Many are the times when I have read in Christian literature, and in articles on the Internet, something to do with the Mark of the Beast. Always the emphasis is on the way in which modern electronic technology is veering towards the literal marking of a hand or a forehead with an invisible code. This code could then be read by a scanning device, similar to that which is used today to read bar codes. The value of this system would then be seen in terms of security. Nobody could copy or steal your “card” and therefore your banking account would be safe. Such is the thinking behind the proposition to use such flesh markings.
But believers read chapter 13 of Revelation, and see the number 666, and notice that it is placed on the forehead or the hand, and equate this with the proposition of the banking world. They say that anyone who allows this form of marking is immediately identified as having the mark of the beast, whose future is bleak indeed. They say that if any Christian accedes to this type of marking, everything good that was hitherto theirs, even their new life in Christ, becomes forfeit, and they are bound for the lake of fire. Such teaching strikes fear into the hearts of many and especially those who have not taken the trouble to check it out with other Scriptures. So what is the truth of the matter?
There are a number of Scriptures that speak about things being added to head and hand, beginning with Exodus 13 and Deut. 6, where the Lord asks His people to bind His law upon their forehead, as frontlets between the eyes, and upon the hand, and even upon their gateposts. The Israelites complied with this injunction to the letter, and made small boxes to tie on their heads. The Greek word for them was Phylacteries, meaning “Guarded.” They thought about them as guardians of the law. Likewise they made thongs to tie round one of their fingers, and small boxes called mezuzahs to nail on the doorposts. Jesus complained that the Pharisees were “making their phylacteries large” so as to be seen by the crowds. Orthodox Jews continue the practice to this present day. Jewish homes sometimes have mezuzahs nailed to every door in their houses.
But what did the Lord mean when He gave this injunction to the people of Israel after leaving Egypt? Did He intend them to wear these little signs all day? Even if He recommended the making of phylacteries and other devices for remembering the extreme sanctity of the law, can we really believe that He expected men to walk about and perform their daily work wearing little boxes on their heads? Doesn’t ordinary common sense and logic demand that something else be meant by these symbols?
What did the Lord ask of His people? Did He not intend them to treat the Law as sacred? Did He not ask that they should read the Law, in fact saturate their minds with the Law, revere the Law, and to the best of their ability put the various laws into practice in their lives? Isn’t it all summed up in Deut. 5:1? “Hear O Israel, the statutes and the judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that you may learn them, keep them, and do them.” Learning them was an on-going task that would occupy them throughout their lives. Keeping them meant guarding them as the most sacred property, the very words and character of God Himself. Doing them meant putting them into practice to the best of their ability.
It is on this basis that the injunction must be understood. The emphasis must not be placed on the literal application, but rather on the symbolic meaning of the request. To have the law as frontlets between the eyes is to learn the laws of God, to have them tied on the finger is to put the laws into practice in everyday life. To nail them on the gateposts is to maintain the house as a bastion of God’s law, in other words, as a guardian of law, a witness to all those who would pass that way.
Anyone could make a phylactery and wear it, but this didn’t prove that his innermost thoughts were centred on God’s law. Anyone could make a little mezuzah and nail it to his doorpost, but his house need not necessarily reflect the guardianship of the law. Anyone could bind leather thongs round his fingers, to show he was observant of the law, but in the practical outworking of his life fall very far short of his advertised standard. I say this, not against those who really wanted to keep the laws, and knew they sometimes fell short, but because of the many who would be more than insistent to observe the visible symbols, but lacking in the drive and desire to have a lifestyle in accordance with them.
On the basis of this brief analysis, we now turn to the Book of Revelation, where we meet the principle twice. In chapters 7 & 14 we read about the 144,000 whose foreheads were sealed. In chapter 13 we read about those who have the mark of the beast on their forehead. It must surely be clear that in each instance the symbolism must be unlocked to understand exactly what John was asked to write. The 144,000 being sealed is the symbol of those who have followed the Lord implicitly through their lives. The sealing represents this state of mind, because the forehead covers the brain and the mind behind it. On the other hand, the mark of the beast represents the ones who are prepared to trade with the devil in all his works, (who “worship the beast”) and whose minds reflect their refusal to comply with divine revelation. The first few verses of Rev. 14 help us to interpret the “mark of the beast” by comparison and contrast. It is as follows –
Rev.14:1 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.
4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
The Father’s name is set against the name of the Beast. If the Father’s name represents those “who follow the Lamb”, who are “without guile”, and “without fault”, then those who have the name of the beast must be quite the opposite, namely those who follow the beast, and who are full of guile and fault in the sight of God.
To apply this spiritual principle is to unlock the meaning and give it some logical sense. To use literal marks, as for example on young Damien in the film The Omen, is to make nonsense out of spiritual principles.
If anyone should object to this interpretation based on the “buying and selling”, saying that it must refer to banking, then they have fallen into the trap of not using well-tried principles of interpretation, where two contrasted things within one context, must be seen in juxtaposition in every detail. The character of the 144,000 must therefore be the opposite of those having the mark of the beast. Buying and selling must therefore be understood within that context, rather than in the banking context.
What difference is there between our present method of using cards to buy goods, and having an imprinted mark to serve the same purpose? Are we suggesting that God Himself is taken in by human nonsense, and will consign all such to the lake of fire regardless of their lives? In this matter, as with others, there seems to be a lack of reflection today in the matter of Biblical symbolism. One must not rush into accepting some new fangled interpretation before giving the mind a little while to study and reflect on the validity of these way-out exegetical propositions.
Finally, a word of warning. The text of Rev. 13 & 14 may be full of symbolism, but the essence is clear enough. Anyone who turns away from Biblical principles, preferring to honour the flesh, and therefore allow the Devil to rule in his life, must be ready to bear the consequences. The words are addressed to people who know what they are doing, rather than the many who remain ignorant of God’s laws.