With the Covid-19 vaccinations ramping up around the world there has been some apprehension that these could be “the mark of the beast,” some sort of globalist agenda to make the planet march to their orders.
Besides the fact that Christians in past ages have fretted over this mark in one form or another and it never came to pass (e.g. everything from slave brands to computer chips have been suggested; besides different names [see below]), there are a few reason why the Covid vaccine is probably not this mark:
What is this mark?
*It must be noted that apocalyptic litterature is picture language, and besides other complex matters in understanding Revelation, must be kept in view.
Not delving into the broader context, Rev 13:17–18 says:
“16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave,[a] 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.”
What are some basic facts? The mark relates to the beast. Everyone will need its name or number to conduct business. Christians are to be discerning to watch out for the man and his number, which is 666.
The mark in all certainty refers to the notion of slave branding. Like cattle branding it lets people know to whom you belong. However, in Ezekiel 9:4–6 this same notion is more veiled, only God can see the sign visibly, to others it must be invisibly or spiritually discerned. Brands also speak heavily to the subject of loyalty, to whom do I belong.
It evidently meant something to John’s readers (“let the one who has understanding…”) so we shouldn’t give up inquiring.
Some in church history used gematria, using the numeric symbols to calculate the letters they represent. Some, using Greek, thought it spelled Tatian, an early Emperor. Others, using Hebrew, Nero Caesar (the Emperor who killed Peter and Paul). Some have thought it to refer to Popes, Martin Luther and even Ronald Reagan (and a host of characters in between!).
In the 3rd century many Emperors demanded certificates of sacrifice to pagan gods. Some Christians compromised and some refused and were burned or cast into the colosseums. This practice of enforcement has been employed since (the Test Acts in 17th C England, Trudeau’s attempt with the Summer Jobs program). Something to do with this mark means persecution for the faithful that diminishes their economic standing.
Let me suggest another numeric way of coming at 666 that builds on some of what we’ve worked through. (On this verse I follow the interpretation of Steve Wilmshurst, Revelation: The Final Word).
In the Bible the number “7” is the perfect number (e.g. the Creation week). Therefore as God is triune and if He could be assigned a number it would be 777; this is the number of Divine perfection.
666 then is a number of someone who seeks to imitate God but ultimately falls short, even as it demands loyalty to it. It is the number of the “unholy trinity” (Satan, the Beast and the whore of Babylon). Remembering that marks are like brands, they are a symbol of loyalty. The person who has the mark of the beast shows they are of the beast. The devil’s agents give false signs (13:13) whereas Christ’s agents have true signs (11:5–6). Remembering too the more invisible nature of marks from Ezekiel, these signs are the fruit of such a person’s moral character (you shall know them [professors] by their fruit, Mt 7:16a), either Christlike or wicked. Often throughout history, and still today, Christians have been persecuted (with economic effect) because of who they are, what they stand for and where their ultimate allegiance lies.
I would contend then that the mark is not merely some future thing but a present reality of someone who bears the characteristics of their father, the devil (Jn 8:44).
The wisdom of Revelation, written to persecuted Christians, is less eschatological and more imminently practical. It is to teach the wisdom of trench warfare that says: be on the lookout for the fruits, for these will help us discern friend from foe; and don’t conform, not even for economic benefit, and betray your loyalty to 777 for the fleeting pleasures afforded by 666.
[This blog is a specific response to a question that was fielded by someone beyond MBC, however, it helpfully speaks into a between-the-testaments mini-series I had been publishing in our C2C series]
When I visited Jerusalem a number of years ago, one of the men in my group caught ‘Jewish Fever,’ an unusual fixation with Judaism and the desire to become Jewish. It was the most bizarre thing. He started wearing a kippah (hat), eating Kosher and observing other Jewish rituals. He completely broke off from the group of Christians he had come with for the duration of his stay. What made this all very strange was he professed to be a convert to Christianity and had originally come from a Hindu background in India! Jewish Fever can make people do some strange things.
Yet this ‘Fever’ has another manifestation outside of Israel, among those professing Christians who take a fancy to all things Jewish, as if being Jewish, was a superior form of spirituality and practice to that found in the Christian faith: they come to meet on the Jewish Sabbath rather than the Lord’s Day, begin to observe Jewish customs and festivals and food laws, etc.
I want to contend why, in part, for ethnic Jewish-Christians, a continuation of aspects of their culture is appropriate, and why Jewish Fever is generally misguided and unhelpful for Jewish/Gentile-Christians.
This is founded upon the believer’s new identity in Jesus Christ under the New Covenant, as the fulfilment of past Biblical promises and covenants. The new has come, the old has passed (Mt 9:17; Isa 42:9). The Gospel is for the Jew first and then the Gentile (Ro 1:17). There is now no distinction between [the believing] Jew or Gentile, we’re all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28). In fact, Paul says, a Christian (whether ethnically Jew or Gentile) is a true Jew in a spiritual sense and child of Abraham (Gal 3:7).
The Christian (ethnic Jew/Gentile) is in fact part of the New Covenant community of faith, which fulfils the former visible community of faith (the Jewish nation, see Ro 9–11). The Church is the realization of promises from Jer and Ezk of a New Covenant (Jer 31; Ezk 36).
The Law of Moses was the guardian (Gal 3:24); but Christ has come and it has passed (Mt 5:17–18; Lk 24:27; 2 Cor 1:20; Heb 8:13) and the believer (Jew/Gentile) is now part of a far better Covenant (Heb 8:6). The Old Covenant had certain practices associated with it; these were fulfilled in Christ. Those that were morally universal are now what the NT describes as the Royal Law. As for others, Sabbath gave way to the Lord’s Day; food laws to distinctive holy lifestyle (Col 2:16; Mk 7:19; Acts 15:20–21); covenant signs and festivals to worshipping in Spirit and truth and embracing New Covenant practices and principles and signs (i.e. the Great Commandment; Great Commission; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, etc).
There is of course great continuity between the Covenants (e.g. grace through faith), however, there is great discontinuity (e.g. the essence of the Covenant and its sign—baptism).
In all this it must be remembered that the early Church was: first exclusively Jewish (Acts 11:19); then largely Jewish (Acts 9:20 [Paul’s strategy of synagogue preaching]; Gospel of Matthew, Epistle to the Hebrews, etc); and yet it—in varying degrees of speed—embraced its New Covenant image; it ceased to be religiously or visibly Jewish as it understood Christ.
So, a new identity, a new community and new community markers.
For Ethnic Jews
Now what happens if you are ethnically Jewish and you come to Christ? Do you give up all of your cultural-religious heritage? Religious, yes; but not your cultural, where appropriate.
Consider this. You’re culturally-Canadian and come to Christ. You get to keep your God honouring cultural practices (hockey as a sport) but not those that dishonour Him (hockey as an idol). Or you are a tribal African. You get to keep your love of hunting, but you give up its associations with animism. It is similar to how I would view Judaism, the Jewish-believers keeps those practices that align with the New Covenant/Christ/Christianity and jettison or modify those that do not.
Anything that is retained must be upon cultural grounds and not religious, for now they are in Christ.
What about those who have “Jewish Fever”?
It really is as odd as someone who is Japanese trying to pretend they are German; a Zulu a Russian; an American a Brit!
Jewish Fever, for reasons already mentioned, is religious nostalgia, spiritual backwardness, regressive, counter-productive, misguided. At its worst it can be divisive or elitist (as seen in the NT). It is pretending to be something you are not (if you are a Christian), and placing stock in something that Christ doesn’t commend. The heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed these matters: we are justified by faith in the Gospel and from the Gospel flows Christian practice. To be obedient to an obsolete law is not Gospel centric, at best it is foolish, at worst it is another Gospel.
At our evening service this past Lord’s Day an interesting question arose, did Jesus or John speak the words of John 3:16?
This was something I did not even notice because I don’t use a red letter Bible and my quotation marks in my ESV are so small! (I evidently wasn’t wearing my glasses). I had always presumed this verse was John’s commentary upon the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.
In the Greek original there are no quotation marks here and so the question is left to the translators. Here is how it breaks down in some common Bible translations:
Those that have it as Jesus: NLT, ESV, NASB, AMP, HCSB
Those that have it as John: NIV, BSB, BLB, KJV, NKJV, CSB, ASV, CEV, GNB
So more have it as John than Jesus, but the division is comparable. Evangelical Bible commentaries also seem to be divided on the matter.
There are no major doctrines that are effected whether this was spoken by John or Jesus; ultimately John’s words are Christ’s (1 Ti 3:16; 1 Pe 1:11). There are minor issues of how we might interpret the words, like if I say the same thing or you say the same thing; however, these won’t break the bank.
I have always taken these as John’s words because they read like the introduction to John, they are explanatory (rather than progressive). John often takes time as the narrator to interject his [inspired] thoughts. There is also a tense change, which points away from Jesus and to John. Jesus also never referred to Himself as, “the only begotten Son,” but rather John does. It seems to me that John is explaining, or expanding upon, what Jesus and Nicodemus had been conversing about.
However, it is such a minor matter than I’m certainly open to alternative views.
In our C2C reading today we find a famous phrase of John the Baptist. Referring to Jesus as the Messiah who would come after him he said, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:27).
Stooping down to untie sandals (and clean feet) was the job of servants. John, recognizing his own sinful unworthiness (even as the greatest of OT prophets!) and Jesus’ incomparable greatness, he did not presume that he was worthy but frankly acknowledged that he wasn’t; not even worthy to untie His sandal. John knew he was beneath the rank of a servant before the Christ.
Yet, because John also said Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29) and Christ Himself bid John to rise and baptize Him, those who trust in Christ can have hope. We have hope that though unworthy, because of Christ’s grace through faith, we can rise from sub-servants to indeed be friends of God (Jn 15:14–15).
What amazing grace! May we trust in Him and serve Him with gratitude.
In the early Church there was a man by the name of Marcion (c. AD 85–160), who stands for us not as an exemplar but as a warning. Marcion held to a number of grave errors. He held a dualistic view of matter and spirit and saw all physically things as evil (vs. Genesis that says God created all things as “very good”). He also dismissed the Old Testament and any Jewish portions of the New Testament as irrelevant, unnecessary, and again, evil. These two errors stemmed from the third, his view of God. Marcion believed that the god of the OT and the god of the NT were in fact two different gods. One was filled with wrath and anger (the OT god) and the other with love (the NT god). Marcion was a gnostic, a complicated religious view that essentially believed a secret knowledge [gnosis= knowledge] was necessary for the spirit to find salvation and escape the body. Though originally a part of the church in Rome, he was condemned as a heretic for these pernicious lies. However, parallel gnostic churches arose and co-existed with orthodox ones for many years.
The older I get and the more I study history the more—on the whole—I am convinced that there is “nothing new under the sun.” Like Marcion, there are many today who believe—if not explicitly at least implicitly—that the god of the OT is a different god than the NT (and if they were following C2C would rejoice to have left the drab and dreary OT behind them and be in the bright and cheery NT).
Not only does this view fail to comprehend the grand story of salvation history, seeing, instead of continuity, discontinuity; it also fails to see God’s character as more than merely loving. It fails to see the characteristics of God so hated in the OT in the NT and the characteristics of God so cherished in the NT present in the OT. The same God is in fact God of and in the OT and the NT.
For example: in the OT God shows grace and not wrath (full wrath) when Adam sinned; He began a rescue plan to save mankind through Abraham’s descendant. When the Israelites made a Golden Calf, He did not destroy them all but only judged the perpetrators. In the face of spirals and circles of evil in Judges and Kings He showed patience. All of this is why the resounding chorus of the OT, and you’d be deaf not to hear it, is expressed in Ps 103:8: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (c.f. Ex 34:6).
Turning to the NT when God, expressed in gentle Jesus meek and mild, is supposed to be woolly love (a love Biblically unrecognizable), while finding great displays and teachings on love, forgiveness, mercy, etc, we also find words such as:
Do you see the point, why Marcion was dead wrong on a fundamental point and why so many progressives and liberals are today? The God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT, one and the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit: full of justice and grace, truth and love, wrath and mercy.
As we continue in C2C and go about our lives may we never forget the perniciousness of this ancient heresy, often expressed today, but unveil it for what it is: gravely mistaken.
What is it? Isn’t it Catholic or something eastern mystics do?
We’ve come acrossed it in our C2C journey through the Bible, most recently in relation to Ezra and Esther. Both these Biblical figures called God’s people to fast.
On Feb 1, 1793 the Republic of France declared war on Great Britain. The dangers of revolutionary France, not least of which was its godlessness and explicit anti-Christian tenor, troubled Europe. So Britain led other European nations in the 1st coalition which sought to contain the spread of this movement.
The trouble was that France was powerful and Britain did not emerge the leading power until 1815; at this point British triumph was not a forgone conclusion. France was a larger country, with more people and a larger military. Only 50 miles separated the two countries. On the other side of the English Channel was a bunch of riled up Frenchmen with guns!
As part of the war effort King George III immediately declared a national fast day for April 19, 1793. The populace was to abstain from food and attend religious services with “Fasting, humiliation, and the imploring of divine intercession” to be the aim of the day. Churches everywhere and of all stripes took up the Kings call, including Baptists.
It is a great tragedy that today no government would do such a thing (for Covid!); instead we seek to lean on our own ingenuity and strength instead of imploring/seeking/fasting.
Numerous Biblical characters fasted:
Moses fasted before receiving the 10 Commandments (Dt 9:9–18); David fasted in repentance and for his child’s life (2 Sam 12:1–23); Elijah fasted when he fled from Jezebel (1 Ki 19:4–8); Esther fast for the safety of the Jews before going to King (Est 4:15–17); Darius fasted or Daniel’s safety when he had been thrown to the lions (Dan 6:18–23); Daniel fasted that God might help him to understand a vision (Dan 10:1–3); Jesus fasted before His temptation by Satan (Mt 4:1–2); Paul fasted after his conversion (Acts 9:1–9); the early church elders fasted before sending out missionaries (Act 13:1-3); on & on the list goes. It is a great theme of the Bible being mentioned 132 times!
The exemplars of the faith fasted; do we?
Rather than some foreign or optional spiritual discipline, Jesus expected His followers would practice this spiritual discipline of fasting. Speaking of fasting without great fanfare and self-attention, He said:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:16–18
Notice Jesus said, “when you fast;” it was an expectation. What Jesus took issue with was not fasting but why and how people were fasting.
Jesus expects we will pray and fast (in secret, or at least—in the case of a public fast—in humility) and when we do there will be great benefit.
At its heart, and why it is associated with prayer, is that it symbolically and spiritually is an act of humility, or entire dependence upon God. It reminds us of our need of Him and working with faith is a something the Lord is pleased to bless (Isa 66:2b).
Fasting is not a form of weight loss!
However, there are many and a variety of reasons to fast: for protection (Ezra 8); in distress and grief (Jud 20:26); in repentance (1 Sam 7:6, Joel 2:12–13); for spiritual strength: to overcome temptation or to dedicate yourself to God (Mt 4:1–11); to strengthen prayers (Mt 17:21); to encourage love and worship (Lk 2:37); for guidance/ help in important decisions (Acts 14:23); to help build intimacy with God (James 4:8); to develop spiritual self-discipline (1 Cor 9:27).
If you have never fasted before, allow me to offer a couple practical considerations:
When not to fast? (these are not meant to be excuses)
How to fast…
The spiritual discipline of prayer & fasting have been hallmarks of great and godly Christians and times of great spiritual revival in churches and across nations.
Before crossing the Jordan, Joshua told the people, “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Spiritual complacency and mediocrity stand in the way of God doing great things among us. It is only when we set ourselves apart to humbly seek His face, intentionally & systematically imploring the LORD’s favour, that we can reasonably expect the LORD to do great things amongst us!
Fasting is of paramount importance to the Christians toolkit to facilitate this great and noble aim. May the Spirit empower us to rise to this challenge and be obedient to Christ’s words, “when you fast”.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.