Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast
Revelation 13, with its “mark of the beast” and “666” has fascinated students of the Bible for two thousand years. For many, the mark and the number are the most mysterious and memorable symbols in the book of Revelation. This present study is an attempt to decode the mysteries of Rev. 13 in the light of its connection to Revelation 12 and Daniel 7.
Revelation 12: The Big Picture
Revelation 12 uses inspired imagery to depict a supernatural conflict that rages across space and time, spanning heaven and earth.
The first six verses give a brief synopsis: A glorious woman, about to give birth, faces a horrendous seven-headed dragon; the dragon is in attack mode, ready to devour the newborn baby. The woman gives birth to a male child who is destined to rule all nations. He is taken to God’s throne in heaven, and the woman flees to the wilderness for 1,260 days.
The next three verses contain a terse report on a war in heaven between the supernatural forces of good and evil. Michael and his angels defeat the dragon – clearly identified as the serpent, the devil and Satan – who is hurled down, with his army of angels, from heaven to earth. Satan is characterized as a deceiver who leads the whole world astray.
Then comes a voice from heaven proclaiming the victory of God and His people and warning the inhabitants of earth that they are the focus of the devil’s wrath.
The rest of the chapter describes the efforts of the dragon – alternatively depicted as “the serpent” – to destroy the woman, who survives in the wilderness for 3½ times (years). Then, furious at his failed attempts to annihilate the woman, the dragon attacks “the remnant of her seed,” God’s faithful people.
Now we’ll take a close look at the symbols and their meaning:
- The woman
- While some of the symbolism in this chapter prompts disagreement among scholars, there is little doubt as to the identity of the woman. While some Catholic interpreters suggest that this symbol points to Mary, the mother of Jesus,1 it is widely recognized by both Catholic and Protestant scholars that the woman represents spiritual Israel — the church of God in both its Jewish and Christian phases.2
- The child
- The male child clearly represents Jesus, the Messiah, who will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (see Ps. 2:9). Only the outcome of His life and ministry are in view here: His ascension and enthronement with His Father.
- The dragon/serpent
- There is no mystery here, as the dragon/serpent is transparently “the devil and Satan” (12:9). The serpent imagery is familiar to us, since the serpent was Satan’s tool of deception in the Garden of Eden. The use of both “dragon” and “serpent” suggests Satan’s two-pronged attack: violent aggression and subtle deceit.
- In the realm of the supernatural, the war between the forces of good and evil takes place on a spiritual plane beyond our perception. But, when the hostilities rage across our space and time, the battles are fought through the flesh and blood of individual human beings and are driven by the policies of human states and institutions. We see this happening in Rev. 12.
- Here the focus moves from heaven to earth. John himself had witnessed the dragon’s fury against Jesus. Although some would argue that the Jewish leaders were responsible for the judgment and execution of Jesus, there can be no doubt that the dragon that killed him was personified in the Imperial Roman state. He was crucified as a revolutionary, taking the cross of Barabbas, the insurrectionist. His crime against Rome was nailed to His cross, plainly spelled out: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Matt. 27:37). This was the Roman way. The Jews would have stoned Him, as they did Stephen 3½ years later.3
- So the Roman state was the dragon in the form of a human institution, openly aggressive and violent in its assault on the woman and her child.4 But let’s not overlook the parallel imagery of the serpent (vss. 14-15). “The serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (vs. 9) is the cunning master of deceit. Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The serpent’s strategy is the second prong of the attack against the woman and her child, targeting truth with an arsenal of outright falsehood and subtle deception. Given this background, it’s reasonable to see the serpent as an alternative aspect of institutional Rome.
- 1,260 days/time and times and half a time
- These two expressions of time are clearly equivalent, representing the term of the church’s wilderness experience. The “times” are 3½ years, equal to 42 (30-day) months or 1,260 days. The same period of time is mentioned in the previous chapter, where the nations of earth tread on the holy city for forty-two months (11:2) and God’s two witnesses testify for 1,260 days (11:3).
- Of particular interest is the fact that this same time period occurs in Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 7:25; 12:7) in connection with the persecution of “the saints.” Daniel and John are addressing the same scenario.
- In general, historicist interpreters5 apply the day-year principle6 here, converting this time period to 1,260 literal years. This principle is applied from this point on in this study.
- The rest of the woman’s offspring
- This episode in the prophetic drama comes after the dragon’s failure to annihilate the church in the wilderness, i.e., after the 1,260 years.
- These people are described in terms of their faithfulness to the law of God and the gospel (the testimony) of Jesus. This is evidence of the continuity between these end-time believers and true Christians through the ages.
Revelation 13: Overview
Chapter 13 offers a more detailed account of the war against the church, providing more clues to the historical identity of the combatants. The central issue that emerges is worship.
The great dragon of chapter 12 is very much a part of the continuing story, but he plays his role behind the scenes.
The first four verses of Rev. 13 give a summary picture of a sea beast. He takes center stage, and the dragon empowers him with his own prodigious might and authority. An insolent, audacious antichrist,7 he is fatally wounded but somehow recovers. He becomes the focus of a diabolical counterfeit system of worship.
Verses five through eight follow up the preceding summary view with a closer look at the sea beast’s career, which spans 42 prophetic months or 1,260 prophetic days/literal years. During that time he makes war against the saints. He is characterized as an arrogant blasphemer. Everybody in the world – except the saints - worships him.
Next on the scene of action is a land beast with two lamb-like horns. Like his predecessor, he is a proxy for the great dragon, operating with the same satanic authority as the sea beast. This land beast has tremendous power and influence, due, in part, to his ability to perform supernatural signs. He is such a dominant force in the world that he is able to command almost universal obedience. He directs the establishment of “an image of the beast” – a likeness of the sea beast.
The land beast gives life to the image he has set up, thus reviving the character and ideology of the sea beast. He orders all mankind to worship the image, threatening death to all dissenters.
Revelation 13 ends by introducing the enigmatic number 666 as “the number of the beast,” leaving readers with a cryptic puzzle that has produced confusion and uncertainty for two millennia.
While the prophet does not set the chapter as a whole on a timeline for us, he does give us a clear order of the primary events within the chapter. The sea beast comes and holds center stage for 42 prophetic months (1,260 literal years). Then it’s the land beast’s turn in the spotlight. He establishes the image to the sea beast as the focus of world religion, and imposes the mark of the beast.
Now let’s take a closer look at chapter 13.
The Sea Beast
- And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names (Rev. 13:1).
- This monster shares some distinguishing features with the dragon of chapter 12: seven heads and ten horns.8This is because he symbolizes an earthly manifestation of the dragon.
- An interesting difference is that the dragon has diadems (crowns) on each of his seven heads (12:3) while the sea beast wears his diadems on his ten horns.9 Since horns are used in prophecy to represent kingdoms (see Dan. 7 and 8) this difference suggests that important political change has taken place in connection with the appearance of the sea beast.
- In Rev. 12, Imperial Rome is a unified entity; its uncrowned horns are not yet independent kingdoms. When the sea beast enters the picture, the ten horns are crowned. Imperial Rome has crumbled, giving way to the kingdoms symbolized by the ten crowned horns.10 The year 476 is the commonly accepted date for the dissolution of the Roman Empire.
- The “blasphemous names” on the sea beast’s seven heads reveals the religious character of the sea beast. Blasphemy is defined, in Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, as “1. profane or mocking speech, writing, or action concerning God or anything regarded as sacred…. 2. contempt for God. 3. vilification; malicious detraction; abuse….”11Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary includes “the act of claiming the attributes of deity.”12
- And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority (Rev. 13:2).
- The sea beast is a composite of the four beasts of Daniel 7. He is the consummate representative of earthly authority. This description is an obvious link to the seventh chapter of Daniel.13 Hans LaRondelle calls Daniel 7 the “taproot” of Rev. 13.14
- The description of this beast is best understood in the light of the dragon’s war against Christ and His followers (as described in chapter 12). Christ, portrayed as the Lamb in chapter 5, is “worthy…to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12), and He is enthroned with God (Heb. 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). The sea beast, a satanic substitute for Christ, receives the dragon’s (Satan’s) power, throne, and authority.
- And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast (Rev. 13:3).
- The mortal injury to one of the sea beast’s heads is a fatal wound to the beast himself (vs. 12), and the healing is a coming to life (vs. 14). Many scholars see this as a parody – a satanic mimicry – of the death and resurrection of Christ.15 In 5:6 Christ is depicted as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (New International Version). In 1:18 Christ Himself says, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”
- John did not see the attack on the beast that left it fatally wounded. The actual event is not described, but history will reveal the details.
- The sea beast’s astonishing resurrection amazes “the whole earth” – all who are later described as worshipers of the beast. They (“the whole earth”) become followers of the sea beast.
- And they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?" (Rev. 13:4).
- As the dragon’s proxy, the sea beast is the earthly mediator of the religion of Satan. Within the framework of this counterfeit religion the sea beast is a demonic caricature of the “one mediator…between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
- In this false religion the sea beast commands the praise that belongs to God alone. Worshipers of the true God direct their praise heavenward: “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high…?” (Ps. 113:5); "Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness…?” (Ex. 15:11).
- The sea beast has more than religious influence. He also has civil authority, i.e., power “to wage war.”
- And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him (Rev. 13:5).
- Up to this point we’ve had only a description of the sea beast. We have not seen him in action. This verse begins a closer look at his career, characterized here by “arrogant words and blasphemies.” This indicates that the sea beast is making boastful claims about himself. Verses 4 and 8 leave us in no doubt about his intention to become the god of this world – to replace the God of heaven as the focus of universal worship.
- He has 42 prophetic months (1,260 literal years) to blaspheme God (vs. 6) and make war with the saints (vs. 7). Then he will sustain a fatal wound.16
- At this point an obvious question arises: Where does this 1,260-year period fit on the timeline of history? The close correspondence between Dan. 7 and Rev. 13 provides us with important clues. Here is a brief summary of relevant portions of Dan. 7:
- Four great beasts represent successive empires that dominate world history, beginning with the time of Daniel. Historicist interpreters assign these symbols to Babylon, (Medo-) Persia, Greece and Rome.17This interpretation of the fourth beast synchronizes perfectly with the historicist view of the prophetic figures of Rev. 12 and 13.
- The fourth beast, described as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong,” has ten horns. These horns represent the individual kings/kingdoms that succeed the Roman Empire.
- A new horn, described initially as “little,” uproots three of the original ten horns; it becomes larger than the others, speaks out against God and wears down the saints for 3½ times/years.
- Note some important similarities between Daniel’s little horn and the sea beast:
Daniel 7 – Little horn
Revelation 13 – Sea beast
vss. 7, 8 – associated with ten horns
vs. 1 – has ten horns
vs. 20 – mouth uttering great boasts
vs. 5 – mouth speaking arrogant words
vs. 25 – speaks out against the Most High
vs. 6 – opens his mouth in blasphemies against God
vs. 25 – wears down the saints for a time, times, and half a time (3 ½ times/years or 42 months or 1,260 days
vss. 5, 7 – has 42 months (3 ½ years or 1,260 days) to make war with the saints
- According to the crowned-horns symbolism (vs. 1) the 1,260 years of the sea beast’s authority begins after the breakup of the Roman Empire. So the 1,260 years cannot start before the year 476.
- The parallel prophecy in Dan. 7 has the little horn displacing three of its ten fellow horns. History records the downfall of three of Rome’s successor kingdoms - the Heruli, the Vandals and the Ostrogoths – culminating with the Ostrogoth’s abandonment of the city of Rome itself in March of 538.18
- And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven (Rev. 13:6).
- In the light of the immediate context, the phrase “those who dwell in heaven” differentiates the people of God from the worshipers of the beast, who are referred to as “the whole earth” (v. 3) and “those who dwell on the earth” (v. 8).
- And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him (Rev. 13:7).
- The sea beast is again linked to the little horn of Dan. 7, who “was waging war with the saints and overpowering them” (Dan. 7:21).
- And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Rev. 13:8).
- The religion of the sea beast spreads around the world and includes as adherents all those whose names are not in “the book of life.” Some commentators see this verse as supporting the doctrine of predestination. But that view is difficult to sustain in light of other translations, including the King James Bible and the New International Version, which reads as follows: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
Verse 8 brings to an end the account of the sea beast’s activities. If, as seems reasonable, the little horn of Dan. 7 and the sea beast of Rev. 13 are different figures for the same reality, i.e., the antichrist, we can draw a composite picture of the historic entity/institution they represent:
- It is a religious power rising to prominence after the breakup of the Roman Empire and benefiting from the downfall of the kingdoms of the Heruli, Vandals and Ostrogoths.
- Although religious in nature, it incorporates civil characteristics reminiscent of Imperial Rome.
- It is characterized by arrogant claims and blasphemous proclamations.
- It violently opposes the true worship of God, substituting counterfeit religion.
- It attempts to make changes in times and in law.
- It persecutes those who do not submit to its authority, beginning about 538.
- After 1,260 years it is mortally wounded.
The sea beast clearly symbolizes a church-state superpower. History confirms it as none other than institutionalized Christianity in its Roman form – in other words, the Church of Rome. This view of the sea beast is not a recent innovation. It goes back at least as far as John Wycliffe,19the Lollards20 and the Waldenses.21 It was a common view among Protestants during the Reformation period, including Martin Luther22 and his fellow Reformers in Germany,23 John Calvin,24 and John Knox25
The Church of Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) has its historical roots in the early Christian centuries. The bishop of Rome (the pope) was already prominent among Christian bishops by the time of the conversion of Constantine in 312. The pope would soon become the preeminent figure in the hierarchy of the church.
Constantine gave his own Lateran palace, in the city of Rome, to the pope as an official residence, and he issued a series of laws giving special privileges to the church and its clergy.26 He assumed a leadership role in the church, even calling the bishops together for the first ecumenical council, which met in Nicaea in 325.
Constantine’s involvement in religion was not a new thing; he was merely echoing the traditional participation of Roman emperors in imperial cults and other forms of pagan worship. Religion was woven into the fabric of the Roman state; it was, in fact, inseparable from the state. That’s why religious dissenters – Christians, for instance – were persecuted. A challenge to the religion of Rome was a threat to Rome itself.
This identity of the Christian church with the Roman state is known as the Constantinian Arrangement. According to William Stringfellow, noted 20th-century attorney and theologian, the Constantinian Arrangement “has fostered, in numerous versions and derivations, through the centuries, such a religioning of the gospel that its biblical integrity is corrupted and such an acculturation of the church that it becomes practically indistinguishable from the worldly principalities so that both gospel and church become adjuncts or conveyances of civil religion....”27
The “Christianization” of the Roman Empire resulted in the “Romanizing” of the church, particularly in the part of the church that was administered by the pope. In 476 the emperors finally lost their hold on their empire, but the church in the old imperial capital survived. It flourished for over 13 centuries as a bastion of the Roman religious ideal: the unity of church and state. It was this union that turned the Church of Rome into a totalitarian, persecuting power.
The “fatal wound” happened late in the 18th century. The Reformation and widespread loss of state backing had already weakened the Church of Rome and its papacy. The principle of church-state separation had come to the fore in both the American and French Revolutions. Then came a crushing blow. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The ultimate humiliation of the church took place in 1798 when Pius VI was driven out of Rome by French armies; in the following year he was taken captive and dragged back to France, where he died.”28
As to the healing of the fatal wound, it will be complete when the Roman principle of church-state unity is revived on a universal scale. Then the spiritual tyranny that ruled during the 1,260 years of papal domination will be renewed. “The whole earth” will be “amazed” and follow “after the beast” (v. 4).
The Land Beast
- And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence (Rev. 13:11).
- The land beast comes onto the stage of history at some point after the sea beast’s period of dominance (1,260 years) lapses. Although he appears docile and gentle, he inherits the satanic authority of his predecessor, thus completing an unholy trinity: he comes from the earth; the sea beast comes from the sea (v. 1); the dragon comes from heaven (12:3). This alliance is joined in spirit and in action, warring against Christ and His people. Richard Bauckham comments, "This 'satanic trinity' therefore represents the forces of opposition to God which contest his rule as Creator of heaven, earth and sea (10:6)."29
- Here is a clue to understanding the mysterious identity of the land beast: his predecessor arises from the sea – a prophetic symbol representing "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (see Rev. 17:15). The lamb-like beast comes out of the earth — a place apart from the "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" that have previously occupied the stage of this prophetic drama.
- Given the information about the timing and location of the land beast's appearance, it's not much of a stretch for us to identify the reality behind the symbol. The new world power that arose toward the end of the 18th century in a new part of the world is America. This new nation is characterized by a kind of freedom not found in the other nations and empires depicted in Bible prophecy: freedom of religion. The separation of Church and State is a basic principle of the American system. However, the prophecy of Revelation 13 suggests that this will not always be the case.
- With the arrival of the land beast we find ourselves looking at indistinct outlines of future events rather than at historical certainties. The picture is complicated — or perhaps clarified — by the fact that elsewhere in Revelation this beast is called the "false prophet" (Rev. 16:13, 19:20 and 20:10).
- The two horns may give the land beast the docile appearance of a lamb, but even Satan is able to disguise himself as "an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).30 In the end, the land beast proves to be nothing like the true Lamb of Revelation, the Lamb of God, who is featured repeatedly in Revelation.
- "The lamb-like appearance of the earth beast indicates the nature of the ultimate deceit in the final test of faith. The earth beast wants to be taken as Christlike, but its words reveal the lies, the heresies, and murderous plans of the dragon and of the antichrist-beast.”31
- He speaks as a dragon. The dragon is “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (12:9). He deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The land beast, taking after the dragon, is a master of lies and deceit.
- He “exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence.” The New International Version puts it this way: “He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf.” (Italics supplied.) Although the land beast takes center stage in this portion of John’s vision, the sea beast remains on the scene. In fact, the land beast serves the aims of the sea beast and, by extension, the aims of the dragon.
- And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed (Rev. 13:12).
- He compels the universal worship of the sea beast. This totalitarian regime has both political and religious power with “all the authority of the first beast” (v. 11), authority that ultimately comes from the dragon (v. 3).
- To worship the beast is to participate in his blasphemy against God. Those who do this become copycat blasphemers, vaunting themselves above the Creator God and deifying self. They are self-dependent and wise in their own estimation (see Rom. 12:16).
- As mentioned above, the healing of the fatal wound represents the universal restoration of church-state unity. This brings the power of civil governments into the arena of religion — an end-time revival of the Roman system.
- And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life (Rev. 13:13, 14).
- The land beast is able to impress people with supernatural signs, which he uses to deceive earth-dwellers. This is probably what earns him the title of “false prophet.” Jesus warned His followers that “false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray” (Mark 13:22).
- The “image to the beast” is not a work of art. It is an object of worship, a ‘cult image.’ This sets up an eschatological replay of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Dan. 3), only this time the whole world is involved.
- John does not describe the appearance of the image, but we can safely assume that it is a representation — even a precise likeness — of the sea beast.
- And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed (Revelation 13:15).
- The land beast/false prophet animates the image, investing it with authority. This is all in the interest of worship – worship, not of God, but of the beast and the image.
- The imposition of the death penalty for all who do not worship the image is a large-scale version of the story of the three Hebrews who were thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace (Dan. 3:21).
- And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead (Rev. 13:16).
- No one is exempt from the universal religious requirements imposed by the land beast/false prophet.
- The Israelites were instructed to keep the commandments of God in their hearts (Deut. 6:6), “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes” (Deut. 6:8). The mark of the beast supplants the commands of God with the law of the antichrist.
- The marking of hand and/or forehead is a parody of the provisions God has made to identify His people with Himself. After the Exodus He established the annual observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread to “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).
God also gave His people a weekly observance, the Sabbath, as a sign of their relationship with their Creator (Ex. 31:17) and Sanctifier (Ex. 31:13; Ez. 20:12, 20.) Note that both of these “signs” involved time set aside for worship of the true God. This fact may provide a clue as to what the mark of the beast symbolizes – in contrast to the sign (seal) of God).
- The land beast mimics the sealing of 144,000 saints, which is described earlier in Revelation: “And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads" (Revelation 7:2, 3).
- Rev. 14:1 pictures the Lamb standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000 who have “His name and the name of His Father [the seal of God] written on their foreheads.” That same chapter shows the difference between the fate of those who have the mark of the beast and those who have the seal of God:
- "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God…” (Rev. 14:9, 10).
- And they [the 144,000] sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders…. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb (Rev. 14:3, 4).
- The obvious difference between the two groups, aside from their fate, is their worship – a common theme in Rev. 13. One group worships the beast and his image; the other addresses its worship to the very throne of God.
- And he provides that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name (Rev. 13:17).
- There is no description of the physical appearance of the mark. The mark, “being most probably a figurative phenomenon with symbolic meaning, is whatever decisively indicates that a man is allied with the anti-God force.”32
- This verse tells us that the mark is actually the sea beast’s name or the number of his name. In Bible times names were expressions of character, position in life, appearance, etc. We know that the sea beast has “blasphemous names,” and we also know that his blasphemy includes pretentious claims of deity. We can expect his name to reflect those pretensions, which counterfeit Christ’s own statements about His relationship to God. (See Matt. 26:63-65; Mark 14:61, 62; John 10:30-33.
- The link between Dan. 7 and Rev. 13 shows us how those blasphemous pretensions are exhibited. Daniel’s antichrist figure – the boastful “little horn” – is clearly in rebellion against God and His government. He is determined to change times and laws (Dan. 7:25). Since worship plays such a dominant role in the prophetic scenario, especially in Rev. 13, it’s easy to conclude that the “times and laws” are religious in nature and relate to the worship of God.33
- John’s sea-beast version of the antichrist is the dominant force behind just such a change.
- In the heart of God’s law is His call to worship: the Sabbath commandment. Claiming the authority of church and tradition, vaunting itself above the law of God Himself, this antichrist power has promoted Sunday, a day traditionally observed in honor of the sun god, as the Christian substitute for the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. This Sabbath-to-Sunday change is a mark of the antichrist’s “authority.”
- The identification of the Roman Catholic institution with the sea beast/antichrist symbol is reconfirmed today. The Church of Rome persists in its insubordination against God and His law by teaching that “Sunday…is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.”34
- In a somewhat paradoxical statement, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this appeal: “In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church’s holy days as legal holidays.”35 This incongruous reference to “religious liberty” reveals that the spirit of the Constantinian Arrangement (see above) survives in Roman Catholic thought. This is the spirit behind the call for civil legislation in support of religious observances, which, in turn, undermines the principle of church-state separation and propagates the old Roman ideal of civic religion.
- The name of the beast, as expressed in his mark, will flaunt his arrogant claims to supreme authority and reveal his nature as a pretender to deity. Those who receive his mark will take his name and share his nature. Placing themselves above God and His law, they will enlist in the antichrist’s insurrection: they reject the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. Instead, they demonstrate their allegiance to the antichrist’s cause by observing Sunday.
- Further evidence of the relationship between the mark of the beast and the institution of Sunday can be seen by comparing God’s end-time people with those who receive the mark. They “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17); they “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (14:12). Those who are marked with the name of the beast keep neither the commandments nor the faith.
- In the context of the everlasting gospel Revelation 14 includes heaven-sent warnings to those who live during the end-time crisis. An angelic messenger bears an urgent call for earth-dwellers to “worship Him who made heaven and earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7). This reference to Creation is expressed in the language of the Sabbath Commandment, urging people to worship the true God, the Creator. The Commandment prescribes worship of the Creator on the seventh-day Sabbath. This call to worship is a direct challenge to the worship demanded by the antichrist.
- Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six (Rev. 13:18).
- Calculating the numerical value of letters and words is called gematria. For two thousand years students of prophecy have used gematria in their attempts to solve the riddle of this verse. Although Revelation was written in Greek, many interpreters have tried to find the solution in Hebrew or Latin words and names. They have succeeded in identifying Nero, the pope, Martin Luther, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler and many others as the beast/antichrist. The multiplicity of possible solutions makes it necessary to look beyond gematria alone to find the key to understanding this part of John’s prophecy.
- This could mean we do not yet have the necessary “understanding.” After all, the primary role of prophecy is not to make us seers or fortune-tellers. Instead, prophecy helps us recognize in history and current events the unfolding plan and purposes of God, giving us confidence in His design for our lives and strengthening our faith and reliance on Him.
- Beginning in the 16th century various English interpreters understood 666 in chronological terms, postulating that the number of the beast represented a period of 666 years after the writing of Revelation. According to their theory, the antichrist then appeared. Their conclusion was that he was one of the medieval popes or one of the medieval monarchs who supported and promoted the papal institution.36
- Another approach is to look beyond mathematics to find the significance of 666 as a symbol of a spiritual reality. According to this line of thinking, since the number 7 represents completeness – even perfection – 6 represents something less: imperfection. That leads William Johnsson to suggest that 666 “points to a parody of perfection: imperfection upon imperfection.”37 Robert Mounce comments on this symbolism: “666 is the number that falls short of perfection in each of its digits,” and suggests that it represents “the trinity of imperfection.”38
While some details of the end-time portion of Rev. 13 are yet to be revealed, there is enough information to make clear the spiritual nature of the final crisis. John describes his vision in stark and stunning terms, but beyond the beasts and the image and the mark we can see the fundamental issues involved.
The foreground of the story has worship in the spotlight – worship of the antichrist or worship of the Creator God. Worship is clearly the great divisive and decisive issue in the end-time crisis.
Worship , of course, reveals allegiance. That means that it’s a matter of loyalty. Loyalty to the satanic trinity of dragon, beast, and false prophet or loyalty to the triune God of heaven.
In this context, loyalty reveals a relationship — a personal bond based on faith. And it is ultimately this faith that differentiates the saved from the lost. Loyalty to the beast is a matter of faith in visible human institutions – a kind of trust that is either voluntary or coerced. Loyalty to God is a matter of faith in the unseen – a voluntary trust that binds the victorious saints to their Savior. It is this kind of faith that enables the saints to stand unmoved by the storms of end-time trouble. Unyielding faith. Trusting faith. Faith that leaves God, and God alone, on the throne of the heart.
1 For example, Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P., Revelation, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 130.
2 This view of continuity between Israel and the church is an argument against the method of prophetic interpretation that sees Israel and the church having separate and distinct roles in the plan of God.
3 For this insight I am indebted to Oscar Cullman,The State in the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1963), 37.
4 This has long been the view of many historicist interpreters including Sir Isaac Newton. (Isaac Newton, “Observations upon the Apocalyps of St. John.” http://www.historicist.com/newton/p2c3.htm (Accessed June 17, 2007).
5 “The historicist view (also known as the ‘continuous-historical’ view) sees the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation unfolding in historical time from the days of these respective prophets until the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. The leaders of the 19th-century Advent Movement were historicists as were the Reformers of the sixteenth century.” William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation. Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1982), v.
6 Ibid., 56-93.
7 The word “antichrist” occurs four times in the epistles of John (I John 2:18, 22; 4:3; II John 1:7). Although the word never occurs in Revelation, some Bible scholars identify the sea beast as the “antichrist,” including: G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 691; Hans K. LaRondelle, How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible (Sarasota, Florida: First Impressions, 1997), 291; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 258, 260.
8 Some interpreters see the seven heads as equal to the heads of all four of the beasts of Dan. 7. Others see the seven heads as representing totality or fullness without respect to the beasts of Dan. 7. The seven-head, ten-horn configuration is also found in Rev. 17 as part of the description of the scarlet beast upon which the immoral woman (Babylon) sits.
9 “The detail concerning the diadems is probably significant. They are on the dragon’s heads, but on the sea beast’s horns. Again Daniel 7 gives us the clue: The change or new development may be due to the lapse of time. Satan’s depredations through the sea monster come long after his efforts to kill the holy Child.” (William G. Johnsson, “The Saints’ End-Time Victory Over the Forces of Evil,” Symposium on Revelation — Book II [Silver Spring: Biblical Research Institute, 1992], 27.)
10 LaRondelle, End-Time Prophecies, 293-294.
11 “blasphemy,” Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, 2nd edition (New York: New World Dictionaries/Simon and Schuster, 1983).
12 “blasphemy,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Retrieved June 27, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/dictionary?book= Dictionary&va=blasphemy&query=blasphemy
13 Commentaries that recognize this link include, among many others, The Catholic Study Bible, The Interpreter’s Bible, The New International Commentary on the New Testament and The Oxford Bible Commentary.
14 LaRondelle, Prophecies, 298.
15 Beale, Revelation, 689; Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd, 1993), 431-432; LaRondelle, Prophecies, 291-292.
16 For an explanation of the literary structure of Rev. 13 and how it determines the chronological order of the 42 months and the fatal wound, see William H. Shea, “Time Prophecies of Daniel 12 and Revelation 12-13,” Symposium on Revelation – Book I (Silver Spring: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 354-359.
17 For a comparison of historicist, preterist and futurist views of Dan. 7, see Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation (General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1982), 27-34.
18 Witigis. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9077287. For a more comprehensive view of the overthrow of the Vandals, Heruli and Ostrogoths, see C. Mervyn Maxwell, “The Mark of the Beast,” Symposium on Revelation – Book II (Silver Spring: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 73-76.
19 “Why is it necessary in unbelief to look for another Antichrist? Hence in the seventh chapter of Daniel Antichrist is forcefully described by a horn arising in the time of the 4th kingdom. …The ten horns are the whole of our temporal rulers, and the horn has arisen from the ten horns, having eyes and a mouth speaking great things against the Lofty One, and wearing out the saints of the Most High, and thinking that he is able to change times and laws…. For so our clergy foresee the lord pope, as it is said of the eighth blaspheming little head." Translated from Wyclif's De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae, vol. 3 pp. 262, 263. See also L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, Vol. 2 (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948), 53.
20 Froom, Fathers, 62-63.
22 “…the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 2, 4. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this…” (Martin Luther, “The Smalcald Articles of Martin Luther,” article 4, in The Book of Concord: The Lutheran Confessions of 1529-1580); retrieved August 1, 2007 from Project Wittenberg: http://www.projectwittenberg.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/concord/web/smc-02d.html.
23 “…all Christians ought to beware of becoming partakers of the godless doctrine, blasphemies, and unjust cruelty of the Pope. On this account they ought to desert and execrate the Pope with his adherents as the kingdom of Antichrist” (the theologians assembled at Smalcald in 1537, “Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” The Book of Concord: The Lutheran Confessions of 1529-1580); retrieved August 1, 2007 from Project Wittenberg: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/concord/web/smc-pope.html.
24 “Daniel and Paul foretold that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4); we regard the Roman Pontiff as the leader and standard-bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book iv, chap. 12, sect. 16); retrieved August 1, 2007 from Christian Classics Ethereal Library: http://www.ccel.org/ ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.iii.html.
25 “It hath pleased God of His Mercy to make me one among many to disclose unto this Realm the vanity of the Papistical Religion, and the deceit, pride, and tyranny of that Roman Antichrist” (History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland, Book Four, 1561-1564, chap. 1, par. 16); written by John Knox and edited for popular use by C. J. Guthrie; retrieved August 1, 2007, from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics: http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html? mainframe=/documents/knox/ knox_to_mary/knox_to_mary.html.
26 Constantine I. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-22045
27William Stringfellow, Conscience and Obedience (Waco: Word Books, 1977), 49.
28 Roman Catholicism. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-43759
29 Bauckham, Climax, 284; “This land beast must be considered as the last in a series of three hostile worldpowers [sic]…. It is striking that the sphere of influence of the three monsters together embrace the entire cosmos: the dragon was from heaven, the first beast [of Rev. 13] from the sea, the second from the earth” (LaRondelle, Prophecies, 302).
30 Virgil Cruz, The Mark of the Beast (Amsterdam: Academische Pers N.V., 1973), 25.
31LaRondelle, Prophecies, 305.
32 Cruz, The Mark, 132.
33 The Revised Standard Version, in Dan. 7:25, says that the little horn “shall think to change the times and the law” (emphasis supplied). This is a somewhat clearer indication of the little horn’s attempt to change not just any laws, but the law of God.
34 Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 586.
35 Ibid., 585.
36 David Brady, The Contribution of British Writers between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18 (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1983), 14-20.
37 Johnsson, “Victory,” 31.
38 Mounce, Revelation, 262.