Tag Archives: the mark of the beast and the Sabbath

The Mark of the Beast as an Anti-Sabbath

The previous paragraph underlines that the Sabbath is a crucial issue in the final conflict. It also suggests that some counterfeit of the Sabbath will be central to the beast’s actions in the same conflict. What is less clear in the text is exactly what form that counterfeit will take. I can think of four options: 1) Another day (as in Sunday), 2) no day is a Sabbath (abolished), 3) every day is a Sabbath (not much different than two), and 4) force work or forbid worship on Sabbath. When dealing with Revelation 13 Ellen White normally works from number 1) above, but on at least one occasion mentions number 4). Is it possible to narrow these options further on the basis of the Bible alone?

The mark of the beast passage (Rev 13:13-17) is found in the larger context of Revelation 13 with its two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth. The sea beast is introduced in the first two verses of the chapter. “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” Rev 13:1-2. This is clearly an allusion to Daniel 7. You have a beast coming up out of the sea. You have mention of a leopard, a bear and a lion. You have seven heads and ten horns (the four beasts of Daniel 7:3-8 have seven heads and ten horns combined). So it is plain that John had Daniel 7 in mind as he wrote out his vision.

The connection with Daniel 7 becomes even stronger when you consider verses 5-7 of Revelation 13. “And a mouth was given to him (the beast from the sea), speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to operate for forty-two months. He opened his mouth in order to speak blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, those who are in heaven. And to him it was given to make war with the saints and to conquer them. And to him was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation.” This clearly looks back to the little horn of Daniel 7:20-25. The little horn is a religious power that persecutes the saints for a period of three and a half prophetic years.

But there is one aspect of the little horn that may be particularly relevant to the meaning of the mark of the beast. This found in Daniel 7:25. “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times (Aramaic: tzimnîn; Greek: kairous) and the law (Aramaic: dath; Greek: nomon); and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” The times of Daniel 7:25 are sacred appointed times and the term law generally has to do with the law of God in the Old Testament. The little horn power would seek to change laws related to appointed times. Since the ten commandments are a crucial background to Revelation 13 and 14, the allusion to Daniel 7 suggests that a change of the Sabbath day itself is the counterfeit John would have had in mind.

The mark of the beast as an alternate Sabbath day is further supported by the recognition that the Sabbath is a “sign commandment”. According to Anthony MacPherson, “sign commandments,” like circumcision and the Sabbath, are specific practices that God designates as “signs”. What is significant for our purpose about these sign commandments is that they involve the active performance of laws specific to Yahweh and not simply the prohibition of immoral conduct. They function as a sign because they are actionable and observable and identify a person as specifically loyal to Yahweh, as opposed to other gods. It is a specific worship practice that distinguishes the followers of Yahweh from others. MacPherson points out that that the mark of the beast in Revelation has several similarities to a sign commandment. The mark involves participation in some form of ritualized worship practice. Identifying it with Sunday fits that idea better than the other options for a Sabbath counterfeit.

Having said that, the word “Sunday” is obviously not in the book of Revelation. Not even “the first day of the week.” Here it is important to remember that if Adventist doctrines had to be exegetically compelling in order to be accepted, Adventists would not have many doctrines at all. A church’s doctrines combine what can be learned from Scripture with tradition, reason and experience. Such doctrines must be exegetically defensible. In other words, they cannot be in clear contradiction to Scripture, they must be compatible with an honest reading of Scripture. But not everything Adventists believe is compelling on the basis of exegesis alone.

This is relevant to the issue of Sunday laws in Revelation. The idea of a Christian power that would one day change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday is exegetically defensible from Revelation 13, it is compatible with the evidence of the text. I would even say it is the most likely option, from a purely exegetical perspective. But for even greater clarity and certainty, Seventh-day Adventists look to the counsel of Ellen G. White, not as the primary authority, but as a supplemental witness in determining the right reading of the Scriptural text where exegesis is not definitive. In the following we will look at the evidence of Ellen White herself in the context of American religious history.