Online posts about the current crisis being a forerunner to the Mark of the Beast are rampant. In fact, you could say they’re going viral! In general, they go something like this:
Lockdowns around the world will be lifted but only for those immune to the coronavirus. You will have to be tested to see if you’ve had the disease or be given a vaccine. Once that’s happened, you’ll be issued a certificate, identity card, or tattoo. To travel and work freely, you’ll have to show this proof that you’re not infectious. In this way, millions will be tricked into receiving some kind of Mark. Could this be the “Mark of the Beast”?
Pastor Ronnie Hampton of the New Vision Community Church in Shreveport, Louisiana put it this way: “They’re gonna come up with a vaccine and in that vaccine everybody is gonna have to take it … and inside of that vaccine there’s going to be some type of electronic computer device that’s gonna put some type of chip in you and maybe even have some mood, mind-altering circumstances. And they’re saying that the chip would be the Mark of the Beast.” Pastor Hampton, who scorned COVID-19 as a conspiracy, passed away from the virus in late March.
Diving into Revelation
So, what is this mysterious ‘Mark’ and number that we read about in Revelation?
“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (Revelation 13:16-18).
It’s important to remember that John wrote Revelation to seven churches in the First Century. When John told THEM to“calculate the number of the beast” to discover his identity, he wasn’t teasing them to try and recognise someone who wouldn’t exist for two thousand years. He was writing about a well-known code of the day (gematria) that his readers would understand.
Bible scholars are divided on the date Revelation was written. Some prefer earlier writing around the mid-60s, while others favour a later date in the 90s. Either of these dates work well for John’s wise and insightful readers to “solve the meaning of the number of the beast” (NLT).
Unpacking 666 & Mark
The 60s: Nero Caesar (a Greek form of Nero’s name, when rendered into Hebrew, gives a combined value of 666).
The 90s: Domitian Caesar (Greek title: A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E. 1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666). Domitian earned the nickname “the Beast” amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians, and Jews because of his cruelty and executions during his reign of terror.
What was the Mark without which no one could buy or sell? John tells us it was “the name of the beast or the number of its name.” The term “mark” (Greek, charagma) was most commonly used for imprints on documents or coins. Charagma was also an imperial seal of the Roman Empire used on official documents during the first and second centuries (see reference).
It is likely then that the Mark was Nero’s (or Domitian’s) inscription on Roman currency, without which one could not buy or sell. Loyal Romans would wear coins on the back of their right hand or on their forehead as a show of allegiance to the Emperor.
New Testament scholar Craig C. Hill notes, “the Mark symbolizes the all-embracing economic power of Rome, whose very coinage bore the Emperor’s image and conveyed his claims to divinity. It had become increasingly difficult for Christians to function in a world in which public life, including the economic life of the trade guilds, required participation in idolatry.” In 66AD, the Jews revolted against Rome and coined their own money. Before this, money changers at the Jerusalem temple would exchange coins with the Emperor’s Mark with Temple coins so that no graven image could enter the Temple and defile it.
An alternative interpretation of Revelation 13:18 refers to the number of the beast as “humanity’s number”. In Bible numerics, seven is the number of perfection and is attributed to God. Humanity’s number is six, one less than seven because everyone falls short of perfection (Romans 3:23).
Where Should Our Focus Be?
Christians today should be careful not to be caught up in “foolish controversies … because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). We are called to be discerning of the times in which we live, but that is so our lives will be productive and pure, not wasting time on wild speculation.
Let us do good, make the world a better place, and share the good news of the Christian gospel. Let’s be looking for the real Christ, not the anti-one!
Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving faith community located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.