Why People Fail to Understand Revelation (or the Bible)
When I was younger, I struggled to understand the Book of Revelation. It was so fascinating that I longed to crack its sealed language. But I could not, and nobody could help me.
Today, I do understand it much, much better and now know why I failed to understand before. I had not learned back then that most of the Bible is more literal than we ever imagined. To read literal passages allegorically will lead you to wrong conclusions every time.
But it gets worse. These wrong conclusions will cloud your understanding of still other passages, kind of like a spreading infection. The false views you hold constantly contradict any true interpretations you think of or come across. Because you view truths as wrong, you reject or disregard them. As a result, you are unable to truly understand any of the deeper teachings or mysteries of the Bible properly. This includes the mysterious Book of Revelation.
The Mark of Beast and the Mark of Torah
Revelation’s Mark of the Beast is a good and instructive example in this regard.
Revelation 13:16-17 (HCSB) 16 And he requires everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name.
This seems straightforward. A mark consisting of a name or number on either your forehead or right hand. The mark will serve kind of like a credit card does today. Without it you cannot buy or sell everything you want. For example, you cannot rent a car or good hotel room without a credit card.
However, how does your view of Revelation 13′s mark change when you incorporate these verses:
Exodus 13:9 (HCSB) Let it serve as a sign for you on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the Lord’s instruction may be in your mouth; for the Lord brought you out of Egypt with a strong hand.
Deuteronomy 6:8 (HCSB) Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.
It is because of these commands that Orthodox Jews put phylacteries or little Torah scroll boxes and straps on their forehead and hands. That’s a literal interpretation. Yet, most instead see this verse as an injunction by God to make his instructions tied to your thought and your actions always.
Mark of the Beast: Spiritual Mark?
Don’t these verses sound similar to Revelation? They associate God’s commands with the forehead and hand. This can cause you to question your literal view of Revelation’s mark. Perhaps it is not a literal mark, but it is a spiritual mark. Perhaps the mark really represents obeying the commands of the Beast in place of God’s commands?
At least that’s what the Seventh Day Adventist church teaches. They consider the mark of the beast to be symbolic. The symbolic meaning to them is a law to keep Sunday, or “Sunday Law”. Of course, they are the biggest Christian group that believes we are required to keep a Saturday Sabbath. They believe keeping Sunday instead of Sabbath is a serious sin before God.
The SDA interpretation looks reasonable especially with its “let the Bible interpret the Bible” methodology. Yet we will see that it is no accident they spiritualize the mark as they do. Their Sabbath view helps them to gloss over some important differences between the marks of Revelation and Exodus.
Mark of the Beast: Literal Mark
Here’s the main problem with equating Exodus 13:9 with Revelation 13:16. Exodus is taking an abstract thing (God’s instructions) and asking them to be “frontlets,” a “sign” or a “memorial” between the eyes and the hand. The most reasonable way to view this is figuratively as a command to always think and do according to God’s instructions. It is not practical or useful to fit a tiny Torah scroll on those body parts and go around with them in the way all the time.
Revelation, on the other hand, is taking a physical thing (a mark on the skin) and specifying where it can be located on the body. Indeed, all incidences of “mark” in the contexts of Revelation treat it as a physical and visible thing that you receive from the False Prophet. Visibility is required for the mark to work in commerce. One cannot look at you and tell if you kept Sunday when deciding whether to sell you food.
Notice also that Exodus 13:9 does not says “right” hand. Exodus does not specify which hand because it would be odd to do this when either hand is associated with work or action.
Further, in Revelation the mark is always a “mark” on the skin. It is not sometimes a sign, a frontlet, or a “mark” like God’s commandments are characterized by the Torah itself. Revelation 13 even specifies the mark as the name or number of the beast. Names and numbers are commonly written down. They would even fit on a person’s forehead or skin. The definition of the mark as the name or number of the Beast hurts the SDA view. This plain explanation of the mark contradicts assigning any other explanation to it. Their case would be better if the mark was left ambiguous by Revelation. But it is not.
Thus, when we allegorize the mark as “deciding to rest on Sunday instead of Saturday,” we are choosing to ignore the most natural and reasonable interpretation of the mark of the beast. The mark is defined as a mark on the skin consisting of the name or number of the beast.
So why choose to allegorize a text that makes perfect sense naturally as written? There must be some other benefit to choosing a less-defensible interpretation. For SDA’s this “Sunday mark” theory supports their Sabbath day doctrine. It puts additional importance and fear behind their teaching that we must and should keep Sabbath. I can imagine them thinking that by keeping Sabbath today, they are antichrist-proofing themselves later.
Only a Sabbath-keeping religion would come up with the idea that the mark of the beast will be “keeping Sunday instead of Saturday.” This interpretation presupposes that sabbath is required by God and by not keeping it you are sinning before God. However, the sabbath was part of the Old Covenant made with the nation of Ancient Israel. SDAs rip this single command out of its original national context and transplant it upon believers today scattered outside the land of the Torah. Ignoring the context of a verse is not the way to to get to “the truth no matter what it says”, as our goal should be.
This goes back to my original point. When you have even one wrong doctrine (e.g. “sabbath is required”), it will lead you to reject the true meanings of other verses (e.g. the mark is the name or number of the beast) and create even more wrong doctrines (e.g. “the mark is keeping Sunday”). And all of these errors are based on not accepting the Bible for what it plainly says (e.g. the Torah is for the nation of Israel in the land of Israel, not for Gentiles today – Acts 15).
In covering this example, I have not meant to pick on the SDAs. Other groups come up with other meanings that break the literalness of the mark of the beast, too. Indeed, we all fall into allegorizing verses that were meant literally. Hopefully, the next time you catch yourself thinking a verse does not mean what it plainly says you will stop and ask yourself two questions.
- What doctrine do I hold that is causing me to think this verse is not literal?
- Have I proven through diligent study that that doctrine itself is really correct?
See also: Can you Take the Mark of the Beast Today?
See also: What is the Seal of the 144,000?
More Bible Secrets
An Ipsos poll in 2006 found that 25% of adults believed it was at least "somewhat likely" that "Jesus Christ will return to Earth" in the coming year. Among white evangelical Christian adults, a whopping 46% believed this. Yet four years later Jesus still has not returned. Want to know why Jesus did not come in 2007, or any year since then and still won’t come in 2011? Read Featured Article