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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Secretly the “Mark of the Beast”?

November 23, 2020
Photo by L N on Unsplash

While many across the country are celebrating the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine being released in the months ahead, that joyful expectation is not always shared by Christians.

For some, there are bioethical questions about the nature of the drug and its development. For others, safety concerns arise from the speed at which it was developed. Still others worry about government overreach should the vaccine be mandated or used to limit certain activities.

Those are all legitimate questions, and I don’t intend to wade into any of them here. What I’d like to address is another concern that some Christians have expressed, and several have asked me about in recent months—whether this vaccine might secretly be the “mark of the beast.”

The Mark of the Beast in Revelation

The book of Revelation is notoriously tricky to understand. It’s filled with crazy imagery and obscure symbolism—angelic creatures covered in eyes, locusts like horses, a beast with ten horns and seven heads, demonic spirits, a prostitute riding a scarlet beast covered in blasphemous names, and epic end-of-the-world battles. Not exactly the kind of literature most of us are used to reading.

It’s what we call apocalyptic literature. The Greek word apocalypsis means “unveiling” or “revealing”—hence the book’s title, Revelation. This kind of book reveals a heavenly perspective on earthly realities. If you think of a curtain separating the hidden, heavenly realm from the earthly one we live in—God’s space from our space—apocalyptic literature peels back the curtain for a moment. It gives us a God’s-eye perspective on things that are currently happening on the earth, and also on what is to come. In doing so, it often uses highly symbolic, sometimes shocking imagery to get its point across. And these things are revealed to us not so that we know the nitty-gritty details of future events, but so that we can live faithfully in the present in light of what the future generally holds.

To that end, in ch. 13 presents us with two visions that reinforce the necessity of God’s coming judgment. Both visions describe a “beast.” The first beast is a parody of Jesus, a false messiah who persecutes the church (13:1-8). The second beast serves as a prophet for the first beast, deceiving the world into worshiping the first beast and stirring those worshipers to persecute the church (13:11-18).

In that context, we read this in 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.”

That description—particularly the limitation on buying and selling—has caused some to wonder if a COVID-19 vaccine might be the fulfillment of this prophetic picture. Indeed, some have suggested that trade and travel should be limited based on receiving the vaccine. Others have speculated that efforts will be made to store vaccination records under people’s skin, making it easier to detect and trace those who receive it (a technology that is being developed, but unrelated to the COVID vaccine). What if the COVID-19 vaccine is secretly the mark of the beast?

Should Christians Fear that the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Secretly the Mark of the Beast?

One of the working assumptions that causes so much fear in this situation, is that if the vaccine is secretly the mark of the beast, but I don’t know that and I take it in order to protect my health and the health of others, I might accidentally receive the mark and find myself under God’s holy judgment. After all, according to Revelation 14:9-11, if you receive the mark, you will face God’s eternal judgment.

But here’s what people often miss: according to Revelation, it’s actually impossible for genuine Christians to receive the mark of the beast.

For starters, receiving the mark is inextricably bound up with worshiping the beast (i.e., the false-messiah). In fact, the mark is never mentioned by itself apart from the explicit worship of the beast (see Rev. 13:8, 12-17; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). So it’s not just an economic thing—something people will do because it has become hard to buy or sell without it (13:17). It’s a religious thing that involves rejecting Jesus. Moreover, according to the context, the mark is not a mechanism for luring, recruiting, or tricking people into following the beast, but a means of moving those who worship the beast to persecute those who don’t.

Second, throughout Revelation, those who worship the beast and receive the mark are contrasted against those who are saved by the Lamb. For instance:

  • Rev. 13:7-8: “Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
  • Rev. 17:8: “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.”

Similarly, the mark of the beast is also set in contrast to those who are sealed by God. In Revelation 14:1, in direct contrast to those who are marked with the beast’s name on their hand and their forehead (13:16-17), we see “the Lamb, and with him the 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (14:1; see also 7:3; 22:4). So one either has the name of Jesus on their forehead, or the mark of the beast. And if you are sealed by God through faith in Jesus, you have his name on you, not the beast’s. (Note: the 144,000 is almost certainly a metaphorical number to describe the full number of God’s people; cf. 7:1-17.)

So according to Revelation, the only people who receive the mark are those whose names are not in the book of life—that is, those who have not been saved by Jesus. If your name is in Christ’s book, if your faith is in him and you have been born again and sealed by his Spirit (cf. Eph. 1:3-14), you cannot and will not receive the mark. We are sealed by Jesus and marked with his name, protected from the deception of the enemy that will stir up the nations against God’s people at the end.

No, the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Not the Mark of the Beast

So how does all this connect to the vaccine? Whatever the mark of the beast is when it happens, it will be utterly incompatible with Christ. And a vaccine during a pandemic is not incompatible with Christ. Nor is it connected in any way to the worship of a false-messiah. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the COVID-19 vaccine has nothing to do with the mark of the beast

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that it did. What then? Revelation does not give us a glimpse of what’s coming so that we can try to stop it. We’re told these things in advance not so that we can rise up as a hero to prevent them, but so that we remain faithful under persecution and call people to faith in Jesus (Rev. 12:11; 13:10; 14:12). Convincing someone not to take a vaccine or receive whatever mark won’t save them; only faith in Jesus will save them. That’s where we need to put our focus and effort as Christians.

Should Christians Receive the Vaccine?

So should Christians receive the vaccine? Ultimately, that’s up to each person individually. And there are still plenty of questions to ponder. My goal here is simply to provide a little more clarity and freedom to process it on the merits of health, science, and public policy, without fear of end-time deception.

Personally, I’m quite thankful that researchers have been able to make so much progress on the vaccine in such a short period of time. Bioethical considerations notwithstanding, I consider modern medicine a gift of God’s common grace. And my prayer is that the vaccine is effective and helps us move out of this frustrating (and for some, dangerous) season. While I don’t think anyone should be forced to receive it, at this point I have no reservations about receiving it our encouraging others to do so once it’s proven safe and effective.

But again, each person has to decide on their own. And as Christians, much charity needs to be extended to those who decide differently. Let’s take care not to turn the vaccine into an anti-mark, allowing it to do to the church what the true mark will one day do to the unbelieving world—turn us against the people of God. Our union is in Jesus; it’s his name on our foreheads. Let’s take care not to replace it with something else.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2020 6:49 pm

    1. Thanks for your careful exegetical response here.
    2. I am saddened that you even had to write this.

  2. sharynbrown1313 permalink
    November 24, 2020 9:47 am

    Very good article 👍 My concern is our freedoms being taken away. Little by little. Wear a seat belt… the government says… (it’s good for you) wear a motorcycle helmet in my state (it’s good for you)…. the list is endless!  Now masks are mandatory! No matter what the government says… people go along with it with a herd like mentality! Reminds me of Hitler taking the Jewish people on the train… or Jimmy Jones telling people to drink the kool-aid! Maybe I’m out of line.  Just how I feel. Thanks for letting me vent. Sharyn Sent from my U.S.Cellular© Smartphone

  3. Gary Deaville permalink
    November 25, 2020 11:40 am

    Excellent presentation and explanation of the
    mark of the beast. You did a great job of
    helping us to understand what the Apostle John
    is writing. Your clarification of whether to take
    the vaccine was also helpful. One thing I am truly thankful for is that you are our pastor and
    can answer these tough questions. You know
    another thing I am truly thankful for is that I am
    not a pastor who has to try and answer these
    questions.😀 Good job.
    Gary and Carol Deaville

  4. Lori A. Nordine permalink
    January 30, 2021 8:23 am

    Well written & you addressed a hard topic straight on! I’m grateful for you and all SBC pastors who know and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit!! Thank you Pastor Brandon!!

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