13:16 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:
13:17 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.
13:18 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.
-- THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The author of the book of Revelation, St. John, believed he was living in the end times. John writes in the first chapter and first verse of Revelation that the things foretold "must shortly come to pass..." Just in case the reader might have missed that warning, John repeats himself two verses later: "the time is at hand." St. John was right. The world of the New Testament Jews came to an end when the Roman Empire destroyed the Jewish state and the Second Temple in 70 AD.
Most traditional biblical scholars believe Revelation, through a form of deeply symbolic code, addresses the political machinations of the day, not a future history. It does, after all, require certain, let's say, mental gyrations to interpret "shortly" as a thousand or two years in the future. Generations since 70 AD have, however, done their best to ignore the time frame given in Revelation 1:1 and interpret the generally crappy reality they observe around them as fulfilling biblical prophesy. There's an interesting page, part of the Rapture Index, that offers a lengthy list of various end-times movements since New Testament times. It is important to note that despite the received wisdom apocalyptic movements use to divine they are in the last days, the world has yet to come to any kind of end.
BUT PEOPLE KEEP TRYING...
Modern day Christians who believe we're in the end times find themselves easily lured into a conspiracy mindset because Revelation itself is as much a conspiracy theory as it is a work of prophecy.
Before God's final judgment, Satan is to rule the world for seven years -- a period known as "The Tribulation." Revelation's prophecy about a ten-horned dragon is interpreted to mean a revived Roman Empire (or Starbucks). Since the Roman Empire used to rule the known world, this is code for "One World Government."
Satan isn't going to directly take over with a few magic tricks and some Exorcist-style head spinning. Instead, his son, the Antichrist, is going to attain political power the time-honored way: deception. Revelation 6:2's description of a crowned rider of a white horse points to an Antichrist who is going to emerge as a peacemaker (or the owner of Starbucks). Because of this prophecy, Christians -- followers of the "Prince of Peace" -- find themselves paradoxically suspicious of individuals and organizations trying to create some harmony among humankind.
The United Nations is high on the list of possible white mounts. Christians point out that the UN is not only a peacekeeping organization but it has an atheistic, communist "constitution" (it's really a charter, but calling it a constitution makes it sound a lot scarier).
End-times Christians implicate the communists not simply because they don't like their politics (yeah, right), but because the Bible seems to make a couple references to Russia and China. Revelation 9:16 talks about Satan fielding an army of 200 million men in the Holy Land. Christians seem to think that Red China, with its population of a billion, is the only nation capable of amassing that many men under arms (I guess they don't realize India has a billion people). Those who believed the world was going to end in the year 2000 ignored a few technical points -- like, China's army was about 197 million troops short of the goal.
Moscow gets implicated because Ezekiel 38:14-15 points to an invasion from a kingdom in the far north. Ezekiel 38:2 calls this Kingdom "Rosh." Christians see Rosh as meaning "Russia." Spooky.
However, there are others who aren't as sure the One World Government will emerge from the UN. Some believe a prophesy about a kingdom ruled by 10 kings in Daniel 7:1-28 refers to the 10-member nations of the European Community (or Starbucks). They believe the EC is the revived Roman Empire. If you've kept up on your European politics over the last couple decades, you know it's been years since the EC had only 10 members. (Religious tracts identifying the EC as a 10-nation organization tend not to get updated as they are passed around and photocopied to the nth generation.)
FURTHER SUSPICIONS: THE MARK OF THE BEAST
Although Revelation isn't 100 per cent clear on the instrument through which the Antichrist will assume control of Planet Earth, Revelation 13:16-18 is clear on how Satan will maintain control: through the Mark of the Beast (666). Most of us are going to line up and receive the mark because only those so blessed will be able to engage in commerce. The end times crowd interpret this mark to be some form of national registration system, smart cards, or implanted microchips.
True Christians (well, those remaining on Planet Earth after a mass abduction called The Rapture) will refuse this mark. Knowing they won't be able buy even a strip of beef jerky at the Kwick-E-Mart for seven years, end timers are stocking up on bags of flour and tinned meat. To make sure Satan's blue-helmeted thugs don't come around and mark them in the middle of the night, they are hunkering down in remote regions of America, like Montana and Northern Michigan. Others aren't content with such a passive "survivalist" stance and are joining militia movements so they'll be able to keep Satan's UN forces at bay.
Among the Christians heavily involved in the militia movements, a strange form of Christianity has evolved. Its lure is that it answers a glaring omission in the Bible: How come the greatest, most prosperous nation on earth (hint: America) seems to play, at most, a sideline role in Biblical prophesy? After all, the Bible mentions Israel, China, and Russia as players. How come there's no mention of a land beyond the ocean? The answer is found in the Christian Identity movement. The Jews of modern day Israel are not the Jews of the Old and New Testaments! Gasp! The history of God's chosen people has been subverted by a conspiracy of historians. Northern Europeans are the real Jews! Believers in Christian Identity offer some "research" that "proves" that Adam, Eve, the patriarchs of the Torah, and Jesus were members of the "white race."
They supplement this "historical evidence" with plenty of doctrine. For example, they read a lot into Revelation 2:9 which states:
"I know your tribulation and your poverty ... and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."
Christian Identity further argues that the little desert nation we call Israel today could not possibly be the land of milk and honey God promised His chosen people. America, in fact, fits the biblical descriptions of the promised land a lot better.
Did not God promise in Genesis 12:1-3 that Israel would be a mighty nation? Who's mightier, huh? Did not God promise in Genesis 22:17 that Israel would be a populous nation? Who's got more people, huh? Did not God promise in Deuteronomy 15:6 that Israel would rule other nations? Who's running the show, huh?
Now that that's been cleared up, a question remains: "Who are those guys living in 'Israel' today?" Christian Identity historians explain that the Jews of today are an offshoot of Khazar tribes from southern Russia.
Ah, more Commie treachery! Will it never end? Soon, real soon now...