In Revelation 13, we read that the antichrist and the false prophet—a diabolical duo—will subjugate the entire world so that no one can buy or sell who does not receive the mark of the beast.

[The false prophet] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 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. 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 (verses 16-18).

Clearly, the book of Revelation reveals that the false prophet will seek to force human beings to worship the antichrist, the man of sin. He will require everyone to make a choice: Either receive the mark of the beast and worship the antichrist or starve, with no ability to buy or sell.

The next verse denotes a stark contrast. “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.” The antichrist’s mark seems to be a parody of God’s sealing of the 144,000 witnesses of Revelation 7 and 14. Prophecy experts Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy offer this suggestion:

God’s seal of His witnesses most likely is invisible and for the purpose of protection from the antichrist. On the other hand, antichrist offers protection from the wrath of God—a promise he cannot deliver—and his mark is visible and external. For the only time in history, an outward indication will identify those who reject Christ and His gospel of forgiveness of sins. 1

Receiving this mark is a serious business, as we read in Revelation 14:9-10.

If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Revelation 16:2 pictures the scene. “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” Such words are sobering. Any who express loyalty to the antichrist and his cause will suffer the wrath of our holy and just God. How awful it will be for these to experience the full force of God’s divine anger and unmitigated vengeance (see Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-16)!

Revelation 20:4 tells us, by contrast, that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will refuse the mark of the beast.

What Is the Mark?

I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Apparently, people will somehow be branded, just as animals today are branded and as slaves were once branded by their slave owners. We cannot be certain how the number 666 relates to this personage or the mark. Bible interpreters have offered many suggestions as to the meaning of 666 down through the centuries. A popular theory is that inasmuch as 7 is the number of perfection, and the number 777 reflects the perfect Trinity, perhaps 666 points to a being who aspires to perfect deity (like the Trinity) but never attains it. (The antichrist is just a man, though influenced and possibly indwelt by Satan.)

Others have suggested that perhaps the number refers to a specific man—such as the Roman emperor Nero. It is suggested that if Nero’s name is translated into the Hebrew language, the numerical value of its letters is 666. Some suggest that antichrist will be a man like Nero of old. Of course, all this is highly speculative. The truth is, Scripture does not clearly define what is meant by 666. Interpreting this verse involves some guesswork.

One thing is certain. In some way that is presently unknown to us, this number will be a crucial part of his identification. It is sobering to realize that receiving this mark of the beast is apparently an unpardonable sin (Revelation 14:9-10). The decision to receive the mark is an irreversible decision. Once made, there is no turning back.

Receiving the mark signifies approval of the antichrist and his purpose. No one takes this mark accidentally. One must choose to do so with all the facts on the table. The choice will be deliberate and have eternal consequences. Those who choose to receive the mark will do so with the full knowledge of what they have done.

The choice will cause a radical polarization. No middle ground is possible. One chooses either for or against the antichrist. One chooses either for or against God. People in our present day think they can avoid God and His demands on their lives by feigning neutrality, but no such neutrality will be possible during the tribulation, for one’s very survival will be determined by a decision for or against God. One must choose to either receive the mark and live (being able to buy and sell) or reject the mark and face suffering and death. One must choose to follow antichrist and eat well or reject the antichrist and starve.

A Commerce Passport

The mark of the beast will be a commerce passport during the future tribulation period. Arnold Fruchtenbaum suggests that the mark of the beast will be given to all who submit themselves to the authority of the antichrist and accept him as god. “The mark will serve as a passport for business (Revelation 13:17a). They will be able to neither buy nor sell anything unless they have the mark…Only those who have this number will be permitted to work, to buy, to sell, or simply to make a living.” 2

This mark will apparently be required during the second half of the tribulation period. Prophecy scholar Mark Hitchcock suggests that there is ancient historical precedence for such a mark.3 For example, he points to Ezekiel 9:4: “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.’ ” This mark on the forehead preserved the faithful, just as the blood of the Passover Lamb marked the Israelites’ doorposts and saved them from death during the final plague on the Egyptians (see Exodus 12:21-29).

Such a mark was also used in connection with pagans and false deities in ancient times, as Robert Thomas explains.

The mark must be some sort of branding similar to that given soldiers, slaves, and temple devotees in John’s day. In Asia Minor, devotees of pagan religions delighted in the display of such a tattoo as an emblem of ownership by a certain god. In Egypt, Ptolemy Philopator I branded Jews, who submitted to registration, with an ivy leaf in recognition of their Dionysian worship (cf. 3 Mace. 2:29). This meaning resembles the long-time practice of carrying signs to advertise religious loyalties (cf. Isa. 44:5) and follows the habit of branding slaves with the name or special mark of their owners (cf. Gal. 6:17). Charagma (“mark”) was a [Greek] term for the images or names of emperors on Roman coins, so it fittingly could apply to the beast’s emblem put on people.4

John MacArthur makes a similar note:

In the Roman Empire, this was a normal identifying symbol, or brand, that slaves and soldiers bore on their bodies. Some of the ancient mystical cults delighted in such tattoos, which identified members with a form of worship. Antichrist will have a similar requirement, one that will need to be visible on the hand or forehead.5

Economy and Religion

Prophetic Scripture reveals that the false prophet will be an economic and religious leader. These two domains will become merged so that one depends on the other during the future tribulation. The mark of the beast will tie them together. David Jeremiah puts it this way:

The mark will allow the Antichrist’s followers to buy and sell because it identifies them as religiously orthodox—submissive followers of the Beast and worshippers of his image. Those without the mark are forbidden to buy because they are identified as traitors.

So, though receiving the mark is essentially a spiritual decision, it will have life-and-death economic consequences.

High Technology Itself Is Not the Mark

This is a very important point. Though modern technology will enable the antichrist and false prophet to bring about a cashless society and control all commerce on earth, we must differentiate between this technology and the mark of the beast, for the technology itself is not the mark. I make this point because a number of prophecy expositors have claimed that the mark will be a high-tech chip inserted under the skin, a barcode on the hand or the forehead, some kind of universal product code, or some other such technology.

This is not the case. The mark itself will identify allegiance to the antichrist, but that is separate and distinct from the technology that enables him to enforce his economic system. John F. Walvoord comments on how technology will make it possible for such economical control, based on whether or not people have received the mark.

There is no doubt that with today’s technology, a world ruler, who is in total control, would have the ability to keep a continually updated census of all living persons and know day-by-day precisely which people had pledged their allegiance to him and received the mark and which had not.6   

Dr. Walvoord also suggests, it is also highly likely that “chip implants, scan technology, and biometrics will be used as tools to enforce his policy that one cannot buy or sell without the mark.”7

Notice that this mark will be on people, not in them (like some kind of micro computer chip). It will be on the right hand or head and will be visible (perhaps like a tattoo), not hidden beneath the skin. It will be universally rejected by God’s people but universally accepted by unbelievers. Woe to those who receive the mark!


Excerpted from Ron Rhodes’ book The End Times in Chronological Order (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2012) pages 153-157.

Ron Rhodes (ThD), president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, is heard regularly on nationwide radio and is the author of The End Times in Chronological OrderThe 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy, and 40 Days Through Revelation. He periodically teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and several other seminaries.

1. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, The Coming Cashless Society (Eugene: Harvest House, 1996), pp. 125-26, 80.

2. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah (San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 2003), n.p.

3. Mark Hitchcock, Cashless: Bible Prophecy, Economic Chaos, and the Future Financial Order (Eugene: Harvest House, 2010), pp. 163-64.

4. Cited in Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Fast Facts on Bible Prophecy from A to Z (Eugene: Harvest House, 2004), p. 129.

5. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006). See the note on Revelation 13:16.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1990), n.p.

7. Cited in Ice and Demy, The Coming Cashless Society, p. 132.