Ever since childhood, I have heard people associate microchips with the mark of the beast from Revelation 13:16–17:
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. (ESV)
The USA Today reported last Friday (August 4) that a Wisconsin company is offering microchip implants to its employees. The chips will enhance efficiency by enabling convenient entry to facilities and automatic access to corporate computers. As expected, the news has triggered speculation about the Bible’s end-time prophecies.
But is there a correlation between microchips and the mark of the beast? Those committed to a “literal” interpretation of the book of Revelation are usually among the strongest proponents of this type of speculation. I remain perplexed at how identifying the mark of the beast with microchips can amount to a literal interpretation. This seems like allegory at its finest.
So what exactly is the mark of the beast? What did the apostle John have in mind when he wrote Revelation 13:16? In answering this question, we must remember that John wrote to Christians suffering persecution under the tyranny of ancient Rome. He wrote to encourage believers in the midst of their struggle, not to give them an unintelligible (from their vantage point) apocalyptic narrative about the future on par with modern science fiction novels. We must allow scripture to interpret scripture in historical context while resisting the urge to read Revelation through the lens of Fox News, CNN, or USA Today.
The location of the mark of the beast is important for understanding John’s intended meaning. John writes that those who received the mark of the beast had the mark on their “right hand” or “forehead.” The location of the mark is significant because it suggests that the mark is symbolic. How so? First, the position of the mark on the forehead corresponds to the description of believers in Revelation 14:1. They have the lamb’s name and his Father’s name on their “foreheads.” John is contrasting the two groups. There are those who identify (marked) with the beast, and there are those who identify (marked) with Christ.
Second, John’s mention of the mark of the beast on the hand and forehead evokes the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 6:8, Moses commanded the people to bind the word of God as a sign on their “hand” and as frontlets between their eyes (If it is not obvious enough, the space between the eyes consists of the forehead). The point is that God’s word was to permeate the life of every Israelite. In mind (forehead) and action (hands), they were to exhibit loyalty to the Lord. God was to command their sole allegiance as they followed the Torah.
Furthermore, Exodus 28 specifically mentions the high priest’s forehead in reference to the priestly vestments. In Exodus 28:36–38, we read,
You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. (ESV)
Every year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the inscription “Holy to the Lord” on his forehead. He was set apart to represent the entire nation of Israel before God. The inscription on his forehead captured what made Israel unique among all of the other nations. They were to be holy because their Lord was holy. They were his people, and he was their God.
If we allow scripture to interpret scripture, it is evident that John had these texts in mind when writing about the mark of the beast on the hands and foreheads of the beast’s loyal subjects. These were people who swore allegiance to Rome and to Caesar. They were idolaters worshipping a false god unlike the suffering Christians swearing allegiance to the lamb (Christ) and his Father (Rev 14:1). Without supreme loyalty to the ungodly state, these Christians would face economic hardships, unable to function in a society permeated with idolatry (Rev 13:17). But they could be confident in their suffering. God was with them; they bore his invisible seal on their foreheads and were guaranteed his eternal protection (Rev 7:3; cf. Ezek. 9:4).
Setting aside the wisdom of turning oneself into a human barcode, a Jesus-worshipping Christian who chooses to get a microchip implant for the sake of occupational convenience is not necessarily committing cosmic treason or throwing in his lot with satanic forces. Microchips are not the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is something much worse than risking the possibility of setting off the alarm at the airport security scan. It is a symbol of the idolatrous human heart. It marks those who set themselves against the Lord and his anointed. They are in league with Satan; they love the things of this world; they worship at the altar fading glory and false strength, be it Rome, Caesar, or any other national, political, or religious institution competing with Christ for worship.