Sign Of The Beast?

As always when discussing religious beliefs, I want to start with a caveat: I am not God, nor do I think I have any special message from Heaven that only I can hear. If God is speaking to me (and I wouldn’t ever dare to tell God what He can and can’t do), He’s being quiet about it. My authority is only that which comes from a lifetime of study, checking with experts, a decent knowledge of history, and the original text (as best as I can determine).

What I have to say may well be of interest to Christians and mystics; it might also very well be of service to those who have only a passing knowledge of the Bible but are well up on current politics.

Across social media, we’ve all doubtless seen memes about the Sign or Number or Mark of the Beast and how it relates to the Coronavirus. Perhaps you’re one of those whose only other encounter with it was during a Supernatural episode, or perhaps watching the movie Constantine. So let me tell you a bit about where it comes from.

The Beast is mentioned mainly in the last book of the Bible, variously named the “Apocalypse of John” or, simply, “Revelation”. (He also shows up in a vision in Daniel.) His coming, and his sign and number, are described in various parts of the apocalyptic vision portion of the book. All of it reads like the worst fever dreams imaginable, and in the text it’s made quite clear that everything is poetic metaphor, a riddle of what is, is not, and is to come.

I want to stop here for just a second and clarify: There’s some debate as to whether Revelation belongs in the Bible at all, though I’m not going to go into that. But it’s absolutely true that there is zero agreement about what everything in these prophetic visions means: there are at least two Beasts, and perhaps as many as four, just for one example. Various authorities have their own speculations; some have complex charts, mathematics involving thousands of digits of pi or Euler’s Number, e. But the conclusions are as scattered as the number of eyes who read it; the only consensus is that there is none.

That’s not to say scholars don’t agree on anything; in fact, there’s an awful lot of agreement among those who view the book as future prophecy. (Since that’s the only aspect that’s germane to the present discussion, I’m going to ignore the rest.) And one of these things that’s a matter of general consensus: The Number of the Beast.

(Note that I’m saying “general consensus”. There’s argument. There’s just less, at least among serious scholars.)

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Rev. 13:18

For centuries before and after the book was written, number games were commonly played with letters, both by scholars and those less serious about their literacy. One graffito surviving on a wall in Pompeii reads, approximately, “I love the girl whose number is 545.” This was usually calculated by assigning a number to each letter and adding them; various operations might then be performed. Rather more complex methods were used by mystic scholars seeking hidden wisdom in holy texts, but of course they too debated and argued which was correct.

The straightforward reading of this verse is that the numbers of the Beast’s name add up to 666. Some point out that, by making some assumptions and dropping a following letter, the Roman emperor Nero’s name added to 666; they conveniently forget he was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. It can’t be denied that he was an evil man, and there are several similarities between the Beast vision and ancient Rome, but none of that is confirmation. Indeed, some would say that’s the whole point.

“Understanding” in the verse above can be translated “insight”, which is personal in nature, and far less authoritative. This group of scholars would say that, yes, Nero fits perfectly the pattern (or “type”) of an antichrist, of which several have existed throughout history, and more will appear. By some methods, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and even Joe Biden can all be made to fit the 666 model — if you’re imaginative enough.

You see the problem, I hope.

If not, I’ll spell it out for you: If you’re willing to apply enough effort, you can take facts and twist them to fit any pet theory you like. Including that the number of the Beast can belong to almost any person you don’t happen to like. Somewhere in the infinite variations that are the digits of pi, any number can be found — my cell number is in there, though I’m not going to tell you where since I don’t enjoy getting calls from random strangers.

So, just because someone might have six letters in his name, it doesn’t necessarily make him the Antichrist — and naming your kid something that doesn’t add up to 666 doesn’t mean someone else can’t twist it around to make it fit. Best I can tell, this is in here because, when it happens, it’ll just click: You’ll say, “Ah, yes: That’s definitely what the prophecy means. Clever. I never would have suspected Fozzie Bear, but when he started sacrificing chickens and beheaded those puppeteers…”

Well, OK. Maybe not Fozzie. But you get the idea.

And the second beast required all people small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark ā€” the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Rev. 13: 16, 17

The Sign of the Beast is related to this in a specific way: It’s identified with the name or the number of the Beast, and according to the verses in which it appears, it’s a sign or sigil without which one cannot engage in commerce. The Greek term “charagma” used here has no special Biblical significance; it’s the stamp on a coin. There are other words used for the “mark of Cain”, for branding or tattoos, and so on. So, again, the usage is ambiguous — but it’s meant to become clear to anyone looking for it, since it’s of fairly vital importance in the book. Those who adopt the Mark can buy food; those who don’t, can’t.

I suppose if Amazon were to buy out every grocer in the world, and in order to shop there you’d need to use the Bezos Coin, which would transmit through a bar code stenciled on the back of your hand, it might be a pretty clear sign. Conversely, it’s speculated that there’s a reason the Nazis tattooed numbers on people in concentration camps: They got the idea from Revelation and couldn’t resist perverting it.

However, let’s set all that aside. One of the simpler explanations rather appeals to me: Because the number of the Beast is the same as the number of mankind, it’s possible the writer simply intended to indicate that the Beast represents the whole of humanity rising in rebellion against God, and it’s a general warning against wickedness.

However, for the literal-minded who don’t equate the Mark with general greed, it’s clear that there is a choice to be made, to accept the mark or not. As a result, this is not something about which a person’s ability to choose would be taken away; it’s down to economic pressure. It can’t be something hidden or covert, like (for example) a secret microchip concealed within a vaccine by unscrupulous servants of Satan who, for incomprehensible reasons of their own, desire your damnation.

One other point of note: Those who are martyred, or who refuse to get the Mark, take part in something called the “first resurrection”; those with the Mark do not. But it’s not until some time after that when the final judgement takes place and each is judged according to their deeds. Best I can tell from a literal reading of the text, there’s not even a hint to the effect that a person will be damned eternally for the crime of merely getting a tattoo.

Which, in the context of the rest of the Bible, just makes sense. Consider 1 Cor. 10:13“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide an escape, so that you can stand up under it.” If it comes to a choice between feeding your family and a tattoo rumored to curse you to eternal damnation, either a third option will present itself or, more likely, the tattoo isn’t going to damn you.

There are, I feel, at least two important lessons to draw from this, if you’re a Christian (or interested). First, if you’re going to make important life decisions based on obscure bits of the Bible, it’s vital to make sure you read the whole thing and not just to take random words and stack them together in a way that suits your biases. Second, don’t make important life decisions based on obscure bits of the Bible, but rather on the general principles taught by Christ — things like: Love God and keep His commandments; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Bottom line? No, the COVID-19 vaccine is not the Mark of the Beast. Honestly, from the text, it’s far more likely to be an addiction to earning overtime. You’ve got more important things to worry about anyway, like being kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another — all that sort of thing. Leave the obscure alone and worry about the stuff you actually understand, and you’ll do fine.

I’ve written this because I feel compelled, which some might attribute to the moving of the Spirit; for myself, I claim no such authority. Judge for yourself.

If you found this entertaining or informative, feel free to support us, or buy us a coffee. We can use the morale boost ā€” and the caffeine. And, not to worry: We’ll be back to heckling Congress soon enough.

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