Microchip under the skin of the forehead or hand

Q: A Florida technology company,—Applied Digital Solutions (ADS),—has begun marketing a computer ID chip, the size of a rice grain that can be embedded beneath a person’s skin. There is also talk that in future such a device may allow storage of sensitive medical records as well as satellite tracking of an individual’s every movement. My question is this: There are some who say such a microchip, implanted under the skin of the forehead or hand, would correspond to the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13:16–18. How should a Christian respond to this claim and what is your view on the “mark of the beast”? Should a Christian agree to have a microchip embedded beneath his skin if it is so required in the future?

Many speculations have abounded regarding what is the “mark of the beast.” This is particularly fuelled by what appears to many to be a challenge by the Apostle John:

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six [i.e., 666] (Rev 13:18).

Many read this verse as a suggesting that anyone who is unable to “count the number of the beast” is unwise or lack understanding and insight. Well, whether this is a correct understanding of the verse or not, I must confess that I do lack the wisdom and understanding to be able to assert with firm certainty what or who the number represents. It appears to me that the first recipients of the letter would have no difficulties understanding what John is saying, but today we can only make some educated (or, should I say, exegetical) guesses.

That said, I must say that I have personally very little doubt that John is not referring prophetically to microchip implants. Yes, the implantation of such microchips may impinge on civil (or even religious) liberties, and there can be serious abuses. But no, I do not think that one who receives such an implant is receiving the “mark of the beast.”

My reasons for saying so are quite simple. First of all, we should note that the mark of the beast is the same as the name of the beast or the number of his name (Rev 13:17; cf. Rev 14:11). Secondly, it appears that those who receive the mark are the same as those who worship the beast (see Revelation 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Thirdly, it appears to me that there is an antithesis to those who receive the mark of the beast, namely, those who are sealed in the forehead with the name of the Lamb (see Revelation 7:3; 14:1; 22:4). Fourthly, it appears to me that “forehead” and “right hand” have symbolic rather than literal significance in these verses. “Forehead” appears to speak of the mind, philosophy, doctrine and faith (Rev 22:4, see also “proof-texts” for WCF 20.2). “Right hand” appears to speak of power, will and deed (cf. Mt 5:30; Acts 5:31). Fifthly, I do not believe that Revelation 13 is to be interpreted as something happening only in the future.

With these considerations, it appears to me that we can think of those who have the mark of the beast as those who have submitted to the “beast” in opposition to Christ. Who this “beast” is, whose number is 666, is the subject of intense speculation.

Some believe that since 6 is a number of man (man being created on the 6th day and 6 being just short of the perfect number 7), 666 would represent humanity and humanism in opposition to the Triune God (whose number may be given as 777). This view has certain attractiveness to it except that John gave the number as six hundred and sixty-six (Grk: hexakosioi hexêkonta hex), rather than six-six-six (hex hex hex).

Many scholars believe that John was using an ancient coding method in which the letters in the name of a person are converted to their established numerical values and summed up (see numerical values of Hebrew and Greek letters in ISBE, s.v. “numbers”). That this method of coding was popular during the days of John is affirmed by a graffito dating to around A.D. 79 that was discovered in Pompeii. It reads: “I love her whose number is 545.” It is very possible that John was using this method, and his readers who would have shared with him some well-known names or terms of references would have no great difficulty working out what he is saying.

Based on such a method, two of the most convincing identifications that have been forwarded are (1) Nero Caesar and (2) the Pope/Papacy.

The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (s.v. “Mark of the Beast”) explains how the name Nero may be derived:

The history of interpretation concerning the correlation of a person with the number 666 has only resulted in endless speculations. One of the most prominent candidates has been the first-century Roman emperor Nero. A rare rendering of his name into Neron Caesar, transliterated into Hebrew as NRWN QSR, renders the number 666 (nun/50, resh/200, waw/6, nun/50, qof/100,samech/60, and resh/200 = 666). This rare form of Nero’s name was actually found in an Aramaic document from Qumran (cf. John’s play on Hebrew words in the Book of Revelation at 9:11 and 16:16). It is also noteworthy that a variant reading in Greek New Testament manuscripts exits that cites the number as “616” rather than “666.” The transliteration of the normal Nero Caesar into the Hebrew NRW QSR, renders the number 616. There was also a belief in a revived Nero as the antichrist from the first century (cf. book 5 of the Sibylline Oracles) to the time of Augustine, who cites this idea in The City of God.

Wilhelmus à Brakel, together with many of the Reformers, believed that the beast is the Pope, the antichrist. He argues on a cue from Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who was taught by the Apostle John, that 666 resolves to [the Greek] lateinos (l/30 + a/1 + t/300 + e/5 + i/10 + n/50 +o/70 + s/200 = 666). Lateinos means “Latin,” and would suggest that the beast is Latin ruler. We quote part of his arguments:

First of all, Irenaeus,… arrived at the spelling of lateinos …, and concluded thereby that the antichrist would come forth from Italy and from the Latin church.… Italy, or that portion of Italy which surrounds Rome, is called Latinumafter this Latinus, and the language spoken there was called Latin, which is true until this very day. Latinus is written in Greek as Lateinos and these letters irrefutably represent the number 666. Therefore, in pursuit of the antichrist one is as it were led by the hand to Rome, to the Latin church and to her bishop, who later was calledpapa or pope, that is, father. The pope was the proprietor of Latinum, where Latinus was king before Rome was built. He established himself in the Latin Church, for the Western church was long known by the name of Latin Church. Whenever a general ecclesiastical gathering convened, the Western bishops were referred to as Latin bishops, and the Eastern bishops as Greekbishops. Until this very day the pope still uses the Latin language in his directives and decrees. Throughout the entire world the church service, the mass, etc., are conducted in the Latin language, which must be viewed as an extraordinary providence of God, whereby it is clearly proven that he is the antichrist.

Secondly, it becomes even more clear if one compares the pope with the person whose name is expressed by 666. [For example,] the seat of his residence would be in Rome, which is built upon seven hills. In Revelation 17:1 it is confirmed that this refers to the antichrist, and in verse 9 his seat is identified: “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (Rev 17:9). [And,] This person would again introduce pagan idolatry and the worship of images (cf. Rev 13:3, 12–15). [Moreover,] He would cloak everything with an appearance of piety; he would have the horns of a lamb, but speak as a dragon (Rev 13:11).

When we apply all this to the pope, they resemble each other as two drops of water, as we shall subsequently demonstrate. We have thus considered the name 666 and all the circumstances related to it, as well as who would bear this name. He who cannot conclude from all this that the pope is the antichrist must be blind, since the pope’s name and activity are entirely consistent with all this (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2.44–46).

Of the various possibilities, I am somewhat more persuaded by this last view. The match between the description of the work of the beast and the papacy is so remarkable that it is hard to ignore. The only difficulty is that the papacy was obviously not yet established when John wrote his letter. This however, could be compensated by the fact that John was speaking prophetically and also by the fact that the Apostles had been teaching the people concerning the appearance of the Antichrist (e.g., 2 Thes 2:3–12; 1 Tim 4:1–3; see “The Antichrist” in PCC Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 36, dated 3 March 2002). Did the ministry of the Apostles provide some hints to the early readers that would have enabled them to decode what John was referring to?

Nevertheless, whatever the case may be, it is also likely that John would have us view the beast (though finding a personal match in the pope) not only with one person in mind, but as a representative of all who oppose Christ. In other words, those who bear the mark of the beast are exactly the same as those who do not love the Lamb of God nor hear His voice and follow Him.

Now, if we hear His voice and follow His Word, should the time come when we are required to have microchip implants, we will be able to assess the rightness or wrongness of doing so (based on the reasons for their use) without refusing downright for some irrational fear that it is the mark of the beast.