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What is the Mark of the Beast? Let’s Talk About It.
The subject of the Mark of Revelation 13 demands thoughtful consideration. We must first look at the mark through the lens of the NT and the historical situation when John received his vision.
It’s reasonable to deduce that the mark referred to in Revelation 13 connects to the historical context of first-century Rome. That’s baseline. Additionally, I hold the belief that there will exist a future realization of this mark as well. This future fulfillment will be unveiled during a seven-year tribulation period preceding the glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
EXCURSUS: MY BASIC ESCHATOLOGY (AS OF NOW)
I’m not a full Preterist. But I definitely believe some of Revelation has already been fulfilled in some way. But not a Rapture. I’m no Rapture guy. I don’t subscribe to the notion that there will be a secret rapture preceding the tribulation. I believe that believers will endure this period of trial. Sometimes people call this position “Post-Trib”, but I avoid that term, since it usually conjures up stereotypical Rapture motifs.
In terms of my theological stance, I align with a historic premil / progressive covenantalist viewpoint. I do not adhere to either classic or progressive dispensationalism. I try to be teachable enough to hold these tentatively, as I’ve changed some oF my views before. Even today, I could easily see going Amil. The position has a lot going for it IMHO.
THE MARK OF REVELATION 13: A CASE OF DUAL FULFILLMENT?
Now shifting our focus back to Revelation 13 and the concept of the mark. Not all prophecies have dual fulfillment but some do exhibit this characteristic. For instance, the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14. It had both an immediate fulfillment during Isaiah's time and a more profound fulfillment during Matthew's era.
My understanding is that Isaiah 7:14, among others, exemplifies a case of what is commonly referred to as “dual fulfillment”.
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I believe it’s misguided to strictly interpret Revelation through the lens of Futurists. They often focus solely on the mark of the beast as a future technological advancement, such as the RFID chip. It’s likely that technology will play a major role in the godless system that Christians will face. Still, I don’t believe it’s sound hermeneutics to just directly link Revelation 13 with RFID technology.
Personally, I believe the mark is a symbolic representation of submission to the system of the Beast. I think this is much like how Christians have understood the mark throughout history.
SOME BACKGROUND TO REVELATION 13
Revelation 13:17 says “They could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
During this time in the Greco-Roman world, references to the emperor's divinity were prominently displayed on various forms of currency and official documentation (S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge University Press, 1984). It was nearly impossible to engage in commerce without encountering such a symbolic representation. In John's era, it was unavoidable to be part of the imperial system when handling money.
However, if one chose to dissociate from this economic structure due to its association with imperial worship, complications would arise. Some Christians may have opted out of trade guilds because these organizations often incorporated meat that had been offered to idols into their meetings. Jewish communities situated in locations like Sardis would face significant losses by boycotting the system as well. Christian merchants, being an even smaller minority, would suffer even greater consequences from such actions.
The same was true later on. Diocletian, who reigned from 284-305 AD, demanded certificates of sacrifice to himself to participate in commerce and escape prosecution. Some Christians compromised. Some would bribe officials. Some preferred death. These were executed.
WHO IS THE “A” WORD?
Many rulers, including Babylonian kings and Roman emperors, claimed to be gods. This spirit of an evil empire that elevates itself as god still exists in oppressive regimes today.
It has been a long-held belief among Christians who have endured persecution and martyrdom that they were facing the ultimate Tribulation before the return of Christ. While their expectation of Christ returning in their lifetime may have been mistaken, it is understandable that each generation had its own anticipation of his arrival.
Due to their personal experiences of martyrdom, many Christians have felt as though they were engaged in a final battle against the forces of Antichrist. For instance, if we had lived in Ukraine during Stalin's reign and witnessed his ruthless massacre of millions over seventeen years, we would likely have seen him as the epitome of evil.
In any future catastrophic event, we might perceive its instigator as the ultimate Antichrist—and there is a chance that our perception could be accurate.
SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATION FOR 2023
In John's era, it was considered a grave offense against God to require individuals to worship the emperor or other deities through statues. Today, we face more subtle ways in which society challenges our loyalty and attempts to undermine God's ultimate authority in our lives.
If we recognize Jesus as the ruler of our lives, we must gracefully distance ourselves from many aspects of modern society's values. We appear as outsiders to our culture. It’s not “hate for humanity” or some other imagined vice that motivate us; it is our unwavering devotion to God that sets us apart.
Here’s the dilemma faced by ancient Christians: offer incense Caesar and gain freedom, or reject him and face suffering. Followers of Christ are called to reject such compromises. Early Christians had to decide whether to conform to societal values or remain separate. Those who don't embrace the message of the cross and its suffering are vulnerable to falling for counterfeit teachings that mimic God's works.
NEXT UP …
Many prophecy teachers teach the Antichrist will install a literal mark. These teachers correctly note that computer technology exists that could do the trick. It’s possible some future Antichrist may seek to use a literal mark in this way (or another). However, as noted above, I understand the mark as figurative language; the mark is a symbol of something else, which is slavery to the system of the devil.
In my next post, I’ll lay out some of my reasons for this (although it may not be my next post, as I have some upcoming posts on the virgin birth lined up).