Preterist Explanation of a Physical Mark on the Hand and Forehead: How were the Phylacteries worn over the Forehead and Hand Related to Roman Money?
Though the mark on the foreheads of the righteous and wicked was certainly spiritual and thus invisible, it is possible that this mark on the forehead, at least the one placed on the wicked, may have had a physical and thus visible component. The seal or mark of God, though often invisible in Old Testament history, was sometimes physical and visible as it was in Exodus 28:36-37. Furthermore, sometime after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon possibly as early as the fourth century B.C. Jewish rabbis began to take Exodus 13:16 literally: “So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”1 Consequently rabbis tied phylacteries which were and are leather pouches containing portions of Scripture around their left arm and forehead as a physical sign of Exodus 13:15-16. These phylacteries are mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 23:5: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.” This physical sign on the forehead and arm was used by first-century rabbis to exhibit their devotion to the Law. However, the continued practice of the Law after its fulfillment became an idolatrous practice: “But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; he who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; he who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations (Isaiah 66:3)[.]” As implied in Isaiah 66:3 those who continued to practice the Law after its fulfillment in A.D. 70 were guilty of all sorts of abominable sins including idolatry. In light of Isaiah 66:3 one can see how this physical sign of devotion to the Law morphed into an evil mark on the hand and forehead after A.D. 70. These physical marks on the hand and forehead worn by those Jews passionately devoted to the Law after its fulfillment also served as physical signs of one’s equally passionate devotion to the beast.
In Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary, I showed how the love of money was the root of all first-century Israel’s evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Now let us now take another look at how this greed was related to the phylacteries. As I explained in the preterist commentary on Revelation 13, Jerusalem’s economy was rooted in the Temple and the practice of the Law. And the Jewish elite who killed Jesus did so because of a love of money. This money was, therefore, made through the continued practice of the Law. In order to ensure that the Law persisted and the money kept coming in, the Jewish elite correctly understood that they had to protect the Temple, the source of their great wealth. Israel was a Roman province so all potential Messiahs had to be killed because crowning a sovereign king of Israel threatened a war with Rome that could result in the destruction of the Temple which would put an end to the Law, the source of Jerusalem’s great wealth. This idea is implied in John 11:48: “If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” In Matthew 23:38 and 24:2 Jesus appears to have confirmed His murderers’ suspicions that the Temple was soon to be destroyed. Thus the wealthy elite who made their fortunes from the Temple economy were naturally devoted to Caesar and thus were spiritually branded with “the name of the beast” on their forehead (Revelation 13:16-17) out of a financially-motivated desire for peace which led them to killed any and all potential Messiahs. Thus the Jewish elite’s devotion to the Law and Caesar, the beast, were all inextricably linked to and rooted in the love of money. Because of this interrelationship between Caesar, the Law and money, I believe that there may be more to the physical aspect of the mark of the beast than just Roman money. There is another element to the equation–the Law.
Revelation 13:16 says that the mark the beast was also present on the forehead. As stated above, the mark of the beast also has a physical aspect. The physical mark of the beast which was present on the hand is, of course, Roman money. Though present on the hand, Roman money was not present on the forehead. Could there have been a physical aspect of the mark of the beast placed on the forehead? As indicated in Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary, the mark of the beast is a spiritual mark signifying devotion to Caesar over God because of greed (Revelation 13:16-17; 14:1). But as stated in Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary, this mark was more than just a spiritual mark, it was also physical and tangible. First century Jews often wore leather pouches on their hand and forehead called phylacteries which contained various Bible verses highlighting devotion to the Law. This practice is mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 23:5: “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long[.]” The boxes placed over the arm and forehead in modern phylacteries contain four sets of Bible verses (Exodus 13:1-10; 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21). These verses highlight the Mosaic decree to keep the Law on their hands and foreheads. They also refer to the sacrifice of the firstborn which symbolically and prophetically pointed to Jesus’ death, the ultimate sign and manifestation of Israel’s sinful greed for which she was punished at the end of the age. The following verses are all found in modern phylacteries:
The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.” Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. . . . On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year (Exodus 13:1-10).
“After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons. “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand (Exodus 13:11-16).
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:13-21).
Look again at Exodus 13:15-16: “’This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand (Exodus 13:11-16).” The Jewish elite sacrificed Jesus, Israel’s true firstborn son (Romans 8:29) and sacrificial lamb (Revelation 5:12) as indicated in Exodus 13:15 as a sign of their devotion to the Law (Exodus 13:16) and by trying to preserve the Law, unwittingly fulfilled it.
There is an element of poetic beauty to the mark of God mentioned in Exodus 13 and the mark of the beast. Faithful Jews sacrificed their firstborn out of worship and devotion to God (Exodus 13:15-16). The Jewish elites sacrificed Jesus, the antitypical firstborn Lamb of God, out of worship and devotion to money, the physical the mark of the beast placed on the hand. Because the Jewish elites sacrificed Jesus, the firstborn Lamb of God, and allied themselves with the beast all because of an idolatrous devotion to money, these men received a mark on their hand and forehead just like the Jews who sacrificed the firstborn in Exodus 13. But because these evil men sacrificed the firstborn Lamb of God out of the worship of money these men received the mark of the beast on their hand and forehead rather than the mark of God on their hand and forehead mentioned in Exodus 13:15-16: “This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Having addressed why Israel historically killed its Messiahs including Jesus one can see how the phylacteries worn by the Jewish elite and the Roman money that they handled were outward, physical signs of an impious devotion to the Law based entirely on greed and devoid of religiosity. Thus it is not hard to see how Roman money and the phylacteries worn by the first-century Jews who killed Jesus were directly and inextricably linked. The religious elite who plotted Jesus’ death did so because Jesus, an aspiring Messiah, posed a direct threat to the continued practice of the Law, their source of income. Throughout Jesus’ ministry and the ministries of His disciples laid out in the New Testament it was repeatedly emphasized that the Law was passing and would soon completely be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17; 9:14-17; Romans 3:21-26; 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1; Philippians 3:9). Thus Jesus and the disciples taught their early followers to stop practicing the Law a fact that not only saved their lives spiritually but also physically during the Jewish War. The Jewish political and religious authorities and merchants made their money from the continued practice of the Law. Thus these wealthy Jews who killed Christ because their devotion to the Law was rooted in money rather than faith are mentioned in Romans 9:30-33:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.
These men whose devotion to the Law was rooted in greed and devoid of faith in God killed Jesus, the stumbling stone mentioned in Romans 9:33, because He presented an obvious threat to the continued practice of the Law, the source of their wealth. The fact that these men defended the Law based on greed rather than faith or faithfulness to God is illustrated by the fact that these men killed Jesus, a man whose many deeds proved that He was sent by God. Keep in mind that it was not all Jews who rejected Jesus, the great number of Israelites who placed their faith in Christ in the first century were almost exclusively the poor people of Israel (Matthew 19:24, Hebrews 10:34, James 2:1-7).
The Jewish elite who plotted to kill Jesus out of greed naturally allied themselves with Caesar and Rome, the beast. These men betrayed the Messiah and allied themselves with Caesar and Rome in order to avoid at all costs a war that could potentially destroy the Temple and leave them penniless.
Just as the Jews of old were marked in Exodus 13:15-16 and Ezekiel 9:3-6 as a symbol of their devotion to God, these Jewish elites were given the mark of the beast because of their devotion to Caesar, a devotion rooted in a desire to preserve the Temple and the continued the practice of the Law so that they could continue to make money. The continued practice of the Law made them money and peace with Rome was necessary toward that end. It was the conjoined devotion to Caesar, the Law and money over and above personal devotion to God and His anointed that imparted the physical and spiritual mark of the beast. Those who continued to practice the Law while it was actively passing and wore phylacteries on their hands and foreheads as a sign of this outward devotion to both the Law and Caesar had both the spiritual and physical mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13:16 because their loyalty to Caesar and the Law was rooted in the love of money rather than in pious devotion to God. Thus those political and religious authorities and merchants of Jerusalem whose devotion to the Law was rooted only in making money were those who had both the spiritual and physical the mark of the beast on their hands and foreheads. This devotion to Rome and the Law was based on greed (their spiritual sin) which was outwardly displayed in the hording of Roman money and the phylacteries worn over their hands and foreheads (their conjoined physical and spiritual mark of the beast). Thus the mark of the beast is a spiritual mark signifying devotion to Caesar and the Law because of greed. This spiritual mark or sin visibly manifested itself on the hands and foreheads of God’s enemies who filled their hands with money and wore the phylacteries over their hands and foreheads while the Law was actively passing.