Scarcely any prophetic subject has elicited more conjecture and speculation than the "mark of the Beast." In addition to a "mark," Revelation 13 also mentions an "image" of the Beast as well as the mysterious "number of his name"—666. What is the significance of these mysterious symbols?
Before examining the number, the image or the mark, consider what we have established so far. The end-time Beast is clearly identified in your Bible as the modern successor to the empire of ancient Babylon. The prophet Daniel identified four successive kingdoms: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Rome, the "fourth kingdom," was to continue through seven revivals until the return of the Messiah, when the God of heaven will destroy the final revived Roman Empire and set up a kingdom that will endure forever.
Since the Roman Empire is the Beast described by John in Revelation 13 and Revelation 17, the "mark" is a brand or mark of the Roman Empire. The "image" of the Beast must be something modeled or patterned after the Roman Empire.
Before going further, notice that Revelation 13 mentions a second "beast" with an earthly, not heavenly, origin (v. 11). It outwardly masquerades as Christian, seeking to be identified with Christ, the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29) but receives its power from the devil, that old dragon (Revelation 12:9). In prophecy, horns are used to represent rulership or authority, and this creature is pictured with two horns. Revelation 13:12 reveals that this second beast insists that all give their allegiance and loyalty to the Holy Roman Empire, the beast whose deadly wound was healed (v. 12). This second beast is described as performing great miracles, which will deceive humanity (vv. 13-14). In Matthew 24:24, Christ prophesied of "false Christs" who will deceive all but the very elect.
Historically, was there an institution claiming to represent Christ ("like a lamb," v. 11) and holding sway over the populace by means of various "miracles" (v. 14)—an institution which taught the devil's false message that God's law was "done away" and which insisted that its adherents give their loyalty to the Holy Roman Empire? Throughout the medieval period, the Church of Rome did exactly this!
Why the two horns? The Church of Rome is both an ecclesiastical and a civil government. The pope is both a religious leader and a civil head of state. Bible prophecy shows that the church-state union of the Middle Ages was a forerunner of end-time events whose scale will be far grander.
What could possibly be considered the mark or brand of the Roman Empire? Whatever it is, within a few years it will be required for all of those who are going to participate in the economic system of Babylon the Great (Revelation 13:17). Yet those who accept it will, by their actions, call down upon themselves the undiluted wrath of God (Revelation 14:9-10). Whatever this mark is, it has been extant for centuries, because all of the righteous martyrs have rejected it (Revelation 20:4). Revelation 13, in describing the interaction of the Church of Rome and the medieval Holy Roman Empire, makes plain that the mark, the image and the number of the Beast's name were all extant during the Middle Ages as a precursor of end-time events.
In years past, many suggestions have been advanced to identify this mark. Back in the 1930s, some tried to connect it with the Social Security cards required by the Roosevelt administration. Others have seen sinister implications in the universal product codes read by cash register scanners. Still others have been suspicious of bank ATM cards and other technological innovations.
Many expect some sort of tattoo or hidden embedded computer chip to be foisted upon an unsuspecting populace. But unless we look at all that the Bible reveals about this subject, we will be unable to gain a clear understanding.
Revelation 14:10 reveals that those who receive the mark of the Beast will have the wrath of God poured upon them. Notice the Apostle Paul's clear teaching about the recipients of God's wrath. Colossians 3:6 tells us that "the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience." The mark of the Beast is therefore a brand of disobedience to God. It marks those who refuse to keep God's commandments in spite of both the preaching of the two witnesses and even the final warning delivered by an angel of God (Revelation 14:9).
The mark of the Beast stands clearly as a brand of disobedience to God and His laws. Does the Bible reveal a contrasting sign of obedience that identifies God's true people? Notice Exodus 31:13-17. Here God declared to ancient Israel that His Sabbaths were a sign between Him and His people forever! The Sabbath is the test commandment to identify the true God of creation and the people who are obedient to His commands and laws.
Revelation 13 explains that the mark of the Beast, a brand of disobedience to God, is taken upon the hand and the forehead. Just as disobedience is described as worn upon the hand and forehead, so also is obedience to God's law. Notice Deuteronomy 6. "Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and commandments... And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes" (vv. 1-2, 8, KJV). The hand is symbolic of actions, while the forehead is the seat of intellect. Obedience to God involves both actions (hand) and will (forehead).
The mark of the Beast is a brand of disobedience to God. Not only must this involve rejection of God's sign of obedience, the Sabbath, but also the acceptance of a counterfeit sign or mark. This mark is, in reality, a brand deriving from Babylon and
Rome. Is there such a symbol that has come all the way down to modern times?
Sun Worship—Satan's Ancient Counterfeit
In ancient Babylon, the kings served as high priests of the sun, Bel-Marduk. "To take the hand of Bel-Marduk" was part of the ceremony of installation as king in Assyria and Babylon ("Babylonian and Assyrian Religion," Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.). The celebration of the winter solstice around December 25 was regarded as the birthday of the sun. It was a major holiday associated with gift-giving and the sacred evergreen tree.
Not only did much of Babylonian pagan worship involve the sun, but so also did the worship of each of Babylon's successors in its own turn, first in Persia and later in both the Hellenistic world and Rome. In fact, by the time each of Daniel's four beasts arose, sun worship had risen to prominence as the imperial religion.
Persia was Babylon's first successor. Ancient Persian religion centered on the worship of Mithras, the god of light. As a result of Babylonian influence, however, Mithras came to be identified with the Babylonian sun god. The Greeks of Asia Minor identified Mithras with their ancient sun god, Helios, and contributed to the westward spread of the cult of the sun. Alexander the Great traveled to Egypt to the Temple of Amon-Ra to be proclaimed by the priests as the literal son of the sun god. And what of Rome? "Mithras, identified with Sol Invictus at Rome, thus became the giver of authority and victory to the imperial house" ("Mithras," Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.). Lempriere's Classical Dictionary states that Sol, the sun god of Rome, was worshipped as "the Baal or Bel of the Chaldeans [Babylonians]" (p. 590). Sun worship and its symbols were adopted by the Roman Empire from her predecessors and passed on to the entire western world!
In modern Lebanon today there is a tiny Arab village called Baalbek. Located there are the ruins of two majestic temples, once the pride of Heliopolis, the Greco-Roman "City of the Sun." Notice the explanation of historian Will Durant: "Augustus planted a small colony there, and the town grew as the sacred seat of
Baal the Sun-God Under Antoninus Pius and his successors Roman, Greek, and Syrian architects and engineers raised, on the site of an old Phoenician temple to Baal, an imposing shrine to Iuppiter Heliopolitanus" (The Story of Civilization, Will Durant, vol. 3, p. 511). Thus the Roman Jupiter became identified with Baal the ancient sun god.
Another great center of pagan sun worship was the temple at Heliopolis in Egypt, where a great obelisk sacred to the sun was located. Around 40ad, the Roman emperor Caligula had this obelisk transported from Egypt to Rome and erected in his circus on Vatican Hill. In 1586, upon order of Pope Sixtus V, this ancient obelisk—83 feet in height and weighing 320 tons—was moved a short distance to its present location. Requiring a crew of 800 workmen, 160 horses and 45 winches, the obelisk was exactly centered before the entrance of St. Peter's Cathedral—where it remains to this day.
In ancient Rome, before the days of the empire, there was a cult devoted to Sol, the sun god. Parrinder's World Religions from Ancient History to the Present discusses the development of sun worship as the religion of Rome:
"It was natural that as the centre of gravity of the Roman empire moved eastwards, sun-worship should grow in power. It was already strong in imperial propaganda; Nero's Golden House was an appropriate home for the incarnate sun, and Antonius accorded the sun peculiar honour. Under the Severan dynasty sun-worship became dominant; the sun-god was portrayed with Severus's characteristic beard, and the emperor took the title INVICTVS (unconquered), which was the peculiar epithet of the sun. The sun was a superb unifying symbol and rallying-point for the whole empire. in AD 274 Aurelian established the sun-god as the supreme god of the Roman empire" (p. 175).
Aurelian, emperor from 270-282AD, ascribed much of Rome's third-century moral and political chaos to religious disunity. He sought to unite the whole empire in the "worship of the sun-god, and of the Emperor as the vicar of that deity on earth. He built at Rome a resplendent Temple of the Sun, in which, he hoped, the Baal of Emesa and the god of Mithraism would merge. Aurelian advanced that Orientalization of the monarchy which had begun with Elagabalus and would complete itself in Diocletian and Constantine" (Durant, p. 639).
Constantine, considered Rome's first "Christian" emperor, was himself a devotee of the sun god. "In fact the emperor Constantine's Christianity was ambiguous. His family owed traditional allegiance to the sun-god; the famous vision of the cross as he marched on Rome came to him from the sun; the sun continues to appear on his coins through the decade, and on his arch at Rome; his own statue at Constantinople bore the rayed crown of the sun-god" (Parrinder, p. 175). By the first century, the seven-day planetary week was being popularized at Rome. The seven-day week itself originated at creation (Genesis 1) and the knowledge of the correct weekly cycle was preserved by the Jews. However, in ancient Babylon each of the seven days of the week became associated with what the ancients called the seven planets: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. This is significant because it set the stage for an imperial proclamation that indelibly stamped upon the Christian-professing world a mark, or brand, derived from ancient sun worship.
The Encyclopedia Britannica records: "The earliest recognition of the observance of Sunday as a legal duty is a constitution of Constantine in 321ad, enacting that all courts of justice, inhabitants of towns, and workshops were to be at rest on Sunday (ven-erabili die solis)" ("Sunday," 11th ed.).
By using the Latin term properly translated as "venerable day of the sun," Constantine identified the first day of the week with that day dedicated from ancient times to Sol, the sun. Through the proclamation of a Roman emperor, a mark from ancient Babylon and the cult of sun worship was forcibly stamped on the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. That mark—with other associated symbols of sun worship—has continued right on down through the medieval period to modern times.
We have seen that the second beast mentioned in Revelation 13 is none other than the Church of Rome, while the first beast mentioned is the Roman Empire. The Church of Rome, this second beast, instructed that an "image" of the first beast, the Roman Empire, should be made. What is an image? It is a copy, model, representation or counterpart. The image of the Beast is therefore a counterpart to the old Roman Empire—something modeled after the pagan Roman kingdom or government. Notice the plain statement of British historian and statesman James Bryce that the "papal [system] itself had been modeled after the elder Empire" ("A History of the Holy Roman Empire Must Be Deduced from Its Theory," Hertzstein, p. 53).
Revelation 13 explains that the false church, the second beast, insists that all people give total loyalty and devotion (worship) to the image, the religious organizational structure modeled after the old Roman Empire. It "causes" to be killed those who refuse (Revelation 13:15). During the Middle Ages, the church did not carry out the punishment itself. It simply declared as heretics those who refused adherence to the system. Those declared anathema from the church were considered as enemies of the state and were accordingly dealt with by the civil government.
The first-century Roman Empire was authoritarian. But most do not realize that for many offices election was also an honored and accepted practice. Even the emperor was elected—ostensibly by the Senate, though more commonly in fact by the Praetorian Guard or simply by the army.
Some of the very elders that Paul admonished (Acts 20:30) later became ringleaders in deceiving God's people into following the pattern of Roman municipalities by holding public church meetings with elected officers. Notice the statements of historian Arthur Boak: "These municipalities were patterned closely after Rome, although certain titles, like those of consul and Senate, were reserved for the capital city. All officials were popularly elected" (A History of Rome to 565ad, 1965, p. 370). Dr. Boak goes on to write, "While the lower classes of Rome and the municipalities had little opportunity for political activity, they found compensation in the social life of their guilds or colleges. Thus arose professional, religious, and funerary colleges. Their organization was modeled on that of the municipalities" (pp. 370-371). Writing of the development of the incipient Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Boak adds, "In their organization these communities were all of the same general type, resembling the Roman religious collegia" (p. 401).
In the congregations, increasing numbers of unconverted people wanted "say-so." They chose teachers who sanctioned elections, who pleased them with teachings that increasingly led them back into the pagan customs of the world around them. In his final letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul had directly prophesied of this turn of events (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Historian Edward Gibbon wrote that "the order of public deliberations soon introduces the office of a president, invested at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolutions, of the assembly" (Triumph of Christendom in the Roman Empire, p. 44). Gibbon went on to describe the times following the emperor Constantine's reign:
"But the episcopal chair was solicited, especially in the great and opulent cities of the empire, as a temporal rather than as a spiritual dignity. The interested views, the selfish and angry passions, the arts of perfidy and dissimulation, the secret corruption, the open and even bloody violence, which had formerly disgraced the freedom of election in the commonwealths of Greece and Rome, too often influenced the choice of the successors of the apostles" (p. 336).
Using the institutions and practices of the Roman Empire as a model, men devised a church government structure. Political maneuvering became a substitute for seeking God's will. Popular and soothing teachings were substituted for the plain word of God, which offered correction and rebuke.
The problem with the Church of Rome was that it substituted a human political structure in place of God's government. In God's government, elders are to be appointed, based upon their fruits, by those Christ has already set as leaders in His Church (Titus 1:5-9). God's government is based upon His law. God validates it based upon positive fruit being borne (Matthew 7:15-23; cf. Numbers 17:7-10).
The Church of Rome developed on the model of the old Roman Empire from which it derived its structure. Idolatrous allegiance to the organizational structure was demanded, even if it sought to "change times and laws" (cf. Daniel 7:25). In God's government, He makes it plain where He is working by the fruits, and we submit to human leaders as long as they are following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
What of the mysterious number 666? Many ingenious solutions have been devised to label desired individuals with that number. But what does the Bible mean when it tells us that this is the number of a man?
Before Arabic numerals became accepted in the western world in the 13th century, letters of the alphabet doubled as numerals. Thus all names had numeric value. Most of us are familiar with Roman numerals, where the letters of the Latin alphabet have numeric value. In this system I=1, V=5, X=10, and so on. Greek and Hebrew are the languages in which the Bible was written, and both use a similar system.
The earliest proposed solution to the meaning of 666 is a tradition attributed to Polycarp, the disciple of the same Apostle John who wrote Revelation. This tradition is preserved in the second century writings of Irenaeus. The number 666 is ".contained in the Greek letters of Lateinos (L=30; A=1; T=300; E=5; I=10; N=50; 0=70; S=200)" (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown). Lateinos is a Greek term referring to the Romans. Interestingly, the Greek expression meaning "the Latin kingdom" (h Latine Basileia) also has a numeric value of 666. Greek writers commonly referred to the Roman Empire in this way. The book of Revelation was originally written in Greek, as it was written to Greek-speaking churches in ancient Asia Minor.
Another interesting explanation involves the name of the emperor Nero, who died about 25 years before John wrote Revelation. Though Nero was dead, his rule was nevertheless a type of the end-time Roman system. He was brought to power promising constitutional reforms and a return to the "golden age" of Augustus, but became increasingly cruel and despotic after achieving power. Living in an atmosphere of intrigue and conspiracy, he abused his power and was responsible for the Roman state's first official persecution of Christians. During his reign most of the Apostles, including both Peter and Paul, were martyred. His name in Greek was spelled Neron Kaesar (Nero Caesar). When the Greek form of his name is spelled out in Hebrew characters, their numeric value also adds up to 666.
The founder of ancient Rome was Romulus, from whose name Rome and Roman are derived. The Latin name Romvlvs is written in Hebrew as Romiith. In the Hebrew language this also adds up to 666 (resh=200, vau=6, mem=40, yod=10, yod=10, tau=400). Thus, in both Greek and Hebrew, the two languages of the Bible, the number 666 is stamped upon the kingdom that derived from Rome.
The years ahead of us will bring the seventh and final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. There will most likely be special numeric significance to either the name, or perhaps a special title, of the end-time leader of the Beast power. However, it is important to realize that the Roman system is already stamped with 666. That system—and its end-time resurrection—is identified as the Beast.
Was this article helpful?