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Lets talk about everybody's favorite topic: the end times.

I remember listening to a podcast episode from an area pastor when the coronavirus pandemic first hit America. Connecting the dots between a patent numbered “060606,” Bill Gates, microchips, and the ongoing rush to create a vaccine effective enough to slow the spread of COVID-19, this pastor made quite the claim: the COVID vaccine would be the means by which Bill Gates microchips Christians and forces them to take the mark of the beast.

Since the 19th century, doomsday predictions and pseudo-prophecy about Revelation have exploded in popularity. Having grown up in evangelicalism, I have seen it firsthand. Y2K, the Obama presidency, and blood moons are all notable (and notably failed) predictions of apocalypse in my lifetime. I’ve been told that social security numbers and RFID chips in credit cards were both going to be the mark of the beast.

So, when coronavirus began its rampage across the globe, it seemed inevitable that Christians would find a way to fit it into their interpretation of Revelation.

Here’s the hard truth: too many Americans would rather read Left Behind than Holy Scripture. We would be well served to take a step back, a deep breath, and a long look at what God has revealed about Himself in and through His Word. As Christians, we ought to have the market cornered on truth—and that means we should do everything in our power to quash unbiblical teachings . . . even popular and persuasive ones that support our political affiliations.

So, to the best of our abilities, let’s look at the biblical data. Let's make sure we're getting our beliefs about the book of Revelation from the Bible itself more than from non-biblical books or influential authors.

There are three main things I want to point out about this conversation. Because there is a wide range of views about Revelation, I’m going to try to be as objective as I can to make room for the many interpretations.

We aren’t sure the mark of the beast is even a physical mark.

The main text about the mark comes from Revelation 13:

"Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
Revelation 13:16–18

While the language about being marked on your right hand or your forehead might make it seem like a physical mark, I think the overarching theme of Scripture tells us otherwise.

First, consider the similarity that the mark of the beast shares with the Shema: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart . . . You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deut. 6:6–8). The Shema, if you aren’t familiar, is the center of the Jewish faith—it is the words that God issued to guide His people through the ages. It serves as Israel’s fundamental confession of belief in the one, true God, and they are commanded to (symbolically) keep this confession in front of their eyes and on their very hands which guide all that they do.

It seems that the mark of the beast is the diametric opposition of the instructions God gave His people so many years ago; it is a sign of allegiance to someone or something other than God—not necessarily a physical mark to be taken on foreheads and hands. The symbolic language of marking is nothing new to the Scriptures, and John is drawing upon this symbolic language when writing Revelation.

Additionally, the mark of the beast found in Revelation 13 is clearly contrasted with the mark of the Lamb in Revelation 3, 7, 9, 14, and 22.

  • “I will write on him the name of my God” (Rev. 3:12).
  • “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev. 7:3).
  • “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4).
  • “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).
  • “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3–4).

In other words, for all the references we see about the mark of the beast, there is a corresponding mark of the Lamb, that is Christ, to serve as an equal image for it.

Unless we also think the mark of the Lamb is a physical mark, it wouldn’t make sense of Revelation for the mark of the beast to be a physical mark. (And, it's worth noting that many ignore the mark of the Lamb altogether when they talk about the mark of the beast.)

The mark can’t be unwillingly or unknowingly taken by Christians.

If we were to concede that the mark of the beast is a physical mark—and I personally don’t think it is—there’s another important point to be made. The mark of the beast doesn’t seem to change one's status or divert allegiances; rather, the mark seems to be an affirmation of the status or allegience that is already within people's hearts.

Throughout Revelation we don’t really see the mark of the beast being taken apart from where worship of the beast is taking place. In Revelation 14:11, those who have taken the mark are called “worshipers of the beast.” Additionally, in Revelation 16:2, 19:20, and 20:4, those who bore the mark of the beast are intrinsically connected to those who “worshiped its image.” There is no trickery or deception—those who take the mark are those who worship the beast and do not worship the Lamb. It reveals allegiances rather than creates them.

Given the fact that taking the mark is always tied directly to worshipping the beast, it doesn’t seem that there’s a way Christians could be unwillingly injected or tricked into taking the mark for themselves. Perhaps we could leave room for a mass conversion away from worshipping the true God and worshipping the beast in his place; however, this would be a different problem altogether than a spiked vaccine that contains the mark.

All this in mind, we have to remember, too, that Christ's blood is stronger and more sufficient to save than any mark we could ever take. Jesus says no one can snatch us out of his hand—not even a COVID vaccine or some future mark of the beast (John 10:28). We are sealed once and for all by the Spirit, and if any of us fall away we were never of the Spirit to begin with (Eph. 4:30; 1 John 2:19).

Revelation wasn’t written about America.

At the end of the day, it’s worth remembering that these authors didn’t really have the Western world in mind. There is a really strong case to be made that specific references in history were likely tied to the biblical world’s own cultural context (specifically, the decades to come after John wrote Revelation). Admittedly, this is a point of contention among many scholars and theologians who are seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures—but even still, very few of them anticipate that there is some kind of hidden message unveiled only to a handful of enlightened Christians in America.

Revelation is the canonical conclusion of God’s story about redeeming the world from sin. It isn’t a coded text that God doesn’t want us to comprehend; it’s a book that God wants to use to illicit worship toward him. To place something such as the mark of the beast at the very center of Revelation’s meaning is to undermine the goal of the book: to bring glory to God as we reflect on the economy of salvation—the redemption of God’s chosen people.

So, while there is certainly room for believers to disagree about how we understand parts of Revelation, we ought to be clear with each other: no serious New Testament scholar would agree that the COVID-19 is the mark of the beast. (And, as such, we shouldn’t perpetuate these kinds of theories when we hear them.)