by Ramone Romero.
I’ve written before about the “mark of the beast”, but it seems that every few years, especially around election cycles or the advent of some new technology, some Christians see circumstances that they believe will lead to “the mark of the beast” from Revelation 13.
So here are some thoughts about “the mark” versus the gospel of Christ’s love. Because the common understanding of “the mark” is not compatible with the gospel. One will invariably overtake the other in the end.
1. The Dividing Issue
Firstly, the crux of “the apocalypse”, the central issue, the great “controversy”, is about Christ’s love.
It’s not about some overlooked ritual, the knowledge of a more correct doctrine, name, or command.
Instead it’s what sounds so simple, too simple, too elementary. It’s what the apostles proclaimed from the beginning, and what they wrote “we are nothing” if we do not have.
It’s not about the mere profession of the name of Jesus Christ, for he said that in the end many will call him “Lord, Lord” but will not do what he commanded them to do. (And we’ve seen that all too often throughout history, up to the present day.)
It’s not about proclaiming the doctrines of the gospel *unless* that gospel is backed up with living out grace in love for others. Of course many of Christ’s statements about himself offended religious leaders, and his miracles offended them, too. But what upset and offended them most was in all of those things he was giving grace and mercy, proclaiming God’s justification and love for the “sinners” that they felt above, for people they believed were undeserving.
While at times throughout history there is terrible persecution for calling him “Lord”, the worst persecution always comes from home, so to speak. Even though Rome crucified him, it was his own people (who proclaimed to be serving God) that handed him over to Rome and demanded his crucifixion. And so Jesus said that the ones who handed him over to Pilate were guilty of “the greater sin”.
Remember when Jesus said “the world will hate you because of me”? In the same talk he also said “they will put you out of the synagogue.” When he said “the world”, he was *not* talking about “nonbelievers”. As Christians we tend to believe that the enemy will be among “non-Christians”, just like religious Jews in his day believed that the enemy was among “Gentiles”. But that is not a key for discernment at all. Quite the opposite.
When Paul wrote about the “great apostasy”, he described it as a rebellion *in the temple*, in the “house” that bears God’s name. In the new covenant, we believe that the church—the body of believers—is his temple. And that is why it is called an “apostasy”: Paul did not foresee and warn about some external threat or other religion (or anti-religion). He saw that it would be a “falling away” that happens *inside*, among believers, instead of being imposed from outside.
He described the rebellion as being led by “lawlessness”. He also said that to fulfill Christ’s law, we must bear one another’s burdens. In other words, to love one another as Christ commanded. His law is love, and the rebellion Paul foresaw was a rebellion against Christ’s law, against his command to love one another as he loved us (including enemies, for he loved us while we were his enemies). It is not a rebellion against his name, but against his spirit—against his very nature. Against the substance of his grace, his teachings, and his commands.
The rebellion is against is “the way”—as the early believers called the faith. Living as his disciple, with him as your guide, living as in an “upside-down kingdom” that does not have the same values, economy, or beliefs about what is “practical” as the nations of the world. Remember that Jesus said the “narrow way” many would not find was the golden rule.
And so Jesus foretold that the love (agape love) of most will grow cold and so they leave the faith. They are those who have known and been in the faith, who have tasted his love and followed it, but whose agape love has grown cold, and who have left the substance of the faith. But those who stand firm—in his love—will be saved. And so it is his love that is seen as the dividing issue is seen in the apocalyptic parable of the sheep and the goats.
Fix this in your understanding of the “end times”: the dividing issue is the substance of what Jesus taught and commanded. It is his “way” that caused offense against him when he was persecuted, and it will be the same in the “end times”.
2. What to Discern
Discerning Christ’s spirit—his love—is far, far more important than trying to discern “the mark of the beast”, because without understanding Christ’s love, there is no discerning of the mark of the beast at all. We cannot discern the “mark” from the outside. It can only be discerned from the inside, from the spirit.
And, even trying to discern the “spirit“ of the Mark of the beast is not enough if we do not begin (and end) by discerning Christ’s love.
Even when we try to discern the “spirit” behind the mark of the beast, we turn our eyes from Christ’s love to focus on working out what the beast must represent. We look at the parts and mechanics of the passage, and come to conclusions about control, domination, or empire. We discern that those things are the characteristics and goals of the beast, and then we look at the photo-negative as what must be the truth that the beast is against. This leads us to seeing our own worldview in the situation.
For example, when we surmise that the beast is about control, we deduce that the beast is therefore against individual freedom or choice. Our worldviews, such as how we understand freedom and control, creep into our interpretations because we don’t discern by the gospel and substance of Jesus’ teachings.
The spirit (the essence) of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. What he taught, what he did, his love, his spirit, his heart—that is the alpha and omega of prophecy. And we don’t just begin there and then take a long winding drive before returning to him; no, each passage, each stage of Revelation is either about Jesus’ love or our rejection of it.
Typically, however, we are led away from centering on Jesus’ love by interpretations that focus on certain nations, “dispensations”, a chosen race, trying to squeeze things to match up with events and times, or doing the same squeezing to match up things with events in the first century, etc. And with the “mark of the beast” in particular, we think we have some definite, concrete clues to match things up with (whether we match them up with events in the past, or with what we think will happen in the future).
Note: For those familiar with the schools of Revelation interpretation, I will focus on historicism here instead of preterism. I believe preterism is utterly mistaken, however it is a much lesser error than a historicist view that sidelines Christ’s love. Preterism sidelines Revelation, but allows the gospel and Christ’s command of love to remain intact. Historicism that sidelines Christ’s love alters the gospel and distracts from following his commands, and in the school of thought focused on Israel, actually subverts his commands.
I should also add that understanding all of or even most of Revelation is *not* necessary for salvation. The gospel is clearly revealed, and Christ’s command of love is clearly spoken. I believe Revelation, when it is understood, guides us back to the simple gospel and following Christ’s command of love. I also believe that he showed the vision in such complex imagery because he knew it would draw out our need to try to make a “map” of things; it would draw out our religious impulse to sideline him and map out the way to navigating the end times. (But that is a different discussion.)
3. Why we look for “the mark”
The mark was written about in an apocalyptic vision filled with symbols. We arbitrarily take the number of heads on the beast as symbolic, but when we read about the “mark”, we read it as if it must be literal. We can imagine literal “marking” scenarios, so we start to think about how the mark might look, what kind of technology it might use, etc. We search for a literal fulfillment because, honestly, that seems easier to figure out. That seems like a sign we can be ready to recognize when it appears. We think that by knowing what to look out for, we can avoid getting “marked”—and so we will be safe and saved.
Yes, I know, we assent that “only Jesus can save us, but the whole exercise of trying to figure out “the mark” is us trying to be extra sure that we won’t be deceived and lost, just in case faith in Jesus and obeying his law of love isn’t enough.
Searching for and trying to figure out the “mark of the beast” is an exercise that we do when we are afraid that following Jesus is not enough to save us. We think that in the end times, when the mark is given, that then somehow the terms of salvation are changed: that it will no longer be enough to believe in Jesus and follow his law of love—you need to know the beast mark!
The truth is that we try to figure out and prepare to recognize the mark of the beast because we are afraid that we can still be deceived and lost. Instead of trusting his Spirit, we seek a kind of physical evidence to make sure—a kind of circumcision, an evidence in our flesh that we are his.
But doesn’t Jesus tell us to look out for it?
No, he doesn’t. He said to believe in him, to follow his law of love, and to rest in him.
Our rest is in Jesus, not in figuring out the mark of the beast. By believing in him and following him, we already have overcome the mark of the beast, the antichrist, and whatever else may come.
4. When we think we know…
When we think the mark will be literal, when we take literally the conditions that the passage seems to describe (but of course symbolize the beast and his many heads, etc.), we think we know how to recognize the clouds gathering and predict the weather, so to speak.
We see a dictator rising? It must be the beast. We see some kind of international agreement between nations? It will lead to the beast. We see some kind of new currency or new technology? It must be the mark of the beast… or will lead to it. And therefore we think we need to “alert” and warn people. Tell them to “wake up” and see what’s happening. See that the beast is rising and the mark is coming. And, oh yeah (as an aside)—we should also believe in Jesus, too.
And even further aside, yeah, “love is important”, too. But now “love” becomes the mission of alerting people to our “knowledge” of the mark of the beast. “Love” is warning them, and not warning them means not loving them, we think.
The gospel is sidelined. Christ’s love and peace are sidelined (unless we’re challenged, then we’ll find some way to claim it’s all actually about his love and peace).
Effectively, our understanding of the mark of the beast becomes our new gospel. Our new mission. We don’t think that Christ’s love is enough to save us ourselves, and we don’t think it’s enough for others. So we relegate Christ and his law to the margines, and we evangelize the mark of the beast. People will be saved if they know, we think. They have to know what’s coming. I can see “the signs”, the things happening in governments and the world that will lead to the mark. I have to point people to the signs.
And so we keep watch. We warn people. This happens at least every other generation, it seems:
Social security numbers… 3-digit telephone area codes… credit card numbers… bar codes… microchips… covid vaccines & vaccine passports, etc. Each new innovation is seen as somehow conditioning is and preparing us to accept the mark of the beast.
Did you ever see original “Ghostbusters” film in 1984? There’s a scene where two of the ghostbusters are reflecting on the increase of paranormal activity, and one of them quotes “Revelations”, about the sun turning black as sackcloth, etc. Of course they didn’t say anything about Jesus or how his love is the greatest spiritual power against darkness.
But in the same way, I hear both believers and nonbelievers talk about “the mark of the beast.” Somehow it has become famous, and everyone thinks they know the “signs” of it, so that even talk of microchips can make nonbelievers be wary because they remember “the mark of the beast”.
And just like the Ghostbusters fighting the paranormal, this understanding of “the mark” simply doesn’t require Jesus and his love.
You know there will be a mark for buying and selling. You know it’ll demand some kind of worship or assent to some government or worldwide international order. Something like that.
You can see when it’s coming. So you know what to do. You know you need to resist and not get that chip. Or vaccine. Or whatever it is.
And the bottom line truth about this?
You don’t need Jesus.
You don’t need to follow his love.
You don’t need his Spirit to avoid any of these things.
Because you know about “the mark”, so you know how to not be tricked, deceived, lost. You know what to do, where to be standing when the bad stuff goes down.
And as we see apparent freedoms eroding, possible technologies emerging that the mark of the beast could use, it can also make us upset. Our love may grow so cold that we take up arms to try to defend what we think we’re losing. Or it may grow cold as we neglect Christ’s love to focus on the gospel of proclaiming the mark of the beast.
I’m sure that a lot of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, think they know about the “mark of the beast” and today are resisting Covid vaccines. I’m sure many proudly declare that Jesus is Lord. But obviously, what they did on January 6th had absolutely nothing to do with following Jesus and obeying his command to love one another (even enemies) as he loved us.
Discernment according to a literal “mark” is distraction from the gospel and Christ’s law of love. It is a diversion. A wild goose chase. Something to cloud our vision and keep us from discerning what’s really important—loving our neighbor and enemy.
Choose Christ’s love, and live in that. You won’t get beast-marked, because the mark is what happens spiritually when we choose against his love.
“But whoever loves is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:3)
Ramone Romero is a prophetic artist based in Osaka, Japan.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!