Q. What is the mark of the beast?
A. This phrase is found in the Book of Revelation which is an apocalyptic book. All apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic. Hence, Revelation cannot be interpreted literally: Jesus is not literally a lamb, the Whore of Babylon is not a person, but the world system, and the devil is a fallen angel, not a great red dragon, etc.
The “mark of the beast” is clearly explained to us in Revelation 13:16-18. It is the number 666 (“for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666”). All the numbers in Revelation are symbolical: 3 is the number of God (the Trinity); 7 is the number of God’s completion of an ordained cycle (like a week, 7x7 or 49 for the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25, and the 7 cycles of 7 things – seals, bowls, trumpets, etc. – in the Book of Revelation); 10 is the number of completion in time, so 10x10x10 = 1,000 (a “millennium”; the completion in time of human history). The number 6 is the number for man (a human being). The number 666 points to the satanic Trinity of Revelation 12 and 13: The dragon (Satan/Lucifer/the devil), The Beast from the Sea (the world’s political system), and The Beast from the Earth (false, man-centered religion). These three evil influences cause people to forsake God, Christ and the Spirit, and to live for and hope in the World and its devilish evil: sin, fallen governments, false religion.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes are pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Modern information devices such as universal social security cards, palm scans, thumb prints or cornea scans as personal identity devices, or subcutaneous tracking devices, are not the mark of the beast. They can be used for great good or great evil and must be employed with great wisdom and prudence. But they are not demonic.
Similarly, we must be careful not to see charismatic and unconverted leaders as the antichrist, global warming as one of the seals, trumpets or bowls, and any war as Armageddon. Again, Revelation speaks of general, reoccurring events in human history in a fallen world by means of apocalyptic/symbolic language. John is giving us general impressions of general events, and he is not pointing to specific dates, times or people.
To learn more on this topic, let me recommend any one of these excellent books that will help interpret the Book of Revelation and explain the meaning and symbolism found within it:
1. More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen (Baker Books)
2. The Book of Revelation: The New International Commentary on the New Testament by Robert Mounce (Eerdmans)
3. Interpreting the Book of Revelation by J. Ramsey Michaels (Baker Books)
4. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation by Bruce Metzger (Abingdon Press)