Technology is quickly advancing and this is a beautiful thing. People are now able to have chips implanted into their hands as a way to replace everything that goes into a wallet: credit cards, debit cards, ID cards, etc. This BuzzFeed video follows around a guy named Charlie who actually is able to pay with things using only the chip implanted into his hand. You should actually watch the video — it is pretty great.
Without looking far down into the comments on the video (a practice which I usually avoid at all costs) you can find Christians are calling the chip “the mark of the beast.” Likewise, people have whole YouTube channels devoted to “exposing” the microchip implant as the mark of the beast. At face value, Revelation 13:16-17 seems like it could be predicting this chip in the hand. The beast requires that:
all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark (ESV).
Is this chip in the hand really the mark of the beast? Are you YouTubers correct? Phoenix Seminary professor Dr. John DelHousaye teaches students to use the Quadriga, which is a fourfold way of reading scripture that is rooted in the practices of the Church Fathers and Medieval Theologians. Below we will examine Revelation 13:16-17 with that lens.
First, when you read Revelation 13:16-17 in context, the mark isn’t ambiguous, but rather is “the name of the beast or the number of its name” (verse 17b). Second, the beast “causes” people to get the mark; people don’t receive the mark on accident. So, from a literal reading of the text, unless there is a “beast” requiring people to get a mark that says “666”, it isn’t the mark of the beast. Third, the mark of the beast is not something anyone will receive by accident, but rather the mark will be accompanied by worship of the Beast (Revelation 14:6).
Likewise, people who want to only “read the bible literally” should remember that the beast has “two horns like lamb and speaks like a dragon” (Rev 13:11). Have you ever heard a dragon speak? No, you haven’t. When you see an animal walking around that fits that description, please let me know.
In the book of Revelation, John alludes to the Old Testament between 200 and 1,000 times, depending what scholar you ask. Reading the last book of the Christian Canon in the context of the rest of the canon is necessary to properly understand it. Have we seen references to markings on the forehead or the hand elsewhere in scripture? Yes we have, in the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one...these words that I command you today shall be on your heart...You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
God commands his people to mark their hand with his law and to place it on their forehead. In writing Revelation 13, John has Deuteronomy 6 in mind. The contrast between the two passages is where we should find our application.
In the Shema (Hebrew word for "Hear!") teaches God’s people that all they do (mark their hands) should be shaped by the Law and all that they see (between their eyes i.e. on their forehead) should be interpreted with God’s Law. In Revelation 13, the Beast is telling people do mark their hands and their foreheads. So, the Beast is telling people to do the opposite of what God is telling people to do. Will the Beast shape what you do or will God’s law shape what you do? Will the Beast tell you how to interpret the world or will God’s law tell you how to interpret the world? Revelation 13 should cause us to question whether our actions and thoughts are marked by loyalty to the way of the World or by the way of the Word (1 John 2:15).
Does our theology teach that there is an enemy of God who is constantly competing for our loyalty? Does our eschatology teach that a time will come (and has in many places and ages, already come) where if we do not deny the Lordship of Jesus and worship a different Lord, lives will be lost (Revelation 13:15)? Let us “hold fast to the word of life” (Phil 2:16 ESV).
Christians, let’s read the Bible carefully. We are called to be making disciples, not running about pushing a false gospel of anti-intellectual fanaticism! Rather than juxtaposing today’s technology with an egocentric reading of Revelation 13, we should be wise and read Revelation 13 alongside Deuteronomy 6 in the context of God’s whole Word.
Seth Troutt is a graduate of Phoenix Seminary (MDiv), a doctoral student at Covenant Seminary, and a pastor at Redemption Gateway in Mesa, AZ.