As COVID-19 vaccines were being developed, and even more so now that they are being distributed, concerned Christians have raised questions. Some are of a medical nature: will it really prevent contracting the virus? Are there harmful side effects? Others are questions of an ethical nature: what do we do if we disagree with steps of the developmental processes? How should we react if some part of the testing process conflicts with our morals?
Could the COVID-19 vaccine be the mark of the beast?
The COVID-19 Vaccine: A Theological Concern?
Then there are the questions that need to be considered theologically. It is one such question that I hope to answer today. Could the COVID-19 vaccine be the mark of the beast (see Revelation 13:15-18)?
To answer that question, let’s consider what the Scriptures say about the mark.
Who (or What) Is “The Beast”?
Before we can comment on the nature of the mark, we need to consider the second beast in Revelation 13 in detail. Whether we understand the beast allegorically, metaphorically, or as a literal individual who will rise to power, one clearly presented idea cannot be separated from the second beast. This idea is present no matter how you interpret Revelation: the beast is primarily concerned with worship.
In Revelation 13:12-14 we see the beast actively promoting idolatrous worship. The beast uses its authority to compel worship (Revelation 13:12). And it uses wondrous, miraculous power to entice people into worship (Revelation 13:13-14). Whether it is by means of compulsion or enticement, the beast’s aim remains the same: to elicit worship from the people. It even causes them to set up an idol of the first beast as the focal point of their worship.
It’s All About Worship
Similarly, the second beast works against the exclusive worship of God. As with the promotion of idolatrous worship, the second beast uses more than one method to prevent exclusive worship. In Revelation 13:15 we see a more direct, active form of persecution. Those who refuse to worship the first beast being put to death. In Revelation 13:16-17 the pressure is less direct, but just as dangerous. Instead of outright violence, social and economic pressure is used to sway people.
This second beast seeks to either tempt or force people to worship the first beast.
The association between the second beast and worship isn’t just seen in Revelation 13. The connection is reaffirmed in Revelation 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; and Revelation 20:4. We can therefore safely assert that the primary focus of the second beast is worship. This beast seeks to either tempt or force people to worship the first beast. It also seeks to force or pressure those who worship God alone into compliance.
What Is “The Mark Of The Beast?”
Now let us consider the nature of the mark. The mark of the beast, its number, and its name are interchangeable. This is because, as we see in Revelation 13:17-18 and Revelation 14:9-11, the mark is a representation of the name. Likewise the number is a representation of the name. Despite their different forms, all three represent the same thing: the identity of the second beast. To bear the mark therefore, is to be identified with the beast.
To bear the mark is to be identified with the beast.
Just as the beast must be understood in light of worship, so too must the mark that identifies people with it be viewed in these terms.
The mark of the beast is referred to five times after its introduction in Revelation 13. Four of these references define a group of people by two characteristics. There are “the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image” (Revelation 16:2), and then there are “those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands” (Revelation 20:4).
The mark of the beast is firmly linked with idolatrous worship.
There is no middle-ground, no category for people to receive the mark but not worship. Those who receive the mark are those who worship the beast. The two are bound together.
Even Revelation 15:2, the only verse which mentions the mark without immediately stating whether or not the individuals being referred to had worshipped the beast, sets a scene that revolves around worship. The mark of the beast is firmly linked with idolatrous worship.
You Can’t Unknowingly Be Marked by The Beast
There is also no need to fear accidentally or unknowingly bearing the mark. We can be confident on this for two reasons. Firstly, the mark, which is the name of the second beast, represents identification with the beast. In other words, the mark of the beast is carried by those who worship the first beast or its image. As long as your life is free of idolatrous worship, there is no need to fear receiving the mark.
Scripture is clear that those who belong to God will not receive the mark.
Secondly, Scripture is clear that those who belong to God will not receive the mark. In Revelation 14:9-11 we see that all who receive the mark are destined for torment and wrath. This contrasts sharply with the abundant life and love that Christians anticipate. By nature, we were objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), but now we look forward to receiving his rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). Believers can confidently expect an eternity in the presence of our Lord (Revelation 21:3).
Believers can confidently expect an eternity in the presence of our Lord.
The ultimate destinies of believers and those who bear the mark of the beast couldn’t be more different. This is further affirmed by Revelation 20:4. For those who do not receive the mark that are included in what Revelation calls “the first resurrection.”
In John’s writings there are two resurrections: the first to life and victory (Revelation 20:4-6); and the second to judgment and damnation (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:12-15). If believers are to receive life and not eternal judgment, and those who bear the mark disqualifies one from receiving that life, then we can be sure that no Christian will accidentally or unknowingly receive it.
Is The COVID-19 Vaccine The Mark Of The Beast?
With everything we know about the mark in mind, let us briefly consider the vaccine. To recap, the mark of the beast cannot be separated from the implication of idolatrous worship. Does the vaccine challenge your religious exclusivity? Is it possible to receive the vaccine without worshipping the beast?
Does the vaccine challenge your religious exclusivity?
The mark of the beast is explicit in its purpose of identification and idolatry. It is the name of the second beast, or a representation of its name, and is carried by those who have identified themselves with it. So we must ask: do the COVID-19 vaccines bear such a unified, clearly recognisable, and identifying mark?
Furthermore, Revelation teaches that no believer will receive the mark. Therefore it is not something that they could accidentally receive. Is a vaccine something that could be given to someone without their knowledge or consent?
The idea that the COVID-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast is untenable.
Is the concern that the COVID-19 vaccine could be the mark of the beast valid? I don’t believe it is. Regardless of our approach to Revelation, certain things are inseparably linked with the second beast and its mark. These act as criteria against which we may measure any possible interpretation. When measured against these criteria, the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast becomes untenable.