Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Ray:
Is the COVID-19 vaccine the mark of the beast? I’ve heard some disturbing things like people saying they can’t feel God anymore and that their soul is dead. Also the Great Reset sounds like the end times. You should research it and do an article on it.
Thanks for the question, Ray. A reader named Kristen recently asked the same question. I guess it’s time to answer it! And the short answer is:
No the COVID-19 vaccine is not the mark of the beast.
That idea is the latest incarnation of decades-old conspiracy theories that just won’t die, no matter how baseless they are.
These conspiracy theories are themselves a type of intellectual virus. They are false and destructive ideas that eat away at people’s minds, morphing and adapting to every new scare that sweeps around the world via the Internet. If some people feel that after they get vaccinated, they can’t feel God anymore and their soul is dead, that feeling is not caused by the vaccine. It is caused by the conspiracy theory virus that has infected their mind.
As for the Great Reset, it sounds like more of the same vague and grandiose proclamations that the wealthy elite are always broadcasting in public while privately they go about the business of doing what they really care about: becoming wealthier and more elite.
Back to the main question, the mark of the beast mentioned in the book Revelation is not a physical mark. Revelation is a prophetic and symbolic book. It is talking about spiritual events, not earthly events. See:
Now let’s take a closer look at the mark of the beast, what it is, and what it isn’t.
The Mark: Biblical Background
The mark of the beast first appears in Revelation chapter 13. It then becomes a recurring theme throughout the rest of that book—which is the last book of the Bible. We’ll look at each of those passages in a moment.
But Revelation 13 is not the first place in the Bible where a mark is used to distinguish people from one another as a sign of who will be destroyed, and who will be saved from destruction. The theme of marking people for this purpose goes all the way back to the earliest chapters of the Bible:
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. (Genesis 4:13–15)
In the story of the Exodus from Egypt, a mark is used, not on the people of Israel themselves, but on their houses, to spare them from destruction:
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. (Exodus 12:21–23)
Even placing a mark on the forehead does not appear first in the book of Revelation, but in the book of the prophet Ezekiel:
The Lord called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side, and said to him, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” To the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Cut down old men, young men and young women, little children and women, but touch no one who has the mark.” (Ezekiel 9:3–6)
As with so much of the prophecy in the book of Revelation, “the mark of the beast” draws on themes and symbolism in the Old Testament. Consider also this passage from book of Deuteronomy:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–8, italics added; see also Deuteronomy 11:18)
Even in the book of Revelation, this theme appears earlier than chapter 13. And the mark is placed upon the foreheads of good people, not evil people:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel. (Revelation 7:1–4)
The story goes on to list the names the twelve tribes of Israel, from each of which twelve thousand people were sealed.
However, the list of tribes in Revelation 7:5–8 does not match any of the lists given in the Old Testament. The tribes of Dan and Ephraim are left out. Instead of Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh being listed as tribes, as they are in the Old Testament, Joseph himself is listed as a tribe, along with his son Manasseh. Levi is also included in the list even though Levi was not one of the twelve tribes that had received an allotment of tribal land. The order in which the tribes are listed in Revelation is also different from any order given in the Old Testament. And yet, the list maintains the highly symbolic number of twelve tribes.
Further, even when the book of Revelation was originally written nearly two thousand years ago, many of the tribes of Israel no longer existed. The northern tribes had been conquered by the Assyrian Empire and carried into exile centuries earlier. Unlike the southern tribes, these exiles never returned to the Holy Land. Most scholars believe they were assimilated into the local populations in the areas they had been deported to. Based on 1 Kings 11:31, 35, it is traditionally believed that there are ten lost tribes of Israel, though the story as recorded in the Bible is considerably more complicated than that. How could God mark twelve thousand people from tribes whose ancestry and DNA had long since mixed with other populations, and ceased to be Israelite or Jewish?
All of this strongly suggests that the tribal names listed in the book of Revelation are symbolic. They were never meant to be taken literally.
Very little in the book of Revelation is meant to be taken literally.
The Mark of the Beast
With all of that as background, let’s look at the passages in Revelation where the mark of the beast appears.
Throughout the large middle part of the book of Revelation, a whole series of dragons and beasts appears. The mark of the beast is associated with a second beast described in Revelation 13:11–18. Here are the verses about the mark itself:
It [the beast] 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 who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six. (Revelation 13:16–18)
That’s what all the hullabaloo is about!
As in several earlier Bible passages, the mark can be placed on the forehead or on the right hand. Not the left hand. The right hand. Why? Symbolism, once again. We’ll get to that.
Further, the mark is specified as either the name of the beast, or the number of its name. That number is the famous or infamous number 666.
Even traditional Christians commonly believe that this number is symbolic. But instead of looking for spiritual meaning in it, they are likely to use ancient Hebrew or Greek numbering systems to derive the name of some famous historical figure that they consider to be evil, such as the Roman emperor Nero, or perhaps Domitian, or the Islamic prophet Muhammad. But it’s all speculative. The Bible never identifies the number 666 with any specific human being. And though most translations say it is “the number of a man” or “the number of a person,” it can also be translated as “a human number” or even “humanity’s number.” We will leave its spiritual meaning for a future article.
The next appearance of the mark of the beast is in the very next chapter of Revelation:
Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they 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. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9–11)
Things go very bad, very fast for the people who accept the mark of the beast! They have more misery in store two chapters later:
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image. (Revelation 16:1–2)
In chapter 19, not far from the end of the book of Revelation, the beast and its followers receive their final defeat and punishment:
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.” Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:17–21)
The mark of the beast does appear one more time, this time to recount what was in store for those who had not accepted it:
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They 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 a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4–6)
There you have it! All the appearances of the mark of the beast in the Bible. Just to round things out, here is one more similar passage from the book of Revelation:
So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly amazed. (Revelation 17:3–6, italics added)
This passage skips mention of a mark, and goes straight to the mention of a name written on the forehead—this time on the forehead of the evil figure herself. She is a very different figure than the second beast of Revelation 13, but the pattern of an identifying mark on the forehead continues.
Materialism, Superstition, and Fear
It’s beyond me how anyone could read all of this clearly symbolic and metaphorical language as predictions of literal, physical future events. Unfortunately, over the centuries the institutions of Christianity have become largely materialistic and physical-minded, just as much of the population of the world has been all along. The church is supposed to lift people up to God and spirit. Instead, it has sunk into the mire of materialism along with the masses.
And so, nearly two thousand years after the book of Revelation was written, people keep right on identifying the mark of the beast with earthly events that happen to be happening during their lifetime.
Honestly, how likely is it that two thousand years ago the Apostle John just happened to be predicting the COVID-19 vaccine in the year 2021? Why wasn’t he predicting any of the other terrible things people have identified as the mark of the beast throughout the eighteen or nineteen centuries that have passed by since then? The idea that the COVID-19 vaccine just happens to be the right one is, frankly, ludicrous.
But that doesn’t stop superstitious people from believing it. For those who want to believe that the COVID-19 vaccine, or bar codes on products, microchips embedded under people’s skin, or anything else they fear, is the mark of the beast, nothing I can say will convince them otherwise. People will believe what they want to believe, regardless of all logic and facts to the contrary.
And they will live in fear of their own groundless conspiracy theories. That is the immediate punishment for those who abandon the Bible, human experience, and common sense in favor of the intellectual viruses that infect the minds of large swaths of humanity. That is the foul and painful sore that is swiftly inflicted upon the minds of people who allow themselves to be branded with the mark of the beast.
In a few years, when coronavirus is no longer the latest Big Thing, the same people will find some other current event or scary new technology that’s fresh in the news to identify as the mark of the beast. The virus will morph into yet another new form of the same old materialistic and superstitious nonsense.
The Symbolism of the Mark of the Beast
Now let’s dig into the symbolism of the mark of the beast. For this, I will draw on my favorite theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), who wrote not one, but two massive commentaries explaining the spiritual meaning of the book of Revelation.
My purpose is not necessarily to convince you that Swedenborg’s interpretation is the correct one. Rather, my purpose is to demonstrate that it is not necessary to read the book of Revelation literally to gain great value from it. We can gain much greater insight from reading Revelation symbolically than from reading it literally.
With that in mind, let’s look at the symbolism of just a few of the elements in the story of the mark of the beast. (A full explanation of all of its symbolism would fill a whole book.)
Why put the mark on people’s foreheads? Literally speaking, it’s a highly visible location. Everyone can see at a glance whether you do or don’t have the mark. That is how traditional Christians usually read it.
However, the forehead is also a highly significant part of the human body mentally and spiritually. Our forehead is the place where our brain comes closest to other people as we talk to them and interact with them. In its simplest form, the forehead is a symbol of the human mind. It represents not only our thoughts and ideas, but especially the feelings and the love that they flow from. Even if our heart has come to represent love in many cultures, the brain is where our feelings are translated into thoughts and actions.
Being marked on the forehead means having our thoughts and feelings affected by the mark of the beast.
Consider the people who do believe that bar codes or vaccines or computer chips or some such thing is the mark of the beast. These people experience great turmoil in their thoughts and feelings because of those conspiracy theories. In a sense, they are experiencing the “mark of the beast.” But the mark is not vaccines or computer chips. It is the illusions that have taken hold in their minds, and the irrational fears that have taken hold in their hearts. These are examples of sufferings in our spirit that are brought about by accepting the mark of the beast mentally.
The Right Hand
Why is the right hand another place where the mark of the beast could be placed?
This one is even easier to understand. We use our hands to get things done. And since the bulk of the population is right-handed, and in right-handed people that hand is stronger and more capable one, the right hand has come to symbolize our power to get things done. (See: What Does It Mean to Sit at the Right Hand of God?)
When people accept the false ideas that are symbolized by the mark of the beast (we’ll get to that in a moment), it affects not just how they think and feel, but what they do. For example, people who accept conspiracy theories often believe that humanity is doomed if they don’t stand up against the latest thing they have identified as the mark of the beast. Because of this belief, they engage in protests, acts of civil disobedience, riots, and insurrections—and a lot of people get needlessly hurt, both physically and mentally.
Falling under the sway of faulty thinking affects our entire life. It affects our thinking. It affects our feelings. It affects our actions. This is the symbolism of the mark of the beast being placed on the forehead or on the hands.
Bible prophecies are about spiritual events
I have been using conspiracy theories as an example of something that could function as “the mark of the beast” in people’s lives. But according to Swedenborg, there is a more specific meaning of the beast and its mark. To understand and appreciate that meaning, we need to step back for a moment and look more broadly at the meaning of prophecy in the Bible.
It is true that prophecies in the Bible often have tie-ins with earthly events and people. However, at their heart they are not about our earthly life, but about our spiritual life. Also, Bible prophecies can be applied to our individual spiritual life, or they can be applied to the spiritual life of whole groups of people, such as communities, nations, or the whole of humanity.
The book of Revelation is often seen as a prophecy of future events affecting all of humanity: the whole world is going to be destroyed, and so on. However, given that it was traditionally written by the apostle John, who was in the inner circle of Christ’s followers, and was addressed to some of the early Christian churches (see Revelation 1:4), it is more likely a prophecy of future events in the Christian world. Swedenborg is not unusual among Christian theologians in interpreting the book as a prophecy about the fate of Christians and the Christian church.
Christian theologians have labored long and hard to tie the prophecies of the Bible to major events in history in the past, present, and future. But their schemes never quite fit historical events. That’s because the Bible was never meant to tell us about worldly events. It is meant to tell us about spiritual events. What does God most want to tell us about, our temporary life in this world, or our eternal life in the spiritual world?
The New Testament itself gives us some hints that the future catastrophes it predicts are not physical ones, but spiritual ones. For example, Jesus says, “Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). And, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
The Church is the gathering of people of faith who are commanded by Christ to love God and the neighbor. If the love of many will grow cold, and there will be no faith on the earth when Christ comes, this is something that will happen first and foremost in the Christian church. It only makes sense, then, that the prophecies of cataclysm and destruction in the New Testament are talking about the end of the Christian church as a living and spiritual institution.
The parallel with Judaism
Consider that at the time Jesus and his apostles were making these prophecies, ancient Judaism as it had existed for many centuries was coming to its end. In the year 70 AD, just four decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. This brought the Jews’ ancient sacrificial system of worship to an end, forcing the remaining Jews to reinvent their religion into what became rabbinic Judaism, which has been the reigning form of Judaism ever since. This is a very different religion than the sacrificial, priest-centered Judaism that had existed up to that time.
Starting at the time of the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments thirteen centuries before Christ, Judaism developed into God’s flagship religion on earth. It was the only religion that made a full transition from polytheism to monotheism during that long era of human history. However, over the centuries Judaism had become worldly and corrupt. The very reason the Romans destroyed the Temple, and ancient Judaism along with it, was that the Jewish people kept engaging in insurrection and rebellion, striving for earthly power and position.
When Judaism had become so worldly that it could no longer serve as God’s most direct line of communication with humanity, God came to earth personally as Jesus Christ and laid the foundations for the Christian religion, which took Judaism’s place in that role.
The fall of Christianity
Unfortunately, just as predicted in the New Testament, over the centuries Christianity also became worldly and corrupt. It increasingly sought worldly wealth and power instead of being a spiritual light to the people of the world.
The prophecies of the Gospels and the book of Revelation foretell a time when, like Judaism before it, the original Christian church would come to its end. As with Judaism, this does not mean there would be no more Christians or Christian churches. As an institution, traditional Christianity would continue to exist, just as Judaism continues to exist. However, Christianity would no longer be the shining beacon of God’s love and light in the world, as it was in its earliest days. This, and not some earthly apocalypse, is the meaning of these words in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21:1)
This is a prediction, not of the end of the physical world, but of the end of the era in which Christianity would reign as God’s flagship religion on earth, and the beginning of a new spiritual era. Once again, please see:
What do the beasts in Revelation represent?
With all of that in mind, we can see that the various dragons and beasts of Revelation represent various segments of Christianity later in its history, after it had lost its way and become corrupt.
Swedenborg was not the first to think in this way. Since the time of the Protestant Reformation, Protestant theologians have commonly believed that Babylon, personified in Revelation chapters 17–18 as a great whore seated on a scarlet beast, represents the Roman Catholic Church. And Swedenborg agrees with them! To see why the opponents of Catholicism have made this connection, it is necessary only to read the history of the many dark centuries in which the hierarchy of the Catholic Church built up immense worldly wealth and power for itself while the common people lived in misery and poverty.
Protestants have not spoken with such a clear and unified voice about the meaning of the other beasts that appear earlier in the book of Revelation. On this, they would not agree with Swedenborg at all! That’s because Swedenborg interprets the other beasts in Revelation as symbols of various stages and permutations of Protestantism itself.
Keep in mind that Protestantism is a schism of the Roman Catholic Church. It continues to teach many of the basic dogmas of Catholicism, adding its own spin to them. And like Catholicism, over the centuries Protestants have engaged in many bloody battles both with Catholics and with other Protestants, seeking control of territories, their people, and their wealth. You can read the history for yourself.
However, in saying that the beast and its mark are symbolic of Protestantism, Swedenborg focuses on Martin Luther’s invention of the unbiblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, and its enthronement as the cornerstone and key distinguishing feature of Protestantism.
Though Swedenborg focuses on the doctrinal destruction of Christianity wreaked by Luther’s new doctrine, that doctrine also served as a justification for the waves of Protestant violence and grasping for worldly wealth and power that mirrored those of the Catholic Church. In the minds of Protestants, anyone who did not accept their belief in salvation by faith alone would be eternally damned to hell anyway. This made anyone who disagreed with them fair game for violence, oppression, torture, and execution. All of this is a matter of history.
What is the mark of the beast?
Now we are finally ready for an interpretation of the mark of the beast.
If the beasts of Revelation chapters 11–16 represent Protestantism, then the mark of the beast represents the key distinguishing feature of Protestantism: Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Consider: A mark is something that identifies us. It represents who we are, and what group we belong to. When Luther broke away from Catholicism and founded Protestantism, he distinguished this new branch of Christianity from all others by setting up his newly invented doctrine of justification by faith alone as the cornerstone of its theology and faith.
This doctrine, traditionally known as sola fide, Latin for “by faith alone,” is the “mark on the forehead and hands” that all Protestants have had to show, or they would not be allowed to trade in Protestant circles.
That prophecy is not about literal business and commerce. Spiritual wealth is information, knowledge, and understanding. Historically, Protestant leaders who rejected faith alone would be removed from their positions of leadership in the church, and punished or executed. Laypeople who spoke out against it would be silenced. And if they refused to be silenced, their life would become very unpleasant.
This is the meaning the words, “No one can buy or sell who does not have the mark” (Revelation 13:17). No one who does not agree with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone will be allowed to remain in leadership or membership within Protestantism. They would not be allowed teach or learn the Bible or the beliefs of the church, which are its spiritual wealth. (I am aware that in recent decades some liberal Protestant denominations have softened their stance.)
The Mark of the Beast is a Spiritual Mark
You may or may not agree with this interpretation of the mark of the beast. A full explanation would be too long and technical for this blog. Swedenborg’s two commentaries on the book of Revelation total eight volumes in English.
But I hope you will at least come away with the understanding than no physical thing, no physical mark on the forehead or hands, is the mark of the beast described in the book of Revelation. Rather, the mark of the beast exists in the realm of mind and spirit.
The big picture is that the mark of the beast is a symbol of false ideas that confuse people’s minds and cause them to act in harmful and destructive ways. If this much makes sense to you, and it banishes from your mind a superstitious fear of vaccines, computer chips, bar codes, and so on, then this article will have done its job.
This article is a response to two spiritual conundrums submitted by readers.
For further reading:
- Can We Really Believe the Bible?
- The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!
- Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
- The Christian Church is Not Christian
- The Christian Church is Coming to an End
- Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?