666 or the Seal of God?

Synopsis - In Revelation, “all” means “all.” All rulers, nations, and inhabitants of the earth that refuse to follow the Lamb render homage to the Beast


666 - Photo by Dmitry Demidko on Unsplash
Dmitry Demidko on Unsplash
Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” focus on the significance of its number, ‘666.’ This is understandable. Christians must understand what this mark is to avoid taking it. Just as important as decoding the number is to understand the implications of receiving it, and how the book of Revelation contrasts it with the “seal of God” - (Revelation 7:1-3, 13:16-18).

The "mark of the Beast" is the satanic counterpart to the seal of God. Those who take this mark give allegiance to the "Beast from the Sea," wittingly or not. In contrast, men and women who have "seal of God" follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” The book of Revelation divides humanity into two groups - Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and Those whose names are not found in the Book, and therefore are destined for the lake of fire.

The book of Revelation was written to Christian congregations located in the province of Asia in the Roman Empire in the late first century A.D. Some churches were experiencing pressure from local governing authorities to conform to the local culture. In some cases, this included participation in emperor worship, the offering of incense, and other tokens of loyalty to images of Caesar. Additionally, certain false teachers within the church were encouraging believers to compromise with the larger pagan society (for example, the 'Nicolaitans').

In the ancient world, there was no concept of separation of religion and state; political ideology, religious and cultural practices were intermingled. One’s religion was determined largely by one’s place of origin. The Roman government left local populations free to practice their indigenous religions, although Rome expected all residents of the Empire to pay homage to the emperor.

At least five of the seven cities of Asia had erected temples to the emperor, or to Roma, the patron goddess of the city of Rome. Individual citizens were free to worship their traditional gods, however, on public occasions, they were expected to offer incense to the image of the emperor; that is to say, to acknowledge him as chief patron and lord of all residents of the empire.

By law, the Jews were exempt from participation in the Imperial Cult. Rather than offer sacrifices to the image of Caesar, the Jewish people offered daily sacrifices on his behalf in the Jerusalem Temple. By the late first century, Christianity was recognized by Roman authorities as a religion distinct from Judaism. This meant it was an illegal religion and no longer covered by the legal exemptions granted to the Jewish nation.

To venerate the emperor was a religious and a political act - It demonstrated one’s allegiance to Rome. To refuse to do so constituted disloyalty and even treason against the Roman state. Christians were taught to be law-abiding citizens of the empire. But their faith also required them to acknowledge only one “Lord,” Jesus Christ, and to give him their total allegiance. Persecution by Roman authorities was inevitable - (Romans 13:1-7).

This conflict is reflected in Revelation by the choice of verbs used for “worship.” The Greek terms common in the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament for the religious worship of supernatural beings are the verb latreuō and the noun latreia - (e.g., Matthew 4:10, Romans 12:1).

These terms denote the “rendering of divine service,” as in Temple rituals or in sacrificial offerings. The term occurs twice in the book of Revelation for the worship of God. But the more frequently used term is proskuneō. This occurs twenty-four times in the book. It is a compound of the preposition pros, or “toward,” and the verb kuneō, that is, “to kiss” - (Revelation 7:15, 22:3).

The literal sense of proskuneō is “to kiss toward” and it stems from the practice of prostrating oneself before a royal figure to kiss the hem of his robe. From this sense are derived meanings like “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere” and “venerate.” The idea is to show deference and pay honor to a superior being or someone of higher rank. To “render homage” was to give one’s absolute allegiance. Therefore, in Revelationproskuneō is used for the sense of “rendering homage” to someone, whether to God, Jesus, or to the Beast.

In Chapter 13, two groups of men are presented - The “inhabitants of the earth,” and the ones who “tabernacle in heaven”. The “inhabitants of the earth” marveled because one of the seven heads of the Beast received a death stroke that was subsequently “healed.” They were awed by its military prowess (“Who can make war with it?”), therefore, they “rendered homage to the Beast.” That they did so demonstrated that “their names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb” - (Revelation 13:6-7, 12:12).

World Dominion - Photo by Slava on Unsplash
Photo by Slava on Unsplash

A second beast appeared, the “beast from the earth” identified elsewhere as the “false prophet.” This figure imitated Jesus, the true Lamb. Though he spoke with the voice of the Dragon, he had “two horns like a lamb.” He used religious deception (“great signs”) to cause the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the Beast. Without exception, ALL the “inhabitants of the earth” were deceived and so rendered obeisance to the image of the Beast - (Revelation 13:14-16, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

They who “tabernacle in heaven” are identified as the “saints," a term elsewhere applied to Christians. This group became the target of the "war" launched by the "Beast from the Sea" - (Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6).

The saints “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. They are destined to suffer persecution at the hands of the Beast when it “wages war against them and overcomes them.” Martyrdom is part of the “endurance and the faith of the saints” - (Revelation 3:5, 13:7, 14:12, 21:27).

The mark of the Beast or its number is a counterfeit, a parody of the "seal of God."  The “servants of our God” receive the seal prior to the opening of the first four seals. As each seal is broken, destructive forces are unleashed on the earth. Elsewhere, the servants of God are identified as followers of Christ. This “sealed” company is identical to the “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue,” men and women redeemed by the blood of the Lamb - (Revelation 1:1, 2:20, 7:9-17, 19:2, 19:5, 22:3, 22:6).

The "seal of God" marks those who belong to the Lamb and who are preserved through the coming "hour of trial." Believers are not removed from the earth to escape the Tribulation but, instead, they are enabled to endure through it. Their identification with the Lamb spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” especially the “Second Death” received at the Throne of Judgment  - (Revelation 2:11, 20:6).

For example, the demonic forces released by the fifth trumpet torment the "inhabitants of the earth" but NOT anyone who has the "seal of God." This means that believers are still on the earth when the seven trumpets sound; otherwise, there would be no need to protect them via God’s seal (Revelation 9:1-5).
The "mark of the Beast" is Satan’s counterpart to the seal of God - It marks out those who belong to the Beast. Men and women from all walks of life who “render homage to the image of the Beast” receive a mark on their right hand or forehead.” Without it, a person cannot participate in the economic life of society. Anyone who refuses the mark may face execution. It is described further as the “name of the beast” and the “number of its name” - (Revelation 13:11-14:5).
The men who belong to the Lamb have “his name and his Father’s name written upon their foreheads.” They are found before the Throne where they “sing a new song” that no one else can learn. This group consists of men and women “redeemed from the earth.” Anyone who renders homage to the Beast automatically takes its mark, whereas, anyone who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” receives the name of the Lamb and his Father on his or her forehead - (Revelation 3:12, 7:1-3, 14:1-5).

If the "seal of God" is figurative and not a literal mark on the forehead, then the same holds true for the "mark of the Beast." This is Revelation’s way of dividing humanity into two groups - Those who belong to the Lamb, and, Those who belong to the Beast. God seals all who give their allegiance to the Lamb. All who render homage to the Beast take its mark, whether Revelation intends this "mark" literally or not.

This connection is made clear when an angel warns that “anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image and receives its mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, shall drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.” To give allegiance to the Beast is tantamount to taking its "mark" - (Revelation 14:9-11).

The “wrath” that followers of the Beast endure is not a series of plagues but the full wrath  of God “prepared unmixed.” Impenitent men are tormented “with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascends unto the ages of the ages.” This is the final judgment when the wicked are "cast into the lake of fire," which is the "second death" - (Revelation 20:11-15).

The "saints" who “keep God’s commandments and the faithfulness of Jesus” overcome the Beast, its image, and the number of its name. They are seen standing on the Sea of Glass before the Throne of God where they “sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb” - (Revelation 15:2-4).

The faithful followers of the Lamb “render homage before” the Lord rather than to the Beast or its image. Those who refuse to render homage to the Beast and do not receive its mark will “live and reign with Christ” on the Earth - (Revelation 20:4).


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