Are Embedded Microchips a Sign that We’re Living in the Last Days?
A microchip story is going around that has been latched onto by prophecy speculators as proof that we are living in the last days. They are basing their argument on a faulty reading of Revelation 13. In 1974, the first bar code, officially known as the Universal Product Code (UPC), was used at the Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio on June 26, 1974. Bar codes are now ubiquitous.
Books and articles have been written on how the UPC emblem is a precursor to the mark of the beast because three sixes are said to be embedded in every bar-code image. The claim is that the three longer vertical double bars (Left, Center, Right) are sixes. Actually, they are start-and-stop bars for the electronic reading of the numbers.
It’s good to keep in mind that the number of the beast is 600, 60, and 6, not 6-6-6. Why would a government need either a bar code or a microchip to mark people with the number 666? Let me state the obvious, you don’t need the Bible to tell you that the government tattooing, branding, or microchipping people is bad. As I explain below, Revelation 13 and the mark of the beast are not about modern-day technology, bar codes, or microchips. Following the embellished technological interpretation obscures the passage’s theological meaning.
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Three Square Market of River Falls, Wisconsin, is asking employees to have a tiny microchip injected under the skin between their thumb and index finger that will allow them to “open doors, log in to computers and pay for snacks, among other things.” “More than half of Three Square Market’s 85 employees in River Falls have agreed to go the implant route… Workers who would rather not have their employer plant a tiny computer in their bodies will instead be issued a wristband or ring containing the technology.” (Journal Sentinel)
Is this what Revelation 13 is describing? No. Even so, it’s a dumb idea to take part in the program. A person could be drugged and have the chip dug out of his/her hand or, if the thief is in a hurry, just chop off the hand and dig it out later. It also gets people used to the idea of being tracked. One day, the government could offer the same voluntary “soft offer” with similar assurances that it’s not a tracking device and it will never be used against them personally. Where have we heard that before?
Many of you may not remember the original Social Security cards. Social Security cards used to include the following: “For Social Security and Tax Purposes — Not for Identification.”
Governments lie. You never hear a government official say, “We’re here to hurt you.” No, it’s always, “We’re here to help you.” The hurt comes later.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the power of the ring is not something to be desired and possessed even by supposed good people. The goal is to destroy it. When Boromir fails to avoid the ring’s power, he dies. Even Gandalf and the elves shun the power of the ring. Tolkien is doubtful that any person is able to resist the temptation of absolute power promised by the ring, even if that power is used for good.
That is one of the great themes of the series. It’s no different when politicians believe they have been elected to office to use their power for good. Their interference, even with the best intentions, can lead to disastrous results. As Douglas Wilson writes, “our modern priests of Baal always promise us green and, just like in the days of old, turn everything brown.”
A Modern‑Day Mark?
A more fundamental question is whether Revelation 13 describes our present technological age and that bar codes and microchips are what’s being described. Peter and Paul Lalonde, producers of the original Left Behind film, claim that Revelation 13:18 indicates that the message of the “mark of the beast” has been unintelligible for nearly two thousand years since computer chips and scanning technology is a late‑twentieth century innovation. How high‑tech must a society be for people “to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead” (13:16)? Either you have the mark or you don’t, and that mark must be the number 666. Who needs a computer chip or a bar code to mark people? There was nothing high‑tech about the numbering system Hitler used on the Jews. A simple tattoo was enough.
An External Physical Mark?
A more fundamental question needs to be asked: Is the “mark of the beast” a physical external mark? Consider that few prophetic sensationalists compare the mark that is given to the 144,000 by the “Lamb” in Revelation 14:1 with the mark given by the “beast” in 13:16.
“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.”
The mark of the beast and the mark of the lamb must be similar in design and execution. Will Jesus implant a microchip on the foreheads of the 144,000 to mark them? There are other considerations as well. Are the “beast” and the “lamb” physical beasts? Should we look for a physical beast (animal) that comes “up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads” (13:1)? Is there a physical land beast that has “two horns like a lamb” and speaks “as a dragon” (13:11)? Those who insist on physical literalism are very selective in what they choose to interpret literally. Insisting that the “mark of the beast” is a “computer chip” is not a literal interpretation. Careful Bible scholars understand the mark’s Old Testament origin and meaning
It is not at all clear that John is thinking of a literal brand visible on the person of the worshippers of the beast. The seal of God placed on the forehead of the 144,000 (7:3) is surely not meant to be a visible mark; it is a symbolic way of expressing the divine protection (see Isa. 44:5). The mark of the beast may be intended to be a parody on the mark of God.1
What then is the solution to this seemingly enigmatic passage? Like much of Revelation, its familiar symbols are meant to represent familiar concepts that are timeless. That is why Revelation must be read against the backdrop of the Old Testament and let the Bible interpret the Bible. As Ferrel Jenkins writes: “The book of Revelation is the most thoroughly Jewish in its language and imagery of any New Testament book. This book speaks not the language of Paul, but of the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.”2 The beasts, both sea and land, the mark on the hand and forehead, and the number 666 should be interpreted as the way Sodom (11:8), Egypt (11:8), Jezebel (2:20), Balaam (2:14), Babylon (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21), and Gog and Magog (20:8) are used by the book of Revelation — symbols.
Every Jew would have understood what a mark on the hand and forehead meant:
And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt (Ex. 13:9).
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:4-8).
Elmer Towns writes that “these verses are still carried out literally by many orthodox Jews…. The intent of this passage,” Towns continues, “is that the Word of God should be hidden in a person’s heart and should constantly be a source of devotion and obedience to the Lord.”3
As you can see from this short study, The Bible is not addressing modern-day technology or a description of a cashless society, another popular take-away from the Revelation 13 passage. Revelation 13:16-17 is not describing a cashless society. Even those who claim that it is describing one admit, “The Bible does not specifically predict computers, the Internet, credit cards, or any of the other trimmings that facilitate the modern electronic banking system.”4 While the Bible is not describing a cashless society controlled by the government, it does not mean that a government-controlled cashless society is a promising idea. Far from it.
Revelation 13:16-17 is not describing the control of financial transactions but access to the temple overseen by the Jewish anti-Christian religious establishment of the first century prior to the destruction of the temple that took place in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed by the Romans. The key to interpreting the passage is the prohibition “to buy or to sell” (13:17).
Jesus told the church of Laodicea, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich” (Rev. 3:18). This shows that buying gold refined by fire is symbolic and is related to worship. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the reference to buying and selling in Revelation 13:17 is also symbolic and relates to worship. Once again, the Old Testament is helpful:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. (Isa. 55:1-2; cf. John 4:13-15; Rev. 21:6)
Isaiah is describing something more significant than physical money, wine, milk, and bread.
Temple leaders controlled buying and selling to regulate access to the temple (Matt. 21:12). “This is established in [Revelation] 3:18 (and compare 21:6). When those who refuse the mark of the Beast are not allowed to buy and sell, it means that they are expelled from the synagogue and Temple. The merchants of the land in Revelation 18 are those who worshipped at the Temple and synagogue.”5 Jesus foretold that this would happen: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Keep in mind that the “beast coming up out of the land” is involved in these events. The land beast is most certainly associated with first-century Israel, especially the priests who controlled access to the temple, which was finished during Nero’s reign in AD 64.
Early in the church’s history, the disciples went to the temple to preach the gospel (Acts 5:20-21, 24, 42; 24:12). At first, they were welcomed (2:46). Peter and John frequented the temple during “the hour of prayer” (3:1). Jewish Christians continued to use the temple, even participating in some of its rituals (21:26). After the temple officials learned that those Jews were preaching that Jesus was the Messiah — the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world — Paul was “dragged … out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut” (21:26-30).
During Jesus’ ministry, the temple officials were “selling” and worshipers were “buying” access to the temple (Matt. 21:12), turning God’s house into a “robbers’ den” (Matt. 21:12-13). Only the Jews who aligned themselves with the priests (i.e., had the “mark of the beast”), the sacrificial system, and the temple buildings were allowed to enter the temple for worship.
To take the “mark of the beast” meant a person denied that Jesus was the Messiah, the true temple of God, the only sufficient sacrifice. Of course, Christian Jews avoided the “mark of the beast” and showed their true allegiance to Jesus, “having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1). They demonstrated that these names on their foreheads through their public professions of faith and allegiance to Jesus.
Those who carried the mark of the beast professed that they had chosen Caesar over Christ (John 19:15). When commanded not to speak to “any man in this name,” Peter and John responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:17–20). The proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3) and “that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7) was a religious and political affront to those in power throughout the Roman Empire. Such proclamations were acts “contrary to Caesar” (17:7) and “against this holy place [i.e., the temple] and this law” (6:13).
These passages fit together nicely since true redemption comes, not from Rome or earthly Jerusalem, but from where “the Lamb was standing,” that is, Mount Zion. The writer of Hebrews describes Mt. Zion’s location: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels” (Heb. 12:22). Revelation 13 and 14 contrast two ways of salvation: access to the false temple through the mark of the Beast or through the true temple (John 2:13-22), Jesus and the mark of the Lamb. Those who were circumcised in only their flesh followed the Beast, while those circumcised in the heart followed the Lamb.
While those opposed to Jesus as the Christ governed access to the earthly temple over which the two beasts conspired to resist the things of Jesus and His church, John pointed believers to “the heavenly Jerusalem.” In order to have access to the “Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26), a person must have the mark of the Lamb which can only be read by God who “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Cor. 1:22). Contrast this with earthly Jerusalem in the first century, which Paul describes as “present Jerusalem,” which “is in slavery with her children” (4:25). Those who continued to look to “present Jerusalem” for salvation were given the mark of a slave, “the mark of the beast.”
- George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,  1987), 185. [↩]
- Ferrel Jenkins, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 22. [↩]
- Elmer L. Towns, “Deuteronomy,” Liberty Bible Commentary: Old Testament, eds. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll (Lynchburg, VA: The Old‑Time Gospel Hour, 1982), 338. [↩]
- Ice and Demy, The Coming Cashless Society, 85. [↩]
- James B. Jordan, A Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1999), 19. [↩]