Characters and Themes – X Marks the Spot

21Apr11

In the previous post we took note of the various and sometimes outrageous claims of prophecy prognosticators regarding the mysterious “Mark of the Beast.” There were two very consistent themes that bore themselves out. The first was that the mark ideas were very similar and they were all wrong. The second was that they all had to do with a very soon coming mark that would signal the apocalypse.

Our job, though, is to maintain credibility with the text and remain consistent in the interpretive method. This consistency will force us to consider the possibility that the mark is a past event and that, like the beast, it is related to the first century Roman Empire.

Below we will discover several different options. This is one time that I will make no dogmatic statements as to where I would agree. I will do this for two reasons. the first is that the concept of the Mark is quite confusing and vague. The implications are vast and I have yet to find one very solid explanation. Secondly, at the same time i found several explanations that make sense within the covenantal, political and economic situations in the first century. So, with this in mind, let us consider some alternative options to this puzzle.

First, though, it would do us a great service to understand the history of “marking” individuals. In nearly every Biblical instance the term is used “figuratively” and not literally. It was quite common for the marking to be piercing and not just a physical, tattoo like mark. In fact it should be noted that though this is the one time we see the evil (devil) marking his own in the book of Revelation, there are several previous mentions of the Lord “marking” or “sealing” His own. This is not an original “demonic” activity, but rather, more of a copy cat. Note even the placement of the Lord’s markings in the verses below.

Rev. 14:1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Revelation 7:3 saying, Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel

Rev. 3:12 ..I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God…

The same is true for the Old testament as well. Again, note the placement of the marking.

Exodus 13:9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:16 It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt

Ezekiel 9:4 And the Lord said to him, Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.

Deuteronomy 6:8  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

A quick word study will show God’s marking or sealing of His own was been both a physical expression as well as a spiritual one. Both circumcision and Baptism were seals of His own the denote a spiritual marking with a physical one. Let us consider some others as well. This sealing includes the promise and work of the Holy Spirit as well.

Eph 1:3 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

Eph 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

2 Cor 1:22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

The above passages are important since the revelation passages declares that those who receive the “mark of the beast” are those whose names are not written the book of life. This tie in is important to grasp.

John 6:27  Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.

2 Tim 2:19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.

This is very important too understand. This marking of the beast proclaiming his own is a mere copy the one, true marking. And like the above markings of God this beastly marking in Revelation 13 may also be symbolic. It may have a literal result but it may symbolic in it’s physical appearance.

Like previous I went ahead and studied exactly how the popular Dispensational Bible commentators deal with the above passages. Below are bullet points of what I discovered.

  • The Scofield Reference Bible has no commentary on any of the previous verses
  • The Ryrie Study Bible avoids commentary on the OT passages whether this marking was literal and assumes the marking of the elect in the Revelation passages was symbolic
  • The NIV Study Bible understands the OT verses to be figurative or symbolic and avoids commentary as to the nature of the marking in the Revelation passages

So, the leading Dispensational Bible commentaries either avoid the passages discussing the marking of the elect or state they should be viewed as figurative or symbolic. But they all agree that the marking in Revelation is literal? Again, like we previously noted in our discussion of Biblical Hyperbole the subject is completely avoided.

Dr. RC Sproul, Dr. Kenneth gentry and Gary DeMar have all argued that one must see the mark’s placement as related to how one thinks )head) and how one works/lives (hand). This is probably wise as this would also work well with the idea of God marking His own. When one is the subject of the King ones thoughts and actions are controlled by the King!

But are there some more concrete ideas as to how this symbolic gesture was carried out in physical terms within the first century? We shall see in the following post.

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