Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the temple. (Ezekiel 9:3-6)
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." (Revelation 7:2-3 compare 14:1)
He [the beast from out of the earth] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:9-10)
And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)
So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)[i]
During the 1960’s and ‘70’s there was a great deal of hysteria regarding the Antichrist and the “mark of the beast,” fired up by popular TV and radio preachers and books on the End Times. Many back then speculated on exactly what the “mark of the beast” would be, and what the “number of his name” meant. Even today many sincere Christians – and some non-Christians fascinated with prophecy – are concerned that the government might require them to receive some sort of mark or implanted chip for identification, and that this might be the mark that condemns them before God. While they focus on a feared physical mark, most people in this world miss the vitally important spiritual meaning of the passages quoted above. External symbols can neither save us nor condemn us. It is the condition of the heart that we must examine.
The key to understanding the Book of Revelation[ii] is recognizing its richly symbolic and metaphoric nature. The images of a seal, a mark, the forehead, and the hand, are all symbols of spiritual realities. When Moses exhorted the new generation of Israelites who were entering the Promised Land to remember and obey God’s commandments, he said,
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
"Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 11:18)
Though Israelites then, as well as Jews today, have taken literally the binding of commandments on their hand and between their eyes, and thus have made phylacteries and mezuzahs to show honor to the Torah, these passages in Deuteronomy clearly command that God’s words are to be “in your heart and in your soul.” It’s not difficult to discern the spiritual meaning behind symbols like “hand” -- what we do -- and “between your eyes,” -- what we see -- and since “frontlets” would be on the forehead, God’s word should guide what we think.
In the Book of Revelation, two groups of people are said to be “sealed” with a mark on their foreheads or their hand: The servants of God and the worshipers of the Beast, the devil incarnate. A seal can mean several things in Scripture, but in this context two aspects are certain: It signifies ownership and protection. God seals those who belong to Him, and he guards their faith, keeping them from spiritual harm from their enemies and physical harm from His judgments which will fall on the wicked. On the other side are those who identify themselves with the Beast, the representative of Satan, “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
God’s seal on His children protects them spiritually. As G. K. Beale points out: “The nature of the protection is spiritual. This is apparent from the fact that believers and unbelievers suffer similar physical afflictions . . . But, whereas these trials purify God’s servants, they harden the ungodly in their response to God (so 9:19-20)."[iii] In Ephesians 1:13 we read: In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise . . . And again in Ephesians 4:30 we are admonished: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. The Holy Spirit of God is the seal on God’s children, and by that indwelling Holy Spirit, we bear the Name of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Compare Revelation 14:1)[iv]
On the other hand, those who cherish their life in this world more than life eternal are those who worship the Beast. Jesus said, For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25) In Revelation, John assures us that those who follow Jesus to the death will be victorious over Satan:
Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Clearly, God’s people are marked, but that mark is not a physical but spiritual mark. Just as the angel in Ezekiel 9 marked all those in Jerusalem who sighed and cried over all the abominations done in that city, God has marked, and will mark, all those who choose to follow Jesus and mourn over the abominations being committed in this evil world. Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
If the mark of God is a spiritual mark, it seems clear that the mark of the Beast is also a spiritual mark. The location of the mark is also packed with symbolic meaning. Those who follow the Beast, the Antichrist, do the will of the devil (mark on the hand), and they think like the devil (mark on forehead).
But if this mark of the Beast is not a physical mark, how is it that those who do not have the mark will not be able to buy or sell? The Greek word for “mark,” charagma, “was used for the emperor’s seal on business contracts and the impress of the Roman ruler’s head on coins.” (Beale, p.715) During the persecutions under Emperors Diocletian and Decius, certificates were issued to those who offered incense to the image of the emperor, and those certificates authorized the person to buy and sell. G. K. Beale explains the symbolism of the mark in Revelation:
The “mark on the forehead,” which is “the name of the beast” and “the number of this name” (so v. 17), is the parody and opposite of the “seal” in 7:3-8, which is the divine “name written on the foreheads” of true believers (14:1; so likewise 22:4; 3:12)
Since the seal of true believers is invisible, so also is the "mark" on the unbeliever. That the two are parallel in being spiritual in nature and are intended to be compared is evident from the immediately following mention of God and Christ's name "written on the foreheads" of the saints (14:1). (p. 716)
The ungodly world has always been able to identify its friends and its enemies. Christians all over the world are being denied access to basic necessities because of their loyalty to Christ. And even in America, Christians are being discriminated against for their stand against evil laws enacted by state, federal, and local governments. Ungodly society also knows who its friends are, even when they masquerade as Christians!
Lots of people today are carrying around “the mark of the Beast” and don’t even know it! Even many who profess to be Christians! In my decades of ministry I have met professing Christians who were living in immorality, all the while firmly declaring that they would never accept “the mark of the Beast” on their hand or forehead!
What spiritual seal, what mark, is upon your life? Those who are born of God through repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior have a spiritual birthmark! It ought to be evident in everything we think and everything we do. In this age of grace, there is yet time to repent, but the time is coming when hearts will be so hardened that they will not repent no matter what judgments fall upon them. (see Rev. 9:20-21)
Coming Next: The 144,000: Who Are They?
[i] All Scripture passages from the New King James Version. Bold print added for emphasis.
[ii] In some Bibles the title is The Apocalypse, which comes from the Greek title, which means unveiling.
[iii] Beale, G. K. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation, p. 409.
[iv] For the argument in favor of the 144,000 representing all believers, the faithful remnant of ethnic Israel and Gentile believers “grafted into” the root of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 11:17), see G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, and Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation.