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Don’t Fear the Marks in Revelation

When I was 10 years old, I attended a screening of a movie called A Thief in the Night. It offered a vivid depiction of end-time events, images that would terrorize me well into young adulthood and leave me paralyzed to read the book of Revelation. One of the scenes that caused me the greatest anxiety involved the tattooing of a barcode on the forehead of one of the main characters. I used to lie in bed at night, repeating to myself, “Whatever you do, don’t get the tattoo.”

Because I was too afraid to read Revelation, it was years before I learned it holds multiple scenes in which people receive marks, and not all of them are terrifying. Some are extremely reassuring.

Marked with a Name

True, in Revelation 13:16–17 we learn that the beast “causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead . . . the name of the beast or the number of its name.” And true, it’s this mark that identifies those who’ll suffer God’s wrath at the great white throne judgment (20:11).

But this mark is mentioned only after we’ve first seen the faithful saints marked with a seal on their foreheads (see 7:1–8). In 14:1, we learn this seal is the name of the Lamb and the Father. In Revelation, the unrighteous are marked with the name of the beast and the righteous are marked with the names of the Lord.

We intuitively understand the everyday significance of this kind of mark. Recently, I was cleaning out our attic and came across a cassette player my husband had kept since college. I knew before I turned it upside down what I’d find underneath: his full name etched with an engraving tool. When we first got married, I quickly learned his family had a comprehensive practice of labeling everything from electronics to beach towels to Tupperware with their names to ensure the items could be returned to their proper owner. Everything he brought with him to our first home was labeled.

Revelation’s depictions of labeled people show us that God knows exactly who belongs to him and who doesn’t. But it does more than that.

Revelation’s depictions of labeled people show us that God knows exactly who belongs to him and who doesn’t.

Sealed for Eternity

Before we hear of the saints receiving a seal on their foreheads, we hear of other details: white linen garments, prayers like incense, a presence before God’s throne. Theirs are priestly garments, and theirs is the priestly place of service. All these details are meant to show us that the saints have been made “a kingdom and priests to our God” (5:10; see 1:6; 20:6), thus fulfilling the promise God gave to Israel in Exodus 19:6 at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Here’s where the forehead label takes on another layer of significance. In Exodus 28:36–38, we hear,

You are to make a pure gold medallion and engrave it, like the engraving of a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten it to a cord of blue yarn so it can be placed on the turban; the medallion is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead. . . . It is always to be on his forehead, so that [Israel] may find acceptance with the LORD. (CSB, emphasis added)

Revelation shows us that the faithful saints, fully accepted, all function as high priests. They bear the seal of God himself on their foreheads. They are, at last, fully and completely “Holy to the Lord.”

The Lord’s seal assures us that, whatever our future in this life may hold, our future in the next is secure. And here’s the best part: If you’re in Christ, you have already received this seal. “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him” you “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). We’re already marked and cannot be unmarked. Our fate is sealed.

Marked for Holiness

Because I was so terrified by the mark of the beast, I never learned the incredible comfort of the mark of the Lord. Nor did I consider its significant implications for how I should live my daily life. Those who’ve been marked are called to live accordingly in this life—as “marked men.”

The high priest wore “Holy to the Lord” “always . . . on his forehead” (Ex. 28:38, CSB). Always. Everywhere he went. As he walked through the camp on his way to serve in the tabernacle, “Holy to the Lord” would be affixed above his eyes. As he returned home in the evening, smelling of incense, the bells on the hems of his garment announcing his passing, still the label was there: “Holy to the Lord.” Everywhere he went, he bore witness to whose he was.

The Lord’s seal assures us that, whatever our future in this life may hold, our future in the next is secure.

And so should we. Think of all the sinful behaviors you’d cease if everywhere you went you bore on your forehead a sign that read “Holy to the Lord.” Gossip, slander, impatience, coarse speech—the list could go on for days. When we live as “marked men,” we recognize that in Christ we’re already holy to the Lord everywhere we go. By reminding ourselves of this present reality, we live as citizens of heaven today, even as we await our coming King.

I, for one, am done fearing the mark of the beast. And I’m determined to live as one bearing the mark of the Lord, everywhere and in all places, until he comes. May the saints be found faithful on that day.

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