Revelation 13 and the “Mark of the Beast”
For centuries Christians have speculated about the meaning of the “mark of the beast” and the number 666, both of which are discussed in Revelation chapter 13. We are told that a symbolic beast with two horns, and who spoke like a dragon, “forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead” (13:16). What is this strange “mark”?
The Beast’s “Mark”
The Greek word used for “mark” is charagma. It was the technical term for the Roman imperial stamp that appeared on various documents. The charagma was a seal stamped with the name and date of the emperor and attached to commercial documents. Apparently, it also stood for the emperor’s head stamped on coins. Thus, the charagma represented the likeness or name of the emperor.
The charagma was also a type of brand. In Roman times, disobedient slaves were often branded with marks of ownership, much like cattle are today. Religious tattooing was also widespread. Soldiers had a custom of branding themselves with the name of a favorite general. Devotees of a god labeled themselves with tattoos to designate their loyal devotion.
However, we should be careful about looking for some ancient practice of “marking” and thinking that this is what will happen in the future. John was writing to real people in the first-century church, not some “end-time” church, and his message applied to them. Whatever the “mark” was, it conveyed something they could understand.
What point was John trying to get across when he was speaking of a “mark”? The mark is probably not meant to be something visible to the eye, as was the Nazi practice of tattooing numbers on concentration camp inmates. Nor should we assume it to be an identity card of some kind, like a Social Security or credit card.
More likely, the mark is a symbol. It is something that identifies who belongs to the beast – or to God. There is an Old Testament parallel in Ezekiel on which Revelation draws. John’s readers would have readily understood the point he was making. In vision, Ezekiel saw a man with a writing kit at his side. He heard the Lord say to the man, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezekiel 9:4). Here are people who are “marked” for protection.
In like manner, Israel was “marked” by blood smeared on the doorposts of their homes. On the eve of the Exodus, the death angel swept through Egypt, killing the firstborn. He passed over any door marked with blood (Exodus 12:21-23). This mark was merely a symbol, as the angel would have been quite able to distinguish between an Israelite and Egyptian.
Earlier in Revelation we read of the 144,000 servants of God who were sealed on their foreheads with “the seal [sphragis] of the living God” (7:2). They were also to be protected from the plagues that would devastate the earth (7:3). Those not having the seal were afforded no protection (9:4).
The “mark of the beast” is a counterpart to the sealing of the faithful people of God. The beast will attempt to identify and protect his people (and destroy his enemies) even as God knows and protects those who are his people.
How does the beast know who are his own? Simple: they are all willing to worship him and his image. Their worship is the mark by which they are identified! Those who refuse to worship will be exposed by their refusal to perform the act of idolatrous obeisance. Their steadfast loyalty to God, however, will be the evidence that they carry the seal of God. The “mark” of the beast is not visible writing, just as the “seal” of God’s servants is not done in writing. It is the behavior of the person that indicates where the person’s allegiance is.
Of course, the refusal to worship the beast will bring serious personal and economic consequences for the people of God. That’s because, “No one could buy or sell unless he had the mark” (13:17). Those who do not worship the beast are not allowed to participate in the economic life of the community.
The false political and religious system wields tight economic control over those whom it dominates. No one is exempt from this harsh economic repression. Whether small, great, rich, poor, free, or slave – all must comply (3:16-17). Individuals who refuse to serve the beast are not allowed to carry out the smallest economic transactions. This has always been a favorite way by which governments and authorities shut out undesirables from the system. They don’t allow them to participate in the benefits of the economy in one way or another.
That means they cannot buy food, obtain shelter, clothing or receive medical help. This implies starvation, exposure and death for those who do not worship the beast.
“His number is 666”
Revelation now gives us its definition of the beast’s mark. It “is the name of the beast or the number of his name” (13:17). This number “is a man’s number,” and it is 666 (13:18). Most attempts at interpreting the number 666 begin with the fact that in ancient times letters were commonly used to stand for numbers. This meant every name was also a numerical sum obtained by adding up all its letters. A piece of graffiti from Pompeii is often used as an example of how letters stood for numbers. It reads, “I love the girl whose name is phi mu epsilon.”
Some ancient apocalyptic writings do precisely what Revelation 13:18 does. They refer to people, in one case a succession of ancient emperors, by mentioning the number of the first letter in each of their names (Sibylline Oracles 5:12-42).
There is much ancient precedent in ancient literature in referring to someone by the number of his name. It is not an eccentric oddity of Revelation, as we might imagine. The point is, John’s original readers knew to whom he referred or what he meant when he spoke of the number 666.
Those who feel “666” referred to an individual living in John’s lifetime most commonly opt for Nero Caesar as the solution to the puzzle. We must, however, be cautioned on one point. If Revelation had reference to Nero in the number “666” it could not have been thinking of him in a literal sense – but only as a prototype of the beast.
Nero had persecuted the church and used the Christians as a scapegoat. Thus, he could have been a symbol – a type – of the beast in any age. John’s audience, knowing of Nero and the myth surrounding him that he was still alive or would be resurrected, would have gotten the point. In the thought of biblical scholar M. Eugene Boring, John would have been saying of the beast, “Watch out! It’s going to be Nero all over again.”
Modern Christians may be making too much of John’s use of “666” precisely because we are so far removed from the time of his original audience. Whoever might be referred to here – if Nero or someone else – we must not assume that John was posing some riddle for his audience, the seven churches to which the book is written. If John was referring to a contemporary individual – even as a type – his audience would have known him. Thus, they would have known which letters made up his name, and their numerical equivalent. They did not need special insight to decipher the number. Yet, Revelation says, understanding the meaning of “666” “calls for wisdom” (13:18).
Wisdom to understand what, then? Why, the meaning of the name or number. In the words of M. Eugene Boring: “When Revelation was read forth in the worship of the Asian churches, the call for wisdom to calculate the number of the beast (13:18) was not a challenge to identify who the beast, the persecuting authority was – they knew that well enough already – but to recognize what it was, that it was in fact the beast empowered by Satan, not the cultural savior it claimed to be” (Revelation, p.162).
If John is referring to Nero or some other emperor, then he is a type of the beast. If he meant some local political (or religious official) of Asia, then his name is probably lost in antiquity.
Some commentators say that the number did not identify a particular individual at all. That is, the number itself had a meaning. “According to this view,” says Robert W. Wall, “The cryptographic 666 falls short of the number 777, which symbolizes divine perfection” (Revelation, p.174). The beast or Antichrist does not measure up to the perfection of Christ, though he claims to do so.
A statement of John lends credence to this idea. He says 666 “is man’s number” (13:18). Man, however, is fallen, sinful and incomplete. On the other hand, seven is the number of completeness – and would refer to God and his work. The seven days of creation in Genesis 1 is an example. If the meaning of “666” is in the number itself, then the point is simple: The beast is nothing more than human government under demonic control. In that sense, the “beast” has always been with us, and it can be seen at work throughout the ages.
A tattooed number, a computer chip under the skin, or something more subtle? It’s one of the most misinterpreted prophecies in all of the Bible – yet it is so important to correctly understand this subject. But in studying the mark of the beast, we must address some very sensitive issues, naming names and being specific. This is not a popular thing today, but we must be firm because God loves His people and He wants them to know the truth. This message is not ours, but Jesus’. And with eternal death facing those who receive the mark, it would be a crime to not help Him deliver this message. This lesson should probably be prefaced with a warning: “THE DEVIL DOES NOT WANT YOU TO READ AND COMPLETE THIS STUDY GUIDE.” Please read Revelation 13:1-8, 14:9-12, and 16-18, and pray for the Holy Spirit to grant you an honest and understanding heart before embarking on this study adventure.
An Urgent Reminder
We learned from Study Guide 2 that a terrible conflict is in progress between God and the devil. It has raged through the centuries since Lucifer, heaven’s most powerful angel, rebelled against God. With the angels who joined him, he attempted to overcome God and seize control of the universe. God and the loyal angels had no choice but to eject Lucifer and his angels from heaven. Lucifer, who became known as the devil and Satan, was infuriated. His determination to destroy God and control the universe has grown with every passing year. Amazingly, he has won the support of the vast majority of earth’s people in his rebellion. The Lord also asks for people’s loyalty and support, but He leaves all free to choose. Soon every person on earth will have aligned with either Satan or God. The final battle between Satan and God is just ahead, and it is described in the book of Revelation. This book points out that God has an emblem, or mark, which will identify His people. Satan also has an emblem, or mark, that will identify those who support him. As usual, Satan will work through an earthly power symbolized in Revelation by a beast to impose his mark. This Study Guide will reveal the beast’s mark, which every lost person of the end time will receive. Unless you know what his “mark” is, how will you avoid receiving it?
The papacy is the antichrist.
1. In order to know what the “mark” is, we must first identify the beast. How does the Bible describe the beast?
Answer: Revelation 13:1-8, 16-18 provides 11 identifying characteristics. They are listed below:
A. Rises from sea (verse 1).
B. Composite of the four beasts of Daniel chapter 7 (verse 2).
C. Dragon gives it power and authority (verse 2).
D. Receives a deadly wound (verse 3).
E. Deadly wound healed (verse 3).
F. Strong political power (verses 3, 7).
G. Strong religious power (verses 3, 8).
H. Guilty of blasphemy (verses 1, 5, 6).
I. Wars with and overcomes the saints (verse 7).
J. Rules for 42 months (verse 5).
K. Has mysterious number 666 (verse 18).
Do some of these points have a familiar ring? Certainly! We encountered many of them earlier when we studied about the Antichrist in Daniel chapter 7. The “beast” of Revelation 13 is simply another name for the “Antichrist,” which we learned from Daniel 7 is the papacy.
Prophecies of Daniel and Revelation often cover the same ground as prior prophecies, but each time new features are added that help make the prophecies certain. So expect to learn some new things about the Antichrist from this Study Guide. Now let’s consider, one by one, the 11 points that describe the beast.
A. It would rise from the sea (Revelation 13:1).
The sea (or water) in prophecy refers to people, or a populated area (Revelation 17:15). So the beast, or Antichrist, would arise from amid the established nations of the then-known world. The papacy, as we all know, arose in western Europe, so it fits this point.
A Word of Explanation
In harmony with God’s command to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17), we pause here to recognize the papacy for her many good deeds and activities. Her hospitals, orphanages, care for the poor, homes for unwed mothers, and care for the aged are appreciated universally. She can honestly be lauded for many things. But, like all other organizations, she has also made mistakes. God pinpoints some of her errors in Revelation. The Lord, who blesses and comforts, must sometimes chasten and correct. Please ask His Spirit to speak to you as you study this crucial topic.
B. It would be a composite of the four beasts of Daniel chapter 7 (Revelation 13:2).
Study the comparison below to see how it all fits together:
Daniel chapter 7 Revelation chapter 13
Babylon Lion-like beast (vs. 4) “Mouth of a lion” (vs. 2)
Medo-Persia Bearlike beast (vs. 5) “Feet of a bear” (vs. 2)
Greece Leopard-like beast (vs. 6) “Like unto a leopard” (vs. 2)
Rome Ten-horned beast (vs. 7) “Having … ten horns” (vs. 1)
The four beasts of Daniel 7 are depicted as part of Antichrist, or the beast, because the papacy incorporated pagan beliefs and practices from all four empires. She clothed them in spiritual garb and spread them to the world as Christian teachings. Here is one of many supporting statements from history: “In a certain respect, she [the papacy] has copied her organization from that of the Roman Empire, has preserved and made fruitful the philosophical intuitions of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, borrowed from both Barbarians and the Byzantine Roman Empire, but always remains herself, thoroughly digesting all elements drawn from external sources.” 1 This point definitely fits the papacy.
C. The beast must receive its power, seat (capital), and authority from the dragon (Revelation 13:2).
To identify the dragon, we go to Revelation chapter 12, where God’s end-time church is pictured as a pure woman. In prophecy, a pure woman represents God’s true people or church (Jeremiah 6:2 Isaiah 51:16). (In Study Guide 23, we will present a detailed study of God’s end-time church of Revelation chapter 12. Study Guide 22 explains Revelation chapters 17 and 18, where fallen churches are symbolized by a fallen mother and her fallen daughters.) The pure woman is portrayed as pregnant and about to deliver. The dragon crouches nearby, hoping to “devour” the baby at birth. However, when the baby is born He evades the dragon, fulfills His mission, and then ascends to heaven. Obviously the baby is Jesus, whom Herod tried to destroy by killing all the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). So the dragon represents pagan Rome, of which Herod was a king. The power behind Herod’s plot was, of course, the devil (Revelation 12:7-9). Satan acts through various governments to accomplish his ugly work in this case, pagan Rome.
We will quote just two supportive references from history, though there are many: (1) “The Roman Church … pushed itself into the place of the Roman World-Empire, of which it is the actual continuation. …The Pope … is Caesar’s successor.” 2 (2) “The mighty Catholic Church was little more than the Roman Empire baptised. Rome was transformed as well as converted. The very capital of the old Empire became the capital of the Christian Empire. The office of Pontifex Maximus was continued in that of Pope.” 3 So this point also fits the papacy. She received her capital city and power from pagan Rome.
D. It would receive a deadly wound (Revelation 13:3).
The deadly wound was inflicted when Napoleon’s general, Alexander Berthier, entered Rome and took Pope Pius VI captive in February of 1798. Napoleon decreed that at the death of the pope, the papacy would be discontinued. The pope died in France in August of 1799. “Half Europe thought … that without the Pope the Papacy was dead.” 4 So this point also fits the papacy.
E. The deadly wound would be healed, and the entire world would give homage to the beast (Revelation 13:3).
Since its healing, the strength of the papacy has grown and increased until today she is one of the most powerful religio-political organizations and influence-centers in the world. Malachi Martin, consummate Vatican insider and intelligence expert, reveals the following in his best-selling book The Keys of This Blood 5 (page numbers in parentheses):
The Beast from the Sea
1Then I saw a beast with ten horns and seven heads rising out of the sea. There were ten royal crowns on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2The beast I saw was like a leopard, with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave the beast his power and throne and great authority.…
Berean Study Bible · Download
“And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another.
“After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.
“While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.
“Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done.
When the two witnesses have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will wage war with them, and will overpower and kill them.
Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads.
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. This beast had two horns like a lamb, but spoke like a dragon.
Because of the signs it was given to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived those who dwell on the earth, telling them to make an image to the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet had lived.
The second beast was permitted to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image would also speak and cause all who refused to worship it to be killed.
And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, beside which stood those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name. They were holding harps from God,
Treasury of Scripture
And I stood on the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads the name of blasphemy.
Jeremiah 5:22 Fear you not me? said the LORD: will you not tremble at my presence…
Revelation 11:7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that …
Revelation 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the …
Daniel 7:2,3 Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, …
having. See on ch.
Revelation 12:3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red …
Revelation 17:3,7-12,16 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw …
Daniel 7:7,8,19,20,23,24 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, …
Revelation 12:3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red …
name. or, names. blasphemy.
Revelation 13:5,6 And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; …
Revelation 17:3,5 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw …
Daniel 7:25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear …
Daniel 11:36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, …
2 Thessalonians 2:3,4 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, …