A Florida technology company,—Applied Digital Solutions (ADS),—has begun marketing a computer ID chip, the size of a rice grain that can be embedded beneath a person’s skin. There is also talk that in future such a device may allow storage of sensitive medical records as well as satellite tracking of an individual’s every movement. My question is this: There are some who say such a microchip, implanted under the skin of the forehead or hand, would correspond to the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13:16–18. How should a Christian respond to this claim and what is your view on the “mark of the beast”? Should a Christian agree to have a microchip embedded beneath his skin if it is so required in the future?
Many speculations have abounded regarding what is the “mark of the beast.” This is particularly fuelled by what appears to many to be a challenge by the Apostle John:
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six [i.e., 666] (Rev 13:18).
Many read this verse as a suggesting that anyone who is unable to “count the number of the beast” is unwise or lack understanding and insight. Well, whether this is a correct understanding of the verse or not, I must confess that I do lack the wisdom and understanding to be able to assert with firm certainty what or who the number represents. It appears to me that the first recipients of the letter would have no difficulties understanding what John is saying, but today we can only make some educated (or, should I say, exegetical) guesses.
That said, I must say that I have personally very little doubt that John is not referring prophetically to microchip implants. Yes, the implantation of such microchips may impinge on civil (or even religious) liberties, and there can be serious abuses. But no, I do not think that one who receives such an implant is receiving the “mark of the beast.”
My reasons for saying so are quite simple. First of all, we should note that the mark of the beast is the same as the name of the beast or the number of his name (Rev 13:17; cf. Rev 14:11). Secondly, it appears that those who receive the mark are the same as those who worship the beast (see Revelation 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Thirdly, it appears to me that there is an antithesis to those who receive the mark of the beast, namely, those who are sealed in the forehead with the name of the Lamb (see Revelation 7:3; 14:1; 22:4). Fourthly, it appears to me that “forehead” and “right hand” have symbolic rather than literal significance in these verses. “Forehead” appears to speak of the mind, philosophy, doctrine and faith (Rev 22:4, see also “proof-texts” for WCF 20.2). “Right hand” appears to speak of power, will and deed (cf. Mt 5:30; Acts 5:31). Fifthly, I do not believe that Revelation 13 is to be interpreted as something happening only in the future.
With these considerations, it appears to me that we can think of those who have the mark of the beast as those who have submitted to the “beast” in opposition to Christ. Who this “beast” is, whose number is 666, is the subject of intense speculation.
Some believe that since 6 is a number of man (man being created on the 6th day and 6 being just short of the perfect number 7), 666 would represent humanity and humanism in opposition to the Triune God (whose number may be given as 777). This view has certain attractiveness to it except that John gave the number as six hundred and sixty-six (Grk: hexakosioi hexêkonta hex), rather than six-six-six (hex hex hex).
Many scholars believe that John was using an ancient coding method in which the letters in the name of a person are converted to their established numerical values and summed up (see numerical values of Hebrew and Greek letters in ISBE, s.v. “numbers”). That this method of coding was popular during the days of John is affirmed by a graffito dating to around A.D. 79 that was discovered in Pompeii. It reads: “I love her whose number is 545.” It is very possible that John was using this method, and his readers who would have shared with him some well-known names or terms of references would have no great difficulty working out what he is saying.
Based on such a method, two of the most convincing identifications that have been forwarded are (1) Nero Caesar and (2) the Pope/Papacy.
The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (s.v. “Mark of the Beast”) explains how the name Nero may be derived:
Wilhelmus à Brakel, together with many of the Reformers, believed that the beast is the Pope, the antichrist. He argues on a cue from Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who was taught by the Apostle John, that 666 resolves to [the Greek] lateinos (l/30 + a/1 + t/300 + e/5 + i/10 + n/50 +o/70 + s/200 = 666). Lateinos means “Latin,” and would suggest that the beast is Latin ruler. We quote part of his arguments:
Of the various possibilities, I am somewhat more persuaded by this last view. The match between the description of the work of the beast and the papacy is so remarkable that it is hard to ignore. The only difficulty is that the papacy was obviously not yet established when John wrote his letter. This however, could be compensated by the fact that John was speaking prophetically and also by the fact that the Apostles had been teaching the people concerning the appearance of the Antichrist (e.g., 2 Thes 2:3–12; 1 Tim 4:1–3; see “The Antichrist” in PCC Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 36, dated 3 March 2002). Did the ministry of the Apostles provide some hints to the early readers that would have enabled them to decode what John was referring to?
Nevertheless, whatever the case may be, it is also likely that John would have us view the beast (though finding a personal match in the pope) not only with one person in mind, but as a representative of all who oppose Christ. In other words, those who bear the mark of the beast are exactly the same as those who do not love the Lamb of God nor hear His voice and follow Him.
Now, if we hear His voice and follow His Word, should the time come when we are required to have microchip implants, we will be able to assess the rightness or wrongness of doing so (based on the reasons for their use) without refusing downright for some irrational fear that it is the mark of the beast.