Week 39 of 50 in the Institutes: The Mark of the Beast

Since last week’s assignment obliged us to consider Calvin’s view of the Antichrist, and since this blog is about my reflections on the weekly assignments, I thought I might as well deal with the subject of the mark of the beast this week.  And lest anyone accuse me of getting on a soapbox, let me quickly cite the section in the Institutes that inspired this reflection: 4.9.9.

Calvin noted therein how various church councils have contradicted each other.  The Council of Constantinople (553), for instance, decided that images in churches should be prohibited and destroyed, but that decree was subsequently reversed by the Council of Nicea (787) two hundred years later.  Calvin concluded that the decree from this latter council “emanated from Satan” (Beveridge translation).  This brings me to my legitimate reflection with respect to the mark of the beast, so here we go.

NEWSFLASH:  Billions already have the mark of the beast, and don’t know it.

How can I say this?  Let’s briefly consider the passage which deals with the matter, Revelation 13:11–14:1-5.  Right off the bat we need to note the contrast that is being made at the end of chapter 13 and the beginning of chapter 14.  The chapter division here isn’t helpful in this regard, because the text is contrasting two kinds of marks: the mark of the beast (13:16) and the mark of God (14:1).  The followers of God number 144,000, which signifies completeness (12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) and the number of the beast is a derisive moniker indicating complete (triple) failure: 666.

I don’t think for a moment that either mark is literal.  Yes, I take the Bible literally, and yes, I believe every jot and tittle of it.  But the Revelation of John is in large part apocalyptic, and the perspective has shifted.  Instead of looking up from earth to make sense of things in heaven above, John writes as one who is looking from heaven to the things happening on earth below, and those events are shrouded in symbols.  Understanding the symbols John employed requires great familiarity with his numerous Old Testament allusions and reference points.

So to keep this as brief as possible, let’s consider the number 666.  Rev. 13:18 reads:  “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.”  (ESV)

I don’t buy the various attempts to identify a particular individual as the beast using various means of gematria.  Many have identified the number with Nero, since the Greek form of Nero’s name transliterated into Hebrew is purportedly 666 (but in a specious way since it requires a defective Hebrew spelling to do so).  In addition to that questionable derivation, the text doesn’t suggest that gematria is appropriate, because if John expected the writer to utilize Hebrew to understand the number, he could have made mention of it as he did in 9:11 and 16:16.  Besides all that, there is no definite article, hence the translation “it is the number of a man”.  The Greek could be understand just as well as “it is the number of man”.  In other words, the issue here is moral discernment, not the solution of complex math problems.

What is the point then?  The number six in Scripture represents incompleteness.  The triple repetition of the number six signifies utter incompleteness, or failure.  As G. K. Beale put it in his commentary on Revelation, “six repeated three times indicates the completeness of sinful incompleteness found in the beast.”  In all his efforts to mimic God, Christ, and the prophetic Spirit of truth (19:10), the beast comes up woefully short.  To have the mark of the beast, then, is to be aligned and in allegiance with him in his futile opposition to God: an utterly hopeless proposition.

By way of contrast, the followers of God have a different mark on their foreheads: their Father’s name (14:1).  For my part, I think the 144,000 in Rev. 14 represent all the people of God throughout all the ages (a great multitude which no man can number, in keeping with Rev. 7:9), and not a literal number.  Some think the significance of the number is seen in the fact that it is 12 (the number of perfection) squared times 10 (the number of completion) cubed.  Believers have their Father’s name on their forehead as a symbol of their allegiance to Him, and of having the seal of his protection (Rev. 7:1-8)

In the final analysis, then, everyone bears a mark: either that of the Father or of the beast.  The mark one bears becomes manifest by what a person thinks (head) and what a person does (hand). And this brings me to my parting thought.

Any individual, organization, or government that opposes the gospel of Jesus Christ is, by definition, anti-Christ, and manifests the spirit of the Antichrist.  There have been various manifestations of this spirit throughout history, going all the way back to the first century and even back to the time of Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh.  Paul characterized those who opposed the gospel in his day as being those who oppose all mankind, and in so doing may say they commit crimes against humanity:

“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus Christ and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind  by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.  But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (1 Th. 2:14-16, ESV)

Any form of “political correctness” which opposes Jesus Christ and his gospel is, to borrow Calvin’s phrase, a decree from Satan, and beastly in its very nature.  So the key question for everyone to consider carefully is not, “What’s in your wallet?”, but rather, “What’s on your forehead?”

For further study, I recommend, for starters:

G. K. Beale’s Revelation Commentary (long version)

G. K. Beale’s Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times

Article: A Defense of Reformed Amillennialism

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Sep. 28: 4.8.1 – 4.8.7

Sep. 29: 4.8.8 – 4.8.12

Sep. 30: 4.8.13 – 4.9.3

Oct. 1: 4.9.4 – 4.9.11

Oct. 2: 4.9.12 – 4.10.2

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s