Have you read the last book of the Bible–what we call Revelation–given by God to John, the Apostle of Jesus? Are you familiar with the passage about the infamous “mark of the beast,” and if you are, have you ever wondered how it’ll actually happen in practice that someone who doesn’t have that mark will not be able to buy or sell?
“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.” (Revelation 13:16-17 NIV)
I never cease to be amazed by the book we call the Holy Bible. Not only has it changed the lives of God’s people everywhere and in every age, it has also withstood the test of time, including genuine hatred, intense persecution and a concerted effort to disprove and eradicate it–only to come out as strong and right and pure as ever! Moreover, in it God has also told us–thousands of years beforehand–what is still going to happen, historically. Yet many of us avoid reading Revelation, primarily because–honestly–it can just seem strange to us today. Yet, we shouldn’t.
It helps to put ourselves within the context of the time period during which it was written. Do a little research on the first century, A.D.–what was it like? What did the daily life and experiences of the people consist of? What “technology” did they regularly interact with? What ideas and words did the Apostle John know and have available to try to describe events so far into the future that no one alive at that time could even remotely begin to grasp? What was his frame of reference?
We are told in I Peter 1:12 of the Old Testament prophets that, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” (1 Peter 1:12 NIV)
The Old Testament prophets were writing so many years earlier for the benefit of those who would come to faith in Christ after His resurrection. In the same way, God gave the Apostle John the privilege of recording information for Christ’s people at the very end of the end times–probably in the not-too-distant future–and it is because it was recorded so long ago that the words and images used to convey the message seem to us now, at times, strange.
I am fifty-five years old. When I was in my teens in the 1970’s I attended a church that didn’t shy away from preaching the Word of God–I even saw a very frightening period movie about the rapture that gave me nightmares for years to come. But no one in 1977 or 1978 had any concept what this “mark of the beast” might actually be. Granted, we had little stickers that children would paste on their hands and inked office stamps–but I think most of us had trouble imagining how the absence of a sticker or ink on our forehead or hand could keep us from buying or selling!
Do those of you my age remember where technology was, even that recently? I was excited when I got a portable cassette player that ran on six bulky C batteries, had a “cassette” that turned it into an AM/FM radio, and was the size and weight of a book! In the seventies, there were no home computers of any variety, and no cell phones–we used a rotary phone with a cord that we had to sit next to for the duration of the call; a privileged few had princess phones in their rooms. Certainly there was no iPhone or iPad or iMac, and no internet; someone from today, transported back in time to that era, would feel he or she had entered the technological dark ages!
Yet today, the smartphone and the constant internet access it provides us is ubiquitous; the youngest of children grow up with it in their hands. One of the primary complaints of teachers these days, is, in fact, the challenge of keeping kids off their phones. And who can blame them–how often do YOU put down your phone?
If you think about it–my iPhone has pretty much become my almost everything. It is my typewriter, my bulletin board, my alarm clock, my camera, my bank, my mailbox, my tv, my movie theater, my radio, my photo album, my book, my calculator, my newspaper, my address book, my compass, my map, my store, and, yes, my actual money. We joke, in fact, of how our phone is glued to our hands. Sometimes I almost wish it were–it would certainly be easier, and I wouldn’t be constantly misplacing it!
The good–and bad–news is that the microchip technology for digital implants is already out there; some people are even experimentally using it. Granted, it’s not like having an iPhone under your skin–these are implants and magnets that can open a door, or pass along a business card with a tap of the hand. But the technology’s here. Another recent development is linking individual vein patterns to a person’s banking information for payment, designed by an engineering student in Sweden and already being used by 1600 active users near Lund University. Give it maybe not even ten years, and I can’t but imagine people will globally be paying by swiping their hand. And it amazes me to no end that I–as opposed to the Apostle John, or even the younger me–can already start to see how this will play out, can begin to observe the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Granted, each piece isn’t there yet, but I can see the outline.
Now, having super-practical surgically implanted technology on our persons, or linking your vein pattern to your banking info, or whatever else they’ll come up with, doesn’t sound inherently evil–it seems amazingly cool! Which is probably why it, too, in time, will become universal, much as our smart phones are now. The problem will arise when cash and other forms of non-digital payment go away, and transactions are exclusively electronic–when transactions are centrally standardized and controlled–AND opting in will somehow be associated with allegiance to the anti-Christ entity identified as the beast.
So, finally, what will that infamous “mark of the beast” actually be? Drumroll, please, and…we still don’t quite know. But we today can envision better than St. John or other first-century Christians a society in which none but those who possess it can buy or sell!
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help us cling to You in faith forever! Amen.
(For Further Study)
“Then I saw the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together.
HE STILL CARES–HE STILL WARNS PEOPLE TO FEAR GOD!
And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”
Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.”
WHY WE CANNOT ACCEPT THE MARK
Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.”
This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.
SPECIAL BLESSING FOR THOSE WHO REMAIN FAITHFUL
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”” (Revelation 14:1-2, 6-13 NLT)