The most prominent mark the Church of Rome has placed on modern Christianity has been the change in Sabbath observance.
This sign has been a mark of power ever since Justinian. “Sunday is our mark of authority …. The church is above the Bible, and this transference of sabbath observance is proof of that fact” (The Catholic Record of London, Ontario, Sept. 1, 1923). By keeping Sunday, Protestants submit to the Vatican’s authority over them. Soon, the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire will challenge everyone to keep Sunday—or else.
Least of the Commandments?
Most people have willingly accepted Sunday observance; few have ever attempted to prove its authority. The vast majority who call themselves Christians believe that the Sabbath is any day you keep to God and that the seventh-day Sabbath was made for the Jews.
Jesus Christ says otherwise. The Sabbath was not made for the Jew, but for all mankind (Mark 2:27). God created it immediately after the creation of the first human beings (Genesis 2:2-3). The descendants of Judah (Jews) did not exist until millennia later!
But does the day on which we worship God make any difference? Men say no, but God says yes!
After a week of creating, God rested from all His work. By doing so, God set that day of the week apart from any other and put a special blessing on the Sabbath. The world has rejected its special significance.
We will all be tested on this particular command. No one reading this article can afford to be ho-hum about the sanctification of this day.
Unless we keep the Sabbath as God intends, we can never benefit from it as God desires. More importantly, we might be preparing our minds for compromise and acceptance of the mark of the beast.
After bringing Israel out of Egyptian slavery, God reminded them of this pre-existing command (Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath had been holy since the days of Adam and Eve, but man had trampled all over it. The punishment for breaking this command was death (Exodus 31:15).
We are to keep the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12), meaning to guard, protect or attend to, to be circumspect of, to mark or to observe.
God made the Sabbath a perpetual covenant and established it as “a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever” (Exodus 31:16-17). Those who commemorate the special meaning of this day as God intends are set apart by this sign. But throughout history, God’s people rebelled against their Maker and failed to keep the Sabbath holy. Today, even most of God’s own people who have known the Sabbath are forsaking it.
Giving up this sign was a major reason Israel went into captivity and lost their identity (Ezekiel 20:12-13). What a serious warning and indictment to anyone who is aware of this commandment, yet fails to give it the proper attention and due respect.
For many years, Herbert W. Armstrong clearly proved that the mysterious mark of the beast in Revelation 13 refers to this most prominent of signs: Sunday worship.
Revelation 6:11; 13:15-16 reveal that in the coming Great Tribulation, all who reject that mark and the associated worship of the beast, yet whom God does not protect in a place of safety, will be martyred.
Revelation 6:9-10 describes the commencement of the Great Tribulation (see also Matthew 24:21-22). It depicts martyrs of God who were killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they held. The word testimony can mean an outward sign. Many throughout history who kept the Word of God and this specific outward sign died because they refused to worship on any day other than the one God had instituted.
Revelation 6:11 shows that this same type of martyrdom is going to occur in the Tribulation. Those who are plunged into that suffering will be tested on their willingness to die for God’s truth, including the Sabbath. Those who pay with their physical lives will be given a wonderful reward beyond that. Those who receive the mark will come face to face with the wrath of God.
“Sunday was the first day of the week according to the Jewish method of reckoning,” the Catholic Encyclopedia admits, “but for Christians it began to take the place of the Jewish Sabbath … as the day set apart for the public and solemn worship of God. … [D]uring the first three centuries practice and tradition had consecrated the Sunday to the public worship of God by the hearing of the Mass and the resting from work. With the opening of the fourth century positive legislation, both ecclesiastical and civil, began to make these duties more definite.”
In the Ephesus era of God’s Church, Satan’s counterfeit church began to exert a strong influence on society. Practice and tradition were becoming more important than God’s law.
Then a new wave of satanic persecution surged during the Smyrna era of God’s Church, which held fast to God’s command (Revelation 2:8-11).
History proves that the persecution and tribulation revolved around the day of worship.
“Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together,” Emperor Constantine declared at the Council of Nicaea (a.d. 325). “We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies … forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. … [T]ake the far better course of entering the Catholic Church …. [W]e have commanded … that you be positively deprived of every gathering point for your superstitious meetings, I mean all the houses of prayer … and that these be made over without delay to the Catholic Church; that any other places be confiscated to the public service, and no facility whatever be left for any future gathering, in order that from this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public” (Eusebius’s Life of Constantine).
It was Constantine’s goal to force everyone to join the Catholic Church. Those who refused were mercilessly slaughtered. Keeping the Sabbath made one a dissenter from the established religious dogma, and a target of full-force persecution that compelled Sabbath-keepers to flee into the mountains of Europe and Asia Minor.
At the close of the fourth century, and during the fifth, cooperation between the Roman church and empire intensified. The church of the empire determined who would be considered heretics. These heretics were portrayed as straying lambs, to be sought out
and, if recalcitrant, chastised with rods and frightened with threats, but not to be driven back to the fold by means of rack and sword, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
And so for the first five centuries, the ecclesiastical idea was that the church should not shed blood, but that the state could pronounce the death penalty on heretics in cases where the public welfare demanded it. The majority held that the death penalty for heresy, when not civilly criminal, was irreconcilable with the spirit of Christianity.
All this seemed righteous, but was it?
Involving the State
Soon, civil laws were devised to put heretics to death for non-compliance. “[L]aw began to be formulated as it exists at the present day,” the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “and the local councils forbade servile work, public buying and selling, pleading in the law courts, and the public and solemn taking of oaths. There is a large body of civil legislation on the Sunday rest side by side with the ecclesiastical. It begins with an Edict of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who forbade judges to sit and townspeople to work on Sunday.”
In a.d. 394, under Emperor Theodosius, conversion to “Christianity” became compulsory. The power of the Roman church reached new heights during his reign. In fact, the church began to flex its muscles even over the emperor.
During the Pergamos era of God’s Church, Satan’s government and religion took firm hold over the known world. The Bible records a specific struggle between this religion and God’s people. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” (Revelation 2:13). The name Antipas is a shortened combination of two Greek words, anti and pater. When we understand what was happening inside the Roman Empire and the Church of Rome during this era, it is not hard for us to understand that Antipas really means anti-papal. God even terms it Satan’s seat!
What was it that made these people (known as Paulicians) anti-papal? The British historian Conybeare records that these people kept the Sabbath, and no special Sunday observances.
Again we see that the disagreement between God’s called-out ones and Satan’s great counterfeit has always revolved around the day of worship.
An Unholy Union
Daniel prophesied that three horns—symbolizing the Vandals, Heruli and Ostrogoths who would overrun the Roman Empire during the transition age—would be plucked up by the roots (Daniel 7:8, 24-25). This happened in a.d. 554 when Justinian led the Imperial Restoration. For 1,260 years this “little horn” would wear out the saints and they would be given into his hand. “The Corpus Juris is full of laws against … Jews, Samaritans (who began a dangerous revolt in 529), Manichæans, and other heretics. … There was no toleration of dissent,” the Catholic Encyclopedia records of Justinian’s rule. “Apostasy was punished by death.”
When Justinian recognized the supremacy of the pope in 554, the Roman Empire was revived. And because of its close association with the great false church, this empire eventually assumed the name Holy Roman Empire. Yet it was anything but holy.
Catholicism had gained enough strength to dominate the world. At the pope’s behest, Justinian, the most famous of all emperors in the east, moved his government in the defunct eastern division to the west, to Rome.
The true Church during this era was continually harassed—so much so it had to remain in hiding to survive. Perhaps more often than not, God’s people had to prove their faith and obedience to God with their lives.
God had prophesied: “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Revelation 13:5-7). This revived Roman Empire set out to specifically persecute the Church of God, primarily in an area of many tongues and nations—Europe.
In the 11th century, persecution flared up again. Emperor Henry iii began to hang people to prevent the spread of “the heretical leprosy.”
In 1096, the pope declared the Valley Louise in Dauphiny, France, “infested with heresy” because it had been evangelized by the Paulicians. In 1104, Peter de Bruys, a native of this valley, began preaching repentance. He is considered the first Thyatiran minister to do a work.
Peter and his students Henry of Lauson and Arnold of Brescia were charged by the Catholic Church with heresy for remaining faithful to the whole law of God and for observing the Sabbath.
Both Peter of Bruys and later Arnold of Brescia were burned at the stake for their teachings.
The Lutheran historian Mosheim recorded that “the congregations of the Church in the twelfth century held ‘a notion that the observance of the law of Moses, in everything except the offerings of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians … they abstained from those meats the use of which was prohibited … and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath.”
What set these people apart was the outward sign of keeping God’s Sabbath! A crusade was instituted against many of these people in southern France, and thousands perished.
At the close of the 12th century, an extremely successful and wealthy merchant, Peter Waldo, lived in Lyons, France. Waldo’s teachings were more powerful than those taught during the Thyatira era prior to his conversion. His followers became known by the name of the man God was using—“Waldensians”—and news of the spread and impact of the Church of God soon reached Rome.
Rome retaliated with fierce persecution of the Waldensians throughout Europe. From the 12th to the 14th century, many were tried and sentenced to death.
Enter the Inquisition
Pope Leo iii set up “a special ecclesiastical institution for combating or suppressing heresy. Its characteristic mark seems to be the bestowal on special judges of judicial powers in matters of faith, and this by supreme ecclesiastical authority, not temporal or for individual cases, but as a universal and permanent office.” This institution became known as the Inquisition.
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: “while the positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authority in Christian society is as old as the Church, the Inquisition as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal is of much later origin. Historically it is a phase in the growth of ecclesiastical legislation
This authority and civil legislation enabled Catholicism to bring criminal charges against them who dared dispute the authority of the pope—and to sentence them to death.
By a.d. 1315, before the final crusade against the Waldensians occurred, a German Waldensian preacher, Walter Lollard, had carried the truth of God to England, where it took deep root.
Through the preaching of Lollard and his helpers, hundreds repented. Thousands were learning for the first time that baptism means immersion—that the world’s religious holidays came from paganism and that Sunday was not the Sabbath.
Most experts estimate that the Spanish Inquisition, beginning in 1481, took the lives of between 50 and 120 million people. A common form of punishment for a transgressor was to be burned alive in a ceremony called the auto de fe. This “act of faith” was a ritual of public penance by condemned heretics and apostates. This burning of heretics soon grew to become one of the most sacred and celebrated festivals of the Catholic Church.
The auto de fe involved a Catholic Mass, prayer, a public procession of those found guilty and a reading of their sentences. These charades in public squares or esplanades lasted several hours. Both ecclesiastical and civil authorities attended.
Clergymen sat in the proceedings and delivered the punishments. Punishments included confinement to dungeons, physical abuse and torture. Those who reconciled with the church were still punished, and many had their property confiscated and were banished from public life. Those who never confessed were burned alive at the stake without prior strangulation; those who did confess were strangled first.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, attendance at these “acts of faith” reached levels as high as at bullfights. Executions were always enacted by the civil authorities of the Roman Empire.
Keeping the Sign Alive
By the early 17th century, several small Sabbath-keeping congregations had been established in England, despite strong opposition from Puritans. Jesus Christ had begun to raise up the Sardis era of the Church.
As Protestant England became increasingly intolerant of dissenters, the true Church in England withered. A handful of Sabbath-keepers fled for the relative tolerance and peace of the New World. Rhode Island was the first place in the world to guarantee freedom of religion as a basic tenet of its constitution, and this is where the first Sabbath-keeping congregation in America was established.
Throughout history, persecution of the true saints of God has always been instigated by religion and executed by the Roman Empire or its minions. At the heart and core of this conflict has always been the battle to uphold God’s perpetual covenant, that outward sign that sets us apart from all other men: observance of God’s Holy Sabbath.
It is no secret that the Church of Rome has boasted about this most prominent mark. In his official organ, the Catholic Mirror, Cardinal Gibbons wrote: “The Catholic Church … by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday.”
Although legislated by a Roman emperor in a.d. 325, this travesty has been the feather in the cap for the Church of Rome. The Bible reveals an institution that would “think to change times and laws” (Daniel 7:25). The Church of Rome knows, acknowledges and boasts that it has fulfilled this prophecy. The most universal application of this prophecy has been the change of worship from God’s ordained seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday.
Sunday worship is rooted in the paganism of ancient Babylon, set up by the great rebel Nimrod. God only ever commanded worship on the Sabbath which He sanctified. But for centuries Satan has pushed his counterfeit on a deceived world.
Persecution against Sabbath-keepers continued until Napoleon Bonaparte’s fifth resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire fell in 1814, exactly 1,260 years after Justinian’s Imperial Restoration.
With the reunification of Italy under Garibaldi and the subsequent fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler, violent persecution broke out again, primarily against the Jews—people who kept this sign of God’s Sabbath.
In the near future, with the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, we can again expect persecution for anyone who keeps this sign.
Do you keep God’s Sabbath holy as He intends? Or do you compromise with God’s command? If so, you are on extremely dangerous ground.
A Core Mystery
Profaning the Sabbath led to the total destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:27; 52:12‑30). Jerusalem is a type of all of Israel. Both the physical nations that were given the name of Israel (Genesis 48:16) and spiritual Israel—members of God’s own Church—will suffer the same consequence of captivity and destruction if they disobey God’s command.
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins,” God says (Isaiah 58:1). In this end time we must show “my people” and “the house of Jacob” their sins. Both physical and spiritual Israel have transgressed God’s commandment that at one time set them apart as God’s people. The Prophet Isaiah emphasized that this transgression largely revolved around trampling all over the Sabbath command (verse 13).
According to the Detroit News (July 7, 1998), Pope John Paul ii, in his Dies Domini, said that a violator should be “punished as a heretic”. “The Lord’s Day … has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. … It is Easter which returns week by week. … [as] emphatically restated by the Second Vatican Council: ‘Every seven days, the Church celebrates the Easter mystery.’”
That great mystery is anything but Christian; its roots go back to 2,500 b.c., when Nimrod and Semiramis established their mystery religion!
The Cause of Persecution
In Revelation 13:6-7, the Apostle John describes an evil beast that makes war with the saints. “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon” (verse 11). Notice, this beast is motivated by Satan also. But unlike the first, this second beast looks very religious. This beast represents a great religious organization that has been and will be closely related to the affairs and policies of the Roman Empire.
The two horns of this beast represent two governments. One represents the papacy as the religious head; the other horn is Vatican City—an official civil government in this world.
This second beast has great power and causes people to worship the first beast (verse 12). You could say this great religious organization is the power behind the Roman Empire.
In verse 15, we see how this second beast is the cause behind the killing done by the first beast. The great religious institution actually instigates the killings. She causes the saints to be killed by the civil authorities of the Roman Empire.
Revelation 17:6 shows the woman (which is the same institution as the second beast of Revelation 13) drunk with the blood of the saints.
There is a great martyrdom prophesied to come upon God’s people in the near future. Those who refuse the mark in the tribulation will be martyred.
“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” (Revelation 13:16-17). Some assume this mark is something people should definitely have since it enables you to buy and sell. It will be popular: Small and great, rich and poor, free and bond all receive this mark.
It is the mark of the beast—or the Roman Empire—not of the great false church. But it is that church that causes all to worship the first beast and receive its mark.
And those who don’t receive the mark, the same church causes to be killed.
Keeping the Commandment—Or Not
While accepting the mark of the beast will allow you to function in society for a short time, breaking God’s commandment will incur a tremendous penalty.
Without this mark, those who are not taken to a place of protection will be tortured to death in the Tribulation. But those with this mark, will experience the great wrath of Almighty God (Revelation 16:1-2; 14:9-11).
In verse 12, the subject shifts back to those who refuse this mark: “here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Those who refuse the mark are those who keep the commandments of God.
Zephaniah 1:14-17 shows that during the Day of the Lord, God’s wrath falls on those who sin or break God’s law (1 John 3:4). Those who receive the mark, then, are those who refuse to keep God’s commandments!
Here is what Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Mark of the Beast: “The ‘mark’ is something enforced by the Roman Catholic Church, originating in the paganism of the Roman Empire, which a cunning, deceiving devil would seize on as a means of cleverly deceiving people into breaking God’s Ten Commandments. And it involves a direct connection with holding a job—engaging in business—earning a living.
“Satan is clever—cunning—a deceiver. He palms off counterfeits, which look like the genuine! Naturally he would select the one Commandment of God which he can counterfeit with a substitute—one in which by human reason alone no man could see where it would make any difference! He would select the one which would seem of least importance to the carnal human mind! …
“But what Commandment could it be—what commandment affecting a man’s job, or his business?
“There is only one possible commandment—the one regarded by the largest number as the ‘least’ of the Commandments—and that is the fourth Commandment, which says: ‘remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy … The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Eternal thy God.’
“No carnal mind can see, without the special spiritual revelation of God through His word, where it makes any difference which day man observes.”
Sunday observance, as Mr. Armstrong thoroughly proved, is the mark of the beast that will be enforced in the near future. Most of the world has willingly accepted this mark for many centuries now. But God’s people still keep the Sabbath. And those saints who have become lukewarm in these last days will be tested on this very command!
Waiting For Enforcement
From the early days of the unification of Europe, civil legislation has been crafted to force Sunday worship on its subjects. The wording of the 1961 European Social Charter includes the following aim: “to ensure a weekly rest period which shall, as far as possible, coincide with the day recognised by tradition or custom in the country or region concerned as a day of rest.”
The 1993 European Union Working Time Directive states: “Whereas, with respect to the weekly rest period, due account should be taken of the diversity of cultural, ethnic, religious and other factors in the Member States; whereas, in particular, it is ultimately for each Member State to decide whether Sunday should be included in the weekly rest period, and if so to what extent; … Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that, per each seven-day period, every worker is entitled to a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours plus the 11 hours’ daily rest …. The minimum rest period … shall in principle include Sunday.”
And in 2009, the European Parliament declared that “a work-free Sunday is an essential pillar of the European Social Model and a part of the European cultural heritage … according to EU law, Sunday is the weekly rest day for children and adolescents … European institutions, bodies and agencies have not worked on Sundays since their creation and do not intend to do so in the future, despite the diversity of religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds of EU officials and decision-makers … [and] calls on the Member States and the EU institutions to protect Sunday, as a weekly rest day, in forthcoming national and EU working-time legislation in order to enhance the protection of workers’ health and the reconciliation of work and family life” (emphasis added throughout).
The mark of the beast is here. European law already acknowledges it. It is just a matter of when will it be enforced.
How will it be enforced? History shows us.
Are you not only rejecting that mark but keeping the Sabbath holy each week? Only by strengthening our Sabbath observance now can we hope to be like our predecessors in God’s Church and never give up the sign that sets us apart as God’s people!