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02 March 2019

Mark of the Beast or the Seal of God

SynopsisIn Revelation, “all” means “all.” All rulers, nations, and inhabitants of the earth that refuse to follow the Lamb render homage to the Beast.

Roman coin with image of Domitian
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” focus on the significance of its number, ‘666.’  This is understandable; Christians wish to understand what this mark is to avoid taking it. Just as important as decoding the number is to understand the implications of taking it and how the book of Revelation contrasts it with the “seal of God” (Revelation 7:1-313:16-18).

The mark of the Beast is the satanic counterpart to the seal of God. Those who take the Beast’s mark give allegiance to it. In contrast, men and women those who have God’s Seal follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” Revelation thus divides humanity into two groups: those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and those whose names are not found in the Book and are therefore destined for the lake of fire.

The book of Revelation was written to Christian congregations located in the province of Asia in the Roman Empire. Some churches were experiencing pressure from ruling authorities to conform to the local culture. In some cases, this included participation in emperor worship, the offering of incense and other tokens of loyalty to images of Caesar.

In the ancient world, there was no concept of separation of religion and state; political ideology, religious and cultural practices were intermingled. One’s religion was determined by one’s place of origin. The Roman government left local populations free to practice their indigenous religions, though Rome expected locals to pay homage to the emperor.

At least five of the seven cities of Asia had erected temples to the emperor or Roma, the patron goddess of Rome. Individual citizens were free to worship traditional gods but on public occasions, it was often expected that he or she also would offer incense to the image of the emperor, to acknowledge him as chief patron and lord of all residents of the empire.

By law, Jews were exempt from participation in the Imperial Cult. Rather than offer sacrifices to the emperor’s image, the Jewish people offered daily sacrifices on his behalf in the Temple in Jerusalem.  By the late first century, Christianity was recognized by Roman authorities to be a religion distinct from Judaism, it thus became an illegal religion no longer covered by the legal exemptions granted to Jews. This meant Christians were expected to participate in the imperial cult.
To venerate the emperor was a religious and a political act; it demonstrated one’s allegiance to Rome. To refuse to do so constituted disloyalty and even treason against the Roman state. Christians were taught to be law-abiding citizens of the empire. But their faith also required them to acknowledge only one “Lord,” Jesus Christ, and to give him their total allegiance. Persecution by Roman authorities was inevitable (Romans 13:1-7). 

This conflict is reflected in Revelation’s choice of verbs for “worship.” The Greek terms common in the New Testament and Greek Septuagint for religious worship of supernatural beings are the verb latreuō and the noun latreia (e.g., Matthew 4:10Romans 12:1). They denote the “rendering of divine service,” as in a Temple or sacrificial system. The term occurs twice in the book of Revelation for the worship of God; the more widely used term is proskuneō. This occurs twenty-four times. It is a compound of the preposition pros, “towards,” and the verb kuneō, “to kiss” (Revelation 7:1522:3).

The literal sense of proskuneō is “to kiss towards”; it stems from the practice of prostrating oneself before a royal figure to kiss the hem of his robes. From this sense are derived meanings like “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere” and “venerate.” The idea is deference and honor paid to a superior being or higher rank.  To “render homage” was to give one’s absolute allegiance. Proskuneō is used in Revelation in the sense of “rendering homage” to someone, whether to God, Jesus or the Beast.

In Chapter 13, two groups of men are presented:  the “inhabitants of the earth,” and the ones who “tabernacle in heaven”. The “inhabitants of the earth” marveled because one of the seven heads of the Beast received a death stroke that was subsequently “healed.” They were awed by its military prowess (“who can make war with it?”). Therefore, they “render homage to the Beast.”  That they do so demonstrates that “their names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb” (Revelation 13:6-712:12).

A second beast appears, the “beast from the earth” identified elsewhere as the “false prophet.” This figure imitates Jesus, the true Lamb. Though he speaks with the voice of the Dragon, he has “two horns like a lamb.” He uses religious deception (“great signs”) to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the Beast. All the “inhabitants of the earth” without exception are deceived by him and so render obeisance to the image of the Beast, as well as take its mark (Revelation 13:14-16, 16:1319:2020:10).

They who “tabernacle in heaven” are identified as “saints” (13:7), a term elsewhere applied to Christians (Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6).

Saints “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. They are destined to suffer persecution at the hands of the Beast when it “wages war against them and overcomes them.” Martyrdom at the hands of the Beast is part of the “endurance and the faith of the saints” (Revelation 3:5, 13:7, 14:12, 21:27).

The Beast’s mark or number is a counterfeit, a parody of the seal of God.  The “servants of our God” receive the seal prior to the opening of the first four seals. As each seal is broken, destructive forces are unleashed on the earth. Elsewhere, the servants of God are identified as followers of Christ (Revelation 1:1, 2:20, 19:2, 19:5, 22:3, 22:6).

This “sealed” company is the “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue” redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-17).

The seal of God marks out those who belong to the Lamb to be preserved through the coming fiery trials. Believers are not removed from the earth to escape tribulation but are enabled to endure it. Their identification with the Lamb spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” especially the “Second Death” (Revelation 2:1120:6).

For example, demonic forces released by the fifth trumpet torment the inhabitants of the earth but not those who have the seal of God. This means believers are still on the earth during the seven trumpets; otherwise, there would be no need to protect them via God’s seal (Revelation 9:1-5).

The mark of the Beast is Satan’s counterpart to the seal of God; it marks out those who belong to the Beast. Men and women from all walks of life who “render homage to the image of the Beast” receive a “mark on their right hand or forehead.” Without it a person cannot participate in the economic life of society.  Anyone who refuses the mark faces execution. The “mark” is further described as the “name of the beast” and the “number of his name” (Revelation13:11-14:5).

Those who belong to the Lamb have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads.” They are found before the Throne where they “sing a new song” that no one else can learn.  This group consists of men and women “redeemed from the earth.” Anyone who renders homage to the Beast automatically takes its mark, whereas anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” receives the name of the Lamb and his Father on his or her forehead (Revelation 3:127:1-3, 14:1-5).

If the seal of God is a figurative, not a literal mark, the same holds true for the mark of the Beast. This is Revelation’s way of dividing humanity into two groups: those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the Beast. God seals all who give their allegiance to the Lamb. All who instead render homage to the Beast take its mark, whether Revelation intends this literally or not.

This connection is made clear when an angel warns that “anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image and receives its mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, shall drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.” To give allegiance to the Beast is tantamount to taking its mark (Revelation 14:9-11).

The divine “wrath” that followers of the Beast endure is not a plague or a series of plagues, but God’s full wrath “prepared unmixed.” Impenitent men are tormented “with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascends unto the ages of the ages.” This is the final judgment when the wicked are cast into the lake of fire, the second death (Revelation 20:11-15).

Saints who “keep God’s commandments and the faithfulness of Jesus” overcome the Beast, its image and the number of its name. This group is seen standing on the glassy sea before the Throne of God. There they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:2-4).

Faithful followers of the Lamb “render homage before” the Lord rather than to the Beast. Those who refuse to render homage to the Beast and, thus, do not receive its mark “live and reign with Christ” (Revelation 20:4).

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