The “inhabitants of the earth” willingly venerate the Beast and receive its mark, although Christians are not immune to its allurements.
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” focus on questions about what it is – a medical implant, barcode, tattoo – and the significance of its “number,” ‘666.’ As important as these questions are, far more critical is the question: How is the mark implemented, and how does the believer avoid taking it or the “number of the Beast”?
Our tendency is to picture the “False Prophet” busily tricking and compelling anyone and everyone to take the “mark,” using economic pressure, threats of imprisonment, or worse against all who refuse to do so. Apparently, men and women have no choice but to take the “mark” or suffer deadly consequences. Submit or starve!
In fact, this is not entirely the case, at least, not as portrayed in the book of Revelation, for the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” willingly if not eagerly embrace the Beast’s “mark.” After all, how could a just God condemn them for doing so if they have no choice?
But not even the followers of the “Lamb” are entirely immune to the temptation to submit to the “Beast,” take its “mark,” and give allegiance to its idolatrous “image.”
The church at Pergamos, for example, includes believers who adhere to the “teaching of Balaam” and “eat things offered to idols.” Likewise, at Thyatira, the “prophetess Jezebel” is luring members of the congregation to pay homage to idols – (Revelation 2:14-20).
And in Revelation, the “Beast” is coming to wage war against the “saints.” The Church is its primary target and the intended victim of its persecutions AND its seductions.
WE ARE RESPONSIBLE
Almost certainly, when the “Beast” does appear, his reign will include the employment of coercion. However, Revelation does NOT free individuals from their responsibility for rendering homage to the “Beast” – Christian or otherwise.
When he appears, the “False Prophet” will cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to take the “mark of the Beast.” He will “deceive those who are dwelling upon the earth” so they erect an image of the “Beast from the sea.” Furthermore, he will “cause” everyone to take its “mark” or “number” – (Revelation 13:11-18).
The last statement indicates that the “mark” is imposed by the “False Prophet” on both the willing and the unwilling. However, that is not the complete story.
The “Beast from the earth” certainly sets things in motion, but the recipients of the “mark” are consciously involved – “taking” the “mark” is part and parcel of “rendering homage to the Beast.”
The “False Prophet” may use deceit and threats when needed, nonetheless, the “inhabitants of the earth” are willing participants in the process.
In the seven “bowls of wrath,” the first bowl causes “a painful ulcer upon men, those having the mark of the Beast and those rendering homage to his image.” “Having” and “rendering homage” represent present tense Greek participles that are in the active voice, and this means that the subject performs the action.
Thus, the “inhabitants of the earth” actively engage in taking the “mark” – they embrace the system of their own free will. And that is why they suffer the plagues unleashed by the “bowls of wrath” – (Revelation 16:1-2).
In the vision of the “Rider on a White Horse,” the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are cast alive into the “Lake of Fire” because they “deceived those having taken the mark of the Beast.” Again, an active voice participle is used. “Having taken” or lambanō in the clause means to “take” the “mark” – (Revelation 19:17-21).
Finally, those who reign with Christ for the “thousand years” do so because “they did not render homage to the Beast,” and they “did not take its mark.” Once again, active voice verbs are used, in this case, for actions NOT taken by the followers of the “Lamb.” Their decision is contrasted to that of the “inhabitants of the earth” who chose to give absolute allegiance to the “Beast” – (Revelation 20:4-6).
WE MUST DECIDE
When the “Beast” arrives on the world scene, Christians and non-Christians alike will have a choice – Whether to bow to the Beast or not. Everyone will be held responsible for his or her choice, whether they decide to follow the “Beast” or the sacrificial “Lamb.”
Besides the daily temptations of the surrounding culture, all too often the allure of political ideologies and politicians can seduce even the most committed Christians to “commit fornication and eat meat offered to idols.” Disciples must exercise extreme caution before blindly embracing the values of society or the promises of the political structures of this world.
Both the “Beast” and the “Lamb” require the absolute allegiance of their subjects. There can be no compromise between the two. There is no room for split loyalties, and in the “kingdom of God” there is no such thing as dual citizenship.