2020 has been a crazy year. In times like these, many Christians look to end times prophecy voices to try to make sense of it. This is illustrated in the recent shortage of coins in America, which has predictably triggered a new wave of speculation that this may be the signs of a new cashless society leading up to the mark of the beast.
I want to assure you, friends, coin shortages, microchips and any other technological advancements like this are nothing to worry about. What this fear represents is a common misunderstanding of the mark of the beast that Christians have needlessly obsessed over for the past century. As I wrote back in 2008 in my book Why I Want to be Left Behind, the question is not will you accept the mark of the beast. The realty is, you already have a mark. The question is whose mark do you have? Let me explain.
Biblical Imagery of the Mark
To better understand the nature of this mark, we must understand where this imagery of a mark on the hand and forehead comes from. Every image in Revelation has ties to Old Testament images. So to correctly understand the imagery used here, one must look for similar images in the Old Testament. To a Jewish believer, the imagery of a mark on your hand or forehead would be easily recognizable.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses gave Israel the foundation of their Israelite religion in a passage called the “Shema Yisrael” or the “Hear O Israel” passage. Jews pray this passage every day as a reaffirmation of their faith in the One God, Yahweh. Here is what it says:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9, emphasis mine)
Here God calls his people to identify with him and be obedient to him. To represent that reality, he asked them to “tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Of course, we know this tradition continues even today. Orthodox Jews wear a small box on their head and a leather strap on their arm called a “tefillin” or “phylactery.” To a Jewish person, this physical act was a reminder that God’s word should control your thoughts (forehead) and your actions (hands).
When Revelation tells us that the beast puts his mark on the hand and the forehead of those who worship him, Christians in the first century would have known exactly what this meant. They weren’t worried about technology, they knew this was about allegiance and obedience, either to the beast or to God.
You Already Have the Mark
The New Testament is filled with imagery of a mark as a seal of possession and allegence. When a scroll was sent in ancient times, it bore the image or “mark” of the one who sent it. This is the imagery that Paul gives for someone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ. He says, Christ has “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:22). Again Paul says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14). This reality is confirmed in Revelation when the angel “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God” (Rev 7:3) in Revelation 7. Revelation intends these to be parallel and contrasting images to the reader. God marks his people and the beast marks his. So whether you take a microchip or not, you are already marked!
The Call for Pneumatic Discernment
The warning of Revelation is a warning against aligning with the beast, which is the kingdom of this world. Indiscriminate of a person’s station in life or place in the world, believers cannot escape the seductive reach of the beast’s rule. He is after us and our obedience. Loyalty to the beast requires accepting his mark; loyalty to God requires rejecting his mark and being sealed by God ( Rev. 7:14). Through the Spirit who is the mark of God on those who believe, we must discern the world and keep from being seduced by the world into taking its mark of ownership.
In this way Revelation is not warning us to not accept new technology; it is reminding us that Christians need the Spirit of discernment to not be seduced by the world’s morals, values, or political and economic philosophies. As humans, we are easily swayed into idolatry and if we align with these things too closely, it will ultimately demand our allegiance. Larry McQueen says it well, “The beast is all around us, beckoning us to take its mark and acknowledge the salvific qualities of its promises that political power and the pursuit of wealth is the path to ultimate salvation. Where is the beast? The beast is within our own tradition, perhaps even within our own hearts…’ (McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 291)
Christians need not fear new technologies, disruption in the financial sector, or even government regulations that would seek to implement new restrictions on everyday life. It is fine to debate whether things things are good for the country, but they are certainly not signs of the times. The mark of the beast is simply imagery from a very clear Old Testament symbol of allegiance and obedience. Because of this, the issue is not whether you will or will not take the mark of the beast. The fact is that you already have a mark. Which mark do you have?