A much older friend once told me that when barcodes and checkout scanners were first introduced, she abandoned an entire shopping cart full of groceries at the front of the line and walked out of the supermarket. Back then, she was deeply engaged in popular end-times theology teaching and when she saw the new scanning technology being used, she feared it might somehow be related to the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13:18.
My friend smiles at this today, as UPCs have become commonplace and proven themselves to be an innocuous bit of technology that saves us all time at the checkout counter. Even so, for centuries the mysterious reference to the mark, or number, of the beast has left Bible readers scratching their heads.
Many people have tried to crack the code of six-sixty-six by calculating the names of various world leaders using numbers as stand-ins for letters. Others have seen the number as purely symbolic, representative of evil and chaos. One thing is for certain, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth described in Revelation 13 are not our friends. They are in league with Satan himself and are intent on bringing harm to humanity.
One of the ways they do this is by deceiving people into worshiping the first beast (Revelation 13:8,12). The second beast is even said to perform “great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth” (v.13). If you’re familiar with the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, you’ll recognize that Elijah called down fire from heaven in his showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:30–40). At the time, the falling fire was a sign that Yahweh alone was God. But here in Revelation, it is a false prophet who calls down fire from heaven to “prove” the beast from the sea is worthy of worship. It’s no wonder people are deceived!
As John writes, “This calls for endurance and faithfulness from the saints” (Revelation 14:12). To stand strong in the midst of such deception, we must be anchored in the Word of God. We need to know the truth so we don’t fall for a lie when it is wrapped in persuasive arguments or false signs and wonders. That’s why it’s so important to be students of the Bible—not just for a season or when it fits into our busy schedules, but every day and for the rest of our lives.
We must be immersed in the truth, going deeper and wider all the time. It’s the only way to cultivate a discerning mind in a world bent on drawing us away from Christ. As an added benefit, being rooted in God’s Word will keep us from falling for every end-times fad, whether it’s an updated take on a Y2K scenario, mysterious Bible codes, or the barcode on the bottom of your cereal box.
Written by John Greco