"He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is a man's number. His number is 666."
Here are my speculations and extrapolations on this:
Though it is possible for a society to be temporarily conquered by an invader who imposes his will without regard for the will of the majority of people, as a general principle, the leaders of a society tend to grow out of the soil of the populace that they come from. In other words, as the old adage says, a society gets the leaders it deserves. This does not mean that every person in a society is in collusion with its leaders. Rather, it means that a critical mass of the population in a society has the cultural attitudes and values that either agree with or at least allow for the leaders that it has.
It is for this reason, among others, that I think that the mark of the beast will be less the result of the will of the one anti-christ imposing his will on a thoroughly unwilling populace. Rather, it will be a leader who codifies the will and/or the acceptance of a critical mass of the populace enough so that he can suppress any of those remaining who disagree. I think that the power of the anti-christ will operate more like that of a vampire than that of Atilla the Hun, in the sense that one must first invite a vampire into one's home before he can have power over someone. In the case of the anti-christ, he will be invited in by enough people to where he can take the others by force.
As much as anything, the anti-christ will be the leadership face of a movement that is already powerful and underway throughout a vast swath of the society. It is for this reason that the "anti-christ" will as likely be many leaders with dominion over a large and developing infrastructure as much as the "anti-christ" will be one leader in particular. When I speak of the "anti-christ", I think in terms of the likely occurance of both the one and the many.
It is my speculation that, in addition to other signs and wonders, the anti-christ will be a great economist, and he will take the allegiance that people already have to the marketplace in order to consolidate his power. The anti-christ's use of the marketplace as the tool to solidify his/their power will not be incidental. Rather, having people emotionally, spiritually, relationally and materially bonded to the marketplace will be part of the anti-christ's agenda. For this reason, the power of the marketplace will be a seamless extension of the anti-christ's, which many people will accept because they will already have an insatiable appetite for all that the marketplace provides them.
To the extent that people will be having their emotional needs, relational needs, social needs, and identity needs met by what is provided in the marketplace, I think that the mark of the beast will be enforced as much by the tacit social pressures to be "cool" and "hip" as much as it will be enforced by the power of law. I think that the society where it has become the law of the land for one to need to have a mark of one's covenant with the marketplace for one to buy or sell will have gotten there because a critical mass of people have allowed their identity to be wrapped up in whatever it takes to succeed in the realm of buying and selling. The existence of this critical mass, and other factors, will allow the anti-christ leadership to consolidate the collective idolatry of the marketplace into a regime where it is impossible to be economically viable without joining the idolatry.
Getting the mark of the beast on one's forehead or wrist will be the sign of a covenant wherein if one meets the demands of the marketplace, one will get one's needs met -- and if one fails to meet those demands, one will be cut off from the marketplace. This "branding" of people with the mark of the beast will be both pratical and symbolic. It will be practical in the obvious sense that people will not be able to buy and sell without it. It will be symbolic in that it will turn the very skin of people into a market currency, thereby marking people as belonging to the market and to the antichrist as much as any coin in Jesus' day belonged to Ceasar.
Some may allow themselves to get the mark of the beast reluctantly. To the extent that people are unwilling participants in the mark of the beast, they may allow themselves to be marked by it reluctantly in order to get their basic material needs met in the marketplace. For them, they will be like Esau who gave up his inheritance for a meal. However, many people will already be getting their emotional and relational needs met from the marketplace to such a degree that the mark of the beast will be yet another sign of their ongoing and developing allegiance to the marketplace. For them, they will be like those who bent the knee to Baal. For those who had an initial reluctance in accepting the mark, the convenience of being able participate in the marketplace will make it so that any initial reluctance will be swept away with a "What can you do attitude".
The specific mark of the beast, as in "What will be the 666?", is not necessarily of particular interest to me. Numerologists, conspiracy theory buffs, pre and post millenialists and others who obsess about dissecting Revelations can debate that. What I am interested in is answering what is is the essential symbolic meaning of the mark of the beast and what are the "signs of the times" that are leading to it. It is my speculation that those who are allowing their identity to be wrapped up in the marketplace now, in whatever form they are doing it, are laying the groundwork for what will eventually be the infrastructure for the anti-christ. I argue that this groundwork that is being laid for the mark of the beast, is, in a way, the mark of the beast in its penultimate form.
Idolatry of the marketplace, in any form, is the result of people who are trying to meet their social, emotional and material needs through their participation in the marketplace and through their allegiance to the marketplace. Idolatry of the marketplace is based on people acquiescing their emotional needs to what is provided in the marketplace according to pressure in the form of a covenant that contains a carrot and a stick: if one conforms one's identity to what is accepted in the marketplace, meeting one's social, emotional and economic needs will be so much easier -- and if one doesn't, meeting one's social, emotional and material needs will be so much harder.
I am convinced that this pressure to conform to marketplace idolatry is already operating in our society now and will continue to increase in incremental degrees. I am extrapolating from this observation to arrive at the idea that the sign of the beast will be the ultimate manifestation of a marketplace idolatry that is already underfoot. Going back to the covenant with the carrot and stick, the mark of the beast will simply be the result of the anti-christ raising the ante by a couple notches: if one conforms one's identity to the marketplace with an outwardly visible sign, one will be able to function in the marketplace to get one's material needs met -- if one doesn't, one will be consigned to the threat of deprivation and possible starvation and death.
Idolatry of the marketplace is something that is already present in force in this society in 2006. If there is not yet a sign of the covenant with marketplace idolatry like the mark of the beast in Revelations 13:17, I see that there are lesser forms of this covenant all around. It is my overall anaylsis that brand marketing that it is an emotion based form of advertising that is particularly interested in linking a product not merely to its ability to fulfill a material need, but rather to fulfill a relational/emotional need in people. In this way, a brand marketer encourages people to make emotional bonds with his products.
On the surface, brand marketing appears to be the result of an organic free-for-all of advertising competition between companies, but that is only a "trees" view of it. From a "forest" perspective, each participant in the enterprise of brand marketing sells the same essential "brand marketing worldview" on human identity and relationships which can be summed up as follows:
a) Times always change, and you must keep up in order to be socially and sexually viable
b) Buy our product in order to better fulfill your need to be an individual who is a winner among the crowd. If you don't, you will either be a sociall unviable loser or you will simply be one of the unindividuated crowd. You will avoid both of these bad fates if you consume our product now before others get to it.
c) Stillness and boredom are bad things that our products will save you from.
Underneath the chimera of products that come and go and companies that come and go, there is an increasing influence of this essential brand marketing worldview. With the help of advanced technology and other factors underway in our society, brand marketing, as a whole enterprise, is succeeding in creating an evermore powerful bond between people and the marketplace. As this worldview gains more and more of a monopoly on how people operate, it is evermore representative of a covenant that people have made with the marketplace to get their relational and emotional needs met.
The brand marketing worldview is connected to being socially and sexually viable. As anyone in an urban environment knows, this has a profound effect on one's ability to succeed in the workplace and to provide materially for one's needs.
Whatever sense of individuality of "sub-group" identity that one gains as a consumer of products is a very superficial form of individuality that is only available to one after one has conformed to the brand marketing worldview. This loss of depth and vapidity that is connected to the brand marketing worldview is connected to other casualties that occur both in people's own personal maturity and in the society at large. The brand marketing worldview facilitates a loss of emotional and intellectual depth that is connected to people having an increased desire for disposable pleasures. In brand marketing, old must be old so that new can be new. It is the brand marketing worldview that makes stillness the enemy that people are to be saved from by purchasing products and services. In advancing the brand marketing worldview, people are encouraged toward having a certain perpetual attention deficit. The opportunity cost of putting one's energy into disposable pleasures is that one does not invest in more lasting forms of joy wherein more lasting and active emotional, spiritual and intellectual investment is demanded.
To the extent that the marketplace is the servant of disposable pleasures, people return the favor by having an adulterous emotional bond with the products and services provided by the marketplace. This allows those who influence the marketplace and the political realm to be evermore able to consolidate their power without scrutiny. As this continues, people increasingly vote and buy what feels good based on politics that is retailed to consumers and not to citizens. It is this retailing of politics to consumers and not to citizens through mass media that is politician's verson of brand marketing.
As this continues, checks and balances and anti-trust laws will diminish, as those who control the marketplace and political realm will continue to consolidate their power. It is my sweeping speculation from what is happening now that this consolidation of power will happen in fits and starts and may at times take one step back before it takes two steps forward. Nevertheless, this gradual consolidation of power will lay the infrastructure for the anti-christ leadership as the masses of consumers are kept continually distracted by being kept continually pleased and titilated by what is new and shiny in the marketplace.
Of course, there are many other coinciding factors involved in the laying down of the infrastructure for the anti-christ and the mark of the beast that would take a much longer essay to elaborate on. However as a general attempt to "read the leaves on the tree", it is my assessment that the mark of the beast will be facilitated by the love of pleasure and lack of depth that will coincide with the wholesale embrace of the brand marketing worldview which will coincide with the consolidation of political and economic power. In the confluence of these forces that are already operating to a large degree, the mark of the beast, the "666" -- in addition to being implemented with force -- may also be the ultimate in brand marketing.