What is the Mark of the Beast?
The mark of the beast is 666. According to the Bible Book of Revelations, 666 is the number, or name, of the sea-born wild beast with seven heads and ten horns. According to some religious beliefs, this beast represents the global political system, which governs over every race, people, tongue, and nation.
Various Association of Numbers to Darkness
Many of us assign various meanings to numbers. These could be birthdays, anniversaries or just one’s fondness for a particular digit, a lucky number, perhaps? But equally so, there are numbers that historically, we are taught to revere or even be cautious of.
The number 13, for example, is believed to bring misfortune or bad luck and though there is no justification for such a claim, people will go out of their way to avoid the number 13 as if their life depended on it. Such a number is even categorised as a legitimate phobia and is known as triskaidekaphobia—the extreme superstition of the number 13.
Meanwhile, to the Chinese communities, the number 4 is a number worth being cautious of, likely because it is pronounced the same as the Chinese word for “death: séi”. Interestingly, in Hong Kong and other East Asian communities, it is not uncommon to find buildings completely omitting the fourth floor of a building, to avoid unnecessary catastrophe.
Among more western cultures, however, particularly those of a religious inclination, the number 666 has always had some dark and grievous association with Satan himself, and to some, is a number that the devil’s followers support and celebrate.
It’s not uncommon in modern pop culture to find the number haphazardly attached to films about demons or the devil, and it’s not uncommon to find the number stitched arbitrarily to anything that remotely promotes a more sinister vibe, whether this is horror movies, edgy metal music or pretty much any medium trying to evoke a response from an audience.
Truth be told, the number 666 has always been controversial, and the usage of this seemingly innocent number 6 being thrust together to create something more foreboding has always been eye-catching, regardless of how cliche it’s become.
But why does the number 666 have such a bad rap? What significance does it have to the devil? Why are we so inherently shocked to see such an alignment of numbers? And what does it mean to have what is known as the ‘Mark of the Beast’?
The Mark of the Beast in the Bible — Explained
The bible predominantly speaks of the mark of the beast in the Book of Revelation, a portion of the bible that some might say is the most creative and terrifying. It has been considered a treasure trove for inspiration given the number of wild characters and creatures that John relays to us in his visions, some of which are so fascinating, they boggle the mind.
It is the beast, or three beasts to be precise that happen to stand out in these chapters, those which have been dubbed by readers to be the ‘Unholy Trinity of monsters.
One is thought to have been Satan in the form of a dragon, who summons the second ungodly beast from the sea—one which many have speculated was a manifestation of the Roman Empire, or the Antichrist, one who mimics the ways of Christ to lead the masses astray.
The third is believed to have been ‘the false prophet’, the beast of the earth, one who promotes the antichrist and breathes life into the ultimate deception.
The Beast from the Sea — The First Beast
All these beasts, including Satan himself, are most certainly imposing figures and exhibit characteristics that are both epic and horrifying at the same time. Yet, of all these beasts, it is the beasts from the sea and earth which are mostly linked to the concept of the 666 mark.
John tells us in the Book of Revelation,
“And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion.
The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.
The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”— (Revelation 13:1-4)
We understand that this is the first beast that is risen from the oceans by Satan, in his dragon form and that this beast possessed ten horns and seven heads, and to John, it looked like a leopard, but with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion.
This great beast that came from the sea appears to immediately captivate the world and there are those, presumably in the masses, who will flock to it and become enraptured by it, so much so, that they will forget about their God and place all worship upon it, and the dragon.
This beast from the sea is also able to talk as John later reveals to us that it uses its voice to slander God and convinces its followers to turn against him. It achieves authority over every tribe, people, language and nation and all inhabitants of the earth will come to worship the beast—all except those righteous few who have had their names recorded by God.
Now, there isn’t much here to associate with the mark of the beast so far, but it is when the first beast of the sea introduces the second beast of the earth, do we come to understand the biblical explanation for the number 666.
The Beast from the Earth — The Second Beast
John tells us,
“Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.
And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs, it was given the power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.
The second beast was given the power to give breath to the image of the first beast so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.
It also forced all people, great and small, rich, and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.”— (Revelation 13:11-18)
As we can see, this second beast of the earth is critical to understand; the origins and meaning, at least from a biblical sense, of the mark of the beast, that which John does a fairly good job of explaining anyway.
This second beast is considered amongst believers to be the false prophet, he who comes in the times before the return of Jesus to dissuade followers and convince them to follow him instead.
Though he takes the appearance here of a lamb with two horns, his role as a false prophet is maintained in his actions. As we can see, he goes on to convince the earth to worship the first beast, which appears to be his primary objective and even demonstrates powers to humanity such as raining fire from heaven to prove to them that he is who he says he is.
John tells us that this beast deceives the inhabitants of the earth and is so convincing in persuading the earth to do as he says that he can establish a system whereby any who revoke him are killed.
666 — The Mark Enforced on People
This same system that the second beast enforces enables the mark of the beast to be stamped upon every person in existence, whether they be rich, poor, common, or famous. The mark is not just a stamp of allegiance to the beasts, however, those who were brought about by Satan, but as John tells us, it also makes it so that those who are not stamped cannot buy or trade, thus are not eligible for food, shelter, or wealth.
In essence, this system introduced by the second beast ensures that if one did not receive the mark of the beast and swear allegiance to Satan, then they would essentially be denied some basic human rights.
John confirms here that this mark is the number 666 and that it would be stamped upon the hand or forehead of those who accepted Satan’s new terms. There’s much that can be derived from the last few lines of this chapter regarding the mark of the beast.
Some believe that the beasts represent the government and that it is the government who will enforce a mark upon its nation to own every individual member. Without this mark, one would not be able to participate in economics and so one would not be able to purchase essentials.
In this, one interpretation is that humanity will be forced to choose between their luxury and their freedom—or, between the devil and God. And seeing as the devil’s offer is far more beneficial to men at that time and given that God does not provide any alternatives at that time, John predicts that most will agree to receive the mark of 666.
Others draw attention to where the mark is placed, upon the forehead or the hand. There are several explanations for this, including one that suggests that the devil is making a parody of a Christening. The cross is drawn upon a person’s head to absolve them of the sins of Adam and to signify one’s allegiance to God, so by drawing the mark of the beast upon the same place it’s almost like the devil is deleting the old holy obligation and replacing it with his own.
Another idea proposes that whilst the 666 placed on the head signifies the devil’s hold over a person’s mind, the 666 marks being placed on the hand signifies the devil’s hold over one’s actions.
Who is the Beast? — The Roman Emperor Nero?
Others take on a more mathematical approach in trying to decipher the meaning behind the number 666. By figuring out the numerical value of a name, some have come up with calculations to determine that several candidates from history could have indeed been the beast itself including Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, and others who had committed horrendous crimes against humanity.
Another idea acknowledges the Roman numerals and that of six of these base numerals, one can make the number 666. By adding I and V, you get 6, by adding X and L you get 60 and by adding C and D, you get 600. Adding those numbers together will equate to the number 666, which gives some weight to the idea that the beast was a Roman.
Whilst there could be many candidates for this idea, some have theorised that this was indicative of the Roman Emperor Nero. In both Greek isopsephy and Hebrew gematria—the practices of assigning a number value to letters—each letter in the alphabet would have a corresponding numeric value.
Using these numbers, various combinations can spell out messages, or in this case, someone’s name. By using these practices, many have tried to, in effect, calculate the number of the beast and discern who the earth beast that John speaks of is.
As noted, the Roman Emperor Nero became a prime suspect given that some have tallied up the number 666 to spell out both his name and his title, as Nero Caesar. It was believed that the number 666 therefore, could have been used in ancient times to communicate against the emperor or for conspirators to address him without being caught.
In the Septuagint, the word ‘charagma’ (kharagma) can be found instead of ‘mark’ when referring to the mark of the beast being placed on the forehead or the hand. Charagma however was also believed to have been an imperial seal used by the Roman Empire on official documentation—yet again providing another link to the Romans.
In fact, in the reign of one Emperor Decius in the year 249 – 251, those who did not possess correct certification were not allowed to trade, which was a process that links back to Nero some hundreds of years prior.
Much as John tells us in Revelation that one will not be allowed to purchase or sell unless they have the mark of the beast, this was a reality for those living in various points of the Roman era, suggesting that this beast was something of a metaphor for the Roman Empire.
But these are big speculations when we understand that the authorship of Revelation cannot be determined. Some believe that John had written it because of being exiled to Patmos by Nero, but others argue it had been written after Nero had committed suicide in the year 68.
In either case, it cannot be determined whether John was warning his contemporary man of the Roman Empire to come, or whether this was written posthumously to record events that had already transpired.
Others agree, most notably modern believers, that the events spoken by John are not reflective of the Roman Empire, but instead cautionary of a reality that has not yet come to pass—a future event, where humanity is enslaved.
Another bolder idea is that Nero had faked his suicide and that Revelation was written to warn others that there was still a danger of his rule. This could also be seen in the rule of Emperor Domitian, who adopted many of Nero’s practices and ruled in a similar style with high taxes.
An even more bold legend than that one is that Nero is going to return to life and usher in a new Roman Empire in the modern-day. Nero’s harsh rule had such a lasting effect on the Romans that there was once widespread belief in the years after his death that he would return somehow, so it’s not surprising that many would associate the numbers 666 to him, and attribute him to being one of these very beasts.
A final point on the mark of the beast being associated with Rome comes from a view that the mark was the stamped image of the emperor’s head—that which was stamped on every coin of the Roman Empire.
This mark would symbolise power and the overarching reach of Rome’s economic influence. If one refused to use Roman coins or refused to accept them, they would not be able to trade for food and other resources. In this, Christians of the time were forced to acknowledge the Roman Emperor and forced to value his image more than they were probably allowed to when under the eyes of their God.
Much like John of Patmos tells us in Revelation, without acknowledging the beast—or succumbing to his conditions—one will not be allowed to trade. It might also be said that as money became more and more prominent, many came to value such a currency over God and would come to realise that they could live in abundance without their deity if they had enough of it. Because the Roman Emperors were stamped on the coins, the emperors would become synonymous with money and thus, to some, their image would become more valued than that of God’s.
The Meaning of the Numbers, 666
The number 6 itself is also believed by some to be what is known as ‘the number of man’, or a number of imperfections, while the number 7 was believed to have been a number of perfection.
In this idea, it’s understood that God took 7 seven days to create the world and because 6 is one short of 7, it can imply incompleteness or something flawed. Because humans are innately flawed, humans can be associated with the number six, or the ‘number of man.’
Additionally, we also see in the bible that statements can be repeated three times for emphasis; for example, the Seraphim fly around the holy throne of God singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’—instead of just saying it the one time.
In this, saying 6 three times—666—is an emphasis of imperfection and could encompass not just the imperfection of man, but also resemble the transgressions that man has against God, those which may include the worshipping of the devil over him.
Furthermore, another idea to support this is from some Greek beliefs, where the number 888 is symbolic of Jesus Christ. In this, the number 666 is not an isolated and arbitrary number thrown out by John in Revelation but also can be accompanied by the number 777 which stands for the ultimate perfection or 888 which again stands for Jesus and the divine.
You’ll also notice that in the final lines of chapter 13 of Revelation, we see John make a plea to his audience, telling them that the discerning of the beast will take some wisdom and that it will be only someone who has great insight and knowledge who will be capable of doing this. He states
“This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has the insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” — (Revelation 13:18)
With this statement, it is not necessarily John rallying his audience to decode the exact identity of the beast in human form, but instead to be mindful and recognise the beast when it appears.
Will the Mark of the Beast be Visible?
Another key aspect to take note of when it comes to the mark of the beast is the actual marking itself. We’ve seen marking used throughout history as a form of punishment—usually that which is known as branding.
In the early chapters of Genesis, we see God brand Cain and curse him to eternal life for having murdered his brother Abel. This might very well be one of the early inspirations for branding throughout history, and because God was thought to have started it all off, it makes sense that some would believe that the devil was trying to copy God by also branding his people—not necessarily for any significant reason, but more so to mock God and to parody him.
Yet, others believe that the marking upon the forehead and hand is not a physical marking, but that this is a metaphor for the marking of the spirit—something that is not seen by the human eye. In this, no one would know if one another were ‘marked by the beast’, and though their lifestyles or choices might indicate otherwise, no one can know for sure.
It stems back to the old idea that only God can cast judgement and thus if anyone else attempts to, they are foolish for they could not possibly know whether another person was good or bad, nor is it their job to.
What Happens if you Reject the Mark of the Beast?
Another interesting thing to note from this section of Revelation is that those who do not receive the mark of the beast may be killed by the beast, or by his followers. Yet, John does state here that,
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.” (Revelation 13:10)
In this, we can tell that God will allow his people to be killed by the Beast and that the Beast will have complete authority over the earth during this time. It might be said that this is the final test by God to humanity, in that he is determining who truly deserves a place in the eternal heavens, or life on earth forever—Paradise.
Of course, with his absence, this allows for the beast to commit many horrors upon those who have not sided with him, but from John’s words, it is understood that those who refuse to give in and are slain by the beast, will earn a place in the heavens automatically, for their loyalty and resolve.
In any case, it is consensus amongst believers that Satan will seemingly have the upper hand during this time—something that John of Patmos most certainly suggests—and that he won’t have to work hard in convincing others, even believers themselves, to join his side.
It is believed that to non-believers, Satan will appeal to their wants and desires and ultimately make them offers that they cannot refuse—such as, conditioning their ability to spend and earn money.
Yet, to believers, he will trigger their need and want for a physical deity, for those who are eager to see the return of their God will likely find it hard not to rejoice at the sight of something so miraculous.
By preying on this relief or fear that a believer may experience, Satan will be able to corrupt the unwitting and again, won’t have to exert himself to tempt these people to his side. It might be said that the mark of the beast can be defined by that which we cling to the most and that which we fear losing.
FAQ — Mark of the Beast
What is the Mark of the Beast?
The mark of the beast is the number 666. The mark is not just a stamp of allegiance to the beasts, however, those who were brought about by Satan, but as John tells us, it also makes it so that those who are not stamped cannot buy or trade, thus are not eligible for food, shelter, or wealth.
What Happens if you Reject the Mark of the Beast?
If one did not receive the mark of the beast and swear allegiance to Satan, then they would essentially be denied some basic human rights.
Who is the Beast?
According to some religious beliefs, this beast represents the global political system, which governs over every race, people, tongue, and nation. However, there is a more sinister view in which the Roman Emperor Nero is considered to be the Beast, one to rise in the end times.