongs to the company of those who seek to persecute the Church of God, either in what they think, or what they do, the antichristian spirit of persecution and a wish to destroy Christianity is present! This is virtually the opposite of being 'sealed' by Christ! One so sealed lives for Christ and for the message of the gospel. One possessing the beast's mark however is fully part of this world, its pursuits, its lusts and...yes, its religions and philosophies too!
Marking and branding was all about ultimate ownership!

But why could only those bearing the mark of the beast 'buy and sell'??
Because since the founding of the Church, it has often been the case that Christians have been heavily discriminated against in their working lives; indeed, until Constantine became the first Christian emperor in the fourth century AD, Christians were frequently prevented from working at all, since withdrawal from pagan society often meant withdrawal from all hope of employment! We can be quite sure that the early Christians who were faced with this situation had no difficulty whatsoever in understanding Revelation 13:16-17! They were not prepared to receive the Roman Empire's beast mark of allegiance to its pagan gods and so did not have enough money to 'buy and sell' - very simple!
And there have been many other societies in places as diverse as China, the Arab world and the 20th century Soviet communist bloc where attempts have been made to starve Christians out! Also, the Papacy of the 10th-13th centuries made several attempts to 'starve out' Bible-believing communities which refused to submit to the bishop of Rome within southern Europe.
So being unable to 'buy or sell' is a reality which thousands of Christians have had to face during this Church age and - wherever we see it - it is indicative of beastly governmental power.

So this mark seeks - wherever possible - to exclude Christians from normal everyday economic life.

In contrast, unbelievers are the wicked who seem to prosper in this world (Psalms 37, 73). Of course, one of the reasons for this is that God is mostly not calling the wise, powerful, famous or wealthy of this world for the most part (1 Corinthians 1:17-29). Yet even today in the West, so often it seems that Christians are the ones who have to forego promotion in the work place because they refuse to indulge in dishonest practises. In complete contrast, those bearing the mark of the beast are committed to the worldly way of doing things - they do not see themselves as answerable to God and so often seem to see money, prestige, lust and glamour as the only things worth striving for in this life. Such people may even observe a moral code - but only as long as it is in their interests - these are the people bearing the beast's mark!

In the 'mirror marking' of Ezekiel 9, those who received the protective mark were those who, 'sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it (the city)' Here is a good indicator! Do we regularly 'sigh and cry' over all the sinful behaviour which now occurs quite openly in our western societies? The truly converted mind undoubtedly does! If one is indeed 'sighing and crying' over the rapid moral decline of our societies and has a heart filled with love for Christ, such a person very definitely DOES NOT bear the mark of the beast! Here in the UK alone, 180,000 tiny unborn babies are aborted every year (our society insists on calling them 'foetuses' in order to de-personalise them) - Do we 'sigh and cry' over this? Do we 'sigh and cry' that the government insists that sexual perversion be taught to our impressionable older children as 'a possible alternative lifestyle'? Do we 'sigh and cry' that the great lie of evolution is routinely taught in our classrooms as our young people are given a foundation for lifelong atheism?

What about the number of 666 which is so associated with the beast? (Revelation 13:18)

After all, we are told 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' (Verse 17).
We have to ask ourselves whether the multiplicity of attempts to brand the number 666 on to countless figures of the past and present has been truly helpful! It is true that figures such as Romulus, the founder of Rome, Nero and Benito Mussolini, the Second World War Italian dictator were said to bear this number in various ways. Yet the number does successfully identify Nero as several have pointed out, but I am not sure how far this gets us!

Also, when the text says this is the number of a man this is not bound to mean a specific man within world history! Let us propose another possibility:
All Bible scholars have recognised that various numbers are used significantly within the Scriptures. Six is always the number of man without God, whereas seven is the perfect number. Man was created on Day Six, but Man did not yet have a complete relationship with God. It seems especially likely that in a book such as Revelation in which numbers are repeatedly used symbolically rather than literally (a strong characteristic of apocalyptic writing), that 666 is also being used symbolically. So '666' may be being used purely metaphorically and figuratively as a number of imperfection and incompletion. In contrast, this highly symbolic book also presents us with the wholly ideal number of 144,000 which is symbolic of perfection and spiritual completion. The latter number points out the final complete success and decisive victory for Christ and His saints. 666, in contrast, appears to be symbolic of final failure, certainly of final spiritual failure.


The Mark of the Beast, like all markings and brandings, denotes ownership - in this case it is SPIRITUAL OWNERSHIP.
It is not merely some phenomena which will occur just before the Second Coming of Christ but has been a reality throughout this Church Age wherever Christians have had to operate under beastly governments and regimes, though the mark has varied in severity.

A Christian who 'sighs and cries' at the presence of evil, has a heart full of love for the Lord Jesus Christ with a determination to do his/her part to disseminate the gospel to others, cannot possibly be affected by the mark while he or she continues on that path without compromise. But bearers of the mark (who thereby reveal an antichristian spirit of persecution with a wish - either on the surface or deep down - to destroy biblical Christianity), are headed for destruction whilst they retain their desire to serve this world rather than God. We might note with concern that this would appear to include those held under the influence of Liberal Christianity.
Robin A. Brace
1998, some slight revision in 2003.


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