In my observation, there appears to me to be roughly three types of pastors when it comes to whether we are seeing the beginning of the Mark of the Beast in our current day. The first kind is the pastor who is absolutely convinced that this is the Mark, and that this is the beginning of the tribulation. I know good guys who are convinced that this is the case and have been saying so publicly for some time now. Sometimes they are willing to give a little bit and say it may just be a precursor, but they are generally very adamant this is the Mark. The continued Beastly behaviour of our governments is not quickly proving these guys wrong.
The second kind of pastor is the one who wants no talk of the Mark of the Beast around him in relation to our current context. He rejects outright any thought that we may be entering the tribulation. He recognizes that many people have thought many things were the Mark of the Beast in history, and they were all wrong. He is the guy who is quick to point out that this is a healing device, the government may not be handling this situation ideally, but they are seeking to get to people a medical treatment that can end this pandemic. For this pastor, to apply the teaching of the Mark of the Beast here is unnecessary fear mongering. Yes, there is coercion, some of these pastors think the coercion is wrong, others think it a necessary evil to get the vaccine numbers up. These pastors are the most likely to see any talk of the tribulation and Anti-Christ in this time as irresponsible.
The third kind of pastor, and this is the category I would put myself in, is the pastor who is very concerned with the Beast-like behaviour of the government, but also recognizes along with the pastors in the second category that there are countless examples of predictions about the end times being wrong, and so is also hesitant to call this the Mark of the Beast. However, there is another key difference between pastors in this group and the second group. We see many of the hallmarks of the Beast-like behaviour of governments in this time, and from this we observe an old pattern at work. A pattern about how evil works, and a pattern about how we are to find richness and application from Revelation in every era from the time of Nero until now. So, in a bit we will look at Revelation 13, but before we get there, we need to jump into 1 John and 2 Thessalonians and establish some things.
Both these passages help us establish that evil works in this world according to patterns. Indeed, I would argue that one of the most important aspects of the Bible is how it teaches us to recognize patterns of evil, so that we can avoid its dangerous effects, and stand strong against it. Note what 1 John 2:18-19 says,
“18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
What do we read here about the Anti-Christ? That there will be the big one, THE Anti-Christ, but there are also many lesser anti-Christs. It is obvious from this that in John’s Churches there were obviously Christians wondering: is this the big one, just as we do today. Why is this? Because evil works in patterns of behaviour, patterns of goals, patterns of oppression and coercion. There are MANY anti-Christs, and therefore it stands to reason that many Christians in different eras might genuinely be convinced they are living under the final Anti-Christ.
Many people read Revelation and think of it as only future, or only past, or in the Amillenial sense as teaching Spiritual truths about different biblical realities. But what if it was relevant in the past, present and future, and revealed to us the patterns with which evil worked and which God judged them? This explains why so many different generations of Christians think they are in the end, because there are so many repetitions of the same patterns of evil seeking to gain control. After all, there are many anti-Christs, many people who claim an anointing and seek to stand in the place of Christ as healers and saviours of their peoples, “…so now many antichrists have come.”
The fact that this pattern exists and is so clearly revealed here in this passage and observed in history, shows that we should not brush aside the relevance of Revelation 13 to our current situation. If there are many anti-Christs, there are many Beasts, and many versions of, or at least attempts at, the Mark of the Beast. Or, if you like, there are many proto-Marks of the Beast, attempts at pushing the mark, or strategies to train people to take the mark. We will come back to this.
2 Thessalonians says this:
“3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.”
We see here again that Paul says that the Anti-Christ, here referred to as the man of lawlessness, has not yet come. This is the big baddy, the final Anti-Christ, the main villain. He is being restrained until it is finally his time, and when that time comes he will be unleashed on the world. But, until that the “mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In other words, the patterns of the Anti-Christ’s evil are already happening amongst us. Ergo, it will at times appear like the Anti-Christ is already at work because he works according to the same pattern of lawlessness that evil works according to. Again, we see there is a pattern, and as we have noted, this pattern has been evident in history.
From Nero, to Julian, to the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the overrunning of Rome by the Barbarian Germans. To the Muslim invasions into Christian Europe, or the Viking raids along the shores of Christendom. To the tumults and religious wars of the Reformation, and the corruption of the popes. To the conquests of Napoleon and the rise of men like Hitler, Stalin and Mao, there have been many contenders for the title anti-Christ, and many similar patterns of evil behaviour, coercion, and opposition to all that is good. And this is just what comes from focusing on the European continent.
There will be many anti-Christs, acting according to a similar pattern, and Christians, who have been revealed these insights in Scripture, will find themselves at different points asking this question: “Is this the time? Is this THE anti-Christ?” The pastors who recognize that many predictions about the end have come, and have been proven wrong, are correct to be reticent to say, “this is the time of the end.” But they throw the baby out with the bathwater when they say that this passage doesn’t apply to our current situation. To say this passage does not apply until the final time, is to damage Scripture, undermine the relevance of all the books of the Bible to all seasons of life, and to render clear warnings about how evil works in Scripture obscured.
In fact, before I get into Revelation 13 itself, let me address the fact that many pastors seem to be completely unaware of the level of evil in our world, and how it actually works. I could imagine many pastors today saying to Jeremiah, “What’s your problem man, just enjoy life as it is, all these signs of evil in our land are not evidence of an evil intent on behalf of our leaders, Zedekiah is just trying to do his best.” Peace, peace, when there is not peace (Jer. 8:11). The leaders of Israel had become blind to the clear evil around them; indeed, they were given over to it, and their devotion to it was the source of their blindness.
There is much in Jeremiah 8 that could apply to our current situation, but it would take us far off topic, I will just note what two other verses say,
“8 How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. 9 The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jer. 8:8-9).
How many times have our Church leaders believed lies in this time, and criticized those who challenged these lies? Lies like just two weeks to flatten the curve is two weeks. They won’t mandate vaccines because it is wrong. They won’t mandate vaccines for ordinary people just aged care workers. Vaccine passports are inconceivable, Australia would not do that. They will give up power once 80% are vaxxed. The vaccines stop transmission. Again and again the Church leaders have ignored clear lies, and clear signs that there are nefarious forces at work, even if only in the spiritual realms among the principalities behind the scenes (cf. Eph 6:10-12), there are clearly still nefarious forces involved here. Their inability to see this is disturbing. But, anyway, let’s now turn to Revelation 13.
A cursory glance at Revelation 13:11-18 shows us that 1) this is not the final dance, the actual tribulation, 2) what is happening is clearly evil, and following along the same patterns of the final Anti-Christ, and this passage has much to teach us;
“11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:11-18).
There is much debate over this passage. The identity of the Beast here is debated. Is this the Anti-Christ and the first Beast the Anti-Christ’s system (my view, and the view of many)? Or is this the prophet of the Anti-Christ, and the first Beast is the Anti-Christ (a lot of people’s view)? Or is this a subset of the Anti-Christ’s system? There are many views, and we cannot debate them here. But the most important point, is that whatever the exact identity of this Beast, it is a poor imitation for Jesus, “two horns like a lamb”, but it speaks like a dragon, meaning the devil (cf. Rev. 12:9).
The agents of the Beast are like the serpent himself, deceivers and coercers;
“14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”
This Beast, whether an agent of the Anti-Christ, or THE Anti-Christ works by deception and coercion, just like the man of lawlessness, who uses both power and deception to turn people away from Jesus, “9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10). This is the pattern of the Anti-Christ, “22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Anti-Christ, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
How can a pastor think that there is nothing in this for Christians, except those in the tribulation? This is clearly not true. The reason so many people in history believe they are in the tribulation, is because evil has no new tricks, only different degrees of trickery. And the trickery right now is very high. The deception is incredibly manifest. The lies are plentiful in our society right now. Believing the claims that come out of the lying mouths of current elites, is both foolish and naïve. We were told that wickedness would use deception…two weeks to flatten the curve, anybody? The Beastly system is given over to deception, because its foundation is the activity and power of the evil one, the father of lies. We should expect in this fallen world ruled by the devil to observe and encounter far more lies, than truths. This is one of the most important reasons that God gave us his word, as a baseline for truth.
But note this,
“12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed… 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
So, we can say straight up that this is not the final tribulation, the final mark, because the mark is not on the right hands or foreheads of those taking it, correct? Well, yes and no. Let’s examine a couple of things first.
One, there is no need for the mark to be a literal, physical mark. For example, Ezekiel 9:4-6 says,
“4 And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.”
In this passage God is telling what appears to be an angel that he should mark those who are going to be passed over, with a mark on their foreheads. This is similar to the Passover in the Exodus account, where the mark was on the doorposts. But in this passage it appears to be of a symbolic or spiritual nature, as is the Holy Spirit for Christians such a mark, “13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).
So, in other words, the fact that there is no physical mark on people, does not mean it is not the mark of the Beast. Indeed, though I think there will be likely an end time literal fulfilment of this, remember that evil works according to patterns, and Revelation 13 says that evil marks those who are in allegiance with it. So rather than avoiding desperately a physical mark, one is better to note how else evil works here, to avoid falling for its trap. Therefore, it is vital to note that he also mentions that the second Beast causes people to worship the first Beast.
Herein lies the rub, because how does the Bible itself define worship? Worship is offering your bodies, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). Worship is offering your bodies. I have heard people say that we are not currently dealing with the Mark of the Beast, because there is no one in this current situation putting a gun to your head and saying you should deny Christ. But this is a ridiculous point for several reasons. One, this point would have been of no use to people in the pre-gunpowder era. Two, there is no mention of needing to deny Christ in this passage. Three, idolatry is often committed in the Scriptures by those who do not deny God, but rather accept God-and something else. God and Baal. God and Asherah. God and Molech. Idolatry is offering your body to something else other than God, as you are only supposed to offer it to God, and as we all know, some people are so devoted to the vax it is at the level of worship. Not all, of course, but some. But then humans will turn almost anything into a religion.
After considering these points, we can see how taking the Mark of the Beast, is offering your body to the coercion of the Beastly system, in order to continue to buy and sell, and trusting in the Beast for protection, and not God. When read in this light, you can see how people think that we are currently dealing with the Mark of the Beast. Our whole situation right now has Beast written all over it.
I for one do not think that we are in the tribulation, and I do not think that this is THE mark. I know I have friends who want me to say that we are, but I cannot. I think there are multiple conditions for that which are not in place yet. But I am willing to admit along with anyone else that of course we cannot know for sure. However, I think this current predicament of society we are in has the hallmarks and patterns of Anti-Christ behaviour all over it. The coercion of people’s bodies, and theft of people’s jobs and incomes is itself enough to say that this whole situation stinks of the ways of the Beast, and my conscience will not let me have anything to do with it.
This is not a position that I have come to lightly. It is not a position that I have just flipped over to because I read some end-times article. This is a carefully considered evaluation of our current situation in society, and a recognition that we see again, what we have seen many times in the past; evil rising and seeking to enforce its stamp on society. What is happening breaches almost all of our traditions as westerners, and all of the ways in which we viewed ourselves as people who believe in respecting others’ rights to their own bodies and liberty of conscience. It also sends the alarm bells off in the minds of any historically well-read Baptist. Our Baptist forefathers would have balked at a fraction of the social pressure and coercion happening right now. They were willing to suffer over a mode of baptism, so even if I am wrong, I would like to follow my conscience as our Baptist forebearers did.
You don’t have to agree with this analysis. I don’t think there is any unforgiveable act in taking the current vaccines, not at all. To say so, would be to swing the other way and do damage to Scripture. But there is a disturbing element of Beastly coercion happening, and there are many Christian brothers and sisters like myself who cannot bring ourselves to capitulate to it, or partake of it, even for personal gain, indeed especially for personal gain. Because it is for personal gain that eventually many will take the final mark. It’s not worth it. But it is more than just that, so many people’s lives are being crushed right now, and many of us just cannot go along with that. It is wrong. This coercion needs to stop.
If this is just a precursor, which most people think it is, it is time to thank God for a refresher course in flexing our muscles to say no to Beastly coercion. God is gracious, he knows we in the West have a weaker ability to resist evil, than many of our Christian forbears. So, he has graciously given us an opportunity to practice opposing Beast-like coercion. If this is just a precursor, then in my view the best thing to do is practice like it is the main game. Because when the main game does come, if it comes in our life-time, it will be far harder to say no then, if you could not now. Take this opportunity to practice saying no to the Beast.