WHAT IS THE MARK OF THE BEAST??
Sweeping Away the Confusion of the Cults
Does This Mark Have
Anything At All to do With Keeping the Sabbath (as some
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
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!!
Who/What is the Beast?
The Scripture to consider here is Revelation
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 belivers
during the ages. It is representative of governmental power to
persecute Christans 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.
'PROPHECY ENTHUSIASTS' OFTEN (though not always) TEND TO MAKE TWO
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
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
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
So What is the Mark of the Beast?
The foregoing neatly brings us to Revelation
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
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
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
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
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
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, and so have many others, 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
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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