Jesus is Coming Soon: The Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast

jack chick tract the beast

From Jack Chick tract, The Beast

Growing up in the Evangelical church, I was exposed to eschatological preaching which purported to divine the future. Based on a literalistic interpretation of the book of Revelation, Evangelical preachers tell of a day when Jesus will come to rapture (remove) Christians from the earth. After the rapture, God will, for seven years, pour out his wrath on the earth.  This period of divine slaughter and judgment is called the Great Tribulation.

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, a powerful figure who wages war against God, will rise up and exert dominion over the earth. While Evangelicals have multiple interpretations of who and what the Antichrist is, all agree that he is one of the central figures of the Tribulation drama. According to the book of Revelation, the Antichrist will ultimately be defeated by Jesus and cast into the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is a real person. This belief has led to speculation about this or that person being the Antichrist. Some Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is alive today and could be someone such as Barack Obama or Pope Francis. What is interesting about these predictions about who the Antichrist might be is that the potential Antichrist always has political views opposed by Evangelicals. This is why some Evangelicals find it quite easy to label President Obama as the Antichrist, even more so of late since it has been reported that Obama might head the United Nations after he leaves office. (Many Evangelicals believe the United Nations will be used by the Antichrist to take over the world.)

According to many Evangelicals, during the Tribulation the Antichrist will take control of the world’s economy. No one will be able to buy or sell anything without having the mark of the Beast. The Biblical basis for this belief is found in Revelation 13:16-18:

 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Prior to the modern technological era, many Evangelicals believed that the mark of the Beast was a tattoo of the number 666 on the hands or foreheads of the followers of the Antichrist. In recent decades, Evangelicals have suggested that the mark of the Beast could be some sort of bar code, a mark that can only be read by using a certain type of light, or an embedded chip. I remember one preacher who was certain that supermarket scanners were paving the way for the Antichrist and the mark of the Beast.

While the character of  the mark has changed over the years, the importance of it has not. Anyone receiving the mark of the Beast will be doomed forever. Revelation 14:9-11 states:

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

According to these verses, anyone who takes the mark of the Beast will face the fury of the wrath of God. Suffering and painful death await all who take the mark.

The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday for literalistic interpretations of the book of Revelation. Evangelical pastors regularly preached sermons on the end-times, featuring subjects such as the rapture, the Great Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the millennial reign of Christ, and the great white throne judgment. Filled with illustrations from newspapers, these sermons inflamed the passions of Evangelical church goers. As the headlines changed, so did the sermons, but the focal point remained the same: Jesus is coming soon.

end of the world

After the 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 debacle, Evangelical passion for future events cooled. I am of the opinion that the rise of the religious right, a political movement with plans to take over America for Jesus, turned Evangelical attention from the future to the present. Instead of seeking after the kingdom of heaven, Evangelicals began to focus on building God’s kingdom on earth. Gone, for the most part, are prophecy conferences and literalistic sermons from Revelation and Daniel. Instead, pastors focus on felt-needs and personal fulfillment. There are certainly Evangelicals pastors who continue to preach newspaper headline sermons, but such preachers are on the fringes of Evangelicalism (most often found in charismatic, Pentecostal, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches).

As I came of age in the 1970s, I heard frequent end-time sermons. Preachers warned that we were the last generation, those who would see the second coming of Jesus Christ. Men such as Jack Van Impe predicted Russia would invade and take over the United States, thereby ushering in the Great Tribulation. Many preachers believed that the rapture and the second coming of Christ would take place sometime between 1984 and 1988. The thinking went something like this: Israel became a nation in 1948, a generation is 40 years long, thus, at the very latest, Jesus would return to earth in 1988.

In the late 1970s, I was a pastoral assistant to Jay Stuckey, pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church, a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Stuckey, as many preachers of his era, was obsessed with prophecy, the Illuminati, and numerous other conspiracies. Calls to evangelize were driven by Stuckey’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus; imminent meaning, at any moment. Forty years later, Stuckey and I are no longer in the ministry, Montpelier Baptist, a church that one time had over 500 in attendance, is closed, and those who were once obsessed with the soon-return of Jesus have turned to more earthly matters such as marriage, children, jobs, houses, and economic prosperity. While these people still tacitly believe that Jesus will someday return to earth, their lives are no longer dominated by eschatological thoughts. In other words, they grew up.

Were you once part of a church that was obsessed with the end-times? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Note

I am well aware of the fact that Evangelicals are not in agreement about how the books of Daniel and Revelation should be interpreted. That said, it is not hard to find Evangelical blogs, websites, and news services promoting the eschatological beliefs mentioned in this post.

You can read the complete text of 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 here.

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11 Comments

  1. Sandra Heretic

    Not to say *obsessed* exactly, but I did sit through multiple study series on The End Times from the pulpit, in Sunday School, and in youth groups. Remember the cheesy but absolutely terrifying to a 13yo movie series *A Thief in the Night*? When we changed churches, it seemed the next church was always doing the same topical studies. Then there were parachurch literature: the Chick tracts as you included above, comic book versions of popular conspiracy propaganda wherein I learned that the pope was the antichrist and the Catholic Church run by the Illuminati (until it became the ever changing Soviet leaders in the 1980s) and, of course, the Left Behind franchise that seemed to be virtually canonical.

    I was truly stunned when I stood on the football field one May Sunday in 1987, graduating from college. I seriously hadn’t believed I would live to do so. I thought Jesus would have come back or the world would have self-destructed in a nuclear winter.

    To this day, I cannot read or watch apocalyptic stories. I don’t believe them or take them at all seriously but they trigger an irrational, terrifying anxiety in me.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      That’s… not that weird, and you’re not the first person I’ve heard say that. I don’t know if that’s any comfort to you, but I hope so. The apocalyptic stuff was preached pretty heavily, and it’s not so easy to shake those things off.

      Reply
  2. Ami

    The Late, Great, Planet Earth.

    Every home in our little Jesus-centric community had a copy.
    And about half of us were scared to death that bad things were coming, God had set it all in motion and no one, not our parents or our teachers or anyone at all could save us from all the horrors that were about to come.

    We all got saved and prayed a lot.

    Fire insurance.

    Pisses me off that so much of my childhood and young teen years were so filled with fear.
    Do these people not realize how scary things are to children?
    Or maybe that’s the point. Scare the shit out of them. Helps to indoctrinate and keep those dollars rolling in. Generation after generation.

    Reply
  3. Melody

    Yes, we were obsessed. My dad was, my mom, grandfather, everyone. We read stories about it, loads and loads of theology books and were ever looking for signs of the times. People were claimed to be the (possible) antichrist and everything that happened in the world and especially what happened in Israel, but also the EU which was the rebuilt Roman Empire, was put into this narrative one way or the other.

    A couple of short anecdotes:

    My grandpa’s sister or mother, I’m not sure on that, said when she saw her first television: “so that’s how the whole world will see the two witnesses in the end times.” Rev. 11: 9-12. It had always puzzled her and now she had found the answer.

    I thought for a while that a large life like antichrist statue (like in the comic) wasn’t really that impressive, as that had been done in films already right? So I imagined that it would perhaps be a clone. An acual genuine ‘copy’ of the anti-christ and a huge medical achievement that would led to him being heralded and praised. It also meant that the anti-christ could give life, just like God had created life, and could be lifted to God status himself that way.

    When we were little kids we had a few rapture scares where your parents are gone and you can’t find them, believing the rapture has taken place and you are left behind. One was the worst. It was the middle of a hot summer night and my brother came to wake me up because our parents weren’t there. Their bed had been slept in, but neither of them was there any more, they weren’t in the bathroom either. There was only one possible explanation: the rapture had taken place. We sort of decided what to do: call someone, but everyone we knew would probably be gone too! We finally decided to go downstairs and either call our grandparents (at least that would confirm if the rapture had taken place) and if it had, we could maybe warn the neighbours or something, who would still be around because they weren’t Christians. When we came downstairs our parents were sleeping in the livingroom as their bedroom had been far too hot and they couldn’t sleep there. We were so relieved and so angry! After that they pasted a note on their door if they slept downstairs because of the heat again, saying something like, don’t worry, no rapture, just sleeping downstairs….

    Just complete craziness. Only thinking about it makes me feel so many mixed emotions: just how silly (and a little funny) it all is, but also anger over how scared it does make kids and adults alike. It’s good not to see the world through those ideas anymore. The world is already a scary enough place without all that extra baggage added to it.

    Reply
    1. Steve

      So very true, Melody; I had scares like you did as a child, as well

      Reply
    2. sgl

      google “rapture prank” and watch some of the videos.
      eg, one example at:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0VYLFdhzZ8

      kinda funny, but at the same time kinda mean too.

      Reply
      1. Melody

        Yes, I felt sorry for her, a bit cruel. But very much how it is taught with all the clothes and such.

        Reply
  4. Ian

    I remember when stores started getting price scanners. All of the sudden, every one realized that this would be how The Antichrist would mark us. There was a book I read, as a teenager, that even showed how 666 was embedded in every bar code. I wish I could remember the name of the book, I’d read it for a laugh. A preacher even explained the “scientific” reasons why a mark on the forehead or right hand were the best way to mark people.

    Then came micro chips. This was the way all men would be marked. Next was using biometric scanners (fingerprint machines) for time clocks. Obviously this was the way all men would be tracked. I know someone who quit his good paying job, rather than submit to being tracked by The Anitchrist. Just before I left Christianity, RFID pellets were being used to track animals. Suddenly, all of the other ideas were wrong- THIS technology will be used to mark people.

    Prophecy can be whatever you want it to be. 40 years has long passed since Israel became a nation. 15 years has passed since the year 2000. There are still wars and rumours of wars. Women can hold high ranking political office, a black man is president and gay people are out of the closet. I don’t think any fundamental Christian from 1950 or 1960 would have ever dreamed Jesus would have let things get this out of control. Where is Jesus? Why would he let this “evil” continue? What more is there to prove by leaving his people on earth?

    There will always be an end time. From the writer of the earliest gospel until now, Christians have always been sure Jesus was just hovering above the clouds with his 9 bladed sword. Nine-bladed! Not two or five or seven, but nine! Which he will wield on all wretched sinners. Wait. Sorry. That is a demon. Jesus has a horse.

    Reply
  5. Brian

    huh? say what? which way?

    Reply
  6. Scott

    Ha. I grew up in a true amillennial reformed church and thought all you IFB arminian premils were heretics! (Just saying …..) BTW now an atheist!

    Reply

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