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I’m beginning to see that prophetic speculation is taking place on the fringes of the Christian publishing industry. Of course, you will still find the occasional prophetic pot-boiler. Mark Hitchcock writes a couple of prophecy books a year. They are mostly exercises in “newspaper exegesis,” driven more by current events than the Bible. Consider these three, all to be published in 2009: The Late Great United States (Multnomah), 2012, the Bible, and the End of the World (Harvest House), and Cashless: Bible Prophecy, Economic Chaos, and the Future Financial Order (Harvest House). How do you go from The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey’s mega-best seller from the 1970s, to the end of America? It seems to me that The Late Great Planet Earth would have included the United States. Anyone familiar with Lindsey’s timetable will remember that it was all to happen before 1988. Of course, these publishers are counting on people not remembering or not even knowing of past failed predictions. As P.T. Barnum is reportedly to have said (it was actually David Hannum), “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and these suckers make money for companies that continue to publish out-of-date prophecy books that end up being an embarrassment to the Christian faith.
The cashless society argument has been done before. Hitchcock’s former co-author, Thomas Ice, wrote The Coming Cashless Society in 1996 with Timothy Demy. Where does the Bible mention a “cashless society”? Revelation 13:17 is used as the operating prophetic text on this issue: “And [the Beast] causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.” How does this translate into a cashless society? The “mark” is the key to the transaction. Nothing is said about what the people are using to buy or sell. It just says that they can’t buy or sell without the “mark,” and the mark has to be 666 on the forehead and right hand, not an imbedded microchip. If it’s a microchip in Revelation 13, then it’s a microchip in Revelation 14:1.
What if the world decides to make gold the coin of the realm? Wouldn’t this be a good thing? How could we oppose a world currency based on gold since it’s written into our constitution? “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility” (Art. 1, sec. 10). Even the Bible considers gold to be a normative currency for everyone.
The meaning of Revelation 13:17 has to be found contextually. Like much of Revelation, its familiar symbols are meant to represent familiar concepts to its first readers. This is why Revelation must be read against the backdrop of the Old Testament and the contemporary historical context. As Ferrel Jenkins writes: “The book of Revelation is the most thoroughly Jewish in its language and imagery of any New Testament book. This book speaks not the language of Paul, but of the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.” The beasts, both sea (Rome) and land (Israel), the mark on the hand or head (Deut. 6:8), and the number 666 should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament (1 Kings 10:14), similar to the way Sodom (Rev. 11:8), Egypt (11:8), Jezebel (2:20), Balaam (2:14), and Babylon (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21) are interpreted in Revelation. By understanding the way the Old Testament uses and applies marks and the significance of 666 (spiritual adultery with the nations: 1 Kings 11), it is not that difficult to determine what John is describing in Revelation 13.
There is an article on the Always Ready Apologetics Ministry Blog (ARAMB) website with the title “A One World Monetary System” (July 14, 2009). The “evidence” that Revelation 13:17 could be in the process of being fulfilled is that Russia, China, and other nations want to switch from the Dollar to a “united future world currency.” This must mean that at the present, the Dollar is the united world currency; it’s been so since after World War II. So why wasn’t the Dollar the fulfillment of Revelation 13:17? Charlie Campbell, the Director of ARAMB, doesn’t offer a sound biblical argument for his claim that “the Book of Revelation speaks of a time when there will be a one world monetary system in place (see Revelation 13:16–18).” His interpretation is based on an already adopted dispensational system. But there is no real exegesis to back it up. Campbell should take notice of his May 13, 2009 article “Hermeneutics 101: Interpret Scripture with Scripture.” He offers some very good advice:
A correct interpretation of the Bible will always be consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. Therefore, it is essential for us as students of the Bible to interpret a passage in light of what the rest of the Scriptures say on the topic.
Whoever carried the mark of the beast would be identified as someone who aligned himself with the beast, and whoever carried the mark of the Lamb would be identified with the blood and seal of the Lamb (Rev. 14:1). Those who identified with Rome against Jesus Christ died in the destruction of Jerusalem when Titus and his army swept in to destroy the temple and the city. These are the ones who drank “of the wine of the wrath of God” (14:10). Those who carried the name of Jesus’ Father “written on their foreheads . . . follow the lamb wherever He goes” (14:1, 4). The two marks identified two groups of people: one for Christ and one against Christ. As far back as Genesis, we find the division: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heal” (Gen. 3:15). Cain and Abel fit the pattern throughout biblical history that will one day culminate in the final judgment. Revelation 13:17–18 is not about economics.
The control of economic transactions drives modern claims of a one-world government controlled by the antichrist during the great tribulation. This sensationalistic but popular view is outlined by Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy in their book The Coming Cashless Society:
Using every means at his disposal, including the technology of a cashless society, the Antichrist and his demands will bring the world into its greatest-ever moral and economic turmoil. Such chaos will make the stock market crash of 1929 look like a minor economic adjustment.
Revelation 13:16, 17 is the biblical point of entry for discussion of the cashless society, a one-world government, global economics, and biblical prophecy.
Revelation 13:16–17 says nothing about a “cashless society.” Having gone out on a limb with their prediction, the authors come back to biblical reality and write, “The Bible does not specifically predict computers, the Internet, credit cards, or any of the other trimmings that facilitate the modern electronic banking system.” In fact, Revelation 13:16–17 does not describe the control of financial transactions but rather access to the temple controlled by the Jewish anti-Christian religious establishment. The key to interpreting the passage is the prohibition “to buy or to sell” (13:17) if a worshipper does not have the mark of the beast.
Buying and selling, properly understood, are worship-related rituals (Isa. 55:1–2). “This is established in [Revelation] 3:18 (and compare 21:6). When those who refuse the mark of the Beast are not allowed to buy and sell, it means that they are expelled from the synagogue and Temple. The merchants of the land in Revelation 18 are those who worshipped at the Temple and synagogue.” “Babylon the Great,” described as “the great city” (18:2, 10, 21) is Jerusalem (11:8; 16:19). Jesus foretold that this would happen: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue; but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Keep in mind that it is the “beast coming up out of the land” that is involved in these events. The land beast is most certainly associated with first-century Israel, especially the priests who control the temple.
Early in the church’s history the disciples went to the temple to preach the gospel (Acts 5:20–21, 24, 42; 24:12). At first, they were welcomed (Acts 2:46). Peter and John frequented the temple during “the hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1). Jewish Christians continued to use the temple, even participating in some of its rituals (Acts 21:26). After the temple officials learned that these Jews were preaching that Jesus was the Messiah—the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—Paul was “dragged . . . out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut” (21:26–30).
Jesus tells the church of Laodicea, “‘I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich. . .’” (Rev. 3:18). How were the people to buy gold from God? Buying gold refined by fire is symbolic and relates to spiritual worship. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the reference to “buying and selling” in Revelation 13:17 is also symbolic and related to worship.
The interpretive background for understanding Revelation 13:17 can be found in the gospels. During Jesus’ ministry, the temple officials were “selling,” and worshippers were “buying,” access to the temple (Matt. 21:12). Their “buying and selling” turned “God’s house” into a “robbers’ den” (21:12–13), a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Only those Jews who aligned themselves with the priests, the sacrificial system, and the temple buildings were allowed to enter the temple for worship. If anyone approaching the temple did not have the mark of the beast, that is, if they did not align themselves with what the temple now represented apart from Christ, they could not “buy or sell” in order to offer the appropriate sacrifices.
To take the “mark of the beast” meant a person denied that Jesus was the Messiah, the true temple of God, the only sufficient sacrifice. Of course, Christian Jews avoided the “mark of the beast” and showed their true allegiance to Jesus, “having His name and the name of his father written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1). They did this through public professions of faith and allegiance to Jesus over against the corrupt priesthood that had chosen Caesar over Christ (John 19:15).
When commanded not to “speak to any man in this name,” Peter and John responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18–20). When the disciples heard Peter and John’s account of their encounter with the priests Annas and Caiaphas, they turned to Psalm 2 for understanding: “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ’” (Acts 4:25-26). This “rage” only intensified as Jews made their decisions regarding Jesus more resolute.
All of these passages fit together nicely since true redemption comes from Mt. Zion where “the Lamb was standing.” And where is this “Mount Zion”?: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriad of angels” (Heb. 12:22). Revelation 13 and 14 contrast two ways of salvation: access to the stone temple through the mark of the beast (Rev. 11:1–2) or through Jesus the true temple (John 2:13–25) and the mark of the Lamb (rev. 14:1)
Article posted July 20, 2009