oogle the phrase “mark of the beast” and you’ll get more than 4,620,000 hits. Seems a lot of folk are intrigued with this term, but what exactly is the mark of the beast? It is an attempt to save yourself through submission to powers that are opposed to God and to His law; it is worshipping the creature and not the Creator. It is the opposite of the seal of God. Let’s read Revelation 14:9-12 and develop these ideas.
True Worship vs. False Worship
“A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’ This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”
First, we find the practice of true worship juxtaposed against the counterfeit of false worship. This message centers on the issue of worship: “If anyone worships the beast.”
Debates over worship are nothing new in the church. Arguments abound about what is acceptable worship—open worship, free worship, traditional worship, private worship, corporate worship, worship songs, worship drama, and so on.
A neutral observer might conclude that worship is about the participants. In reality, worship that focuses on the worshippers is really nothing more than spiritual narcissism, religious idolatry, or if you prefer, beast worship.
In the words of Chris Rice: “True worship of God is not dressing up our words and our vocal parts and our bodies and impressing Him with ourselves. True worship is to lay ourselves bare before God.” As A. W. Tozer put it: “Worship is the knowledge of the holy.”
In the last days, God’s remnant church will call attention to authentic, biblical worship. This worship will not occur on a day of people’s choosing, but on the Sabbath day that was sanctified at the time of Creation. It is worship that is not fixated on the preferences of humans but on the passion of ascribing worth to our Holy God.
Salvation by Faith vs. Salvation by Works
The second issue that arises in the third angel’s message pits salvation by faith against salvation by works. Ellen White offers this insight: “The theme of greatest importance is the third angel’s message, embracing the messages of the first and second angels. All should understand the truths contained in these messages and demonstrate them in daily life, for this is essential to salvation.”1
Why is this message so important? It is important because the eternal destinies of all human beings hinge on this central issue brought to bear by the third angel—the issue of worship. Will your loyalties be reserved only for God? Or will you compromise for a counterfeit god who blasphemes the Most High God?
In God’s kingdom, salvation comes freely to all who accept what Jesus did on the cross. In the counterfeit kingdom of the evil one, salvation must be earned by works. “But beware,” says the angel, for “there is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast.” Rest comes only to those who depend fully on Jesus for everything—life, freedom, and salvation.
An example of this rest comes in the gift of the Sabbath—the day that God ordained for worship. After all, Sabbath observance is the marvelous response to what Jesus has done for us.
Think about what Jesus has done. He took our punishment for sin. That means we never need to worry about being good enough for heaven. This gift is not based on what we do; it’s based on what Jesus has done. Period. It has nothing to do with going to church on a certain day, or abstaining from pork, or paying tithe. We are saved only by faith in Jesus. Because of Calvary, Jesus gives us what we cannot earn—right standing with God (see Rom. 3:21-24). We cannot add to what Jesus has done.
The Sabbath, then, is the ideal response to this gift. It reminds us to rest from our endless struggle to be good enough. In our frenzy to try to earn our salvation by good works, God whispers the gift of the Sabbath as a reminder to rest.
Isn’t it ironic that John the revelator tells us that this matter of worship will be a central issue in the closing chapters of this earth’s history? So relax, fellow pilgrim; the work has been done at Calvary and His grace is sufficient for you.
Seal of God vs. Mark of the Beast
A final dichotomy that emerges in this text contrasts the seal of God with the mark of the beast. In Revelation 14 John describes two camps of people just before Jesus returns. The first group worships the beast and receives its mark—they submit to its authority and to the visible expression of it in obedience to a truncated law, a law into which a human commandment was inserted. The second group contains the true followers of Jesus who “remain faithful” and “obey God’s commandments.”
Counterfeit Christians receive the mark of the beast. Genuine Christians receive the counterpart of the mark of
the beast, which is the seal of God. This seal is symbolically described as having the name of God and the Lamb written on the forehead. It means that the remnant reflect the character of God in their lives. They remain loyal to their Savior. They resolve to “obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). They obey all the commandments—including the fourth. Ellen White writes: “The Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of the living God.”2
Jesus kept the Sabbath. Thus He set an example for His followers. We don’t observe the Sabbath to merit salvation, but to express our loyalty and worship to the Lord we love.3
Rosa Cornelia Veal tells of meeting a woman named Ruby Free: “I met her when she was conducting a Holy Land tour. She must have a secret, I said to myself enviously. How else can she accomplish so much, so easily? She was a good listener, a trouble-
shooter, an organizer, a mother hen to 72 tourists, plus her own two children; yet she was never tired, never out of sorts.
“Then, back home, I visited Ruby. And I think I discovered her secret. There it was, a two-word motto over her sink: ‘YES, LORD.’”4
Such is the motto of God’s remnant. “Yes, Lord.” Because they enjoy an intimate friendship with Him, their prayer will be: “If Jesus worshipped on the Sabbath and You invite me to follow His example, then, ‘Yes, Lord!’”
So what about you? God is asking: “Will you participate in My mission of hope? Will you rest in the work of My Son, Jesus? Will you remain faithful to Me?”
How He longs to hear two words: “Yes, Lord!”
1Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 196 (Letter 97, 1902, quoted at www.sdabol.org/BOL%20Research/3ANGMESS.htm).
2White, The Great Controversy, p. 640.
3Concepts about the Sabbath adapted from Jon Paulien, What the Bible Says About the End-time (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), pp. 126-129.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Does everyone who worships on Sabbath necessarily have the seal of God? What about the Jews?
2. The author emphasizes the words “Yes, Lord.” What is their significance in the context of this reading?
3. Does Sabbathkeeping save us? Explain.