Watching the news a few days ago, I saw photos and videos of those protesting the COVID-19 quarantine on full display. I’m growing weary of how certain biblical texts are attached to certain political movements and demonstrations—texts that are, quite frankly, misused and misunderstood. Sadly, Christianity ends up getting misrepresented in the process.
At the prodding of my wife (who thinks I should be a bit more vocal about these sorts of things), let me offer a few thoughts that might be helpful to keep in mind when you see pictures like this float around the news and social media.
See also Dr. Halsted’s follow-up article, The Covid Vaccine has 666 Written All Over It…and Why that Doesn’t Matter According to Revelation.
The Mark of the Beast
I know of no reputable biblical scholar or theologian who would endorse that the COVID-19 quarantine or a vaccine is related to the “mark of the beast”. For starters, in Revelation, the “mark of the beast” is by no means a medical procedure. Most likely, it’s not even a physical or visible mark at all. Contrary to some of the more fear-inducing theories that have in the past gained steam in some evangelical circles, the “mark” is not at all something that could be accidentally taken either.
Why? Because the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18) is a mark that is closely tied to the worship of the beast (13:12, 15; cf. 19:20; 20:4). Thus, the mark of the beast is a mark of loyalty and devotion to the beast.
Moreover, when you compare those passages where the mark of the beast is discussed with passages like Rev. 7 and 14, it is plausible to think that the mark of the beast is most likely a sign that identifies you as something you already are—namely wicked and evil, a person of the dragon. I say this because when you read Rev. 7:1-8 and 14:1 (where the mark of the Lamb is discussed), you’ll notice it is a mark given to God’s people, God’s servants, in order to identify them as such and, of course, to protect them. They get the mark of the Lamb because they are already united with the Lamb.
It seems pretty evident that all of this is the case because these two marks—the mark of the beast and the mark of the Lamb—are meant to be seen as two polar realities, two opposite signs, marking out as it were two different types of people, namely, the wicked on the one hand and the righteous on the other.
What all this means is that the “mark of the beast” is most likely a spiritual, non-visible mark; it’s a mark of loyalty and worship and is not, therefore, something you could accidentally accept.
So you don’t need to fear getting the beast’s mark by taking a vaccine—unless, of course, you plan to treat the vaccine as a sort of symbolic expression or “unholy sacrament” (sorry for the oxymoron!) of your wilful and public rejection of the Christian faith that you despise. If that’s you and if that’s your plan, then it’s not the vaccine that’s the problem.
About that Beast….
Any interpretation of Revelation that results in “the beast” becoming the central focus (and dreaded fear) of your eschatology most definitely suggests that you’ve completely misunderstood the book entirely. The Neronic phantom would love the attention you’re giving him, but quite frankly, he doesn’t deserve it.
Proof that we give too much attention to him is perhaps clear when we make the following observation: most Christians are only familiar with those texts that talk about the “mark of the beast” (e.g., Rev 13:16-18) and not about those texts that talk about the “mark of the Lamb” (e.g., Rev. 14:1).
That’s interesting to me. I mean, it’s all understandable, I suppose. In popular culture, after all, the “mark of the beast” has received way more attention, becoming quite the obsession for many. (Beasts are loud and attention-grabbing; lambs could go more unnoticed and ignored.) I think, though, that it might be better to get one’s theology from places other than pop culture’s sensationalized films and best-selling fictional books. A mere suggestion.
Speaking of sensationalism, it is interesting how things cycle in and out the way they do. Even in our own lifetimes, for example, the “mark” was first attached to social security numbers, then to credit cards. Now, apparently, certain interpretations of the COVID-19 quarantine are making their own contributions to evangelical lore.
Much of this sensationalism not only reveals ignorance about the biblical text, not least with respect to its historical context, but as a pastor I should also add that what particularly angers me is how such ignorance serves to spread needless fear among God’s people—a good reminder that theology has consequences.
Whose Revelation Is It?
Popular interpretations of “Revelation” are often forgetful (negligent?) of the fact that this book is “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). Many people (not least on social media) treat it as if it were the revelation of the dragon and his wrath. The sillier teachers of eschatology focus so much of their attention on endless speculations concerning the Antichrist, the “mark of the beast,” etc., that I truly wonder if they think Revelation is primarily about revealing the satanic.
Two things to say about this: (1) Such assumptions about Revelation treat Satan as the star of end-times speculations, breeding, once again, unnecessary fear in good folks. And (2), such views are simply wrong: Neither the dragon nor the beast are the stars of the show; thus, they shouldn’t be the focus of our obsessions.
To the contrary, the point of Revelation is to reveal and uncover the victory of the Lamb and the victory the Lamb shares with his people. Jesus is the focus. This, quite frankly, is rather old news. In fact, it’s 2,000-year-old news. It’s basic theology. And yet, it’s ignored.
I suspect, though, that much of the misguided eschatological hype has very little to do with theology per se and much more to do with certain political ambitions that could be obtained by weaponizing key biblical texts (e.g., Rev 13) for their own ends—a sort of neronic/beastly thing to do, really. Such is the politics of our time, though.
Let’s Play the Game
Let’s pretend that the beast and his mark were, in fact, associated with the COVID-19 quarantine or with some related vaccine, as this sign insinuates. (PSA: it’s not, but just pretend with me for a minute.) Even so, if it were the case, it makes very little biblical sense to fight against the beast with things like the American flag and the 2nd Amendment (you may be interested to know that I saw one protester with a gun; what’s the point in protesting with a gun?).
At any rate, protesting “the beast” and his “mark” with threats of this world’s weapons is to fight the enemy with ways of the enemy. But you can’t advance God’s agenda with violence or with threats of violence. If you live by the sword, well, you know…
In many ways, then, when a person tries to advance the Kingdom of God by means of violence, ironically, they show themselves to have more in common with the beast and the dragon than with the Lamb. We are taught that, to the contrary, as Christians we overcome the enemy “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
In other words, we overcome by the ways of Christ, not by the ways of Caesar. So, if and/or when you see silly signs like these, don’t let them induce fear or panic in your heart or mind. I’d honestly not give them any more credence than a quick roll of the eye.
The Theologian’s Burden
If you are a Christian biblical scholar or theologian, now is the time to help others navigate the slew of information out there. Perhaps you could seek ways to provide biblically-based guidance and theologically-coherent direction to those who are either uninformed or misinformed when it comes to eschatology—not least as it is being understood in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you are a pastor or local church leader, I encourage you to take advantage of reputable resources on eschatology to pass onto your congregation. There are highly-respectable scholars writing on the subject—scholars who are committed to careful research, meticulous reflection, and timely application. Digging into these resources will be time well-spent.
Dr. Halsted has published a follow-up article, The Covid Vaccine has 666 Written All Over It…and Why that Doesn’t Matter According to Revelation.
Looking for resources to help interpret the book of Revelation? Start with a few of these great offerings from Logos:
Mobile Ed: AR271 The Seven Cities of Revelation – course taught by David deSilva, a noted expert in NT backgrounds
Revelation: A Video Study – taught by world-renowned scholar Craig Keener
Revelation: Four Views, by Steve Gregg
Revelation, International Theological Commentary, by Peter Leithart