Since none of us want to receive the mark of the beast, perhaps we should ask whether there’s more to the seal of God and the mark of the beast than we usually consider. So let’s look a little deeper.
The Image of God
The Sabbath School Lesson for Tuesday, June 12, 2018, states that in ancient times, a seal was a “stamp pressed onto soft wax or clay to show authenticity or ownership, having the authority of its owner behind it.” If we pause to consider the implications of this metaphor, we can appreciate that the soft wax or clay was molded by the imprint it received. As a consequence of this molding, it bore the image or ‘likeness’ of that seal.
Gen 1:27 tells us that humanity was originally formed from the dust of the ground (clay, if you like) and that it was formed in the image or likeness of God. In what way was humanity created in God’s image or likeness? I propose that it was most fundamentally in terms of our nature and character. Essentially, God ‘impressed’ the most core attributes of His nature and character within humanity. Let’s consider what this means.
The Law of God by which the universe is run is summarized by two principles of love. (Luke 10:27) It is a transcript of God’s character, and Christ gave deeper insight into this law of love when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White recognizes this self-renouncing love as the “law of life for earth and heaven,” and “the character of the great Giver.” Self-renouncing, self-sacrificing love is the most core attribute of God as well as the law of life for the universe! It is the quality without which life cannot exist (see Desire of Ages, ages 19-21). She variously refers to this attribute with the terms “self-sacrificing love,” “self-renouncing love,” and “the circuit of beneficence.” In Cor 13, the Apostle Paul describes this love as the love which ‘seeketh not her own.’ This core principle alone enables the true, abundant life that Christ came to bring (John 10:10). Or stated the opposite way, without this core principle in operation, life would not exist. This is a fundamental truth of the universe.
What does self-sacrificing or self-renouncing love actually look like? If I relate to you with this kind of love, it means that in every facet of my relating to you, I only have your best interests at heart – I only want what is best for you. Imagine, for a moment, someone that only wants what is best for you and is completely devoted to making that a reality for you. Would you want to live with someone like that? Would you feel safe and secure with them? What if you were surrounded by a hundred people who only wanted that for you – or a thousand, or ten thousand, or perhaps even 144,000?
Now imagine a world in which everyone is motivated to look out for everyone else’s best interests. Everyone would be perfectly looked after – and no one would be left out. There would be perfect harmony, perfect relational safety, perfect relational security, perfect peace. If you can imagine this, re-read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. How well do the words in these verses fit in with the picture of the world I have attempted to describe?
The true and abundant life Jesus came to bring can never be experienced by one person in isolation – it has to be a relational experience. And therefore it has to be about focusing on the best interests of everyone else. This is what self-renouncing love does! In such a world, as you are looking out for the best interests of others, others are looking out for your best interests – you don’t have to. It’s all taken care of, perfectly, harmoniously, perpetually. It just works. You are freed from needing to focus on yourself because there is no need. Sound like heaven? It is – and it is what humanity was originally created for and what God wants to re-create humanity to be once again for those that truly desire to live by self-renouncing love.
I believe that Christ described the effect of the law of self-renouncing love to the woman at the well when He offered to give her ‘water’ that will perpetually satisfy – a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) whereby she would never thirst again. Self-renouncing love that stems from the very core of God keeps life in motion – it perpetuates its eternal, never-ending nature. It has an inherent perpetual nature. Self-renouncing love gives to sustain life. Ellen White describes this attribute as a “circuit of beneficence.”
I do not believe this point can be overstated – self-renouncing love is the foundational principle that makes life viable and is also the core attribute of God’s nature and character (1 John 4:8) – which is why and how God is the source of life. And it is this attribute that God ‘imaged’ into humanity at creation. It had to be this way, for there is no other viable basis upon which life is possible. Earth’s sad history from Genesis 3 onward is strong testimony to the reality that departure from life on this one basis is only destructive.
The Seal of God
I propose that the Seal of God in Revelation 7 and the image of God in Genesis 1:27 are actually one in the same thing. Think back to the metaphor of a seal receiving the imprint of an image so that it becomes a perfect likeness of that image. Could it be that the Seal of God is the outcome of the actual restoration of the image of God back into the hearts of those whose deepest desire is to be restored into harmony with God’s image? Who desire to live the way of self-renouncing, self-sacrificing love because they realize that is the only way true and abundant life is experienced?
Tuesday’s lesson initially perhaps took too narrow a view of the Seal of God when it stated that “the Seal of God is a sign of God’s ownership and protection of His people.” However, the lesson subsequently unpacked the far broader meaning behind the Seal of God, referencing that “Paul describes a sealing in connection with conversion and reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and that “He calls this gift a ‘deposit’ or ‘down payment’” given to all believers as an assurance of the complete redemption…” that “through the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives they come to reflect God’s character.” Did you get that last part, in particular – they come to reflect God’s character, they have been conformed to God’s image once again!
This is what the Seal of God is at its most basic – those who have submitted to the redemptive and restorative work of God, have had their nature and characters restored back to the foundational principle of self-renouncing, self-sacrificing, beneficent love. They now bear the image and likeness of God as they were originally intended to do from the outset. The effects of ‘the fall’ of Genesis 3 have been reversed – salvation and actual restoration has taken place. Life is once again re-established upon the only viable foundation that is possible.
The Sabbath and the Seal of God
So how does worship and Sabbath tie in with this conception of the Seal of God being the restoration of all who are willing into the image of God’s likeness – sharing his core nature and character of self-renouncing love? As per Exodus 34:6-8, we see that worship is the response of submission that is awakened within us when we realize who God actually is and what He is about – His nature and character of self-renouncing love. In today’s western language we would likely say that Moses was ‘floored’ by his experiential awareness of how ‘awesome’ God actually is. So, worship is a response called forth within us when we truly appreciate the irresistible beauty of the self-renouncing, self-sacrificing nature and character of God – a response that leads us to surrender ourselves to God in order that we might be re-created or born again into his image (John 3:3-8).
Sabbath is a perpetual sign that reminds us that creation is the product of a self-renouncing, self-sacrificing Creator and that it can only be sustained by living in submission to the activity of that Creator. God’s creation was judged by God to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). And His desire was that it would stay that way. The only way this could be was if the creation realized and maintained its dependence upon a loving Creator – as opposed to going its own way and doing its own thing as seemed right in its own eyes.
Sabbath was instituted as a weekly protective reminder of this vital necessity – that abundant life is only possible for those who live in dependence upon a self-renouncing, self-sacrificing Creator and who desire to likewise have a nature and character that is characterized by this same trait.
Considering all the above points together, I believe that restoration of the image of God back into humanity – the restoration of self-renouncing love within a person as the deepest motivation within their ‘heart’ – such that they would rather die than move away from this core motivation – is, in its broadest sense, the Seal of God. When the issues become clear to the world, the Sabbath will be the outward sign of character restoration – a symbol of perfect rest in and submission to the Creator. Those who have their characters restored into God’s image will be submissively loyal to the Creator under all circumstances – even the threat of death. Thus they will worship Him on the seventh-day Sabbath even when doing so is forbidden by earthly rulers.
Mark of the Beast
Satan, from the outset, has deceptively insinuated that there is an alternative viable way of life to that which God has outlined – and he has even implied that it is somehow superior to the abundant life that God offers each created being to experience (see Genesis 3:1-6).
And what has Satan suggested is the basis of this supposedly better way? Not surprisingly, it is the exact opposite of self-renouncing love. Self-seeking, self-gratification, self-exaltation, self-indulgence – self ‘love’ – is the maxim of the kingdom of darkness. Sin originated in self-seeking. (See Eze 28:2, Isa 14:13-14, cf. Desire of Ages, p. 21). And this was the nature and character that was quickly adopted by all but a few of earth’s inhabitants back in Genesis 6:5 when “the Lord saw that the wickedness (depravity) of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination and intent of the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually” (Amplified version).
Not only did Satan embrace self-seeking or self ‘love,’ but he also intentionally portrayed God as having this very nature and character. According to Ellen White, “…Lucifer, the covering cherub, desired to be first in heaven. He sought to gain control of heavenly beings, to draw them away from their Creator and to win their homage to himself. Therefore he misrepresented God, attributing to Him the desire for self-exaltation. With his own evil characteristics he sought to invest the loving Creator. Thus he deceived angels. Thus he deceived men.” (Desire of Ages p 21,22) Satan succeeded in getting a significant proportion of both angels and humanity to believe that God’s nature is self-seeking and self-exaltating – the antithesis of self-renouncing love!
A more recent affirmation of this self-seeking, self ‘love’ basis for life that is proposed by Satan is encapsulated in the “law of Thelema” that has been revived and widely promulgated by high profile occultist, Aleister Crowley. In his book blasphemously entitled The Book of the Law, the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10) has been perverted to “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the (moral) law.” Crowley himself claimed that this the entire writings of The Book of the Law, including the phrase “Do what thou wilt” as being the foundational principle of living, were dictated to him in 1904 by a disembodied spirit and that he was told by this spirit that these teachings were to be the foundational principles of the “new aeon” (or “new age”) that humanity was supposedly poised to enter. Since then, Crowley’s teachings and the maxim “do what thou wilt” has been, and continues to be, picked up and promoted ever more widely through popular culture. Living in accordance with this philosophy – having a nature and character based on self-love/gratification – is therefore the core attribute or identifying ‘mark’ of the Beast.
So, how does this conception of the Mark of the Beast tie in with false worship? Just as true worship is the surrender and submission of self to the higher and more noble attribute of self-renouncing love and to the Lordship of our loving Creator, false worship is the natural expression of self-exaltation – doing that which seems right in my own eyes. All who serve self will choose the path of self-preservation when the laws of the land demand worship on a different day than the Lord’s Sabbath. Thus, worshiping on the day mandated by law will become the visible “mark of the beast.” Note that this will be in the forehead for some (signifying conscious conviction or choice), while others will not have a mark in their forehead but only on their hands. Without any particular conviction, they will simply go along with what the law mandates and everyone else is doing because they have not had the character of God imprinted on their lives.
May we all be sealed by the Holy Spirit to reflect the character Christ’s character of self-renouncing love to the world around us.