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.
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”
The meaning of 666 is a mystery as well. Some speculated that there was a connection to June 6, 2006—06/06/06. However, in Revelation chapter 13, the number 666 identifies a person, not a date. Revelation 13:18 tells us, “This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Somehow, the number 666 will identify the Antichrist. For centuries Bible interpreters have been trying to identify certain individuals with 666. Nothing is conclusive. That is why Revelation 13:18 says the number requires wisdom. When the Antichrist is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), it will be clear who he is and how the number 666 identifies him.
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.
“Is it possible for a person to be saved/forgiven after taking the mark of the beast?”
The question then arises as to whether a person who has received the mark of the beast can be forgiven. The answer to this question seems to be “no.” Revelation 14:10–11, describing the fate of someone who takes the mark of the beast, declares, “He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
The eternal destiny of those who take the mark of the beast is the lake of fire. Why is taking the mark of the beast a damnable sin against God? Why would God condemn a person to hell for taking the mark of the beast? It would appear that taking the mark of the beast will be a blasphemous act of willful defiance against God. Receiving the mark of the beast is essentially worshipping Satan. Those who take the mark have made the choice to serve Satan rather than obey God and receive Christ as Savior. When people make that decision during the tribulation, God will grant their request to be eternally separated from Him.