There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion these days among Christians about current events and the Bible. Some have equated the COVID vaccine with the mark of the beast. Here’s why I think that’s unscriptural and a harmful idea we should reject.
What does Scripture say about the mark of the beast?
The mark of the beast is first mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18:
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, 17 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. 18 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 14:9-11 gives more clarity about the mark:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
We see here that those who worship the beast receive his mark. Other scriptures make this important connection: Revelation 16:2; 19:20; 20:4.
Some scriptural truths about the mark of the beast:
- It is taken willfully – it is not accidentally or inadvertently.
- It is taken by those who deny Christ.
- It is taken by those who worship the beast.
- Those who take it are destined for hell.
Already we see that the mark of the beast cannot be equated with something as mundane as a vaccine. But what is it? Is it a literal mark that will be offered to us in the future?
Is the mark of the beast a literal mark?
The mark of the beast most likely is not to be taken as a literal mark. It’s important to realize that scripture uses “marks” to refer to those who belong to God. For example, in Revelation, there is another mark spoken of – the mark of God.
“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).
Furthermore, the book of Revelation is intended to be understood in symbolic terms. Jesus makes this clear in Revelation 1:20 when he discloses the meaning behind some of John’s early vision. Jesus is pictured with a two-edged sword in his mouth. It ought to be obvious that this is not his actual appearance but represents the two-edged sword of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). Throughout the book of Revelation, we are told that certain images are symbolic and not literal.
The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 tells Israel to bind God’s commands on their hands and between their eyes (Deut. 6:8) and in Ezekiel 9:1-6, God’s people are sealed with a mark on their foreheads, but this is not a literal mark but refers to God knowing his people. It is likely that the mark of God and the mark of the beast in Revelation are also not to be understood literally.
What did it mean to the original readers?
John is writing revelation to the seven churches in Asia in the late first century. These churches were experiencing persecution from the Roman empire. At this time, Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian were worshiped. Domitian demanded to be addressed as “Lord and God” (Suetonius, Dom. 13). Pliny wrote that Christians were told to worship the image of Caesar (Pliny, Letters, 10:96-97). Sound familiar? The number 666 could be a gematria for Nero Caesar.
Some scholars understand the number “666” to be an example of Hebrew gematria – where a letter of the alphabet is assigned a number. The numerical equivalent of Nero’s name in Hebrew is – you guessed it – 666. Whether this is the true meaning or not is debated, but it is certainly possible. Nero was considered by some early Christians to be the antichrist.
What we do know is that:
- Revelation is highly symbolic.
- Revelation is written to churches in the first century.
- Revelation describes the persecution of first century Christians.
- Revelation is given as a comfort, not for fear.
Can a Christian receive the mark of the beast?
Could the mark of the beast also refer to some present or future reality? Absolutely. However, just as it did in John’s day, it would signify those who reject Christ and turn to Satan. Whenever, someone abandons Christ and follows Satan in order to avoid persecution, we see the very real outworking of this “mark.” See Jesus’ warning in Matthew 16:24-26. Those who take the mark are punished in hell. Here’s what Scripture says about those who belong to God.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
If we belong to Christ and are faithful to him, we are in no danger of receiving the mark of the beast. It is impossible to be separated from God’s love by anything in creation – that includes vaccines! No one can take us from the Father’s hand.
How should Christians respond to alarming current events?
We have seen much turmoil and controversy in the past year. The pandemic, racial unrest, a tumultuous election, and a new presidential administration. On top of this, there is no shortage of voices giving opinions and sometimes even misinformation. The worst of all are those who claim to speak for God but do not speak the truth.
As Christians, we should avoid sensationalism and conspiracy theories. Remember all the ruckus leading up to the “Y2K bug?” I remember when people predicted that Barack Obama was the Antichrist and would bring a one-world order. The list goes on and on. When will we learn our lesson to not get carried away with these things? Rather, God tells us to “fear not” over and over again in Scripture!
When I hear someone say that the COVID vaccine is a way for the government to track or catalogue people, I can’t help but laugh. As Americans, we are required to have a social security number, a driver’s license, car insurance, we already must have vaccines for some international travel, our we carry around super-computers in our pockets with GPS tracking, microphones, and cameras! We are already more connected than we often realize. Living with suspicion and conspiracy is simply no way to live in the world. We cannot live by what “could be” or by being fearful of what the next headline will mean for our future. Rather, we trust in the Lord and await his soon return, knowing that all human history is under his control and we already know that history is moving towards Christ’s victory.
End times confusion is nothing new. Paul dealt with it with the Thessalonians. Someone had spread the false belief that the day of the Lord had already come! Paul counsels them to “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). This is good counsel for our day.
Should you take the COVID vaccine? That decision is for each individual to make. I did and I encourage you to take it. Whether you do or whether you do not, however, does not make you more or less Christian. Obey God, follow your conscience, use your best judgment, and do not live in fear of things which God has well under his control. If you belong to Christ, he has marked you as his own, and nothing on this earth can ever change that.