Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.

CP VOICES do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

The Mark of the Beast on earth and forehead tattoos in Heaven: literal or symbolic?

Illustration of a an angel, having sounded the trumpet to announce the Day of Judgment, tears down the Sun, which definitely means the End of the World as we know it
Illustration of a an angel, having sounded the trumpet to announce the Day of Judgment, tears down the Sun, which definitely means the End of the World as we know it | Getty Images/Nastasic

Four consecutive verses in the Book of Revelation describe unbelievers on Earth having the mark of the beast on their right hand or forehead, and believers in Heaven having God's name tattooed on their forehead. So, are these verses to be interpreted literally or symbolically?

The Apostle John wrote, "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father's name written on their foreheads" (Revelation 13:16-18; 14:1).

Sam Storms is pastor emeritus at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City. He writes, "No one I know believes all Christians will literally and physically have the names of Jesus and the Father tattooed on their foreheads. This is simply a way of describing that those born again and redeemed by Christ's blood belong to Him and to His Father and are preserved in faith by the indwelling Holy Spirit."

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

If Storms is correct, then what about the mark of the beast a few verses earlier? Some Christians interpret this verse literally, while other Christians interpret it symbolically.

Storms writes, "I don't believe the so-called 'mark of the beast' is a literal, physical mark on the bodies of unbelievers, either on their forehead or their right hand. Throughout Revelation we see Satan making every effort to copy whatever God does. For example, the three persons of the holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — find their evil counterpart in Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. And just as Jesus died and rose again from the dead, so the beast is portrayed as dying and rising to life. The 'mark' of the beast that unbelievers receive on their forehead or right hand is a demonic rip-off, a depraved parody, a counterfeit imitation of the 'mark' believers receive on their foreheads." (Sam Storms discusses these issues in more depth in this interesting interview.)

So, do these several verses in Revelation 13 describe believers being persecuted for a few years right before Christ returns to Earth, or do they instead symbolize the persecution that followers of Christ have endured over the past 2,000 years and the tribulations that will continue up until the Lord returns?

Revelation 13:17 describes people being unable to buy or sell unless they have the mark. The Pulpit Commentary was first published in 1880 and had 100 contributors. It states, "The manner in which this verse (v. 17) was fulfilled in the early ages of the Church is sufficiently notorious. Then faithfulness to the cause of Christ frequently meant banishment from friends, kindred, and home. St. John himself was feeling the effect of this at the time when he wrote these words in exile at Patmos. So, at the present day, the Jews regard as an utter alien any one of their number who embraces Christianity."

New Testament Professor Dr. Gregory K. Beale writes, "The main mode of communication in Revelation is that of symbolism. Neither Paul nor the other New Testament writers use this as a main way of communicating. Why does John do so in Revelation? No doubt, one reason is because the visions could not be expressed by words alone, because John saw things he could not put into words. Therefore, he puts them into pictures. In addition, the symbols show continuity with the Old Testament, because many of the symbols come from there."

What about the 144,000 people in Revelation 14:1? "Some theologians view the 144,000 as symbolic of the entirety of God's redeemed people, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles, who are sealed by God and protected throughout history." Others, such as Dr. David Jeremiah, interpret the number literally. Jeremiah believes the 144,000 "will be Jews who receive a special calling from the Lord," and that "there will be 12,000 witnesses from each of the 12 tribes of Israel" who "will spark a miraculous revival during the Tribulation."

Whichever way you interpret these debatable passages, just remember that a large number of mature believers do not share your particular perspective. Followers of Christ certainly agree on essential Christian doctrines such as:  justification by grace through faith, the deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, etc. But there is no such agreement regarding some puzzling passages in the Book of Revelation.

Chapter 20 provides another prime example. Should the period of 1,000 years be understood literally, or does it represent a perfect period of time? And when does it occur? There is no shortage of opinions among Christians on this enigmatic issue.

In my CP op-ed, "Your Eschatology Doesn't Determine Your Eternity," I wrote: "Does your particular view of the end times increase your love for Jesus and for God’s Word? If so, rejoice! Does your interpretation increase your anticipation for the Lord’s return, and your love for the lost? If so, be glad! Does your eschatological perspective increase your desire for holy living? If so, great! Does your preferred interpretation increase your love for other Christians, including those who hold an alternate view of the end times? If not, then your spiritual growth has been stunted."

The Holy Spirit guides and empowers believers to "encourage one another and build each other up," (1 Thessalonians 5:11) even when we interpret perplexing passages differently. 

Evangelist D.L. Moody offered Christians wise advice about how to view the end times. In a sermon titled, When My Lord Jesus Comes, Moody said, "You should study the Bible for yourself, and come to your own conclusions."

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More In Opinion