At the Christian college I attended, I worked at the Technology Department. I worked with the gentleman who maintained the information database for all students and employees. Like most schools, everyone was assigned an ID number that was used for everything from tracking chapel attendance to paying your bill to applying for student housing. The database would randomly assign a number to each new student or employee. More than once, this gentleman would receive a call from an irate parent, demanding that he change their child's student ID number. Why?
Because it had the digits 666.
If you've been in evangelical Christian culture for any amount of time, you may have heard anxieties about "the mark of the beast." Like most things concerning end time prophecies, it's been drastically misunderstood. Tattoos, RFID chips, and even energy drinks have all been put forward as possible candidates of the mark of the beast. Because of the passage in Revelation 13, the number 666 has been associated with the mark of the beast (even though Revelation 13 does NOT say that 666 is the mark of the beast. Like I said: drastically misunderstood).
So what is the mark of the beast all about? Well, in order to stand that, we have to understand the mark before the mark. The original mark, if you will.
In Revelation 7 there's a scroll being opened and we are just about to witness the breaking of the seventh seal of the scroll. As the reader we get the idea that some bad stuff is about to go down. Angels are holding back the wind. Heaven is growing silent. But before this happens, an angel says, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (verse 3).
This seal is then given to the 144,000 which themselves are representative of the "great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (verse 9). This seal is then referenced throughout the rest of the book of Revelation (9:4; 14:1; 22:4). We see in 14:1 that the seal is specifically the "name of the Lamb and the name of His Father." In other words, God's people are sealed with God's name. This name-seal is characteristic of all of God's people who abide in the new Jerusalem (22:4).
This same language of being sealed is used in the New Testament, specifically concerning being sealed with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says you, "When you believed [in the Gospel], you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
And Ephesians 4:30, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with who you were sealed for the day of redemption."
And 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, a great Trinitarian passage, "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."
The Holy Spirit marks us as belonging to Christ. The powers and principalities of the world can look at us and immediately tell that we belong to God and not the world. Why? Because we have a mark, a sign, a seal. And that is the Holy Spirit residing within us.
So, Revelation 13 and the mark of the beast isn't about tattoos and social security numbers embedded into our wrists. It's a contrast between being marked and sealed with the Spirit; or being marked with the enemy of God, the depravity of our broken humanity, the fallenness of the world.
As you go out today, may you be confident in the truth that you are marked and signed with God's powerful presence. That "greater is He who is within you than he who is in the world," because you are marked with the Holy Spirit Himself!