The Mark of the beast – Part 1

11 Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching. 14 And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. 15 He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. 16 He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. 17 And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18 Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666. Rev 13

No book in the bible has generated as much interest and curiosity as the book of Revelations. Its contents have been hotly debated for a while now with some Christians considering themselves as experts in it while others avoid it all together because of its seemingly cryptic nature. The first thing we need to consider is that this book is an “apocalyptic” book meaning that it’s a book written with a lot of symbols and imagery and thus should not be taken literarily.

The above verse has been used a lot to predict the devastation that would face those who miss the “rapture”. They will not be able to participate in commerce if they do not accept this mark of the beast. Now let me paint a picture, if for instance we have an atheist on his death bed who still refuses to believe in God and just before he dies God’s name is written on his forehead, would he be considered a Christian when he dies? I think not because we all know that the process of salvation is a heart thing; you have to believe in your heart that God exists. But rather unfortunately, many of us Christians refuse to stretch this knowledge to the mysterious mark and thus interpret its significance literarily.

The mark is not a literal mark but was used symbolically just as the beast that rose out of the earth is not a physical beast but was used symbolically as well to represent a religious power. It had horns like a lamb but spoke as a dragon and also performed a lot of miracles. In other words, it was trying to masquerade itself as the Lamb of God. And why did it force everyone to receive this mark and what does this mark symbolise? In order to understand this bit of mystery, we need to look into the bible for clues.

In Mathew 23: 5, Jesus was reprimanding the Pharisees and He made mention of how broad their Phylacteries were. These Phylacteries were strips of parchment containing passages from Ex. 13 and Deut 6, enclosed in a black calf-skin case and fastened by thongs to the forehead or left hand or arm, as commanded in Deut 6: 8. It was to symbolise that the wearer’s thoughts and deeds were God centred and it was also a constant reminder of God’s presence. The positions of the mark of the beast were exactly like this with the exception of the mark being written on the right hand as opposed to the left hand for the phylactery. Signifying that this was not of God. The mark was described as the number of man and looking at it through the eye of the significance of the phylactery, we see that it signified that all who were branded with this mark were not God centred but man centred. And the aspect of the buying and selling does not refer to normal commerce as we know it but the dissemination of God’s word. In other words, one could only be allowed to dispense (sell or buy) God’s word within the territory of this beast only if one was earthly minded and not heavenly minded.

How does this affect today’s Christian? In more ways than we can imagine. The effect of this beast has been present in today’s church for a while now in the form of organised church. Organised church came in the form of the Roman Catholic Church when a lot of God’s ordinances were replaced with man-made ones and this marked a great departure from the church being God centred to a church that was man centred. And one of its attributes was the clergy-laity divide, the very doctrine of the Nicolaitans which God found despicable. In the clergy-laity divide, Christ’s leadership of the church was replaced by man’s and this became widely accepted. The mark of the beast had begun to take root. When the reformation occurred and there was a mass exodus from the Roman Catholic Church, the reformers unfortunately took this clergy-laity distinction with them to the protestant churches and the Pentecostal churches have also imbibed it as well.

The clergy-laity divide within the Pentecostal church is particularly heinous as it bears very close resemblance to the Roman Catholic Church of old. Many of them are usually under the leadership of one man who usually answers to nobody else. He is normally regards as infallible by his followers and any criticism of him is normally viewed as a sin against God. Let us for a minute examine the Pentecostal church. These assemblies are usually started by a man or a man and his wife. They may have had a genuine zeal for God’s work and decide to open a “church”. These “churches” usual have very humble beginnings starting with a few people meeting in the living room of the head pastor. The pastor would labour a lot to get this thing off the ground by sacrificing his time, his sleep and his finances and he will labour in prayer and fasting. To what end? A big congregation! Eventually this labour begins to pay off as he fast outgrows his living room and goes to purchase or rent a premises and eventually quits his day job and becomes a “full-time minister”. And in order to secure this empire he has single-handedly built he has to make sure he controls members of his congregation using the bible. He brings in clever doctrines; “touch not the Lord’s anointed and submissiveness to one’s leaders” to prevent anyone questioning his authority, “stewardship in tithes and offerings” to ensure finances flow uninterruptedly and the list goes on. Before long, the mark of the beast is at work as the congregation are no longer God conscious but have become man conscious and in their eyes, anyone that does not conform to this model or wins the approval of their pastor cannot preach to them. In effect you cannot “buy or sell” to them without conforming.

It is not uncommon to find manipulation from these leaders as they view their “church” as the fruits of their labour. Many of them preach questionable doctrines to endeavour their congregation remains loyal to them and would not entertain any doctrines that threatens their position even if this doctrine can be backed up by scripture. Let us take the tithe doctrine for instance; this ensures money comes flowing in. Any member who does not tithe regularly has restrictions imposed upon them and if that member tries to prove that tithing is not a New Testament requirement, he could be excommunicated in extreme cases. Other members are then advised to shun him so that no one else gets any bright ideas. Why? Control that’s why! And it is absolutely pointless trying to make many of these pastors see reason because they have invested so much in the start-up of their church and would not want to jeopardise the returns on their investment. We also see another trend whereby some of these leaders have been found guilty of committing terrible sins; adultery, fraud etc. but still refuse to relinquish the reins of power because of a truth, this church is their investment and rightly so. For others, they have good intentions and try to control the behaviours of their congregation. They try to augment aspects of the salvation process because they believe that if people are left to their own devices, they may fall. Morals are used to build a case for church attendance, a dress code is dictated and tenets are drawn up to control members’ behaviour. A vast majority preach what people love to hear; messages that are full of buzz words that make the hearers feels good. They try to market this in the best way possible to keep the masses interested even though on close scrutiny these words do not enjoy scriptural support. It’s all salesmanship to get people interested.

A lot of us have accepted this mark of the beast without knowing it. Our minds are no longer God focused but man focused. We lean heavily on our church leaders rather than lean unto God, hence it is not uncommon to see many Christians crash when their pastors crash. Christ is the head of the Church and not man and these pastors should stop viewing church as an enterprise or organisation but as a living organism that gets its life source from God alone. “Church” has become so financially lucrative that many aspire to own theirs and find an easy way to start up; aligning themselves with an established ministry. They become spiritual “sons” and “daughters” and after they have finished their “apprenticeship” go off to start their own church with some buying into the “franchise” of their spiritual “father”. And this requires that they remit monies to these spiritual “father” in order to enjoy “his” covering.

What’s the way forward? Church leaders should stop viewing their churches as their own because when things tend to get personal it really becomes difficult to be objective. If it is something you find difficult, you can opt out. Understand that the people’s allegiance should not be to you but to God because when you replace God, you are promoting the mark of the beast. Congregations on the other hand should cultivate a relationship with God and stop viewing their pastors as intermediaries between God and them. The book of Hebrews encourages all of us to come boldly into God’s presence.

Big Baskets and Little Ones

When I was a lot younger, I had a book of short stories that I loved to read. One of those stories seemed to have been permanently etched in my memory as I found it contained a good lesson in selflessness; something we could really use in Christendom.

The story goes that a school in an African village had a corn farm that needed harvesting, so they called on all the students who could help out on a weekend. All that volunteered were asked to bring their own baskets from home and come weekend all volunteers came with their baskets. Some brought really small baskets that they could easily carry while others brought big baskets which would require a bit more effort to carry. After they had done several trips from the school farm to the school store they were told that there was no more room in the store and that all could take that last trip home with them. Those who came selflessly with their big baskets had a lot of corn to take home while those who came with small baskets took very little home with them. What is the moral of this story?

Let us for a second imagine that all the students knew they would be asked to take a basket load of corn home, what would have been the reaction of those with small baskets? They would have brought the biggest baskets they could find and in that case greed would have been the motivation. This unfortunately is where we seem to find ourselves in today’s church; people give sacrificially because of the lure of the promise of untold wealth. And this puts the motive behind their giving under question; if there was no promise of great returns would they stretch themselves so much in their giving? Would their giving be selfless?

This brings to mind the scam perpetuated by some Nigerians where they promise you loads of money if you just part with a little money. And rather surprisingly, many people fall victims of this kind of fraud and the question is why? GREED! That’s why. These fraudsters capitalise on the greed of these folks and bilk them till some became bankrupt. That is exactly what is happening to many Christians today. Because they do not read their bibles properly and this promise of untold wealth from tithing, giving and sowing seeds is just too much to miss, many of them keep falling victims of these scam artistes behind the pulpits. However, there is the other end of the spectrum where Christian give out of fear! Fear of the devourer, fear of upsetting God etc. This too is another weapon of choice these crooks behind the pulpit employ.

Many Christians are so blinded by greed or fear or both, that they simply haven’t taken time out to study their bibles properly to understand what the bible says about giving. Even though it is blatantly obvious in scriptures that the New Testament believer is not obligated to tithe, the fear of offending God or the lure of wealth have blinded many hearts to this truth. I have not said none should give, on the contrary. Let us look at this often overlooked verse of scripture in 2 Cor 8

11 Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.

The bible says you should give as you are able and let your giving be motivated by love and not greed or fear. Let’s look at 2 Cor 8 again

3 For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4 They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers[b] in Jerusalem. 5  They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

8 I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.

Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to give as much as they were able, that is the selflessness in giving. Like the story I told, it would make no sense for the students to bring baskets they were unable to lift because they want to be seen as helpful. They could seriously hurt themselves doing that and on the other hand it would be a little unkind of the students to carry really little baskets that 3 year old toddlers can carry easily without breaking any sweat.

There is no single verse of scripture that says you have to give at least 10% of what you earn before God is pleased, instead scriptures says anything you give is acceptable as far as you give it eagerly. You do not have to empty your bank account at the prompting of a crooked tele-evangelist before God is pleased.

Before I conclude, let’s sneak a peek at Genesis 4 where Cain and Abel each brought God an offering. Cain brought some of his crops while Abel brought the firstlings of his sheep. This has often been used to build a case for tithing even though the tithe is neither implied nor suggested. Others have said that Cain’s offering was rejected because it was produce of the ground while Abel’s was accepted because it contained blood. That too is wrong because you cannot give what you do not have. Cain was a farmer and crops were all he had to offer. What really does the bible say with regards to this?

By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice. Heb 11: 4

So when it comes to giving, anything you give is acceptable as far as you give it with the right heart.