" Dear Mr. Wilson:
What is the mark of the beast and when will it occur?
As you probably know, there has been a great deal of speculation on this topic during the past 2,000 years. If you visit this online encyclopedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_the_Beast, you will find a list of various interpretations.
My understanding of this topic may be unlike anything that you have heard because my conclusion is determined by a set of rules that govern the interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy.* In a nutshell, I believe the Bible teaches the mark of the beast will be two tattoos.
One tattoo, showing the number 666, will be placed on the right hand of everyone that Lucifer spares from death. The second tattoo will be a name. I have concluded from my study that Lucifer will assume a divine name when he physically appears on Earth masquerading as God and his name will be tattooed on the foreheads of his servants 144,000 high ranking employees that will work for him. (Revelation 13:17)
*See the web site mentioned at the end of this article for more information about the rules.
Since this explanation sounds far-fetched at the present time, please consider these three topics: (1) the importance of "one-third and two-thirds" in the book of Revelation, (2) the circumstances surrounding the mark of the beast, and (3) the identity of the beast who imposes his mark on everyone.
1. – Twelve times during the time period of the seven trumpets, one-third is mentioned. For example, one-third of the trees will be burned up in the first trumpet, one-third of the ships will sink and one-third of the creatures in the ocean will die in the second trumpet, one-third of the rivers will be poisoned in the third trumpet, and one-third of the day and one-third of the night will be without light in the fourth trumpet.
This repetition of one-third is deliberate. God assures us twelve times that He is generous even though He will release His wrath on the world during the seven trumpets. Instead of justifiably destroying three-thirds of Earth, God spares two-thirds of everything! To understand the ancient practice of generously sparing one-third and destroying two-thirds, we need to examine some passages from the Old Testament.
"David also defeated the[rebellious] Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the [surviving] Moabites became subject to David and brought [suddenly agreed to] tribute [pay their taxes]." (2 Samuel 8:2, insertions mine.)
King David was as generous as he was wise. He spared one-third of the Moabites for two reasons. First, he knew the surviving Moabites would have a change of mind and gladly pay their tribute [taxes] if he spared their lives. (It is amazing what people can do when motivated by gratitude.)Second, David knew that in years to come, the Moabites would recover from this war and repopulate their tribal nation. Their future taxes would mean income for Israel's treasury! So, David spared "one-third" of the Moabites.
About 400 years later, Israel became so rebellious toward God that He could not get their attention. So, God did the same thing that David did. He destroyed two-thirds of His own people! "Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you.
A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword." (Ezekiel 5:11,12, italics mine)
Although I don't have the space to explain the following verse, this last text confirms the ancient custom of destroying two-thirds and sparing one-third: "In the whole land, declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it." (Zechariah 13:8)
When it comes to dealing with rebellion, the ancient custom of sparing one-third and destroying two-thirds is clearly Biblical. This fact is important to our study on the mark of the beast because during the sixth trumpet, the devil will generously spare two-thirds of mankind. (Revelation 9:16)
2. – Here is a very short scenario explaining how the mark of the beast unfolds: The first four trumpets in Revelation 8 will be a series of devastating judgments that come from God. These judgments will be overwhelming, awesome, and deadly.
Thousands of notably wicked places will be destroyed, one-third of Earth will be burned up and 25% of the world's population will die in a very short period of time, perhaps as short as 60 to 90 days. God will use His horrific judgments to get the attention of a rebellious world.Once people are willing to listen, God will send forth His 144,000 prophets to present four messages to the people of Earth. (These messages will test mankind to identify who loves God enough to submit to His authority. Revelation 14:6-11, 18:4)
When the religious and political leaders of the world realize the scope and power of God's wrath, they will unite out of fear of the Almighty and in a sincere effort to appease God's wrath, they will establish an organization that the Bible calls "Babylon." Babylon will be a crisis government designed to mediate between an angry God and a world of many nations and diverse religions.
The only thing that world leaders can do in an attempt to appease God's wrath is to quickly legislate moral conduct. To reduce man's decadence and degenerate behavior (the very things that caused God's wrath), Babylon will demand that all nations enact and enforce laws that will severely punish people for immoral behavior.
In addition to legislating morality, laws will be enacted and enforced requiring the worship of God. Babylon's "well intentioned" efforts to appease God's wrath will seem appropriate at first for most survivors and this is why the Bible predicts the world will follow the beast (Babylon). (Revelation 13:3)
Babylon's "sin-less" laws will put people in a difficult position. The people who refuse to worship God as Babylon demands will be punished because the leaders of Babylon will be convinced that God's wrath will only end when the world is conducting itself in a way that is pleasing to God.
Meanwhile, God's servants, the 144,000, will boldly speak against the blasphemy of Babylon and a great debate over the will of God will unfold. So, everyone on Earth will eventually get caught up in this hot debate because Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus and others do not share a common understanding about God's will.
Babylon will be so internally conflicted that religious people will not know what to think. This confusion is exactly what God wants. He wants people to hear the truth about His will and submit to it even though they will be persecuted for it! This is how God will test the love and faith of mankind.
3. – About two-thirds of the way through the Great Tribulation (890 days), almost everyone will take a position on the gospel of Jesus Christ, presented by the 144,000. Then, the fifth trumpet will occur. The devil himself will be released from the abyss (the spirit realm where he is now confined) and, with his 200 million angels, will physically appear on Earth. (Revelation 9:16) Lucifer is described in Revelation 12 as a great red dragon. He also is described as the "angel king" of the abyss in Revelation 9:11.
He is "the beast from the abyss," in Revelation 17:8 and 11:7, and he is described as the beast that rises "out of the earth" in Revelation 13:11. The devil is represented in different ways in the book of Revelation because each caricature tells us more about his work and character.
In other words, Lucifer that mighty angel who was cast out of Heaven with his angels, will physically descend from the sky attended by 200 million angels at the fifth trumpet. (Revelation 9:3) He will present himself before mankind in dazzling glory pretending to be Jesus Christ Himself at the Second Coming!
At first, the devil will masquerade as a gracious and forgiving God. He will perform all kinds of counterfeit signs and wonders, even causing fire to come down from heaven to prove his assumed divinity. His miracles will dazzle and amaze the wicked, and these demonstrations will deceive most of the world's inhabitants. (Revelation 13:14)
They will say, "This is Almighty God. Let us worship him!" Lucifer's charade will last five months. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Lucifer's angels will be inflicting great searing pain on all undecided people who oppose Lucifer's claims of divinity. (Note: Lucifer's angels cannot hurt the 144,000 or God's people during the fifth trumpet. Revelation 9:4)
God restricts Lucifer's torture so that people rebelling against Lucifer can escape their predator when they submit to the gospel of Jesus! (See Numbers 21:4-9 for a parallel.) The net effect of the fifth trumpet is that Lucifer and his angels force Earth's people into two camps one camp consisting of those worshiping "the lamb-like beast" and the other camp worshiping "the Lamb."
When the five months of the fifth trumpet have ended, Lucifer will undergo a sudden change of character. He will suddenly become a mean, "stern-faced king." (Daniel 8:23) He will demand the establishment of his theocracy a worldwide church/state of one faith, one Lord, one baptism using God's own Word as justification for this action. (Consider the following question for a moment.
How can religious diversity be possible if God actually lives on Earth?) Lucifer will set up his throne and rule over the world as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will outlaw the practice of previous religions and the authority of all previous governments. He will appoint ten kings to oversee his global kingdom and he will select 144,000 wicked people to serve as leaders in his theocracy.
Life on Earth during the time of the sixth trumpet will be desperate. There will be little, if any electricity, manufacturing, banking, travel, communications, and infrastructure. These systems were all but destroyed during the first four trumpets. By the time of the sixth trumpet, most of the world will be surviving on meager rations of food and water. (Remember, this will be a time of great tribulation.)
Of course, those working in the devil's government will receive better rations, but in order to work for the devil, each person has to be as cruel and demonic as his master. To secure his control of Earth and to reduce the number of people consuming rations, the people of Earth will be divided into groups of 1,000.
Then, four of Lucifer's angels will kill one-third of each group. (Revelation 9:15) Remember the practice of ancient kings killing two-thirds? The devil will only kill one-third because he wants to appear generous. The result is that 666 people will be "mercifully" spared out of each group.
To conduct business and receive rations from Lucifer's government, all people who have sworn allegiance to him will have to wear a tattoo on their right hand. This tattoo, showing the number 666, will identify the 666 people spared from death. The Greek word used in Revelation 13:16 for "the mark" is charagma. The word means "an engraving."
There will be no mystery to the meaning of 666 when the time comes. This literal number indicates who submits to Lucifer. The Bible says, "This calls for wisdom [to understand the number before it is implemented]. If anyone has insight, let him calculate [do the math] the number of [belonging to] the beast, for it is man's number [in other words, the number 666 represents the number of people who belong to the Man of Sin 2 Thessalonians 2]. His number [of survivors in each group] is 666." (Revelation 13:18, insertions mine)
One final point. Lucifer's name will be tattooed on the foreheads of his lieutenants so that everyone can visibly see who is in charge. This tattoo on the forehead is a blatant counterfeit of what Jesus will do to the 144,000 after they are taken to Heaven. The Bible says that the names of Jesus and the Father will be "written" on the foreheads of the 144,000! (See Revelation 14:1, 22:4.) This glorious insignia worn on the foreheads of the 144,000 will reveal their high rank throughout eternity.
In closing, Jerri, I hope you understand that it is impossible for anyone to prove the validity of their prophetic understanding before prophecy is fulfilled. However we do not have to remain in darkness until prophecy is fulfilled. Prophetic matters that have been fulfilled are a matter of prophetic fact. Prophetic matters that have not been fulfilled are a matter of prophetic faith.
Given this truth, we can understand something about the unknown if we use valid rules of interpretation. Valid rules of interpretation are self-evident in the Bible. For example, suppose you know nothing about the game of baseball. If you closely watched several games of baseball, even though you know nothing about the game, eventually you could figure out the rules of the game by observing the behavior of the players. Similarly, suppose you know nothing about apocalyptic prophecy.
If you closely examine the prophecies that have been fulfilled, looking for consistent behavior, you can discover that apocalyptic prophecy conforms to four rules of interpretation. Once you discern these rules, then you can test them. If the rules are proven valid by fulfilled prophecy, the rules allow us to decipher prophetic elements that have not been fulfilled with a high degree of certainty. (For further study on this aspect of prophetic study, please see my article, The Necessity for Rules.)
I hope this explanation helps!