The Way It Happened

Revelation 13:17, Cannot Buy or Sell Without the Mark of the Beast

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

//I happened to mention in an off-hand comment during a radio interview that if you lived in Asia Minor at the time Revelation was being written, you wouldn’t be able to buy or sell without confessing allegiance to the Caesars. I realized afterward that I hadn’t explained the situation at all.

Many of Revelation’s passages are directed against Caesar worship, and the prominence of the Imperial Cult (the Cult of the Caesars) in Asia Minor (current-day Turkey). It was to seven Christian churches there that John addressed Revelation, encouraging them to stay true. Today’s verse hints that they may not be have been able to even “buy or sell.”

Indeed, it was so for strict Christians. Commerce and religion were intertwined, in the trade guilds and the market places. If you did not give an offering acknowledging Caesar as God, then you were distrusted and unable to participate economically. You would eventually starve. Some scholars hypothesize that a system was instigated in order to identify who had made an offering to Caesar and who hadn’t, by leaving some sort of mark on your person. Thus, the “mark of the beast.”

In my book about Revelation, I suggest a different interpretation of the “Mark of the Beast” as Roman coinage, with Caesar’s image imprinted and described as a god (a “mark” is an imprint.)

Whatever the intended meaning of the “mark of the beast,” it’s clear that economics were directly influenced by the cult of the Caesars; particularly so in Asia Minor, where Revelation was directed.


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