The Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:16-18)

Augustus Caesar
The mark of the Beast is the counterfeit of the “seal of God” placed on the foreheads of His servants. The “inhabitants of the earth” that take the mark are contrasted with the saints who stand on “Zion” with the Lamb, having his Father’s “name written on their foreheads” (7:1-314:1-419:2-5; 22:3-6).
All the “inhabitants of the earth” that take the Beast’s mark are allowed to “buy and sell.” In contrast, the company seen standing with the Lamb on “Zion” consists of men and women who have been “purchased from the earth.”
This is one of several ways the book of Revelation divides humanity into two, and only two, distinct groups: men and women who follow the Lamb versus all who belong to and follow the Dragon. There is no middle ground. One is either a member of the “inhabitants of the earth” or of “them who tabernacle in heaven.”
The determining factor is whether one’s name is “written in the book of life of the Lamb” (Revelation 13:6-10). The designations are not geographical or spatial, but relational – how one responds to the Lamb determines one's orientation and fate.
(Revelation 13:16-18) – “And he causeth all—the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond,—that they should give unto them a mark, upon their right hand or upon their forehead; and that no one should be able to purchase [agorazō] or to sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom: he that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast, for it is, the number of a man; and his number is 666.” [Citation from the Emphasized Bible]
The “mark” designates whether one belongs to the Beast. Without it, one is not allowed to participate in the economic life of the surrounding society.  Anyone who refuses it is excluded from economic activity. The Beast’s mark is also called its “name” and the “number of its name.” Compare the following verses from later chapters:
(Revelation 14:9-11) – “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receives his mark in his forehead or in his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who rendered homage to the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
(15:2) – “I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.”
(16:2) – “And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast, and upon them which rendered homage to his image.”
(19:20) – “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that rendered homage to his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
(20:4) – “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and who had not rendered homage to the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
To take the Beast’s mark is the same as rendering homage to its image; to give allegiance to the Beast is the same as taking its mark. The description of receiving the mark on the forehead or right hand is a play on the call to Israel to worship Yahweh alone:
(Deuteronomy 6:5-8) – “You will love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you will teach them diligently to your children, and will talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And your will bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
If the seal of God is figurative and not literal, so is the mark of the Beast. Anyone who gives allegiance to the Beast takes its mark. This connection is made clear in Revelation 14:9-11: “Anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image, and receives its mark, will drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.”
This last paragraph in chapter 13 alludes to Daniel: “Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast” (Daniel 12:9-10).
Daniel was told by an angelic figure to “shut up and seal the prophecy until the season of the end. Many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined…but none of the wicked will understand; but they that are wise shall understand. And from the time that the daily sacrifice will be removed and the abomination that desolates set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
Only those with wisdom from above were able to understand the significance of the “thousand two hundred and ninety days” of Daniel; so also, now the mark of the Beast. Its significance cannot be grasped by means of mathematical formulas or mystical interpretations.
The Beast’s number or 666 is derived from the measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, “its height was sixty and its breadth six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1-7). The number in Daniel reflects the Babylonian sexagesimal base-60 numeral system (in contrast to 10-base systems).
This same passage from Daniel was already employed in verses 14-16 (“He deceives them that dwell on the earth…saying to them that they should make an image to the beast…and he causes as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead”).
The link to this story emphasizes the idolatrous nature of the Beast, its image and its number. Nebuchadnezzar set up a large golden image and required men from every level of society to render homage to it. All who refused to do so were cast into a fiery furnace, in that case, the three Jewish companions of Daniel.
The number 666 is also a link to Solomon’s riches derived from regional trade.  “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred sixty and six talents of gold, besides that he had of the merchants and of all the kings from afar and the governors of the earth” (1 Kings 10:14-15 [Septuagint]). The book of Revelation consistently uses the Greek text of the Septuagint when alluding to the Old Testament, and the Greek phrase used for the number “666” is virtually identical in both 1 Kings 10:14-15 and Revelation 13:18 (exakosia kai [“and”] exėkonta ex, and, exakosioi exėkonta ex, respectively). The description of Solomon’s enrichment by trade is also will become part of the picture of “Babylon’s” entanglement with world trade and the “merchants of the earth.” Note the following parallels:
(1 Kings 9:27) – “And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon.”
(1 Kings 10:11) – “And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones” (also 2 Chron. 9:21).
(Revelation 18:11-13) – “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no man purchases [agorazō] their merchandise any more; merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stone, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every vessel of ivory, and every vessel made of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble; and cinnamon, and spice, and incense, and ointment, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle, and sheep; and merchandise of horses and chariots and slaves; and souls of men….because, your merchants were the great ones of the earth, because by your sorcery were all the nations deceived.”
They who are wise are to “count” (psephizō) the number of the Beast, a verb originally used for “counting with pebbles,” to “vote by casting pebbles.” It is related to the noun for the “white stone (psephōn) upon which Jesus will write a “new name” (Revelation 2:14-17). It signifies to tally up the total, in this case, the total of 6, 60 and 600, or 666.
The Beast’s number is part of a pattern in Revelation in which numbers are tripled and even cubed. For example, the number 12 is compounded into 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000). The “ten days of tribulation” become one thousand years (10 x 10 x 10).
John categorizes the number of the Beast:  “for its number is also of man, 666” (anthrōpou estin kai ho arithmos autou exakasioi exėkonta ex). Many translations read “a man” or even “the man,” assuming the reference is to a known or identifiable individual human being. But that is to read an English idiom into a Greek clause.
If John intended that understanding the clause would read either “one man” or “the man.” Further, most English versions misplace the verb (“is”), the conjunction kai and the pronoun autou or “his,” then repeat the noun “number” to form two clauses (e.g., “for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” [King James Version]).
John’s point is not to identify an individual political figure by means of decoding the number but to link it to humanity in some capacity; to show the reader the true significance of this number. Just as the great image in Nebuchadnezzar’s story was “his image” and not that of one of the Babylonian gods, so the Beast’s number (and image and name) is linked to humanity.
What distinguishes the Beast’s image (and name and number) is not its shape, size, or form, but the total allegiance its demands. It is the ultimate form of idolatry, in this case, state idolatry. The political order demands the level of devotion and allegiance that belongs only to God.
There is no point in attempting to identify the Beast by decoding its number. The number is not literal but figurative, as are the book’s other numbers. Anyone who does not follow the Lamb “wherever he goes” has taken the number of the Beast, embraced its name, and given his or her allegiance to its image.
As the next paragraph shows (Revelation 14:1-5), humanity is divided into two groups (and only two):  men and women who take the number or the name of the Beast, and those upon whom the Lamb has written his Father’s name.
When the Beast arrives, Christians have a choice whether to submit to the Beast or be excluded from economic life. If there is a relevant message, it is a warning to exercise painstaking discernment before blindly embracing the political and cultural values of the surrounding society. When we imbibe its values, beliefs, and ideas we begin to take the “mark of the Beast.”