OVERVIEW – The False Prophet employs the economical means to coerce men and women to render homage to the “beast from the sea.”
The “beast from the earth” uses all the economic power of the first “beast” against anyone who refuses to give absolute allegiance to the beastly system. The “number” or “mark of the beast” is an economic tool and a blunt instrument. Commerce is the lifeblood of the empire. And the ability to level economic sanctions against nations, peoples, and individuals is the key to its power.
In chapters 13 and 14, Revelation contrasts the “inhabitants of the earth” with the followers of the “Lamb” seen standing on “Mount Zion.” For example, members of the former group have the “number of the beast” tattooed on their “right hand” or “forehead,” whereas, those from the latter have the name of the “Lamb written on their foreheads.” The “mark of the beast” is the Devil’s counterfeit of the “seal of God” – (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).
All the “inhabitants of the earth” take the “mark of the beast,” and therefore, they are legally authorized to engage in commerce – to “buy and sell.” In contrast, the company of the redeemed that is standing with the “Lamb” has been “purchased from the earth.” Because they bear his name rather than that of “beast,” they are prohibited from participation in commerce.
Thus, Revelation divides humanity into two – and only two – recognizable groups: men and women who follow the “Lamb,” and the “inhabitants of the earth” who give their allegiance to the “beast from the sea.” There is no middle ground, no neutral position, period. To which group one belongs determines whether his or her name is included in, or excluded from, “the Lamb’s book of life.” The references to the “earth” and “Zion” are NOT geographical or spatial, but relational.
- (Revelation 13:16-18) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that they should give to them a mark on their right hand or on their forehead; and that no one should be able to purchase or to sell, except he that has the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom: he that has understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is, the number of a man; and his number is 666.”
The “mark” designates whether one belongs to the “beast,” and without it, no one may engage in the economic life of society. The “mark” is also called its “name” and the “number of its name.” Functionally, all three items accomplish the same thing; participation in commerce, but also, exclusion from the “book of life” – (Revelation 14:9-11, 15:2, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4).
Receiving the “mark” on the “forehead” or “right hand” mimics the call to Israel to worship Yahweh alone:
- (Deuteronomy 6:5-8) – “You will love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart. And you will teach them diligently to your children and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise-up. And you will bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
If the “seal of God” is figurative, so is the “mark of the beast.” By default, anyone who gives allegiance to the “beast” has taken its “mark” and “number,” just as everyone who follows the “Lamb” has received the “seal of God.” The fundamental choice is between who and what one worships – The “Dragon” or the “Lamb”:
- (Revelation 14:9-11) – “Anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image, and receives its mark, will drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.”
The description of the “beast from the earth” utilized language from the third chapter of Daniel, where the Babylonian ruler erected a “golden image” and required everyone in his empire to “bow down and to render homage to the image I have erected.” The same passage is the source for the number ‘666,’ which is derived from the measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s “golden image” – “Its height was SIXTY AND ITS BREADTH SIX CUBITS.” The number reflects the Babylonian sexagesimal base-60 numeral system – (Daniel 3:1-7).
The link to the story of the “golden image” of Babylon emphasizes the idolatrous nature of the “beast” and the homage that it demands.
Those who are “wise” must “count” (psephizō) the number of the “beast,” a verb originally used for “counting with pebbles,” to “vote by casting pebbles.” It signifies tallying up the total, in this case, the total of 6, 60 and 600, or ‘666.’ The “number” conforms to the pattern in the book whereby numbers are tripled, and even cubed. For instance, the number 12 is compounded into 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000). The “ten days of tribulation” become the “thousand years” (10 x 10 x 10).
In the Greek text, the “number of the beast” is listed as “six-hundred sixty–six,” or, exakosioi (600) exékonta (60) ex (6), three distinct whole numbers. They, in turn, represent the three entities that plot against the “Lamb” – The “Dragon,” the “beast from the sea,” and the “beast from the earth.”
“For its number is also of man” (anthrōpou estin kai ho arithmos autou). Here, anthrōpou is used for “humanity” in general, not for “a man” or “the man.” The point is not to identify an individual man by decoding the number, but to link it to humanity in some capacity; to show the reader the true significance of the number. Just as the “golden image” of Nebuchadnezzar was “his image,” so the “number of the beast” is linked to humanity in its idolatrous religion.
What distinguishes the “image of the beast” is not its shape, size, or form, but the total allegiance demanded for it. It is the ultimate form of idolatry, in this case, state idolatry, the political order demanding the level of allegiance that belongs only to God.
The “name of the beast” is just that – “beast.” Revelation uses the diminutive form of the Greek noun for “beast,” or ‘thérion,’ which corresponds to the diminutive form for “Lamb,” or ‘arnion.’ Thus, the “beast from the sea” is an imposter, on some level, a false Christ.
This last paragraph alludes to a passage from the conclusion of Daniel:
- (Revelation 13:17) – “HERE IS WISDOM. LET HIM THAT HAS UNDERSTANDING count the number of the beast.”
- (Daniel 12:9-10) – “Shut up and seal the prophecy until the season of the end. Many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined…but none of the wicked will understand; but THEY THAT ARE WISE SHALL UNDERSTAND.”
Only those with wisdom from above are enabled to understand the significance of the “mark of the beast” and its “number.” It cannot be grasped, decoded, or calculated by mathematical formulas or mystical interpretations.
When a political entity appears on the world scene that uses its economic might promiscuously against nations, peoples, and individuals that do not submit to its demands, that will be our first clue that the “beast” is now “ascending from the sea.”
When it does appear, we must choose whether to submit to it, or to “follow and the Lamb wherever he goes” and find ourselves excluded from economic life. If there is a relevant message in all this, it is the warning to exercise painstaking discernment before blindly embracing the political and cultural values and demands of the surrounding non-Christian society and political order. When we imbibe the values and beliefs of this age, we begin to take the “mark of the beast.”