• Keith Mathison

Is the COVID Vaccine the Mark of the Beast?


May I leave it at that? Probably not.

A few days ago, I received an email from a long-time acquaintance of mine asking me whether the COVID vaccine is the mark of the beast. I haven't been in dispensationalist circles in a very long time, so I had forgotten how prevalent speculation about the mark of the beast is among those influenced by dispensationalism. He himself is not a dispensationalist, but apparently someone he loves has been influenced by an online teacher who is a dispensationalist, and this person is proclaiming to all that receiving the vaccine is receiving the mark of the beast.

When I was a dispensationalist back in the late 1980s, the concern was that bar codes were the mark of the beast. Then microchips became the main suspect. Seventh Day Adventists long claimed that it was Sunday worship. One woman on YouTube claimed it was the three slash marks on cans of Monster Energy drinks. In previous centuries there were other candidates. The point is that speculation concerning the mark of the beast has been going on for two thousand years, and there have been hundreds of candidates. What almost all have in common is a complete lack of concern for the biblical context concerning the mark.

The Apostle John mentions the mark of the beast in Revelation 13. That chapter begins with a vision of a beast rising out of the sea. It has ten horns and seven heads and blasphemous names on its heads (13:1). It was like a leopard, but it had feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion (v. 2). All of this imagery echoes Daniel 7, a vision in which Daniel sees several animal-like beasts rise from the sea (7:3–8). In Daniel, we are told explicitly that these beasts are kings who shall arise (7:17). All of this echoes the vision recounted in Daniel 2, which also describes a succession of four beastly kingdoms followed by the kingdom of God. Most commentators understand the four kingdoms to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. So when John picks up on this imagery, it needs to be interpreted in light of the prophecies of Daniel. Daniel is talking about events that reach their climax at the first advent of Christ, particularly the resurrection and ascension of Christ when He establishes His messianic kingdom. Like Daniel, whose language he uses, John is talking about a kingdom or empire, but which one?

The Apostle John is writing during the time when the Roman Empire, the fourth and most monstrous beast, was ruling and persecuting God's people. John speaks of it as having been given power by the dragon or Satan (13:2). Because people were worshipping the beast, they were indirectly worshipping the one standing behind it, namely Satan (v. 4). It is important to remember that in the first century, Rome herself was worshipped. A goddess named Roma personified Rome and was worshipped. The Emperors were also worshipped as gods, and it was the state religion. Those who refused were considered to be disloyal to the state and were persecuted. The second half of Revelation 13 deals with a second beast who enforces worship of the first beast. This probably represents the imperial priesthood whose duty it was to promote and enforce the imperial cult - the worship of Roma and the Emperor. Then we read the words that have resulted in so much speculation:

"Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, [17] so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. [18] This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666" (Revelation 13:16–18).

Worship of Rome and the Emperor was required to engage in legal economic activities. John speaks of a mark. Just as God had sealed His servants (Rev. 7:3), so too does Satan seal his. The imagery echoes that found in Ezekiel 9, when a mark was placed on the forehead of all those who mourned over the idolatry committed in Jerusalem. In other words, the language about marks on the hand or forehead is language concerning worship of God as opposed to idolatry. Those who worship God are marked, and those who worship idols are marked. The number is the number of a man, and it is 666. John here is making use of gematria, adding the numerical value of a word’s individual letters. Considering that the immediate context and the larger context of Daniel 7 points to the Roman Empire and the Imperial cult, it is worth noting, as many commentators have, that one of the worst persecutors of the church in the first century was the Roman Emperor Nero. When the Greek form of the name (Nerōn Kaisar) is transliterated into Hebrew (qsr nron), the sum of the numerical value of the letters equals 666.

The context of the Book of Revelation indicates that the mark is something that had to do with the Imperial cult in first century Rome - something very relevant to the original recipients of this book.

However, even if Revelation 13 has to do with something still in our future, the mark and the number are clearly associated in chapter 13 with the beast and his demand for worship. The mark isn’t something that someone could get unintentionally or accidentally. It is something indicating that you willingly submit to and engage in idolatrous worship. Those who are faithfully worshipping the true God and Him alone, are not in danger of receiving the mark of the beast. It is a mark of deliberate idolators.

There is nothing in this passage or in Daniel 7 that is even remotely related to vaccines or any other form of medical care. The COVID vaccine is not the mark of the beast any more than the smallpox or polio vaccine is the mark of the beast. And if the Bible can be interpreted so loosely that it could be the COVID vaccine, why couldn't it be one of the numerous other vaccines that most of us have already received throughout our lives? (The smallpox vaccine would make a better candidate since it leaves a permanent scar). If the context of the passage has no bearing on its interpretation, then we can say it is just about anything with no real proof. I could assert that driver's licenses or income tax returns are the mark of the beast, and why not with this anything goes type of interpretation?

The only thing even remotely approaching an argument is the claim that governments and other organizations are pressuring people to get the vaccine.

But so what?

The government and other organizations pressure people to do all kinds of things, and this isn't even the first time that there has been worldwide pressure to eradicate a disease by means of vaccination. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a worldwide effort to eradicate smallpox. In the 1980s, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began. Because of our profound ignorance of history, even recent 20th century history, we get caught up in current events believing them to be completely new and unlike anything that has come before. There have always been viruses and diseases, and when cures or vaccines are discovered for particularly infectious ones, of course there’s an effort to stop the disease. Most people in the Western world have forgotten smallpox and polio, but those are memories only because of the discovery of vaccines. Hopefully, one day many other diseases will be a memory too, but that isn't going to happen as long as social media is filled with unbiblical speculation at every turn and everybody and their parakeet pretends to be a medical expert.

There are plenty of medical questions about the vaccines that those researching them can debate and discuss. I'm not a medical expert, so I can't offer any real input to those discussions. But whether the COVID vaccines work or don't work, there is zero biblical evidence that they are the mark of the beast.

Assertion is not argument, so merely asserting that the COVID vaccine is the mark of the beast and providing nothing but vague support for the claim such as pressure to get the vaccine, which can be equally applied to a whole host of things, does not amount to proof. It’s simply another case of speculative last days madness. We need to demand that people prove their assertions from the text of Scripture or go elsewhere to sell their self-promoting fear-mongering.

As Bob Newhart famously said one time, "Stop it."

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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