As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, certain conspiracy theories have emerged regarding the origin of the virus. We have heard claims that the virus was bioengineered in China, and there are political and economic shenanigans behind the virus.
Another view that has emerged is that there is a link between COVID-19 and 5G technology. This view is circulating in many places, and people are embracing it. Though I have heard the idea before this week, I never paid too much attention.
However, this week, I saw some videos online of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Pastor of the Christ Embassy Church, defending this view. Some guys on a group I belong to were angrily bashing Chris and making some comments about Christianity I found offensive. I protested by stating that people have a right to their opinions since this is a scientific, tech, political issue, and the Pastor is not saying this on some biblical pretext (that was before I watched the videos). However, I was corrected that Pastor Chris had a theological premise for his assertions relating to 5G and Coronavirus.
Consequently, I watched the videos and realized that all of these was related to his view on eschatology (particularly the Antichrist, the mark of the beast, and the number 666). Watching the videos, I could see that Pastor Chris is a futurist (those who believe that the events of Mathew 24 and Revelation are still in the future) and a dispensational premillennial (those who believe that the arrival of the Antichrist, the tribulation, and the millennium will happen after the rapture in that order). He sees a connection between vaccines, 5G, and the mark of the beast.
These people in my group were bashing Christianity because of Chris’s statements, even though his beliefs do not represent that of every Christian. I cannot blame them since most churches in Nigeria share this same view of the last days even though not all of them will see 5G (they may see it in another tech) as having anything to do with the mark of the beast and 666.
My goal here is not to talk about 5G ( I don’t have the faintest knowledge or expertise in that area), but to take a brief look at the Scriptures to see if there is any biblical basis for all these end times speculations about microchip implants, vaccines, ATM cards, and 5G technology.
The Antichrist in John’s Epistles
There is a lot of fascination about the Antichrist in many quarters today. Pastor Chris and others like him tend to see the Antichrist as a totally future phenomenon arising after the “rapture” of the church from the earth.
However, when we read John’s epistles, we find a different picture. In 1 John 2:18, John stated, “as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” He then described these antichrists as apostates from the church (verse 19). In 2:22, he affirms that anyone who denies that Christ came in the flesh is the Antichrist since such a person denies the Father and the Son. In 4:3, he also said that every spirit who does not acknowledge Jesus is the spirit of the Antichrist.
While John did not deny a coming antichrist, he made the point that even in the first century, there were many antichrists in existence. The Antichrist is not just one person that appears at the end of time. Those who teach false doctrines about Christ and how he has revealed himself are antichrists.
A First-Century Letter
Many people today read Revelation forgetting that the book was originally written to churches in the first century. We read it as if the book had no relevance to its recipients, and all of its significance is for us in the 21st century (and beyond). Revelation was addressed to the seven churches in the province of Asia (1:4, 11). The churches in the first century were suffering intense persecution from the Roman Empire because of their faith. Revelation speaks a lot about patient endurance amid sufferings (2:3, 9, 10, 7:14, 11:2, 13:7, etc.). Even the writer was on the Island of Patmos suffering because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (1:9).
The aim of the book is to encourage them to hold fast to their faith amid the tribulations. (2:10, 11 for example) The book does this by informing them of the victories of Christ over all the enemies of the church (Satan and his hosts). By giving them a picture of Christ’s ultimate victory and the inauguration of the new creation, Revelation aimed to encourage their faith so they will not apostatize. Any interpretation of the book that loses sight of this is clearly wrong-headed.
A Book Full of Symbolisms
Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Consequently, you do not read it as if you are reading Philippians or Acts. There are many symbols in the book, and we should read them as such. Christ is depicted as a Lion and a Lamb (5:5-6), but no one interprets that literally. We know it points to both the triumph and suffering of Christ. We know the seven spirits of God is a reference to the Holy Spirit (1:4). We see the reference to beasts and dragon is symbolic (12 and 13), just as the reference to Sodom and Egypt (11:8).
Revelation explains its symbols as when it tells us that the seven candlesticks represent the churches, and the seven stars are the seven angels to the seven churches (1:20). Also, many of the symbolism in Revelation are steeped in Old Testament imageries (for example, Revelation 13:2 reminds us of Daniel 7, and Revelation 7 reminds us of Ezekiel 8 and 9). When we understand the OT, we get a better grasp of what the symbolisms are about.
In Revelation 13, we have a detailed picture of the enemies of Christ, and what they will do to the church. The beast has seven heads and ten horns like the dragon (Satan) it serves (13:1, 12:3). The reference to Leopard, Bear, and Lion in verse reminds us of the symbolism of Daniel 7. The first beast in Daniel 7 was like a lion, the second like a bear, and the third like a Leopard. The list in Revelation is inverse of the one in Daniel 7. What are the beasts in Daniel 7? “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth.” (Daniel 7:17) The beasts in Daniel 7 are earthly kingdoms that rose and persecuted the people of God. They are the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Whatever the beast is, 13:2 already prepares our mind to see this beast like the other beasts in Daniel 7 – kingdoms/empires/states/nations. The beasts in Daniel 7 are governmental and national powers that persecute the people of God. In Revelation 13:2, the fourth beast of Daniel 7 (Rome) was omitted precisely because it was Rome that was reigning at the time of this letter. Therefore, this gives us the pointer that whoever the beast is; it is closely associated with the fourth kingdom of Daniel – Rome. It takes up the power of the three previous kingdoms into one.
What are the things we know about this beast?
- It is worshipped (verse 4, 8)
- He has power, authority, and a throne (verse 2)
- It is blasphemous (verse 5, 6)
- It persecutes the saints (verse 7)
Putting everything together at this stage, the beast is a symbolic reference, relevant to the first-century church, blaspheming God, claiming worship, and persecuting the saints. It’s a kingdom/empire/state/nation closely associated with Rome.
It is evident that the reference to the beast is a reference to the Roman Empire. At this time in history, emperor worship was a big deal in the Roman Empire. The Caesars of Rome (beginning with Augustus) depicted themselves as gods, and anyone belonging to the Roman Empire had to worship them. This was the primary cause of the persecutions of the Christians in the Roman Empire (which is a huge theme in this book). Temples were built to Caesar in the provinces of the Roman Empire, and it became the test of loyalty to the Empire if a person will burn incense before the image of Caesar or not. It was one of these temples at Pergamum that Revelation refers to as Satan’s throne (2:13)
Christians refused to burn incense and became the object of state persecution. They could not worship Caesar as Lord because Jesus alone is the true Lord of heaven and earth.
Therefore, it is clear that the primary reference to the beast in Revelation 13 is the Roman Empire under the leadership of its Caesars.
The Beast through the Inter-advent Age
However, though the primary reference of the beast is the Roman Empire and its Caesars, there are reasons to believe the application extends beyond the first century.
The 1260-days/42months/3.5 years is a common reference in biblical eschatology. We see it in Daniel 7:25, where it referred to the period wherein the little horn will persecute the believers.
In Revelation 11, it is also a period of persecution of God’s people. However, in 11:3, it is also the period where the church (the two witnesses) will give continuous witness to Christ (prophesy). While this period will be a period of persecution for the church, it is also a period of witness. In Revelation 12, we see that the period begins with the ascension of Christ (the Son, who was snatched up to God and his throne and rules with a rod of iron. See Rev 19:15). During this period, the church (symbolized by the woman and later the remnant of Christ, the woman’s Son) faces immense persecution by the Dragon, but God protects and cares for the church (12:6, 13-17).
It is within this same timeframe that the beast, working with the dragon, persecutes the church (13:5). This persecution does not end until God brings judgment against those who worship the beast in opposition to Christ (14:9-12). This judgment is concurrent with the second coming of Christ (the harvest of the earth in 14:14-20).
The whole point of this is to establish that the period of 1260-days/42 months/3.5 years extends from the ascension of Christ to the second coming of Christ. If this is the case, then the reference to the church in the book of Revelation is not limited to the first-century church. The reference to the church is to the body of Christ in the whole inter-advent period (first coming to second coming).
If this is true, then it means the Church continues to witness, suffer persecution, experiences the protection of Christ from the first coming to the second coming. If the beast persecutes the church throughout this period, it means the beast is not limited to the Imperial Cult of the Roman Empire in the first century.
While the primary reference to the beast is the Imperial Cult of the Caesars, it does not exhaust it (since the imperial cult of Rome did not last to the Second Advent). Therefore, we expect to see other manifestations of the beast throughout the Interadvental age.
If you think this is far-fetched, consider two things. First, in 13:3, we read that the beast “had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” In 17:7-11, Joh describes the seven horns of the beast. We read, “They are also seven Kings, Five have fallen, one is, the other one has not yet come; but when he does come he must remain for a little while.” (Verse 9). These two verses suggest that the beast is not a monolithic reference. The beast is always present, past, and future. It receives a wound that looks like he is finally dead, but he “resurrects.” Second, this squares with what we read about the antichrist in John. Yes, there is an antichrist to come, but John insists there are already many antichrists. At any point, we can use the word antichrist as past, present, and future reference.
To summarize, the beast of Revelation 13 is any governmental (kingdom, nation, empire) power throughout the church age that blasphemes God by claiming the prerogatives of God (worship) and persecutes the people of God for their refusal to bow (worship) to him.
Also, there is a reason to believe that there will be a final manifestation of the beast (the antichrist) just prior to the return of Christ (2Thessalonians 2:1-12). This will be the last manifestation of the beast (and the false prophet, the assistant). This final beast (antichrist) will bring the most intense persecution against God’s people and the scope of his work will be global. It is during this final and fullest manifestation of the beast that Christ will return in victory to raise the righteous and the wicked (John 5:28, 29), judge the world (Revelation 14:14-20), destroy his enemies (2 Thessalonians 2:8), and consummate his kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-4)
The Beast out of the Earth
There is a second beast in Revelation 13. This beast has two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon (verse 11). His goal was to make the inhabitants of the world worship the beast. It is an assistant to the beast in its desire to have universal worship. This second beast is religious. First, he has horns like a lamb (the image used to describe Jesus in 5:5, 6). Second, it performs miracles. Through these miracles, it can deceive the inhabitants of the earth. He is the one who gives breath to the image of the first beast. Revelation 15:13 and 19:20 specifically refer to this beast as the false prophet.
The religious nature of this beast means that this is an apostate religious power that sides with the governmental power to persecute the people of God for their refusal to worship the beast. They are apostates – false believers (1 John 2:19). They may look like lions, but they speak like dragon. They may perform great miracles, but they are false (Mathew 7:21-23). The second beast manifested itself in the first century via apostate Jews and Christians. However, in keeping with the 1260-days/42 months/3.5 years, this beast also manifests concurrently with the first beast. It denotes every false religious system that helps the government claim God’s prerogatives, becomes a tool in the hand of blasphemous governments to persecute God’s people for their refusal to bow to no Lord but Jesus.
There will also be a final manifestation of this beast from the earth close to the second coming of Christ. It always works in tandem with the beast from the sea (the antichrist)
The Image of the Beast
When we read about the image of the beast, it should immediately remind us of Daniel 3. There Nebuchadnezzar set up an image and commanded every man to worship that image. The image was a depiction of his authority, kingdom, and power. He was setting himself us as the sovereign authority.
Look how this fits perfectly with the Imperial Cult of the Caesars. The latter also had an image to which people were to burn incense. They were both governmental powers claiming worship. Also, they both had faithful people who rejected this worship and decided to stay true to the living God. The image of the beast is, therefore, that particular standard by which the governmental power (working with the apostate religious power) demands worship. In Daniel 3, it was an image of gold. In the Roman Empire, it was an image of Caesar.
Anything that becomes the basis/mark/standard by which a blasphemous governmental power demands worship and persecutes believers is the image of the beast.
It is critical to notice here that Nebuchadnezzar did not trick anyone to worship. They chose to worship. Everyone knew what was at stake. It was not some hidden agenda that had to be carried out through the backdoor via cashless policy, microchip implants, or 5G. It was public and explicit.
The Mark of the Beast
At every point in the church age, there are always two people – believers who stay faithful to God (and worship no other), and unbelievers who worship the beast. This distinction is apparent everywhere in Revelation. The believers suffer from the beast. However, God delivers them, and they enter into eternal rest (Chap 14). The unbelievers are safe since they worship the beast. However, they will suffer eternal punishment from God (Chap 14), and the beast cannot deliver them since the beast himself will be thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Chap 19).
These two groups are also differentiated in another way. The believers have the seal of God (Revelation 7, 14), while the unbelievers have the mark of the beast. (Revelation 13)
Our confusion about the mark of the beast comes when we do not understand the counterpart – the seal of God. The seal of God is on the forehead of the believers (7:3). The seal identifies them as the people of God. Revelation 14:1 refers to this same seal as the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father. The name of the Father will be on the foreheads of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth when God dwells with them (22:4). In the New Testament, the seal of God is the Holy Spirit. By giving us the Holy Spirit, God seals us as his children by giving us the down payment of our inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:3, 4:13). The name of God is also associated with the character of God (Exodus 33:19).
The seal of God (name of God) on the forehead of the people is, therefore, a symbolic reference to the identification of the people of God as those who possess his Spirt and have his character. Anyone who sees them will know clearly that these are worshippers of the Lamb and not the beasts or the dragon behind them. The Spirit in them and the character of God oozing out of them will show they are God’s children, and they will show this in the period of the test by their refusal to bow to the image of the beast. The seal is, therefore, a sign of ownership. It reveals that these people belong to God.
If the seal of God is symbolic and invisible, so is the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is the image (character) of Satan imprinted on his subjects. A mark on the forehead and the hand was used in Roman time as a sign of ownership of slaves. When they purchased slaves, they put this sign on them as a marker that this slave belongs to this person. The invisible/symbolic mark here reveals that this person belongs to Satan. The spirit of Satan (remember the spirit of Antichrist in 1 John 4:3?) is in them, and they reflect the character of Satan. They show clearly that they belong to the devil.
The mark of the beast is not a vaccine, ATM cards, 5G, or microchip. It is an invisible marker that differentiates unbelievers from believers, especially in a time of test. Remember that the beast works throughout the Interadvental period. Therefore, the seal of God and the mark of the beast are inter-advent markers of God’s people and unbelievers, respectively.
In Revelation 13, we see that the mark of the beast is also the name of the beast and the number of his name. This is interesting since Revelation 14 also equates the seal of God with the name of God and the Lamb. However, here we have another insight. It tells us that the number of the beast is 666. This number of the beast is “man’s number” (NIV, NET), number of a man (KJV, ESV), human number (RSV).
Many have tried interpreting this number 666 with gematria, a system of numbering where letters equal numbers. It is similar to the numeral system where C is 100, and L is 50. Many have come up with various speculations. Some see in the name Ronald Wilson Raegan the fulfillment of 666 since all of his names have six alphabets. Some have tried to use Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler (among others) to come up with 666. There are hundreds of attempts through history to use the name of some individual to come up with 666.
The problem with this methodology is that you can come up with anyone’s name as the beast. Also, the identification of the beast does not require knowledge but wisdom. (13:18). It is not a mathematical assignment but a call for spiritual discernment.
Some have used the Hebrew transliteration of Nero’s Greek name (Nero Caesar) to come up with 666. Many scholars defend this view. There are some problems with these. Nero had other names apart from Caesar. There is confusion over the right way to spell Caesar in Hebrew, and John was writing to a Greek audience.
However, I believe the reference to Nero is the only one that makes any sense in light of the immediate context of Revelation 13 (the Roman Empire). It is possible that identifying this number with Nero alerts us to the fact that the beast (in all its manifestations throughout the Interadvental period) will have characteristics similar to Nero.
On the other hand, I believe Gregory Beale’s explanation of this text makes the most sense. “The repetition of six three times seems to indicate what might be called the “completeness of sinful incompleteness” found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection. Three sixes parody the divine Trinity of three sevens….This discussion so far points to understanding the number of the beast collectively, rather than only as a reference to an individual Antichrist figure. This is suggested further by the phrase “for the number is that of a man,” which could be translated individually as, “for it is a number of a specific person” or better generically as, “for it is a number of humanity.” The word man (Greek Anthropos) is often generic when it occurs without an article (as here), and as seen in 21:17, where the “measurement of a man” (the literal Greek phrase) means a “human measurement.” Likewise, the omission of the definite article (“a man,” as opposed to “the man”) in 13:18 suggests the general idea of humanity, not some special individual who can be discerned only through an esoteric manner of calculation. It is a number common to fallen humanity. This generic notion is consistent with 13:1, which affirms that the beast has its earthly origin in the sea of fallen humanity (for the latter idea see also on 17:15). The beast is the supreme representative of unregenerate humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness, but always trying…The admonition of v. 18, here is wisdom, teaches that believers must beware compromise, not just with an historical individual such as Nero, but with all the facets of the state throughout the course of history, insofar as it colludes with the religious, economic, and social aspects of the idolatrous culture, all of which epitomize fallen humanity. Wisdom is best seen in the light of the words “wise insight” and “understanding” used in Daniel 11:33 and 12:10. Here, as there, the saints are to have spiritual perception to comprehend the inaugurated latter-day tribulation brought about by an evil kingly figure who deceives others into acknowledging his sovereignty. There is a similar admonition in 17:9: “here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.” This verse also involves interpreting a number figuratively. John is exhorting saints to spiritual and moral discernment, not intellectual ability to solve a complex mathematical problem, which unbelievers as well as spiritual Christians are mentally capable of solving. Christians must be aware that the spirit of the Antichrist can express itself in the most unexpected places, even in today’s church (so 1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 Jn. 7).”
In the middle of Revelation 13, we have this admonition, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” Our responsibility as believers is not to monitor the latest technology and keep speculating about the end times. Our responsibility is to persevere in the faith. Our call is to remain faithful to our Lord, rejecting anyone and everyone who claims our worship. Our goal is to develop the spiritual muscles to suffer under persecution for our commitment to Christ.
Revelation has shown us the end – Christ is the victor, the devil and his agents are the losers. We must, therefore, cling to Christ and live in his victory (inaugurated in his death and resurrection). We must not fear what the devil will do to us when we refuse to worship him and his agents (the two beasts). We must be steadfast in our commitment to Christ as we await the final consummation of the victory he won. We must proclaim the gospel and draw people out of the clutches of Satan.
As we stay faithful in our Christian journey, we hold on to Christ because he, who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion. (Philippians 1:6)