When a government establishes itself as the source of life for its people, it becomes the anti-Christ. This is represented in Revelation by the wearing of a sign on the right hand and forehead. Such decorations in antiquity are a form of social and religious insurance – they indicate that a person’s thought and deed are guaranteed and protected by what that symbol represents. If you agree to the assurance, you transact. This is the meaning of the statement that ‘without the symbol no one will be able to buy or sell.’ It doesn’t mean that they will be immature. It means those with the sign will not be capable of trusting those who do not have it. The sign on the person’s body is reflective of who they rely on for safety and protection, the brand they believe in, the cause that they believe will assure them of life, safety, security and comfort.
In our past history there have always been alternatives to earthly regimes. Every regime has its symbol. The Nazis had the swastika. The Romans had the eagle. The Jews had nothing: For many years, their aniconic sympathies prevented the use of a symbol to represent their deity. Instead they would have a piece of text affirming their resignation to the Lord as the source of life for His people. For many early Christians, this practice translated into the use of scriptural texts in talismans as a form of protection. The sign of the cross was a proof, not an ideological symbol. For some Jews and all Christians, their faith communities represented movements that resisted earthly alliance in favor of a faith in divine providence and deliverance from all sources of death.
What happens, then, when those faiths ally themselves with earthly campaigns? What happens when church and synagogue fuse their motivations with the state? The romantic citizen believes that this brings the fruits of divine economy to civilization. However, prophetic scripture has always claimed the opposite. Theocracies are terminally mundane and, what’s worse, they displace God as the ultimate provider of all things to all of creation.
The ‘end times,’ then, represent the final prophetic path, the cycle where all representation of the faith of God on earth falls into the mundane, where there is no longer an assembly to appeal to, that is not tainted by the ambitions of humanity. Every hand reaching to God is grabbed by something else. It is the only prophetic path where grace is wholly inaccessible, and all are lost.
Are we there? Are we drawing closer to it?
We may not have to make martyrs of those who are faithful to what they cannot see. In our modern world all we have to do is stop teaching the gospel. Those who know it will die, just as Joseph died, just as the whole generation who knew Joseph died, and the knowledge of God will stop. And we will find ourselves like the Hebrews making bricks for some walking god-man ruler like pharaoh. We will find ourselves awakened from the slumber by a final return of the true God to deliver those, who have been asleep, out of their slumber. And like the Hebrews, some of us will stumble forward, following a God we do not know, to a place we have never heard of. Yet many will opt to stay in Egypt: They’d rather die than change.
It is easy to see how, within this prophetic framework, life and death, location and specific personalities and players fall away into irrelevance. The ‘end times’ are not about these kinds of specifics. They are the ultimate case of a protypical drama that we live out in small portions every day of our lives.
The question is, when all paths end in the same place and the age of freedom is over and done, will we have the wisdom and courage to leave all that we know and rely on behind, to embrace deliverance from beyond our known world in order to attain life? Or will we dwell forever wanting, in pursuit of our own shadow?
— Jacob Aaron Gorny