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:


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


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



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:


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




The Mark


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).






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.


21Ibid., 102.


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.