Wisdom of Sirach 27:2 – “Sin will be wedged between the buying and the selling.”
With the thousands of commentaries of Revelation available today, the majority of their interpretations of the “Mark of the Beast” of chapter 13 of the Apocalypse always seem to focus on a physical “mark” of some kind which is engraved upon a person in visible tattoo form. Others describe some sort of implanted or embedded digital identification which will be required in order to buy products or sell merchandise. Overall, are an endless variety of interpretations that have come through the years primarily with the Protestant Dispensationalists. These include: credit cards, cell phones, chip ID credit cards, microchip implants, WiFi signals, 5G tower control and last but not least the Covid-19 vaccines. Many Orthodox Christians also buy into some of this hype, especially identifying the vaccine to be the “precursor to the mark” which will be used to create some sort of proof of vaccination where we would not be allowed to travel and buy products in a store, unless we could provide evidence of our vaccination, and when traveling abroad we would have to show some sort of vaccine passport.
This mania is a result of the infamous text found in the book of Revelation in Revelation chapter 13:
Revelation 13:16-17 – “It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
But we know in almost every verse of the Apocalypse, St. John the Theologian often borrowed or reused key symbols and parable themes from the Old Testament, the Gospels and Epistles to encode the meanings of the text. We find many parallels of each of the prophecies in Revelation to stories in other scriptures, for example, the prophetic “war in heaven” or the prophecy of the “flight of the woman to the desert” to name some examples, are presented as biblical stories but in fact they are actually prophecies about future events within the church. In fact, the “mark” described in Revelation 13 has some parallels or inspiration taken from the “mark on the foreheads” in Ezekiel 9:4. So the question remains, was John literally talking about a physical mark with respect to the key phrase “buy and sell” where the Antichrist would force people to take such a mark if they wanted to “trade” on the open market, apply for a loan or purchase products in a store? Most certainly John was encoding these phrases using symbols from stores elsewhere in scripture.
Next, it should be pointed out that most people often equate the Antichrist with 666. However the Antichrist is typically associated with the First Beast, as the Little Horn of Daniel due to the direct association in Revelation 13-2 to Daniel 7. However the description of the “mark” and “666” calculation is instead directly associated with the SECOND beast which is not openly hostile but appears to be “like a lamb” or like Christ. Again, we must clarify the fact that the FIRST beast is often associated with an openly antagonistic and hostile Antichrist. So then, the 666 calculation, the “mark” and “buying & selling” might not even be related to the Antichrist or “Little Horn” of Daniel at all, and is only applicable to some sort of “pseudo-Christ” or “apparent Lamb.” That is, someone who is not openly hostile to Christ, but comes in the name of Christ, desiring to be made in the image of Christ Himself. To properly determine the identity of this “Lamb-like” Beast, we must first we must inquire into the definition of “buying and selling.” That is: What was John REALLY trying to warn us about with respect to the forced marking of individuals in order to buy and sell?
To help answer this question, there is in fact, one great Orthodox saint and father who taught us exactly what the nature of buying and selling is. And, it does not have to do with physical purchases, but the storing up of treasures “in heaven” and not on the earth. St Seraphim of Sarov teaches us this very idea in his famous work “On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” St. Seraphim was a renowned and respected monk of Russia, who promoted the monastic discipline within the wider context of the Christian faith. In this famous work he answers the most basic spiritual question: What is the aim of the spiritual life? It is not prayer, charity, or chastity. These are only means to get the goal, which is communion with God through acquiring the Holy Spirit. Without this, he says, we cannot enter Heaven. We must have a relationship with Him before entering Heaven. And he equates this process of acquisition of the Holy Spirit with trading or “buying and selling” on the open market. But in this case it is the purchasing of the “treasures in heaven”.
St. Seraphim says the following on the acquiring the Spirit of God:
“(…) The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”
(…) “What do you mean by acquiring?” I asked St. Seraphim. “Somehow I don’t understand that.”
“Acquiring is the same as obtaining,” he replied. “Do you understand, what acquiring money means? Acquiring the Spirit of God is exactly the same. You know very well enough what it means to acquire in a worldly sense, your Godliness. The aim of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or make money; and for the nobility, it is in addition to receive honors, distinctions and other rewards for their services to the government. The acquisition of God’s Spirit is also capital, but grace-giving and eternal, and it is obtained in very similar ways, almost the same ways as monetary, social and temporal capital.
“God the Word, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, compares our life with the market, and the work of our life on earth He calls trading. He says to us all: Trade till I come (Lk. 19:13), buying up every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). In other words, make the most of your time getting heavenly blessings through earthly goods. Earthly goods are good works done for Christ’s sake that confer the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, on us.
(…) “Yes, father, but what about other good deeds done for Christ’s sake in order to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit? You have only been speaking of prayer.”
“Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit also by practicing all the other virtues for Christ’s sake. Trade spiritually with them; trade with those which give you the greatest profit. Accumulate capital from the superabundance of God’s grace, deposit it in God’s eternal bank which will bring you immaterial interest, not four or six per cent, but one hundred per cent for one spiritual ruble, and even infinitely more than that. For example, if prayer and watching gives you more of God’s grace, watch and pray; if fasting gives you much of the spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives you more, give alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ’s sake in this manner.
“Now I will tell you about myself, poor Seraphim. I come of a merchant family in Kursk. So when I was not yet in the monastery we used to trade with the goods which brought us the greatest profit. Act like that, my son. And just as in business the main point is not merely to trade, but to get as much profit as possible, so in the business of the Christian life the main point is not merely to pray or to do some other good deed. Though the apostle says: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), yet, as you remember, he adds: I would rather speak five words with my understanding than ten thousand words with a tongue (1 Cor. 14:19). And the Lord says: Not everyone who says to Me: Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he who does the will of My Father (Mt. 7:21), that is he who does the work of God and, moreover, does it with reverence, for cursed is he who does the work of God negligently (Jer. 48:10). And the work of God is: believe in God and in Him Whom He has sent, Jesus Christ (John 14:1; 6:29). If we understand the commandments of Christ and of the Apostles aright, our business as Christians consists not in increasing the number of our good deeds which are only the means of furthering the purpose of our Christian life, but in deriving from them the utmost profit, that is in acquiring the most abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So here we see that St. Seraphim teaches that the aim or “business” in life is to “buy” or acquire the holy spirit, to get as much profit as possible from the trade and accumulation of the “capital” of God’s grace. And we can take this analogy similarly with the sacrament of Chrismation we are “marked” or sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirt at our baptism, which is the initial deposit or “investment” necessary for salvation. But is much be further invested and nurtured, as described in the parable of the Talents (see: Matthew 25:14–30). The disciples and church leaders are urged to use their abilities and gifts to serve God as Christ leaves and will one day return to ask for an account of their deeds. Did they properly “trade” or “invest” in their gifts of the Holy Spirit which ultimately payed out “dividends” and “interest” on the initial “gift” or “purchase”?
Certainly we can identify in the scriptures where Jesus teaches us about the act of “buying and selling” or investing or trading the acquisition of the Holy Spirt or the “purchase” of one’s salvation? And the first place ot start to steer us in that direction is by examining the key phrases in Revelation 13 pertaining to the mark itself. By isolating and dissecting the critical phrases from Revelation 13:16 which are often overlooked and taken collectively as one idea by many interpreters, we can then further interpret the text which lead us to some key scriptures, which themselves help us to identify the mark and the man behind the mark who “traded” the open market and sought to buy and sell Holy Spirt “securities” on the open markets of the church.
First notice who the mark was given to? All people who were:
- “great and small”
- “rich or poor”
- “free and slave”
These phrases are critical at identifying the role that the mark would play in the acquiring for salvation. Was it invested and earned, or is salvation and gifts of the Holy Spirit easily acquired for a small price? And who were the beneficiaries in this “fast tract” to salvation? Now let’s example possible scripture explanations for each phrase.
Great and Small
Christ taught this theme in the Gospels that whoever would seek greatness must be a servant and slave to others.
Matthew 20:26-27 “It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave
Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.
Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Mark 10:43 But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
Luke 22:26 But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.
This is the command by Christ for those who would be priests or ministers over their respective flocks or churches. So the Lamb-like beast would force the priests and bishops to submit to his authority through this act of “buying and selling”. Throughout the middle ages, the practice of Simony was common where the ecclesiastical offices or titles were for sale at the right price, such that those where were small among the people could buy their way into greatness and acquire the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others.
Rich and Poor
While there are many verses in the bible we can find on the rich and poor, perhaps the number one example related to acquisition of salvation is the parable of the “rich man and Lazarus” which describes the intermediate state of the soul after we die. The parable is found in Luke 16:19-31. As we know, the rich man under torment asked for Lazarus to provide relief in his torment, and he was concerned that his relatives who were still alive could be saved if someone could go back and warn them. The reference to this parable is perhaps most critical identifying the man behind the mark. And we know there are instances in the history of the church where the granting of relief from Purgatory for family members were granted for a price, the the selling and purchasing of Indulgences. In the Orthodox Church, some saints teach that the intermediate state of the soul is described passing through a series of Tollhouses, and if one’s soul has acquired enough works and deeds and faith to have sufficient coins necessary to pay the toll, otherwise the suffer the same fate as the Rich Man. Is it possible that this Lamblike Beast acquired the means of power to “buy and sell” salvation at a price? With such a payment the grantor would provide the ability to free a person who’s destiny was that of the Rich Man to escape and join Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom?
Free and Slave
As referenced earlier, the parable of the Talents can fall under this with the story of the Master and the Servant who was to invest in the gifts of the Holy Spirit provided to him.
We can find other verses describing free or slave with respect to investing in one’s salvation. For example, one key scripture describes the promise of freedom from sin while they themselves are slaves of corruption:
2 Peter 2:19 – “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
Everyone is a bondsman of his conqueror. Yet, although these are overcome by the lusts of corruption and become slaves to it, the promise to give others freedom. Those who practiced Simony in the church sold offices to the highest bidder, thinking that the gift and acquiring of the Holy Spirit was available not for free or to be earned, but available for the right price. Such a person themselves were a slave to corruption and thus condemned.
And a few others on freedom and slavery:
1 Corinthians 7:22 – “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.”
Ephesians 6:8 – “knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”
We can read the story of Simon Magus, the author of Simony, who sought to freely acquire the gift of the Holy Spirt at a price. We find some interesting parallels of Simon Magus and his “miracles” containing similarities to the sorcery described in Revelation 13. He is the author of simony and the “buying and selling” of salvation throughout history through the sale of indulgences, offices, titles, relic which became a big business during the Middle Ages leading to the Protestant Reformation. This possible link between Simon Magus and the “man behind the mark” will be further explored in the next article.