Much has been said and written about the Mark of the Beast described in the book of Revelation.

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 (Rev 13:16-18).

This occurs during a time of persecution. Every person is given a mark, which is a sign of allegiance to the Beast. It is the number or name of the Beast. Any person who does not have this mark will not be allowed to buy or sell. Christians would not be able to take the mark, so they will not be able to buy or sell. The persecution will take the form of economic discrimination. The actual procedure will be implemented by the false prophet (Rev 17:6).

A great deal has been made of these verses in recent years, especially with the introduction of credit cards and computerised check-out counters. It has been suggested that each person would be tattooed with a credit number on their wrist or forehead. These would be used to make all financial transactions, in what would be a cashless society. It has even been suggested that there is a giant computer in Brussels which will provide the link-up, and that its operators euphemistically call it "the beast". Some people have even imagined that they see the number 666 on some credit cards.

We should not get too carried away with all this. If we look closely at what John says, we see that each person is not given their own individual number, but the number of the Beast. Each person is given the same number or mark, and not a personal credit number. In fact, the mark is not a credit number but a mark of allegiance to a political ruler, the Beast.

This vision does not need modern computer technology to be implemented. In John's time when a slave was sold in the market-place, he was branded with a hot iron on the forehead or arm with the mark of his owner. This made it impossible for the slave to escape. It would be something like this that John saw. A ruler could have done this in any age. He would have all his people branded with a mark representing his name. A decree would then be issued forbidding all citizens from trading with a person who did not have the mark. Anyone who refused to take the mark would be effectively outlawed.

The persecution John saw in the vision could have taken place in any age. We should not place too much importance on the advances in computer technology. Computer technology may be used to bring it about, but the existence of computers and credit cards does not necessarily mean that it is coming soon. John did not have a vision of a cashless society. He only saw people being branded with a mark of allegiance. The fact that we appear to be advancing towards a cashless society does not mean that this part of the vision is being fulfilled.

The number 666 also needs some comment. John tells us that this is the Beast's number, and those with wisdom and insight can work out what it means. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, each letter is also a numeral. Thus a word with three letters can also be read as three numerals, and the letters of a person's name can be added together. To try and discover who the beast is, people have searched for a person whose name has letters adding up to 666. Various suggestions have been made: Nero, Napoleon, Mussolini, and more recently Henry Kissinger. By various manipulations, these names have been made to add up to 666. All have proved to be wrong.

We do not need to speculate on the identity of the Beast. When it is rising to power, it will be obvious to those with discernment. The link with the number 666 will also be quite clear. We will not need to go into various manipulations to work out who it is. When John's vision is fulfilled, the meaning of the number 666 will be obvious.

We should also remember that the number has a symbolic meaning. In Deuteronomy 6:8 the people of Israel were told to bind the law to their foreheads and hands. The forehead is a symbol of thinking, and the hand is symbolic of action. Moses was saying that all their thinking and doing should be under the law of God. The law should govern everything a man thinks and does. John tells us that 666 is man's number. Having this number on the forehead and hand is symbolic of thinking and doing everything in terms of man. It is a picture of humanism. This is the kind of age we are in at the present time. God is shut out of all thought and action. We are in a humanistic age when man is the measure of all things.

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