What does "the mark of the beast" and 666 mean? The last few verses of Revelation 13 speak about a certain "mark" which man would receive on his right hand or forehead. This "mark," as well as the number 666, has caused no small stir among those desiring to interpret the Book of Revelation.
As we would attempt to consider the meaning of the above, may we realize that a great number of theories on the subject have been advanced. Some have said that the mark of the beast was: the symbol of free masonry; the face that appears on the American dime; the observance of the sabbath on the first day of the week; the N.R.A. of the early 1930's; and, last and probably the most popular theory today, the "bar codes" for products, places and people. This last theory says that all people will have a final I.D. transaction card, and without it you'll not survive. What will be the next theory, only God knows.
As one views the Book of Revelation as a book filled with symbolism, I see an error in these theories. I see it because each theory interprets the "mark" as a single, individual, outward, visible sign that will appear on the forehead or hand of the wicked at one particular moment in history. But, the beast is constantly persecuting the church, and indicates every form of secular power that attempts to destroy believers in Christ. Thus, wherever and whenever the beast appears, you will find the mark of the beast. The language's origin, in Bible times - the "branding" of cattle or slaves was common, and it was referred to as "the mark." Thus, it showed ownership.
Note in Revelation 14:9-11; 20:4, that the term "mark of the beast" seems to refer to worshiping the beast, as well as belonging to him and wearing his name. Thus, the "mark of the beast" is the God-opposing, church-persecuting spirit of the antichrist, wherever and whenever it manifests itself. The "antichrist" has been among us since the first century, even prior to the closing of the New Testament writings (I John 2:18; 4:3; II John 7). Thus, the "antichrist," or those against Christ, are not of a 20th Century origin.
The forehead symbolizes the mind, the thought-life, the philosophy of a person. The right hand indicates his deed, action, trade, industry, etc. (see Deuteronomy 6:8). Thus, receiving the "mark" indicates that the person so characterized belongs to the company of those who persecute the church in what he thinks, says, writes or what he constantly does.
The Trade Prohibition. In Revelation 13:17, the reference to man not being able to buy and sell without the "mark" has been a difficult passage. The marks of identification should not be misunderstood literally. Yet, in the days of the New Testament writing, the trade guilds (wool workers, linen workers, makers of outer garments, dyers - as Lydia [Acts 16:14] - leather workers, tanners, potters, etc.) were popular. The trade guilds were associated with tutelary deities (protection, guardian), and each guild had its guardian god. If you were in that guild, your membership implied that you worshipped its god. You were expected to attend the guild festivals and eat food offered to the tutelary god and also to take part in the immorality which always accompanied the feast and worship service. Thus, if one refused, he was out of the guild, which meant "out of work." Also, the Roman Catholic Church on occasions has denied that heretics be traded with. One such occasion came during the reign of Pope Alexander III, when the Waldenses and the Albigenses were "under fire" by the papacy.
If the verse in question is taken symbolically, then one might see that only those "out of Christ" and "in Satan" might be the ones who are to direct the business affairs of the world. More importantly, that they would even direct the religious affairs of the world. Thus, we can understand why some religions do not want their members to think for themselves, but to listen only to the interpretations via their clergy.
In Revelation 13:18 the number "666" has had so many interpretations, one looses count quickly, as he starts through the history books which record them. Most of these have been made by adding the numerical values of the letters in the name of Nero, Mohammed, the Roman Catholic pope (papacy), Martin Luther, Napoleon, Trojan, and some of our generation have even seen Henry Kissinger fitting this number. Who or what is next?
Looking at the verse and seeing it as a number of MAN, we can see that the number six means "missing the mark" or failure. Man was created on the sixth day. Six is not seven, which is the number of perfection, victory. Now, note the number of the beast is six hundred and sixty-six; that is failure upon failure. It is the number of MAN, for the beast glories in man. Hence, he must fail.
May each of us, as a serious Bible student, be slow to accept every teaching on the Book of Revelation, or any Bible passage. Let us all study with an open mind and be constantly praying for God to enlighten us. There is a saying as old as the ages which needs to be applied especially to scriptures which are found in symbolic passages. “In the Bible THE MAIN THINGS ARE THE PLAIN THINGS, AND THE PLAIN THINGS ARE THE MAIN THINGS”. May God bless you as you strive to be a good Bible student!
To obtain an enlightening adventure in the Book of Revelation, see “More Than Conquerors” by William Hendricksen, published by Baker Book House.