I’m hearing questions like these virtually every day from concerned Christians: “Do you think world reaction to the coronavirus is preparing the way for the Antichrist? Will there be a mandatory vaccine that will include a microchip? Could this be the mark of the beast?”
To be sure, I’m not a friend of globalism. And I’m certainly not keen on the government having the right to insert a chip in our bodies.
But, to be perfectly candid, I’m not thinking much about the Antichrist or the mark of the beast. There are far more pressing (and practical) issues that demand my (and our) attention. Like loving God. And loving our neighbors. And being decent human beings. And sharing our faith. And walking in moral purity. And keeping our marriages healthy. And spending quality time with our kids.
Yes, everyday stuff like that.
It may not be as exciting as studying end-times prophecy (this is called “eschatology”). It may not be as exotic as the visions in the book of Revelation. But on a daily basis, all this is far more relevant than speculation about “the mark of the beast.”
For those not familiar with some of these concepts, they come from the book of Revelation, which speaks of a Satan-empowered world leader, described as a seven-headed beast wearing 10 crowns on its heads.
This end-times world leader, also called “the Antichrist,” will be worshipped by “all whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8; again, for those not familiar with this imagery, the Lamb refers to Jesus).
Revelation also describes another demonic figure who “causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or on their forehead, so that no one may buy or sell, except he who has the mark or the name of the beast or the number of his name” (Rev 13:16-17).
This all sounds frightfully serious, which is why many Christians ask: What, exactly, is this mark? And are we unwittingly paving the way toward a one-world government—in other words, toward an Antichrist system?
But there are several problems with this line of thinking (though, to repeat, I am no friend of globalism).
First, Revelation belongs to the genre of apocalyptic, which describes world events in visionary terms that are not meant to be taken literally. Or do you actually believe that the Antichrist will be a seven-headed human being who looks like a leopard and has feet like a bear’s and a mouth like a lion’s (see Rev. 13:2)?
To rightly understand Revelation, we need to rightly understand its literary genre.
Perhaps one day there will be a literal mark put on the right hand and the forehead. Or perhaps this is symbolic of something else.
In my view, it is this “something else” that should have our attention. (I’ll explain this more in a moment.)
Second, while Revelation does describe future events, including the Lord’s return, the final judgment, and the New Heavens and New Earth, it is also relevant to every generation of readers. This would be especially true for the first recipients of the book more than 1,900 years ago. What did Revelation mean to them?
As many commentators have pointed out, these early Christian readers would have likely seen “the beast” as a figure in their day—namely, the tyrannical Roman emperor. It was he who demanded to be worshipped as a god under penalty of death. And it was he who often brutally persecuted the Christians.