the mark of the beast

There are several ways that the New Testament authors talk about the struggle of Christians in the first century. One of those ways is in the 13th chapter of Revelation.  John talk about something called the Mark of the Beast. I think that the mark of the beast has a lot more to do with the struggle of how Christians interact with the empire, than it does the end of the world.  Revelation 13 talks about the mark of the beast being 666 on the forehead and hand, which is a reference to two things, Nero and also a reference to King Solomon’s relationship with the Queen of Sheba.  It is thought the Nero’s name numbered up to 666.  Solomon famously departed from the ways of his father and when his gold was added up weighed 666 talents.  This was a huge amount that highlighted his alliances with other countries, which highlighted a departure of a reliance on God.   666 is a reference to a massivly wealthy empire.[1]  The idea of the mark being on the head and hand is the antithesis of the Shema.[2]   This is where God says, bind these laws on your forehead and your hands.  Every good first century Jew would have known what phylacteries were.  It is a way to wear the Shema on your head and hand.   I simply think that John is warning the early church that the allure of the empire is huge and asking the question, “whose will image to you bear?”

I think the early church understood what the mark of the empire was.  In many places in Rome along with worshiping Caesar came the right to buy and sell goods.  I think the mark of the beast was clear to the first century church.  Those who lived in the image of God rejected the luxuries of the empire lived in poverty and martyrdom.  They refused to take part in celebrations that honored the gods of the day.  They refused military service, and attended to the sick and the poor. They had to take a bold stand in their culture.  There were two options, look like the empire or look like Jesus.

Would the first century church recognize the 21’st century church.  Do we look any different from the “empires” in which we live?  Or are we walking around with the mark of the beast?

[1] 2 Chronicles 9:13-31

[2] Deuteronomy 6:8


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