The Mark of the Beast

Evangelicals in a school district in Louisiana are objecting to a palm scanner that kids could use to pay for their lunches, thus eliminating the need for lunch money. Why? Because it sounds too similar to “the mark of the beast.”

“As a Christian, I’ve read the Bible, you know go to church and stuff,” said Sonnier. “I know where it’s going to end up coming to, the mark of the beast. I’m not going to let my kids have that.”

For those not familiar with evangelicalism, the mark of the beast is part of evangelical eschatology, or end times theology. The rapture is expected any day now, to be followed by seven years of hardship and tribulation that includes the rule of the Antichrist, followed by the battle of Armageddon in which Jesus will lead an army of the righteous to defeat the Antichrist and his forces and establish the millennial kingdom. At some point during the tribulation, the Antichrist will require that everyone get “the mark of the beast,” which will be used in buying and selling.

Revelation 13: 16-17

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on 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.

As a result of this passage and the eschatology formed around it, evangelicals have long speculated over just what this “mark of the beast” will be. And growing up I remember a good deal of concern about advances in technology for this reason. Believe it or not, there was concern about the mark of the beast when bar codes came out. Buying and selling, right? It seemed a step in a dangerous direction!

The barcode did something very important to help bring in 666: The mark of the Beast. . .

The barcode opened the door (in fact, it not only opened it, it kicked the door down) to the “digital world”. Everything is now a number. Everything gets a barcode. As someone truly said, “If it exists, bar code it”. I remember when barcodes first started appearing. I began telling people back then, the barcode was preparing the world for 666: the Mark of the Beast. Was I ever laughed at. . . even by the Christians. I can still remember their laughing and ridicule, “You mean to tell me, everything is getting one of those “marks”. You mean, I’ll go even to the local “7-Eleven” and they’ll have laser scanners and they’ll scan these “marks”. No way. It would be too obvious what was happening. Everybody would know the mark of the beast is coming”.

But isn’t it amazing 25 years later. . . and nobody gives the “mysterious” barcodes even a “second thought”.

Satan very carefully and subtlety (see Genesis 3:1 and 2 Cor. 11:3) indoctrinated us to our wonderful, convenient, new “digital world”.

And the road to 666 is just ahead. . .

At some point when I was a child some newspaper suggested that children should be implanted with bio chips so that missing children could be located, and I remember reacting in horror. This was simply too close to the mark of the beast! And it wasn’t just me:

There’s just too much evidence to discard the possibility that the Mark of the Beast is a subdermal microchip implant, namely the Verichip implant. In fact, the language in Revelation strongly supports such an idea. … Not long ago their VeriKid product tracked children in urban environments, but they have also since pulled this product, likely until the market is able to accept it more readily. It was easy to see the similarities between VeriKid and the Mark of the Beast.

Part of the concern about the mark of the beast is that no one who takes the mark of the beast can be saved. Ever. It’s like a stamp of eternal damnation.

Revelation 14: 9-11

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “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. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

I remember reading Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind books and coming to the part where everyone was forced to get the mark of the beast. It was a bit terrifying. Well, the whole series is terrifying, but that’s beside the point! I remember that one character was knocked out or something and then implanted with the mark of the beast against his will. The book explained that this meant that he was still saved – see, no one who takes the mark can be saved – but that he could also buy and sell and get through checkbooks and such. (I remember thinking it this was very convenient for the author.)

There was a lot of fear attached to this whole thing. We were confident in our salvation (usually), but we also believed that the end times would be a time of trauma and horror. And there was always the possibility that you might not be saved, and therefore might not be raptured but rather “left behind” to endure the tribulation like the heroes in the Left Behind books. And of course, if that were to happen, we all knew we must refuse to take the mark of the beast, whatever the consequences.

The fear of the mark of the beast is an excellent example of how evangelical beliefs can influence one’s perception of and reaction to developments in the world. The way things are going, I could easily see a move to use some sort of palm scanning devise to purchase things, acting almost like a debit card, but a debit card you can’t lose. There are already cell phones that you can scan in place of a debit card, so why not a hand? But if we were to actually move in this direction, you better believe there would be huge outcry by evangelicals. In fact, I don’t think we could move in this direction for this very reason – too many people would be concerned about the mark of the beast. And this is extremely unfortunate.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Meyli

    Thats just so….strange. *confused* (I say that as someone who knows very little about Christian beliefs)
    Thanks for explaining what ‘the mark of the beast is/means.
    I wonder where Evangelicals draw the line for good technology vs. bad?

  • bend_time

    im no evangelical, far from it, i’m a liberal who doesn’t believe god condemns anyone. but i am also wary of all scanners, retina, palm, RFID chips, even onstar and GPS…we are now in what is being called ‘the post-privacy era.’ many say ‘well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why would you mind if there are cameras, scanners, et al?” b/c it’s my right to be off the radar, a private citizen. b/c its dangerous to give all your power away, b/c absolute power corrupts absolutely, and when the govt can monitor all your actions, you are no longer free (not tht we are anyway). no, no scans for me either (you know all US Passports are chipped now?),

    • Steve

      This isn’t a privacy issue at all. The school doesn’t actually store any full hand prints. They’d just store a hash computed from the print and compare that.

      It’s not really much different from issuing RFID cards to enable easy access to facilities and cashless transactions, which is pretty common at universities.

  • Kevin Alexander

    This technology is just temporary anyway. Face recognition software is almost to the point where you won’t need to carry a wallet anymore. The camera will know who you are and will let you take what you want from store shelves if your bank tells the store that you have enough money. Or credit.

    • Liriel

      But I have an identical twin . . .

      • machintelligence

        If you are female (as your name implies) this should not be a problem. Females have only one active X chromosome per cell, which is pretty much randomly determined (the other becomes a Barr body), so females are genetic mosaics. You can see this in the clones of calico cats, which are genetically identical, but have different coat patterns. Male identical twins are a bit more problematic, but since they don’t have identical fingerprints, and so presumably different vein patterns also, this method would probably work on them as well.

      • Liriel

        Don’t see a reply button to you machintellgence (nested too far?), so replying to myself. I wasn’t really talking about vein patterns, but facial recognition. I’d actually say I don’t look exactly like my sister, but I’m not sure others would agree. People who don’t know us well will mistake one of us for the other. People who know us well don’t. I actually think we don’t look close to identical. Other identical twins look much more alike to me, but then, the ones I know, I don’t know well.

      • machintelligence

        I would bet that face recognition programs could tell twins apart too, and for the same reasons I listed above.

      • Liriel

        What bothers me is that it’s the store making the choice instead of me. For a credit card or something, I have to initiate the action. I get to choose whether my bank knows where I shop or the store knows where I live (and can sell that data to advertisers or even use targeted advertising to me directly). With facial recognition, they make the connection without my consent (I’m not sure how opaque the connection could/would be). More convenient not to need shopper interaction, but bothersome for people who prefer privacy.

        I do wonder about the mechanics. I wonder if it would be a problem with a small local bank if you are out of town or a small, locally owned, store. I’d expect chains to come out with it first – like self-checkouts. But how many banks will it be connected to? Will there be a national database of face-scan/bank info for the store to connect to, or will it have to get each bank individually?

        Maybe have a separate check-out line for cash purchases or anyone who doesn’t want to use their biometrics? Separate exit, too? Some stores are already designed so that you can’t leave via the entrance. But what if you don’t buy anything – are they going to collect your demographic info even then via face recognition? So they figure out how to sell to you better?

  • Dawn

    I remember another theory of the Mark of the Beast too. We were also told that Social Security numbers are the Mark of the Beast, partially because all numbers were stored in a giant computer in another country and the computer was called “The Beast.” Way to twist anything in order to push your agenda, Fundies.

    • Angelia Sparrow

      The Beast was controlled by Jesuits, just to add a layer of anti-Catholicism to the myth.

  • John

    This particular story is really amusing to me because the ‘mark’ is the student’s PALM PRINT. Nobody gave them that identifier, it developed on its own. They would have it with or without the scanning device. This is even more silly than saying the student’s name was the mark.

    • machintelligence

      Actually I heard that it measures the vein patterns under the skin. It has to be updated on at least a yearly basis, because the patterns change over time as children grow. Therefore it won’t be useful for lifetime identification.
      But these are the same folks who made Procter and Gamble drop their “moon and stars” logo because it was being viewed as a “satanic” symbol.

  • Rilian

    So, are all the saved people taken up to heaven right away or do they have to fight the antichrist? You seem to say both.

    • BabyRaptor

      People who are saved at the time of the Rapture go to heaven. But some versions of PMD theory allow for people still here, IE the ones “left behind” to still get saved. Those people would be fighting the antichrist.

      And then there’s the supposed big battle with Super Jesus at the end of the 7 years.

    • Rosie

      Also, there’s a huge debate about whether the Rapture will occur before or after the Tribulation. My evangelical family loves to debate about which the Bible indicates more clearly. Though the only thing they’ve really come up with is “pray for pre-Trib, get ready for post-Trib.” They’re pretty sure nobody can know for sure which it will be until it happens.

  • Sue Blue

    This brings back memories. Seventh-Day Adventists believe in this whole “mark of the beast” thing too. It was a core belief that technology and scientific advancement came from Satan – it was Satan’s way of making men prideful and arrogant, overconfident in their own abilities and intelligence, instead of relying on God. This is why, when I was growing up, I had to hide books about science under my mattress like porn and be very circumspect about my interest. If it got out that I was good at math and science and thought technology was the coolest thing ever, not only would I be considered a completely uncool geeky girl by my peers, but my church family would come down on me like a ton of wrathful bricks for courting the “mark of the beast”. It was implied constantly that scientists were bringing about the time when we’d all have to wear some sort of identifying mark via technology. There was all kinds of superstitious nonsense attached to every little thing: coded anti-counterfeit strips in paper money, license plates, VIN numbers on cars, numbers on medical and school records, you name it. Bar codes were huge…I remember the massive freak-out about them. Now it’s GPS and smart phones and implanted computer chips; even computerized prostheses for amputees are seen as some sort of slippery slope into an End Times Satanic government take-over. Real tin-foil hat stuff that I’m embarrassed to say I was ever involved with. I’m sure my family would have been right in line behind this woman, stupidly freaking out – not over possible privacy issues, which would at least be a legitimate concern, but about the idiotic and mythical “mark of the beast”.
    But then, what can you expect from people who think gay marriage and abortion are more important national issues than wars, a shattered economy, massive climate change and untreatable new diseases? You know – things that actually might bring on the end of the human species in the real world?

    • Ashton

      Sue Blue,
      I grew up SDA too, but I never experienced that. I always found that people were pretty pro-education including science (except for evolution). Given how much Adventists believe in the whole end times thing (minus the Rapture part), it’s surprising that more of them don’t stockpile guns and that whole thing that Libby describes in the post after this one. But then again, I grew up pretty urban. My grandpa and uncle both love guns, but they’re hunters I never heard that they had guns for reasons like fear of the UN.
      I always like meeting fellow leavers. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one.

      • Sue Blue

        I grew up in the 1960s and early 70s in an especially fundamentalist, isolated small town with only a few elderly SDAs running a small church. They read Ellen G. White’s “the Great Controversy” in church, and Bible study consisted of a lot of wild interpretations of the book of Revelation. End Times, the Mark of the Beast, EGW’s advice that believers separate themselves from the world, even to the point of hiding out in the wilderness, were frequent topics. Later, I went to a large campmeeting in Gladstone, Oregon, and got to see a more moderate form of Adventism. Their major focus seemed to be missionary work and vegetarianism instead of End Times horror stories and paranoia. I guess a lot depends on the time and place.

      • YetAnotherKevin

        Another former SDA here. I think my experience was in between. Education was important, but it was equally important that the education occur at SDA-operated schools. Vegetarianism was important, but not mandatory, but alcohol, tobacco, and unclean meat were VERBOTEN. On the mark of the beast, I was a little young, but I do remember hearing some complaints about bar codes. The funny thing is, if you go back to E.G. White and official church doctrine, the mark of the beast is not a physical mark at all. In typical SDA ultra-protestant fashion, the mark of the beast is Sunday Worship, imposed by the Roman Catholic Church. And it counted whether you worshipped on Sunday because you believed it (mark on the forehead, i.e. belief) or were just going along (mark on the hand, i.e. actions). I sometimes wonder what our culture would be like if Revelation had gotten lumped in with the apocrypha.

  • jen

    And yet, little by little, this sort of tech does move slowly into the real world … At a gym I was a member of for a few years, you had a membership card that had a barcode that was scanned when you entered. But if you had a contract with a personal trainer, the way you signed into your training sessions was a thumb-print scanner. It worked pretty well, actually. I figured the gym was trying to walk that line of not freaking out the mark-of-the-beasters while testing just how freaked people were about using that method of ID.

    • Christine

      Do you know what they did for people with issues with thumb-print scanners? I often have horribly chapped fingertips, and print scanners don’t work for me. I can use the palm ones, but they’re a very different technology.

  • Nurse Bee

    And have your hand chopped off or hacked into instead of your purse or wallet stolen? No thanks!!

  • Rae

    …so if this is the “Mark of the Beast” then what does that mean, that true Christians post-rapture won’t have palmprints or fingerprints or retinas?

  • Azura

    I always remembered the stupid bit about the devil’s mark being on us witches too. Confirmation bias is a funny thing. I used to be terrified in high school of the Evangelical kids noticing my one toe. I broke it as a kid, never set properly, and has a mole on it. These are girls that harassed me for being non-Christian all the time, and I didn’t want to give them any more fodder.

  • Joy

    The Mark of the Beast is, in the actual text, a sign of ownership–those who bear the mark of the beast worship the beast (even if under force–one can’t conduct commerce without it) and belong to him. He rules their minds (forehead) and their actions (hands). There is also the Mark of God in Revelation (7&9; also called the “seal of God”), put on the forehead, but there is significantly less modern evangelical paranoia about the underlying technology for that particular mark.

    That’s not to say that these kinds of biometric id don’t raise certain privacy concerns, but I see that as something different than what Revelation appears to be talking about (Emperor-worship, most likely).

  • Rosie

    As with a lot of the commenters here, I’m a lot more worried about resemblances to 1984 (and other dystopian sci-fi novels) than to Revelation. It’s interesting to me how similar–and different–the concerns of sci-fi readers are to those of homebrewed escatolotists, though.

  • Froborr

    Here’s a more pragmatic concern: Sometimes I will hand my debit card to my fiancee and ask her to pick something up for me. How would that work with palm scanners/retina scanners/facial recognition systems?

    • machintelligence

      Pretty much the same way it works for credit cards. You contact the issuing company and put the other person on your account.
      I did this with my daughter so that she could use one of my credit cards. They issued one with her name on it, but with my account information. I has the hilarious notation: member since 1987, which is two years before she was born.

  • Kallie Jurgens

    And I suppose you’ll tell me I already have the mark of the “beast” because I have CHF and they installed a defibrillator/pacemaker in me in 2010. Please — I am a devout Catholic and read the bible as much as possible and don’t believe all this malarky.

    • Bill

      Kallie, perhaps I misunderstand you, but are you saying you are a devout Catholic and read the bible, but you don’t actually believe what the bible says will come to pass? Or you just think it’s stupid to try to figure out which technology the scriptures are talking about? I don’t think anyone can really say that any particular technology is the mark of the beast; but most bible-believing Christians hold that there will be *something* that will be the mark of the beast, and probably obviously so since people will be held accountable for accepting or rejecting it. But it’s foolish to freak out about every cool piece of tech that comes along. I wonder if, hundreds of years ago, there were people who panicked the first time they saw a sealing-wax ring? ;-)

      • Christine

        Bill – you’re going to need to define your terms. “Bible-believing” is often a non-offensive way of saying “Bible literalist”, in which case no Catholic will fall under that. For starters, any Catholic who reads a Catholic annotated Bible is aware that the book of Revelation wasn’t a book of prophecy. (There are some Catholics who are more like evangelicals, because they’re all in the “compete to see who can be the most socially conservative” boat together, but they tend to not be following orthodox theology.)

        Aside from all that, it’s pretty crazy and decidedly a cultural thing and nothing more, to try and fit all the things you see into warnings of danger from the Bible.

  • Christine

    How do these people deal with palm scanners if they have them at work? Do they quit their job, and get one where the Beast isn’t involved?

  • Jaimie

    Oh wow, I remember this malarcky from my high school youth group days. Back then the mark of the beast were bar codes. Obviously if something new and not understood, it must be from the devil. No matter they go to the store and use them every day.
    I remember this video they showed us in class once. I can’t recall the name but it was designed to be terrifying. The Rapture took place and the people who took over the world were predictably awful and hated Christians. They were hunting down the ones who accepted Christ after the Rapture because of his great love, I mean, because they were afraid to go to Hell. They were arrested and sentenced to beheading. The paranoia was intense and I guess it hasn’t gotten any better since.

  • Pastor Gypsy


    First the mark/symbol number has been in America since 1933. It is by Law that if you are birn or naturalized in the United States you must have the mark. First understand where the United States is located. Under the Constitution and Federal Law the United States is located within the District of Columbia. Uniform Commercial Code 9-307(h).

    Next the Authorized King James in Rev. 13:16:17 does not use the word “on” it uses “in” big difference. Next John saw the future in Rev. And try to think as he wiuld in his days to describe future things.

    I saw the symbol the mark of the beast an eagle on paper that also had numbers on it. People took this number signed their name on the paper and said that this number belings ti them. Then, they implanted it in to their own foreheads to remember it. They recall from their memory this nine digit number kniwn as a Social Security number when ever they want to but, get or sell anything. Now to get a drivers license or license platesyou need a SSn, to get insurance, electric and utilities turned on or video rental card, bank account, credit card and even get a job you need this number. You even need this number to start a business get your tax ID with the SSn. Sorry you’re marked and get the rewards from Rev. 14:9-11.

    If you didn’t obey God when you were born-again and change your old name to a new name when the old you died and became new then you lied to God and are now secular xmchrristian. A new you would have had the SSn die with the ild you and the new you would not have the mark of the beasr. You can get a Christian drivers license, license plates, business license even passport if you don’t have a Social Security number (mark of the beast) from iur Embassy. After all Jesus us in rain right now. If you don’t obey God now … You wilk not be saved. This means you have to be perfect as Christ is perfect and Holy as He is Holy. If you don’t know this you don’t know your Bible! Learn the truth fir it will set you free. And 99.9% of the preachers in the so called churches are leading you to Hell with them telling you to obey man not God.

    Deu. 22:5 is a moral sin that is still in effect females don’t wear pants ir men’s clothing PERIOD. Christians don’t drink ir smoke we are to be sober. Its hard I know but if I can do it anyine can. Divorced? You can’t think of sex or be with another till your spouce dies. In God’s eyes you are married till death do you part as the vow you took when first married. Sin and adultery beholds anyone who does other wise. for more info

  • ajibola sunday michael

    mark of the beast means identity. symbol.seal etc The way cross is the sign of the son of man, mark of the beast of the present day as seen by prophet John will be a” close ally of the right hand” and also an object of business transaction without which anyone will be shut out of business. This is actually a cashless economy driven by electronic devices like a structure of a beasts but with the dimension of
    “idolatery” attribute of this mark of the beast. Every fact about this revelation is pointing to a mobile set being the most common private house hold item in the world today synonymous with right hand and figures. May God help us ……..this is an end time indeed!