America’s public conscious has been shaped by and filled with the Bible. By that, I first mean that many foundational values such as grace and justice derived from Scripture, whether our Western culture recognizes it or not. And secondly, certain Bible stories can be recognized by more than just Christians. Even those who have never stepped foot in a church are at least vaguely aware of stories like Noah’s ark and Adam and Eve.
One Biblical concept that has a surprisingly high level of public recognition, considering it’s rooted in apocalyptic imagery, is the mark of the beast and the closely associated number 666. I would wager that a majority of Americans have at least some familiarity with the mark of the beast and 666.
Now, if you’re looking for someone to provide absolute certainty as to what the mark of the beast and the number 666 stand for, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Actually, I take that back. Please be wary of anyone who doesn’t recognize and acknowledge the complexity of these images and claims complete certainty on them. While all the details may not be able to be known on this side of eternity, the message behind them can be held with relative confidence. To see that message, let’s explore the passage that describes these two concepts and see what Scripture has to say.
The Temptation of Compromise
The second half of Revelation 13 deals with the false prophet of the Great Tribulation. This is the second beast of this chapter and will complete the unholy trinity of Revelation with the false prophet functioning as the mock Holy Spirit. Towards the very end of this chapter and introduction to the false prophet, Revelation 13:1618 then introduces us to the mark of the beast and 666.
“He required everyone–small and great, rich and poor, free and slave–to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
From these few verses, countless theories have popped up as to what the mark of the beast may be and innumerable ideas have appeared as to what/who the 666 may refer to. By looking at which points of view show up most frequently and then evaluating the overall theology of the people who hold those views, there are a couple of truths regarding these verses that are reasonably widely held.
No matter what the mark of the beast practically looks like, it will be a chance to choose between good and evil–between God and Satan. And what makes this decision hard for us as humans are the real-world consequences of choosing to follow God. In the end times, it seems those without the mark of the beast won’t be able to sell or buy anything. It’s easy to see how one may rationalize getting the mark of the beast to buy a loaf of bread to avoid starving. But in doing so, they’ll place themselves in opposition to Jesus.
While today, we can follow God and still participate in the economy, we are each faced with our own tempting compromises. At work, do you hide the fact you’re a Christian to make a promotion more likely? Do you stay silent when your friends poke fun at Christian morals because you’re afraid of being ostracized? Or maybe you’re so dedicated to upholding certain Christian values in politics that you don’t care if you have to slander or fight a little dirty in order to get the job done.
Compromise looks disgusting when we see it in another person, but it seems all too logical and worth it when we’re tempted by it ourselves. That’s why it’s important for us to determine our stance in advance; that no matter what a compromise provides, if it puts us in opposition to God, His commandments, or His teachings, then it’s never worth it.
And now briefly looking at 666–throughout the Bible, the number seven represents God and completion. In Revelation, we see seven trumpets and seven seals. In creation, we see God created the world and rested in seven days. So, the number six, being just short of seven, symbolizes incompletion and having it repeated three times may represent the evil trinity’s presence in Revelation 13.
Marked by Christ
The decisions you face today, next week, and for the rest of your life may never be as clear as choosing whether you’re willing to accept the mark of the beast or not. But even so, the choices we make still reveal who or what our lives are marked by. For instance, your tone can be filled with gentleness and respect in a way that is marked by Christ. Your social circle can include the foreigner, the sojourner, and the widow in a way that is marked by Christ. Your schedule can prioritize rest in a way that is marked by Christ.
Holiness is not just about avoiding the mark of the beast. Holiness is about seeking to live a life that flees from compromise and is instead marked by Christ.