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What? Is the COVID vaccine the Bible’s sinister “mark of the beast”?

What? Is the COVID vaccine the Bible’s sinister “mark of the beast”? October 14, 2021

THE QUESTION:

Is the COVID vaccine the biblical “mark of the beast”?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Many odd anti-vaccination rumors with murky origins are floating around social media, alarming healthcare workers as they combat a virus that has killed 720,000 Americans and counting.

Take the “mark of the beast” claim. The Guy can confidently answer “no” to this question, based upon the strong consensus among Bible experts, both those who take the Bible portion at issue — Revelation chapter 13 — literally and those who follow symbolic interpretations.

The beast, identified with the famously sinister number “666” and the “mark,” is found in the final book of the Bible, whose images have always been subject to a wide variety of fanciful interpretations. Over the centuries, some have identified the beast as the Pope, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, and many more.

Let’s clear the ground just a bit.

There are five basic ways to understand the last 18 chapters of this “revelation of Jesus Christ” to “his servant John.” A “preterist” says the imagery depicts past events that faced early Christians living under the Roman Empire. The “historical” school sees church scenarios across the centuries. A “futurist” insists these are literal events that still lie ahead of us. The “spiritual” school advocates a symbolic presentation of realities with no specific historical application, past, present, or future. A fifth approach mingles aspects of those four.

Read Revelation 13 for yourself, but here’s a summary. Two beasts arise as servants of the blasphemous dragon (the Antichrist), one from the sea and one from the earth. The second beast enforces worship of the first beast, orders execution for those who refuse, and mandates that the pagan devotees from all levels of society be “marked on the right hand or the forehead so that no one can buy or sell” if they lack this mark of loyalty. The beast bears the “human number” 666.

What could this have to do with anti-vaxxination efforts?

Scouring the Internet on that, the best explanation The Guy found came from an anonymous blogger at thecomingtribulation.wordpress.com, with an individualized “futurist” scenario drawn from the approach to Bible prophecy known as “Dispensationalism,” associated with Dallas Theological Seminary and many Bible colleges and radio preachers. This writer spotted five clues.

1)  Identification cards that prove vaccination against COVID may not literally be the “mark” but “are clearly used in the same way” and thus symbolize submission to tyrants and social pressure, which is what the “mark” is all about.

2)  The biblical phrase about bans on buying and selling ties into current submission of people lest they lose jobs or cannot operate or patronize businesses without ID cards.

3) A permanent “globally accepted card” may soon accompany the current “forced immunizations.”

4) Such a card will likely be authorized by “some global entity” that people would submit to, so the cards (not the vaccine itself) would symbolize “submission to that global entity.”

5) Such an international identification system will be necessary “to implement the mark of the beast.”

However, this same blogger also cites the reasons a literal reading of Revelation means the COVID vaccine is not and cannot be the “mark.” Other “futurists” agree. Like so.

Mandates by the U.S. federal government and “local and regional tyrants” are not international, and therefore only “a stepping stone” to the “mark,” which “will be enforced globally by the last-days one-world government.” The vaccine disappears into forearms and “is not worn on the hand or forehead.” Vaccine ID cards do not identify followers of the pagan beast or symbolize its name and number. Finally, the “mark” and economic hardship only occur when the Antichrist appears to exercise world power and persecute Christians.

Influential California evangelical Greg Laurie made similar points to USA Today, and observed that those who pledge loyalty to the beast through the “mark” will know what they are doing, whereas “God will not doom people for taking something unwittingly.” He says such “false and misapplied” readings of prophecy passages reflect ignorance about “what the Bible actually says.”

Meanwhile, most biblical scholars across most churches in most centuries have opposed this whole approach to interpretation of Revelation, which only became popular in the 20th Century, especially in a sector of U.S. evangelical Protestantism.

Classical theology argues to the contrary that John’s message needed to make sense to readers of his own time in the late 1st Century A.D., whatever it said to later readers. So Revelation addressed Rome’s imposition of blasphemous worship of the emperor that resulted in persecution of Christians under Nero (54-68) and Domitian (81-96). Others think the book denounces all such oppression throughout history. In all cases, suffering ends with the coming triumph of Christ’s kingdom.

Added pointers from this kind of interpretation.

Some say 666 signals triple damnation because 6 falls short of 7, the biblical number of perfection. It’s very common for analysts to link the 666 (some ancient manuscripts instead read 616) to Nero, or rumors Nero was not really dead and would return with vengeance, or Nero as representative of all emperors or of all evil. The economic aspect of the “mark” brings to mind the imperial stamp put on commercial documents and Roman coins that depicted the divine emperor.

Though the Nero theory is fashionable today, G.B. Caird of the University of Oxford spent two pages playing with all numbers and possibilities and, like most, concluded we really can’t be sure.

Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer summarized a classical viewpoint among conservative Protestants. The Book of Revelation is an “illumination of history from the point of view of the as-yet-hidden triumph of the Lord who is coming,” which God provided to Christian believers “when persecution was today’s reality and tomorrow’s probability.”

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