The COVID-19 vaccines are here. And with them, the fear of many Christians that we are witnessing the arrival of the long-awaited mark of the beast.
I’ve written two articles already about Christians and conspiracy theories, and how popular views on the end times have tended to negatively influence our approach to the COVID-19 pandemic (links here and here), and I don’t need to rehash all of that again. What I do want to address is this view, held by some, that the COVID-19 vaccine(s) are the mark of the beast described in Revelation 13:16-18.
And as you can tell from the title of this article, I think this view is quite mistaken: these vaccines are not the mark of the beast. As I say this, please understand that I’m not telling you to go get the vaccine. I am not an immunologist, and I am not qualified to give you medical advice. (By the way, the same goes for many of those guys on Facebook. But I digress.)
What I am saying is this: as you evaluate whether or not you should get one of the vaccines, you do not need to be worried about whether or not you will accidentally get the mark of the beast in the process.
Ever since the 1970s, many Christians have been very concerned about the mark of the beast, and there’s been a general fear that it will come disguised in some secret way that everyone will get tricked into, like a payment card or a Social Insurance Number (which is ominously acronymized as “SIN”).
I’d suggest this idea of getting tricked into receiving the mark is quite out of step with what we actually see in Revelation 13.
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
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, 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.Revelation 13:11–18
As you can see, the context of this passage is not that of a secret, sneaky, conspiracy type of event. This is out there in the open. The inhabitants of the world are being made to worship the “first beast” (v. 12). There are “great signs” being performed, including fire coming down from heaven and an image being made for worship (vv. 13-14). Those who don’t worship the image of the beast are being executed (v. 15).
And in this context of extreme persecution comes the “mark” in verse 16, the mark of “the name of the beast or the number of its name,” without which no-one can buy or sell.
I have my doubts that we should take this as a literal mark that will be applied physically to people’s bodies. That doesn’t seem to fit the context of chapter 13, which begins with a multi-headed beast coming up out of the sea. Almost all interpreters understand the beast (and his heads and horns) to be symbolic. Why would we not understand his mark in the same way?
This would also fit with Ezekiel 9:4 and Revelation 7:3, where God’s people are similarly marked on their foreheads. In both of those contexts, this appears to be a symbolic way of signifying those who are God’s. It would seem that the mark of the beast is a satanic counterpart, signalling those who are not God’s.
However, even if the mark is literal and physical—which is possible—I still protest the idea that it will be rolled out as a grand trick. As in, people go to get something normal like a bank card or a vaccine, and then they find out that—oops!—they actually just signed their eternal salvation away.
Not only does this not fit the context of Revelation 13, but it’s also out of step with the several other passages in Revelation which mention the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:9–10, 14:11, 16:2, 20:4). In each of these, receiving the mark is connected with worshipping the beast and/or its image. In other words, people didn’t just get this mark by accident. They got the beast’s mark because they were beast-worshippers.
That’s why Revelation 14:9-11 says that those who receive the mark will be punished with God’s eternal wrath: they worshipped the beast instead of God.
Therefore, a genuine Christian could not get tricked into getting the mark of the beast, any more than a genuine Christian could get tricked into losing their salvation. It’s just not possible.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.John 10:27–29
Whether the mark is physical or symbolic, it will be clear that to receive it is to rebel against God, and deliberately choose to worship the beast instead of Him. This is a choice that someone who has been saved by Jesus will not—and indeed cannot—make.
So make a wise decision on whether or not you should get a vaccine, when one is made available to you. Do your homework, and don’t just believe whatever you read on the Internet. But don’t be worried that these vaccines are the mark of the beast. According to the Bible, that’s just simply not how things will work.
For Further Reading:
If you’d like to learn more about the book of Revelation and the mark of the beast, I recommend this very helpful podcast interview with Thomas Schreiner: crossway.org/articles/666-the-mark-of-the-beast-and-the-book-of-revelation/
This article by Sam Storms on the Gospel Coalition argues for a symbolic understanding of the mark of the beast, and it’s worth reading, even if you don’t share his conclusions: thegospelcoalition.org/article/perplexing-passages-what-is-the-mark-of-the-beast/
Finally, this article by Joe Carter (also on the Gospel Coalition) might be a good place to start if you’re interested in learning more about the vaccines themselves: thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-vaccines/