The Mark of the Beast
By John Telgren
What is the most challenging thing to our faith here in America? Is it religious persecution? Is it hunger? Is it suffering? Is it poverty? Wars? Conflict? While I am confident that these are all challenges to the faith of many Christians in our country, I am also confident that this is not the greatest challenge at large. The greatest challenge looms large and nearly invisible. It is so subtle that it often goes unnoticed.
This challenge is nothing new. In the stories of Israelís past, we see the same challenges. They were to be a holy nation. However, they still thought like the world around them. Like so many other people, they "covered their bases" by worshipped various gods including Yahweh. Even after they were in the promised land, they still served other gods (Josh 24:23). They asked for an earthly king to lead them so they can be like the nations around them (1 Sam 8:5). Instead of trusting in Yahweh, they made treaties with foreign nations which put them under their servitude, and also obligated them to serve their gods as was typical with ancient treaties (Isa 30:1-5; 2 Kings 16:17). The same sort of challenge existed for the early church.
"But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality (Rev 2:14)."
The ancient trade guilds all had their gods, along with their social activities that honored their gods. The worship of various deities touched every aspect of life. It was expected that you honor the local deities wherever your were traveling, and that you would honor the patron deity of your trade or business. It was a integral part of life. Archaeological digs of the ancient Roman cities typically demonstrate that the temples of the gods were part of the hub of each city.
Because pagan practice was so much a part of daily social life, Christians did not participate in much social life in their communities. They honored one God and believed all other gods were no gods at all. As a result, the typical Roman saw the Christians as stubborn, obstinate, social misfits and looked upon them with suspicion. The early Christians rightly understood that their citizenship was in Heaven (Phil 3:20) and that they were not of this world.
However, the challenge and temptation for them to "fit in" was very real. Not to "fit in" would bring difficulty. A Christian could lose his livelihood, friends, and family. So some were both Christians AND participated in social life to an extent that they mixed both Christian and pagan practices in their routine. After all, a man has got to make a living. Many in the world would view you as a poor husband and father if your family suffered due to some religion you believe in.
In the book of Revelation, we are told that those who "straddle the fence" in this way are "given a mark (Rev. 13:16)." With this mark they could buy, sell, and trade. This mark represented their social status. They "fit in" and are able to function in the social structure of their community. However, the vision of Revelation makes it clear that those who receive the mark will be thrown into Hell (Rev. 19:20).
The challenge is just as real today as it was then. However, the challenge has become much subtler. Since we live in a country that does not officially oppose Christianity and was founded on Christian principles, it makes it harder to see the dangers that lurk around us. It comes in the form of popular music, t.v shows, journalism, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes it comes disguised as something good. Some of the new boy music groups claim they are Christian when the messages of their songs are anything but Christian. Paul wrote,
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2)."
We need to transform our way of thinking. We no longer think the way the world does. We "prove" or "discern" the will of God in every situation. We learn to think critically, to evaluate everything. It matters very little whether something is "acceptable" in our culture. What matters is if it is acceptable to God.
Since we are no longer of this world, it means that we may have to give up some of our music. It may mean a change in the friends we socialize with. It may mean a change in the organizations we belong to. It could even mean a change in our job. Satan would have you think that it is unreasonable to give up all that. He would have you think that "taking the mark" and "fitting in" is okay. What could it hurt? That is a destructive way of thinking. Accepting the mark only means condemnation. However, accepting Godís seal means life eternal.