“And he causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16).
Is the mark of the beast a tattoo on the forehead and/or a barcode imprinted on the right hand (1970’s version), or is it the COVID vaccine and/or a microchip embedded under the skin (today’s version)? The word translated “mark” is charagma, and it refers to “a mark that is engraved, etched, branded, cut, imprinted, mark, stamp.” So it seems like John actually saw a branding type of mark in the vision.
But if that’s what he saw, then that’s not what it really was. Throughout the vision, John is not viewing the actual events or realities themselves – as if he’s watching divine news footage played out in advance. He’s seeing images and symbols that represent those events and realities. In other words, the thing he sees is not the thing that it represents.
For example, churches are not literally lampstands (Rev. 1:12, 20). Jesus was not literally a lion or a lamb (Rev. 5:5). The seven spirits of God are not literally seven horns and seven eyes (Rev. 5:6). Our prayers are not literally golden bowls of incense (Rev. 5:8). And the beast itself was not literally a seven-headed sea monster rising up from the depths like Godzilla (Rev. 13:1). Everything John sees is a symbol that represents something else. While the symbol is meant to say something about the referent, the symbol is not literally the referent, or vice versa.
Thus, an engraved imprint on the hand or forehead is a symbol that’s meant to signify a deeper concept. Just like everything else in John’s vision, it’s an image meant to telegraph a richer idea. As Ken Gentry puts it: “This is dramatic imagery, not literal reality.” And it’s not terribly difficult to figure out what that imagery represents. As Gary DeMar points out: “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).
David Chilton put it well: the mark of the beast represents a “Satanic parody” of “wholehearted obedience to God’s Law in thought and deed (Deut. 6:6-8).” The mark of the beast, in essence, is a reversal of the requirement that God’s Law alone govern our thoughts and actions.
The first-century Christians were faced with the reality that they could not serve two masters. It’s the same reality that many who had gone before had faced. It is a choice between following the commands and precepts of the Lord, or following a foreign set of commands and precepts contrary to the Lord’s. Thus, John specifically contrasts receiving the mark of the beast with keeping the commandments of God:
“And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:11-12).
Does this mean the passage has no application today? Far from it. While the book of Revelation was fulfilled in the past, its principles are still applicable in the present. God’s Word is not dead and stagnant. It’s “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). And if we want to actively live out the implications of Revelation 13:16 in our own lives, we can do so by whole-heartedly remaining faithful to Christ’s commands when our culture is pressuring us to do otherwise. There’s no need to look for tattoos, barcodes, vaccines or even microchips.
 BDAG, p. 959.
 Kenneth Gentry, The Book of Revelation Made Easy: You Can Understand Bible Prophecy (Powder
Springs, GA: American Vision), p. 67.
 Gary DeMar: ARE EMBEDDED MICROCHIPS A SIGN THAT WE’RE LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS? (July 31, 2017) https://garydemar.com/embedded-microchips-sign-living-last-days/
 Chilton, Days of Vengeance, p. 342.