As a child growing up among the Plymouth Brethren we would have, from time to time, have speakers on issues relating to eschatology, that is the study of teachings and beliefs about the end times.
The Plymouth Brethren were among the developers of Dispensationalism, the idea that the history of humanity could be divided up into eras of time when God dealt with human beings in certain ways based on His covenant with them. So, for example, between Adam and Noah God related to us in one way, and then from Noah to Abraham in a similar but slightly different way, and from Abraham to Moses and so on. Much effort was spent on researching the Scriptures and defining these “dispensations” as well as defining and describing the particular covenant that God made with humanity in that era.
Now this is, a a sidelight to this article’s general thrust, important to current politics because the teachings of Dispensationalism generally assume that the Church is one era, or dispensation and that following it God will, as time as we know it ends, return to reestablish the covenant He made with Israel through the Abraham. Therefore as a sign of this impending end the resurgence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state is considered to be exceptionally important because it gives substance to this belief. If you believe that the Church is merely one era in God’s overall plan and that He has chosen to return and restore His covenant with Israel having, and preserving, an actual Israel is very important even if the people actually living there don’t share your assumptions about who they are.
Of course this teaching is not concurrent with the ancient wisdom of the Faith which saw all of the promises God made to humanity fulfilled, intact, entire, and completely in Christ and the Church. There is as little need to revisit old covenants as there is to make payments on a mortgage that has ended. Yet there is an appeal to the teaching of Dispensationalism because it allows people to engage in prophetic speculation, deal with esoteric knowledge, and frankly, for some, its a way of avoiding the day to day responsibilities of being a Christian in the real world by spending endless hours searching for clues to a question the angels themselves have no ability to answer.
Beyond the politics one of the most striking aspects of this is a near infatuation with the number 666. This number is found in a single verse in the book of Revelation and indicates to the Dispensationalist a kind of marking that will one day be required in a period of time at the end of history as a symbol of loyalty to the Antichrist and allowing a person to engage in commerce.
Now the truth is that no one is dogmatically sure what that one verse means. It has been theorized to indicate the numeric total of the letters in the name Nero Caesar, an emperor who violently persecuted the church. It has also been thought of as a number symbolic of incompletion, of being less than, all sixes rather than perfect 7’s. The bottom line is that there are as many answers to what 666 is as there are people who look at the data and as a child I listened to many speakers expound on who this number symbolized. One time the speculation even fell on Ronald Wilson Reagan, six letters in each name, and I’m not sure who or what is being suspected in the present.
Regardless the Orthodox Faith has an answer to the question, not necessarily to the identity of an Antichrist except in the generic understanding that anyone opposed to Christ is, in their own way, anti-Christ, but rather by providing, as it were, an alternative to the mark of the beast.
Since the beginning of the Church people were received into its life by baptism and chrismation. Chrismation is an anointing with oil on, among other places, the forehead and the hands. As this is done the Priest engaged in the anointing says “The seal of the Holy Spirit” and the people gathered to witness respond by saying “Seal.” Could it be probably, then, that this dreaded “mark of the beast” is really the Apostle John’s way of saying that those who oppose Christ are, in a mystical way, sealing themselves to darkness in the same way that those who are sealed in chrismation are sealed to Christ through the Holy Spirit? Later on in the book of Revelation there is a passage where 144,o00 people, 12 x 12 and a number of fullness or completion, are noted as being sealed on their foreheads and marked as worthy and joined to Christ. This mention would not have made sense unless some kind of chrismation or sacred marking of the faithful was already practiced as a point of reference for his readers.
Regardless, whatever the times bring, whether everything in the book of Revelation is literal, figurative, or more likely some combination of the two those who follow Christ, as the Orthodox Tradition explains, have been baptized and then “sealed” to Christ in chrismation have the authentic mark of life over which any beast, real or imagined, has no power.
Read more here.
Thank you Fr. John Peck for posting the linked article on Facebook.