The Mark of the Beast and the Covid Vaccine

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There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion these days among Christians about current events and the Bible. Some have equated the COVID vaccine with the mark of the beast. Here’s why I think that’s unscriptural and a harmful idea we should reject. 

What does Scripture say about the mark of the beast? 

The mark of the beast is first mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18: 

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 14:9-11 gives more clarity about the mark: 

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” 

We see here that those who worship the beast receive his mark. Other scriptures make this important connection: Revelation 16:2; 19:20; 20:4. 

Some scriptural truths about the mark of the beast: 

  • It is taken willfully – it is not accidentally or inadvertently. 
  • It is taken by those who deny Christ. 
  • It is taken by those who worship the beast. 
  • Those who take it are destined for hell.

Already we see that the mark of the beast cannot be equated with something as mundane as a vaccine. But what is it? Is it a literal mark that will be offered to us in the future? 

Is the mark of the beast a literal mark? 

The mark of the beast most likely is not to be taken as a literal mark. It’s important to realize that scripture uses “marks” to refer to those who belong to God. For example, in Revelation, there is another mark spoken of – the mark of God. 

“I will write on him the name of my God” (Rev. 3:12).

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev. 7:3).

“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4).

“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3–4).

Furthermore, the book of Revelation is intended to be understood in symbolic terms. Jesus makes this clear in Revelation 1:20 when he discloses the meaning behind some of John’s early vision. Jesus is pictured with a two-edged sword in his mouth. It ought to be obvious that this is not his actual appearance but represents the two-edged sword of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). Throughout the book of Revelation, we are told that certain images are symbolic and not literal. 

The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 tells Israel to bind God’s commands on their hands and between their eyes (Deut. 6:8) and in Ezekiel 9:1-6, God’s people are sealed with a mark on their foreheads, but this is not a literal mark but refers to God knowing his people. It is likely that the mark of God and the mark of the beast in Revelation are also not to be understood literally. 

What did it mean to the original readers? 

John is writing revelation to the seven churches in Asia in the late first century. These churches were experiencing persecution from the Roman empire. At this time, Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian were worshiped. Domitian demanded to be addressed as “Lord and God” (Suetonius, Dom. 13). Pliny wrote that Christians were told to worship the image of Caesar (Pliny, Letters, 10:96-97). Sound familiar? The number 666 could be a gematria for Nero Caesar.

Some scholars understand the number “666” to be an example of Hebrew gematria – where a letter of the alphabet is assigned a number. The numerical equivalent of Nero’s name in Hebrew is – you guessed it – 666. Whether this is the true meaning or not is debated, but it is certainly possible. Nero was considered by some early Christians to be the antichrist. 

What we do know is that:

  • Revelation is highly symbolic.
  • Revelation is written to churches in the first century.
  • Revelation describes the persecution of first century Christians. 
  • Revelation is given as a comfort, not for fear. 

Can a Christian receive the mark of the beast? 

Could the mark of the beast also refer to some present or future reality? Absolutely. However, just as it did in John’s day, it would signify those who reject Christ and turn to Satan. Whenever, someone abandons Christ and follows Satan in order to avoid persecution, we see the very real outworking of this “mark.” See Jesus’ warning in Matthew 16:24-26. Those who take the mark are punished in hell. Here’s what Scripture says about those who belong to God. 

Romans 8:38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

John 10:27-29

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 

If we belong to Christ and are faithful to him, we are in no danger of receiving the mark of the beast. It is impossible to be separated from God’s love by anything in creation – that includes vaccines! No one can take us from the Father’s hand. 

How should Christians respond to alarming current events? 

We have seen much turmoil and controversy in the past year. The pandemic, racial unrest, a tumultuous election, and a new presidential administration. On top of this, there is no shortage of voices giving opinions and sometimes even misinformation. The worst of all are those who claim to speak for God but do not speak the truth. 

As Christians, we should avoid sensationalism and conspiracy theories. Remember all the ruckus leading up to the “Y2K bug?” I remember when people predicted that Barack Obama was the Antichrist and would bring a one-world order. The list goes on and on. When will we learn our lesson to not get carried away with these things? Rather, God tells us to “fear not” over and over again in Scripture! 

When I hear someone say that the COVID vaccine is a way for the government to track or catalogue people, I can’t help but laugh. As Americans, we are required to have a social security number, a driver’s license, car insurance, we already must have vaccines for some international travel, our we carry around super-computers in our pockets with GPS tracking, microphones, and cameras! We are already more connected than we often realize. Living with suspicion and conspiracy is simply no way to live in the world. We cannot live by what “could be” or by being fearful of what the next headline will mean for our future. Rather, we trust in the Lord and await his soon return, knowing that all human history is under his control and we already know that history is moving towards Christ’s victory. 

End times confusion is nothing new. Paul dealt with it with the Thessalonians. Someone had spread the false belief that the day of the Lord had already come! Paul counsels them to “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). This is good counsel for our day. 

Should you take the COVID vaccine? That decision is for each individual to make. I did and I encourage you to take it. Whether you do or whether you do not, however, does not make you more or less Christian. Obey God, follow your conscience, use your best judgment, and do not live in fear of things which God has well under his control. If you belong to Christ, he has marked you as his own, and nothing on this earth can ever change that. 

How God Gave Us The Bible

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000000019How can the Bible be God’s Word if it was written by human authors? This is a common question that arises when discussing the supernatural origin of the Bible. It is true that the Bible was written across 1600 years of human history by more than 40 human authors. How can it still be written by God? Paul tells Timothy that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). “Inspiration” is the Greek word theopnuestos which literally means “God-breathed.” Jesus corroborates this when he said that we live by “…every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4). The men who wrote the books of the Bible wrote under divine inspiration and the end result is the words of both the human author and of God.

There are differing theories of how God inspired the biblical authors. Most conservative, evangelical Christians believe in what is call “verbal plenary inspiration.” The word verbal  affirms that the very words the writers chose are inspired. For example, in Acts 1:16 the Apostle Peter says “the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake” (KJV). The word  plenary means “full” or “complete” meaning that God inspired the complete text of the Bible, including historical, scientific, and doctrinal details. This concept of how God inspired the Bible is seen in Peter’s words, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV). Although men put the pen to paper, the things they wrote did not originate in their brains, but in the heart of God. God inspired the writers, they transmitted the message.

Some of the authors might not have realized at the time that they were writing the words of God. However, many did know this. Gordon R. Lewis writes, “Over 3,000 times biblical writers claimed to have received their messages from God. God the Holy Spirit “inspired” (breathed out or originated) the Scriptures through the human writers (2 Tm 3:16).God prepared these conscious, active prophetic and apostolic spokesmen (and their secretaries) providentially by their heredity, character, vocabularies, and writing styles. At the appropriate time, in all the processes of writing, they were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt 1:21).” [1]

The Holy Spirit guided the human authors while allowing their individual personality, knowledge, and vocabulary to produce the books of the Bible. The end result is the very Word of God communicated through the medium of human writers. This view recognizes both the human and divine aspect of Scripture.

 

[1] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1812). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Why God Gave Us The Bible

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big_ten_std_t_nt“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). These words were written by Paul the apostle to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul is instructing him to be faithful to what God has revealed in the scriptures in the face of opposition and pressure from others who have abandoned the Word of God. How did these Scriptures come to be, and why was it necessary for God to reveal Himself through written words? The answer is as old as time…

In the original design of creation, man had fellowship with God in Eden. That fellowship was lost in the Fall and all humanity was separated from God in that one act. All Adam’s descendants are born estranged from God, aliens to truth and righteousness and in such a sinful state that we only rebel against God. Even when men try to worship what they think God is, the result is false religion, paganism, polytheism, and creature worship. We are often convinced from creation and conscience that God exists, but we cannot know Him on our own.

From Adam till Moses, humanity continues to sin, die, and live in separation from God. Paul says that during the time from Adam to Moses “death reigned.”“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses…” (Romans 5:14 KJV). There is no written revelation from God to show what God expects of humanity and people are left to grope in the darkness and to die in their sins. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes and is in bondage to sin and enslaved to death.

During this time, God revealed Himself personally to individuals as He chose. God revealed Himself to Abel, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Melchizedek, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others. The faith of these individuals was based on their personal experiences with God. They had no Bible, no law to guide them; only their own consciences and personal revelation from God and perhaps, oral traditions passed down about God.

But in Moses’ lifetime (approx. 1500 BC) something very important changed. God began to break the reign of death by providing mankind with His written Word. God wrote His law on tablets of stone, delivered them to Moses who gave them to Israel. Moses would record all of God’s laws and ordinances for Israel, ultimately writing the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. For the first time in human history, God had given His holy, inspired, written, indisputable Word to humanity. God would continue to inspire men to write Scripture from this point forward until about 400 years before Christ. Malachi was the last prophet to write under the inspiration of God in the Old Testament. It is believed that Ezra the scribe was the first to formally organize the Old Testament canon as we have it.

After 400 years of silence from God, God started speaking again. He began speaking through John the Baptist, continued through Jesus Christ who is the supreme revelation from God. He is called the Word of God (John 1:1-3). After Jesus’ ascension, the church began growing and men began writing. The four gospels tell of Jesus’ life and ministry, Acts gives the history of the early church, while the epistles contain the inspired teaching of the prophets and apostles of the New Testament. The final contribution to the New Testament canon is the Revelation, or Apocalypse of Jesus Christ penned by the Apostle John. With the completion of this book in 94-96 AD, God again ceased speaking written revelation. The Bible is complete.

The reason God inspired men to write the books of the Bible was to perfectly reveal Himself to us and provide a means of redemption and reconciliation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes this great plan of redemption known and tells us how we can be reconciled with God. Without the Bible, we would have no message to share with the world, and we would have no hope ourselves because the only reason we are saved is because we have believed what God says about Jesus. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible is His way of reconciling fallen, sinful humanity to Himself based on the redemptive work of Christ.

Three Views on The Book of Revelation

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ImageThe book of Revelation has been the source of much biblical debate. Even among Christians, it is difficult to come to an agreement about certain issues concerning this apocalyptic book of the Bible. Written toward the end of the first century AD by John the apostle, Revelation is the last book of the Bible and reveals events yet to come culminating in the return of Christ. The first three chapters aren’t so difficult to interpret. They are comprised of seven straightforward messages from Christ to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Chapters four through twenty-two, however, are a different matter altogether. There are three major positions where interpretation of this book is concerned. I will briefly outline each of them.

The preterist position, also known as the contemporary historical position, sees the events of the book of Revelation as historical events that occurred in the first century AD. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the fall of Rome, and the Roman persecution of Christians are important components in this view and are seen as the subject of much of the destructive prophecies in Revelation.

The idealist position is a timeless, symbolic approach to the book of Revelation. This view says that the visions in Revelation do not depict actual events that happen in a specific place or time, but portrays symbolically the timeless, spiritual battle between good and evil. This battle culminates in the defeat of Satan and the victory of Christ. This view interprets the 1,000 years in 20:2-7 as symbolic of the spiritual reign of believers with Christ.

The futurist approach maintains that the events of chapters 4-22 of Revelation depict future events. This view interprets the 1,000 years in 20:2-7 as a literal period of time in the future. This is consistent with the book’s claim to foretell future events (1:19). There are very many varying interpretations even among futurists, but all agree that the events contained in John’s visions are to be fulfilled in the future. I plan to talk more about the various futurist views in a later post.

This leaves us asking “which view is correct?” A preterist approach would only be beneficial when studying church history or the persecution of the first century church. It would yield little benefit to today’s readers. The idealist position has some merit, but vastly ignores the plainly indicated future nature of the prophecies. The visions of Revelation are meant to be understood as specific prophecies fulfilled in space and time.

The futurist position is the only position that fairly understands and interprets the text along with other prophetic passages in the Bible and is the only one to provide real spiritual merit for the believer. The futurist position allows the book of Revelation to be applicable to believers of any era and gives great hope that Christ will overcome all the power of Satan. While there are many different futurist interpretations of Revelation, and I cannot discuss them here in detail, this perspective is the best and most natural understanding of the book in my evaluation.

More than the Music: Revelation Song

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            A song that we use regularly in worship at Reed Springs is the “Revelation Song” written by Jennie Lee Riddle. Our worship leader, RonnieMcDowell, does a great job of leading the church in corporate worship with biblical, theologically rich songs such as this one. “Revelation Song” really does a good job of communicating the proper attitude of worship. It is a hymn and an enthronement song. An enthronement song is one that celebrates the reign of God as Lord of the nations. It has all the correct elements: a call to worship, description of God’s attributes, and a conclusion of praise.

        
           “Revelation Song” is very solid with biblical theology. Since it is taken straight from chapters four and five of Revelation, it is imbued with colorful imagery but conveys a very definite message. It begins with Jesus’ sacrificial death as the Lamb of God and then immediately ties His sacrifice to the Old Testament sacrificial system by mentioning the “mercy-seat.” This indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and is the Messiah spoken of in Isaiah 53.

“Revelation Song” also highlights the deity of Christ many times in its lyrics. All of the second verse lists characteristics of Yahweh and assigns them to Christ. You see an interchange in the two worship songs of chapter 4 which speaks to Yahweh and chapter 5 which speaks to Christ as if the two are synonymous (because they are). Verse three of the song mentions that Jesus’ name is breath and living water. The image of living water comes from many Old Testament passages that speak of Yahweh (Isaiah 12:3; Eze 47:9; Zec 14:8), which Jesus assigns to Himself multiple times (John 4:10; 8:37). The idea of His name being breath carries with it the images of special creation when God “breathed” into man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) and it is through the name of Jesus that the dead may live again (John 11:25, 26).
            The chorus is especially expressive of the deity of Christ in that in takes the formula of “Holy, holy, holy” first mentioned by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 and repeated in Revelation 4:8 by the four beasts and directs it to the subject of this hymn, Jesus. It is also in the chorus that the author is singing along with creation as unto the Creator. This hymn is theologically rich and filled with doctrine and truth. You can see a performance of “Revelation Song” by Ronnie McDowell here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUScAciJImo