Rev. 16:1 –Then I heard a loud voice from the sanctuary saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2 The first went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (HCSB)
In chapter 15 the angels prepare to deliver God’s wrath against the inhabitants of the earth. They emerge from the heavenly sanctuary dressed in priestly garb and are given bowls filled with the seven plagues with which “God’s wrath will be completed” (Rev. 15:1). As they leave the temple, it fills with smoke generated by the glory and power of God. No one is allowed to return to the sanctuary until the seven last plagues are carried out.
A loud voice from the sanctuary tells the angels to pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth. The first angel, without hesitation, obeys, and the result is “severely painful sores.”
Rev. 13:16 – And he requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name. (HCSB)
He requires everyone … to be given a mark
Next, the false prophet requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on their right hands or foreheads. No one is able to buy or sell unless they have the mark, which is the beast’s name or the number of his name (Rev. 13:16-17).
The identity of this mark is a matter of much debate. Some interpreters believe it is an actual mark – a brand burned into the skin, or a tattoo. Others point to imperial coins that bear the image of the emperor. Futurists say it could be a microchip planted just beneath the skin. Others argue that John’s language is figurative, referring to people’s thoughts (foreheads) and deeds (right hands) as they place their trust in the first beast and pledge their allegiance to him.
Rev. 13:11 – Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; he had two horns like a lamb, but he sounded like a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived. 15 He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 And he requires everyone – small and great, rich and poor, free and slave – to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom: The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (HCSB)
A second beast
We are introduced to the second of two beasts in this passage: the beast from the earth. We have met the beast from the sea in verses 1-10. The dragon empowers both beasts; this is explicitly stated of the first beast and implied with respect to the second, which has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. He is endowed with great authority and power, compelling people to worship the first beast and deceiving them with miraculous signs. He even gives life to an image of the first beast and causes those who refuse to worship the image to be killed. Finally, he restricts commerce so that only those who take a mark on their right hands or foreheads, indicating their allegiance to the Antichrist, may buy and sell.
Who is this beast from the land? Is he a person, or perhaps an institution? Why does he compel people to worship the first beast rather than himself? Does he really make a statue come alive? Is the mark of the beast a visible sign, or should we interpret this figuratively? And is there any way of knowing what 666 – the number of the Antichrist – really means?