End of Days
American Christendom is never far removed from conversations about end times. Theologians refer to the study of end times as Eschatology. These conversations about Eschatology generally arise when there are conflicts involving Israel, when someone has “discovered” the date and/or time of the second coming of Jesus, or when something is pointed to as being the “Mark of the Beast”.
Current events in our world today have in some ways escalated and accelerated this conversation. Israel is at war with Gaza, QAnon has spread wild conspiracy theories pointing to dark organizations that are trying to create a “one-world government”, and the COVID-19 vaccine is being pointed to as the “Mark of the Beast”. This short post is an attempt to address the fears that tend to arise due to these conversations.
One of the biggest things that has derailed many people in end times theology is the point of focus. For so many, the mark of the beast, the earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars, etc. have become the focus. That flies directly in the face of what the Bible teaches. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)
Here is what the Bible has to say about the mark:
Revelation 13:11–18 (ESV)
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.
There are several observations to be made. I won’t go into a lot of specifics about this, but some things need to be addressed regarding myths that arise from this. The first thing to point out is that this is clearly vivid imagery. None of us have seen a beast rising out of the earth with two horns like a lamb and speaking as a dragon. This is clearly not something that is literally happening right now. For sure, none of us are being required to worship any beast, whether it be the first (which came from the sea) or this second one. So, if the beasts are not to be taken as literal figures, then why when we get to the number of the beast would we consider that it would be a literal mark? It seems that to make that jump, we would need to engage in considerable mixing of genres.
The second observation to make is that this is a mark that is compelled in order for us to buy things. When I do a Walmart pickup, no one is checking for a mark. They aren’t even asking for my vaccine card. Some will point to the fact that airlines and countries are requiring proof of vaccination before you can enter. That has been happening with other vaccines for decades now. Why is this vaccine all of a sudden different? There is a lack of consistency in this argument.
At the end of the day, if we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, then the vaccine, which was created by man, will not be our battle. We aren’t doing battle against a vaccine or creators of a vaccine. You can’t somehow lose your salvation because you accidentally and unknowingly accept the mark of the beast (which I do not believe is a literal mark). You are not required to pledge allegience to anyone to get the vaccine, much less some literal beast. The fears here are entirely unfounded. They are based purely upon misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
One other key piece to all of this is to understand that we are 2000 years removed from the writing of this. That means there are significant cultural differences for us as we read this imagery. John is writing Revelation in a way that the readers at that time would understand clearly. It isn’t some code to be broken. A great book about this is David deSilva’s Unholy Allegiances.
When you begin thinking about the horrors that the Bible describes as the end of this age approaches, it can seem to get pretty dark and scary. The Bible, specifically in Revelation, speaks of plagues and “bowls of wrath”. There is even a section that talks about 1/3 of the earth’s population being killed. Renowned theologian, NT Wright says this regarding that kind of writing: “It is as though John is systematically saying, ‘Think of your worst nightmares; now double them; and then imagine them coming true all at once, together. That’s what it’s going to be like. this is God’s way of letting evil do its worst, so that it may eventually fall under its own weight.”
I think this gets to the heart of the matter. Consider how the book of Revelation begins. At the beginning of Revelation, you see letters to seven churches in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). At the conclusion of each of those seven letters, you see the phrase, “to the one who conquers…” Each time that is stated, there is a hopeful phrase that points back to the picture of Jesus presented at the end of chapter 1. There will be wrath poured out on the fallen world. But that is a picture of justice being done. For all who are in Jesus, justice has already been completed at the cross. Jesus drank that cup of God’s wrath (consider the connection between Jesus praying for the Father to take the cup and Jeremiah 25). So, when you see the atrocities that Revelation describes, it is telling the churches who are enduring persecution in Asia minor that no matter how bad it gets, at the end, there will be a new heaven and a new earth and God will make his dwelling place with man and we will be his people and he will be our God and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. So, Revelation isn’t going to pretend that life on this earth is all unicorns and rainbows. It is going to assure us that there is evil that rules on this earth. But the fact that God knows that, makes it bearable. If Revelation painted a rosy picture for these persecuted churches, they would have nothing but despair. But instead, it gives a realistic picture of their pain and suffering and reminds them that if they will conquer, if they will persevere, then they will get the reward, namely Jesus himself. And that makes the suffering both expected and bearable.
This is also consistent with other passages of Scripture. Looking to Romans 8:38-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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.” That includes the vaccine. Jesus also said in John 10:27-30: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one.”
The verses that point to hope in Jesus go on and on and on. And it is because he didn’t give us a spirit of fear, instead he gave “the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Romans 8:15). If our Eschatology is driving us to fear, it is not of the Spirit and is not of Jesus. If it focuses on the mark of the beast and the plagues and bowls of wrath, it is pointing in the wrong direction. If our end times theology, however, points to Jesus, to the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12), who is washing us in the water of the word to make us a blameless and spotless bride for himself (Ephesians 5:26-27), who will reign supreme and uncontested, then we are looking in the right direction. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). And God is love (1 John 4:8), and his love was made known to us in Jesus (1 John 3:16).
-By Tyler Campbell